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Underground Fire at Power Plant Kills 5 Workers; Myanmar Crackdown; Blackwater Investigation
Aired October 3, 2007 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.
I'm Tony Harris.
HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins.
Watch events come in to the NEWSROOM live on Wednesday morning, October 3rd.
Here is what's on the rundown.
CNN exclusive. Smuggled video showing the ruthless military crackdown in Myanmar. Protesters pulled from their homes; monks forced from monasteries.
HARRIS: Searching for answers in Colorado this morning. An underground chemical fire kills five workers.
COLLINS: Federal bureaucrats upgrading to business and first class plane seats. Their time but your dime.
Flights of fancy, in the NEWSROOM.
HARRIS: And at the top of this hour, trapped underground. A chemical fire at a power plant, five workers dead this morning.
Chris Lawrence is on the scene in Georgetown, Colorado.
Chris, good to see you.
I know there was a lot of investigating to do here. Any early clues as to what happened?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know, Tony, that there was a lot of optimism at first, because when this broke out at about 2:00 in the afternoon here yesterday, for that first 45 minutes they had radio contact with the five men who were trapped. And at one point, they told them, hey, nobody is hurt down here.
So, the big question is, at that point, when they started flushing that clean air down into that tunnel, what happened between that time and the time overnight when the rescue teams got down there to put out the fire and found the bodies of those five workers?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TOM HENLEY, EXCEL ENERGY SPOKESMAN: They were applying an epoxy to the inside of the pipeline itself to help prevent corrosion. And at some point in time, a fire was ignited.
There were nine people who were inside the pipe at the time. Four were below where the fire started, and five were above. The four were able to escape from below and the five had climbed about a thousand feet up from where the fire was, and that is where they were located. .
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAWRENCE: Just to give you a little bit of better perspective, they were working in a water tunnel that was only about 48 inches in diameter. And it may seem odd, in a way, to think that the people who were below the fire were in a better position, but that's because they were able to scramble out through the bottom of the tunnel because it emptied out into a reservoir.
The men -- the workers that were trapped above the fire had to climb up to what they thought was a safe position, and that's when they were able to establish radio contact for that 45 minutes after the fire -- Tony.
HARRIS: Chris, safety records in order at this point? How about inspections? Anything to indicate that there were problems with this operation?
LAWRENCE: Not that we know of right now. A lot of that may come out later today.
You know, in the first 12 hours or so -- you know, it's been less than a day since this fire broke out. All of the efforts were really concentrated on, at first, trying to see if there was a possibility of rescuing these men alive. And now to now retrieve the bodies for their family members.
Now is when the investigation really starts, trying to answer those questions. The machine that was down there applying this epoxy, what happened? Was there a malfunction? What caused that fire and what killed these men? Was it the fire itself? Was it a lack of clean air down there?
HARRIS: Yes. All right.
Chris Lawrence for us in Georgetown, Colorado.
Chris, good to see you. Thank you.
COLLINS: The search for a registered sex offender intensifying this morning. Police say Bill Mitchell abducted a 15-year-old girl he met on the Internet. Alyssa Frank was found yesterday at a Wal-Mart. Police say Mitchell apparently took the girl to the store to "dump her".
Mitchell is believed to be driving 2,000 black Chevrolet Lumina with the Florida tag number G025EL.
Next hour, are authorities getting any new tips or leads? We told you about this story first yesterday and now we're going to talk with the Florida sheriff who is leading the investigation once again for the very latest.
HARRIS: The Michael Vick dogfighting case back in court today. This time it's the state's turn.
Lawyers for Vick expected at the hearing. Vick faces state charges for beating or killing a dog and engaging in or promoting dogfighting. He has already pleaded guilty to federal charges.
Vick is not expected in court today, but he did attend a recent class on preventing animal cruelty. It was taught by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. A PETA spokesman says Vick was attentive, asked questions, and took notes during the eight-hour class.
COLLINS: Protests planned outside of Panama City, Florida, courthouse. Seven former boot camp guards and a camp nurse go on trial today. They're charged with aggravated manslaughter in the 2006 death of 14-year-old Martin Anderson.
Surveillance video shows instructors kneeing and punching the teenager while the nurse looks on. The boy had collapsed earlier, but his drill instructors thought he was faking fatigue. Most of those instructors are white. Anderson was black.
The NAACP protesting the selection of an all-white jury.
