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American Morning

Fire Threatens Resort on Catalina Island; War Funding Fight; OxyContin Plea

Aired May 11, 2007 - 07:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR (voice over): Fire island. California's luxurious Catalina Island lit up by flames. Right now, the fire line inching closer to million-dollar homes. Residents abandoning their property as firefighters race in by boat to try to save it.

To the east, a dangerous new flare-up in Florida. A possible nightmare for drivers. Wildfires threatening to close one of the state's busiest highways.



ROBERTS: And it's Friday, May the 11th. Good morning to you. I'm John Roberts.


Glad you're with us today. We have a lot of stories on our radar.

We heard a little bit about it from Ali just a second ago, these whopping fines to the tune of $600 million that the maker of the painkiller OxyContin will have to pay out as part of a plea deal for really misleading the public about just how -- and doctors about just how addictive this painkiller is. I mean, we know it's been linked to some high-profile people like Rush Limbaugh, Courtney Love, as well as others.

Thirty-six thousand emergency room visits a year linked to problems with this drug.

ROBERTS: Yes. They were saying it's not as addictive as other drugs. A U.S. attorney went after them and said, we don't think that is right. In fact, they had to agree that it wasn't. They had to pay all of that money. Three officers of that company had to pay $34 (ph) million themselves.


CHETRY: Well, to our top story now, wildfires burning across the state of Florida, now threatening a major interstate. The northern part of the state getting the worst of it right now as a fire is spreading and threatening Interstate 10.

It's a key east-west route. It may have to be closed if the fire gets too close. And there are hundreds of people that live in nearby towns that are now being told, get out. They need to leave their homes.

Also, breaking news out of California this morning, as well. A massive wildfire burning right now on Santa Catalina Island, about an hour's boat ride from Los Angeles. At least 1,500 people have fled on ferries, and this fire threatens the resort town of Avalon.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is making his way to Catalina Island, and he joins us now by phone with more on this growing threat.

Hi, Ted.


Throughout the night people have been ferried from the island, back to the mainland, the Long Beach here. They're trying to get as many people out as possible.

The fire is closing in on the city of Avalon. It's a major city on Catalina Island. They've been working it throughout the night. They're getting help actually from the Marine Corps.

They're shuttling firefighters and equipment, using hover crafts from Camp Pendleton, out to the island. They're also attacking the fire from the air.

They did get a little bit of help overnight from Mother Nature. The moisture picked up and the winds dampened a bit -- or slowed down a bit. But still, there are hundreds of homes potentially in danger.

They have lost a few structures already, and they say a handful of homes are in imminent danger. They're hoping to stop this before it enters the city of Avalon.

But according to people that have come off the island, it is a nightmarish scene with the glow of the fire looming down on the city. They say ash is falling on to the city.

Many people have been told to get to the beach. And they are being ferried from there. The ferry service, which normally runs sporadically, is now just churning, constantly getting people out. They could take about 400 per trip, and they have been working throughout the night.

And as they're moving people out, they're moving resources in. L.A. County is actually the lead. The fire service here, they're getting as many people as they can to the island to try to save this city of Avalon.

The fire started yesterday afternoon, and the problem was the wind. It gusted up to 20 miles per hour, and it pushed this fire. Four thousand acres have been consumed towards the city, and the big question now is, when the sun comes up, what will be the situation with those winds? And can these firefighters get a hold of this and stop it before it takes any more structures out of the city and into the city of Avalon?

So, right now it's a bit of a chaotic scene on the island as people try to get out and firefighters try to get in with the help of the Marine Corps.

CHETRY: Yes. And Ted, as we understand it, at least 1,500 or more people trying to line up to get on those ferries. What are they doing to expedite that process?

ROWLANDS: Well, they are -- they're getting as many boats as they can in, and they're just going constantly. And they have throughout the night, just getting as many people on, and getting them on the boat, and getting them over to the mainland here to Long Beach.

There's no imminent danger to the people. It's got to be scary for families, et cetera, people that grabbed what they could out of their homes and are now sitting on the beach just watching this. But firefighters are confident that nobody is in imminent danger. So, it's not a matter of getting people out to save their lives.

But, that said, they are trying to get as many people out as quickly as possible, just to be sure, and to give people a bit of comfort. They're literally sitting on the beach.

The Red Cross has a few shelters up and running, as well. But they are trying to get as many people off the island that want to get off the island.

CHETRY: Ted Rowlands reporting.

We'll check in with you later. Thanks.

