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American Morning

War Widow's Request for President Bush; Instant Message Pranks

Aired June 29, 2005 - 07:30   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: It's about half past the hour on this AMERICAN MORNING.
Coming up, we'll talk to a war widow, who met President Bush before his speech last night. Actually, he had a meeting with several of them, 90 of them in all, for three hours. We'll ask about that meeting, for one thing. We'll tell what you she asked him to wear during his address.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Also this morning, an instant message between friends on the Internet, well, it threw an entire school into lockdown mode. The situation became a mess. We'll tell you about the fallout from that ahead this morning. It's kind of a cautionary tale for parents and students and even law enforcement, too.

M. O'BRIEN: Listen up, kids.

All right, Carol Costello with the headlines.

Good morning.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Good morning to you.

"Now in the News."

The U.S. military is looking for 17 Americans who were on board a Chinook helicopter that may have been brought down by hostile fire. The chopper, similar to the one you're seeing here, went down on Monday in a rugged region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban claimed to have downed the helicopter. Rescuers are on the scene. They have surrounded the crash site. The fate of the crew members remains unclear.

Same-sex marriage could soon be legal in Canada. The Canadian parliament approved the bill Tuesday. It now heads to the Senate. It's expected to pass, despite opposition from conservatives and religious leaders. Canada would become the third country to legalize same-sex marriage, following the Netherlands and Belgium.

A revised design for the World Trade Center site. The design was slightly tweaked after concerns were raised by the New York City Police Department. Among the changes, the tower will be more slender, and it will be set far back from the street. New York Governor George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg will officially present the new model in less than three hours. The second tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season is set to hit Mexico. Officials have issued a tropical storm warning for a stretch of the Gulf Coast, some 250 miles south of Texas. Tropical Storm Bret has maximum sustained winds of 40 miles per hour, but it is expected to weaken once it hits land.

And producer/rapper Kanye West is the big winner for this year's BET awards. West, who was a no show at the L.A. ceremony, won trophies for male hip-hop artist and video of the year for his "Jesus Walks." Gladys Knight received a lifetime achievement award and performed three songs. The awards night was hosted by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, who were introduced as the president and first lady of black America. Oh, she was looking good.

M. O'BRIEN: You were watching?

S. O'BRIEN: Did you see it?

M. O'BRIEN: You were up watching?

COSTELLO: No, I just saw Jada Pinkett in that video.

M. O'BRIEN: All right.

S. O'BRIEN: She is so cute.


S. O'BRIEN: And he's not hard to look at either. But she's cute.

COSTELLO: That's the truth.

M. O'BRIEN: We're having a little (INAUDIBLE), and I'll just bow out for a minute.

S. O'BRIEN: Carol, tell me later.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. As President Bush explained U.S. policy in Iraq to the American people last night, he carried a reminder of the price America is paying, a bracelet inscribed with the names of two fallen soldiers. Staff Sergeant Mike Owen was killed in an explosion eight months ago. His widow, Crystal, had a 10-minute private meeting with the president before the speech. She gave him the bracelet, also bearing the name of Corporal Jonathan Santos, and asked him to wear it during the speech.

Crystal Owen is joining us now live from Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Crystal, good to have you with us. What was that meeting like with the president, first of all?

CRYSTAL OWEN, HUSBAND KILLED IN IRAQ: It was awesome. He was very kind and nice, and we had a great conversation.

M. O'BRIEN: Can you tell me a little bit about it?

OWEN: We talked about my husband, Mike, and about the job in Iraq that they're doing now, and actually about my job. And we were just kind of like old friends.

M. O'BRIEN: And you're a teacher, so I'm sure that the president, having married a teacher, had some things in common with you. I'm curious...

OWEN: Yes, sir.

M. O'BRIEN: ... when you talk about the job in Iraq, what's on your mind? What do you think needs to be done and might be lacking right now as far as U.S. policy in Iraq?

OWEN: Well, actually, in a note that I wrote to the president, I asked him to keep the troops there to complete the mission. I didn't want my husband's death nor the 1,700 other deaths to be in vain. I want the job done.

