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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

The President's Biggest Mistake Of 2013?; "Worst Year Of Your Presidency?"; Obama Approval At All-Time Low; Dangerous Storms Threaten Holiday Travel; North Korea Sends Threatening Fax; Court Battle Over Farrah Fawcett Painting; New Documents Reveal 1,000 NSA Targets; Future of "Duck Dynasty" Up in the Air

Aired December 20, 2013 - 19:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Next, facing the lowest approval rating of his presidency, President Obama meets with the press for the final time this year. What did he say his administration screwed up this year?

Plus, the family of "Duck Dynasty" patriarch Phil Robertson threatens to walk if he is not back on the show. Can A&E afford to take the hit?

And breaking news about John Hinckley Jr. What a judge just ruled about the man who shot President Reagan.

(MUSIC)

TAPPER: Good evening, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper, in for Erin Burnett.

Tonight the president getting out of Dodge: at this moment, President Obama, along with his family, is about to head to Hawaii for the holidays, leaving behind a tough year of all time tough approval ratings, a botched health care roll out and a government snooping scandal. Before the president left town, a farewell meeting of the press and here's the first question out of the gate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has this been the worst year of your presidency?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I got to tell you, that's not how I think about it. I look at this past year there are areas where there have been frustrations where I wish Congress had moved more aggressively. If you are measuring this by polls, my polls have gone up and down a lot through the course of my career.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: CNN's senior White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar was in the briefing room and asked the president a question. Brianna, the president was asked about his biggest mistake of the year and he said, it was the health care rollout. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The fact is it didn't happen in the first month, the first six weeks in a way that was at all acceptable and since I'm in charge, obviously we screwed it up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Some bad timing today, Brianna. The Obamacare web site, the federal web site, healthcare.gov, it went down again today for maintenance. How is the White House responding?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are, of course, referring everyone to HHS or CMS, which oversees the White House, Jake. But you can imagine what bad timing that would have been. I will say the good timing was that it was back up just minutes before the press conference. That could have been a pretty embarrassing visual for President Obama to have that going on while he spoke.

But according to CMS, this was an outage that occurred because there was an error while there was maintenance last night. It took few hours of fixing today before it got back up and running, but it also came at another inopportune time because as you know, there is this important December 23 deadline where folks who need insurance by January 1st and need to sign up on the exchange for it, that's the deadline for them to do so.

So that certainly affected, it was sort of a bad timing for this as well. You heard President Obama saying this was the biggest mistake of 2013 for him. I think it is worth noting that this has been such a mea culpa when it comes to Obamacare for him that there was almost this answer ready for what his mistake was.

TAPPER: And Brianna, 2013, even if he is not going to say I think it is fair to say this was probably the most difficult year, the worst year of his presidency. How do his aides say he homes to turn it around next year?

KEILAR: Well, I will say first, you may be seeing 2014 resemble 2013 right out of the gate if this debt ceiling battle does happen. That may be something not entirely within his control if House Republicans are going to pursue a similar tactic. We heard Paul Ryan use the word fight. We're waiting to see if that does materialize.

But I think what they're trying to do is try to push forward with some things that they can maybe get by Congress, economy, climate change. The issue there is that he may only be able to do small things on the margins. Really, immigration reform is what he's looking toward as a potential legacy item. It may also be incremental.

You know the Republicans are open only to piecemeal legislation on this in the House. The question is will President Obama be able to rebound in the polls? Maybe. Will he be able to rebound when it comes to his legacy, that is going to be much more difficult -- Jake.

TAPPER: Brianna Keilar, thanks so much. Let's get to a debate about this with Sean Spicer. He is the communications director, for the Republican National Committee, Ben Labolt, press secretary for Obama's 2012 campaign, and Amy Stoddard, the associate editor of "The Hill."

Ben, let's start with you. This has been -- this has been a tough year for the president. I don't see how anybody could disagree with the idea that it was president's toughest year. How does he turn it around?

BEN LABOLT, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: I think we have to look at the historical precedent and both President Reagan and President Clinton had similar low moments in their presidencies. The thing that turned it around for them it was economy and I think that's why you saw the president focus on that today. The greater economic growth over the last quarter than we've seen.

Two million more jobs, 8 million over the president's term that we've seen created. I think that's what you'll see him hammer home next year. He's said he will focus on income inequality, the top issue that the American people are focused on right now and get behind issues like raising the minimum wage to $10, giving people across the country purchasing power to buy back in to the economy.