You know, it must be scary, as well, you're leaving and you don't know what you're coming back to. A lot of these houses already lost.

ROBERTS: Yes. And not all those 1,500 people are residents. A lot were visitors who were there camping out at maybe at hotels and things like that as well.


ROBERTS: Any help from Mother Nature for fires crews on either coast? Rob Marciano here now with the forecast.


There's new movement on the war-funding fight going on in Washington today. President Bush is warming up to the idea, putting benchmarks in a funding bill, but he's still opposed to the installment plan that the Democrats pushed through the House last night.

Andrea Koppel is on Capitol Hill this morning with what's going on up there. And Elaine Quijano joins us from the White House.

Elaine, let's start with you.

What did the president actually say he might agree to?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, benchmarks. And it's interesting, though. The question is: How much does this really move the debate forward?

The president is still adamantly opposed to any kind of timetable for troop withdrawals. He yesterday, at the Pentagon, also said that he would veto the measure that House Democrats have been pushing, this idea of a two-stage war-funding bill.

At the same time, though, the president talking about these benchmarks. Well, he hasn't opposed benchmarks in the past. The White House, in fact, has been working with the Iraqi government on benchmarks, which in and of themselves represent political goals, as the president laid out yesterday, including getting an oil-sharing revenue bill passed by the Iraqi parliament.

Now, the White House remaining firm on these timetables. And Democrats are saying, look, if he's open to benchmarks, would he also be open to getting consequences attached to those benchmarks? The president essentially dodged that question yesterday -- John.

ROBERTS: Yes. That's definitely something for another conversation.

But let's take a quick listen, Andrea Koppel, to what the president said last night at a fund-raiser in terms of his idea that he might want to reach out and negotiate. Then we'll get you to talk about that.

Take a quick listen.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll continue to reach out to Democrats and Republicans to come up with a way to get this money to our troops as quickly as possible. We're not going to agree on every issue, but we don't want to put the men and women who wear our uniform in the midst of a Washington, D.C., debate. These troops need the money, and Congress needs to get it to them.


ROBERTS: So, Andrea Koppel, this idea that the president may be willing to budge on benchmarks, how might that affect what's going on in Congress right now with the House passing this bill that would fund the war for three months and then take another vote sometime toward the end of July?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the fact is, the president has already threatened to veto the bill that passed last night, John. We all know that that's not going to happen. And we know that the Senate, Democrats there aren't warm to the idea either of having the installment plan. But the fact is, you have got to look at the strategy here.

Democrats in the House are using sort of Chinese water torture here. They are forcing repeated votes for moderate Republicans, even conservative Republicans, to go on the record supporting the president. They know that they're looking towards 2008, and they've got, in many instances, tough elections ahead of them.

What is far more likely to happen is that those benchmarks would be included in some kind of a compromise proposal that Senate Democrats are working out right now with their Republican colleagues.

ROBERTS: And, of course, this debate is going to go on. And by the time that the troops get the money, we're going to go through several more machinations, I would think.

Andrea Koppel on Capitol Hill, Elaine Quijano at the White House.


CHETRY: Well, still ahead, it was far more dangerous than anyone was led to believe, and now the ones who hid the truth about a frighteningly addictive prescription painkiller are paying the price.

That story's up next.

Also, it was a near deadly mistake that turned into an incredible river rescue.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was literally -- her face was pressed up against the glass like this, gulping and saying, you know, "Help me. Help me."


CHETRY: See what happened and hear what happened next when AMERICAN MORNING continues.

The most news in the morning is here on CNN.


ROBERTS: The maker of the powerful painkiller OxyContin will pay more than $634 million in penalties for misleading doctors and patients about its risk of addiction. The company, Purdue Pharma, and three executives, agreed to a plea deal in a felony case, but the FDA is not pulling the drug from the market.

U.S. attorney John Brownlee helped prosecute the case. He joins us now from Blacksburg, Virginia.

Mr. Brownlee, hillbilly heroin, OxyContin has been a big problem in this country for a long, long time, particularly in your neck of the woods. But what prompted you to go after the company on this branding idea, or, you know, misleading advertising, or misleading representation?

JOHN BROWNLEE, U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, good morning, sir.

This was a pharmaceutical company, Purdue, who, of course, manufactured and distributed OxyContin, who, despite warnings from health care professionals, the media, even members of their own sales force that this drug was being widely abused, was causing great harm, went ahead and fraudulently marketed this drug, claiming that it was less subject to abuse, less addictive, and less likely to cause withdrawals.

So, we believed that this company should be prosecuted. And now they have been convicted of a felony.

