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Deadly Tornadoes; Wounded Journalist Speaks Out

Aired March 2, 2012 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone, breaking news tonight. It's 10:00 p.m. here on the East Coast.

And we begin tonight with the second deadly round of tornadoes this week, the death toll rising, another massive weather system churning out big storms, funnel clouds like this one from Indiana, where the video was taken, all the way to Alabama.

The damage has been widespread, but especially bad in southern Indiana, parts of Kentucky, total devastation in parts of Clark County, Indiana, the town of Henryville especially hard-hit.

We've got reports tonight from all across the area.


COOPER: On the phone right now is storm chaser Jeff Piotrowski, who rode out the worst of the weather in Henryville, Indiana.

What was the scene like when you got to Henryville, Jeff?

JEFFREY PIOTROWSKI, STORM CHASER: Well, Anderson, shortly after the tornado hit the city of Henryville, there was very heavy damage. The first thing we come up on was an elementary junior high school. And most of the schools had let out during the day but there were about 71 children still at the school at 2: 30 time frame. When that happened, the roof collapsed, the walls collapsed and they were trapped in a part of the building. It took the local fire department and some local people, medical people to help get the kids out of the school.

While we were trying to get the kids out of the school, tornado number two hit us again about 15 minutes after the first tornado and that produced baseball to softball-sized hail, 80-mile-an-hour winds and did massive damage. I mean, we had people running. We have people -- they got hit with baseball and softball-size hail and injured while they were trying to pull people from the rubble from the first tornado. That was in Henryville. It went on up to Marysville. I understand Marysville thought took a massive, heavy hit, Anderson. The town -- some accounts are the town is gone. I can't get up there, but, Anderson, there's massive damage at Marysville.

I cannot confirm any fatalities or injuries at Henryville.

COOPER: Right. PIOTROWSKI: I will say that there was massive storm in there this afternoon after about 3: 00 at school and around the city. We were looking for a state sheriff that was missing and we found him and just basically digging people out of the rubble in the city of Henryville. It's pretty bad.

COOPER: Jeff, I mean. These type of storms at this level, it seems very early for early March, isn't it?

PIOTROWSKI: It is, Anderson. And here, there's a warning -- there's a warning to Americans all over the U.S.

Mother Nature is telling you right now when you have outbreaks in February as we saw last week and the week before, the first week in March we have another super outbreak under way tonight and this afternoon, this is a warning sign.

What it's telling you is that the Gulf of Mexico is warmer than normal. It's telling you we're going to have a lot more violent outbreaks in March and April. We're not even in peak season until May so this is just a precursor of what's coming and people need to be prepared.

You need to have a plan, whether you're at school, at home, at the office, you need to have a plan. This is just the beginning of what's coming over the next 90 to 120 days across the southern Eastern in that state and it's going to be a very, very tough year.

COOPER: Jeff, you talked about the kids in the school. They are OK, yes?

PIOTROWSKI: Yes, the kids -- there was no kids injured or parents or teachers at the school that were injured. A lot of people are frightened. A lot of -- a lot a kids had water on them and insulation (INAUDIBLE) the kids.

The roofs had collapsed, the walls had collapsed. We were having to step over rubble, different walls and sections and break doors down to get people, you know, through the doors and some people had mud and water on them and scared and the fire alarms were going off inside the school. So inside the school was a very bad situation. It picked up cars and buses and threw them into the school. It's a very bad scene there at Henryville.

COOPER: Yes, we're seeing the pictures of the school buses just tossed around like they were toys.

Jeff, appreciate you talking about what you saw today. This damaging storm system as we said and as Chad reported covers a major portion of the middle of the country. The storm now extending as far as the Atlanta area.

Let's go to Rob Marciano. He is just outside Chattanooga, Tennessee. Rob, what was it like there today?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I tell you what, Anderson, it's been a rough eight hours here in eastern Tennessee. It all started with a tornadic thunderstorm that rolled through northern Alabama around lunchtime, made its way across the border and right across Chattanooga. By 1: 00 it touched down just north and east of where we are here in Tennessee.

Some of the pictures coming out of there, multiple homes damaged, if not destroyed, 40 to 50 of them at least. We have nine or ten injuries of people that are at area hospitals and 15 or so people that were treated and released on the scene.

So far the good news is even with all this damage, there have been zero fatalities. Now, search and rescue crews continue, but we've had two other storms that have come through just in the last hour and a half. So those operations have been suspended.

One of those storms dropped a tremendous amount of hail on us right here, up to an inch or so in diameter hail. The hail core blocked our vision of what was a tornado that was reported just to our south by a couple of miles. And now, just about 15 minutes ago, yet another cell came through that went tornadic just to our south and east.