And I think as you see the economy continue to expand, the jobs continue to be created over the next few years. You will see his approval rating follow.

TAPPER: The economy is in better shape than the president's approval rating would suggest. We have record highs on the Dow. We do have upwardly revised job growth for the third quarter 4 percent. I know it is not where it needs to be and I know there are a lot of people unemployed. I'm not trying to make light of it or shine a bad apple, but it is better than a 41 percent approval rating would suggest.

SEAN SPICER, RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I think again, you have to measure that from where it could be during the Bush years when the Democrats saw it, it was horrible. They would have called this horrendous. I think we're saying an "F" is now a "D" minus and that is improvement. That's not good enough. It wasn't good enough six, seven years ago and it shouldn't be good enough now.

Our national debt continues to soar and as you point out there are millions of people out of work. The problem that we'll have is heading into the second term Obamacare is not going on get better and you saw them issue the 14th waiver, if you will, today for Obamacare because more and more people --

TAPPER: Allowing catastrophic plans to continue.

SPICER: Right. Because what's happening is this thing is not getting better with time. It's not just confined to a few glitches on a website. As more and more people's plans get cancelled and their doctors aren't with the new plan that they set up in the exchange and the premiums go up, there is going to be a lot more dissatisfaction with people because we haven't seen the other shoe fall, which is that corporations are going to start to move more and more employees into exchanges and offer the plans they have. So it's going to get worse, not better.

TAPPER: A.B., I know that the spin from Democrats is ultimately and especially by the midterms in 2014 the Affordable Care Act is going to be a winner. There will be more people with insurance than people who didn't have it before. People will see the benefits of it. What did Democrats on the Hill actually think?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "THE HILL": Well, that's what they say out loud.

TAPPER: What do they say when they're off the record?

STODDARD: The problem is we're looking at a time span. More people might be insured, but that's not the measure people are going to be looking at the Affordable Care Act through next October. There are waves of developments that's will happen in January and March and late spring and then in July when the employer mandate kicks back in and people learn whether or not their companies are going to keep them on the plan they liked.

There might be not enough time Democrats say privately to stand by the law. Maybe in three years but before they're in high season of campaign next September, maybe not. So that's the political pressure that Democrats are under right now. Finding a way to offer repairs and seem like they're supporting the overhaul of the system in general, but able to criticize the parts that aren't working.

SPICER: If you look at a Democrat like Mary Landrieu. Today she was doing everything she could to distance herself from the law when the president issued this additional waiver for catastrophic, for people with catastrophic plans. She was saying she was part of the solution. Again, another one of the architects of the plan who cast the vote, who spread the quote, "lie of the year" that if you like your plan, you can keep it.

You're seeing the targeted Democratic senators and House members do everything that they can to distance themselves from Obamacare and from the plan that they helped author and the rhetoric that they themselves spread.

LABOLT: But Republicans are campaigning again and again and again to repeal the law in its entirety. You've voted over 40 times to do that and the American people are opposed to that. They believe that the law should be strengthened and now the Republicans are going to be out there campaigning against the 15,000 people a day who are enrolling in coverage in California. The 3,000 people a day in Kentucky where Mitch McConnell, by the way, has the worst approval rating of any senator in the country and he is up for re-election. That's going to be a challenge.

TAPPER: We can talk all night about Obamacare and I'm sure we'll have you back. I want to ask you one question about the president's lack of trust the people have with him. One of the most shocking things that has happened in the last two or three months in his poll numbers is that a plurality of Americans do not find him trust worthy as opposed to finding him trustworthy and the numbers of people who think that he cares about them as opposed to the Republican Party caring about them. That President Obama still has an edge, but it was once a 26-point edge. Now it is a 6-point edge. How does he repair that?

LABOLT: Well, if you take a look at CNN's poll today, 12 percent of people were disappointed in the president because they didn't think he was liberal enough. In 2012, we spent a lot of time working to regaining the trust of previous supporters of the president. I think they're disappointed the affordable care act that the web site didn't work as they hoped it would. Now as things turn around. You see millions of people across the country in the state exchanges and eventually in the federal exchange. I think you will see him regain the trust of those previous supporters.

