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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Newtown Conspiracy Theory; Gun Control Debate

Aired January 11, 2013 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.

We begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest" with the story that is frankly hard to believe. You are going to want to sit down for this one.

Nearly one month to the day of the horrific shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 26 people were killed including 20 children, tonight we expose a number of people who are claiming that the Sandy Hook shootings were staged.

Now, there are always conspiracy theorists lurking on line who comes up with some horrifically outrageous claims. And normally, we would not dig any phi these claims with air time. These claims are obviously sickening to many in Newtown who spent the past four weeks crying and console bearing friends and family members trying to figure out how to restart their lives.

As I said, normally, we wouldn't mention these conspiracy theories. But it turns out one of the people who's peddling one version of this conspiracy theory is actually a tenured associate professor at Florida Atlantic University, a state university that get taxpayers' money.

His name is James Tracy. This is a picture of him. This is what he looks like. James Tracy is his name. Now, he claims the shooting did not happen as reported and may not have happened at all. Here's what he wrote on his personal blog and I quote, "one is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place, at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation's news media have described."

Tracy makes the case, if you want to call it that, that news organizations and the government may have worked together to dupe you, the public, in order to gain support for gun control laws. He's even suggesting that the government may have hired trained crisis actors to aid in this ruse." That's right, trained crisis actors. He's not convinced the parents whose children were killed are really who they say are.

In his blog Tracy, again, a professor suggest they may have been, and I quote, "trained actors working under the direction of state and federal authorities and in coordination with cable and broadcast network talent to provide tailor made crisis acting," end quote. Tracy even cites a company called crisis actors that provides actors to use in safety drills and the like. Apparently that is supposed to bolster his case. By the way, there is such a company and they are appalled by his comments.

In a statement today they said, and I quote, "we are avenue outraged by Tracy's deliberate promotion of rumor and innuendo to link crisis actors to the Sandy Hook shootings. We do not engage our actors in any real-world crisis events, and none of our performances may be presented at any time as real-world event or as a real-world event."

Now when a local reporter caught up with Tracy and asked him about this outrage his theories might trigger, here's what he said. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: You had 20 families that were mourning that buried children, are you concerned about that at all?

JAMES TRACY, PROFESSOR, FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY: Well, I think the entire country mourned about Sandy Hook and yet once again the investigation, that journalistic institution should have actually carried out and never took place as far as I'm concerned. I think that we need to as a society look at things more carefully. Perhaps we as a society have been conditioned to be duped.


COOPER: Now, I don't even know what that means, what he is saying, what the words coming out of his mouth means. To suggest that reporters on the ground didn't work to find out what happened there on the ground is beyond crazy. Everybody asked questions. That's what we do. Journalism isn't a perfect science of course, but to suggest it somehow means the shooting didn't happen, that 20 children weren't killed, that families didn't suffer and are not still suffering is beyond comprehension and obviously, deeply offensive to many.

As we said, Tracy isn't the only one spinning conspiracy theories. On you tube and online this from a Web site whose name I'm not going to use -- I don't want to get them extra traffic. Some of them are claiming that 6-year-old Emilie Parker killed in Sandy Hook didn't actually die.

Now, as proof, they point to a dress, the dress she was wearing in a family photo before the shooting. It's the same dress that Emily's little sister wore when President Obama met with families. So, the people on line, these conspiracy theorists are saying that's actually Emily on President Obama's lap. It's a sickening claim; obviously, there's no other word for t.

And there's another one on another Web site I'm not going to name either. They even use an interview that Noah Pozner's mother did very did on this program to make its point. Here's some of that interview before I tell you the absurd theory. Watch the conversation I had with her first.


COOPER: How are you holding up? I mean --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Most of the time I'm -- I'm kind of numb, you know? I think about -- and I think every mom out there can related to the fact of how long it takes to create a baby, those 9 months, that you watch every ultrasound, and every heartbeat, and it takes nine months to create a human being and it takes seconds for an ar-15 to take that away from the surface of this earth.


COOPER: Now, this Web site says that Vernie Pozner appeared way too composed, that she wasn't crying, her ice weren't red. And that's not how a grieving mother looks, which I've got to say is just among the most ridiculous things I've heard. I mean, I've interviewed so many people in grief. I've experienced grief myself. And to say there's one way someone should grieve is beyond ignorant.

Now, unless you frequent these types of conspiracy Web sites, you probably never see them. And again, we wouldn't mention it. But James Tracy, here he is again, is as we said a tenured professor at a public university. Taxpayers pay part of his salary.

In Newtown and beyond his comments are triggering intense outrage as you can imagine. In a statement Newtown first selectman Pat Lodra took aim at Florida Atlantic University saying, shame on you, too, FAU, to even have someone like this on your payroll. I can assure sadly you that the events here in Newtown unfolded exactly as being reported with a horrible outcome, the violent death of 26 innocent people including 20 children.

