Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Holiday Travel Mess; Contraception Controversy; Turnaround for the Midterms
Aired November 26, 2013 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Erin, thanks so much. I am John Berman filling in tonight.
And we begin tonight with the breaking news -- the storm that's causing a holiday travel mess in so much of the country. It's been updated to nor'easter status but the National Weather Service and looks like it will get worse before better.
The Northeast is supposed to get some brutal winds tomorrow, which I'm sure you have been told is one of the busiest travel days of the year. This could cause a major domino effect if airports in New York, Philadelphia and Boston start seeing big delays.
Right now, there are 180 flight cancellations nationwide for today and tomorrow, which isn't bad unless you're supposed to be on one of those 180 flights.
On the ground the scene is pretty chaotic with rain, snow, ice, making for treacherous driving in much of the country.
BERMAN (voice-over): Large swaths of the country woke to blankets of snow this morning. Crews scrambling to keep up with the weather for the morning commute.
In Wisconsin, despite the best efforts of authorities, dozens of accidents littered highways.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a point where there's just nothing you can do. It's just glare ice and you're just a passenger in your own car.
BERMAN: In Pennsylvania, parts of the state are expecting accumulations of up to 18 inches.
The massive storm is so large, it spans the entire length of the United States.
In Arkansas, rain mixed with dropping temperatures created black ice conditions and caused accidents across the state, including a 12-car pileup on Interstate 540.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I get on the highway and next thing I know I'm spinning, trying to grab my wheel and then I just hit the wall and just jumped out to make sure my kids were OK.
BERMAN: Beyond the roads, air travel is a major concern for millions of Americans. The storm continues to cause scores of flight cancellations, heading into tomorrow, one of the busiest travel days of the entire year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So let's get the latest on the storm from meteorologist Chad Myers in the CNN Weather Center.
Chad, it is crunch time so how are things looking?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Getting colder because the sun has set. That's exactly what we thought earlier, John. We talked about this. That the most dangerous part of this storm would be after sunset tonight. And that has happened. The roads are cooling, the air is cooling and now we're turning to this pink color. Pink color means rain that it's either rain that's freezing at the ground when it hits the ground as freezing rain, or sleet that's falling through the sky, raindrops coming down and freezing before it hits the ground and it sounds like little tink, tink, tink, on your windows.
So that's what that pink area means. It's been snowing the whole day up in Buffalo. To the northwest of Pittsburgh snowing all day. All the way back toward Columbus, same story and it's been raining down here to the south. But the colder air that's now entraining into the system really is concerning me about what this means for the next couple of days.
And what travel is going to be like across Pennsylvania, really, for tonight. It could be a disaster. My parents grew up in Pennsylvania. It's a hilly place. You don't need any ice at all going up and down those hills at night so try to stay off the roads if you can.
We advance to tomorrow and here is where it gets bad. An hour to two- hour delays in D.C. New York metro is two to three hours. And you're saying to yourself, wait, it's only going to rain in Boston. How do we get three to four-hour delays? Because you're going to have wind gusts to almost 60 miles per hour there.
New York City, 40 miles per hour, D.C. 30 miles per hour, airplanes can't take off and land at the duration, at the distance they want to be. They want to be every minute, every two minutes. When you get this type of wind, it's maybe every four minutes. You get half as many planes on the ground as you want, you're going to get long delays -- John.
BERMAN: Chad, I'm bad at math but those delay numbers look very, very bad to me. The National Weather Service has now officially called this a nor'easter.
What exactly does that mean, Chad?
MYERS: You know, it's a storm that has now gone into its developmental stage where you get cold air that comes down to the north, coming down here and the water across the Atlantic Ocean is still warm. Well, I don't want to surf in it but it's relatively warm. Compared to this air coming down here at 30, the water being 60, you get a coastal low to develop and it bombs out. It becomes much deeper, much lower pressure, much higher wind.
