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American Morning

Payroll Tax Battle Turns Ugly; Wendy's On Track To Unseat Burger King As #2; Wal-Mart Pulls Formula After Death; Investigation Continues into Death of Florida A&M Drum Major; Actor Kenneth Branagh Interviewed; Will Ferrell Gives Back; Dogs, Cats, Babies & Other Viral Gold

Aired December 22, 2011 - 07:59   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: That investigation has found U.S. forces acted in self-defense. It's a decision that will no doubt further complicate relations between Washington and Islamabad because Pakistan's military has repeated that this airstrike near the Afghan border was deliberate.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: And they say they want to talk, but the talk is getting cheap, the time is running out for this payroll tax cut. Here's the countdown on the White House Web site. Just nine days now until the payroll tax cut expires and nine days until the gridlock in Washington takes a bite out of your paycheck.

Now, how much it's going to take out of your paycheck. Based on a 50,000 a year salary could cost you about $83 a month. Add that up to over a year, and it's about $1,000 and there are real disputes as to whether that is significant or insignificant in this economy.

We just spoke to John McCain who said, to a lot of Americans, $1,000 in a year is significant. It could be that you're buying a new washing machine or a fridge.

ROMANS: He wants it to pass.


ROMANS: But at the same time, he says he thinks we kind of made it into a bigger deal in terms of the impact on the economy. It's the negative on the uncertain economy.

VELSHI: But as you have pointed out many times, when you put temporary goodies into legislation, nobody ever wants to lose them. Tax cuts, it's very difficult.

ROMANS: It's really hard to have a temporary tax cut and this is proof of that. And there's still no resolution in sight this morning.

House Republicans walked out of an effort by Democrats to force a vote on extending it for two months, which was passed by the Senate.

Earlier, we spoke to Senators Dick Durbin and John McCain, a Democrat and Republican, who both say the House should get its act together.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), MAJORITY WHIP: I think that John Boehner should acknowledge the fact that he cannot leave 3 million people without an extension of unemployment benefits and 160 million people, middle income Americans facing a tax increase because of Republican action. He should extend it, the 60 days. He can do it just by calling for a vote and passing the bipartisan measure from the Senate.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The Republicans are losing this fight. We need to get back on track. There is no doubt about that.

But I think it requires some presidential leadership, as well as a little bit of bipartisanship. A hundred and sixty million people are being caught in the crossfire.


VELSHI: Both sides were able to get their shots in before they took off. Not these two, we're talking about the House. We're covering all the angles.

Dan Lothian is live at the White House. Kate Bolduan is live in Washington with the latest.

Kate, let's start with you. Any movement now to where things stand?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I wish I had an answer other than no, Ali, as we've been kind of following this slow, slow moving train this week. Bottom line, neither side is backing down at this point, but the pressure is mounting especially on House Republicans and, of course, a lot of public pressure can do a lot up here in Washington.

But, this pressure also mounting from their own fellow Republicans in the Senate, which is a notable point. During a phone call with the president yesterday, Speaker Boehner made it clear that he wasn't budging. Instead he asked the president to convince Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to appoint negotiators to conference committee to resolve their issues. That's highly unlikely to happen ahead of this January 1st deadline of when this tax cut will expire because of simply the politics and procedure involved here.

Senate Democrats and the president are standing firm that the only option they have is to pass this two-month extension to allow more time to negotiate the longer one-year deal that all of the leaders say they want and, meantime, the frustration is growing among Senate Republicans about how the House GOP has handled this.

As one top Senate Republican aide put it to me, the House Republicans are simply on an island of their own. Aides just simply suggesting that House Republicans have botched the politics here and that's where a lot of this frustration is coming from -- Ali, Christine.

VELSHI: All right. Kate, thanks very much. I know you'll be on top of this if anything budges, if anything moves.

BOLDUAN: I will promise.

ROMANS: If that slow-moving train gets out of the station.

President Obama is holding an event to keep the pressure on. He spent an afternoon on the phone with congressional leaders yesterday, but he did take some time to finish his Christmas shopping while the family is away in Hawaii.

Dan Lothian is live at the White House.

And, John McCain, Senator McCain took a shot at the president, about being shopping and being absent at leadership. But Dick Durbin told us, the president, he stands up and says anything House Republicans say, why are you meddling in this?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, look, there's a lot of finger-pointing that has been going back- and-forth all week and the White House saying that, really, this boils down to the ball being in the court of House Republicans. It's time for them to act, to go ahead and move forward on this short-term extension because they feel that this, number one, can hurt middle class Americans that you've been talking about, those families making $50,000 a year stand to lose according to the White House, $40 from each paycheck.

So, number one, it will hurt these families. But, also, the president believing that if something isn't done to extend this, then, perhaps, it could impact the overall economy, which, of course, we know has been struggling, making some small gains. They feel that something like this could certainly impact and reverse some of the gains that have been made.