ROBERTS: What were the human results of this aggressive marketing campaign?

BROWNLEE: Well, the DEA filed a report in 2002 that claimed that there were nearly 400 deaths. Our own medical examiner in the western district of Virginia claimed that there has been over 200 deaths in just the state of Virginia alone. So, certainly the harm has been significant. And again, we think that this company and its executives needed to be prosecuted.

ROBERTS: Were you pleased with the outcome, $600 million that the company has to pay, a little more than $34 million that three of the company's officers have to pay?

BROWNLEE: Well, yes, sir. For us, the most significant part of this case is that we expose the truth.

There had been a perception for quite a while that this OxyContin epidemic was somehow the responsibility of the people who lived in rural communities. In particular, in Virginia. By exposing this truth, by convicting this company, we now know it was the company's criminal conduct that was responsible for this OxyContin epidemic.

So, we're very pleased we were able to expose this truth and tell the full story.

ROBERTS: Mr. Brownlee, these are not the only charges of misleading information among pharmaceutical companies. The makers of Plavix also recently pled guilty.

What are pharmaceutical companies up to here?

BROWNLEE: Well, you know, I'm familiar with just, of course, the facts of our case down here in Virginia, but I do think it's important that pharmaceutical companies tell the public the truth. They should not try to expand on their products, try to mislead them, or, in our case, for OxyContin, actually with the intent to defraud the public. And so...

ROBERTS: Well, let me ask you the question this way. This is an industry that by definition earns the public trust. Are they abrogating that trust?

BROWNLEE: Well, certainly this company did. There's no doubt that Purdue, with their criminal conduct, violated the public's trust. And so, that's why they've been convicted of a felony, forced to pay serious fine. Their top executives have been convinced.

So, you're absolutely right. This company certainly violated that trust.

ROBERTS: All right. Well, John Brownlee, U.S. attorney for the western district of Virginia, thanks for being with us this morning from Blacksburg, sir.

BROWNLEE: Thanks so much, sir. I appreciate it.

CHETRY: Well, we have a wild rescue to tell you about on the Connecticut River, along the Vermont-New Hampshire border. A 66-year- old woman drove into the river on accident.

The rushing water covered the car right up to the roof. But when the first firefighter got there, he found the driver in the back pressed up against the roof, gasping for the last air pocket, screaming for help. Then a bystander jumped in the river and the two came up quickly with a plan to get her out.


DEP. CHIEF MATTHEW COX, WINDSOR, VERMONT, FIRE DEPT.: The windows in the vehicle were blown (ph), so the water is rushing up against that window. So when we open it, we have one shot to grab her without having the current blow her down river. And it just got lucky.

We opened the window. He took one arm, I grabbed the other. We held her in place. We got her out of the vehicle.


CHETRY: Well, the deputy fire chief says that in 35 years on the job, he has never seen anyone pulled out alive in a situation like that until now.

And the driver, by the way, being treated for cuts, bruises, some hypothermia. But otherwise, she's going to be OK. Police say they don't know why she drove the car into the river. They say it was not alcohol, it was not speeding, but she may have actually fallen asleep at the wheel.

ROBERTS: She was so fortunate. One lucky woman.

CHETRY: Sure was.

Well, April was the cruelest month for retailers. Up next, dismal earnings for some of the nation's biggest stores. Ali Velshi is going to show us what it could mean for you. He's "Minding Your Business" up next. And when you're talking about benchmarks in Iraq, many say one is an absolute, that you have to lift the ban on the Ba'ath Party, the party in power under Saddam Hussein.

Our series wraps up next. Stay with us on AMERICAN MORNING.



BUSH: One message I have heard from people from both parties is that the idea of benchmarks makes sense. And I agree.


CHETRY: Well, the president speaking yesterday in Washington. And if Congress and President Bush do agree on benchmarks, goals for the Iraqis to meet, they could be based on the list that the president laid out in January when he began the troop increase.

We've been going through these benchmarks all week, and today we're wrapping up with why Iraq needs to allow former members of Saddam Hussein's government to go back to their old jobs.

Here's what the president said back then.


BUSH: To allow more Iraqis to reenter their nation's political life, the government will reform debaathification laws and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution.


CHETRY: CNN's Arwa Damon is in Baghdad, and she has been helping us sort out the -- I guess whether or not it's realistic for some of these benchmarks to be met.

And Arwa, I think the common wisdom now is that that was a huge mistake, the debaathification, telling a lot of these people that worked in the regime and also in the Iraqi army to go home, essentially.