That happens when the low comes out of the Gulf of Mexico. It swings up the East Coast and then keeps on going all the way toward Nova Scotia. It wasn't a big wind maker down here in Atlanta. Winds are maybe 20 but now with this bombing out, this nor'easter quote, now you're going to get winds to Boston tomorrow 60 miles per hour. That's what that means.
BERMAN: All right. We have that to look forward to.
Chad Myers, thanks so much.
BERMAN: Now we do have coverage all over the country as travelers try to get where they are going before Thanksgiving.
Gary Tuchman is in Washington, George Howell is in Buffalo, and David Mattingly is at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
George, I want to start with you. You have the prettiest picture there. You're in Buffalo. You know, it snows every now and then in Buffalo. Still, we're on like Thanksgiving eve here.
GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Snow right here.
BERMAN: You know, how is it going up there?
HOWELL: Well, look, you know, we've seen this snow come down light through most of the day, but as Chad said, it is starting to come down heavier, just now starting to stick to the ground, and John, this is just the beginning.
We do understand that here in the city of Buffalo they are preparing for anywhere from 4 to 6 inches of snow and then in the south town, and what they call the southeastern tier and northwestern Pennsylvania, they could see anywhere from 6 to 8 inches, even a foot of snow.
That's great news out there for the ski resorts, but like we've been saying throughout the program, bad news considering that this plays out overnight into Wednesday, which is the busiest, if not one of the busiest travel days of the year.
BERMAN: Even grizzled hardened snow veterans, George, want to get where they need to go on Thanksgiving Day. I imagine there are people pretty upset out there.
HOWELL: Well, upset in Buffalo, not necessarily. When you talk about 4 to 6 inches of snow here in the city, they know how to deal with the snow. So what we found, the city officials have their snow plans, they have several plows, anywhere from 25 to 30 plows that will be going out, some 60 people that will be clearing these roads overnight.
And, John, a lot of salt. They have enough salt here to clear the city for at least three days.
BERMAN: Good. Well at least they are prepared.
George, great to hear.
Let's go to Washington and Gary Tuchman in the nation's capital, right smack dab in the middle of I-95 there.
Gary, how's things?
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, the heavy rains are now coming down in Washington. And inside the beltway, outside the beltway, on the beltway. There are big traffic problems tonight, lots of accidents, and we're seeing that all throughout the northwest we expect tonight in this Thanksgiving Eve, eve, tomorrow Thanksgiving Eve, the problems are going to be very acute in the northeastern United States because starting in the southern suburbs of Washington, working the way to the northern suburbs of Boston, 17 percent of the U.S. population resides in that area.
There's only 2 percent of the United States in land, that's 17 percent of the population, and even on beautiful sunny days, beautiful clear nights, traffic problems are immense on the Tuesday night and the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. And when you have these heavy rains, when you have the freezing rains, the possibility of snow, you're expecting some very serious problems.
Thirty-nine million Americans are expected to be driving more than 50 miles away from home for Thanksgiving, that's basically one out of every eight Americans in the northeast. That's a big problem when your weather is like this.
BERMAN: It's a great point. Bad enough already on I-95. The last thing in the world they need is this rainstorm.
Thanks so much.
Let's go to David Mattingly at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
David, we saw some delays there, some cancellations today. What's the expectation for tomorrow? Of course, this is one of the busiest airports in the world, such a crucial hub. How do things look?
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is the busiest airport in the world. This is the busiest week, 1.5 million people are expected to come through here before the week is over. A quarter of a million people just tomorrow alone with all that weather uncertainty. And you were seeing how it was in D.C. and up in Buffalo, how the dominos are stacking up along the East Coast.
Right here, we're waiting to see how those dominos fall along with all the airlines and all the passengers waiting on those flights and those connections here through Atlanta.
I spoke to the leading carrier here, Delta, they've already cancelled a hand full of regional flights tomorrow. They did that proactively knowing that there would be some problems and there would be some delays trying to give passengers some time to make other arrangements. But right now, they are still looking at those long flights, the uninterrupted flights from Atlanta to New York, to Boston, to Philadelphia, all those problem areas.
