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Syrian Official Defects and Calls for Foreign Intervention; Americans Kidnapped in Egypt; Oscar Winning Actress Celeste Holm Has Died; Presidential Campaign in Florida; Syrian Top Official Defects; The Bentley Comment; Americans Kidnapped in Egypt

Aired July 15, 2012 - 16:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. Thanks so much for joining us. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We start in Syria with surprising new revelations. A former top official says the country provided shelter and built safe havens for Al Qaeda for years. This is the most senior Syrian diplomat to defect and publicly support the country's uprising. Former Syrian ambassador to Iraq Nawaf Al-Fares defected last week. He sat down with our Ivan Watson for his first television interview with the U.S. network. Al- Fares said that country is "a totalitarian regime and a dictatorship" and all orders come from President Bashar al-Assad.


NAWAF AL-FARES, FMR. SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): In 2003, after the American invasion of Iraq and the toppling of the Iraqi regime, the Syrian regime felt threatened so they coordinated with Al Qaeda. They had an agreement to keep the road open to Iraq. So militants start coming from all over the world through Syria under the eyes of the Syrian Secret Police who are directly responsible for the killing of thousands of Iraqis and Americans and coalition forces. Al Qaeda was an ally of Bashar al-Assad after 2003.

They trained and provided shelter and built safe havens for Al Qaeda to hide them. I remember one of those safe havens was (INAUDIBLE). The Americans raided it in 2008 and captured prisoners. This was the hiding place for Al Qaeda on the border with Iraq and it was under the control of (INAUDIBLE), a brother-in-law of the president.

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Who is making the decisions in Damascus right now. Who is directing the Syrian government policy facing this uprising?

AL-FARES: The regime in Syria is a totalitarian regime and a dictatorship. There is only one person who gives the orders, one person who is the president. The rest of the regime personnel are people who only obey.

WATSON: Does the Syrian president and supporters do they believe they will win in the end?

AL-FARES: They are trapped. They committed crimes and they entered into a world of blood and they are aware they are going to pay for it. They are just buying time. They will get a chance to escape.


WHITFIELD: Al-Fares is the second high profile Sunni official to break with the regime within a week. Nawaf Al-Fares says the Syrian government is staging Al Qaeda style attacks in Syria. That's an accusation the Syrian opposition has been claiming for some time. Retired Army General Mark Kimmitt joins me now from New York. Good to see you, general. So you had several meetings with the (INAUDIBLE), the brother-in-law of President Assad. Does this news between the connection between Assad regime and Al Qaeda re-affirm any of your previous beliefs?

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY (RET.): That was exactly the presumption that we have been working under when we met with the Syrians and have met with the Syrians over the years. They were providing safe haven and sanctuary to Al Qaeda elements transiting through Damascus, going into Iraq, killing Iraqi civilians, killing American soldiers. And we told them this must stop.

WHITFIELD: So the former Syrian ambassador to Iraq also telling Ivan Watson that (INAUDIBLE) was furious that an Al Qaeda safe house was hit in Iraq by U.S. forces back in 2008. So does this information shed any new light on overall Al Qaeda sympathizers?

KIMMITT: Well, what it demonstrates is that despite the Syrian denunciation of Al Qaeda and their suggestion that they had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, that they were actively involved in Al Qaeda transiting Syria going into Iraq, adding the instability and (INAUDIBLE) was directly involved in that.

WHITFIELD: And so what can the U.S. do with this information if anything?

KIMMITT: Well, I think this and other information can be part of the case file that should this situation end up in the International Criminal Court it could be used against them in an International Criminal Court of Law but it also demonstrates very quickly that the decision made by the Syrians to accommodate Al Qaeda inside their country is now becoming a situation where the Al Qaeda is now turning against the Syrian government as we warned and predicted it would.

WHITFIELD: So outside of the International Criminal Court does this give the U.S. any impetus for being involved in a more direct manner with the unrest in Syria right now?

KIMMITT: Well I think it just adds to the growing consensus on the part of the international community that the days of Bashir al-Assad and the Assad regime are nearing an end. He is trying his best as the ambassador said to maintain control but he is losing control on a day by day basis.