M. O'BRIEN: You said -- and we've got a little quote from the letter. It's kind of a moving, short letter. It says: "Please do not pull troops out of the country too soon. Continue to give Iraq the help they need in becoming a democratic nation. Mike" -- your late husband would say -- "'Carry on, complete the mission.'"

Once you saw the speech, do you think that he sort of answered that letter, in a way?

OWEN: Yes, I do. I'm very -- I was very impressed.

M. O'BRIEN: What impressed you the most?

OWEN: That he's not going to give a timetable.

M. O'BRIEN: You don't think there should be one?

OWEN: No, I do not.

M. O'BRIEN: Why not?

OWEN: We don't know when Iraq is going to be ready to take on their own security.

M. O'BRIEN: What do you think about the president linking Iraq to the 9/11 attacks? A lot of people this morning are talking about how he mentioned 9/11 as many as six times. Does that bother you at all? Do you think that's the proper rationale for the U.S. to be there?

OWEN: Well, yes, I'd rather be there than them be here.

M. O'BRIEN: But as far as whether it has anything to do directly with 9/11, do you think that's the case?

OWEN: Yes, I do. M. O'BRIEN: How have you been doing in the months since you lost your husband?

OWEN: It's been very hard. Very hard. But the Army has supported me, and my family and in-laws have been wonderful. And I couldn't have been this far without them.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, we wish you well, Crystal Owen, whose husband died in Iraq back in October. And we salute you for your courage and your sacrifice on behalf of all of us.

OWEN: Thank you. Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, two Arlington, Virginia, teenagers were arrested last month, accused of sending instant messages which prosecutors say included threats to their school and fellow students.

Kelly Wallace joins us with more on this tale. It's really a cautionary tale, isn't it? Because it got very complicated from there.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very complicated. Big stakes for teens involved.

We ended up talking to one of the teens, one of the girls who received a threatening message. She and her mom are deciding to speak out for the very first time. They wanted us, though, not to use their last names for security reasons. It is an interview you will only see here on CNN. And they want to try to get the message out to teens that playing pranks on the computer can end up causing a great deal of pain.


WALLACE (voice over): It was like any other night, 14-year-old Anna instant messaging with her friends in Arlington, Virginia, when all of a sudden, she received a series of message that startled her.

ANNA, RECEIVED INSTANT MESSAGE THREAT: I was really scared, because I didn't know who it was. And I've gotten, like, pranks played on me before.

WALLACE: Her mother, Felicia, showed us a transcript of the messages. The anonymous sender says of Anna's Yorktown high school -- quote: "YHS is going to be very different tomorrow, Anna. Tons of chaos. The bodies to be found, the flesh to be seen, the blood to be discovered, the bones to be matched. Well, I am just telling you this, because I'm saving you for my last murder."

Anna says she tried to find out who it was, not intending to tell her mom. But Felicia overheard her talking with friends.

(on camera): This is the area?

FELICIA, ANNA'S MOTHER: That's what really concerned me.

WALLACE (voice over): She thought about Columbine and the recent school shooting on an Indian reservation in Minnesota. After spending an hour on the phone with computer companies trying unsuccessfully to learn the identity of the sender, Felicia says she called the police.

FELICIA: I pretty much in my heart I knew it was probably a prank, but I didn't want to take that risk, not when you're talking about people's lives.

WALLACE: The next day, shortly after classes began, police evacuated Yorktown. And that, Anna said, prompted a confession from a friend of hers, who then turned himself in.

ANNA: He was like shaking. He was really scared and in shock.

WALLACE: The 15-year-old, a popular boy at Yorktown, was placed in juvenile detention for two weeks, facing a felony charge. That outraged some in the community. More than 300 sued and signed an online petition calling for leniency, including Anna.

However, some targeted Anna and her mom. Said one -- quote: "The parents of that girl had so many options. They could have talked to their daughter. Instead, they acted impulsively and called the police and the FBI."

Anna said the criticism online and at school was tough.

