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Pet Food Poisoning Intentional?; U.N. Climate Change Report with Scary Scenarios; Lawsuit over Hoax Craigslist Ad?
Aired April 07, 2007 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURIE RAYE, VANDALIZED HOMEOWNER: Because in the ad it said: "come and take what you want, everything is free."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And take they did. Find out how an online prank left one home with nothing but its four walls.
And flush from the raging waters from the Colorado River, we'll show you the amazing video of this rescue.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DON IMUS, RADIO HOST, "IMUS IN THE MORNING": Some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they've got tattoos and some hardcore hos. That some nappy-headed hos there, I'm going to tell you that.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Whoa, and some rough language from Don Imus now under fire for his comments about a woman's basketball team. Hear what the radio talk show host is saying now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Liftoff, liftoff of the Soyuz rocket transporting new residents to the International Space Station.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Plus, find out why Martha Stewart's boyfriend is being blasted into space. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM where the news unfolds live, this Saturday, April 7th. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
Unseasonal and unreasonable, the Easter Bunny may have to hop in on his skis this year. A springtime cold snap produced snow in parts of the eastern United States. Snow covered the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. and it forced umpires to call a baseball game in Cleveland. Too snowy there. That game was supposed to be made up as part of a doubleheader today, but now that doubleheader has been cancelled as well.
Snow fell as far south as Atlanta where freezing temperatures are expected to continue throughout the Easter morning. (WEATHER REPORT)
WHITFIELD: Well, perhaps not weather related, but a dramatic helicopter rescue indeed in south Texas. The Coast Guard plucked two men and two young boys from a boat that went over a 150-foot dam on the Colorado River and became wedged at the base of the structure.
Earlier today I spoke with the Coast Guard spokesperson Adam Eggers.
ADAM EGGERS, PETTY OFFICER, U.S. COAST GUARD: There is a possibility that they either lost steering or their engine died. At this point in time we don't know the exact cause. But judging on the position of the boat and exactly just the fact that a boat did go over a dam kind of leads us to believe that.
WHITFIELD: Has anything like this ever happened before?
EGGERS: Well, so far in my time here, I haven't seen it, but definitely, you know, a couple weeks ago we had a rescue of a man out of a tree and then this one was a boat going over a dam.
So it's not something that we normally do. Everybody associates us with open ocean rescues. But it's something we can do when we need to move in and save a life.
WHITFIELD: So, very unusual for this to happen. This, you know, freak, strange accident, maybe because of the power failure as we mentioned, or the steering problems, et cetera. So, how is it that you all learned that these folks were in trouble and that you knew how to spring into action right away?
EGGERS: Well, we got a phone call from the local sheriff's office, notifying us that there was two people on board a vessel that had gone over a dam. When we got on the scene, we actually learned there were four people on board, including a 5- and a 7-year-old boy. It's basically something that we do every day, as far as conducting hoists from the helicopter.
So our folks got on the scene, assessed the situation and, you know, knew it was dangerous but we had to drop the rescue swimmer down there to get those people off.
WHITFIELD: So, doing these helicopter rescues, nothing unusual for you all, but clearly something a bit unusual, given that this doesn't happen every day here near this dam. So, what made this rescue that much more dangerous, precarious, a little bit more tricky than your usual helicopter rescues?
EGGERS: Well, as your viewers can probably see from the video, there's a large amount of water coming over that dam when we were conducting these hoists. So you basically have four people pinned in a boat at the bottom of a waterfall. Now the danger comes in is if any of those people get pushed out of that boat by the water, now you have a person in a fast-moving waterway, and the helicopter trying to get in there and pick them had up, it's just extremely difficulty. There's many rocks, power lines in the area. Just the difficulty was just immense in this rescue.
WHITFIELD: Well, glad it was a successful rescue and we hope the best for all those on board and rescue. Thanks so much, Coast Guard Petty Officer Adam Eggers.
EGGERS: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: Well, the Coast Guard did not release any information about the identities of the rescued men and boys. After the rescue, however, one of the men and one of the boys was treated at the scene. The other man and the other boy were flown to a nearby hospital.
Meantime, we're watching this fire taking place in Danvers, Massachusetts. You're looking at video we're just now getting in of the blaze taking place earlier in the day. This blaze taking place at a state medical hospital, at least what was once a state medical hospital.