WHITFIELD: So the defection, does that help to underscore a weakening of Assad's regime or hold of the country?

KIMMITT: Well, it is reminiscent of the Libyans who began to defect, the senior Libyans started to defect near the end of the Gadhafi regime. There are no direct parallels but it looks a lot like the last days of Libya when so many senior Libyan officials were starting to defect, as well.

WHITFIELD: General Mark Kimmitt, thanks so much for your insight. Appreciate that. Very complex situation taking place.

All right. Alabama governor Robert Bentley is now setting the record straight at the National Governor's Convention in Virginia. He made comments yesterday about Mitt Romney's financial records. Bentley said "I think he ought to release everything. I believe in total transparency. You know, if you have things to hide then you may be doing things wrong."

Well, now Bentley says he comments were taken out of context. In a statement published in AL.COM, he says this. "I believe in transparency and that was the basis for my answer. There was no effort to imply that Mr. Romney has anything to hide."

The chorus of those asking Mitt Romney to release more of his tax returns is growing. It now seems to include some from his own party.


WHITFIELD: All right. Now to tense hostage negotiations in Egypt. American tourist Lisa Alfonsi and Pastor Michelle Louis, both from Massachusetts were kidnapped Friday in Egypt's Sinai region along with their Egyptian tour guide. Their Bedouin kidnappers are demanding Egyptian authorities release a relative jailed on drug charges. We'll hear from the family of one of the hostages in a moment.

But first journalist Mohamed Fadel Fammy joins us by phone from the Sinai region. So Mohamed, you just got off the phone with the North Sinai Security chief. What are they telling you about the negotiations that are on going?

MOHAMED FADEL FAMMY, JOURNALIST: I just got off the phone with General Ahmed (INAUDIBLE), head of the North Sinai Security. He has told me that they formed a committee of the highest ranking intelligence officers and police personnel and Bedouin (INAUDIBLE) and they are starting a new attempt of negotiation with the kidnappers. He confirmed that they are safe, they are well fed and in good condition. And he mentioned the name of the kidnapper, (INAUDIBLE), a well known Bedouin from the Taribbean (ph) tribe in Sinai. He is confident that these negotiations might actually reach some sort of resolution soon.

WHITFIELD: So this well known alleged kidnapper, they know him to have been involved in previous kidnappings?

FAMMY: Well, he is well known in the tribe being involved in other sort of criminal activities. But this time around the kidnapper has mentioned to the security officials that he will kidnap more tourists if they don't oblige to his demands of releasing his uncle who he claims was falsely detained on drug charges in Alexandria. The situation in Sinai has been critical after the uprising to topple Mubarak, there have been at least half a dozen kidnaps in the past year but none of the hostages were ever harmed in these kidnaps.

WHITFIELD: Well, is this an unusual request or in previous kidnappings, is it usually money that is the demand and not necessarily the release of prisoners?

FAMMY: Well, actually the last time U.S. hostages were taken was in May and the Bedouin has also requested the release of one of their relatives and the security officials actually gave into the demands and the hostage was freed. There is a chance that this might be solved soon. However we are following the story very closely and we are bringing you any development as they happen.

WHITFIELD: And do we know whether Mohamed, any of these, you know, hostages might have an opportunity to talk with their family members? Will that opportunity be made?

FAMMY: Well, I think the hostages have spoken to their family members. They were taken on Friday around 2:00 p.m. and since then there have been many efforts by the officials to secure a release. We are following the story closely. The kidnapper has actually spoken on a local TV channel here. And he was very clear about his demands but he also made it clear that they are well fed, they are safe and he does not have the intention of hurting them.

WHITFIELD: Mohamed Fadel Fammy, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate that.

Earlier today CNN's Randi Kaye talked to Pastor Louis's family and she asked the son what he knows about the situation?


REV. JEAN LOUIS, SON OF KIDNAPPED U.S. PASTOR: We know about just as much as we know in the news in terms of they're doing a lot of negotiating. They're trying the best that they can and we are waiting.

RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: How concerned are you about your father's health?

LOUIS: We are concerned but we're Christians. We believe in god. We're in good faith. We're resolved in our faith. We know that god is going to see him out of this situation. But at the same time we are human and we just want to see our father get home. We want to see the sister, the member get home, also. We also want to see the tour guide, too. Because I'm sure a lot of people are not speaking about him, too, but we want to see everybody come home safely.