So, what you will see from the president today is again making the case that the impact this will have on Americans. The president will have an event here at the White House, we expect, some time afternoon, where he, again, will put pressure on House Republicans, but this time the president will be joined by Americans who say that, you know, they'll be impacted by not having this extra $40.

The White House has been on this campaign to have people write into their blog, to tweet about what they would do with that $40. One of the people who did write in will also be here at the White House.

Again, this is the backdrop that the White House wants to set to show that this is not just coming from officials here at the White House in terms of the impact, but there are real Americans out there who will be hurt.

VELSHI: Still remains that open question, though. I think it's very creative of the White House to do that. It's a great idea to say, what would you do with this extra $80 a month, or whatever it comes out to depending on how much you earn? But it is still unclear what the impact, the greater impact on the environment will be.

ROMANS: It is almost like -- Dan, it's interesting. It's almost like gas prices going up or down. Something you feel right away and you feel viscerally and it affects your decisions on a very low level.

Gas prices are up from where they were last year.


ROMANS: Thanks so much, Dan Lothian.

Wal-Mart, meanwhile, pulling a batch of baby formula from shelves after a baby's sudden death. The retail giant recalled Enfamil Newborn from its stores nationwide as a precaution it says. But only batches with this lot number, it's ZP1K7G. This is after a 10-day-old baby died from bacterial infections.

Officials are testing other environmental factors too, including the water that was used to mix with the formula. The formula's maker Meade Johnson Nutrition released this statement. "We are highly confident in the safety and quality of our products, and the rigorous testing we put them through."

VELSHI: Also new this morning, Johnson & Johnson is pulling 12 million bottles of Motrin from store shelves. The company which has been plagued by recalls over the past two years says the products are safe but the pain reliever might not work as fast as you might expect.

ROMANS: Thousands of nurses on strike today in California. They're fighting rising health care costs and pension cuts. Demonstrations will last only one day. It's not expected to affect patient care, but replacing those nurses for the day is expected to cost millions of dollars.

VELSHI: Four former NFL players are suing the NFL over concussions. They claim the NFL downplayed the link between brain damage and concussions. They include two retired Super Bowl champion running backs, Jamal Lewis and Dorsey Levens. The NFL has not responded to the lawsuit.

ROMANS: All right. Closing arguments begin today for the WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning. The outcome will help determine whether Army soldier Manning will face court-martial. The testimony lasted four days. Prosecutors called 20 witnesses, rather. Manning's defense attorneys spent just 35 minutes questioning two witnesses.

Manning is accused of committing one of the biggest intelligence leaks in U.S. history, if not the biggest.

VELSHI: A lot of people interested in this story. It came out late today -- late yesterday, I'm sorry. Bank of America, which is the largest bank in the country, has agreed to a settlement to pay $335 million to settle a discrimination lawsuit.

Now, the suit charged that Countrywide Financial, which was bought by Bank of America in 2008, discriminated against minorities. You remember Countrywide was the biggest subprime lender in the history of America. It steered people, Latinos and blacks, in particular, towards high-risk subprime mortgages between 2004 and 2008, even though those buyers qualified for less risky prime loans, which would have been at a lower interest rate.

ROMANS: So, it puts them at an economic disadvantage, costs them money simply because of their race.

VELSHI: Which is arguably worse than not giving them loans in the first place. They put them into dangerous loans.

Earlier Christine and I spoke to the Reverend Jesse Jackson who was talking about this and pointing the finger for years. We asked him if the settlement fits the crime.


REV. JESSE JACKSON, PRESIDENT, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: The settlement does not cover up the size of the crime or the impact upon whole communities. They intentionally circumvent the law and target and steer it by race, rob (ph) them of their homes, their money, people who lost their homes could not pay for the kids' college education. Whole cities sink under the weight of foreclosed homes because of banks' behavior.


VELSHI: Now, according to the Justice Department, the money from the settlement is going to go to the borrowers who have been identified as being targeted for being put into subprime loans when they should have qualified for prime loans.

ROMANS: And it was Countrywide Financial that did it, the settlements.

VELSHI: Bank of America is trying to be clear about that. We bought a company that did this. When you buy a company, you buy their --

ROMANS: Buy all their problems.

Bank of America is now settling for the problems of Countrywide.

VELSHI: And one thing that Jesse Jackson pointed out that we have to remember is the damage is done. Countrywide was one of the parties that really got the ball rolling on this foreclosure crisis. So, giving some people some money back now while it's -- it's the way the Justice Department has to do it. A lot of damage was done by this practice.

ROMANS: Yes, Jesse Jackson said the house is gone, the neighborhood are already --

VELSHI: Yes, houses are boarded up.