Now, we invited Professor Tracy to come on the program. He's a professor. He talks in front of students. We would think he would be willing to defend his thesis. He declined. Our invitation stand.

John Zarrella, our reporter, went looking for him. John joins me now.

So, you went looking for this guy, this professor. And again, we'd like to offer people a platform. And if they have an argument which is valid, you know, we want them to express it and see if it actually holds up to scrutiny. You caught up with him. What did you learn?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And Anderson, we actually tried again today to get him to come on to your program alive this evening or at the very least to give me an interview on camera to explain his positions. And Professor Tracy said he wasn't willing to do it at the time - at this time.

So, we went to his house this afternoon and he respectfully declined to come outside and meet with me or talk with me at all today. He did say during two telephone conversations I had with him today during the first conversation I had with him he said that he would provide me an e-mail response to some of the criticisms that he has been under, the fire he's been under.

And he said in part in his e-mail response that his observations have been reduced to headlines and sound bytes, placing him in a severely negative light. He goes on to day, he's confident he's "put forth questions befitting any decent and reflective citizen, journalist, or scholar. And he concludes by saying, I apologize for any additional anguish and grief my remarks and how they have been taken out of context and misrepresented may have caused the families who've lost loved ones on December 14th.

At the same time I believe the most profound memorial we can give the children and educators who lost their lives on that day is to identify and interrogate the specific causes of their tragic and untimely demise end" quote -- Anderson.

COOPER: So, I know, you also has the president of -- by the way, what is he a professor of? Is it like media studies or something?

ZARRELLA: Yes. Yes. Communication. He's in the department of communications, that is correct.

COOPER: OK. Interestingly, a guy who's in the department of communications does not want to communicate through the media or address this in the media at all. When you asked the president of this college, of this university, FAU, about this, what did they tell you, are they standing by him?

ZARRELLA: Right. We talked to president Mary Jane Saunders and they are clearly distancing themselves from Professor Tracy.


MARY JANE SAUNDERS, PRESIDENT, FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY: We want to make it very clear he was speaking as an individual. He was not speaking in his role as a professor at FAU. And the university has a very different statement about the shootings, the terrible tragedy that took place in Newtown, Connecticut. The university does not support this position. And I, personally, I am heartbroken about the additional stressed to these families at this time.


ZARRELLA: Now, there's no word on what the university could or would do, Anderson. He is a tenured professor, as you mentioned, and, in fact, the blog that he writes on is not in any way affiliated with the university.

COOPER: People are free to express themselves as they want. But, I think, you know, if he's a legitimate professor, he should be able to defend his statements.

And again, I just want to re-read on what he said on his personal blog because in that sort of -- in that statement he gave which, I mean, a sort of kind of a non- apology, apology. You know, the old, I'm sorry if I offended someone from how my statements were taken out of context.

I mean, I'm not sure what the context is it is. From his personal blogs he says one is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place, at least in the way law enforcement and the nation's news media have survived.

And then he suggests, there may have been, quote, "trained actors working under the direction of state and federal authorities and in cooperation with Cable and broadcast network talent to provide tailor- made crisis acting. As if like, I mean, I don't even know how that would work that the news media would somehow meet with government officials and extends somehow hired crisis actors who I've never heard of to go into Newtown. No one else noticing, and somehow pretend to be, I don't know who, grieving parents, pretend to be law enforcement personnel. I mean, it sort of stunning to me.

ZARRELLA: Yes. And you know, it's certainly seems stunning and outlandish and - but, he said also in the note that, the e-mail that he sent to me that the news media failed to thoroughly investigate every aspect of what happened in Newtown. So -- but clearly, it seemed by his last statement that we had there as last statement that he's at least attempting to back away from some of what he wrote, those really strong remarks that he wrote in that blog.

COOPER: Also, to say with failure to investigate, yes. I mean, we don't have access to the crime scene, so in that way, you can't go in and measure things, and you know, take blood samples and things. So you are, in some ways, relying on government officials, to law enforcement officials.

But you know, I talked to grieving family members and, you know, who heard from -- I mean, it's very - it's obviously upsetting to a lot of people who are there. I spent a lot time there and are still there dealing with the aftermath on this coming up with the one month anniversary.

And again, we continue to extend an invitation to this associate professor because it would be interesting to hear what he has to say.

John, I appreciate your reporting and spending the day trying to track him down and get him to talk.

Joining us now is political reporter Alex Seitz-Wald, who did the earlier reporting on this story which is where we initially heard this stuff. Also, Jonathan Kay of "the National Post" and author of "among the truth there is journey among America's growing conspiracist underground."