And the main line, as Chad pointed out, has still yet to come through. So a frustrating, devastating day here for the folks who live just north and east of Chattanooga, Tennessee, with the damage that's already been done and the ongoing storms that they have had to deal with, one after another and another batch coming in about two hours from now.

COOPER: And have there been deaths or injuries reported in Tennessee?

MARCIANO: Not in this section. I can't speak for the rest of Tennessee. Just to the east of here in a place called Cleveland on the other side of the highway, homes destroyed and injuries over there as well.

So, you know, between what happened today and the storms that rescuers have had to deal, with not everybody is accounted for. So that operation is ongoing. And we're hoping that that number stays in the zero mark, but from what I have seen today, there's a lot of damage out there, Anderson. These were some potent storms that have come through.

COOPER: Yes. And Rob, you agree that for this time of the year, this is very early for these kinds of intense storms?

MARCIANO: Absolutely. And really the time of the year and where these storms happen is where you have to look for the red flags. We had a tornado reported in Nebraska two days ago. That's never happened in the month of February, so there's a red flag right there. And as Jeff pointed out, to have this sort of outbreak which is very much a mid to late April type of scenario is certainly alarming.

I should also say this, we have moved out of the area that's been devastated. We were evacuated because of the oncoming storms. That's why al you see behind me is some rescue vehicles. We are at the command post which is also acting as a shelter. Some areas, some churches that tried to open up to be shelters, they didn't have power as well, so it's been frustrating for residents, victims and rescuers alike here in eastern Tennessee.

COOPER: I want to go to Lawrence Smith. He is with our affiliate WDRB. He is on the phone. He's in Louisville, Kentucky.

Lawrence, what did you see today? I understand you came very close.

LAWRENCE SMITH, WDRB REPORTER: Yes, I was in Henryville, Indiana, Anderson. We were sent up there to cover the coming tornado. We pulled off at the Henryville exit off i-65 north and moments after we arrived, we saw the twister coming across the highway right at us. The video was incredible. The experience was incredible. But it came across. We ran inside a nearby convenience store with about a half dozen other people.

COOPER: We're showing your video right now.

SMITH: We waited for it. The building shook, the lights went off. The noise was incredible. And it passed right by in front of us. Fortunately where we were, we were not injured, but across the street from us, a few hundred yards away, total devastation.

A gas station across the state a few hundred yards from us leveled. An apartment complex beyond the gas station leveled. Trees torn down. It was an amazing sight to see. But there was some heroic people there immediately who began to go in and pull people out.

I don't think there were any injuries in this particular -- there were injuries, I don't think there were any particular deaths in this area, but it was an amazing sight to be in the middle of a twister as it bears down on you.

COOPER: Lawrence, I mean, we're looking at the images you and your crew took as you were trying to seek safety from this. What does it feel like to be so close? I mean, the temperature change, what is it actually -- what's the experience like?

SMITH: There was no temperature change. It was very quiet, first of all, until it got close to you and then it became this terrific roar. Then you could see the debris begin to swirl.

And we decided we better get inside a building and get away from this as fast as we can, so we went inside and continued to shoot from inside the building from the window. And you could see the debris flying everywhere. The noise was deafening. People were screaming inside the building. It passed by us within a few hundred feet and hit the town of Henryville to a horrific effect. It was just amazing to see the kind of damage that storm could cause.

COOPER: It's extraordinary to see the images. How fast did it go by you? Did it move past you? SMITH: To tell you the truth, it seemed like forever but it was probably only about a minute or so that it took to pass by us. But as we looked to our east as it passed by us, we could see homes just being ripped apart.

COOPER: Lawrence, I'm glad you and your crew were safe and able to get these images for us. Appreciate it, Lawrence Smith, remarkable job today.

Our breaking news coverage is going to continue throughout this hour with late updates on this powerful and deadly storm system.

Let us know what you think on Facebook and Google+. Follow me on Twitter, @AndersonCooper.

Up next: a powerful firsthand account of the Assad regime in Syria, about their bombardment of its own people, of the lies that just keep coming out about what's going on, telling more lies today.

And we have somebody who can directly contradict the lies that we are hearing from the Syrian regime today because they're telling lies about him and he is alive to tell us the truth, photographer Paul Conroy just got out of Syria, just got out of Homs. A lot of people died trying to help get him out. He calls it a medieval slaughter that's happened and a medieval slaughter that's about to continue.

The only difference now is there's no one left in Homs who can videotape it and document it and tell the world about it. But, tonight, he will. I urge you to listen to this.

We'll be right back.