What are they trying to do now to fix that?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kiran, trying to fix that major mistake, as you just called it, that essentially left hundreds of thousands of Iraqis without jobs under the Coalition Provisional Authority back in 2003 is really an American push to try to force the Iraqi government to pass legislation that, at least, will allow certain former members of the Ba'ath Party to reenter Iraq's political, economic and social folds. However, they are meeting extreme resistance from Iraq's Shia population.

Many of them still view the Ba'ath Party with disdain, with fear, and are very worried about the Ba'ath Party making a comeback. In fact, the resistance to passing this law is so strong, that just a few hours ago, during Friday prayers in the holy city of Najaf, it was brought up during the sermon, with the cleric leading the sermon saying that bringing former Ba'ath members back into the Iraqi government, back into Iraq's social fabric, was entirely unacceptable.

His statement then was received by chants of "No, no, no to the baathists" from the tens of thousands of followers that were there. So that gives you something of an idea of the difficulty in passing this type of legislation.

A draft of it, in fact, has gone up and been signed by the Iraqi prime minister and by the Iraqi president. However, it has not yet been presented to parliament simply because they know it is not going to pass.

CHETRY: So this is the interesting thing. I mean, Sunnis were boycotting the national elections, they didn't get a lot of seats in parliament. And because of that, now trying to get them back into the political fold is proving to be challenging if Iraq's lawmakers go with the letter of the law that they approve.

So, how do you get past that?

DAMON: Well, that's one of the many challenges really that faces the government today.

If you remember back in 2005, when Iraq was drafting its constitution, there were many major issues that were not addressed. And Sunnis were brought into the fold back then, they were encouraged to vote in the 2005 elections because they were promised that three months after the Iraqi government was formed, there would be constitutional amendments that would be made.

Now it's a year later, and many of Iraq's crucial laws, amendments to the constitution, have not even been addressed just yet. The hope is that if this debaathification law does somehow pass, that this will help appease Iraq's Sunni population.

Remember, they're increasingly feeling isolated from Iraqi politics, and they are believed to -- the former baathists, at least -- are believed to be making up the backbone of the Sunni-led insurgency. So, really, this is a push to try to force this current government that is being viewed as predominantly Shia, with a purely Shia agenda, to genuinely push forward its efforts at national reconciliation and bring all of Iraqis together. But, as we have seen over this last week, even this is encountering many difficulties and many obstacles -- Kiran.

CHETRY: You're right. Arwa Damon, thanks for explaining all these benchmarks for us throughout the week.

ROBERTS: Twenty-six minutes now after the hour. Ali Velshi here "Minding Your Business".

This will get you to stay tuned. You have got news about Victoria's Secret. ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, maybe, but it's same-store sales. That's the news. This is a report card on businesses every month.

You know, we have earnings every quarter, but for retailers, every month they tell us how their stores did this month -- well, in this case, April -- over a year ago April, and they exclude any stores that have been included in the -- opened in the last year.

Now, why this is important because it tells us month to month about the things that we buy. Houses, cars, we don't all buy those on a regular basis. But we all go shopping at the nation's retailers.

It's really important. About a little over a year ago, Home Depot decided it's not going to offer this number anymore, and investors staged a revolt. They actually changed that, but it was a sign of how out of touch Home Depot's leadership at the time was.

Now, it wasn't all bad, but it was pretty bad.

Let's look at some of the success stories in April.

Saks, up 11.7 percent over the last year. Costco, 7 percent. And Walgreen, 9.2 percent, compared to last April.

But most of the retailers, 85 percent of them, didn't do well because of gas prices and cold weather in April. Take a look at the Gap, down 16 percent over last April. Wal-Mart, that was the biggest decline on record since the company has been keeping these records since 1980.

There was one other company that didn't do well. It was The Limited. And they own -- what's that company?

CHETRY: Express?

VELSHI: Express -- Bed, Bath -- oh, Victoria's Secret.

ROBERTS: Victoria's Secret.

VELSHI: Victoria's Secret.

CHETRY: You forgot Victoria's Secret, Ali?

VELSHI: Yes. Thanks for the video. It reminded me.

ROBERTS: Hey, this is an interesting graph, sales figures.

VELSHI: Cold weather in April. So people weren't running around to buy those skimpy clothes. But May, it's going to be a lot warmer, I think.

ROBERTS: All right. Well, we're looking forward to May.

Thank you, Ali.

Top stories of the morning are coming up next.