So Alex, it is hard for me to wrap my mind around these theories. It is not like they are coming just from one person or group. I mean, there are Web site, you tube videos, blog post all devoted to this absurd theory.

ALEX SEITZ-WALD, POLITICAL REPORTER, SALON.COM: Yes. I mean, it is really a surprising universe out there. If you Google Emilie Parker's name, the girl you mentioned who the conspiracy theorist think is actually alive, the very first thing that comes up, and it was on igoogle that was a conspiracy Web site.

One of the most polished professional looking videos was produced by a 9/11 company. They released a video after 9/11 that got a lot of attention. This one kind of tells you altogether. And I just checked a few minutes ago, it has almost 200,000 views on you tube.

Alex Jones, you know, who went off against Piers Morgan the other night. His Web site has a whole community forum section where there are just dozens and dozens and dozens of posting about these things. And if you just Google Sandy Hook hoax, you can find all kinds of things others. I mean, this is a real strain within the movement out there. You know, these are paranoid people who think the government is coming to snatch their guns.

COOPER: And I mean, you know, this is not -- we -- off camera we talked to a number of families today who didn't even want to come on camera because they are too upset about this to even address this. The fact that Emilie Parker's family, you know, if they Google her name or anyone who knew Emilie Parker Googles her name and the first thing that would come up would be this sickening conspiracy theory based on the fact that of her sister wore the same dress that Emilie Parker had once worn in a photograph to meet with President Obama, I mean, that is just adding insult to injury.

Jonathan, why do we see conspiracy theorists pop up in the wake of a tragedy like this? Is that people, I mean, can't wrap their mind around something why this would happen or is it just simply linked to the whole idea that these are people who believe the government is trying to take their guns and this is just a way that they are trying to take guns.

JONATHAN KAY, AUTHOR, AMONG THE TRUTHERS: Conspiracy theories are explanations for evil. And generally speaking, people hate the idea of random evil. They lie the idea that evil is focused in some (INAUDIBLE) of people whether it's, you know, whether is Jews, or Muslims, or illuminati (ph) or free masons, or the New World Order, they love the idea that there's one central address for all the evil that is afflicting a causing terrorism, causing mass shootings, and they are strangely attracted to that idea because once they've identified to the evil then they believe somehow they can fight it and expose it.

COOPER: The other thing, I mean, Alex, that so I find idiotic about a lot of this. First, there is, you know, nothing remains a secret for very long. So, it is none of it - I mean, the government can't keep, you know, things that are actually classified information secret from very longest. So many people leaks up. So, the idea that somehow like the news media is in cahoots with the government and that there were secret meetings to hire crisis actors to get them there, I mean, it's so ludicrous. Did you notice a common - I mean, was there a common strain when you were looking into these conspiracy theories regarding Sandy Hook?

SEITZ-WALD: Yes, there absolutely is, at least the vast majority of them. And there is different variations, you know, whether it was directly an Obama administration plot or agents loosely tied with the liberal movement or even George Soros. The common threat among all of these is that that tragedy was a false flag operation in order to make the country willing to give up their guns.

So, in other words, this tragedy would happen and that we would have a discussion about gun control as we are now and it would lay the groundwork for the government to come and take on possibly for some kind of future, you know, tyrannical regime.

COOPER: And, I mean, Jonathan, did - I guess the internet has kind of allowed all these stuffs to kind of ignite in a way that it has never performed. They have always been conspiracy theories who goes back for very long. This is just allowed more isolated people to find each other, right?

KAY: Yes, absolutely. One of the chapters of my book I talk about how the internet has turbo charged the conspiracy theory movement. Because the big challenge for conspiracy theorist used to be getting the worth out because respectable journalist wouldn't touch their stories. But now, conspiracy theorists, usually, they don't even bother try to go to the main stream media. They just publish from their Web site and they can create their own little echo chambers, paranoid individuals, who all share the same distressed.

And by the way, just to correct something. It is true that the majority of the Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists revolved around the ideas of gun control. But, there is a large contingent that I believe that this is somehow an Israeli-false flag operations. (INAUDIBLE).

COOPER: Why would the Israeli-- how did the Israelis get involved in this, according to you?

KAY: Well, the idea is it's a (INAUDIBLE) operation and it is the same people who believe that Anders Breivik that was actually secretly somehow a Mossad agent. These are people who have identified evil in the universe. They pick who their evil doer is. They think it's the Jews. They think it is Israel. And so, they find some way to trace any evil act whether its 9/11, whether it is the 2008 financial crisis, they find some way to believe that all the evil was caused by this one group of act offers who they hate.

COOPER: And you divide conspiracy theorists into come into two camps, cranks and fire brand. What's the difference?

KAY: Well, the fire brand tens to be the young folks, I mean, the ones that you see it was sometimes 9/11 on the anniversary you'll see these people marching, the so-called 9/11 truth movements. They tends to be young people. You often to see them in university campuses.