New details in the case of a woman who died while in police custody at an airport in Phoenix. An initial autopsy report is inconclusive in the death of Carol Ann Gotbaum.
A Phoenix coroner says it will be a few more weeks before toxicology tests are complete. Gotbaum's family sent a private investigator to watch the autopsy and hired a forensic pathologist to conduct a second autopsy.
Authorities say Gotbaum was not allowed to board her plane after coming to the gate late. Police say she became angry and they handcuffed her. Gotbaum died in a holding room.
Police believe she lost consciousness while trying to struggle out of the handcuffs. A police spokesman says officer followed established policy in detaining Gotbaum. An internal investigation is now under way and Gotbaum's family says they have not decided whether to file a lawsuit.
Cleanup time after stormy weather. Residents in several communities in northeastern Missouri have repair work to do today. And a lot of it.
A strong storm, possibly from a tornado, ripped the area. Buildings were damaged. Power lines knocked down. And large trees uprooted.
No serious injuries were reported, though. Some good news there.
COLLINS: Yes, some good news, certainly.
COLLINS: Videotape the military rulers don't want the world to see. It documents the brutal crackdown in the southeastern nation of Myanmar.
CNN's Dan Rivers has our exclusive report now. And a caution -- some of the images may be disturbing.
DAN RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the ugly face of military repression the generals who control Myanmar have tried so hard to cover up.
The images just smuggled out by men and women who risked their lives are at least two days old. The pictures taken just before Myanmar's foreign minister claims security personnel had exercised what he called the utmost restraint.
The soldiers corralled those they caught in the middle of the road. Some prisoners already clearly injured. Watched over by an officer in the now silent street.
Across the country, reports of largely empty neighborhoods and empty monasteries after brutal crackdowns.
On the same smuggled video, pictures of a demonstration just before the police intervened. The deafening chant of a confident crowd marching peacefully through the city.
But the moment was short lived. The demonstrators flee. Soldiers bark orders as an injured protester is tended to by an anxious friend trying to stay out of sight. And in the street, the remains of the stampede.
Those who weren't fast enough are searched and loaded onto trucks by men who are not wearing uniforms, backing up protesters' claims that plainclothes intelligence officers were operating in their midst. And they are not the only disturbing images leaking from Myanmar. These pictures shot by dissident journalists show a dead monk apparently tortured, left face down in a stream not far from where the demonstrations had taken place in the capital.
Smuggled evidence seeping out of this isolated country that the pro-democracy movement is being ruthlessly crushed, pictures that are likely to define Myanmar's government to the world.
Dan Rivers, CNN, Bangkok.
(END VIDEOTAPE) COLLINS: For more information on the violent crackdown in this very secretive country, I'm joined on the phone now by an international aid worker who has spent a great deal of time in Myanmar. Her name and location are being withheld for security reasons.
Ma'am, if you can hear me, tell me a little bit about -- this video that we're watching is terribly upsetting. What did you yourself witness?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I witnessed some demonstrations on Monday, September 24th, which were largely peaceful. There were no military around at that point.
And then on Saturday, September 29th, the worst thing I saw was a car parked in the middle of a large street by Kabaya Pagoda (ph) Road. In front of Kabaya Pagoda (ph), which is the third most important pagoda in the city, the car was -- the doors were open. There was a body lying on the road. There was another body slumped over the back of the truck part.
There were crowds gathered approximately 400 meters away, but they were not coming closer to help out. And it just looked like that had been left there for people to witness, for people to see, what they were capable of.
COLLINS: You have lived in the country. You have seen the type of rule and its different conflicts that have been going on for a very long time in Myanmar. Those images that you just described, how unusual was that for you? How will that stay in your mind?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I think people need to appreciate the level of anger that the Burmese people would get to, to even demonstrate. These are not people who speak out. These are not people who act in any kind of anger whatsoever.
For a demonstration the size of which went on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, it's quite remarkable. And then for the sort of cat-and- mouse skirmishes that went on Saturday and Sunday -- Friday, Saturday, Sunday -- these are -- these are people who just don't speak. And they are speaking now.
COLLINS: What does that say to you? What does that say about the country and the type of people who are there now? I mean, when we look at this video, it looks very much like they have been beaten down, for lack of another word, and quite literally, in a sense.
What happens next? Do they regroup?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, my feeling is, yes, they have been beaten down and, yes, they are afraid. But they're also very, very strong.