SPICER: You look beyond the top line numbers. You have a 23 percent dip in Hispanics, a huge dip in youth voters. These are the president's base walking from him saying this isn't just independents or right moderate Republicans. This is the president's base saying we're rejecting this.

LABOLT: They haven't come to the Republican Party -- Washington's approval rating is even worse. So they're rejecting that --

SPICER: In his final two years and his base isn't standing firm when you're watching Hispanics walking with them and he is saying for the fifth or sixth year in a row, I'm going to champion immigration reform. They've just lost the credibility factor. Not just the trust has been lost.

TAPPER: A.B., I want to give you the final word. What do you see happening on Capitol Hill when it comes to the debt ceiling fight? Will this turn into a government shutdown? Is it that going to be that bad?

STODDARD: No. I really think both parties are not interested in that kind of a stand-off again. I think you will hear a lot in January from Democrats about the extension of unemployment insurance and the Republican opposition to food stamp programs and the war on the poor. Republicans will say we want the approval of Keystone pipeline or some kind of Obamacare delay. They'll ask for something in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.

In the end, I think you will see a very modest bipartisan deal that is similar -- voted similarly that way that this budget deal just came out, a lot of Republican opposition, but a bipartisan deal that approves it.

TAPPER: A.B. Stoddard, Ben Labolt, Sean Spicer, thank you so much. Enjoy your weekend. Merry Christmas to all of you.

Still to come, more of President Obama's comments from today's press conference. How he says he plans to fix the NSA spying program.

Plus, a winter storm could mean huge headaches for holiday travelers. We'll tell you which parts of the country could be hit the hardest.

And tensions running high between North and South Korea, the North threatens to strike the South, quote, "mercilessly and without notice."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: A developing story, a confirmed tornado touched down just a short while ago outside Jackson, Mississippi. It's just one example of the dangerous and in some places, bizarre weather sweeping across the country today threatening to disrupt the estimated 94 million people who will be travelling this holiday weekend.

Chad Myers joins me from the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta. Chad, what do we know right now about that tornado?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It was on the ground for a while about 20 miles west of Jackson, Mississippi. It moved across I-20. We don't have any reports of any damage along I-20, just a couple of trees down for right now. This is what can happen when you have warm air on one side and cold air on the other. That's what we have.

It is a major ice storm and snow event too, but for Oklahoma City, for Tulsa, right here to the north. It is Missouri and St. Louis, almost to Chicago, heavy rain, just to the south of that, Jake, we are going to have flooding rainfall and then severe weather on the other side. The warm side gets the severe weather. The cold side gets the snow and the ice.

Oklahoma City betting down the hatches, I can bet there is no milk or bread left on the shelves at all. I lived there three years. I know what happens when there is any threat of winter weather in Oklahoma. Everything disappears. Ice storm warning, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, that's the story for today and it is already here. There is not much time unless you're in Guthrie or Edmond. Then you have a couple more minutes, but this weather is on its way.

It is already sleeting in Paul's Valley and that's the weather you're going to get for the next probably 24 hours. Here's the snow from Milwaukee down to Des Moines. It is not like you're not used to that in Milwaukee or Des Moines about six or eight inches of snow right through there.

Do you know what? I flew from D.C. to Atlanta today and the airports were jammed. I couldn't believe the number of people in the Atlanta airport trying to get someplace. So with this weather coming in for tomorrow, I assume it is even going to be just as busy, if not more. This will slow down travellers for sure.

TAPPER: A grim forecast for a holiday weekend where a lot of Americans, millions of Americans are expected to travel. Chad Myers, thank you so much. Escalating tensions in North Korea tonight, the communist nation sent a fax, yes, a fax to South Korea threatening to, quote, "strike mercilessly and without notice" in response to anti- North Korea protesters in Seoul, South Korea.

This all comes as former NBA star, Dennis Rodman is in North Korea visiting Kim Jong-Un and holding basketball try outs for an exhibition game against former NBA players to be held next month. Anna Coren is live in Seoul tonight. Anna, thanks for being here. North Korea continues to threaten South Korea, this time seriously by fax. How serious are these threats?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, Jake, this is something that happens quite regularly between North and South Korea. They have a very long history of this sort of behavior. North Korea sent a fax on the day that Dennis Rodman touches down in Pyongyang saying that it would strike mercilessly and without notice if these anti-regime protests continued here in Seoul.

