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American Morning

A Storm of Questions for Michael Chertoff; Cartoon Outrage Turns Ever Uglier

Aired February 15, 2006 - 08:00   ET


I'm Miles O'Brien.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Zain Verjee in for Soledad.

O'BRIEN: A storm of questions for Michael Chertoff. The homeland security chief comes to the Senate today to answer for FEMA's failures during Hurricane Katrina. Vice President Cheney's hunting partner takes a turn for the worse. When will the V.P. take a turn before the cameras? Live to the White House we go.

VERJEE: Cartoon outrage turns ever uglier. But why are protests now targeting American interests? We're live with the latest.

Can a commercial help American hostage Jill Carroll? we're live in Baghdad for a closer look at the televised plea aimed at Iraqis.

O'BRIEN: And a new cell therapy could prove to be a breakthrough in heart health.

That's just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

The Homeland Security secretary has a rough day ahead. Michael Chertoff will face difficult questions this morning when he appears before a Senate committee investigating the response to hurricane Katrina. This on the same day another Congressional committee expected to release a report that slams Chertoff for how he handled the storm.

Homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve.

More now from her from Capitol Hill -- Jeanne, lots of blame to go around.


The report from a special House committee is scathing. Obtained by CNN, it faults government up and down the line for failing to prepare and respond to a storm whose impact had been predicted not just days, but years in advance: "We are left scratching our heads at the range of inefficiency and ineffectiveness that characterized government behavior right before and after this storm. But passivity did the most damage, costing lives," the report says. Among those singled out for criticism, the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff. The report says he should have activated the national response plan sooner, that he performed his duties late, inefficiently or not at all -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Give us a sense, Jeanne, of the mood on Capitol Hill.

Are they sort of loaded for bear for Michael Chertoff in this case?

MESERVE: Well, there was a minority report, a companion to this majority report I just read to you, in which two Democrats called for Michael Chertoff to step down.

Now, he's appearing today before a Senate committee that's been investigating Katrina. They've done about 270 interviews, pored over nearly 800,000 pages of documents, conducted 19 other hearings. This is the grand finale. Expect them to question Chertoff very closely about where he was, what he was doing before, during and after Katrina.

But, you know, there was a press conference yesterday with a couple of Democrats, including Hillary Clinton. They were asked, should Michael Chertoff stay in his job? They said let's wait and see.

O'BRIEN: Jeanne Meserve on Capitol Hill watching it for us today.

This morning's Senate hearing, which includes Michael Chertoff's testimony, as Jeanne just referred to, is scheduled to begin at 11:15 Eastern time. You'll see good portions of that live here on CNN and all of it on CNN Pipeline -- Zain.

VERJEE: Miles, the Austin attorney accidentally shot by the vice president is in stable condition this morning, but being watched very closely. Seventy-eight-year-old Harris Whittington suffered a mild heart attack triggered by a piece of birdshot that's been lodged in or near his heart.

The White House knew of the heart attack on Monday, but didn't reveal it to the media until Tuesday. So, the White House is on the defensive once again.

Joining us now live is our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux -- good morning, Suzanne.


There's a lot of buzz whether or not Cheney is actually going to speak this morning.

I spoke with senior administration officials who do say that there is certainly robust discussion and debate between the White House office, the vice president's office, just when and how that would be most appropriate.

But I did speak with Lee Anne McBride. She is Cheney's spokeswoman. She says that today the president and the vice president are having breakfast together here. They're meeting with members on the Hill. He has his regular intelligence briefings. And then, of course, if there are any updates, she said she'll keep us posted.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Since Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot his hunting companion Saturday evening, he has remained silent, ducking into the White House and later away from our cameras on Capitol Hill. Word that his victim, Harry Whittington suffered a mild heart attack produced the first official written statement from Cheney's office, acknowledging that the incident had even occurred.

Now, providing specifics, that Cheney was notified of Whittington's complications around 12:30, when his chief of staff quietly passed him a note during a meeting on the Hill. A half hour later, he was in the White House watching the doctors' televised press conference updating Whittington's condition.

Around 1:30, the vice president called Whittington to wish him well, asking if there was anything he needed. The vice president said that he stood ready to assist.

The White House press secretary, fully aware of Whittington's heart attack earlier in the day, continued to try to change the subject.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: If you all want to continue to focus on this, you all can spend your time on it. We're going to keep focusing on the pressing priorities of the American people.


MALVEAUX: And Cheney's first official visit will be on Friday. That is when he addresses the Wyoming state legislature. Zain, we'll just have to see whether or not he speaks about the condition of his friend before then -- Zain.

VERJEE: Suzanne Malveaux reporting to us this morning from the White House.

Thanks, Suzanne -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Iraqi TV is running public service announcements, a direct appeal to Jill Carroll's kidnappers. The American journalist was abducted January 7 in Baghdad.