It's unclear whether that building is abandoned right now or whether it was occupied by any other business or being used in some other capacity. Seven buildings at that facility had been destroyed. And as precaution they had to evacuate 20 nearby homes. When we get any more information about this fire taking place out of Danvers, Massachusetts, we'll be able to bring that to you.
Meantime, Nashville, dozens of people are homeless there this Easter weekend after a huge fire taking place there. You're looking at the pictures right now. That blaze near Nashville's airport. Destroyed 64 apartment units and damaged nearly a dozen others. High winds made it tough for firefighters to get a handle on that blaze. One person suffered smoke inhalation and two firefighters suffered minor injuries. The cause of the fire is now under investigation but authorities say it may be cooking related.
The pet food recall, it seems to expand by the day. And now a troubling new question. Was the chemical that's behind the recall placed in pet food intentionally. The latest now from CNN's Joe Johns.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When will it end?
Del Monte Pet Products announcing it is extending its recall to a variety of treats, snacks and beef sticks for dogs. The company called it "a precautionary measure." Another day in what could turn out to be the largest pet food recall in history. And the one thing everyone can agree on is that a chemical called melamine was found in wheat gluten that was used to make the food. The chemical simply isn't supposed to be there, but it appeared at levels of 6 percent or higher, which would be considered a very large amount if this were a random, in other words, accidental contamination.
All of the companies that bought or sold the gluten deny adding melamine. But one theory FDA investigators are exploring is whether the melamine was introduced intentionally into the wheat gluten.
Why would somebody do that?
(on camera): One answer is that this whole thing could have been about money. In other words, to make it look like the wheat gluten had higher levels of protein than it actually did, and therefore could be sold for more money.
(voice-over): That's right, more protein is considered good. So, hypothetically, at least...
DAN WATTS, PH.D. NEW JERSEY INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY: You're trying to convince your customer that you have higher quality protein than you actually have.
JOHNS: Dan Watts is a chemist with the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He says melamine is rich in nitrogen. Protein is rich in nitrogen. High levels of nitrogen would make wheat gluten appear to have lots of protein. But the chemical wouldn't actually raise the protein levels at all.
So basically the theory FDA is investigating is that someone could have been trying to run a scam, with no reason to believe any pets would get sick as a result of it.
WATTS: And not necessarily setting out to do anything that was going to be harmful, perhaps setting out to do something that was a commercial fraud.
JOHNS: Until now, no firm research has ever suggested that melamine could be harmful to dogs and cats. And the government is still not certain whether the chemical itself has actually sickened or killed the pets, or if melamine is actually a so-called marker for some other toxic substance.
The research is spotty and there's not even a basic clearinghouse to track all the pets sickened or killed. The FDA has turned to one indicator, though, the chain of 600 Banfield pet hospitals across the U.S. plugs information into a database every time an owner shows up with a sick pet.
Banfield says it has seen a 30 percent increase in the number of cats diagnosed with acute or chronic kidney failure compared with a normal period. But the hospital group says it's difficult to extrapolate from that how many pets have been sickened or killed.
The FDA says it has received more than 12,000 calls from pet owners about tainted food. But it doesn't break out how many have actually been affected.
DR. KAREN FAUNT, BANFIELD, THE PET HOSPITAL: We will never know the total number of pets that were affected by this. There's just no way.
JOHNS: Like the FDA, Banfield says it is starting to see fewer reports, so the worst for pet owners might be over. But the FDA is just beginning to get to the bottom of why pets all over the country got sick or died from eating contaminated foods.
Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.
WHITFIELD: And we've posted the entire pet food recall list on our Web site. Check it out, cnn.com/petfoodrecall. Check out the ticker running across the bottom of your screen. We're listing all the effected brands.
And coming up at 4:00 Eastern, we want to answer some of your questions about the recall. We'll talk with a forensic veterinarian. So you need to send us your questions and your concerns about your pets and the food that they're eating to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll have some of the answers to your questions answered by the vet we'll have in the 4:00 Eastern hour.