ROMANS: All right. Still ahead, winter starts with a storm and airport delays are already stacking up this morning. We're going to take you to the biggest trouble spot.

VELSHI: And historically and a historical first. Why some are saying this picture is now a late breaking nomination for picture of the year. We'll explain, next.

ROMANS: And Christmas has come early for actor Kenneth Branagh, star of the movie, "My Week with Marilyn," just scored a Golden Globe and SAG Award nomination, and he's coming here to talk to us.

VELSHI: He's coming here?

ROMANS: He is.

VELSHI: I didn't know he would be in person.

ROMANS: No, no, the film is very, very good. I can't wait to hear more about his portrayal of Sir Laurence Olivier.

It's 11 minutes after the hour.


VELSHI: I've never seen Miami with that. I mean, other than when a storm is coming in. Clouds over Miami? Partly cloudy, that looks like mostly cloudy -- 78, though.

ROMANS: It's going to be sunny and 81 later. This is just a winter warning --

VELSHI: I'm a week away from Miami.

ROMANS: You're going to Miami --

VELSHI: I'm going to Miami in a week. I'm going to --

ROMANS: All right, welcome back.

VELSHI: Wake up, Miami.

Winter is not arriving quietly. Lots of holiday travel trouble on the way as another winter storm barrels through the Rockies down into New Mexico. Even into Texas, a foot or more of snow expected in some areas.

Maureen McCann of affiliate KMGH joins us live from Denver.

You must be thinking, what is it with you CNN people who are all fascinated by snow in Denver in the winter, because we get it all the time -- right, Maureen?


MAUREEN MCCANN, REPORTER, KMGH: Yes, I think just because a lot of people on the East Coast really want the snow and they've been seeing these mild temperatures. But winter arrived right on time here in Denver. The solstice occurred last night at 10:30 local time. We're located out by the airport where we have a good six to seven inches on the ground with more to come. Now, the winds coming in from the northeast, so that means this is an upslope event. So, places in the foothills and in the eastern mountain to the east of divide have seen it much more than this six to seven inches.

They've seen about ten inches in Boulder and about 18 inches in other parts of Boulder County. So, we're located right along Pena Boulevard. And for those that are familiar with Denver, you know, the airport is about 25 miles from downtown. So, this road has to go about ten miles into the airport, and it's a very slow drive for what's expected to be the biggest travel day of the year going into Christmas, at least.

So, that's how things are looking for those going inbound. For those coming here, at least, you got some snow to enjoy. We've seen reports 18 inches in some of the ski areas in the front range. That's good news for those that are coming in. And once this moves out, you got nice forecast for the weekend.

VELSHI: Maureen, you're absolutely right. The reason we're obsessed with this because, in some cases, we're a little jealous. It looks like a little bit of fun out there.

MCCANN: Yes. Rightfully so.

VELSHI: Maureen McCann. Thanks so much, Maureen.

MCCANN: Absolutely.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Reynolds Wolf is in the Extreme Weather Center, and we have heard a little rumor, Reynolds, that you actually have a snow forecast, a white Christmas forecast for us. Did you have a map? Did you make Ali a map?

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: By popular demand, yes. He commands and we deliver.

VELSHI: You're too good to me.

WOLF: Hey, this is what happens. Well, I've got some kind of good news, kind of sort of not really, Ali. If you look at the national perspective, what we're going to see here in the United States, as we fast forward from Thursday into Friday, Saturday and into Sunday, there's a best chance of snow. A lot of the snow that's starting on the ground is going to be in the central and northern Rockies, parts of the four corners, and parts of the northeast.

To be specific for Ali, Ali, it looks like the snow might come to a screeching halt on Christmas Eve. So, Christmas Eve morning, then it kind of fizzles out, but you sure to have a nice blanket of snow. That's for you in Toronto. Ali, I think I heard you say you're going to be spending part of the holiday in Miami.

VELSHI: That's right.

WOLF: No snow for you in Miami.

VELSHI: All right. Well, that's OK with me, too.

WOLF: Yes. We can't work -- we can't do that for you.

VELSHI: We want winter snow in Toronto. We don't really want it in Miami.

WOLF: As long as we're pointing the same speed, we're in good --

VELSHI: You're on it. Thanks, my friend.

WOLF: Exactly. Hey, unfortunately, in parts of the southeast is a different flavor altogether. We're going to see the chance of some strong storms developing, guys. Take a look at this, in the parts of Alabama, Louisiana, back into Mississippi and into Alabama, especially in the late afternoon, we could see some strong storms, possibly some tornadoes, damaging winds, large hail.

In some spots, we have the low-lying areas and places with poor drainage. Flash flooding is open to certainty so just keep that in mind. The big weather maker out west still is going to rumble. We saw the live report moments ago. We're showing you the snowfall outside of Denver, at least, near the airport. More of that (inaudible).