CNN's Aneesh Raman live now in Baghdad -- Aneesh, do we have any sense as to what sort of an effect this PSA might have on kidnappers of someone like Jill Carroll? ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, the PSAs began airing late yesterday on the state-run Iraqi network. We went out today, talked to some Iraqis. Some of them have actually seen it. Others have not. But they are all well aware of the situation of Jill Carroll.

Those we spoke to said look, we as Iraqis have a lot on our plate. There's a lot that we contend with on a daily basis.

But they do feel for Jill Carroll. Iraqis kidnapped on a daily basis. Two Iraqi journalists currently being held by the insurgency. And they are aware, as well, that Jill Carroll is completely not responsible for the fact that there are female detainees currently in custody and has now power to change that.

The intended effect, it seems, of the PSA not the long shot hope that the kidnappers themselves will see it and have a change of heart, but more that anyone with information, with suspicions as to where she might be held, will feel that -- and feel compelled, really, after seeing this video that includes a statement from Jill Carroll's mother, to come forward and provide information to authorities -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: You hit on the real rub for the average Iraqi. They live in a very dangerous environment and the prospect of coming crosswise with the insurgency is a very dangerous prospect, isn't it?

RAMAN: It is. And that's what really has been the bar, the wall that's prevented the Iraqis from providing intelligence before. They live, literally, on the front line of this struggle between the insurgency and the Iraqi security forces and U.S. military. And many of them did not know how long Iraqi security forces or U.S. military personnel were going to be around. So they didn't feel compelled to come forward and rat out those that they know who are part of the insurgency.

But this is a very direct emotional appeal we hear, as well, from Iraqi voices in this public service announcement, calling on the hostage takers to look at Jill Carroll as she -- as if she was their sister or their wife. And they're hoping that the emotional appeal will be something that can break through that fear -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Aneesh Raman in Baghdad.

Thank you very much.

Those cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad still kicking up a lot of controversy, this time in Pakistan -- Carol Costello with more.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, you're right about that.

Thanks, Miles.

Massive protests in Pakistan today. They're setting fires and targeting Western businesses. About 70,000 people took to the streets in one demonstration in the region Muslims have been raging over those cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. At least three people died in clashes today.

That terror list keeps getting longer and longer, or does it? Stay with me here. According to the "Washington Post," there are now 325,000 names on the list of international terror suspects. The number of names has quadrupled since 2003, but experts say a lot of innocent people are on the federal no fly list and there are probably a lot of depicts because of alternate spellings and aliases. So minus 125,000 names or so, you might come up with a more accurate listing.

Ushering in the new -- Ben Bernanke faces lawmakers on Capitol Hill this morning. It's his first appearance before members of Congress since taking over the reigns of the Federal Reserve Board for Alan Greenspan. Investors will be waiting to hear if Bernanke remains hawkish on interest rates. He's also getting ready to deliver the Fed's report on economic growth.

What if someone told you they could accurately predict when you would die? Would you want to know?

Well, there's a new test designed for people over 50 that researchers say is pretty darned accurate. It has an 81 percent success rate, or, I guess, you could call it a failure rate. It determines whether you will survive the next four years. It's based on a point system using things like smoking, diabetes and whether you get tired while walking. So the fewer points you get the better.

If you want to take the test, pick up a copy of "JAMA" or go online at Give it a go -- Zain.

VERJEE: Carol, thank you.

Let's check back in on the weather and with Bonnie Schneider at CNN Center with the latest -- good morning, Bonnie.



O'BRIEN: A dog that is fond of banging its head against the wall has won a big silver bull. It's the bull terrier named Rufus.

VERJEE: Sorry, what, Miles?



O'BRIEN: He wagged his way to best in show at the Westminster Dog Show last night.

VERJEE: Kathy Kirk was the owner and she said that she was actually ready to pass out from the pressure that she felt. But, you know, the dog...

O'BRIEN: Really?

VERJEE: Yes. The dog took it all in stride and...

O'BRIEN: Rufus was fine.

VERJEE: Rufus just shook his head...


VERJEE: ... and wagged his tail.


VERJEE: He's the first bull terrier ever to win the title. And, you know, the handler said the key to victory may have been his perfectly shaped egghead.

Is that a perfectly shaped egghead, Miles?

O'BRIEN: Well...

VERJEE: It looks -- well, it looks like...

O'BRIEN: Yes, yes, pretty good.

Pretty good.

Of course, it -- we saw Rufus this morning and what did we all think of? We -- for some reason, we all wanted a Bud Lite. Yes. Spuds McKenzie, remember him?

Obviously Rufus could fill up his silver bowl with Bud Lite if he wanted to. Maybe separated at birth, who knows?

VERJEE: Coming up, speed skater Joey Cheek got a $25,000 bonus for his Olympic gold medal win.

So why didn't he keep the money?