And they are hoping that the world is watching, the world is looking, and the world will come to their help. And not just words with the words, with some actions, with some -- something that will actually help them. They're prepared to fight for their struggle. But they do need our help.
COLLINS: What is that help? What can be offered to them?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, probably on the political front, boycotts of, for example, the Olympics. Probably some action by countries that have ties to the oil and gas revenues in Myanmar and to the ties to the generals, that sort of -- that sort of thing.
And even, you know, the local people talking to me, they want to see force. They want to see people coming into their country to help them, peacekeepers.
They are expecting the U.N., they're expecting action. They say this is their second time around and they need help this time.
COLLINS: Well, we certainly appreciate your insight, someone who has been there and who has lived there providing that international aid.
Thanks so much for telling us...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. You're welcome.
COLLINS: ... what you have been seeing and witnessing in Myanmar.
And also, we want to tell you more about how the isolated country of Myanmar is doing. The nation's leaders now call it Myanmar, but other countries and officials still refer to it as Burma.
The military has been in control since 1962. The current regime came into power in 1988 after defeating a pro-democracy movement. That democratic push was crushed in a crackdown that left at least 3,000 people dead.
In 1989, the National League for Democracy won the country's first free multi-party elections in 30 years, but the generals refused to give up power. Human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi is the head of that party. She's been held in detention now for 12 out of the past 18 years.
HARRIS: And still ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM, defending Blackwater's work in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIK PRINCE, BLACKWATER USA: Defensive fire, sufficient force to extricate ourselves from that dangerous situation. We're not there to achieve fire power dominance or to drive the insurgents back. We're there to get our package away from danger.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS: The owner of the private security firm faces questions from Congress.
COLLINS: Also, federal employees upgrading their plane tickets on your dime.
Congressional investigation ahead.
HARRIS: And walking in their shoes. Immigrant day laborers on the street corner uncovering America.
You're watching CNN and you are in the CNN NEWSROOM.
COLLINS: Blackwater under fire. The owner of the private security company defending his workers in Iraq.
Here is State Department Correspondent Zain Verjee.
PRINCE: ... call us mercenaries. We have Americans working for America.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPT. CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Blackwater's CEO grilled about his firm's conduct in Iraq amid charges they are trigger-happy cowboys.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: Blackwater appears to have fostered a culture of shoot first and sometimes kill and then ask the questions.
PRINCE: The bad guys just have to get lucky once.
VERJEE: Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL, says the job of his men is to get diplomats out of danger use war zone techniques.
PRINCE: Defensive fire, sufficient force to extricate ourselves from that danger situation. We're not there to achieve fire power dominance or to drive the insurgents back. We're there to get our package away from danger.
VERJEE: Blackwater's role in Iraq came to a boil after this September 16th shootout where at least 11 Iraqi civilians were killed. Blackwater guards say they came under hostile fire and shot back.
Lawmakers were prevented from asking questions about that gun battle. It's now being investigation by both the State and Justice departments. But plenty of questions were raised about a drunk Blackwater employee who shot and killed the Iraqi vice president's guard last Christmas Eve.
Blackwater fired him, made him pay a fine, and shipped him out of the country. Blackwater also compensated the family.
PRINCE: But we, as a private organization, can't do anymore. We can't flog him. We can't incarcerate him.
VERJEE: The State Department, too, came under fire for what lawmakers said was poor supervision of Blackwater contractors.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Is the government doing enough to hold Blackwater accountable for alleged misconduct? And what are the costs to the federal taxpayers?
VERJEE: The State Department's top man on Iraq says diplomats can't do their job without contractor security. But there are strict rules.
DAVID SATTERFIELD, SPECIAL ADVISER ON IRAQ: These policies, these standards only allow for the use of force when absolutely necessary to address imminent and grave danger against those under their protection, themselves and others.
VERJEE: Some lawmakers threw their support behind Blackwater, thanking them for risking their lives to protect U.S. diplomats, reconstruction workers and senior Iraqi government officials.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Zero individuals that Blackwater's protected have been killed in a Blackwater transport?
PRINCE: That's correct?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Zero?
VERJEE (on camera): Some lawmakers question the use of private contractors, saying it's really not a good deal for taxpayers who are paying Blackwater alone more than $1 billion.
Zain Verjee, CNN, at the State Department.