Well, it looks like something out of an action film, but this was real life drama. We'll tell you why a passenger train challenged these flames and how it fared. That's later.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
IMUS: That's some rough girls from Rutgers, man. They've got tattoos, and some hardcore hos, that's some nappy-headed hos there, I'm going to tell you that.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: And what was he thinking? Those words have the already controversial radio personality, Don Imus, in some new hot water.
And Craigslist has a lot of things being sold, traded, sometimes even given away. Well, what if the ad is a fake? One woman's story straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.
WHITFIELD: In New Mexico, this is not a movie but real life. You're seeing drama on the rails. A passenger train rushes head long, not away from, but into a blazing wildfire just like you saw right there. High winds whipped the flames across brush land and on to those tracks. Well, railroad officials say the conductor was aware of the fire but an emergency stop might have put the train in the mid of the flames and in greater danger. Well, the strongest warning yet from the United Nations about the humans causes of global warming and what it might mean for survival. The report predicts everything from monster storms and wildfires to gross famine. Our own meteorologist Rob Marciano shakes out some of the details.
ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST (voice-over): February's report from a United Nations panel on global climate change was just the tip of the iceberg. It concluded that global warming is real. It's getting worse and that human activity is driving it. And a follow up released Friday in Brussels offers new details on the devastating effects climate change will likely bring to bear on humans, animals, and the environment.
MARTIN PARRY, IPCC CO-CHAIRMAN: We're no longer arm-waving with models that this may happen. This is what we call empirical information on the ground. We can measure it.
MARCIANO: Perhaps the most troubling finding is that by the end of the century, floods will permanently displace hundreds of millions of people as low-lying coastal areas are swallowed up by rising sea levels.
ROBERT CORELL, CLIMATE SCIENTIST: With a meter or two of sea level rise, we're likely to see hundreds of millions of what we are calling environmental refugees, people who no longer can live where they have lived for maybe thousands of years.
MARCIANO: The report predicts that where it's wet and hot, insect-borne diseases such as malaria will explode. Where it's dry, it's likely to become much drier. And some water supplies will vanish, notably the glaciers and the Himalayas, the key water source for hundreds of millions of Asians. And the deserts will expand.
JAMES HANSEN, EARTH SCIENTIST: Already we're beginning to see in the western United States that it is becoming drier and hotter. And if we go down the path of business as usual, we can expect basically permanent drought in the western United States.
MARCIANO: Another grim finding is that the world will see a spike in endangered species with a wave of extinction from coral reefs to polar bears.
CORELL: Our study in the Arctic suggested that polar bear is on its way to extinction during this century in the most likelihood. And the reason for that is that they live on the ice. They get their food off the ice. They snatch the seals through small air holes. And now most of that ice is no longer there and will disappear.
MARCIANO (on-camera): Next month another key section of the report will be released. And it's going to provide some much-needed guidance as to what we humans can do to stop global warming. And even scientists who fear the worst say it's not too late to avoid some of these nightmare scenarios. Rob Marciano, CNN.
WHITFIELD: And now, how much can one man get away with? Don Imus in hot water again. We'll tell you what he said and who he offended.
And Alberto Gonzales loses one more top member of his Justice Department, but is the top man about to topple? We'll get a live report. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.
WHITFIELD: Happening right now in the news. The day before Easter. A fire sweeps through the St. Anne Catholic Church in New Castle, Indiana. Fire officials say it broke out just before 8:00 this morning local time. Firefighters had it under control three-and- a-hours later. However, officials say the damage is extensive.
And in Iraq, U.S. and Iraqi forces on the attack against Shiite gunmen in the southern city of Diwaniyah. Operation Black Eagle offensive involves Iraq soldiers backed by U.S. troops and paratroopers.
In Massachusetts, the former Danvers State Hospital was hit by a huge fire earlier today. Flames shot up hundreds of feet and could be seen for miles away. Seven buildings there have been destroyed. Firefighters even had to evacuate 20 nearby homes just as a precaution. Six firefighters are now being treated for minor burns. The fire was later brought under control. Still unclear what caused it, however.
Well, airline flights are often cancelled by foul weather, but how about foul language? It happened in Las Vegas. Apparently passengers in first class overheard a Northwest pilot using raw language on a cell phone. When a passenger scolded the pilot he allegedly let loose with even more profanities.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERICA GENTNER, PASSENGER: We were on the flight. And the first class people said that the pilot was up in the cockpit and he was having a fit, swearing up a storm, telling F-this, F-that, said, you know, some of the people in first class had heard and they said, you know, we don't appreciate that. He almost had the people in first class ready to walk off the plane and some of them ended up walking off of the plane.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: And so apparently that was enough because police were called in. The pilot was actually yanked off the plane and the flight was cancelled.