They're going to make a decision sometime tomorrow. So passengers are told to do two things, stay in touch with your airline to keep tabs on your flight and your options if there is a cancellation, watch the weather and be patient -- John.
BERMAN: It's great advice.
David Mattingly, Gary Tuchman, George Howell, thanks so much.
You know, David brings us to our next subject here. Down to the nitty-gritty. What you need to know to make your Thanksgiving travel as smooth as possible and what your rights are as an airline passenger if you do find yourself stuck at an airport.
Amy Farley has the answers. She is the news editor for "Travel and Leisure" magazine and writes the "Trip Doctor" column.
Amy joins me now.
And, Amy, you know, the first two things I think people think of doing when they're stuck in an airport is complain and drink. Neither are probably useful.
AMY FARLEY, NEWS EDITOR, TRAVEL AND LEISURE: No. Fun, though.
BERMAN: What are you -- sometimes. What are your rights? I mean, what can you expect from the airlines? What can't you expect from the airlines?
FARLEY: Unfortunately, the bad news is when it is weather that is causing the delays, you really don't get much from the airlines. They're not obligated to do much. They are obligated to get you out on the next flight possible but that could be days as they try and untangle this mess and they also are not obliged to give you travel vouchers for meals or even for a hotel if you're caught in the midst of something.
That said, airlines are being more flexible because they understand these are extraordinary circumstances and they want you to try to and untangle the mess that they are caught in. So a lot of them are waving the rebooking fees that they normally tack on if you try to change your travel plans at the last minute.
BERMAN: That's nice of them but still, how hard is it to rebook during the Thanksgiving week? There's not a lot of extra capacity.
FARLEY: There's not. That's the main problem is trying to get on an alternate flight. So we say, it can be good to look for other destinations if you can get close to your final destination and drive there. If you want to route yourself through other airports, maybe one of your layover airport is where the problem is.
So look for alternate routes to your destination and also consider an alternate carrier. Usually airlines don't let you book on other carriers or won't sort of rebook you on another carrier, but they may be more obliging right now because these are extraordinary circumstances.
BERMAN: But, basically, you're hoping for goodwill at the terminal there or goodwill on the phone. They don't have to do it.
FARLEY: They don't have to do that. One option if they won't do it, this is sort of the nuclear option, but if you wanted to cancel your ticket and ask the airline, your first airline, to wave the change fee, which can be up to $200, they cancel your ticket, take a travel voucher for your original airline and then see if you can book a new ticket on an entirely different carrier. That could be very expensive but it may be your only option if you have to get there.
BERMAN: The whole drinking thing I suggest first.
May be one of the best options.
All right, Amy Farley. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
BERMAN: We'll be tracking the weather all night.
Just ahead, a new challenge for President Obama's health care law. The Supreme Court will reveal two cases that will test the law's rule on contraception. How strong are their arguments? Our legal experts weigh in.
Plus, an assault in Pittsburgh caught on video. A teenager punching and kicking a stranger so hard the victim falls. Is this part of that trend that some are calling the knockout game? We'll have a reality check straight ahead.
BERMAN: Tonight, President Obama's health care overhaul is facing a new challenge. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a pair of cases contesting the Affordable Care Act's contraception rule.
The issues that justices will be weighing in are thorny and complicated to say the least. Many religious groups are exempted for the law's requirements for contraception coverage but for profit corporations are not. The companies behind the two cases say they should not have to provide health insurance that covers certain types of contraceptives. Just certain types.
There is a lot to talk about here. Joining me, CNN legal analysts Jeffrey Toobin and Sunny Hostin. They're both former federal prosecutors. And Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice.
All right, Jeff, I want to start with you here. Obamacare has obviously become such a loaded issue in so many ways, both politically and in front of the Supreme Court, I suppose, legally, as well. But at the heart of this case, this case that the Supreme Court is now taking on, it's a First Amendment issue whether corporations enjoy the same religious rights as people, correct?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: That's one of the issues. I mean, what makes this case so rich and complicated is that there are a lot of really hard issues. Does a company, which is organized for profit, have the right to religious feelings? That's one of the questions in this case.