Cranks tends to be older types, people on their 40s or 50s, often are college professor, often are computer scientists, often are people with a very technological frame of mind who were drawn to this very intricate conspiracy theorists. They're almost always men for reasons that I explained in my book. And often, these are very mild mannered individuals. Our friend thinks one of the leaders of the 9/11 conspiracy was a teacher, professor of California named David Ray Griffin, very mild man, professorial guy who is actually a theologian. And these people drawn the movement, usually they are very intelligent and they love the idea that they are unraveling some huge puzzle which -- and I'll get to the source of all the world to keep.

COOPER: It's just believable to me.

Jonathan Kay, I appreciate it and Alex Seitz-Wald. Thank you very much.

Actually, joining us right now, just called in, is Erica Lafferty, who is the daughter of Dawn Hochsprung, the Sandy Hook principal who was killed in the shooting.

I assume you were watching our broadcast. What did you want to say?

ERICA LAFFERTY, DAWN HOCHSPRUNG'S DAUGHTER (via phone): It's just kind of amusing to me honestly. I was looking for a video online, I think it was last night actually. And I found a ten-minute video about some actress that they were saying like played my mom in the shootings and he was like photo shopping like an arm from a sunglass then on her head and saying like the crease from her hair matched the actress's sun glass crease, which is crazy because my mom had short hair. She hadn't had long hair in, I don't know, almost a year probably, actually more than a year at that point.

So, their lack of information that they're putting in to this like create this conspiracy theory. Like it's not even accurate information that he's using to formulate it. It is ridiculous.

COOPER: The idea, and again, we wouldn't normally even kind of discuss this kind of conspiracy theorists or give them air time on this program. And we're not naming these Web sites because I really don't want to increase their traffic.

But, the fact that an associate professor from a university is saying that, you know, or suggesting, kind of throwing out the idea that maybe crisis actors were somehow hired to -- I'm not even sure to do what. I mean, does that -- when you hear that that's coming from an associate professor, Erica, what do you think?

LAFFERTY: I think it's a disgrace to the community of educators worldwide that someone would be whittled the entire situation, belittle the 26 families, belittle the, of course, Sandy Hook staff members that had to live through here that day. It is, honestly, it's disgusting to me.

COOPER: It is - I mean, do you think the university should do something or do you think it's just, you know, people should know about and move on?

LAFFERTY: I briefly thought -- I think it was someone from the university saying it didn't have any affiliation with them. And, you know, hearing them speak out and saying absolutely not for supporting it is good to hear, but I mean, to have someone like that on staff. I know the university I worked for definitely wouldn't tolerate that.

COOPER: Erica, I'm sorry that, you know, coming up on the one month anniversary. I know how difficult anniversaries are that you and other family member have to even, you know, hear about this kinds of stuff and deal with this kind of stuff. And I appreciate you taking the time to call in. I wish you the peace. I wish you the best.

LAFFERTY: Thank you very much. And thank you for voicing the truth.

COOPER: Thank you, Erica. Appreciate it.

Erica Lafferty, daughter of Dawn Hochsprung who is the school principal at Sandy Hook.

Let us know what you think. On twitter, we are talking about this. I tweeted about this earlier @andersoncooper. I mean, do you think somebody should - is this just free speech or should the university do something? Let us know what you think.

And again, our invitation stands to this associate professor will give him a fair hearing. We would like to have him on the program.

Up next, is there a link between gun violence and violent video games? It is an old question. It has been around. We are going to actually look at the research and talk to a former top FBI profiler when we come back. "Keeping them Honest."


COOPER: "Keeping Them Honest" now on the notion of gun violence is more to do with video game weapons than real ones. Vice president Biden met today with representatives of the video gaming industry. The Newtown killer was reportedly obsessed with violent games as other killers have been, of course. And people are concerned that bloody games, glory movies, brutal TV shows, are doing bad things to our kids. So, you can see why culture would be part of the conversation about preventing another Sandy Hook. Now, Pro or antigun, Republican or Democrat, a lot of people do agree on that. Take a look.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: Vicious violent video game with names like bullet storm, grand theft auto, mortal combat, and splatter house --

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: The violence in the entertainment culture.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: What about the violence in our video games?

GOV. JOHN NICKENLOOPER (D), COLORADO: The depiction of these assault weapons again and again. REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Violence, the realism in games and movies.

TOM RIDGE, FORMER GOVERNOR, PENNSYLVANIA: The corrosive influence of a violent oriented world.


COOPER: Now, you get the idea. Now, "Keeping Them Honest" though, there's not a lot of good science behind them. And because of that different studies have reached different conclusions.