COOPER: "Keeping Them Honest" tonight begins with a terrible, terrible truth and the grotesque lies being told about it over and over again. The truth tonight is stark and simple. The people in Baba Amr, the neighborhood in the Syrian city of Homs that's been under attack now for weeks, those people are now entirely at the mercy of the regime that has been trying day after day and week after week to murder them, to kill them.

They have been targeted by the heaviest weapons of war, even though there's no war, only killing. In the words of a man who just escaped from the city who just saw all of it happening, what's going on Baba Amr is -- quote -- "the medieval siege and slaughter of civilians, the medieval siege and slaughter."

The lies, meantime, from the Assad regime do not stop. The Syrian foreign ministry issued a statement that pretty much left us speechless. It was about the rocket attack that killed journalist, Marie Colvin, and a photographer, Remi Ochlik, and wounded another photographer, Paul Conroy, who you are going to hear from a little moment.

In the statement, the statement reads -- quote -- "The Syrian government immediately after hearing the sad news that Miss Colvin had been killed exerted immense efforts to find out the circumstances under which Miss Colvin was killed."

It's hard to say anything about that but Paul Conroy can say plenty about it. As we said, he was on the receiving end of that same attack that killed his colleague. We spoke to him just a short time ago.


COOPER: Paul, you were injured in the shelling that killed your friends and colleagues, Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik. How are you doing, first of all?

PAUL CONROY, PHOTOGRAPHER, "THE SUNDAY TIMES": I am OK. I'm in London now. I have seen a lot of specialists. They have got the wounds under control in my left leg and removed some metal from my abdomen, so I'm stabilized now.

COOPER: You've covered wars all over the world for a long time. In terms of what you saw happening in Baba Amr, in Homs in Syria, how does it compare?

CONROY: I would say quite categorically, that's the most ferocious, vicious and unnecessary that I have seen. And there are actually no military targets within Baba Amr. All of the intense shelling is directed at the civilian population. So it's quite a unique situation in Baba Amr.

COOPER: Is it even a war? I mean, is it accurate to call it that?

CONROY: No, I think it would be wrong to call it a war. This is, I think, a medieval siege and slaughter. I would hesitate to use the word "war."

COOPER: Slaughter. You say it's a slaughter?

CONROY: Absolutely. It's a slaughterhouse in there. And the city of and people -- it's a very small neighborhood. I was in Misrata for the peak of the shelling there. At least people had space to disappear and run and change neighborhoods.

In Baba Amr there is nowhere to go. The area is ringed by snipers, so any attempt at leaving the neighborhood is met by sniper fire. And the buildings are low, single story buildings generally. They can't withstand the heavy artillery that's being fired into them. So it's a slaughterhouse.

COOPER: In terms of what's going to happen now, if Syrian army forces have left as they said they have and the military, the Syrian regime is able to just move in and take control of the area, as it seems they have, what do you think is going to happen?

CONROY: I mean, this was everybody's, you know, biggest fear. I think most people in Baba Amr had unfortunately had to accept their fate and the world has once again stood by and watched as this assault continued. I think now people have accepted the fact that they will probably end up dead. They were preparing to die. When I was rushed out of the place, I think most people accepted that the west. Nobody was coming to their help and they were prepared to go to their death. It's unfortunate.

COOPER: And now Syrian forces are free to go house to house, apartment to apartment and seek whatever revenge they want. And there's really no one there anymore to document it. No international correspondents and even locals with access to you tube cameras and uploading things on you tube?

CONROY: Absolutely, Anderson. Unfortunately now -- that was a line of defense to a point, the fact that this could be documented and maybe hopefully the presence of photographers and journalists, both western and Syrian, held a modicum of security.

But now that's gone. This will continue in the dark undocumented. And I fear that the opportunity will be taken to exact revenge on these people withstood and had the tenacity to stand up to a regime that was intense on slaughter. Now the cameras have gone, we can only imagine the horrors that will unfold in Baba Amr.

I fear to think of what's going to happen to them people now.

COOPER: In the last interview I did with Marie Colvin, before she was killed, she used the word lies, about the lies the Syrian regime has told. It's a word we use on this program a lot to describe the inaccurate statements they have made over the last 12 months.

Syrian state television now says that calm has been restored in Baba Amr and they have aired interviews of people who say armed terrorists were the ones responsible for shooting and chaos. And that's the line the regime has been pushing since the beginning of the conflict. When you hear what they have to say, what do you think based on what you saw?

CONROY: I feel sick, Anderson. I mean, this regime one day hopefully will answer at The Hague. But the level of lies and deception are beyond -- I hate to use the world human. I hope the outside world doesn't believe any of this nonsense.