Not only the Rockies, but into the same crystal mountains. Much of this is great news for ski country because, to be honest, they really could use the snow. This will certainly help matters. OK, guys, take a look at this, nice, cooler, dry, conditions for the northern plains. We show you the snow out west, the storms into the northeast.

In terms of the temperatures, Kansas City 36, 26 in the twin cities and your delays. Atlanta, severe weather into the afternoon. Delays also for Cincinnati, Memphis, Chicago, Houston, Charlotte, and Denver. Again, the snow, major delays possibly up to an hour. So, again, kind of a half and half for you there, Ali.

Again, we have the snow for you in Tampa -- I'm sorry. Toronto. Toronto. Not so much in Miami or Tampa, for that matter.

VELSHI: I'm getting a lot of tweets now from Tampa, all of a sudden. What? A white Christmas in Tampa? Reynolds, you're excellent. Thank you, my friend.

WOLF: All right. The end of problem.

ROMANS: Here's a time honored navy tradition. The first kiss after a ship's return. A late breaking nomination of image of the year, perhaps. For the first time on record, a same-sex couple was chosen for the homecoming kiss. Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta and her partner reunited in Virginia. She won the traditional kiss during a raffle. VELSHI: Again, that's the part that gets me. I didn't know that the raffle was a raffle.

ROMANS: I didn't either.


All right. Now that the holiday travel rush is under way, guess which city is the most popular destination for New Year's Eve. This would have surprised me. Orlando.

ROMANS: Disney, of course.

VELSHI: Would you have guessed that?

ROMANS: Disney, yep.

VELSHI: I would have said New York. According to the travel website, Travelocity, people, apparently, like to party near the theme parks. As Christine said, Disney, Universal Studios. Number two on the list is New York City famous for the ball drop in Times Square.

ROMANS: All right.

VELSHI: I never want to see the Times Square ball drop because it means I'm working, right?


ROMANS: That's true.

VELSHI: I always like to tell the folks here that I'm going to be far away. You know, I'm doing (ph) for days ahead. I'm going to be in Toronto. I'm going to be in. Because if they're here, they're (INAUDIBLE), hey, do you want to work New Year's Eve?


VELSHI: We need somebody to be in Time's Square.

ROMANS: They got Anderson -- he's got --

VELSHI: Anderson's got it. Yes, he keeps under control.

ROMANS: He can do it.

Up next, we're going to check the early morning markets.

Plus, the fast food burger wars. Which chain is about to dethrone Burger King?


ROMANS: It's 20 minutes after the hour.



VELSHI: Twenty-three minutes after the hour. "Minding Your Business" this morning.

In just a few minutes, the initial jobless claim's report will be released. It is expected to show that 380,000 unemployment claims were filed for the first time last week. We're also expecting a new estimate on the third quarter GDP, and later, a new consumer confidence report.

Ahead of these economic reports, the markets are expected to open higher. Right now, the Dow, NASDAQ, and S&P 500 futures are up this morning.

Hey, when it comes to the burger wars, McDonald's still number one, but looks like there's a new number two in town. According to the "Wall Street Journal," Wendy's is set to unseat Burger King as the second largest fast food chain in the U.S. Wendy's up more than one percent this year. Burger King down nearly four percent.

Verizon wireless said its 4G network is back up and running. The service was disrupted yesterday making it difficult for customers to make calls, send and receive messages text messages. This was the second nationwide outage in as many weeks for Verizon's 4G network.

It's time for workers -- it's go time for workers at U.P.S. Today is the company's busiest shipping day of the year. U.P.S. says it will deliver nearly 26 million packages today. That's almost 300 packages a second. That is a million more than it delivered last year. U.P.S. attributes the increase to more folks shopping online.

And returning those unwanted gifts is probably the most common post-holiday tradition. This year, according to the National Retail Federation, Americans will return more than $46 billion worth of merchandise. That is a record, and experts say many shoppers are already returning purchases to take advantage of additional markdowns.

And today is the drawing for the biggest lottery in the world. They call it El Gordo. It's an annual Christmas tradition in Spain. This year, the total payout is $3.3 billion with a B. It is rare for anyone to win the entire jackpot since one ticket costs about $260. Most folks just purchase a tenth of a ticket for $26. Still, hundreds of people are standing in line, waiting to buy tickets this morning. So, good luck to all of you.

AMERICAN MORNING is back right after the break.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a such tight confines in here and to have to walk in the front to the back of the bus with people just beating the hell out of you, what must have he gone through?

ROMANS (voice-over): What happened to Florida A&M drum major, Robert Champion? He died more than a month ago in a suspected hazing, but, still, no one has been charged.


VELSHI: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. Time now for your top stories. Twenty-nine minutes after the hour.