We are talking about a small scale protest here. People talking, speaking out about the regime, about Kim Jong-Un burning effigies, but I guess what makes this so interesting is that the political instability that is going on in the country at the moment, many analysts believe that is why North Korea is behaving the way it is.

Obviously last week, Kim Jong-Un, the leader of North Korea had his uncle executed and many believed that the purges are just beginning. But as I say, the behavior is quite common. It was only earlier year that obviously the U.S. and South Korea were holding those military exercises off the coast of peninsular and North Korea was threatening to rain down fire on the United States and South Korea. So this is the sort of rhetoric that we can expect certainly from the north -- Jake.

TAPPER: And Anna, this is all happening as bizarrely enough, Dennis Rodman is on this public visit. We see pictures of him with the basketball team. Do we have any idea if he has met yet with Kim Jong- Un?

COREN: We don't, Jake. It is quite interesting. You know, North Korea controls all the information that is disseminated and so far there are no reports whatsoever, just those fighters that we've been showing of Dennis Rodman with the North Korean basketball team. As you say, he is here to train that team in preparation for an exhibition game next month that will celebrate the birthday of his very good friend, Kim Jong-Un.

And we are, however, hearing reports that he is having a few problems in trying to get the American team together. That will be made up of former NBA stars. A couple of them are a bit concerned about their safety going into North Korea, but Jake, as Rodman says nothing to worry about. It is all love here. All love. That's directly from Dennis Rodman.

TAPPER: Yes. That sounds like him. Anna Coren, thank you so much.

Still to come, SeaWorld goes on the offense over the treatment of its killer whales. Will the PR push work?

And the legal battle over Farrah Fawcett's multi-million dollar painting, why the big fuzz? That's tonight's money and power.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: The money and power of Farrah Fawcett. Fawcett's partner of 30 years, actor, Ryan O'Neal won a court battle to keep an Andy Warhol painting of the actress, one that's worth up to $12 million. He was fighting the University of Texas which claimed Fawcett left the painting to the university in her will. The testimony was at times emotional. O'Neal telling jurors about the painting saying I talked to it. I talk to her. Nischelle Turner has more on the court drama.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A striking portrait of Farrah Fawcett painted by a modern master and the focus of a courtroom battle between the man who said he loved the iconic actress and the university she bequeathed her art collection to. Ultimately a Los Angeles jury decided Ryan O'Neal who had a son with Fawcett was entitled to keep the painting, which could be worth up to $12 million.

But O'Neal says to him, it is a priceless reminder of what he lost when Fawcett died from cancer in 2009. In court, the actor testified, it is her presence in my life and her son's life. We lost her. It would seem a crime to lose it. On the losing side of the verdict, Fawcett's alma mater, the University of Texas who claimed the portrait, part of a matched pair of canvases painted by Andy Warhol in 1980 belonged to them.

DAVID BECK, ATTORNEY FOR UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS: The University of Texas had no choice. We had to pursue this matter because Farrah Fawcett left all her artwork to the University of Texas.

TURNER: But according to O'Neal, Warhol gave one portrait to him and one to Fawcett. The university acknowledged the portrait, which was displayed above O'Neal's bed on his reality show sat in a similar position from 1980 until 1997, the year Fawcett caught O'Neal with a younger woman. The university's attorney said Fawcett took painting back, but O'Neal testified he asked his ex to hold on to it because it made his, quote, "young friend uncomfortable" to have Farrah staring at her.

O'Neal said Fawcett told him, I'd like you to leave there because I want to make her uncomfortable. While there was no paper trail to prove ownership, witnesses from the university testified that Fawcett referred to the painting as my Warhols. One witness claimed O'Neal stole the painting from the wall outside of Fawcett's bedroom. The jury ultimately believed O'Neal's claim that no matter where the portrait was, above his bed, at Fawcett's house or in storage, it belonged to him. Nischelle Turner, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Nischelle Turner, thanks so much.

Still to come, new revelations about the National Security Agency and who exactly was being spied on.

Plus the president talks about how he may change the spy programs. And the latest from the "Duck Dynasty" controversy, Phil Robertson's family presents A&E with something of an ultimatum.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: It's a breaking news right now. A judge has just ruled that the man who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan is getting more time outside a mental hospital.

Brian Todd is following the story.