Smoke on the water off of the coast of southern California. A rampage in wildfires sweeps across Catalina Island.

We'll have the latest for you.

Two Republican candidates under fire for their stands on the same issue. Just how will the abortion debate affect Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney?

And a father returns home from war to surprise his son. Take a look at this. It's all part of a Mother's Day wish come true, and you'll meet the entire family just ahead.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is on CNN.


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Good morning, welcome back. It is Friday, May 11th. I'm Kiran Chetry.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: And I'm John Roberts. Thanks very much for joining us. We have just got an awful lot happening this morning. Stories on our radar, wildfires burning on both coasts right now at opposite ends of I-10, flames near pricy homes on historic Catalina Island off the coast of southern California. Hundreds of student campers evacuated early this morning and then in Florida, fires could shut down interstate 10 and may even threaten interstate 75 later today.

CHETRY: They're checking that out, making the determination depending on how much smoke and fire blows into that area.

Also check this out, a soldier daddy, home from Iraq, his son, there he is, sees him, surprised him in the classroom. We see this play out before, but it just touches your heart every time you see it. We're going to talk to the family, including the mom who for this year will probably be a Mother's Day she will certainly never forget.

We get started though with Rob Marciano with the forecast for the wildfires. Some dangers of possibly shutting down some highways in Florida and then of course the big evacuations on Catalina Island in California.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Both southern corners of the U.S., southeast and southwest, both places have been just dealing with big-time drought. Florida from Orlando all the way up to Jacksonville they've seen, in some cases, less than half the normal rainfall that they should see. Hopefully hurricane season will take care of that, but as you know, hurricane season is not always good news.

We do have this subtropical depression, which is now weakening to pretty much nothing. That's good news in that it won't be bringing that stronger wind flow to that area. Winds right now at about 11, 10 miles an hour along the immediate shoreline. You can also see that most of moisture unfortunately with this system is remaining off shore. So 20, 30 percent chance of getting some of these showers on shore later on today. That is about it. It's certainly not going to be enough to alleviate the drought there. Wildfires by the way in Florida, 54 of 67 counties have some sort of fire burning in their counties, Florida literally on fire, over 200 fires in all and 17 of those are big. As we mentioned, I-10 is threatened at this hour. Smoke advisories are in effect and a red flag warning in effect for those areas.

Over to Catalina Island, over on the southwest coastline of California, over 1,000 people evacuated there via ferries. Four thousand acres have been burned and they're fighting this battle with air support and ground support and they're bringing in the troops, so to speak. Raining ashes some of the folks are saying there and the good news here, Kiran, is that not going to get rain. It is tough to get rain there this time of year, but at least now it's more of a moist flow. It's not that Santa Ana dry flow, so it looks to be like humidity levels will be lifting a little bit and that will help firefighters somewhat.

CHETRY: It's just shocking to see it surrounded by water, yet burning.

MARCIANO: Exactly.

CHETRY: Rob, thanks so much. Well, as you just said, they are calling in the troops. We're finding out now that the navy actually, so sailors moving in to help with that massive wildfire burning right now on Catalina Island of the coast of Los Angeles. Barbara Starr joins us live from the Pentagon with details. Now, these were the local fire departments said, can you please help us out and they answered the call.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely Kiran. CNN has learned overnight the fire department out there in California called the U.S. Navy asking for help and the U.S. Navy is on the way. What we have learned is that the navy is making available this morning at first light four amphibious assault vehicles to civilian firefighters. These assault vehicles will come out of Oceanside, California. They will bring across the water to Catalina Island 84 firefighting vehicles and troops. This is all part of the effort to try to get as much firefighting equipment to this island as quickly as possible and it is the U.S. Navy that has the capacity to do that.

You see some of the pictures here. These vehicles are used in amphibious assault landings in time of war. They ride very fast over the top of the waves and the advantage there is these vehicles can come right up on the beach and very quickly just unload those firefighting vehicles and troops and get them moving to the front lines of this fire. So, you know, it's really the same problem that you have in amphibious landing during war, how to get on to the beach as quickly as possible and move to the front line. We're told these vehicles will all start moving at first light in California and the military says they are standing by if there are any more requests for help, especially to help take people, civilians, off that island. Kiran? CHETRY: Will certainly be a welcome sight this morning for them. Thanks a lot, Barbara.

ROBERTS: Coming up to 36 minutes after the hour. The heat is on, Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani over his stance on abortion. How big an issue is it going it be for Republican voters? Mitt Romney is also suffering some problems, too. Here to talk about all that and more is John Dickerson. He's the chief political correspondent for This time a week ago we were talking about the results of the Republican debate and who was doing well and who wasn't doing well. You want to come out of those debates with some momentum for the following week. How did both Giuliani and Mitt Romney do?