So the accusations against radio talk show host Don Imus, well, less than complimentary. Some are calling him racist and some are saying that he used very sexist and even just plain old mean language. And now an apology from Imus. He says that he's sorry for what he called players on a women's basketball team, but as CNN's Mary Snow reports, many are saying, sorry, Imus, apology not accepted.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Don Imus is apologizing for what he calls an insensitive and ill-conceived remark, but some say his apology falls short. It all started after Tuesday's NCAA women's championship game between Tennessee and Rutgers. Take a listen for yourself what Imus said about the Rutgers team during a conversation with sportscaster Sid Rosenberg and the show's executive producer, Bernard McGuirk.
IMUS: That's some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they've got tattoos and some hard-core hos. That's some nappy-headed hos there. I'm going to tell you that now.
SNOW: Imus' comments were met with shock and disgust by the National Association of Black Journalists.
BARBRA CIARA, NATL ASSN. OF BLACK JOURNALISTS: We don't understand that a long-term veteran broadcaster wouldn't think that it would hurt the feelings of student athletes. We're talking about girls -- college girls who tried their best to win a championship and he degrades them by calling them "nappy-headed hos".
SNOW: Imus issued an apology saying, quote: "It was completely inappropriate and we can understand why people were offended. Our characterization was thoughtless and stupid and we are sorry."
MSNBC, which simulcasts the "Don Imus Show" every morning for three hours, tried to distance itself saying the "Imus Show" was not produced by the network and apologized for quote, "offensive comments."
Following Imus' apology, Rutgers and the NCAA issued a joint statement to what they said were the insults directed toward the Rutgers women's basketball team, saying: "It is unconscionable that anyone would use the airways to utter such disregard for the dignity of human beings who have accomplished much and deserve great credit."
But the National Association of Black Journalists is not satisfied, and is calling for a boycott of the "Imus Show" and for Imus to be fired, if he doesn't take more action.
CIARA: Just, you know, saying I'm sorry is not going to do it. He needs to outreach. He needs to reach out to those student athletes. He needs to have a larger statement regarding what he said.
SNOW (on camera): The journalist group calls Imus's apology too little, too late, and they cite a history of racial insults on his show. We did try contacting Imus and the others on the show when those controversial comments were made, but we were unable to reach them, and we were referred to the public apology that was made. Mary Snow, CNN, New York.
WHITFIELD: And so how about this? Invited by an ad on Craigslist? They took everything, including the kitchen sink.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAYE: This can happen to anybody, but look what happened to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: What can you do if it does happen to you? Our legal experts take a crack at this case later on this hour.
And later, what does a rabbit giving out eggs have to do with Jesus on the cross? Jeanne Moos hits the streets of New York to see if anyone has the answer.
WHITFIELD: Hello again. I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center. Welcome back to the NEWSROOM.
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has lost another aide as the controversy over the dismissal of eight U.S. prosecutors continues to heat up. The attorney general's counsel, Monica Goodling, has resigned effective today. She gave no reason but she has been under fire for refusing to testify before Congress. CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry is at the president's ranch in a very snowy Crawford, Texas.
Wow, that's some incredible snow, Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
WHITFIELD: Also raining down, this big question, will the resignation increase the pressure on Gonzales?
HENRY: You're absolutely right. This snow in Crawford, Texas, a big surprise. Perhaps as surprising as this Friday night resignation from Monica Goodling certainly turning up the heat on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. As you noted, there's an old adage in Washington that if you want to get bad news out, do it on a Friday, especially on a holiday weekend, a lot less media attention on the Saturdays.
And it's getting to be a habit for the Justice Department, if you think back a few Fridays ago. They late on a Friday night put out some damaging e-mails about this U.S. attorney case. Now this resignation of Monica Goodling. She was the counselor to the attorney general. She also most importantly was his liaison to the White House.