WHITFIELD: Louis' son says his father had no idea the Sinai region posed a risk to tourists. This is the third kidnapping of American tourists this year, as you heard from Mohamed as well.

President Barack Obama's campaign has released a new ad this weekend. It features Mitt Romney singing "America the Beautiful." Obama's campaign charges in the ad the Romney either shift jobs or outsourced or stored portions of his financial portfolio in several other countries. The ad comes as both President Obama and Mitt Romney are on the attack over Bain Capital. That's the company that Romney found. He said he left it back in 1999 but new documents show that he was still being paid by Bain for a couple of years after that. The president is demanding answers from his rival, and Romney is ripping the president's reelection campaign for what he calls "demeaning and disgusting tactics."


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think what the president is doing is terribly destructive to the political process and beneath what the people from america expected from someone who said he would rise above partisan politics and bring a new era of change to Washington. We are not seeing that in this campaign so far.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My understanding is that Mr. Romney attested to the SEC multiple times that he was the chairman, CEO and president of Bain Capital. And I think most Americans figure if you are the chairman, CEO and president of a company that you are responsible for what that company does. Ultimately, I think Mr. Romney is going to have to answer those questions.


WHITFIELD: CNN's senior political analyst Ron Brownstein joins me now from Washington. Good to see you, Ron.


WHITFIELD: Will this overall take kind of voters aback that there are inconsistencies in Romney's dealings with Bain, that coupled with Romney not wanting to release more tax returns while his predecessors on the campaign trail have done so?

BROWNSTEIN: Look, I think this is one of the central battlefields of the campaign. A lot of things that happen day to day that really don't matter that much. That kind of sound infuriating. But the battle over defining what the meaning of Romney's business experience is to voters I think along with the objective of the economy and the ideological argument we're going to have over the fall really are one of the three central battlefields. Because Romney more than any major party nominees since 1940s (INAUDIBLE) is relying on his business background to argue that is what equips him to be chief executive.

And you know, you see at the end of that ad you started, that new ad today, that the Obama campaign makes explicit what has been implicit to this point in their argument. The closing kind of caption of that ad is Mitt Romney isn't the solution. He is the problem. That really is what we are arguing about here. Romney argues that his business background equips him to solve the economy, the economic difficulties we're having and the Obama campaign argues that he practiced a kind of capitalism that is emblematic of the problem we are facing. That it was kind of a capitalism and it would enriched the few at the expense of the many and that is the way they want to portray him to those economically satisfied swing voters.

WHITFIELD: So is this to the president's advantage or is it undermining as Romney states?

BROWNSTEIN: The longer this is the focus, the better off the president is. The president I think faces a reality much like George W. Bush did in 2004, Fredricka. It is absence on bigger recovery that we're not seeing in the economy. It is entirely possible he will get to election day without 50 percent of the voters saying they approve of his performance. And ultimately what that means is some increment of voters who are dissatisfied with him. He has to find a way to convince them to stick with him. The way you do that above all is by making the challenger unacceptable to those voters. As I say this struggle between the two sides to define what the Bain experience means whether it equips Romney to solve the problem or whether it shows him to be someone who has kind of personified the problem I think is going to be a central tipping point in this race.

WHITFIELD: And even Republican Alabama Governor Robert Bentley is chiming in by saying just go ahead and release the tax returns although now he is saying his words were taken out of context. But he underscored, the governor did that he releases his own every year. Are Republicans in large numbers also questioning Romney's approach here?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you have that (INAUDIBLE) today and a few other conservative commentators, Bill Crystal and George Will, of course, on the Sunday shows - what Romney is doing is somewhat unusual. In that interview with CNN and others on Friday, he drew a very hard line and said you are not getting any more tax returns from 2010 and 2011. The tax returns, the Bain experience, the offshore accounts is really all part of one kind of broad set of issues that the Obama campaign wants to paint Romney as someone who does not share either the experience of the interests of average voters. It is largely a defensive argument from the Obama campaign. They did not run well in 2008 among white working class votes. He only won 40 percent of those. All poll shows that he is looking at further erosion among those voters. And right now, probably the best calling card he has to hold down that erosion is to make the argument that Romney is someone who really embodies the forces that have made their lives less secure economically.