ANNA: And then the next day when I came to school, like, people were just really mean and, like, yelling at me, like, "You're just doing this for attention."

WALLACE: Richard Trodden, Arlington's chief prosecutor, said the family and his attorneys did not overreact.

RICHARD TRODDEN, ARLINGTON CO. COMMONWEALTH'S ATTY.: When I was a kid, I was told, you don't pull the fire box. And I think youngsters have to know that about I.M. You don't threaten bodily harm or crimes of violence on a school through I.M.s.

WALLACE: Six weeks later, the online prank and the serious controversy it unleashed remain painful for Felicia and Anna. They've since moved from Arlington. All that happened here, playing a role in their decision to leave.

FELICIA: We need to, as parents and teenagers and kids, we need to realize that it's not ratting on people. First of all, people shouldn't be doing that. And secondly, if you report it, it's your moral obligation, your civic responsibility to protect other people when you can.


WALLACE: And last night, we received a statement from the boys' parents. Through their attorney, they said -- quote: "Our son's instant message to his friend was an act of poor judgment intended as a joke. He never meant to harm anyone. He had no idea that his action would have the consequences it did."

The parents went on to say, "We also hope that other young people will learn that irresponsible use of the computer, even as a prank, can have severe life-changing consequences."

Because, Soledad, as for this boy, he pled guilty to one felony count of sending a threatening instant message. He'll be on supervised probation for two years. He also will do 100 hours of community service. His idea, though, 10 of those hours going to schools, talking to teens about the dangers of playing pranks on the computer.

S. O'BRIEN: Which is probably a good idea, because I mean, talk about being between a rock and a hard place for all of the parents involved. I mean, you know, how different the story would be if the mother had ignored that message, and there had been a horrible attack on the school. I mean, what are parents supposed to do?

WALLACE: Right. And two things we're learning. You know, kids play a ton of pranks on the computer. I mean, even Anna said she has played pranks before. It never got to this point, because normally the kids will say who it is. And also, the mother said she tried, you know, went to the computer companies to find out who it was. If she knew it was the kid...

S. O'BRIEN: Lots of concerns.

WALLACE: Right. They couldn't really identify...

S. O'BRIEN: It's a different day and age, though, now, isn't it?

WALLACE: Absolutely.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. Kelly, a great spot. Thanks.


S. O'BRIEN: Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, let's check the weather.


S. O'BRIEN: Well, still to come this morning, Richard Scrushy is cleared on all charges in that huge corporate fraud trial. Just how did his lawyers win? Andy is taking a look at that as he minds your business this morning.

Also ahead, we've been hearing the hype for weeks. "War of the Worlds" finally opens today. We've got a preview ahead on "90-Second Pop." Stay with us. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: Against the odds, Richard Scrushy, the man they called "King Richard" -- is he still a king? I don't know. We'll find out, how did his lawyers persuade the jury to find the former HealthSouth CEO not guilty? Andy Serwer is here with that, "Minding Your Business."

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Miles, I think the attorneys did a masterful job, Richard Scrushy's attorneys. And not so much a defeat for the government's campaign to end fraud at large companies as it was a defeat for these particular prosecutors.

And again, you have to look at what his defense attorneys, Donald Watkins, did. They appealed to the jurors' religious convictions surrounding Scrushy with ministers, and they appealed to the jurors' sense of patriotism. At one point, Watkins noted that 806,000 Americans died in defense of freedom for this country. And therefore, you must acquit his client? That was the thinking. It seemed to work.

M. O'BRIEN: I'm not getting the logic there.

SERWER: It really seemed to work. You know, some jurors were suggesting that there was a -- the fraud was there, but the smoking gun wasn't, which is sort of surprising.

And you best believe, Miles, that the attorneys for Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling in the Enron trial, which begins in January of next year, are watching this very closely.

Also, finally here, a lot of cynicism about this verdict. In fact, one wag on Wall Street is sending around an e-mail saying that Saddam Hussein would like to have his trial in Birmingham...