She had already invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self- incrimination, refusing to testify on Capitol Hill in this various investigations. Her attorneys say that's because they believe the Democrats have already prejudged the case. But certainly Democrats like Chuck Schumer on Capitol Hill leading that investigation have suggested that perhaps she has something to hide.
Schumer yesterday quickly putting out a statement noting with the previous resignation of Mr. Gonzales' chief of staff, that now, quote: "Attorney General Gonzales' hold on the department gets more tenuous each day."
What's ironic here is just over the last couple of days, advisers to the attorney general have been telling me that they were starting to feel relatively good about his political health. They knew he was not out of the woods just yet. They were hoping he will do well on April 17th when he finally testifies on the Hill.
But they thought that things had sort of calmed down in the story. Then the one-two punch of both the resignation of Monica Goodling and now a new threat from Democrats on the Hill to subpoena the documents if they don't get them from the Justice Department -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: Wow. So then you talk about that April 17th date that Gonzales has on the Hill. So what are the expectations of exactly what he might say or how the White House feels about the fact that he will be testifying?
HENRY: Well, the stakes wouldn't be higher. It's basically make or break on the 17th. If you think back, the president himself a few weeks ago said he still had confidence in the attorney general but as he put it, "Al has work to do up on Capitol Hill."
The White House is trying to stay away from the intense preparations that the attorney general is doing right now because it's make or break for him. And the bottom line is if he does well in that testimony, you will see the White House come out and say, look, the president said he had work to do, he got it done, let's move on.
But if he doesn't do well, you're going to see the White House maybe perhaps distance themselves from Gonzales. And he's really going to be in a tight spot if he does not step up to the plate there on April 17th -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: A lot at stake. Thanks so much, Ed Henry, in a very snowy Crawford, Texas. Still hard to believe how snowy it is behind you there.
All right. Well, it's an anxious time for some 40,000 current and former Chicago public school employees. Someone stole two laptop computers containing their names and Social Security numbers. The suspect's image is seen on this surveillance video. The theft happened at the school system headquarters. It happened just yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDRES DURBAK, CPS BUREAU OF SAFETY & SECURITY: This is a theft. This is a theft of equipment. We believe that the suspect was after the equipment. It's easy currency in these days, laptops are easily converted to quick cash. And that's what we believe that this entailed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So maybe here's some good news. Officials say the files containing the personal information are password-protected. The school system is now offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest or for the recovery of those computers.
Well, in legal briefs today, an outrage that will leave you shaking your head and maybe being a little afraid. A woman in Tacoma, Washington, is the victim of a cruel hoax that began with an ad on craigslist.com. Details now from Trisha Manning Smith at affiliate KING.
TRISHA MANNING SMITH, KING REPORTER (voice-over): The outside of her home is trashed. The inside is nearly gutted and covered in graffiti. Laurie Ray is devastated.
RAYE: But it hurts. I was attached to this home because it used to be my mom's.
SMITH: A phone caller alerted Raye to the destruction. She walked through her garbage-strewn front yard to find her house dismantled.
RAYE: Including the front door. This used to be a nice vinyl window here.
SMITH: From the light fixtures to the hot water heater, everything is gone, including the kitchen sink. Her neighbors later reported seeing strangers hauling stuff away from her home, seemingly looking for salvage material.
RAYE: Because in the ad it said: "come and take what you want, everything is free."
SMITH: This is the ad posted on Craigslist last weekend.
DET. GRETCHEN ELLIS, TACOMA POLICE: "Please help yourself to anything on the property."
SMITH: An off-duty Tacoma police officer noticed the Craigslist ad last week inviting people to enter the unlocked house and take whatever they wanted. Later that same officer noticed the ad was flagged and canceled after a reported burglary at the house.
ELLIS: We get a lot of scans off of Craigslist. We have had prostitution things happen. We've had rental scams, fraudulent activity, that type of thing. And in this case, it appears that items were just being given away, which they were not.
RAYE: This can happen to anybody but look what happened to me.
SMITH: Raye believes the unknown person who posted the ad carries a personal grudge against her, but that person also conned unsuspecting people into taking part.
RAYE: The instigator that published this ad invited the public to come in and vandalize me.
WHITFIELD: So Craigslist originally refused to identify the person who actually posted the ad, however, CEO Jim Buckmaster now says he is releasing everything the company knows about it. Let's see what our legal experts have to say about all of this. Avery Friedman is a civil rights attorney and law professor.