WHITFIELD: And Ron, we saw some images of President Obama in Virginia. He spent a good amount of time there yesterday as well as Friday. He said - he told the crowd, you know, "If I win Virginia i will be in the White House another four more years." Is that true? Is Virginia that pivotal?

BROWNSTEIN: He is probably right. Look Virginia may be the tipping point state of this election. The one that is most likely to vote with the winner and the reason for that is because Virginia within its borders now encompasses or embodies both of these party's modern coalitions, the modern democratic coalition is young people, minority voters and white collar white voters especially women.

The Republican coalition is blue collar, older and culturally conservative white voters and you know, in northern Virginia you have a big concentration of those white collar voters, 30 percent of the vote. In 2008, it was minority 40 percent was college educated. You go to the south and west, you have a big rural blue collar older culturally conservative. This is a kind of battle of the bulge state where we are seeing the two modern coalitions are in nearly equal proportions and the issues of turnout and excitement will determine which way it falls. So yes, I think it is actually a state that is going to be right at the 270 marker in a close race.

WHITFIELD: Real quick, is it a mistake that Romney did not spend his weekend in Virginia? Instead he has some of his surrogates including Rudy Giuliani in Virginia campaigning on his behalf. I guess, it's still, you know, time is still young. There are still another 3 1/2 months to go. But you know, mistake to have your surrogates other competing against the president?

BROWNSTEIN: No, you can't be everywhere at once. There are nine states or so that both sides are fighting over, focusing on - there will be no shortage of Mitt Romney in Virginia. The funny thing is, you know, for the president you can kind of commute on the subway to the state that might decide your fate, which is kind of an unusual circumstance. I mean there is a reason why Virginia has become a swing state after being so solidly Republican.

Again, it's that shifting nature of the democratic coalition and those voters, the increasing numbers of those minority voters and those white collar whites from a socially liberal have made Virginia not only a competitive state but like Colorado, a state that embodies kind of a collision of these two coalitions in the modern electoral alignment.

WHITFIELD: All right. Let's talk about those top veep names, you know, for Romney including Paul Ryan, Tim Pawlenty. We heard about kind of the floating of the name of Condoleeza Rice, she's already made it very clear, it's not going to happen but you know, how seriously does this campaign need to be focusing on who is going to be that running mate?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, the Rice thing is interesting. There is a long history of kind of genuflecting towards constituencies by announcing or kind of floating that you considering some of the vice president even if there is no chance they would get it and certainly as a woman and a prominent African-American Republican, there are lots of reasons to put Condy's name, Condy Rice's name out there in the headlines if you are not really going to do it. Look, you know, I think we are all kind of cast, looking around after shadows, there have been a lot of focus on Rob Portman from Ohio. Some of them are defensive picks, Fred, because Republican nominee can't win Ohio by himself that's probably a sign of deeper troubles. Paul Ryan is someone who energized the base but will sharpen that ideological argument that I told you is coming as the author of that Republican plan that would convert Medicare from its current form into a premium support (INAUDIBLE) system.

Tim Pawlenty is kind of a do-no harm pick. Bobby Jindal still get some discussion as the governor of Louisiana, probably too young. In my mind, you know, I'm looking at this from the outside like everybody else but I think Portman or Ryan seem most likely. There's also Marco Rubio who they've floated as well but that seems more secondary at this point.

WHITFIELD: All right. Very good. Ron Brownstein. Thanks so much. Hard to believe we are just about 3 1/2 months away.

BROWNSTEIN: It's getting there.

WHITFIELD: Clock is ticking. It's getting there. All right. Thanks so much.

BROWNSTEIN: You got your TV on on those swing state, you know it is getting close.

WHITFIELD: That's right. You're right about that. All right. Thanks, Ron. Appreciate that. Always good to see you.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner may be looking for a second chance in political office. The "New York Post's" says multiple sources indicate Weiner is considering a run for mayor of New York. If you recall last year, Weiner tweeted a lewd photo, initially denying doing that and then eventually resigning from Congress because of it.