Two headlines and comprehensive reviews of all the available research tell the story. First, from Iowa State University, quote, "ISU study proves conclusively that violent video game play makes more aggressive kids."

Now, here's one from the technology news site, ARS Technika (ph), quote "Meta-analysis uncovers no real link between violence and the gaming.

Two headlines, two reputable research psychologists, each looking at many individual studies and arriving at totally opposite conclusion.

Then there is this. As video games sales have soared, violence by males age 24 has been going down, plummeting. That's according to the Center of Disease Control. There is also the fact that many other countries with big sales of violent games also have a very low rate of violent youth crime.

Now, given all that, is focusing on links between violent media and bad actors even useful. And if so, I wonder what circumstance.

Former FBI profiler Mary Ellen O'Toole joins us now. She's the author of "dangerous instincts, use and FBI profiler's tactics to avoid unsafe situation."

So Mary Ellen, you actually think there is a link between violent games and violence. How so?

MARY ELLE O'TOOLE, FORMER FBI PROFILER: I do. For a small group of troubled adolescence or young men, in my experience with these kinds of cases and in my research as an FBI profiler, I have found that there is not a cause and effect. They did not cause violence, but for these young people you are already contemplating carrying out acts of violence or acting out towards others in a violent way. These videos and very violent websites and violent movies can actually fuel what's already there. And in doing that, it can help desensitize to acting out violently. It really erodes away at their sense of sympathy at their sense of compassion. And it really turns human beings into objects. But again, it is for this small group of people are already considering acting out violently.

COOPER: But - let me just to push back on this. If, just to play devil's advocate. I mean, if there's a group of disturbed people that you are describing, if there weren't violent video games, isn't there something else that might push them over the edge as well?

O'TOOLE: Sure. I wouldn't suggest these videos are pushing them over the edge. When we do a threat assessment at someone, we don't look at just whether they're looking at violent videos. Because violent behavior is very complicated.

But, we look at, for example, are they saturated in a world where all they do is consider violence. In fact, in the research that we did in the bureau back in the late 90s and 2,000s, was there a constant pre-occupation with violence theme in every aspect of their life. But, that was one of many variables that enabled us as predecessors to say this threat that they're posing really elevates itself to a high level of threat. It's one of many. We don't think it causes it. But for that troubled group who's already thinking about it and thinking about acting out violently, it can fuel it.

COOPER: And they might be. So, it's not just video games you're talking about. Somebody who is a disturbed individual might be drawn more too violent video games or violent movies or TV shows?

O'TOOLE: Yes. But it's very difficult to, at this point, certainly say that if someone is obsessed with violent videos, it's predictive. It is nor predictive. We have to use it as one of many variables that we take into considerations when we're determining this person over here is one that we are more we need to be more concerned be about because of all of these factors. This person over here were less concerned about because of all of these factors. Their preoccupation is one of many things.

COOPER: Interesting.

Mary Ellen O'Toole, I appreciate you being on. Thank you very much.

In a somewhat awkward choice of words, vice president Biden said there is no silver bullet when it comes to pertaining gun violence, no seat belt you can put on. there Are, however, plenty of step you could take.

Now, the question being which ones work, and as always which ones, if any, will Congress actually agree on. Number of otherwise hard line NRA supporters have recently signaled their openness to regulating high capacity magazines. But now, however, military style rifles.

With me now, two "New York Times" columnist, liberal Charles Blow and conservative Ross Douthat.

I appreciate both of you being with us.

Ross, this focus on video games, does it feel like it might be more of a stand in for the bigger debate between people? I think the biggest problem is that criminals can get their hands in deadly weapons now. Do you think this is a culture that produces those criminals? ROSS DOUTHAT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think in the case of Joe Biden and the task force, it's a situation that they're trying to give the impression that they have sort of covering all the cultural bases, right? I think obviously the most polarizing debate we're having is about guns. And they have sort of -- I feel like there's almost a general consensus on the video game question where a lot of people would agree with the profiler, you just head on and say it is not surprising to see and association in particular between video games and violence.

But that doesn't mean that in the aggregate the spread of violent video games are causing murder rates to go up because pretty obviously they're not neither here nor around the world.

I mean, I think with video games too, it's similar to the debate we had in the '80s and '90s over hard core pornography and its link to sexual violence and rape and so on. There may actually be something where those kinds of things.

Be it pornography or video games, end up serving as a kind of outlet for people who depraved and disturbed to act out in fantasy rather than in real life. If the situation where as a society we almost need to be able to say, well, you know, violent video games, hard core porn, whatever.

These things are bad even though they aren't necessarily causing the crime rate to go up or the rate of rape and sexual violence to go up. But we're always looking for more direct connection.

COOPER: Charles, I mean, do you see a link? What do you make of this?