Brian, what more can you tell us about this ruling about John Hinckley Jr.?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, he's going to get an added week each month. Right now, John Hinckley's visits are currently restricted to 10 days a month. But now, he's going to get an added week each month at his mother's home in Williamsburg, Virginia. Hinckley has spent more than three decades at St. Elizabeth's. That's a mental hospital in Washington. After being found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1981 attempt to assassinate President Reagan, Hinckley was diagnosed with major depression and psychotic and narcissistic personality disorders. He's tried to commit suicide three times since the assassination attempt. All of those were in the 19 early 1980s.

Today, Federal Judge Paul Friedman wrote in his opinion that Hinckley will, quote, "not be a danger to himself or others if he is given more time away from the hospital." Fairly dramatic ruling.

TAPPER: Will his lawyers be satisfied with this? Is that it for them?

TODD: It's not really it. Hinckley's lawyers wanted more freedom. Up to 24 days a month. But the judge ruled it's not going to be wise to allow him that much freedom until he is evaluated further.

Here's an interesting quote from Judge Friedman's ruling today. He wrote that Hinckley, quote, "continues to exhibit deceptive behavior, even when there are no symptoms of psychosis or depression." The judge also said he has not cultivated any friends or established ties to people in Williamsburg." So he has some adjustment problems.

And it is interesting. Prosecutors previously said that he had lied to mental health professionals about seeing two movies. This was some years back. That he said he went to two movies and he had never gone there.

The only reason that was discovered was because the Secret Service was watching. So there have been issues with his reliability, is truthfulness in the not too distant past.

TAPPER: And also, some suggesting that even when he is out there, some people are keeping an eye on him.

TODD: That's right. The Secret Service will be watching him the rest his life.

TAPPER: All right. Brian Todd, fascinating story and in some ways a little disturbing.

TODD: Right.

TAPPER: In his year end press conference today, President Obama addressed the damage done by exiled NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The way in which these disclosures happen had been damaging to the United States and damaging to our intelligence capabilities. And I think there was a way for us to have this conversation without that damage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Brand new classified documents from Snowden were published today, revealing over 1,000 new NSA surveillance targets -- some of them foreign heads of state and commercial businesses abroad.

Jim Sciutto has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Under continuing fire at home and abroad for the NSA mass surveillance, today the president signaled real changes to come.

OBAMA: We may have to refine this further to give people more confidence and I'm going to be working very hard on doing that. And we've got to provide more confidence to the international community.

SCIUTTO: One possible reform, moving data on billions of phone calls of Americans from the NSA back to the phone companies.

OBAMA: Programs like 215 could be redesigned in ways that give you the same information when you need it without creating these potentials for abuse.

SCIUTTO: His promise comes as the NSA's intelligence dragnet is proving even bigger than was known.

New documents revealed by Edward Snowden and shared with "The New York Times" revealed the NSA spied on the Israeli prime minister, the U.N. and businesses, including French oil giant Total, and the European competition commissioner overseeing U.S. companies such as Google. This after the administration has long insisted the NSA does not spy for commercial purposes.

Today, the NSA reaffirmed that point, saying in a statement, "We do not use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of or give intelligence we collect to U.S. companies to increase their bottom line."

Critics of surveillance say the president should accept most or all of the recommendations of a reform panel of intelligence and legal experts.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: They have done this for a living and have made those decisions that are key to keeping America safe.

SCIUTTO: The ACLU, also a strong critic of mass surveillance, took a lighter look at the NSA.

(MUSIC)

SCIUTTO: With a YouTube video timed to Christmas.

(on camera): The president was also asked about the idea of granting amnesty to Edward Snowden, an idea first raised by an official in a "60 Minutes" piece. He said he couldn't comment on it because Snowden is still involved in a legal proceeding. But he went on to say that he still believes Snowden caused, quote, "unnecessary damage" both to U.S. intelligence gathering and American diplomacy -- Jake.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.

An update now on the "Duck Dynasty" controversy.

This just in from our senior media correspondent Brian Stelter and A&E executive who spoke to Stelter on condition of anonymity said that conversations with the Robertson family, the stars of this wildly successful cable show would likely resume after the Christmas holiday. Quote, "Everybody just needs to take a breath", unquote. That's in response to the network's suspension of the show's star for making some controversial comments about homosexuality and African-Americans.

The Robertson family is standing by their patriarch. In a statement, they say, quote, "We cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm. We are in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of 'Duck Dynasty'."