JOHN DICKERSON, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, SLATE.COM: If we start with Giuliani, he didn't do as well as his people would have liked. He got tangled up on the abortion question and on his other issues, he stuck to his record in New York, talked about how he would be a strong leader, but he didn't get people who were enthusiastic about the way they had been coming into the debate. Romney did very well. He was considered by most people to be been sort of the winner coming out of these early debates. And so for a candidate like Romney who has been down in the polls, it was a good performance for him.

ROBERTS: So the Giuliani campaign as a result of that debate has now said that Giuliani is going to be much more clear on his position supporting a woman's right to choose, a supporter of abortion rights. Is that going to cause him some problems with the party, though?

DICKERSON: It's very tricky for Giuliani. He's going to speak today and try to fix his position on abortion which is explain these contradictions. He is for woman's right to choose, but he would appoint judges that would overturn Roe. So how does he work through that? Today, he's going to try and talk about that in a way that will settle that issue, good luck and also, then pivot to his strong points, which is he was strong in New York. He's a strong leader in troubled times.

ROBERTS: I guess they don't like this idea that his long convoluted, almost waffling type of answer on abortion takes away from this image of a guy with strong leadership. What about Mitt Romney? He was pro-choice, now anti-abortion, but his wife donated to Planned Parenthood apparently in 1994. He's got a problem here, too.

DICKERSON: Romney has a problem and it goes towards the big problem inside the Romney campaign which is, what does he believe? What's at his core and can he convince voters while he looks good and looks very polished, what is inside and that's what the abortion question gets at and some of these other issues he's involved on.

ROBERTS: Of the top three candidates, McCain has been the one that's been sort of running away from President Bush, but Mitt Romney apparently is going to be doing that on this week's "60 Minutes." Take a quick listen to what he told Mike Wallace about the war in Iraq.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think we were adequately prepared for what occurred. I don't think we had done enough planning. I don't think we considered the various downsides and risks.

MIKE WALLACE, CBS: We is George W. Bush.

ROMNEY: He's the person where the buck stops.


ROBERTS: Is this a new tactic on Romney's part? He sees it working for John McCain. McCain's numbers have been coming up, particularly in those early primary states. Is he jumping on that band wagon?

DICKERSON: A little bit. I think he's being honest. I mean there's a lot of support for President Bush within the party, but there s not a lot of support for the idea that this is a well-managed war. The problem for Romney is, this has been a good week for him. He's on the cover of "Time" magazine. Does this quote make it look like he's piling on with the media and other presidential critics and obscure some of the other good things that have happened for Romney this week.

ROBERTS: John, thanks very much, good to see you. Stick around, you are coming back next hour. We should tell you, you might not know this, but John's mother, Nancy, very, very famous journalist in this country. She was actually the first female correspondent for the networks and John will be back in about an hour's time with a special tribute to his dear, departed mom on this Mother's Day.

CHETRY: We're talking more about Mother's Day tributes. What could be better for Mother's Day than a family reunion having all your family together, especially when one member of the family has been away at war? You're going to meet all of them up next on AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning, wave, guys, you're on TV this morning.


CHETRY: Welcome back. Well, every mother has one wish this weekend and it is it have her whole family around her to celebrate Mother's Day. For one mom in Des Moines this year will be even sweeter. Here's why, 10-year-old Zack Reeder, her son, did not expect his father home from Iraq until next month. There is the shock on his face. Master Sergeant Mark Reeder surprised his son at school this week, all of it was a month in the making, thanks to mom, Faith, who wanted that to be something that they'll always have to remember. The entire Reeder family is joining us now from outside of their home, inside of their home in Des Moines, Iowa. Hi, guys, thanks for being with us. So tell me a little bit, first of all, Alyssa by the way, you're turning 15 tomorrow, so, it's a real big week. Mom, you hatched this plan to surprise Zack in school. How did you do it? FAITH REEDER, MARK'S WIFE: Well, I just let one of the teachers know and from there on just the teacher contracted channel 8 and then it just escalated from there and I just let them do the rest.

CHETRY: Why did you want it surprise him?

REEDER: I thought it would be more exciting for him. Just because the class was so informed and involved of Mark's being gone and everything and they were writing Mark all the time and e-mailing him and I just wanted the class to be part of his return and I just thought it would be more special for Zack to be able to be surprised at school.