CHARLES BLOW, OP-ED COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I mean, I think that he's right in the sense that it probably adds to the -- a person who's already disturbed. It already probably pushes the person a little bit further.

But I do think that the idea that it desensitizes us as an entire culture is a very important point to make. I think that another thing that's important to remember when we look at shootings and killings and even though murder rates have gone down, the actual number of shootings continues to rise.

The reason that the murder rate goes down, but the shooting goes up is that, we are better able to respond to shootings now. That is more better 911 calls, better medicines and trauma centers and things like that.

So we need to take the focus off of who's getting killed and why that number keeps going down and look at how many people are actually getting shot and whether or not those shootings, which are on the rise can be pinned to anything whether that be a proliferation of guns, whether that be a violent culture, whatever?

COOPER: Do you think anything will change? I mean, do you think there has been some sort of a tipping point? BLOW: I think that there absolutely will be changes. I think that -- but what's important to remember is that to look at this not like the health care debate where you have some giant bill that covers most of the bases.

Look at this as the first step that should be a step among mini steps. And so that whatever comes of this whether you get assault weapons ban or not, whatever you get is push closer to something that is a solution than to do absolutely nothing.

COOPER: Ross, do you see this as more of a setup, these talks as more for a setup for the elections in 2014 and 2016?

DOUTHAT: In part, yes. I mean, I think the White House is going to try and hit a sweet spot on this with whatever policy and proposals they come with. They want something that is sort of moderate enough and in certain ways, you know, minor enough that it has some actual chance of passing the Senate and more importantly the House.

But also something that seems reasonable enough that in the, you know, fairly high likely scenario that it doesn't pass, they can take it to the public in 2014 and 2016 and say, here's another example of Republican intransigence.

And honestly what's on the table right now seems to be some combination of tougher background checks, the ban on high capacity magazines you mentioned and so on. I think that, I mean, Charles and I probably agree that both of those are unlikely to make a big difference in terms of gun violence overall.

I actually think the background check legislation in certain ways is more promising than the ban on assault weapons that a lot of liberals are interested in because we had a ban on assault weapons and it had no discernible impact on the crime rate.

Whereas background checks and waiting periods might not actually impact the murder rate, but they might have some impact on the suicide rate, a lot of this and Charles mentioned the issue of shooting is going up. Some of that is accidental violence, but also rises in suicide rates particularly since the great recession.

And there if you just delay, you know, if you make somebody wait a few days before they get a gun, if they're a hardened criminal, that's not going to make any difference. If they're someone thinking about suicide, if you think of it as a public health issue that might be a little more --

COOPER: It's actually a really interesting point. I read a lot of studies about suicide. And actually even if you delay somebody a few minutes or even a few seconds in some cases, that can be all the difference in whether or not actually somebody follows through.

It's sort of counter intuitive, but even a few minutes can make a huge difference. We got to leave it there. Ross, I appreciate you being on and Charles as well. Have a good weekend. Up next, the student accused of opening fire at a California high school. Tonight, how a teacher stepped in to stop the attack. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Welcome back. I don't want to shoot you. Those might have been the last words that Teacher Ryan Heber ever heard because the teenager who uttered those words had just shot a classmate and he was pointing a .12 gauge shotgun at the teacher. I don't want to shoot you.

He might have and he might have gone on to shoot others yesterday at Taft High School in Kern Country, California. He might have, but he didn't. More of the remarkable story from Kyung Lah.


KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What happened inside Taft Union High School began as a plan the day before in the mind of a bullied 16-year-old boy. Authorities say it was here at his home just a few blocks from the high school where the boy gathered his brother's shotgun and two dozen rounds and then walked into the science building midway through first period.

SHERIFF DONNY YOUNGBLODD, KERN COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: We have video of him entering the school trying to conceal the shotgun. The video shows that he's extremely nervous.

LAH: Officers say the boy walked to the front of his classroom and opened fire striking a 16-year-old classmate at near point blank range. As students began to flee trying to hide in closets and run out of the room, another shot. This one missed its target, another 16-year-old boy.

Morgan Allbrege was in the classroom and tells TV station KBAK that the gunman began calling out a name.

MORGAN ALLBREGE, STUDENT WITNESS: After he said a student's name and the student popped his head up from behind where he was hiding and he apologized.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He apologized for what?

ALLBREGE: For bullying from freshman year.

LAH: Then the classroom's teacher Ryan Heber stepped in between the .12 gauge shotgun and the fleeing students. The well-like teacher spoke to the boy like his friend. Investigators say the boy told Heber, I don't want to shoot you.

Meanwhile, the school's counselor, Kim Field helped distract the gunman while the rest of the 28 students escaped.

YOUNGBLOOD: This teacher and this counselor stood there face to face not knowing whether he was going to turn that shotgun on them. Their conversation, whatever he said, compelled him to put the firearm down.