Tom Foreman has more on the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Beyond their shaggy beards and backwoods ways, the "Duck Dynasty" men stand at the center of a sophisticated and massive marketing empire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come out and go buy at Walmart. They keep (INAUDIBLE)

FOREMAN: Many of their 14 million weekly viewers shop at Walmart, Target, Kohl's and Cabela's where they buy "Duck Dynasty" DVDs, clothing, books, hunting gear, household items and even the Robertson family's hit Christmas album. Forbes estimates all that merchandise will add up to $400 million in revenue by years end.

But what then?

MATTHEW BELLONI, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: Well, I think that's the big question.

FOREMAN: Matthew Belloni with on "The Hollywood Reporter", suggests contrary to predictions of a financial collapse from the scandal --

BELLONI: I think that the core fans who have supported this brand are not necessarily going to turn away because of what has happened here. In many instances, people might be motivated to buy the products more because they support Phil Robertson in this situation.

FOREMAN: How can that be? Celebrity driven financial empires are uniquely vulnerable to image problems.

PAULA DEEN, CELEBRITY CHEF: I want to apologize.

FOREMAN: After chef Paula Dean admitted using the racial slurs, she lost her TV show and endorsement deals. Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, even Martha Stewart suffered huge financial blows when's scandal came to call.

(on camera): The difference? Those celebrities were all caught doing something no one expected. The "Duck Dynasty" show has been built from the start around the idea of a rural family with frank, fundamentalist beliefs.

The revelation that Phil Robertson thinks homosexuality is wrong may strike many fans as no surprise and indeed, polls say almost half the country feels the same way. Meaning A&E could stand to be the biggest loser if "Duck Dynasty" ultimately flies away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Tom is here with me along with Joe Concha, who's a television critic from Mediaite, and Derrick Kinney, a business analyst.

Joe, let's start with you. Who has the upper hand here? And how much is at stake?

JOE CONCHA, MEDIAITE: Well, clearly, if we're just following the money and Brian's report doesn't really shock me all that much, A&E has much more to lose. Tom's report says it all, $400 million in retail through Walmart and Kohl's and Target and these places that sold alone.

The most watched nonfiction cable television show in history, its premiere which was in August, not a time when a lot of people are watching television. So, clearly, the Robertsons I think, Jake, have the upper hand, because remember, when they came into this, they were already worth millions, $15 million was the estimated report. So, the Robertsons don't need the money. They certainly don't need the publicity. Glenn Beck's The Blaze TV, which is obviously not a big television network, but nonetheless he has already extended an offer, that, hey, if it doesn't work out with A&E, come over to me.

So, they will have options if it doesn't work with A&E, and they already have money any way.

TAPPER: Derrick, it is the number one show on A&E. It averaged 12 million viewers in its season premier. Glenn Beck, as Joe points out, has already said he would put the show on his channel, The Blaze. Can A&E afford to let them go?

DERRICK KINNEY, BUSINESS ANALYST: Well, interesting point. From a strictly business standpoint, controversy aside, A&E was there before "Duck Dynasty" and they'll be there after "Duck Dynasty."

The bottom line is companies like this have business plans to get them through controversies like this. Where the problems occurred is they've alienated a large base of their viewers and they want to get them. Will they do that at some point? They will. Are they going to go out of business? No. But this really isn't their first rodeo.

I think they're going to come back and at some point come to an agreement to make sure the show continues at some level, because the viewers are really demanding that right now.

TAPPER: Tom, "Duck Dynasty", it's not just a hit TV show. It's an empire. According to "Forbes", they generated $400 million this year alone. Two best selling books, a Christmas album on the Billboard charts. So much stuff sold at Walmart.

Now, the Food Network parted ways with Paula Deen over her comments.

Do you think A&E will do the same here?

FOREMAN: You know what? I agree with what our guests have said. A&E stands to be the big loser, because look at this -- look at this stuff. We found this walking five minutes away from here. We didn't have to go out --

TAPPER: The bestsellers.

FOREMAN: The book is doing great, the t-shirts and stuff is absolutely everywhere and it is worth a fortune. So, I think, in the end, the family has the upper handled in all this.

And part of the difference that really we have to point out besides what we already said about Paula Deen, bear in mine in the case of Paula Deen, where you talk about somebody using a racial epithet, in the case of Lance Armstrong, where he was cheating at the basic sport he was in, in the case of Martha Stewart with tax evasion. Those are all things where we as a society broadly agree that they're bad.