CHETRY: Zach, was it special, what were you thinking that day?

ZACK REEDER: It's hard to explain.

CHETRY: Well, we saw it on your face, you were surprised, you ran over and then you teared up a little bit. I understand that your classmates, they actually put a chain together, one link for every day your dad was gone. Did it mean a lot to you that your classmates cared so much about your dad being away in Iraq?


CHETRY: It really was nice to know how supportive they were for you. Alyssa, by the way, big sis, you found out about the secret apparently ahead of time. How did you manage to keep it quiet?

ALYSSA REEDER, 14 YEARS OLD: I just avoided the questions and changed subject all the time.

CHETRY: Why, because Zach was asking you all the time, when dad's coming back?

ALYSSA REEDER: He would talk about dad and I just, I knew if we kept talking about it or about dad it would just slip. So I just avoided the conversation.

CHETRY: You did a good job keeping a secret. Mark, let me ask you, what are you going to do this Mother's Day. Everyone's back. You're safe and sound and you're reunited.

MASTER SGT. MARK REEDER, IOWA NATIONAL GUARD: Well, I have yet, we're going to go down to my parent's house and my grandmother hasn't seen me home yet, so we're going to surprise her and just have a family get together this weekend.

CHETRY: Faith, how happy are you that he's back in time to celebrate?

FAITH REEDER: It's the exciting and it's the best mother's present a wife could ask for.

CHETRY: You're right there. We're glad you're all back together and we hope you have a blast this weekend. The Reeder family, thanks for joining us.

MARK REEDER: Thank you.

FAITH REEDER: Thank you.

ROBERTS: One of many, many happy reunions across this country.

CHETRY: It is.

ROBERTS: It's great to see people coming back.

Coming up, he won "Survivor" but Yul Kwon (ph) says he had a different mission when he went on the show. How he plans to put Asian-Americans on the map.

And a few months after some of its passengers got stuck for hours on the tarmac at JFK airport, Jetblue making changes at the top. Ali Velshi is "Minding Your Business." Stay with us on AMERICAN MORNING.


CHETRY: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. You probably remember Yul Kwon from last season's "Survivor." He outwitted, outplayed and outlasted all the others to win the million dollar prize and now he set a new goal for himself. Next week in a series of special reports on uncovering America, Yul will be helping us explore some of the unique challenges facing Asian Americans from the board room to the big screen. Here's a preview.


CBS ENTERTAINMENT: The winner of Survivor Cook Islands -

CHETRY: Audiences first came to know Yul Kwon last fall as a contestant on "Survivor." Throughout all of the challenges, what mattered most to Kwon was setting a good example for Asian Americans.

YUL KWON: When I grew up, I didn't see people look like me on TV and whenever you see a lot of minorities on TV, it's just kind of caricatures.

CHETRY: For our series, Kwon explores that issue even further.

KWON: I wanted to show you first person plural. Terrific film about the Korean American experience.

CHETRY: Heading to Hollywood and talking with industry players about the frequent negative portrayal of Asian men on screen.

ROGER FAN, ACTOR: More often than not they're asking me to be something like a really geeky guy or a guy that can't speak English.

CHETRY: Stereotypes are also blamed for holding Asian-Americans back in the corporate world.

GORDON C.C. LIAO, "THE ASIAN AMERICAN EXECUTIVE": What we found basically was that there was somewhat of a conflict between quote/unquote Asian values and success in corporate America.

CHETRY: In our second story, Kwon talks with business experts who say that less than 1 percent of senior executives are Asian American and finds out why Asian Americans might be excelling academically, but not making it to the top of the corporate ladder.

PROF. JERRY KANG, UCLA LAW SCHOOL: Race has affected the opportunities given to me in the course of my life.

CHETRY: Our final story tackles the hot button issue of affirmative action. Kwon talks with experts and students. Some say their race helped them get ahead, while others say that even with top grades, they're being shut out because of their ethnicity.


CHETRY: It's fascinating and we really are looking forward to this. Joining us now to talk more about this is Yul Kwon, a big change from what we saw on "Survivor." First of all, you're wearing clothes


CHETRY: Which you didn't do a lot of in Cook Island. Why did you decide to get involved in this project?

KWON: I've always felt that Asian Americans really haven't had a voice in mainstream media and that our issues tend to be overlooked so I thought it was important to try to bring out some of the issues and challenges we face as a community to a broader audience.