He's going to join us a little later in our show and tell us.

O'BRIEN: He's a cheeky fellow, you might say.


O'BRIEN: Also, a potential breakthrough in the treatment of heart disease. Dr. Sanjay Gupta tells us about a cutting edge therapy that could help damaged hearts fix themselves.

VERJEE: And more on that House report blasting Michael Chertoff for how he handled Hurricane Katrina.

Is he up to the job of homeland security secretary?

That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: The man shot by the vice president the other day not doing so well. Some of those birdshot pellets made their way toward his heart. The heart didn't like that. It spurred a little heart attack.

Now, when the story first came out, we were left with the general impression that a birdshot injury was not such a big deal.

Let's try to clarify what this all means.

Sid Evans is the editor-in-chief of "Field & Stream" magazine.

He's here to give us a little show and tell on the difference between, say, birdshot, buckshot and what the implications are.

Sid, good to have you with us.

SID EVANS, "FIELD & STREAM" MAGAZINE: Good morning, Miles.

O'BRIEN: First of all, let's talk about quail hunting.

Quail hunting, in general, careful choreography is important, isn't it?

EVANS: Well, sure. Choreography is important. You're usually out there -- it's a social kind of hunt. You're out there with two or three other hunters. There's a couple of dogs that are out there trying to find the birds and you're walking up behind the dogs. So, yes, choreography is important.

O'BRIEN: And, as a result, because of the way you've got dogs, people, guns and who knows where that covey of quail is going to be, communication very important. It appears whatever happened, there was a breakdown in communication in this case.

EVANS: It would appear so. I mean I -- not having been there myself, I couldn't say. But that seems to be the case.

O'BRIEN: All right.

Let's talk about birdshot.

EVANS: Sure.

O'BRIEN: You know, a lot of people think buckshot, birdshot, they don't really understand the terms. We have a couple of examples here.

This green shell, that's a 12 gauge buckshot shell. This is -- these are the pellets that would be inside buckshot there. Pretty big. And when you compare then to -- this is 28 gauge, the red one, which is the sort of weapon -- I guess it was an over and under, right -- that the vice president was using...

EVANS: That's correct. O'BRIEN: A much smaller gauge shell, and, also in -- concurrent with that -- very tiny pellets. You are, I mean a quail is, what, about a six inch long bird?

EVANS: Sure.

O'BRIEN: You wouldn't want to fire these big buckshot pellets at it. That -- you wouldn't have much to show for your efforts, I suppose, if you did that, right?

EVANS: Well, Miles, I've seen some people talking about buckshot on other programs. And this is a completely different thing. You know, they call it buckshot because it's used to hunt bucks.

O'BRIEN: Right.

EVANS: It's used to hunt deer. This is a much -- a much more lethal kind of shell.

The 28 gauge...

O'BRIEN: For a human. I mean I would think this -- the birdshot, for a quail, is -- it's going to ruin his day, for sure, right?

EVANS: Hopefully so. Yes.

O'BRIEN: But the birdshot is much smaller and the 28 gauge, as you can see, is a much smaller shell. OK. So, when we say, you know, peppered -- and this is, I think, where the term peppered came in, is you have these tiny little pellets -- and, by the way, they're still lead, right?



Tiny little pellets can do a fair amount of damage depending on how close you are, right?

EVANS: Right. That's correct.

Well, as I understand it, the accident happened at a distance of about 30 yards. And that's fairly close. And so, you know, you can do a considerable amount of damage at 30 yards. As the distance increases, the pattern of the shot expands. So you have fewer pellets in a particular area.

O'BRIEN: It's less dense?

EVANS: It's less dense. So it becomes less and less, less and less lethal as it gets out to a greater distance.

O'BRIEN: Of course, when you say less and less lethal, one pellet could take your eye out depending on, you know...

EVANS: Sure.

O'BRIEN: ... presumably they're wearing eye protection...

EVANS: Sure.

O'BRIEN: ... which is something you should do when you're hunting.

EVANS: Right.

O'BRIEN: What happens to these pellets once they get into your system?

There's been some talk about how they wouldn't even be removed, for example. Explain what happens.

EVANS: Well, I'm not a doctor, Miles, so I couldn't really tell you what the result is when it gets in your system.


What -- is there a lesson here for hunters, do you think? And, you know, I think in general, the sense is -- I think a lot of people might have a sense that hunting is a dangerous thing. But when you look at the injuries per hundred thousand participants, it's actually not so dangerous.

EVANS: You know, hunting is actually one of the safest sports you can do. I mean there are almost 20 million hunters out there. There are only, in 2004 there were fewer than 500 injuries due to hunting. That makes it safer than basketball and baseball and golf, believe it or not.

So, hunting is actually a very safe sport. But you have to be very careful. You have to follow some rules. You have to always be aware of what you're shooting at. You have to always keep your gun pointed in a safe direction. And as long as you do things like this -- and I think that most hunters do -- you're going to be fine.