M. O'BRIEN: Ouch!

SERWER: ... which is kind of an ouch there. But you can understand, I think, how people feel -- $2.7 billion of fraud there.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, that's some real money.

SERWER: Absolutely.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, thank you, Andy.

SERWER: You're welcome.

M. O'BRIEN: Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, what's it like to be Bobby Brown? The R&B singer and his wife, pop star Whitney Houston, hope that millions of Americans want to find out. They've got a new reality series. We're going to talk about it in "90-Second Pop" just ahead. Stay with us.


S. O'BRIEN: "90-Second Pop" on a Wednesday. Joining us are our pop stars, B.J. Sigesmund from "US Weekly." Karyn Bryant from "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT." Christopher John Farley, "TIME" magazine contributing editor and also, by the way, the author of a new book. It's called "Kingston by Starlight," and it's very nice. I read my copy the other day.

Welcome. Good morning, everybody.


S. O'BRIEN: Where do you want to begin? You know, because we've been talking about Tom Cruise. We talked about him when he was dating Katie Holmes. We talked about him when he got engaged. We talked about it when he jumped on Oprah's couch. He had that weird interview with Matt Lauer. We talked a little bit about that.


S. O'BRIEN: Hey, let's talk about the movie.




S. O'BRIEN: The whole thing. Well, it's kind of time for the movie.


S. O'BRIEN: How is "War of the Worlds?"

SIGESMUND: The movie is finally here. I thought it was thrilling, Soledad. I mean, I love science fiction, let's just get that out front. I love Spielberg. Tom Cruise is great. I loved the last movie they did.

S. O'BRIEN: You were predisposed to love this movie.

SIGESMUND: Yes, I was. "Minority Report" was great. The movie is -- it's about a guy, Tom Cruise, who lives in New Jersey. And he just picks up his kids for the weekend -- he's a divorced kind of deadbeat dad -- when aliens suddenly land and start turning all humans to dust. And he spends the next two hours outrunning them.

Now, the movie has, you know, a lot of great, great, great special effects. A lot of people are going to pick on Dakota Fanning, who just does a lot of screaming in this movie. And most people are going to be dissatisfied with the end, which kind of wraps up in a clunky way. But overall I think it's going to be a huge hit.

BRYANT: I'm going to play hooky and go see it. I want to see it.

S. O'BRIEN: Really?

BRYANT: I think Spielberg makes fantastic movies. And I think...

S. O'BRIEN: Especially science fiction movies.

BRYANT: Yes. "Close Encounters" is one of my all-time favorite movies. I think -- I know there has been a lot of negativity and a lot of backlash against Tom. I think people are going to not care, and they'll still just go for it for the fact that it's this big Spielberg movie.

S. O'BRIEN: It's science fiction.


FARLEY: The key battle here really isn't against the aliens. It's really against Hollywood versus really an American indifference, because people are not going to the movies.


FARLEY: You know, "Batman" couldn't...

S. O'BRIEN: Do you think this movie can overcome that?

FARLEY: Well, we're going to see. "Batman" couldn't save the movies. I mean...

SIGESMUND: If this movie can't do it, nothing can. I mean, this is really a movie to get people in their seats.

FARLEY: That's what I needed to do.

S. O'BRIEN: That's kind of the final word. We'll have to just wait and see what happens.

Have you guys seen the promos for "Being Bobby Brown?"

BRYANT: Your body language says it.

S. O'BRIEN: I know, I'm sorry.

BRYANT: It's so sad.

S. O'BRIEN: I love Whitney Houston. I love Whitney. I've got to just say, I've got to throw it out there. I love Whitney Houston. First, let's watch a clip, so we can all be in the tent together, and then we can talk about it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're Bobby Brown.



BROWN: I'm Bobby. I'm Bobby on a regular basis. I'm not in an orange jumpsuit right now.


BROWN: I mean, that's probably why you don't recognize me. Look, do you recognize me now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes. Now I see it.


S. O'BRIEN: I mean, you know, like, that's supposed to be the joke, but, of course...

BRYANT: It's sad.

