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American Morning

Lawmakers Urge Wal-Mart to Change Business Practices; Progress Reported for France's Facial Transplant Patient; Fate of Kidnapped Journalist Remains in Question

Aired January 19, 2006 - 09:30   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Miles O'Brien in New York. Soledad is in Washington. She had an opportunity to sit down and speak with the mother of that kidnapped U.S. journalist. What an interview, Soledad.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, yes. What a pillar of strength, really, her mother is. Journalist Jill Carroll was kidnapped in Iraq about two weeks ago. Her mother Mary Beth, though, is staying strong and really holding it together. And she says she trusts her daughter's instincts and has faith, as well, that she is staying strong too.


S. O'BRIEN: All her friends that we talked to said that she was very careful, that she was passionate, but also very, very careful. Did you ever talk about security with her, or do you sort of leave it at, you know, mom says be safe.


S. O'BRIEN: You did?

CARROLL: Sure, and we talked about even the eventuality of her being kidnapped. And that gives me some comfort now to know some of the things that she had knew and had talked with other about people vis-a-vis kidnapping, and also I told her frankly how I felt if she was kidnapped, what I would be thinking, and supporting her and knowing that she was doing what she loved and what she thought was very important to do, and that that would give me and her family comfort at this time, and it does.

S. O'BRIEN: So she knows what you're thinking, and you know what she's thinking.

CARROLL: I think. I think. And I feel also after being in Baghdad for two years, that she knew what she was doing, she knew what the dangers were, she knew what the risks were, and she chose to accept those, because what she was doing to communicate to the world the sufferings of the Iraqi people was important.

S. O'BRIEN: What kind of stories were her passion, were her focus?

CARROLL: Well, you know, she did everything from interviewing the Sunnis to Shias. She traveled all over Iraq, doing the political scene, but also some of the stories, I remember, are about the schools that were being rebuilt and how some of them were falling apart and how that affected the education of children; and also was very moved by a family that she kept subsequently in contact with after doing the story who had a child who was injured. So she had a very deep compassion, I think, for Iraqis, definitely for all human beings, but Iraqis in particular, because of course that's where she was.

S. O'BRIEN: Our interview is being simulcast on CNN International, which airs in every single Middle Eastern country.

So, if her captors are listening, what do you want them to know? What do you want to say to them?

CARROLL: Well, that they've picked the wrong person. If they're looking for somebody who is an enemy of Iraq, Jill is just the opposite, and her Iraqi friend can attest to that.

And I think she was a wonderful ambassador, is a wonderful ambassador, to the United States for the Iraqis and Iraqi people.

S. O'BRIEN: And if she can hear you or see you, what do you want her to know?

CARROLL: Well, what she already knows. Those things have been said, and she knows that we love her and we support her. She knows that we can be strong for her, and we know that she's a strong woman, and that her strength of character and her mind will get her through this.

S. O'BRIEN: How do you as a mother hold up?

CARROLL: Well, shock. I think that I'm in shock right now, and I know that falling apart is not going to help my daughter, and I could say her father and her sister are the same way. And I think when this is resolved, we'll all fall apart.

But for now, I think it gives me a lot of comfort to know that if I can stay strong, her father can stay strong, her sister and all her relatives can stay strong -- this is good genetic stock, and Jill is strong, too, in captivity.


S. O'BRIEN: Pretty amazing strength. Mary Beth Carroll pleaded for her daughter's safe return. She told the kidnappers that Jill has always shown the highest respect for the Iraqi people and that they in turn should show Jill the same respect.


M. O'BRIEN: Wal-Mart is a big target, to say the least, and lawmakers in 30 states are taking aim -- Maryland is in the vanguard of this -- passing laws that try to force the retailing behemoth to change the way it does business. The states say Wal-Mart doesn't pay enough of the worker's health care costs and thus the burden falls on the state taxpayers.

CNN's Lisa Sylvester explains.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wal-Mart is not only a leader in retail sales. It also leads companies with the number of employees on public assistance.

In Maryland, 46 percent of the children of Wal-Mart employees are either on Medicaid or uninsured. State lawmakers say the retail giant has not been paying its fair share.

JOHN DONAGHUE (D), MARYLAND DELEGATE: All we're asking for here is that in their quest to be No. 1, offer adequate affordable health care to your employees.

ANNE HEALEY (D), MARYLAND DELEGATE: We're here to tell this bully to change his behavior. We don't want to hurt him. We don't want to kill him. We just want them to pay himself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All in favor, say aye.

SYLVESTER: By a vote of 88 to 50, state lawmakers voted to override Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich's veto.

Companies with 10,000 or more employees are required to spend at least eight percent of its payroll on health insurance. In Maryland, Wal-Mart is the only company missing that mark. The AFL-CIO plans to push for similar legislation in 31 other states.

NAOMI WALKER, AFL-CIO: Wal-Mart last year made $10 billion in profits alone. And why should taxpayers and other businesses have to pick up their health care costs? They can certainly afford it.