Good to see you.
AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Hi, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: And Richard Herman is a New York criminal defense attorney and law professor.
Good to see you as well.
RICHARD HERMAN, NEW YORK CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Hi, Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. This is anyone's nightmare. And to hear that it really can happen to anyone, this is why we all have to really pay attention. So if the CEO says, OK, I'm going to release all of the information I know about who posted this information, really, Richard, what can this woman do? Can she actually pursue that person, pursue charges?
HERMAN: Well, Fred, I think that law enforcement can pursue this person. I think the person whose home was vandalized can sue civilly for fraud. I mean, this is just outrageous. This is just unconscionable conduct that someone would do something like this. And there are a myriad of courses of action both civilly and criminally against the person who posted. And I tip my hat to the president of Craigslist for releasing this information.
WHITFIELD: Right. Because usually as it stands, anyone can pretty much post anything they want to without any explanation. It's up to you whether to believe it or not, right?
HERMAN: Well, you know, the criminal law punishes for the mental intent. And here if you go on Craigslist and you see an ad say, come to the house and take what you want, you know, you're relying on that ad and you're going to take and remove items based on that. You didn't seek out this house and then attempt to burglarize it. So the person that posted the ad, that's the person that's going to pay the price for this.
WHITFIELD: So wait a minute, Avery, then what about the CEO of Craigslist or anybody else who operates it, what responsibility do they bear? Don't they also have to screen or vet the kind of information posted on their Web site? Can they be held accountable as well?
FRIEDMAN: Yes, I think you nailed the issue. I wouldn't tip any hat to this guy. As far as I'm concerned, the only reason he's now going public is that Craigslist refused to disclose the ad publisher before and basically said, look, you want that information, you're going to have to issue a subpoena or a search warrant.
Well, obviously what Craigslist has done is has invited civil litigation. And let me tell you something, this matter could have been easily solved. If Craigslist had a process to verify, this never would have happened. This is a no-brainer, at least from a civil perspective.
HERMAN: Avery, they get thousands and thousands and thousands of posting. They have 24 people working at Craigslist.
FRIEDMAN: I don't care.
HERMAN: They can't possibly vet all of these things.
WHITFIELD: Well, wait a minute, how is that any different from say the newspaper. You look at the personal ads.
FRIEDMAN: Exactly right.
WHITFIELD: And people can put anything in there, can't they?
HERMAN: The same thing. Absolutely.
FRIEDMAN: Exactly right.
WHITFIELD: So can that newspaper end up being held liable when someone, you know, makes false advertisement? No, right?
FRIEDMAN: Well, the question, I think, turns on the check and balance system they have. With Craigslist, which operates city by city, there is a process. And let me tell you something. The CEO, of course, is now going public. I think it's a public relations move and nothing else.
But I think they're going to have to put into place something that will provide for a check system. Because this kind of circumstance can be replicated time and time and time again. And innocent people like the folks in Tacoma are going to get battered. So they've got to build in a system.
WHITFIELD: So then say for instance, what could the charges end up being in a case like this, if not against, you know, the person responsible for putting the ad, but even Craigslist as well?
FRIEDMAN: The civil or criminal?
FRIEDMAN: Well, there are clearly fraud issues. And I think Tacoma P.D. is going to be pursuing this. They've had problems with Craigslist in Tacoma. But in terms of the homeowner, she has got claims against the -- obviously the ad publisher, but I think she has absolute negligence claims against Craigslist. And I think this is going to blow up into very, very serious litigation.
WHITFIELD: And really maybe change the way Craigslist and other kind of personal ads as we know to conduct business?
HERMAN: Hey, Avery, Avery.
FRIEDMAN: It should.
HERMAN: Avery, would you take the case on a contingent fee against Craigslist?
FRIEDMAN: I would take it pro bono, Richard, I am outraged, to use your word, on what happened to this poor victim. This should never happen.
HERMAN: Well, I'm outraged by it, too, but Craigslist is not going to bear any responsibility. There is no case against Craigslist, there is none.
FRIEDMAN: I disagree.