Another question is, can you force individuals who own that company to do something that violates their religious groups? And can you tell individuals that everybody else is covered by one law, but you don't get coverage for birth control because your owners have some different religious view?
BERMAN: Jay, you have a clear position here. You do -- you think these corporations should not be forced to violate their personal religious believes.
JAY SEKULOW, CHIEF COUNSEL, AMERICAN CENTER FOR LAW AND JUSTICE: Right, I think Jeff is right. The interesting aspect of this is the multitude of issues but I think the court is squarely faced with one issue that I don't think is escapable here is the fact that the court is going to have to answer the question -- do the corporations -- have owners have particular religious views or conscience issues, can they be compelled to do something that violates those religious views or violate those -- their conscience?
So our view is they cannot be compelled. Certainly absent a compelling governmental interest which we don't think is here, but that's the court's case that's going to be heard. And I think it's going to be a monumental decision, both on the religious liberty issue.
Look, it's got three issues. It's got President Obama's health care law, it's Obamacare, Affordable Care Act. It's got a religious issue and it's got the abortion component as well. It's going to be a blockbuster of a case.
BERMAN: Sunny, I saw you nodding your head a wee little bit there.
SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, I think there certainly is an important compelling interest, and that is a woman's right and ability to control her own body. I mean, now where do you draw the line if a corporation can say, well, you can get condoms, which I believe one of the corporations is saying, but you can't get the after-morning pill. And you can't get this birth control or that kind of birth control.
I mean, this is a very, very important case, and I'm -- as a woman, I am shocked that someone would say that a corporation, a profit corporation would have the ability to make those choices.
BERMAN: Jay, I want to follow up on that because this is a little bit like a sex-ed class, this case before the court, because it's not saying that no contraception should be allowed there.
BERMAN: They specifically say only certain kinds. So why that distinction?
SEKULOW: Well, that's because of the religious group, the religious conscience of the owners of these companies. And, you know, I think the reality is that the idea that a corporation's owners, the people that founded the corporation, run the corporation and run own the corporation can't set the terms of the insurance benefits that they're offering their employees is a bit outrageous, and I think the distinction between what Sunny just said and the actual case here is, there's no governmental -- compelling government interest in our view that, you know, you have to --
HOSTIN: What about a woman's right to birth control --
SEKULOW: -- surrender your right of freedom of religion. Well, hold on, when your freedom of religion as compared to the ability to obtain contraceptives. No one is saying they can't obtain contraceptives, the employers simply saying I don't want to pay for them.
TOOBIN: But Jay -- but Jay, remember, a lot of -- the terms of insurance are set by the government all the time. If you have a corporation where the --
TOOBIN: Where the employer, the owner says, you know, we don't want to have black people work there so we won't offer insurance to our black employees. That's something that's illegal.
HOSTIN: That's right.
TOOBIN: You're not challenging that. So this is --
SEKULOW: Of course, because there is a compelling governmental interest to eradicate racial discrimination. There is not a compelling governmental interest to require in this particular case birth control or whatever it might be, what some may consider abort of (INAUDIBLE).
BERMAN: Wait, let's --
SEKULOW: It's not that compelling government --
TOOBIN: And Jay --
HOSTIN: So obviously it's not compelling for a woman to have the right to choose --
SEKULOW: You can argue it. The fact of the matter is, it's going to be up to the five justices that determine the majority here.
HOSTIN: A woman to have her rights. That's not a compelling interest in your view?
SEKULOW: Sure. The women have -- I'm not -- see, but I think that's conflating the issue that's before the court. The case is not whether women have the right to contraceptive. Of course they do. They have the right. The Supreme Court has recognized that. The question is, can an owner of a company be compelled to violate their religious conscience?
No doubt about it and I think all three of us would agree the court will be divided. It's a question of who's going to get to five.