A legally blond woman competes for the Miss Florida USA crown and makes history. And if you have to go out today, just remember you can continue watching CNN from your mobile phone. You can also watch CNN live from your laptop. Just go to


WHITFIELD: No crown for the first legally blond woman to compete for Miss Florida USA but Connor Boss finished in the top five in last night's pageant. The 18-year-old college freshman has a genetic eye disease that makes it difficult for her to focus on objects right in front of her. Boss was chosen miss photogenic and she says she feels like a winner even without the overall title.


CONNOR BOSS, PAGEANT CONTESTANT: I have come to learn it is not even about winning the pageants. I'm so glad that my story can be shared and at least I can inspire one person. If I can inspire one person I feel like I have won.


WHITFIELD: Pageant winner Michelle Lugeary will compete in next year's Miss USA contest.

All right. Two men decided they want to fly from Oregon to Montana in a lawn chair. Sounds crazy but it did happen. Ken (INAUDIBLE) and Fareed Lasta (ph) strapped themselves into lawn chairs as you see right there and then attached 350 balloons to kind of seal the deal. So what could possibly go wrong you ask? Everything.

Hail, snow and thunderstorms knocked out 35 of their balloons forcing them to cut their trip short. It was a rough landing but thankfully they are OK.

And a pretty remarkable achievement earlier this month. Eight-year- old Tyler Armstrong climbed Mount Kilimanjaro not just for the thrills but for a cause. Tyler takes us along his journey.


TYLER ARMSTRONG: I want to climb Monotherapy. Kilimanjaro because I find about CureDuchenne I hike for muscular dystrophy CureDuchenne. It's where boys cannot walk and so I try to help them find a cure to have them walk again.

For Kilimanjaro, I trained for a year. Every month I climb a mountain for elevation.

It's 19,341 feet. It takes eight days. Six days up and two days down. We started at about 9:00. Some days we hike for three hours and some days we hike for six hours. There is one part of the mountain where we had to rock climb. The glaciers were really big and it was all ice. On the mountain you go still and steady. That is what pulley pulley means.

The porters, they sing this song. On the top it was below 12. We had warmers like toe warmers, hand warmers, body heaters and lots of layers. My heart was pounding so fast so I had to take lots of breaks. I was all worked up and my legs couldn't move.

At the top I felt like I wanted to turn around but my dad said "Don't turn around. We are going to make it." I was at the top of Africa and I was super high. And it was just amazing. I have done Mount Kilimanjaro.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How does it feel buddy?

ARMSTRONG: It feels great. Second youngest.

I like climbing because I get to hang out with my dad and see nature and raise new heights.


WHITFIELD: Wow. Congrats to him. Fantastic.

Medical tragedy that takes one family by surprise straight ahead. How a simple test could have saved a life.


WHITFIELD: Right now a quick look at the stories making headlines today. A top Syrian official defects and calls for foreign intervention. The topple President Bashar al-Assad the former Syrian ambassador to Iraq accuses the Assad regime of collaborating with al Qaeda in both Syria and in Iraq. Assad is the second Syrian official to defect in a week.

A nerve racking weekend for two Boston area families who were anxiously awaiting news on their loved ones kidnapped in Egypt Sinai Region. Tourist Lisa Alfonsi and Pastor Michelle Louise were taken off their tourist bus in Egypt Sinai Region Friday. Authorities there are negotiating for their release now.

And Oscar winning actress Celeste Holm has died. Her long career includes classics like "Gentlemen's Agreement" and "All about Eve." But she was also an accomplished Broadway actress and TV star. Holm passed away today at her home in New York. She was 95 years old.

And now to the race for the White House in the critical state of Florida. The Mason Dixon Poll says the race in that state is a dead heat. It is still our story in swing states across the country which explains the candidates travel schedule this week. CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser takes a look.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Hey Fred. A busy week ahead on the campaign trail. And no surprise both President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney reaches out to voters in some crucial political battle grounds. After fundraising Monday in Mississippi, Louisiana Mitt Romney heads Tuesday to Pennsylvania and Wednesday to Ohio. Both considered important swing states in the race for the White House.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: To restore America's greatness, America's greatest days are ahead. We are the shining city on a hill. Ohio is going to make a difference. Ohio, I need you to help me become the next president of the United States.