HARRIS: Taking an immigration stand at the cheese steak stand. Politics on the menu for Rudy Giuliani -- what he had to say about people who want to become U.S. citizens.
And battling the insurance companies. Policyholders looking for help but facing well-financed opposition.
That story in the NEWSROOM.
COLLINS: Insurance battle. Policyholders fighting deep pockets.
CNN Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin is "Keeping Them Honest".
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michelle Tribble was actually working for an insurance company when she got rear-ended on the freeway. Ten weeks later she got hit again. The two accidents combined to injure disks in her back. She started treatment, went to a chiropractor and submitted bills to Allstate and Safeco, the company that covered the other driver. It was about $18,000.
(on camera): Were you out to gouge the insurance business?
MICHELLE TRIBBLE, ACCIDENT VICTIM: No, I just wanted the medical bills paid.
GRIFFIN (voice over): Safeco paid Tribble's medical bills, but Allstate fought her, digging up information about her past.
TRIBBLE: So I had to give them every doctor I had ever visited that I could remember. They pulled out, you know, a stack of medical records and they dug through everything to see if, you know, I was at all deceptive.
GRIFFIN: An arbitrator sided with Tribble, but Allstate went to court. A jury sided with her too, but Allstate appealed again. Finally, after four years of fighting, an appeals court judge made Allstate pay.
VALARIE GRENINGER, ACCIDENT VICTIM: Well, there's the Isuzu Rodeo that hit me.
GRIFFIN (on camera): So this is your case?
GRENINGER: That's some of my case, yes.
GRIFFIN (voice over): Valarie Greninger also talks about a drawn-out ordeal with Allstate. After an uninsured motorist hit her, she was treated for neck and shoulder pain. Her bills totaled less than $10,000. But instead of paying, Allstate hired a private eye, she said, to spy on her.
GRENINGER: To follow me around, making sure I was actually injured.
GRIFFIN: Allstate lost again, but not before the company spent several years dragging Greninger through the courts.
Allstate wouldn't comment on the two cases, except to say that they proved that the current judicial system is working.
Washington State Representative Steve Kirby says he hears stories like these all the time, especially when people find out he chairs a state house committee on insurance.
REP. STEVE KIRBY (D), WASHINGTON: Insurance companies have figured out that they can make more money if they don't play your claim.
GRIFFIN: Earlier this year CNN exposed a controversial insurance industry strategy that we reported began in the mid-1990s. Former insiders say insurance companies began limiting or denying legitimate claims in minor injury cases and reaped billions in profits as a result.
JIM MATHIS, FORMER INSURANCE INDUSTRY INSIDER: It really came down to three basic elements. A position of delay, a position of denying a claim, and then ultimately, of course, defending that claim that you denied.
GRIFFIN (on camera): The three Ds?
GRIFFIN (voice over): Robert Hartwig with the insurance industry backed insurance institute says the strategy was not intended to deny valid claims, but to attack fraud, which he claimed earlier this year, was rampant in minor accident cases.
ROBERT HARTWIG, PRESIDENT, INSURANCE INFORMATION INSTITUTE: What insurers are trying to do is monitor costs, and every insurer is under the same pressure to do it.
GRIFFIN: But Steve Kirby and his fellow Washington state lawmakers heard so many complaints from policyholders, they wrote a law to force insurance companies to pay rightful claims.
Did the insurance companies follow that law? Hardly. Next, you won't believe what the insurance companies are doing to stop it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll sue for you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think?
HARRIS: All right, everyone. Let's get you to the New York Stock Exchange, just in time for the opening bell.
And as we get the business -- there we go. A little pause there.
As we get the business day started, I'm in my gold shirt today, although everyone is telling me that it's yellow because I'm colorblind here. I can't figure that out.
Keeping them honest -- one state taking on insurance companies.
CNN investigative correspondent Drew Griffin has the rest our story.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Under the new Washington State law, if an insurance company refuses to pay an honest claim and loses in court, it could be forced to do pay three times the value of the claim, plus attorneys' fees. It was a simple fair, The Fair Conduct Act, requiring insurance companies to just treat their customers fairly. It got a full hearing here in Olympia. It passed the House, passed the Senate and was signed by the governor.
But before the ink was even dry -- the very next day -- insurance companies made sure they filed a referendum trying to get it off the books.
DANA CHILDERS, LIABILITY REFORM COALITION: In November, the voters will get to decide. Consumers will get to decide what they want to do.