VELSHI (voice-over): A wave of coordinated deadly bombings in Baghdad. Just days after the last U.S. troops left the country, police say four car bombs and nine roadside bombs went off within two hours of each other, one right outside a school. The attacks killing at least 63 people and wounding close to 200.

ROMANS: Nine days now until a tax hike, and house Republicans walking out of an effort by Democrats to force a vote on extending the payroll tax for two months. They want a full year or no deal. There is no resolution in sight this morning, even after President Obama spent an afternoon on the phone with Congressional leaders on both sides in both Houses.

VELSHI: Wal-Mart recalling a batch of Enfamil newborn baby formula after a 10-day-old Missouri boy died from a rare bacterial infection. Officials are testing the formula and other environmental factors. The formula's maker, Mead Johnson Nutrition, says the batch tested negative for the bacteria before it was shipped.

ROMANS: Medical examiners say hazing victim, Robert Champion, was so badly beaten he looked like he'd been in a car accident. The drum major at Florida A&M University's final autopsy was released yesterday. Police have been investigating his death for more than a month, but still, no arrests have been made. What's taking so long?


ROMANS (on-camera): CNN's George Howell is live in Atlanta this morning. Still undergoing and doing an investigation, no question. There an awful lot of people to question to get their accounts.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, Ali, good morning. Fair to say, this is a complicated case with a lot of moving parts to it. We know for a fact that there were at least 30 people on the bus when Robert Champion was killed. So we turned to someone who understands intricate, complex cases like this to get an understanding of the questions police are asking to find out who did this.


HOWELL: On a tour bus parked outside an Orlando hotel November 19th, Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion died after a vicious beating. Investigators say it was a homicide that resulted from hazing. MIKE BROOKS, HLN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: You look at a bus like this, the narrow aisles, the seats so close together, the ceiling. It's just such tight confines in here. And to have to walk from the front to the back of the bus with people just beating the hell out of you, what must he have gone through?

HOWELL: We turned to HLN law enforcement analyst Mike Brooks to take us through the mind of investigators trying to piece together what happened to the 26-year-old victim before someone placed this 911 call.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't know if he's breathing or not, but we need to get an ambulance ASAP.

HOWELL: How do you determine the level of culpability, who did what?

BROOKS: That's a great question. And as a law enforcement officers, I want to know, who were the ones delivering the blows, the serious blows? Was there one person who delivered the most blows that caused his death? We don't know. Were there other people that might not have been involved at all?

HOWELL: Band members who spoke to CNN say it may have been the result of a hazing ritual called crossing bus C, where the victim walks backwards from the front of the bus to the back while being beaten repeatedly by fellow band members.

BROOKS: Investigators have their work cut out for them because they have to interview everyone, but this bus is a crime scene. What happened? Where did it happen on this bus when he was being beaten with fists, maybe with musical instruments? Those are things law enforcement has to find out exactly what happened.

HOWELL: Robert Champion died of significant rapid blood loss due to blunt force trauma, according to the autopsy report, the victim of a severe beating. And with so many possible witnesses on the bus --

BROOKS: I find it hard to believe that that much was going on inside the bus, if they were beating him so viciously inside that bus, then somebody on the outside didn't hear something, didn't see something.

HOWELL: Brooks says it's a complicated investigation to determine exactly what happened in the moments leading up to Robert Champion's death.

BROOK: Did somebody try to stop this? Did somebody say, he's had enough, knock it off? Did that happen? Only the people on the bus know.


HOWELL: And that will be the new headline in this case when police make an arrests. Again, the Orlando Sheriff's office and the Florida department of law enforcement jointly investigating this case and now more than one month since Robert champion was killed. Ali, Christine.

ROMANS: George, thank you so much.

Just in, the Labor Department says that 364,000 jobless claims were filed for the very first time last week.

VELSHI: We had numbers in the 400,000 for a long time.

ROMANS: This is the lowest number since April of 2008. So anything below that 400,000 level shows you layoffs are slowing and that you have more health in the labor market.

VELSHI: That's indicative of what we've seen in the last few months. We've seen what seems to be a slightly growing. And all the things out there that you need to be concerned about, jobless numbers are the biggest deal. You know, jobs are the most important. We do have some other news, as well.

ROMANS: The economy grew slightly slower in the third quarter than we thought. This is the third revision from the government -- 1.8 percent. People thought it was about two percent. We know there was some kind of summer, early fall slowdown.

VELSHI: Europe was starting to affect us at that point. Not entirely unexpected, but it is lower than we expected. Keep that in mind places like India are growing in the range of seven percent and China growing above nine percent. So we're growing at 1.8 percent. And Europe, by the way, is probably not growing at all economically, maybe zero and maybe in recession.