SYLVESTER: Wal-Mart responded on its Web site, saying more than three-fourths of Wal-Mart associates have health insurance, and every Wal-Mart associate in Maryland, both full-time and part-time, can become eligible for health coverage that costs as little as $23 a month.

Three-fourths of Wal-Mart employees have health insurance, but that's not because of Wal-Mart's doing. The company provides health insurance to fewer than half of its employees. The rest either get their insurance from their spouses or the government.

SYLVESTER (on camera): Part-time workers have to wait two years to be eligible for health coverage. Business groups are threatening to sue to overturn the new law, but Maryland's attorney general has ruled the law is constitutional.

Lisa Sylvester, CNN, Washington.


M. O'BRIEN: However it shakes out in Annapolis, Wal-Mart is more than the largest retailer in the history of civilization. It is a lightning rod for controversy -- goes with the turf, of course. But some suggest Wal-Mart invites trouble by being so opaque about its business.

Now, Charles Fishman is trying to lift the veil in Bentenville, Arkansas. He is the author of "The Wal-Mart Effect." He is joining us from Philadelphia. And beside me here is our resident Wal-Mart expert Andy Serwer. He's going to weigh in in just a moment.

Mr. Fishman, let's begin with you. This Maryland legislation is really part of a much bigger picture, isn't it?

CHARLES FISHMAN, AUTHOR, "THE WAL-MART EFFECT": Well, it is. I think if you listened to the Maryland legislators talking about the law, you heard a level of passion and frustration that went beyond health care. I think the Maryland legislature last week was saying we actually have the right to regulate the impact that Wal-Mart has on our citizens, and we're going to exercise that right.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" COLUMNIST: Charles, Andy Serwer here. Let me ask you a question about Wal-Mart, which I think is central to the issue. About a million plus people work for Wal-Mart in the United States. There are 295 million Americans. Isn't there sort of a trade-off here that a million people have jobs that maybe don't pay so much, but the 295 million of us benefit tremendously from all the low price goods that we can buy at Wal-Mart. So isn't that kind of a fair trade-off?

FISHMAN: Well, that's the question. I don't think we know enough to know whether it's a fair trade-off or not. That's why I decided to write the book, in fact. I wanted to both understand and explain the impact that Wal-Mart has. Wal-Mart is the largest company in the history of the world.

And I think it's fair to ask why so many -- why half the children of Wal-Mart employees in Maryland have a job but need to turn to the government for their health insurance. Maybe that's the way we want things to go, but we need to know. And the Maryland law is a great example of how little we know about Wal-Mart.

The Maryland law has been discussed for a year, but Wal-Mart hasn't actually revealed how much it spends for its Maryland employees on health care. So Maryland legislators, for all of their frustration, were legislating in a sort of information fog because of Wal-Mart's secrecy.

M. O'BRIEN: Let me ask you about the secrecy. Because aren't they supposed to be fairly transparent. It's a public company, right? You know, there are certain rules. Is there some sort of conspiracy here, or are they just being hyper-competitive? You know, and competitive companies don't like to share their secrets.

FISHMAN: Well, they obviously follow the rules. I don't think anybody's argued that Wal-Mart doesn't reveal what it is required to reveal. I think what you're seeing is a kind of company, Wal-Mart's size and scale, that has so much impact on what we buy, how it's packaged, how it's presented, on the environment, on how things are manufactured, on jobs, on where things are made, the rules about what information corporations are required to reveal were written a hundred years ago, 50 years ago.

Wal-Mart's a new kind of company, and I think we need to re- examine the kind of information we require companies to reveal. And if you require all publicly traded companies to reveal the same information, then you don't put anybody at a competitive disadvantage. And I think what we're see something the secrecy hurts us, because we don't actually know what the impact of a company the size of Wal-Mart is. And we need to.

SERWER: But haven't you seen a change, Charles, at Wal-Mart. I mean, the company use odd to be a lot more secretive than it is today. And it is starting to get religion, if you will, in terms of public relations being very savvy about dealing with the press and dealing with its critics. So aren't they sort of coming around? And won't they be able to sort of handle this P.R. crisis?

FISHMAN: Well, Andy, I'm not sure I agree with you. Wal-Mart's reaction to the Maryland law was, first, they never did reveal how much they spent in Maryland on health care despite a year-long debate about exactly that question. They just insisted that Maryland shouldn't tell them what to spend. Maybe Maryland shouldn't, but why didn't they come up with a number.

And second, Wal-Mart's immediate reaction to the law was to announce that it was considering canceling plans to build a thousand- employee distribution center in Maryland. That it was reconsidering those plans in light of the law; it was going to punish Maryland for the legislature's decision to try and impose some rules.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, but that -- you know, they're allowed to make their own decisions. They're allowed to play hardball. It's business, after all.

I'm curious if they step beyond those bounds, and I'm also curious, just a word, if you could give us, on how much this has really changed the fabric of our society.