WHITFIELD: All right. Well, the debate is not over on this one. I know we're going to have an opportunity to talk about it again. In the meantime, Richard and Avery, we've got something else we want to talk the to you about after the break. Can you put a price on heartache?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just kept crying to my husband, I can't believe this. I gave the cat this recalled food.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's not one day that doesn't go by where I don't sit here and tell him that I miss him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: And they are indeed your family members, too. So now filing a lawsuit, how do you do that? Our legal experts weigh the options, whether you can or whether you can't. Straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.
WHITFIELD: So now quick look at what's happening right now in the news. The Easter weekend is a snowy weekend in some parts of the country. Here's what it looks like in Virginia Beach, Virginia. A cold snap produced flurries as far south as Atlanta as well.
And NATO-led troops continue their push toward a Taliban stronghold in Helmand province. But Taliban violence also continues. Suspected Taliban militants killed seven Afghans in the southwestern part of the country.
So, on the docket right now, the massive pet food recall. Thousands of pet owners are in distress, convinced that they have unwittingly killed or sickened their pets. Well, now, some are filing lawsuits and counting on courts to ease the pain. Once again, Avery Friedman and Richard Herman.
Good to see you again, gentlemen. All right. Richard, so how do you measure this pain? How do you make sure someone pays for the fact that your pet has gotten sick or died?
HERMAN: Fred, you know, the majority of states, in fact, all of the states throughout the United States do not recognize any sort of emotional distress claim for the loss of a pet. They treat pets as personalty (ph) and the measure of the damages is the value of the pet, maybe how much you paid for it and then depending how old the pet is, the life expectancy. I mean, there's no real viable course of action that way.
WHITFIELD: Oh, but how much you paid for it? I mean, many animals are rescue dogs. And you don't love your dog based on how much -- or your cat, how much you pay for it.
HERMAN: I understand, but the law doesn't recognize that portion of the claim. So the lawyers are trying to get creative and are trying to bring fraud lawsuits in order to try to get punitive damages against the companies that brought these items out on to the market which caused damages to their pets.
That's the only way there's going to be any appreciable recovery is if they can prove fraud.
WHITFIELD: And so, Avery, that's the hard part. You have to prove it to -- you know, a lot of animals have probably died or gotten sick well before this recall. So their vets perhaps didn't keep records, just like the databases that are now being recommended to find out just what caused the kind of kidney failure that your pet has been experiencing.
FRIEDMAN: Yes. The fact is that Richard is correct, that there really is, no matter how emotional -- I mean, that pet is part of your family, Fredricka, and the truth is, you hurt when -- if you have that kind of attachment. But as far as the state of the law, in virtually every state, Richard is exactly right, this is the loss of property.
And therefore, all you really can recover is the value of that loss and setting that is very difficult. I agree, you're going to have to be creative to get some kind of result. But you know what? It's really going nowhere. I should say, however, there's a very dark side of this. The FDA is going to start investigation on what really happened here. I think we're going to find a lot more information. There may have been a profit motive in terms of the introduction of what went in that wheat gluten.
And also Senator Dick Durbin wants to set an oversight hearing in the U.S. Senate on these issues. So we still have a great deal more evidence to develop. And that may turn into a creative approach to this.
HERMAN: Hey, Fred, you saw how long it took for us to get some sort of definitive response on how Anna Nicole Smith died. Can you imagine each one of these pets have to go to forensic pet -- it's incredible here.
FRIEDMAN: Wait a minute. That's a crime. I mean, look...
HERMAN: You're not going to be able to prove that melamine killed these pets. Come on, it is outrageous.
FRIEDMAN: I don't buy it.
HERMAN: What's most important is...
FRIEDMAN: ... not Nicole, this is Fluffy. It's a completely different thing.
HERMAN: Or Jo-Jo. But what's most important is this. Listen, the CNN Web site is spectacular. It's up to the date. It has all the pet foods, all the brands you have to be careful of.
WHITFIELD: Yes, because this has to be very confusing out there if you're a pet owner. You want to know exactly...
FRIEDMAN: Yes, I agree.
WHITFIELD: ... what can I feed my pet right now?
FRIEDMAN: Oh, you would be scared to death. Although it only affects 1 percent of the market. And you don't know if you fall in the 1 percent or the 99 percent.
WHITFIELD: So wait a minute now, what...
HERMAN: And mostly cats.