STEINHAUSER: Something Republican nominees stop at the buckeye state because it comes two days after President Barack Obama's visit there. The president campaigns in Cincinnati Monday, the visit will be Mr. Obama's eighth swing thru Ohio this year.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to give tax breaks to companies investing right here. In Cincinnati, Ohio. And the United states of America.


STEINHAUSER: The president fund raises in Texas the next day and Thursday and Friday he campaigns in Florida, another very important battle ground state.


WHITFIELD: Thanks so much Paul.

A medical tragedy now taking one family by surprise for the simple inexpensive test could have saved a life. Here is Lisa Sylvester.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Moments of childhood that are fleeting.

OLIVIA EASLEY, MOTHER: There is nothing to indicate.

SYLVESTER: Moments Olivia Easley never takes for granted.

EASLEY: It is important to focus on what you have and not on what you don't have.

SYLVESTER: Olivia has found a place of happiness after living through the terror every parent fears.

EASLEY: This is Veronica Jane Easley; she was born on April, 29.

SYLVESTER: Her daughter Veronica died when she was only seven weeks old.

EASLEY: And I have little pajamas that she died in. I saved it so I can still smell her; I left in plastic so it still retains her scent. It's amazing that someone's life fits in this little bag on a shelf.

I gave birth to my third child, a girl it was Veronica in April of 2009. And I had had 20 week ultrasound, good prenatal care. We were under the assumption that she was perfectly healthy. I put her down to bed. And that was the last time I saw her alive.

SYLVESTER: Olivia didn't know her new baby had a congenital heart defect. There was nothing that indicated a problem. No shortness of breath, no blueness, nothing.

EASLEY: It's your worst nightmare times 100.

SYLVESTER: Olivia later found out about a simple test that likely would have saved her daughter's life. It's called a pulse Asymmetry Test.

ELIZABETH BRADSHAW, CHILDREN'S MEDICAL CENTER: It is an effective accurate way of measuring the oxygen in the blood.

SYLVESTER: An inexpensive test that looks like a band aid and is over in about five minutes. Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland began screening all newborns three years ago. Since then New Jersey, Indiana, West Virginia and Maryland have all adopted impulsive asymmetry laws. New Jersey was the first state to pass a law requiring mandatory screening at all birthing facilities and on that very first day a baby was found with critical congenital heart disease.

When a heart defect is detected with early treatment a child can live a healthy normal life.

DR. GERARD MARTIN, PEDIATRIC CARDIOLOGIST CHILDREN'S MEDICAL CENTER: We think there are about 200 babies each year that die undetected with congenital heart defects in the United States, 200 babies. We need to get those 200 babies. This is a loss that just can't keep happening.

EASLEY: If it can happen to me it really could happen to any parent. That is why I think pulse screening is so important.

You want this?

SYLVESTER: This story has a happy ending. Six months after Veronica's death Olivia was pregnant again. This is her little boy, Brian.


WHITFIELD: Oh boy. So Lisa Sylvester joining me now. So you actually have a sample of the test and you can show us how it works.

SYLVESTER: Yes, I have to tell you Fred this is when they say it is simple and it is inexpensive. I mean it truly is, this is an example of a pulse asymmetry test. It literally wraps around your finger and in the case of a baby it would be the baby's hand. But it wraps around the hand, it is painless and it is inexpensive. It only costs about a dollar per test. Yet it is not being done at so many hospitals around the country. That is what the focus of this piece is and that is really what Olivia Easley really wants to highlight.

WHITFIELD: So does this mean that all parents need to request the test especially in this state that doesn't require hospitals to do so?

SYLVESTER: It is something that parents really need to be aware of and it is a question to ask at their birth hospital. Do you do these tests and more importantly there is a role for lawmakers here. Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sylvia late last year she came out urging hospitals to adopt these tests because again it has been proven to save lives. And I should mention Fred, Olivia Easley is herself a medical doctor. She is an internist. She could not tell by looking at her baby that there was anything wrong. In the past they have looked for blueness or shortness of breath. But you can't always tell just by looking at the baby. You saw those pictures there her baby, those pictures were taken ten days before her baby died and that is why this test is so important.