LAH: Heber who was a graduate of the high school was hit in the head by a small shotgun pellet, something he didn't notice until it was all over. Heber always thinks of others first, says his father, who he now calls his hero.

DAVID HEBER, RYAN HEBER'S FATHER: There is no pain or anything like that, no. He's just fine. Physically he's absolutely super. Mentally he's dealing with today. He says it's the worst day of his life, which you can imagine it would be.


LAH: Ryan Heber did speak with me for about 30 minutes inside his home. He declined to appear on camera because he says at the end of the day, he's just a teacher. He doesn't know how to deal with all of this. Anderson, even though his father uses the term hero, he says he cannot stand that word.

COOPER: Kyung Lah, amazing story. Thank you so much.

Up next, new information on the flu epidemic that will have you reaching for the Tylenol.

Also a sneeze like you have never seen it before. You're going to want to see this. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Welcome back. In case you're wondering whether to get a flu shot or not. I've got three things to say, California, Hawaii, Mississippi. According to the new report from the CDC, those are the only three states in the country, the only three where the flu is not widespread.

The only three states relatively, I say relatively untouched by the flu. Now with that in mind, we're going to show you one way that it spreads. You're going to remember this. Take a look as Randi Kaye presents the anatomy of a sneeze.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the flu so widespread, riding the subways these days makes New Yorkers think twice. So many commuters wondering, can I get it? So we asked Dr. Len Horovitz to ride the rails with us and help us understand the power of a single cough or sneeze.

All it takes is one good achoo to send well over 40,000 droplets barreling in your direction at about 100,000 miles an hour. They can quickly make dozens of commuters within a few feet very sick. If a person used his hand to cover his sneeze, look out.

(on camera): So if someone sneezed and then grabbed this poll to hang on to, they're going to leave germs behind and then I say I come along to hold on to this pole. I'm going to pick those germs without even knowing it.

Then say maybe I come over to sit down and I touch my hands on the seat. I'm going to leave those germs behind for the next unsuspecting commuter and it spreads from there.

(voice-over): And Dr. Horovitz, a specialist in respiratory illnesses says germs are so hearty they can survive overnight.

DR. LEN HOROVITZ, LENOX HILL HOSPITAL: The viral particles can stay alive for up to 24 hours. So somebody tomorrow morning gets on the subway, touches it, touches their face, introduces it into their body and they've got it.

KAYE: That could mean hundreds, maybe even thousands of people end up sick.

MARISOL MENDOZA, SUBWAY COMMUTER: I carry my -- my cleaning -- my hand sanitizer in my purse.

KAYE: Some riders touch their face, rub their eyes, and maybe even eat before ever washing their hands.

HOROVITZ: When you touch your face, you're essentially smearing the germ on to your face and any opening, your nose, your mouth, your eyes is a place where the germ can get into your body and start to incubate and multiply and cause infection.

KAYE (on camera): Just because that sneeze occurred in the subway, it doesn't mean the germs stay there. Say the person who sneezed stopped at the metro card machine to buy a subway card before leaving the station. Well, he's going to leave those germs right on that machine for the next person.

(voice-over): It's not just subway riders, anyone commuting by car or foot may use a germ covered hand to open an office door or office refrigerator. Maybe they're even sharing your computer. Yuck. In a world where germs are the enemy, it's time to suit up for battle and keep your soap handy. Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Up next, the latest development in the mysterious poisoning death of an Illinois lottery winner. He won a million dollars. Why his family thinks there will now be justice.


COOPER: A 360 follow now on a really bizarre story out of Chicago about a man who won a million dollars in the lottery and a month later he was dead poisoned. The 46-year-old Urooj Khan's death was originally ruled natural causes.

But prompting from a relative, it made authorities take another look and sure enough, testing showed a lethal amount of cyanide in his system. No one has been named a suspect. But today the judge ruled that his body will be exhumed for more testing. Martin Savidge has been investigating the case. I spoke to him earlier.


COOPER: Martin, so the request came in today to exhume the body and the judge ruled yes almost immediately, right?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, mainly because there were no objections. I mean, they were family members that were in the courtroom. I believe the victim's older brother was there and the sister but nobody objected.

So as a result of that it seemed like there was a clear path for law enforcement to take and the judge approved. I also know from having conversations with the widow, she also goes along with that. She wants the body exhumed because she says, look, I want the truth to come out.

COOPER: They've already run tests on the blood and tissue samples that they had. And that is how they determined it was a homicide. What more do they hope to find out, I guess, how the poison got into his body?

SAVIDGE: Yes. Maybe -- you know, when he died originally this was ruled as natural causes and so he was buried. As a result, now that they know it was a homicide, well, you do a much more different autopsy. You do a much more thorough investigation of the body. They never did that.