WHITFIELD: And what about these manufacturers, though, how about them? Did they already protect themselves by saying, we are voluntarily issuing this recall and then you had -- you know, in addition to Menu Foods you also had Del Monte who came out and said, we don't necessarily say that there are cases of pets getting sick or dying but as a precaution.
So I wonder if this voluntary recall protects a lot of these manufacturers against any of these potential lawsuits.
FRIEDMAN: It doesn't offer protection except for the fact that they are stopping it voluntarily. Again, I think the key in this, if there's going to be a creative approach for the people who have suffered with the loss of their pet, will be what comes out with the FDA, what comes out with the Senate oversight hearing.
HERMAN: Hey, Fred...
FRIEDMAN: That's a lot that remains to be done here.
HERMAN: Fred, the manufacturers will be able to shield themselves by doing the recall. The issue is, did they act reasonably? When did they know about the (INAUDIBLE)? And what did they do? And if by recalling it...
FRIEDMAN: We don't know the answer.
HERMAN: We don't know the answer, but they're claiming they did not put melamine in any of their products.
FRIEDMAN: Well, that's what they're saying. That's why the FDA is going to take a look...
WHITFIELD: And they're going to say too they can't be held responsible if they're buying this overseas...
FRIEDMAN: That is totally correct.
WHITFIELD: ... and it has been left to the discretion of those manufacturers and they deliver it or sold them bad goods.
HERMAN: Where did you get your law degree, Fred? I want to know that.
WHITFIELD: I learned it from you guys.
FRIEDMAN: ... you're coming up with these conclusions. You're right.
WHITFIELD: All right. I'm learning so much from you guys. And so is everybody else. That's why we love you. All right. Avery and Richard, thanks so much. Happy Easter.
HERMAN: Happy Easter, Fred. FRIEDMAN: Same to you, take care.
WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks a lot.
WHITFIELD: All right. Well, say you want to ride into space without several years of training, well, people are doing it, yes, if you have about $20 million handy. The latest space tourist blasting off, next in the NEWSROOM.
And at 3:00 Eastern, a rare look inside the secret world of the Vatican. "CNN PRESENTS: The Last Days of Pope John Paul II." You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.
WHITFIELD: It's up, up and away for an American billionaire space traveler. About 30 minutes ago Charles Simonyi and two cosmonauts blasted off from central Kazakhstan for a 12-day trip to the International Space Station. Simonyi, developer of Microsoft Word, paid between $20 million and $25 million for his seat on board the Soyuz capsule. On hand for the launch, his close friend Martha Stewart on the ground, of course. Simonyi is the fifth-paying space tourist to make the journey.
Well, tomorrow is Easter Sunday. The day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. It's also the day Easter Bunny makes his annual appearance. So what does one have to do with the other? CNN's Jeanne Moos put that question to New Yorkers.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What do these have to do with this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, I wish I could use bad language on CNN because absolutely nothing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's religion and that's propaganda.
MOOS: The question is, what does this have to do with this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Silly rabbit, tricks are for kids.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Silly rabbit, tricks are for kids.
MOOS: How did the bunnies and the resurrection ...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That, I don't know.
MOOS: What does this have to do with this?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know. Maybe there were bunnies around when he came to. Who knows?
MOOS: What do bunnies do a lot of?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hop around.
MOOS: Something else.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eat carrots.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you know, it's spring. You know what bunnies are doing.
MOOS: What are bunnies doing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are doing a lot of it.
MOOS: The other thing that I think is interesting. The bunnies are a symbol of fertility and lust. Hence, the playboys.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sign me up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going home with the bunny.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hence, the expression, doing it like rabbits. I hear you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't believe in any of it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jesus was hatched from an egg in a manger by a rabbit.
WHITFIELD: Wrong, cowboy. However, I think Jeanne has something for the cowboy. He sure is in a lot of her pieces. Well, anyway, the correct answer is that the rabbit long before Christ was a pagan symbol of renewal and fertility and rebirth used to celebrate spring. So Christians later adopted the symbol. So now we all know.
A check of the day's headlines coming up next, including a look at a massive fire in the Philippines.
Then at 3:00 Eastern, a look inside the secret world of the Vatican. "CNN PRESENTS: The Last Days of Pope John Paul II. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.
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