WHITFIELD: You said none of those things were apparent in her baby no blueness, none of those symptoms. All right. Lisa Sylvester thanks so much for bringing that to us. Really saving a lot of lives potentially.

All right. Two religious scholars want to change what you can watch in your hotel room. We'll get reaction to their calls for hotels to remove porn channels in particular.


WHITFIELD: A Christian and a Muslim working together to battle x- rated entertainment. These two men are joining forces to target hotel chains that offer pay per view adult movies. Our national correspondent Susan Candiotti has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In many hotel rooms finding adult entertainment is as simple as a click of the remote. That may change.

PROF. ROBERT P. GEORGE, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: We are reaching out to people who are profiting from pornography and pointing out that that is a bad thing to do.

CANDIOTTI: Prof. Robert George a Christian scholar from Princeton and Sheik Housin (ph) a Muslim scholar co-wrote a letter to CEO's from the top five U.S. hotel groups asking them to remove adult movies.

GEORGE: We believe that despite the lucrative nature of the pornography of business that hotel executives and people of good will, shareholders can act on the basis of conscience here and lay profitability aside for the sake of human dignity.

CANDIOTTI: George calls the letter a small step and acknowledges that porn will still exist but he just hopes to limit access to it.

GEORGE: The society pays heavy costs in terms of damage relationships, addiction, and wounded people.

CANDIOTTI: Craig Gross agrees but feels going after hotels is the wrong approach.

CRAIG GROSS, FOUNDER, XXXCHURCH.COM: It is an empty gesture.

CANDIOTTI: Gross from ministers to those addicted to porn. He prefers to target the demand for adult movies, not the supplier.

GROSS: This is about money and dollars and that is why this is sold in hotels. And so removing it from hotels to me isn't the issue. The issue is that people are consuming pornography.

CANDIOTTI: After all pornography would still be available on the internet and mobile devices even if hotels pull the plug.

GROSS: Are we going to ask them to stop in the mini bar or stop selling Hogan daus by the pint and in our room service.

CANDIOTTI: Porn star Ron Jeremy says there are many normal adults who watch adult movies and wants religion to butt out. He says you always have the option not to watch.

RON JEREMY, ADULT ENTERTAINMENT ACTOR: If you don't want to watch adult movies watch "Gilligan Island" reruns. I do. It's fine.

CANDIOTTI: The American Hotel and Lodging Association defends the right of hotels to choose. But Professor George hopes hotel CEOs see it differently.

GEORGE: There are some things that are so contrary to our humanity that they shouldn't be for sale either.


CANDIOTTI: The Omni Hotel Group dropped adult movies in 1999. Marriott says its new hotels will not have adult entertainment and hopes to phase it out all together by 2013. Choice Hotels leaves it up to its franchisees and others haven't responded to the letter.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, New York.

WHITFIELD: And for more on this story be sure to check out our "Belief Blog" at You can add your own comments there as well.

All right. A heart stopping close encounter with that great white shark. Would you remain calm? I talked to one fisherman who does. He even video tapes it, he talks about still having no fear of the deep.


WHITFIELD: All right. You might think he is a little crazy, an Australia fishermen who came face to face with a great white shark said he is not afraid to get back in the water in fact he already went snorkeling this weekend. Nathan Podmore and his friend Dave Richards were off the coast of Western Australia, South of Perth when they were circled by a 12 foot shark stalking them. Nathan captured the whole thing with a mini video camera.

So you and your friend Dave were spear fishing in an area where there had already been some reported incidents of great white attacks. Why did you decide to go spear fishing there?

NATHAN PODMORE, DIVER WHO FENDED OFF SHARK: There hadn't been any reports in the area where we were. There had been a spite of sightings and a couple of attacks in the state. A few people had seen white pointers likely in the area but it was the last thing on our minds when we went that day.

WHITFIELD: So Nathan take me back. You and your buddy are fishing. You are in depths that are fairly shallow and we can see that you have a mounted camera so you are videotaping it all. You have your spear fish rod there. Then what happens?