GRIFFIN: Dana Childers, with the Liability Reform Coalition, a group backed by big insurance, gathered enough signatures to get Referendum 67 on the ballot. Its aim -- overturn The Fair Conduct Act by having the public vote no before it ever becomes a law.
CHILDERS: Well, there was never the case made for why it ought to be law.
GRIFFIN (on camera): But the statehouse...
CHILDERS: I think anything...
GRIFFIN: The state Senate, the governor. There were hearings. The elected officials of this state decided this law was necessary.
CHILDERS: That's right.
GRIFFIN: And the insurance companies stepped in and said no, Washington State, you're not going to have this law.
CHILDERS: The insurance companies stepped in and said consumers, you get to decide if you want to do this.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): And to encourage consumers to vote no on Referendum 67, insurance companies like Allstate, State Farm, Farmers and others, have raised more than $8 million, dwarfing the $886,000 raised by Washington State trial lawsuit and others who are trying to get the public to vote yes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM TV COMMERCIAL)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our lobbyists got a law passed letting us file more lawsuits and threatened triple damages.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, like that California law that forced insurance rates to spike?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So rates spiked and we got our share of the money.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: Reject 67 commercials are already on television featuring greedy lawyers in conference rooms plotting to sue insurance companies and warning consumers that frivolous lawsuits will lead to higher insurance rates.
And, Dana Childers told us, Washington State's insurance commissioner sees no need for The Fair Conduct Act.
CHILDERS: But his own information that he provided to the legislature and to the public says that this law simply isn't necessary.
GRIFFIN: But wait a minute.
Mike Kreidler is the insurance commissioner and he told us he supports the law that makes insurers play fair.
MIKE KREIDLER, WASHINGTON INSURANCE COMMISSIONER: If companies act in good faith, it's not going to have a problem. It's not going to cost any more money. There's not going to be any legal action. There's going to be no trouble damages. Because if companies deal with their customers in good faith, there's no penalty.
GRIFFIN (on camera): So what are they so afraid of?
KREIDLER: I think the insurance companies like the game where they can have it to their advantage.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Remember Michelle Tribble, the woman who spent four years fighting Allstate just to get medical bills paid?
She's not surprised at all that insurance companies are pouring money into fighting The Fair Conduct Act.
MICHELLE TRIBBLE, ACCIDENT VICTIM: Well, they poured a lot of money into defeating me.
GRIFFIN: She just wishes it was on the books when she was hit. Then, as she says, hit again by her insurer.
Drew Griffin, CNN, Seattle.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
HARRIS: Walking in their shoes -- immigrant day laborers on the street corner. Uncovering America in THE NEWSROOM.
GERRI WILLIS, PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: I'm Gerri Willis.
Coming up, a novel approach to the mortgage meltdown -- fingerprinting mortgage brokers, when THE NEWSROOM continues.
HARRIS: How about this? A new proposal to combat the mortgage crisis calls for firing fingerprinting mortgage brokers.
What is this all about?
Gerri Willis is here now with more on the mortgage meltdown. OK, fingerprinting brokers?
Gerri, what gives here?
WILLIS: Well, it sounds weird, doesn't it?
WILLIS: Senator Hillary Clinton has proposed a national registry for mortgage brokers. This is a bill that she introduced just this week. And brokers would be required to register. The information would be public on the Web, so that people could actually get information about their brokers. And these fingerprints would be matched against FBI rolls to see if, in fact, the brokers were convicted criminals -- Tony.
HARRIS: Well, this highly unusual, isn't it, Gerri?
You know what?
WILLIS: I've got to tell you, you know, stockbrokers?
WILLIS: They also have a fingerprint check. Even accountants, sometimes, if they file electronically with the IRS, are expected to have fingerprints taken. It's not that unusual for people who are financial advisers to people, who might have access to people's money, you want to know, hey, you know, was this guy a bank robber in his previous life?
WILLIS: Now, I want to make the point, Tony, obviously not all mortgage brokers are bad guys. There are plenty of good guys out there.
WILLIS: But a lot of fingers have been pointed at mortgage brokers in this mortgage meltdown.
Did they give people bad loans?
Did they get people into mortgages that they could not afford?
HARRIS: Well, I want to challenge this on the grounds that this is clearly, Gerri Willis, a violation of my privacy rights.
Do I have a leg to stand on here?
WILLIS: Probably not.