They have executed, massacre slaughtered, butchered, women, children, men for the last ten months. And the last two weeks that this regime has committed crimes. They're not war crimes, they're just crimes. This is just outright murder. There's no war involved.

I think the height in beyond the veil of lies of their own, of terrorism. It doesn't address, Anderson. This is pure outright murder of civilians in their homes by a heavily armed force with impunity have shelled and destroyed these people. We saw that. Marie Colvin died witnessing this. And she saw that, I saw that, we've seen it. This is absolute nonsense of the regime.

These are educated people. These are not people in the hills of Afghanistan. These people were educated at universities. There's a whole system in place, and for 40 years the Syrian people have lived under this system, themselves expert in the lies, deception and murder.

We once again stopped by and watched the whole regime commit murder. Not war crimes, there's no war. The war is a fallacy. This is murder of civilians. It is from a regime that is expert in lying and death. They hopefully we stand by and watch them die. Let's hopefully get these people on trial at the Hague, the crimes against humanity.

COOPER: The other statement the Syrian government made today was that they said that they were on the verge of approving a visa for Marie Colvin so that she could travel to the country legitimately. They have said that oftentimes. They promise visas to people and never delivered on that.

They also claim they're going to launch an investigation to find out how Marie was killed. Do you have any doubt in your mind how Marie was killed and who killed her?

CONROY: I was with Marie when she was killed and I know who killed her. There's no need for an investigation. They were professional artillery men, targeted, bracketed and murdered Marie Colvin. And after, they murdered Remi. This was murder, there's no need for investigation.

The Syrian regime -- I mean, I -- you know, I'm sitting there mourning the loss of a friend and a colleague and I have to listen to this nonsense from the murders themselves. It's like the murders are investigating the murderers. It's laughable.

COOPER: And the final thing, I believe it's important to confront their lies constantly because otherwise they go unanswered. The Syrian government is also now saying that they were actually trying to help you and other wounded journalists leave Baba Amr but it was the insurgents who refused to let you leave.

CONROY: Once again, Anderson, we're looking at -- it's a pathetic attempt at lying. If that's the best -- I would go face to face on television with any of that Syrian regime and challenge their lies. That's an open offer to the Assad regime. If they had to face me on a one-to-one interview, I will refute their lies face to face. If they give me a visa, I will come to Damascus and refute their lies. That's an open challenge for the Assad regime. I have that confidence. I will travel back to Syria and we can have it out face to face.

COOPER: We would like to get a visa too and travel back with you. Paul Conroy --

CONROY: If you can arrange that, then I will go with you and we'll confront this regime on their lies.

COOPER: They no longer come on my program. We've called them on their lies a few too many times but we keep asking. So, listen, Paul, I have never met you but I have such respect for what you've done and I'm so sorry for the loss of Marie and your friends and your colleagues. And I'm glad you're back and alive and speaking out, because you're one of the few people who has witnessed the murders and the slaughter. So, thank you.

CONROY: Thank you, Anderson.


COOPER: Paul Conroy.

Just ahead tonight: much more on the powerful storms that pummeled a wide stretch of the U.S. Swarms of tornadoes left miles of damage in their wake. It's a day of sheer terror in a lot of small towns today.

Also ahead, "Raw Politics": Rush Limbaugh's comments about a female law student put him in the crosshairs. He's being slammed by all sides.

Governor Mitt Romney has finally made a comment about it, after dodging some questions about it. We will -- we'll show you what he said and what some of the other GOP candidates have said as well.


COOPER: Welcome back.

You're looking at a school bus embedded in a house in Henryville, Indiana, about 20 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky.

As we have been reporting, the town has been hit hard, the damage extensive. More now on the breaking news coverage. CNN's Chris Welch is in Henryville. Chris, what's the latest there?

CHRIS WELCH, CNN ALL PLATFORM CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, I just got to the scene myself and I have been fortunate enough to meet these two people who were fortunate enough to reunite with each other.

This is Rusty and Megan Irish, father and daughter. Megan goes to school just a couple of hours away from here, but because the phones have been down and because of this massive devastation, they haven't been able to get in touch with each other.

And guess what? Five minutes ago you reunited. Walk me through what your afternoon was like. You live here in Henryville. It's been a busy couple of damages with tornado damage.

But here in Henryville, tell me what happened. What you heard, what you saw when this tornado came through?

RUSTY IRISH, LOST HOME IN STORM: When the tornado came through initially, a friend of mine called and told me that Henryville had been hit extremely hard. I was about 10 miles south of here and rushed here immediately, and to total devastation. WELCH: And did you find your home? I know you told me, "We're not far," right?

How far is your home? And -- and what does it look like?