PODMORE: I turn the camera on ready to do my second dive of the day. And I was braving up. I was taking my final breath ready to do a dive and I just heard him scream my name and I turn around and I was face to face.

WHITFIELD: So you have said that you always wanted to encounter a great white but now that you have it is the scariest thing and you don't ever want this to happen again. What were you thinking at the time when you saw this great white which by estimates was about 12 feet long?

PODMORE: Yes, I said I would like to see one. I never want to see another one in the water, its nuts, it is.

WHITFIELD: How close did this shark get? Did you actually have contact with it? Did you actually poke it with that spear?

PODMORE: I had to fend it off twice and my buddy had to fend it off twice, as well.

WHITFIELD: Why did you do that? What did your instinct tell you about that time, did you feel like it was in attack mode or did you feel like you could actually scare it off?

PODMORE: It wasn't in attack mode. It was more curious. When you are face to face you don't let it get too close. And just sort of supposed to let it know that we knew it was there and we were not going to let it get any closer.

WHITFIELD: And did it just go away on its own? I mean because you can see in the background from your images that your boat was a pretty good distance away?

PODMORE: Yes, the boat, we were just over 60 meters from the boat when it came in. It followed us the whole way back and circled us a couple of times and came in to take a closer look. We got back to the boat. My buddy jumped right in. As soon as it was on the edge that was it. We never saw it again.

WHITFIELD: Nathan Podmore, lucky guy. By the way we have more about sharks. Our Soledad O'Brien meets Richard Branson he is not the shark but that one is right there, whale shark. He went for an incredible swim with some whale sharks and she is going to be talking to Branson about his campaign to stop the slaughter of sharks for shark soup.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): What was your reaction the first time that you were sort of eye ball to eye ball with a whale shark?

RICHARD BRANSON, FOUNDER, VIRGIN GROUP: The beauty of it. It is an enormous gentle giant in the ocean. I couldn't bare the idea that people are slaughtering them in their millions. I decided to devote my time to draw attention to that.


WHITFIELD: See that Tuesday rather morning on "Starting Point" which begins at 7:00 a.m.

All right. Trucks with no one to drive them. A million openings for truck drivers every year and the wide spread shortage is costing you.


WHITFIELD: All right. Think about all the things that you need to make it through the day, the essentials. Well most of it makes it to the store and then to your home because a truck delivers it. Well now there is an alarming shortage of truck drivers and that could cost you. Athena Jones explains.


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In his 42 years a trucker David Boyar has traveled more than 5 million miles that is like going to the moon and back ten times. How long does it take a normal person you said to get --

DAVID BOYER, TRUCKER: It takes a normal person 125 years?

JONES: So in other words it's impossible. How much longer do you think you will go? When I joined him for a ride he explained why at 59 years old he is not ready to hand over his keys just yet.

BOYER: You can sit here and do about 180 degree view and everything that you see a truck brought it other than the trees and the grass. The brick in that wall, the metal in that wall, the flowers over on that grave, anything that you get each day a truck ends up bringing it. We are essential to the nation.

JONES: Boyar loves being on the open road and takes pride in his work. Still many drivers around his age are calling it quits. As more and more truckers retire trucking companies are having a harder time filling their jobs. Every year 1 million positions become available. According to trucking industry.

Why? The job can be long hours with drivers spending days away from home. Drivers must also be 21 years old and undergo extensive training to get licensed with a six week course costing $4 to $6,000 on average. Making it difficult to attract the future generation of truckers. Starting in 2013 new federal rules that reduce the number of hours drivers can be on the road will require companies to hire even more to meet demand. Driver shortages can delay deliveries and add to freight costs that rose 30 percent in the past two years according to FDR Associates which tracks the industry.

SEAN MCNALLY, AMERICAN TRUCKING ASSOCIATION: At the end of the day we pass our expenses on to our customers and their customers pass it on to their customers and it winds up that the consumer winds up bearing the brunt of that.

JONES: As more truck drivers become available analysts and folks like Boyer say companies should -- Since many of those living the military are used to handling heavy equipment and being away from home for long stretches.

Athena Jones, CNN, Maryland.


WHITFIELD: The impact of drug violence hits home in Mexico. Find out why journalists are too afraid to cover the story now.