BERMAN: Well, let me -- let me follow up on that with Jeffrey, your favorite thing here. I want to ask you, Jeffrey, to predict where the court might go on this and is there anywhere to compromise? Is there any middle ground there?
TOOBIN: You know, I think there potentially is some middle ground here. You know, usually the safe bet is the four conservatives vote one way, the four liberals vote the way, and Anthony Kennedy decides the outcome.
I think there are sufficient number of moving parts in this case that we may be surprised. They may manage to find some sort of common ground that doesn't break down along the traditional ideological grounds but that's one of the things that makes this case so interesting is that you have so many of these crosscurrents, but the safe bet is usually 5-4 with Anthony Kennedy deciding the outcome.
I guess if I had to predict, that's what I --
BERMAN: And you're always right about these things.
Sunny Hostin, Jeffrey Toobin, Jay Sekulow, thank you so much for joining us.
SEKULOW: All right.
BERMAN: Appreciate it.
SEKULOW: Thanks for --
BERMAN: The battle for Congress has taken a new turn. New polls show Republicans are now in the lead among registered voters, so is the Obamacare debacle to blame? That's next.
Also ahead, why was President Obama meeting with Steve Martin and more importantly, how come the comedian wouldn't shake the president's hand? The intrigue, the answers, when 360 continues.
BERMAN: In "Raw Politics" tonight, there has been a big turnaround in the battle for control of Congress in the midterm elections next year. The latest CNN/ORC Poll shows Republicans have an edge among registered voters, 49 percent to 47 percent.
Just a month ago Democrats had the advantage, 50 percent to 42 percent. But that was before the political malaise over Obamacare reached a fever pitch.
Joining me to talk about this, chief national correspondent John King.
So, John, it was just a month ago we were talking about the Republicans in big trouble. They were going to get creamed in 2014 because of the government shutdown. Now it's the Democrats looking up at the Republicans. Is this all about Obamacare?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's mostly about Obamacare and the Democratic bounce after the shutdown evaporating.
Look, the air is out of that balloon, you're right. A month ago there were a lot of Democrats in this town dreaming of Speaker Pelosi again, thinking they could defy history and take back the House. Well, forget about that at least for now.
If you look closely at this poll, John, what it tells you is, we're back into a normal political environment. By that I mean Democrats are winning in the cities, Republicans are winning in rural areas. Democrats are winning with downscale income voters, Republicans tend to win among more affluent voters. A normal political environment.
The problem for the Democrats is history tells you, a normal political environment means a huge Republican midterm election. In a second term president, the six-year itch election, history says on average the president's party loses 19 seats in the House. If the Democrats lose in the ballpark of 19 seats in the House next year, then Republican have a really good shot of not only obviously keeping the House majority but getting the half dozen plus seats, the seven seats, they need to take the Senate.
So this is going to cause a lot of jitters, maybe stronger words among Democrats.
BERMAN: Well, one of the most overused cliches in politics is a year is an eternity. It is a year until the midterm election but there are a lot of important dates before that that I think a lot of Democrats are no doubt looking at very, very closely. And one comes next week. This Web site, healthcare.gov, is supposed to be up and running at least 80 percent next week. That has to be crucial for Democrats.
KING: It's crucial for Democrats and if it's at 79.5, and I'm not trying to be a clown here, the president's -- members of the president's own party are beginning to walk away from this White House. If his -- his approval rating is in the 30s. Now Democrats see a generic ballot in which they are losing heading into the midterm elections.
This is going to become about personal survival in Congress, not about the president of the United States. And so if the president is under performing, meaning that Web site is under performing, any additional problems with Obamacare, watch out. You've already seen a case of jitters among Democrats, some disloyalty among Democrats.
They will run. Just ask George W. Bush late 2006 into 2007, his party would not stand with him on nearly anything. If that starts to happen to this president, it's a problem and given the poll numbers we see right now, both his numbers, and now this new poll today it's increasingly likely you're going to have a panic among Democrats.
BERMAN: It's history this White House does not want to see repeated.