ROMANS: Most people think the U.S. economy is doing better. The third economy is a rearview mirror, and a lot of people think that the fourth quarter, as you can see from this jobless claims report, is doing a little bit better.

VELSHI: Coming up next, his resume only gets more and more impressive after Kenneth Branagh is getting rave reviews and award nominations for his role in the movie "My Week with Marilyn." And the star has arrived here. He's is about to sit down with us. Do not miss this conversation. It's 35 minutes after the hour. Welcome.


VELSHI: Most days by now I'm yelling at you to get up in New York. Don't worry about it. It's two days before Christmas. If you're watching us in TV, just stay in bed. It's 53 degrees. It's nice and going to get to 55 today, sunny. Nice day to walk around. Call the boss and tell him you're done for the week.

ROMANS: Go get a movie "My Week with Marilyn." The new movie showcasing the late screen siren back in the 1950s, but there's more to Marilyn Monroe than we know. It's a history of insecurity and tension on the set. VELSHI: The movie shows a clash of acting approaches between Monroe and the famous actor and director Sir Laurence Olivier. Take a look.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cut! You wait. Marilyn, please, tell me how I can help you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know who else -- I don't know who she is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have had all of your gift, we all are.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then why not simply rely on your natural talents.


VELSHI: A bit of sarcasm perhaps in there. We're joined now by Kenneth Branagh.

ROMANS: A man with natural talents who played Sir Laurence Olivier and has also been nominated for Golden Globe for best supporting actor. We loved the film actually. And it must have been so interesting to play someone who is a real person trying to interact with another real person in your industry making a real film.

KENNETH BRANAGH, ACTOR/DIRECTOR: It was because I direct film that I've acted in and he's directing this film that he's acting in with Marilyn Monroe come to England to meet with a bunch of actors. Michelle Williams is Marilyn Monroe and comes to England and works with a bunch of British actors. We filmed where the original movie that they tried to make was filled on the same sound stage. Michelle had the same dressing room as Marilyn. We did scenes in the same corridor. It did feel at the time that you were going back in time. It was very, very immersive. It feels like you take it back to a pocket of life in the 1956 in the movie. And in England that was quite magical.

VELSHI: Tell us about the story, because I think sympathy for Marilyn Monroe is quite generational. To some people now she's like Lindsey Lohan. People say why can't you just get your stuff together? But this movie seems to give her some layers and nuances and complexity.

ROMANS: She comes off more sympathetic in this film.

BRANAGH: I think so, and I think it's because Michelle Williams, who plays her quite wonderfully in addition to presenting the screen siren, you know, you mentioned the physical transformation for Michelle who is quite petite in her way and becomes this hourglass structure --

ROMANS: How do they do that?

BRANAGH: They went behind a closed door and came out many hours later and she looked very voluptuous. But because she is such a terrific actress, she lets you see in moments when she is vulnerable and present to the world this image that is Marilyn Monroe and sense of isolation. She was the first proto-super-celebrity where people liked the work that she did, but they were just a fascinated by her private life, which was pretty troubling.

ROMANS: It's one of my favorite scenes where you say, teaching Marilyn Monroe how to act is like teaching Urdu to a badger. You say it with such -- do you think that was true about Marilyn Monroe?

BRANAGH: That is a real line.

ROMANS: He said that?

BRANAGH: He absolutely said it.

ROMANS: Was he right?

BRANAGH: I don't know that he was right, but his exasperation was at the pitch, the producer's remark like that. There was a sense that when two worlds collide, these two people. University recognized that the greatest actor in the world and she the greatest movie star in the world in this light comedy should have produced something terrific. The film itself is not bad at all, but onset, a nightmare.

VELSHI: So, here's the thing. I don't know whether you or Michelle Williams had a tougher part because you're an accomplished director frustrated with an actor who is not doing her job. Michelle Williams an accomplished actor who is playing an actor who is really struggling.

BRANAGH: It's funny. It's well put. She had had to find that way of having difficulty for the character without feeling difficult inside the role herself.

VELSHI: That's an acting accomplishment.

BRANAGH: Yes, exactly. This film demanded of the people who were playing real people that they be technically very precise in the way they mimic or impersonate those people but then play them as real people. You had to abandon all that and then play the scene as naturally as we would.

VELSHI: That's just a fun thing to watch, aside from the plot.

BRANAGH: It's very absorbing. You look at all the movies. And Michelle was encyclopedic. She could do the voice and shimmying walk. They said you had to tie your knees together in order to have that feeling that she was on wheels. Olivier had a very particular walk, and I have to have my eyebrows plucked and a prosthetic chin piece.

VELSHI: I think your chin is fine.

BRANAGH: My chin is OK, but his is rather more sculpted.