On the issue of homosexuality about, half the country still does not agree that this is an OK thing. So they're not in the same circumstance where it is very clear you've turned off part of the audience by doing it.

To the contrary, as we noted, maybe half the country is saying right now, well, half is saying this is unthinkable. Maybe half is saying, good for him. He said what we believe even if people don't always like it.

TAPPER: Joe, A&E had to know what they were getting into when they put the Robertsons on TV. He has said programs even more offensive things about women. And I just find it -- I'm shocked that they didn't know that this is how this guy thought and what he believed in.

CONCHA: Jake, they knew exactly what they were buying. In 2010, there is actually video of Phil Robertson doing a sermon where he makes the exact comments in the "G.Q." interview. It's like "The Jersey Shore", right? I mean, when you're putting on Snooki and JWoww and Ronnie and the Situation and they're getting into fights every week, well, you know, this is what you're encouraging because it makes for good TV. But the minute they may say something that reflects poorly on the network, suddenly they're acting shocked.

So, A&E, yes, they have the most to lose and justly so. They made their own bed here. They knew exactly what they were getting, who they were putting on the air and most importantly, during that interview had no one around Phil Robertson to say maybe you shouldn't say that, or give him some sort of media training.

So, if A&E loses here, guess what, they made their own bed, Jake.

TAPPER: That's an interesting idea, the concept of trying to media train the Robertson family. Thanks for putting that image in my brain.

Joe, thanks for being here. Tom, Derrick Kinney, much appreciate it.

KINNEY: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up next, SeaWorld fights back against claims it is mistreating its killer whales. Will the new public relations push work?

And a war on Christmas specials, which ones just don't make the cut?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: SeaWorld is launching a counter attack over criticism over the documentary film "Blackfish", which cast as critical eye on the park's treatment of killer whales.

Here's one clip that had a lot of people talking.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "BLACKFISH")

JOHN CROWE, DIVER: It was a really exciting thing to do until everybody wanted to do it.

REPORTER: What were they telling you, you were going to do?

CROWE: Capture orcas.

HOWARD GARRETT, ORCA RESEARCHER: They had aircraft, they had spotters, speedboats, they had bombs they were throwing in the water. They were lighting their bombs with the acetylene torches in their boats and throwing them as fast as they could to herd the whales into coves.

But the orcas had been caught before and they knew what was going on and they knew their young ones would be taken from them. So, the adults without young went east into a cul-de-sac. And the boats followed them thinking they were all going that way. While the mothers with babies went north. But the capture teams had aircraft, and they have to come up for air eventually, and when they did, the captured teams alerted the boats and said oh, no, they're going north, the ones with babies.

So, the speedboats caught them there and herded them in. And then they had fishing boats with same the nets they would stretch across so none could leave. And then they could pick out the young ones.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: In a full page ad published today, in eight of the largest newspapers in the country, SeaWorld pushed back saying, quote, "It's time to set the record straight."

Martin Savidge, who has been following the story, is with me now.

Martin, thanks so much for being here.

Prior to this, the park had dismissed the film as inaccurate and biased. But SeaWorld now has people boycotting, celebrities withdrawing from appearances there. How widespread has the criticism been?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think what's happened here is that because of the huge audience that that film "Blackfish" found on CNN, it sort of took what had been criticisms limited to animal right's activist and shared now it with a broader audience and that's the real concern for SeaWorld here, is that regular mom and pops, you can say and children are beginning to ask the questions that up until now had only been asked by people on the fringe. That's the real problem and it hasn't gone away.

TAPPER: And SeaWorld specifically addressing a number of claims from the film, saying they don't separate mothers from calves, their captive orcas live as long as those in the wild.

Do you think these answers will be enough to satisfy the criticism?

SAVIDGE: Well, it's never going to be enough to satisfy the animal right's activists because they only want to see SeaWorld run out of business for the most part. But it could go a long way to sort of again, assuage that crowd that is thinking about these issues.

It should be pointed that SeaWorld used to, at times, separate the mothers and calves and that's very emotional to a lot of people and the breeding program and how long they live, SeaWorld says their whales live as long as those in the wild. There are many scientists who would vehemently disagree with that.