FISHMAN: Well, one point. You can't both play hardball and have good public relations. You can do one or the other.

M. O'BRIEN: Good point.

FISHMAN: I think Wal-Mart shapes the life of every single American every day. Wal-Mart is so powerful that even if you never shop there, the prices you pay and the nature and quality of the products you buy are affect bid Wal-Mart's buying power. Wal-Mart is totally unprecedented.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Charles Fishman. The book is "The Wal- Mart Effect: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works and How It's Transforming the American Economy," trying to life the veil on a secret company.

Andy Serwer, thanks for your help on that.

SERWER: Thank you.


S. O'BRIEN: Coming up in House Call this morning, we're learning more today about the world's first face transplant patient. It's been seven weeks since the groundbreaking surgery. Just how is she adapting to her new face? A look at that is ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. We're back in just a moment.



"CNN LIVE TODAY" is coming up next.

Hey, Daryn, good morning. What are you working on?

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad.

Good to see you there in Washington D.C. We are, by the way, awaiting a speech from President Bush in the coming hour. The topic, small businesses and the U.S. economy. We'll bring that to you live. Andy is going to join us for that coverage.

And then the story of a family torn apart. We're going to hear from the father -- you remember this story, a convicted bank robber, it was his sons who turned him in? We'll hear from him from behind bars.

Plus, a very interesting story taking place here in Atlanta. The story of Anne Frank reaching a new generation in a medium you've probably never seen before. Anne Frank's story told through puppets. All that when we get together in a few minutes. Back to you.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Daryn, thanks a lot.

"House Call" is ahead this morning. Seven weeks since a French woman received the world's first ever face transplant, what's her life like now? Her doctors are talking. We have her story ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

Short break. We're back in a moment.


S. O'BRIEN: We're learning more now about the world's first ever face transplant patient from the doctors who performed the groundbreaking surgery in France.

Medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has our details in this morning's "House Call."


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been seven weeks since surgeons stunned the world with news of the first partial face transplant performed on a 38-year-old French women Isabelle. Though she is still a hospital patient the her doctors say Isabelle often leaves for walks nearby and her new appearance does not draw attention.

DR. JEAN-MICHEL DUBERNARD, FACE TRANSPLANT SURGEON: And she was surprised because nobody was looking at her.

DR. BERNARD DEVAUCHELLE, FACE TRANSPLANT SURGEON: She is doing very, very, very well. She is normal, normal except maybe in sensitivity, motility. She is inserisant (ph), OK, so, but she go walking. She eat.

COHEN: Once again, she's eating. Before the surgery, for seven months after her dog mauled her, Isabelle had to use a feeding tube. Though news of the face transplant dazzled the world, Wednesday, for the first time her team of doctors revealed the scientific details to an audience of fellow transplant surgeons in Tucson, Arizona. Her surgeon, Dr. Jean-Michel Dubernard, said it would take several more months to fully recover.

DUBERNARD: She is looking normal after this. But you have to wait.

COHEN: One concern, Isabelle has again, taken up smoking and it could slow her healing.

DUBERNARD: This is a big problem for us because she used to smoke, smoked before the operation. And she started to smoke again.

COHEN: Though she cannot smile or laugh, cannot form a facial expression, Isabelle is just regaining sensitivity to touch. As for complications, she did experience mild tissue rejection three weeks after surgery. But doctors quickly remedied it with a greater dose of anti-rejection drugs. So far, they say, so good.

DR. MARIA SEMIONOW, TRANSPLANT SURGEON, CLEVELAND CLINIC: We have to be very cautious, like with any transplant tags procedure. The real success would be able to evaluate, will be, you know, in a year from now.

COHEN: So what does she look like? Does her face now resemble the donor's? The doctors say she looks like a combination of her old self and, well, her new self. Psychologically, this is virgin territory. A team of psychologists sees her every day.

DEVAUCHELLE: It's not the identity of the donor. Is not exactly her identity before.

COHEN: Remember, for Isabelle, this was not life or death surgery. She would have survived without it. She wanted it because her injuries were emotionally devastating. With recent advances in face and hand transplant procedures, doctors say these quality of life transplants will occur more often. In fact, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic in the United States are now screening severely-deformed patients as candidates for the first facial transplant to take place here.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, reporting.


S. O'BRIEN: Dr. Dubernard says he already has plans for five more face transplant surgeries.

A short break. We're back in just a moment.


S. O'BRIEN: And as we wrap it up here this morning, Miles, I guess we all just watch and wait to hear any news, good news, on the fate of Jill Carroll, the 28-year-old woman. If she's anything like her mother, she is sure to be a picture of strength, even at this tough time.

M. O'BRIEN: Sure would be nice to do a happy interview with her tomorrow. Soledad, safe journey home and we'll see you here tomorrow. That's all the time we have for this AMERICAN MORNING.

Daryn Kagan at the CNN Center to take it from here.