S. O'BRIEN: ... it's sad. And it's called "Being Bobby Brown." But really, they focus a lot of the attention on Whitney Houston, his wife.

FARLEY: You know, the complete title of the show was actually "Being Bobby Brown" is really tragic and sad. But those two long (INAUDIBLE) actually fit.

S. O'BRIEN: But, you know, she's kind of a mess in this.

BRYANT: She is a mess.

S. O'BRIEN: She was in between the rehab.

BRYANT: Exactly. Coming back from rehab. And there seems to be times when they genuinely have a loving relationship. But there are so many weird, uncomfortable times, and it's just awkward. And it's just sad.

S. O'BRIEN: And they bring their kid out.

SIGESMUND: Also, I mean, she must really love him to have agreed to do this show, because he spends the whole time trying to get attention for himself. He's desperate for attention, whereas Whitney is trying to, like, get the cameras away from her the whole time. Yet she agreed to it.

BRYANT: They both want to sell records. They both want to sell records.


S. O'BRIEN: Yes, but you know what? When they bring Bobbi Kristina (ph) out, you know, it just got -- it gets real icky.

FARLEY: Bring out the kid.


S. O'BRIEN: You know, she's 11 years old. The whole thing to me just seemed like, ick (ph). SIGESMUND: Yes. It's not fun. I mean, even the Britney and Kevin show, "Chaotic," it's sort of fun. You feel above them when you're watching it. And you judge them. But Bobby and Whitney, it's just sad.

S. O'BRIEN: Do you think it's going to help their career? Yes or no?

BRYANT: Help it?

FARLEY: I don't think so. I think the people that are going to watch this, unless you're a member of his entourage -- and he has a pretty large entourage -- you know, there's no reason to watch the show.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. Let's talk about "Crash," also on TV.


S. O'BRIEN: Because there was the crash moment, which is kind (INAUDIBLE) "Crash," the movie. And now "Crash" the TV show. That's kind of an interesting concept, don't you think?

BRYANT: Well, it was initially Paul Haggis, the writer/director of "Crash," had pitched it and envisioned it as a television series. And at the time...

S. O'BRIEN: Do you think it could work?

BRYANT: I think it could. They are talking about a lot of the major stars revisiting their roles on playing them on television. Don Cheadle will.

S. O'BRIEN: It is, of course, a story of race relations, stereotypes...

BRYANT: Right.

S. O'BRIEN: ... and kind of how these things all sort of interact and crash into each other.

BRYANT: Right. And I think it could work. It could be a multi- arc kind of television show. There are a lot of great actors. Don Cheadle, one of the stars of it, also is going to be producing...

S. O'BRIEN: It's going to be great.

BRYANT: ... and directing a lot of the episodes, which is terrific. I think it could work. And it's going to be on FX. They have a pilot commitment, you know, a script commitment. FX has been pushing the envelope with "Nip/Tuck," with "The Shield." So, you know...

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, that's good.

SIGESMUND: I like this idea. I mean, it's sort of anti-reality television. It really is reality. And it could be about many different families all over L.A. I think that it has that promise...

S. O'BRIEN: How weird is that? We're talking about anti-reality TV that is real. You guys, we're out of time. But obviously this is the winner of them all.

BRYANT: Oh, yes.

S. O'BRIEN: Everybody should watch it, too. You guys, thanks so much. B.J. Sigesmund, Karyn, and also Christopher John Farley with his new book out. Aren't I good, pitching your book for you?

FARLEY: Thank you very much.

S. O'BRIEN: Don't forget Karyn and "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT" weeknights on "HEADLINES PRIME." Tonight, you're talking to the man I live, Morgan Spurlock. He carved out that super-sized niche for himself, first on film and now on TV. You're going to talk about his show, aren't you?


S. O'BRIEN: It's 7:30 tonight -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, thanks, guys. Still to come, her parents call her "the big enchilada," 13 pounds 12 ounces. Don't forget them. The newborn, Delaney Bezelle (ph), she is a big one! Mom, dad and the big, big bundle of joy will join us live, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.