CHETRY: (INAUDIBLE) when you're exploring that because I didn't realize less than 1 percent in the corporate world when you have such a well-known academic achievements from Asian Americans, why doesn't it translate into the board room?

KWON: I think the reality there is this model minority that kind of lump all Asian Americans together as one group and the perception is that we're all academically strong. The reality is that we're all individuals and we all have issues. You know, all the issues that we'll be covering in the series are ones that I can relate to on a personal level because I've struggled with them. When I was a kid and I was watching TV, I didn't see people who looked like myself.

CHETRY: You're right.

KWON: And if I did, it was always a stereotypical image like a kung fu master who could kick butt, but he couldn't speak English.

CHETRY: Very true. Well, it's going to be very interesting to see what you uncover and what answers we find. It's, again, uncovering America. It's going to be airing all next week here on AMERICAN MORNING, morning, 7:00 a.m. Eastern time and Yul, thanks for stopping by. We look forward to seeing your reports. John.

ROBERTS: It's a small resort island off of the coast of the southern California, 26 miles away and this morning it's on fire. Part of Catalina Island is being evacuated as a wildfire consumes everything in its path.

Childhood obesity, a huge problem in this country. Some startling statistics are ahead as well as two different and surprising methods for helping kids fight the fat. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is on CNN.


ROBERTS: Fifty six minutes now after the hour. Ali Velshi "minding your business." Ali, two months ago we had him here in the studio and now --

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The boss of Jetblue is out. He's going to remain the chairman of the company as is always the case, because he's the founder of the company. David Nealman (ph) founded it back in 1998. The first flight was in 2000, really built it up into being a great airline. Things haven't been so great for the airline since that mess up in February and David Nealman was here on this channel and others.

They did the right thing after that, but that wasn't really what it was. Jetblue has been having some problems. Nealman is a real entrepreneur and even in his own voice, he is too much involved in the operations. This often develops when a company becomes very big. The person with the vision and the idea behind it isn't necessarily the person who should be running it. The president now who's been there since the beginning, as well, is now going to be in charge but David Nealman stepping back to be chairman of the company.

ROBERTS: Although as we saw with Apple Computer, Steve Jobs was the guy to start the company and then he wasn't the guy to run it. Now he's back.

VELSHI: David Nealman is an entrepreneur so maybe we'll see him somewhere else.

Another story I want to tell you, I just came back from Las Vegas where the national cable TV association -- take a look at John. But here's the interesting thing, ABC and ESPN have cut a deal with Cox, which is the nation's third largest cable provider, to put some of their football games and really new, fresh content on to video on demand on the condition that it can't be fast forwarded. You can't skip through the ads. You can get a lot of stuff on video on demand. Twenty percent of the nation uses DVRs and as a result, a whole lot fewer people are watching TV while it's on. This is a show you have to watch while it's on because it's news. But generally speaking, particularly the young set, kids don't...

ROBERTS: You can Tivo this program.

VELSHI: You can and...

CHETRY: But you can't fast forward through, that's such a pain, that is it best part. VELSHI: ... the advertising. It's an interesting model. It's a big topic of discussion at this convention, will it work because the advertisers need to protect -- the cable companies want to protect their revenue, but folks like skipping through commercials, so, if you want that ABC and your ESPN content on Cox, you will not be able to fast forward through the commercials. We'll see if it works, if people take to it.

ROBERTS: That may be a model, I wonder (INAUDIBLE) other broadcasters will go after Tivo (INAUDIBLE)

VELSHI: The sense at the convention was that this is the model and everybody will go for it, so we'll see what happens.

CHETRY: All right, Ali Velshi, thanks so much. The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING starts right now.

ROBERTS: Coast to coast alarm, wildfires racing across Florida and California's Catalina Island right now. New pictures just in as flames force evacuations, surround homes and threaten to close a major highway.

Plus, new weapons in the war on childhood obesity. Two simple steps that could add years to your child's life on this AMERICAN MORNING.

It's Friday, May 11th, good morning to you and thanks for joining us. I'm John Roberts.

CHETRY: And I'm Kiran Chetry, glad you're with us. And we have a lot of stories on our radar this morning. Again we started the week off talking about wildfires and flooding and we end the week doing the same, but these are new ones sparked. Catalina Island right off the coast of Los Angeles, a huge popular and iconic vacation destination and this is what it looks like, people describing ash just falling from the ground. They're doing their best to evacuate as many people as possible. It's voluntary at this point. A lot of people that were vacationing there, they're trying to do whatever they can to get off the island and with the help of the navy now, as well, they're sending in some of their craft to help evacuate people.