R. IRISH: Approximately two blocks from here, and the roof is off of it. It's pretty much a total loss.

WELCH: And, Megan, you grew up here, spent a lot of your life here. You went to the school that we've seen a lot of pictures of all evening. Tell me -- you said you got a chance to see the school that you went to. What's your impression after seeing some of this damage?

MEGAN IRISH, LOST HOME: It was awful. Like the front of it was just tore off. And I just saw buses through buildings. And it was -- it kind of hurt, like, to come back and see all this, because I don't like seeing it like this.

WELCH: Your home is gone now, I mean, but you were telling me earlier. These things can be replaced.

But tell me. When you look around, you look at the city where you were born and raised in, what goes through your mind right now?

R. IRISH: I'm still in shock, really. I'm just - you know, I'm worried about -- it's a pretty tight-knit community, a small community, and just worried about the people that I grew up with and been around all my life. You know, hoping everything is OK. You know, and with a lot of outpouring here, people are offering to take us in if we need anything, you know, so that's wonderful. That's a good thing about a small town.

WELCH: What is -- what is the next step? Obviously, this happened hours ago. You're probably still trying to figure out what happened here. But as you go through tonight and into tomorrow morning, what's on your mind? What do you do next?

R. IRISH: I'm just going to see what daylight holds. You know, I'm just thankful that we're all -- we all survived this. Like I said, material things can be replaced. The house can be replaced. We've got a place to stay, you know, warmth, food. We don't have to worry about that.

So like I said, we'll just see what tomorrow holds and go on from there.

WELCH: Thank you both very much for joining us. Anderson, I'll send it back to you.

COOPER: Please, wish them the best for us. And the thoughts and prayers of so many people are with those folks and others tonight. Chuck, thanks very much.

Chuck Adams is with the Clark County, Indiana, sheriff's office. His county took perhaps the biggest hit in this storm. He's in Jeffersonville. We're trying to get a sense of how badly they have been hit.

Thank you for joining us. How bad is Jeffersonville tonight?

CHUCK ADAMS, CLARK COUNTY, INDIANA: Well, Anderson, of course, you're watching what I am on the news. We've got a command post up there, in Jeffersonville. We just had a wonderful influx of police officers coming to the scene. We've probably got 40 or 50 police officers in the Henryville area now. It's remarkable that we didn't have more fatalities. Right now, we've only got one reported fatality in the Henryville area. And I don't really have an injury number for you, but it's -- we were very lucky.

COOPER: How much time did people have? How much warning, do you know, did people have?

ADAMS: Well, I know the alarms went off probably several times during the day. So at least three times. And there was quite a bit of warning.

The only problem that we really did have, the school there in Henryville was still in session, and as you can tell from the footage, the high school is just heavily damaged. They were just so fortunate that the children that were still left in the school today weren't injured. We really reported minor scratches and some abrasions from the students. So we were very fortunate there.

COOPER: Yes. Thank goodness for that, especially when you see that school bus that's just been tossed through a house.

Chuck Adams, I know you've got a long night and long days and weeks ahead of you. We wish you the best and to all those volunteers who have come in from surrounding areas, as well. Wish them the best. Thank you very much.

ADAMS: OK, thank you very much, too.

COOPER: Still ahead today, the ugly battle that may be driving independents, especially women, from the Republican Party. What it means for the presidential candidates. We're talking about comments made by Rush Limbaugh and some of the comments GOP candidates have been asked to make about those statements by Limbaugh. We'll talk about that tonight.

Plus, the images are overwhelming. What the tornadoes left behind today in Henryville. More on the damage ahead.


COOPER: "Raw Politics" tonight, the ugly battle now under way that some Republicans say could be driving independents and some women away from the GOP, even more so now that Rush Limbaugh has painted a bull's eye on one woman, a Georgetown University law student named Sandra Fluke. Fluke, excuse me.

The fight is about whether religiously affiliated institutions like Catholic universities and even medical centers should be required to provide health insurance that covers contraception.

The Democrats wanted Fluke to testify at that all-male House hearing on the issue several weeks back. After Republican chairman Darrell Issa said no, she testified instead to a separate panel of Democrats.

And this week during that bitter Senate fight over allowing employers to eliminate coverage for anything they morally object to, Rush Limbaugh took aim at law student Sandra Fluke.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: What does it say about that college coed Susan [SIC] Fluke who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.


COOPER: He also said, quote, "If we're going to pay for you to have sex, you have to post the videos so we can all watch," unquote.

Today Fluke got a phone call from President Obama. Limbaugh reacted to that, as well.


LIMBAUGH: Obama just called Sandra Fluke to make sure she was all right. Aww, that is so compassionate. What a -- what a great guy.