TAPPER: There's been a very public backlash against the park, since the release of this movie, but is there any evidence that SeaWorld is losing money as a result of the film? SAVIDGE: No, there isn't. When you listen to their reports, quarterly reports, is how they are doing with revenues and ticket sales, they say that they are once again on track for another record revenue year, Jake?

TAPPER: Martin Savidge, thanks.

Tonight, "CROSSFIRE's" S.E. Cupp is guest-hosting "PIERS MORGAN LIVE". She is talking to Glenn Beck who takes aim at just about everyone. One of his targets: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLENN BECK, RADIO HOST: Libertarianism is the future.

S.E. CUPP, CNN HOST: Yes.

BECK: And that is everybody be cool to each other. Everybody live responsibly. And live free.

CUPP: Well, that sounds really good. But let me ask you about -- let me ask you about the real world. Chris Christie is the real world.

BECK: That is the real world.

CUPP: Chris Christie is almost --

BECKEL: No, Chris Christie is a fat nightmare.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: For more of the interview, check out "PIERS MORGAN LIVE" at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Still to come, another Christmas controversy is brewing and this one is shaping up to be a classic.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, Christmas specials, Christmas movies, they are airing on every network, many of them considered classics but are they all really classics?

We asked some experts what it takes for a holiday movie to be considered great.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): 'Tis the season of classic holiday movies, starting, of course, with "It's A Wonderful Life".

UNIDENTIFIED KID: Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings. TAPPER: And "Miracle on 34th Street."

In the '60s, a couple of TV specials were added to the cannon, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

CHARACTER: This sound sounded glad.

TAPPER: And "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

CHARACTER: This doesn't seem to fit the modern spirit.

TAPPER: But now, a slightly newer batch of movies are starting to crowd in on the family favorites. Does Will Ferrell's "Elf" deserve a place on the DVR? Probably not.

But make no mistake, the most heated debate about Christmas movies centers around the film "Love Actually." Does "Love Actually" deserve to be considered a new Christmas classic.

Film critic Chris Orr says emphatically no.

CHRISTOPHER ORR, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: It's just a very strange conception of love that sort of starts with physical attraction and then goes immediately to the happily ever half.

TAPPER: Associate editor Emma Green says yes.

EMMA GREEN, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: The strength of a movie like "Love Actually", though, which is a more recent classic, is to me, it feels more personal. It feels like something I can see in my real life potentially, hopefully, and something that feels fresh.

TAPPER: Orr and Green write for "The Atlantic."

Earlier this month, an office conversation turned into a heated debate. "Love Actually" turned into a battle field.

GREEN: Basically, every one of our co-workers got up from their cubes, stopped what they were doing and surrounded us fight club-style as we debated loudly over the merits of the movie.

ORR: It was awesome. Everything ground to a halt for five or 10 minutes.

TAPPER: They took their debate to the web with dueling articles. Their work garnered more than 50,000 Facebook shares and I confessed I was one of them. The argument is brutal and fun.

The new decade-old British film "Love Actually" follows nine story lines, each about some version of affection, young love, familiar companionship, ill-timed lust, truly joyful anticipation, Orr argues these plot lines are not only implausible but superficial and even immoral, far from the wholesome virtues expected this time of year.

ORR: I think that "Love Actually" is not an unromantic movie but an actively anti-romantic movie. It's almost a series of money shots. It's like the mash up of first and last scenes of variety of other romantic comedies, without the middle part where people get to know each other and fall in love.

TAPPER: Green says love is not the spirit of the season, no matter how sloppy its expression.

GREEN: They don't have time to show all of the four-hour conversations that eventually lead people to fall in love intellectually. It's more about that magic chemistry moment that allows people to inexplicably fall into the crush zone, and I think that's a very valid and wonderful and magical thing to show.

TAPPER: It should be noted that "Love Actually" got mixed reviews when it came out, including Orr's own scathing write up.

ORR: When I watched it again, it was even worse than I remembered it and in particular, that Keira Knightly scene was even creepier than I'd remembered it.

TAPPER: For the record, "A Christmas Story" was also originally panned, but I guess you could say that criticism didn't quite stick.

And now, that movie is an undisputed classic, right alongside "Love Actually"? Well, actually, I'm not going to take a position in this great debate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: So, what do you think about this incredibly important debate over the film "Love Actually "? What's your favorite Christmas special? Let us know on Twitter @JakeTapper, or @OutFrontCNN.

"AC360" starts right now with my good friend, the handsome John Berman.