WILLIS: Well, I mean, it's interesting. I think there are other examples out there to point to where, you know, financial professionals serving the public are -- you know, happily give up some personal information to ensure the public that they're on the up and up.
But you know what is interesting about this, Tony?
There is also a national registry being built right now by an obscure federal agency called The Conference of State Bank Regulators. It goes live in January. They're collecting information all year. But it's very similar to the Clinton proposal.
HARRIS: Obscure was the word you used there.
WILLIS: They don't consider themselves obscure.
WILLIS: Let me point out one more thing, though, here, Tony.
HARRIS: Sure thing.
WILLIS: I think this is important to pay attention to. This Congress, since the beginning of the year, since we've started having hearings on the mortgage meltdown, more than 800,000 people have filed for closure -- have gone into foreclosure. We're still waiting for something to get passed out of Congress.
HARRIS: Oh, boy.
All right. Gerri, great to see you.
WILLIS: Good to see you.
HARRIS: See you a little later.
COLLINS: Fifth graders learning a lesson of hate -- the "N" word in a school assignment. Parents are outraged.
Convenience store combat -- a clerk with a broom versus a robber with a pool cue and a knife. Find out how it ended.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COLLINS: The death of Emmett Till a half century ago horrified a nation. Now an apology from the Mississippi county where an all white jury acquitted two white men for Tills' murder. The county board of supervisors issued a resolution Tuesday apologizing to the Till family. The county also dedicated a marker commemorating the case. Fourteen-year-old Till was snatched from his home in the summer of 1955. Till had been accused of whistling at a white woman. His mutilated body was found three days later, floating in the Tallahatchie River.
A puzzling lesson -- one word causing an uproar and now apologies from a school.
The story from Seth Seymour from affiliate WTVC in Dunlap, Tennessee.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
SETH SEYMOUR, WTVC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Clifford Branan was left speechless by the history lesson his fifth grade son brought home. On this crossword puzzle about the Civil War, there were vocabulary words like cabin, smokehouse, lantern. But then, there was this word.
CLIFFORD BRANAN, CONCERNED PARENT: The word N-I-G-G-E-R.
SEYMOUR: Along with its clue, seventeen across -- an insulting way to label a black person.
BRANAN: It's not something you want to teach, you know?
I wouldn't put it out there to be taught that a way.
SEYMOUR: His son's teacher assigned the homework Friday, as a supplement to the book his class at Sequatchie County Middle School is reading. The book, "Sounder," is widely used in classrooms nationwide to illustrate the Civil War through the eyes of a young black boy.
Teaching history is fine, according to this father. But he says putting in a word like this in a crossword puzzle crosses the line between history and hate.
(on camera): Here at Sequatchie County Middle School, the Civil War is part of the fifth grade curriculum. And that means dealing with some pretty heavy and controversial words. But school officials now admit this work sheet is not the way to do it.
(voice-over): According to middle school Principal Donald Johnson, a mistake was made. This word should have never come up on a worksheet like this. I can't defend it.
Johnson says the fifth grade teacher pulled the worksheet from the Web site edHelper.com. He says she was aware the word was listed, but justified it as a way to teach students about its bad connotations.
But Clifford Branan says it was not a lesson his son should have learned.
BRANAN: Especially when you're trying to teach your children it's something, you know, that you don't want them to say, then they, you know, teach that in school.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
HARRIS: While, the teacher, who is white, has apologized to the parents of the students, the principal says he is not sure if there were any African-American kids in that class.
COLLINS: Still ahead this morning in the CNN NEWSROOM, images of brutal repression caught on tape. Upsetting images, as well. Witnessing history in real time -- what you haven't seen yet from Myanmar.
HARRIS: Also, how did an ordinary day turn deadly?
Workers killed at a hydroelectric plant. Five families grieving this morning. Authorities want to know what went wrong. A live update from the scene straight ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.
COLLINS: Good morning, everybody.
I'm Heidi Collins.
HARRIS: And I'm Tony Harris.
Stay informed in the CNN NEWSROOM.
Here's what's on the rundown.
Investigators trying to figure out what went wrong. A fire at a Colorado plant leaves five workers dead.
COLLINS: Also, Florida police tracking an accused kidnapper they say is a predator. We'll talk live with the sheriff.
HARRIS: And why did their fathers, sons and brothers die?
Relatives of the miners killed in Utah this summer, speaking out this Wednesday, October 3rd.
You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.
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