COOPER: Some Republican candidates who are already saying this is strictly about moral conscience, not women's health, are now being asked by Democrats to repudiate Limbaugh's comments. And by reporters to at least respond to them.

Today Rick Santorum, who speaks out frequently against contraception, had this to say in "THE SITUATION ROOM."


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'd like you to respond to Rush Limbaugh.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, he's taking -- he's being absurd. But that's -- you know, an entertainer can be absurd. And he's taken the absurd -- you know, the absurd sort of point of view here as to how far do you go? And look, he's in a very different business than I am.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: House Speaker John Boehner, through a spokesman, called what Limbaugh said, quote, "inappropriate," but so, he said, were attempts to exploit it.

Romney, on the other hand, first refused to respond to questions about the comments.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Romney do you have a comment on Rush Limbaugh's comments on contraception, sir?


COOPER: Perhaps he didn't hear it there. Hours later on a rope line, he said, quote, "It's not the language I would have used," unquote.

More on the "Raw Politics" now and its impact on the GOP with Republican strategists Ari Fleischer and Mary Matalin, and Democratic strategist Maria Cardona.

Ari, is it appropriate to ask GOP candidates about Rush Limbaugh's comments? A lot of folks say, look, Rush Limbaugh is just an entertainer, but then others say, "Well, look, he has a role in the Republican Party."

ARI FLEISCHER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, look, you know, they are not -- they're not radio people themselves. They're running for president; they're doing something more important. And so yes, it's appropriate to ask them. I don't think it's the be-all and end-all of their campaigns.

But look, what Rush said was reprehensible. He shouldn't have said it. It's insulting. And he didn't need to say it; he shouldn't have said it. He should apologize for it.

But you know, this has been a strange week, Anderson. You had the Huffington Post publish -- had somebody published who wrote one of the most virulent anti-Catholic things we've ever read, who likened the Catholic mass to a barbaric ritual. That was Larry Doyle writing for Arianna Huffington in the Huffington Post.

You know, there's all kinds of sideshows in politics. I don't remember the Democrats getting asked to apologize for Arianna Huffington. They should also.

COOPER: But -- but the guy you quoted is -- I think is a former writer for "The Simpsons." And is he on the same par with Rush Limbaugh? Because Rush Limbaugh addresses -- we're seeing video of him addressing CPAC and conservative groups.

SCHNEIDER: Well, the Huffington Post certainly is. The Huffington Post has millions of readers and identified with the left wing of American politics, and they made the conscious decision to publish this. You know, Rush just speaks contemporaneously. He should not have said it. I'm a fan of Rush, but he shouldn't have said it.

Huffington Post made the conscious decision to publish so millions could read. That's terrible judgment. How come the mainstream media is not making a big deal of the Huffington Post?

COOPER: Mary Matalin, what do you think?

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think that there would not be -- the Republicans would not have ascended to the majority in 1994 without Rush Limbaugh. There wouldn't be a moderate conservative movement without Rush Limbaugh. There would not be a voice for the fly-over country in mainstream America without Rush, and there will be no victories in the fall without Rush.

What's the problem here is that there's nothing more effective than political humor, political satire. Nobody does it better than Rush.

The problem is Republicans get all wobbly and respond to Democratic demagoguery and the distortion of Rush's clear meeting. And they should just pivot to the -- to the issue. Rick Santorum could have pivoted right to how atrocious it is for the overreach of the government to be running over encroaching on their religious liberty or the government demanding that a private enterprise provide and pay for contraceptives or whatever, abortion-producing drugs.

So I think the Republican response to this is always wrong. And after the dust settles, and Rush is right, 99.7 percent of the time. Every one of these candidates right now has to go back and reassert the essential rationale for their candidacy. This is a very important Tuesday coming up. They shouldn't allow themselves to be distracted like this.

COOPER: Maria, was this just satire? I mean, there have been plenty of folks, you know, Bill Maher on the left who said some pretty outrageous things.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The problem is, is what Rush did was very personal to somebody who was testifying about an issue that she felt was personal. It was an ugly, ugly personal attack, and absolutely he should apologize for it. I'm glad that Ari thinks that he should.

And I don't think that this is someone that we want our young kids listening to, our young men, our daughters listening to. And think that it's OK to use that kind of language, especially when you have the megaphone that he has.

And that's the problem here. He is not just somebody who wrote an article that was posted on the Web. To Mary's point, he is a spokesperson for the Republican Party. Republican candidates listen to him. But Republican candidates should also have profiles in courage and know when something has absolutely crossed the line like it has in this -- in this instance.