ROMANS: These are such famous people that you could run the risk of being Kenneth Branagh and playing Laurence Olivier and Michelle Williams playing a Marilyn Monroe. When I watched it, you were both those characters to me very, very quickly. That is a real risk.

BRANAGH: Thank you. It is a risk, and it's thrilling to hear you say that. People responded to being taken down to this journey back in time. Whether it's Michelle or Ken and they're the kind of, the sense, I hope, that Simon Curtis, this wonderful director gives with great ensemble cast is basically that you -- you're there and there's authenticity. Because in theory, we've all been in those situations, and I hope we bring some reality to the back stage.

ROMANS: You're up for awards. When you're making the film, do you get a tingle saying, oh, wow, we could get some accolades for this one?

BRANAGH: To be truthful, you never feel that, but you do have moments, as I did on day one, when Michelle walked on as Marilyn for the first time. Well, Judi Dench was standing next to me and grabbed me by the arm and said, oh, my gosh. I think she thinks this is going to be good. I'll take her word any time.


VELSHI: A hearty congratulations. It's well worth seeing. Kenneth Branagh is in "My Week with Marilyn." He's also a Golden Globe nominee for best supporting actor.

ROMANS: More morning headlines ahead. Also ahead, comedian Will Ferrell. What a morning. It's 45 minutes after the hour.


ROMANS: It's 46 minutes after the hour. Here are your "Morning Headlines".

Good news from the job market. The Labor Department announcing just 364,000 jobless claims were filed for the very first time last week. That is the lowest level since April of 2008, though the GDP for the third quarter was revised down slightly to 1.8 percent. Many economists expect it picked up, though in the fourth quarter.

Markets open in 45 minutes. Right now I'm looking at a positive open. The Dow, NASDAQ and S&P 500 futures are all in positive territory.

A wave of coordinated and deadly bombing in Baghdad just days after the last U.S. troops left. The attacks killing at least 63 people and wounding close to 200.

Nine days now until a tax hike for millions of working Americans and House Republicans walking out of an effort by Democrats to force a vote on extending the payroll tax. House Speaker Boehner saying members still want it extended for the whole year, not just two months.

Holiday travel trouble on the way: another major winter storm clobbering the Rockies and moving down into New Mexico and even Texas. A foot or more is expected in some areas.

A nationwide boycott against Kim Kardashian is gaining momentum. One of the quarter million Americans signed an online petition promising not to watch her reality shows or buy any products endorsed by her. The petition says she has made a mockery of the American culture.

That's the news you need to start your day. AMERICAN MORNING back right after a break.


VELSHI: Certainly acting like it is. Ok guys. Just ten minutes ago I told you to stay in bed if you're in New York. You know what; time to get up now it's ten to -- almost 10 to 9:00. 53 degrees; it's going to get up to 55. It is beautiful.

That is the Statue of Liberty. It is -- she's done shopping for Christmas. You may still have some more to do. So get out of bed.

ROMANS: All right. Welcome back "Big Stars, Big Giving" is our special series that shines a spotlight on celebrities and the causes that they support and who better to do that than CNN's very own Alina Cho.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is the toughest assignment that I do all year long.

ROMANS: I know, you get to meet someone like Will Ferrell.

VELSHI: It is so much fun.

CHO: Yes, it is a lot of fun.

VELSHI: A funny guy but he's got the serious commitment to a particular cause.

CHO: He most certainly does. You know remember, he famously played George W. Bush on SNL and he was Ron Burgundy in "Anchorman" and children of all ages fell in love with him in the movie "Elf." We are talking about comedian Will Ferrell

He's also giving back in a very big way. And he's focusing on just one special charity close to his heart.


WILL FERRELL, ACTOR: Stop what you're doing and listen. Cannonball. CHO (voice-over): On the big screen and small --

FERRELL: Strategery.

CHO: Will Ferrell has won the hearts of fans everywhere by making us laugh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 10:00 a.m., Santa's coming to town.

FERRELL: Oh my God.

CHO: Cracking jokes comes naturally to Ferrell, but surprisingly he just as easily shows a serious side.

FERRELL: A quarter of a million dollars each time.

CHO: On the set of his new movie "Dog Fight" we sat down to talked about "Cancer for College". A charity founded in 1993 by his USC fraternity brother, Craig Pollard a two-time cancer survivor. Cancer for College awards scholarship money to young cancer survivors. Ferrell is its unofficial goodwill ambassador.

(on camera): What kind of an impact does that have?

FERRELL: Well it has a huge impact especially considering that when you think about -- most of these families are just trying to survive something like this.

CHO (voice-over): Ferrell got involved early on when he was just starting his career as a new cast member on "Saturday Night Live."


FERRELL: Monica, you never call me anymore.

Not knowing if I was going to be fired at any moment, I think I wrote a check for $50, my first donation. Playing it very conservatively.