So now they're going to go back. They have the order from the judge and they will dig up the body of Urooj Khan and they will now, I presume, start looking at the contents of the stomach, they'll start looking at other organs.

They'll try to determine exactly what kind of cyanide was used and how was it delivered. That's the big question here they want to answer.

COOPER: And obviously I guess -- you know, partially it's going to be determined by the state that they find the body in. It was a relatively recent burial, wasn't it?

SAVIDGE: It was, but that really is the big question here is what kind of state is the body in, is Mr. Khan in because, you know, if he is -- you know, say that he's degraded a lot, that also means the evidence inside of him is degraded. Basically, the medical examiner told me that you really won't know until you go in and look and so that's what we're going to do.

COOPER: Have the police named anyone in particular, a suspect, obviously a lot of questions about the wife, you know, have been voiced publicly by observers. I mean, have the police actually said anybody is a suspect? SAVIDGE: No, they haven't. Police have been extremely tight- lipped about this. They won't tell you anything really about their investigation other than it is a murder investigation at this particular point.

Clearly, the widow feels that she is at the top of everybody's list when it comes to a suspect and that only adds to her personal anguish with the loss of her husband, she knows that everybody is kind of whispering and pointing fingers because she was the one that prepared the meal that was served that night.

There are varying accounts as to whether he actually ate it or not. We don't know. She has been very intensely interviewed by authorities, several hours and her attorney says she continues to cooperate.

There was also a search warrant that was carried out on her home and a number of things were taken. We don't know exactly what.

COOPER: Do you know anything about -- I mean, how long this poison takes to act or if this is something that could have been delivered over time or was this kind of a one dose thing? I guess, at this point, we just don't know.

SAVIDGE: The people I've spoken to said that with the amount that they believe he ingested, he would have felt the effects probably in minutes and death could have occurred maybe within the hour.


SAVIDGE: So it's a pretty fast-acting poison. That's one of the reasons why it was popular through the ages. It does what you want it to do if your intent is to kill someone.

COOPER: Fascinating, it's an incredible story. Martin, appreciate it, thanks.

SAVIDGE: You bet.


COOPER: Amazing story. We'll continue to follow it. Coming up, "The Ridiculist" is next. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Time for the "Ridiculist." We have the story of a news anchor for Ireland's RTE News who seems to ask himself a very simple question. I have time to touch up my makeup before we're live on the air, right? The answer sadly was no.

What? Speaking is one trained broadcasting professional to another. Let me break it down for you. Being a news anchor is serious business. One must always be in control. Rule number one of live television is that -- you always have to be aware of whether one is on the air or not. Now I know that I've always excelled in this area and have never, ever slipped up.


COOPER: So here at this point in the show we're usually doing much different -- much different -- much more different. What? Sorry. Didn't realize we were on the air.


COOPER: See, what? That's the universal response when an anchor realizes they're on the air. OK, so it totally happened to me as well. It's live TV. Things are going to happen, really, that's part of the magic knowing that anything can happen at any time.

Now right at this moment I could -- no, it's OK. I'm good. I'm good on TV. At any moment I could erupt into an uncontrollable coughing fit. The power could go out or I could completely flub a story and get all tongue-tied, which brings us back to our new favorite RTE News anchor.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In 40 years since the launch of Apollo 17, the last mission that took man to the moon. Among those remembering the flight, its commander, Enterprise -- his commander who said he thought his voyage -- I beg your pardon -- I beg your pardon. I try that again. A man has -- can we just go back to the very start of it?


COOPER: Yes. I like the way he handled that. When all else fails, ask the teleprompter to take it from the top. So what if it's live, who cares? Now we've talked about the dangers of live television in the "Ridiculist" before. But it's usually it's people in the background who don't realize they are live on the air.

For instance, the young journalist at the University of Florida who is waiting at the printer when she realizes the camera is on her.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Students can register for the lottery starting tomorrow and registration is open until Friday. The UAA will notify the winners of the lottery by Monday, December 15th and vouchers can then be picked up from Tuesday through Thursday. Now students with more than 90 credit hours have the best chance of getting tickets, but everyone is welcome to sign up. Live from the newsroom, Karen Meneli, WUFT News.


COOPER: And then of course, we have the old newsroom adage of picking your stories very carefully.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's also important that you try to keep the bed bugs out of your home, the best way when you stay in a hotel. You might want to use a plastic bag like this one.


COOPER: Just keep on picking. For those are people in the background. The news anchor himself or herself should always, I repeat always be aware of the camera.

What? What? That hurts. A gentle reminder to all of us in the news business, when the light goes on, you are live in the air and the light is always on, on the "Ridiculist." What?

That does it for us. We'll see you again one hour for now another edition of 360 at 10 p.m. Eastern. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts now.