COOPER: Mary? MATALIN: Anderson, can I just ask you, what standing did that young law student have in this pseudo -- it wasn't even a real hearing. She's not a member of the clergy. She doesn't work for an insurance company. She's not really any kind of student leader. What's her point?

If -- it's a tragic case when a young woman with such clear ambition devotes her life to going to a Jesuit university, paying $40,000 a year, and takes on her cause, government sponsored, taxpayer funded, contraception. There's no problem.

I lived right behind Georgetown when I was in Washington. You can walk to any pharmacy. You can get birth control anywhere. You can get an abortion anywhere up there. There is no problem.

It's a tragic case that our young people are not exposed to good satire but that they take on as their cause, particularly in a Jesuit university where they could be devoting themselves to the great mission and history of the Jesuit enterprise. Why she's doing this is a tragedy. It says more about the problems with our young people than -- than a conversation. Oh, yes, it does, Maria.

COOPER: Maria.

CARDONA: I think -- I think a lot of -- I think a lot of women -- I think a lot of women and a lot of mothers actually think that it's a good thing when young women stand up for what they believe should be equal rights for all women, and that's what this is about. Equal access to life-saving, preventative services. That is the gist of the issue.

Now, clearly what Rush has done was made it about sluts and made it about prostitutes, and that's where it's a problem for the Republican Party, because they have not repudiated that.


FLEISCHER: Maria, I've been consistent on this, and I said I thought it was inappropriate, and he should apologize. Would you call on Arianna Huffington to apologize for publishing the anti-Catholic screed on her wide read by millions Web site?

CARDONA: Yes, I don't think that's appropriate either, Ari. I think this kind -- on either side...

FLEISCHER: And do you think Nancy Pelosi should join you? Should Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama, should they apologize -- ask for Arianna Huffington to apologize?

CARDONA: They don't -- they don't speak for the Huffington Post. They don't speak for Arianna Huffington. I don't think that kind of language is...

FLEISCHER: Well, but you're saying Republicans should ask Rush Limbaugh to apologize. So shouldn't Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama ask Arianna Huffington to apologize? CARDONA: Apologize for what, for running that? For running -- for publishing that piece?

FLEISCHER: Absolutely. For publishing an anti-Catholic hate piece.

CARDONA: It's absolutely -- it's not the same issue because, again...

FLEISCHER: What a double standard. That's a double standard.

CARDONA: No. Rush Limbaugh made a personal attack of this woman, calling her a slut, calling her a prostitute.

COOPER: Well, I guess also the question is does...

CARDONA: And that is something that should not be accepted by anybody.

COOPER: Ari, I guess -- Ari, I guess also the question is does Rush Limbaugh have -- does Arianna Huffington have the same standing in the Democratic Party that Rush Limbaugh does in the Republican Party?

FLEISCHER: Anderson, the issue wasn't how much -- this issue isn't how much is your reach. The issue was how wrong were you when you said something.

I don't think the standard is for an apology for something inappropriate is how many people heard you. She has millions; Rush has millions. It's not whether one has more millions that the other. The question is did you cross a line?

And I guess what Maria is saying is it's wrong to insult one person, but it's right to insult billions of people, which is what the Huffington Post did.

CARDONA: No. No, what I'm saying is it's completely different.

FLEISCHER: It's OK to be anti-religious?

CARDONA: No. What I'm saying is it's completely different.

FLEISCHER: Why won't you say Barack Obama should call on Arianna Huffington to apologize?

CARDONA: Because it's not -- absolutely not the same thing.

COOPER: Maria, you can respond and we've got to go.

CARDONA: It is absolutely not the same thing. The Huffington Post is a publication. Rush Limbaugh is somebody who has his own words and should be responsible for his own words. These are not Arianna Huffington's words. These are Rush Limbaugh's own words.

FLEISCHER: It's called the Huffington Post. CARDONA: And by the way, his advertisers -- his advertisers are withdrawing their money from the show, so clearly it's not something that people agree is OK.

COOPER: We're simply out of time. Maria Cardona, appreciate it.

MATALIN: Twenty years trying to take him out, and they've not done it yet and they're not going to now, Anderson.

CARDONA: And that's the problem with the Republican Party.

COOPER: Mary Matalin, appreciate it. Ari Fleischer, appreciate it, as well.

Coming up, more on the tornado damage. We'll be right back.


CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good evening. I'm Chad Myers. Things finally winding down now that it's cooling off. The hot part of day, that's when the storms run afire. The cool part, they die off. We have had deadly tornadoes, and the pictures you're seeing out of west liberty, Kentucky, a large tornado on the ground for about 60 miles or so and it did a lot of damage to west liberty, and it continues all the way into west Virginia. 60 miles, in the mountains of the coal fields of eastern Kentucky. Amazing to see that.