CHO (on camera): Faith.

(voice-over): Not long after that, Ferrell attended Cancer for College's annual golf tournament. Something, he says, changed his life.

FERRELL: When I got to meet the scholarship winners and their families, that's when the whole thing really kind of -- kind of hit me.

CHO: So Ferrell got to work donating his time and money.

FERRELL: How much did we raise?


FERRELL: Wow. CHO (on camera): You do have a megaphone that a lot of people don't have.

FERRELL: Honestly, I think that's -- the only thing fame is really good for in a way. My wife and I talk about the fact that we've gotten to experience a lot of amazing things. And we've been to the Oscars and the Golden Globes and all these fancy things that we went to (ph), but -- but those -- that one night a year where we get to give out the scholarship checks supersedes all of that.


CHO: Such a pleasure to sit down with Will Ferrell. If you haven't heard of Cancer for College you're not alone. You know it is a very small charity. And you know we were talking during the piece about how in his word what a great thing it is that he --


ROMANS: To focus on one thing.

CHO: You know and he said that when he first start, was first starting out he made a promise to his frat brother that he would only focus on this one charity for as long as he could. He would focus all of his efforts and all of his time and money on -- on Cancer for College because this is where he thinks he can make the most impact and -- and what a great idea.


CHO: And he is making a difference. You know the founder of the charity said if we reached $5 million, $4.5 million of that is directly attributable to Will Ferrell.

VELSHI: Wow, wow that's great.

ROMANS: So it's amazing.

CHO: He really has made an impact.

Tomorrow I'm going to be sitting down with one of the biggest stars on the planet, she is Jennifer Lopez. You know it was something that happened with her newborn daughter, Emmy, she found a little bump on her head and it was a big health scare and that is what inspired her to give back. We'll be talking a little bit more about that tomorrow.

And don't miss my holiday special it's called "BIG STARS, BIG GIVING." Airs this Saturday December 24th Christmas Eve at 2:00 p.m. Eastern and again on Sunday, Christmas Day, at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

VELSHI: Good it's going to be fun.

ROMANS: All right, we'll watch it. Thanks Alina.

CHO: It's great. VELSHI: All right, coming up next which viral video topped all others from YouTube in 2011. Not this guy. The top ten YouTube videos of the year coming up next. Fifty-four minutes after the hour.


ROMANS: Good morning, Boston. As Ali says, "Get out of bed, you're late." It's fair and 51 right now. Mostly sunny, 52.

VELSHI: It does look nice in Boston this morning.

ROMANS: It's beautiful. Beautiful.

VELSHI: Welcome back. The formula for making a viral video is still the same in 2011; you need cute babies or adorable pets and things that are so bad that they're good. Who better to give us a round-up of the top ten YouTube videos of the year, but Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The thing about YouTube videos is that some you get and some seem like gibberish.

For instance in this year's top ten most viewed videos, the number five spot went to a very annoying cat. The number ten spot went to a very adorable cat. A mother cat hugging its kitten while the two of them take a cat nap. The number nine was Volkswagen's super volt commercial called "The Force".

Number eight was a cute 11-year-old Canadian singing Lady Gaga's hit. Lady Gaga was so impressed she invited Maria Aragon to sing a duet in concert.

Number seven was a dance comedy video. YouTube is the place if you want people to --


MOOS: At least 56 million people looked at the twin talking babies who seem to understand each other perfectly. Adults enjoyed adding subtitles and nominating them for best foreign language film.

Comedy music videos were popular. And we might as well acknowledge the number one video that got over 180 million views


MOOS: Ok. That's enough acknowledgment. But it's the video that came in at number two that is number one in my heart. Since it's my story, that's the one we're going to concentrate on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what the meat drawer is, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. What was in there?

MOOS: There is just something riveting about the talking dog being teased.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know the bacon that's like maple -- got maple flavoring?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The maple kind. Yes.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I took that out and I thought, I know who would like that. Me. So I ate it.

ANDREW GRANTHAM, CREATOR, "TALKING ANIMALS": Looks like he's getting his hopes up and then they're dashed. And then he gets his hopes up again and then they're dashed again.

MOOS: Former ad agency guy, Canadian Andrew Grantham now makes a living creating and voicing talking animals. People submit thousands of videos and he adds the dialogue.



MOOS: Andrew wouldn't say how much his advertising partnership with YouTube pays. But Clark the Dog now has a Facebook fan page with a joke bacon tree and a bacon T-shirt. If you're wondering --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're kidding me.

MOOS: What he really said in dog speak.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


VELSHI: Brilliant as only Jeanne can do.

ROMANS: That's awesome.

All right. That's it for us for today. See you again, very, very soon.

VELSHI: Yes. T.J. Holmes takes it over with the "CNN NEWSROOM". Good morning my good friend T.J.