O'BRIEN: All right, when in doubt, maybe don't squeeze that trigger, huh?

EVANS: That's right.

O'BRIEN: Sid Evans, who is the editor-in-chief of "Field & Stream," thanks for your insight and guidance this morning.

EVANS: Sure.

Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: All right -- Zain.

VERJEE: Miles, coming up, the family feud that could lead to the break up of one of the world's biggest media companies. Andy is here "Minding Your Business." Plus, more on Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff's troubles. He was singled out in the House report on Katrina and today he is going to face some tough questions from the Senate.

Is his job on the line? We're going to take a look here on AMERICAN MORNING.


VERJEE: Heart disease is the number one killer in America. But now a cutting edge cell therapy could help damaged hearts repair themselves and perhaps save countless lives.

A former CNN newsman is one of only 15 people in the U.S. to undergo the new treatment. And the treatment basically uses his own cells to rejuvenate his heart.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta continues our Heart Health Week.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Charlie Hoff's heart has been broken. Well not literally, but he has had three heart attacks in the past and each time, part of his heart muscle died and his heart became weaker and weaker.

CHARLIE HOFF, HEART PATIENT: And I tried to turn the wheel, you know, and I had a pain in my shoulder, in my left shoulder.

GUPTA: He suffered his first heart attack in Jerusalem almost 12 years ago when he was CNN's bureau chief. But by his own admission, he didn't recognize the symptoms and waited too long to go to the doctor.

His cardiologist's words still ring in his head...

HOFF: You waited around and wasted enough time that you've really done it now. You have had a myocardial infarction and part of your heart is dead.

GUPTA: He went on to have two more heart attacks, the latest this past April, just before his 60th birthday.

HOFF: Hey, buddy, how are you doing?

GUPTA: Now, with each beat, Charlie's heart is only able to pump out about half as much blood as a healthy heart. That's a condition called congestive heart failure.

HOFF: Did you get everything?

You know, you want to get out. You want to, you know, you want to go to the park, just go for a walk. And I'm really not capable of doing very much of that.

GUPTA: And Charlie can no longer play golf or throw the football with his son. Sometimes just going out to the grocery store wears him out.

But first and foremost, Charlie Hoff is a newsman. So he decided to collect as much information as he could.


GUPTA: He found a clinical trial using breakthrough technology that injects special cells directly into his heart in hopes of repairing it.

HOFF: I've got a chance to do something that will make me like I was, you know?

GUPTA: Dr. Nicholas Chronos and his team at Saint Joseph's Hospital in Atlanta took some muscle from Charlie's leg and sent it off to a laboratory. Researchers separated out certain types of cells and then stimulated millions of them to multiply.

CHRONOS: The earlier cells that are what are called progenitor cells, and they appear to be on the route to become muscle cells.

GUPTA: A special catheter is then threaded into Charlie's heart and 225 million of the progenitor cells, also called myoblasts, are injected into the damaged tissue. Charlie gets 18 injections.

CHRONOS: We've done about a third of the injections.

Can you see what we're doing?

HOFF: Yes.

GUPTA: Doctors believe that the cells somehow create a muscular scaffolding that helps stabilize the heart so that it pumps more efficiently and delivers more blood to the body. It will be three to six months before Charlie knows whether the procedure has helped mend his broken heart.

HOFF: You know, being able to breath better, handle those stairs, you know, this is what I'm looking for -- pick up the golf clubs.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Atlanta.


VERJEE: And Heart Health Week continues tomorrow with a look at heart scanners. They could help determine whether or not you will have a heart attack.

But are they being misused?

That's tomorrow here on AMERICAN MORNING.

O'BRIEN: Still to come on the program, his performance did not Bodie well for U.S. gold. But fortunately another American skier handled the slalom lickety and no split.

And who says the Olympic spirit is dead? Speed skating gold medalist Joey Cheek isn't doing it for the money. As a matter of fact, he's giving away his bonus. We'll ask him why, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: Get the latest news every morning in your e-mail.

Sign up for AMERICAN MORNING Quick News at

Still to come on the program, his job, his agency on the line. Michael Chertoff heads right into a storm today.

Who will be the next loser in the Katrina blame game?

We'll have an answer for you next on AMERICAN MORNING.


ANNOUNCER: You're watching AMERICAN MORNING with Soledad O'Brien and Miles O'Brien.

O'BRIEN: Yes, you remember that Rockwellian scene we showed you a few days ago of Central Park? Take a look again. Look at that pile, that dirty pile of snow. Yes, it has all become slush and city snow here in New York City. Maybe we'll get another dusting soon. Or maybe not.

Rain seems to be on the way.

Let's go to Carol Costello in the newsroom and get some news headlines in -- good morning, Carol.