Another crazy picture we have today was live on the air, about 3 or 4 p.m. in the afternoon with Brooke Baldwin and I, a storm out of Hendersonville in Indiana. This storm was at least 130 miles per hour, significant tornado there; tore up the town. Kids were out of school, not as many casualties as would have happened, especially with a lot of notice, at least 30 minutes' notice with these tornados. They were so big. They were visible spots on radar.

Things calming down now for tonight. There may be a few spin-ups out there, but I don't see any significant big tornadoes still on the way for this evening and the overnight hours.

If you hear the sirens, though, if the alarm goes off, if the NOAA weather radio goes off, there's still a little bit of energy out there, a shower, thunderstorms, or lightning and thunder. But anyway, we will keep you advised as the night goes on. Right now, things calming down, things looking a lot better than they looked just a few hours ago -- Susan.

SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks so much. The images are so horrific. Our thoughts are with those who've lost loved ones there.

Here are the other stories we're following in our "360 News & Business Bulletin" tonight.

Iranians voted today to fill nearly 300 seats in their parliament. It was the first nationwide vote since the disputed re- election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That was back in 2009. That election sparked protests which were met with a bloody crackdown by that regime.

Classes resumed today at Chardon High School in Ohio. On Monday, a gunman opened fire on a table of students in a cafeteria. Three young boys, students, were killed. Two others were injured. The student accused, 17-year-old T.J. Lane. He has been charged with aggravated murder. He is due back in court on Tuesday.

General Motors says it will stop production of the Chevy Volt for five weeks, temporarily idling 1,300 workers. GM apparently has too many of those gas-electric hybrids in its inventory right now.

And today is the birthday of Dr. Seuss. You know who he is, the man who brought us lovable children's books such as "The Cat in the Hat." He would have turned 108 today. Dr. Seuss died in 1991 at the age of 87.

Anderson is back in a moment with "The RidicuList." Stay with us.


COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList." And tonight, we're adding something the airlines are trying with airplane seating arrangements.

Two airlines have decided to let passengers choose who they want to sit next to, based on their Facebook profiles. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines calls it Meet and Seat. Apparently, you share your profile with your other passenger profiles and figure out who you want to sit next to.

Other airlines are considering it, as well.

Sure, why not? I mean, let's not just mind our own business on planes, block each other out like normal people do. God forbid anybody get some peace and quiet. Let's turn every second of our lives into a social networking experiment.

Why stop at Facebook? Let's get on board, turn every flight into multi-hour first dates going on all around you with no escape whatsoever. I think that sounds great.

Look, I don't mean to sound like a curmudgeon, but what was so wrong with just rolling the dice? Maybe you get the hit the jackpot and get the polite, quiet stranger. OK, occasionally you get John Candy in "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles."


STEVE MARTIN, ACTOR/COMEDIAN: I don't want to be rude, but I'm not much of a conversationalist. I want to pretty much finish this article.

JOHN CANDY, ACTOR/COMEDIAN: You catch me running off at the mouth, just give me a poke in the chops. Aw, aw, that feels good. I'm telling you. My dogs are barking today. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Isn't a flight by definition supposed to be a transient part of our lives? We're talking about the relationship you have with someone you happen to be sitting next to from point A to point B. That's it. Do we really need to know their relationship status, poking habits, and an affinity for Nickelback or whatever it is?

The only possible upside I can see is, I guess if someone has "flying planes" under "interests" in their Facebook profile, maybe it could help identify them much more quickly in an "Airplane" type situation.


LESLIE NIELSON, ACTOR: Can you fly this plane and land it?

ROBERT HAYS, ACTOR: Surely, you can't be serious.

NIELSON: I am, and don't call be Shirley.


COOPER: You know, some say this is an innovative way to network. But you know what? People don't tell the whole truth about themselves on their Facebook profile. They're not going to write, "I talk incessantly" or "I smell like blue cheese" in there. In other words -- blue cheese. In other words, it's not going to help you avoid the kind of situation described in the following clip, in which a woman calls into CSPAN trying to get help from then-Majority Whip Newt Gingrich.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A couple weeks ago, I had a situation where I was on a plane that had three seats on either side. I sat in the middle. I had a woman on one side that had Obsession perfume, Liz Taylor's Obsession, and it was so overpowering. Besides that, the man on the other side must have had shrimp scampi or something for lunch, because he smelled like garlic.


COOPER: I bet this idea is really going to take off. So have fun, everyone, making Facebook friends on planes everywhere. I'll be the guy with the noise-canceling headphones, newspaper, and Ambien, dreaming about the good old days.

OK, that's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.