John King, always great to talk to you. Thanks so much.
KING: Thank you, John.
BERMAN: There is a lot more happening tonight.
Susan Hendricks has the "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Susan.
SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, President Obama has declared parts of Illinois a major disaster area after tornadoes tore through the state last weekend. One twister that hit the city of Washington was an EF-4 packing winds of up to 190 miles per hour. At least six people were killed in the state.
A Connecticut judge has ordered the release of 911 recordings from the Sandy Hook School shooting but the tapes remain sealed until December 4th to give the prosecutor a chance to appeal. The prosecutor says the recordings would be too painful for victims' families. Twenty-six people died in the attack last December, including 20 children.
An Italian prosecutor in the retrial of Amanda Knox says the 26-year- old American should get a 30-year sentence for killing her roommate in 2007. Knox was convicted of the crime in 2009, then freed two years later on appeal but a retrial was ordered on grounds the jury that acquitted Knox did not consider all the evidence.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended slightly higher for a new record close of 16073 while the Nasdaq closed above 4000 for the first time in 15 years. And President Obama got a tour of DreamWorks Animation Studios today, and there he is. He bumped elbows with comedian Steve Martin. And yes, that is "Big Bang Theory" star Jim Parsons with them.
Martin says he didn't want to give the president his cold so he didn't shake his hand.
And, John, Steve Martin performs at the White House in the past so they kind of have a history.
BERMAN: You know, I heard Steve Martin won't shake his hand, I was thinking there'd be a big scandal. You know, comedian snubs president.
BERMAN: He had a cold.
HENDRICKS: Exactly. He had a cold and they kind of know each other. Believe it or not, Steve Martin plays the banjo. He played at the White House and Mr. Obama said it was amazing.
BERMAN: Steve Martin is really, really good at the banjo.
HENDRICKS: He really is.
HENDRICKS: And funny.
BERMAN: All right. Susan Hendricks, thank you so much.
BERMAN: Just ahead, attacks like the one we're about to show you right here caught on video in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, were strangers sucker punch their victims out of the blue on the street. Some are calling this violence the knockout game but is this trend real or it is all just media hype?
I want to speak with one woman who was punched in the face.
Plus, many call him the people's Pope and today, Pope Francis put all the reasons why in writing. Why his first major church document is such a big deal for so many followers?
BERMAN: Tonight, a reality check on a story that has been getting a lot of attention nationwide. On its face it's flat out shocking, video showing young people seemingly randomly assaulting people on the streets of Pittsburgh. There are reports similar to this in a number of cities.
Today a woman in Brooklyn was punched in the face by a stranger. Police are investigating it as part of the knock out game, a brutal game where kids and teenagers assault random strangers for no other reason than the thrill. The question is, is this an actual trend or a catchy label? CNN's Pamela Brown has been investigating.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's shocking to watch, but this is happening, whether the victim is walking down the street like this or taking public transportation like this unsuspecting rider. These videos show people being sucker punched by people who are believed to be complete strangers.
While unprovoked attacks on strangers care not new, the question whether these could be part of the knock out game where a person punches a stranger with the goal of knocking them unconscious with a single blow captured the attention of law enforcement.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're trying to prevent it to become wide spread. It's difficult to say because they are classified as simple assault, aggravated assault, perhaps robbery, but there are a hand full that could fall into this category.
BROWN: Police in New Jersey and Missouri are linking two deaths to the knock out game, a Vietnamese man in St. Louis in 2011 and a homeless man in September. This video shows the suspects walking away. Attacks have been reported in at least four states and the District of Colombia in the last three years.
Just this month in Brooklyn, New York, two elderly women were attacked. Police are investigating at least one of those cases as a hate crime because the victim is Jewish. Despite speculation otherwise, authorities say there is no evidence so far that any of the attacks are racially motivated.
In Philadelphia police say a group of teens jumped a passer by walking into this pizza joint. Police arrested a 15-year-old and 17-year-old in that case. The victim wants answers from his attackers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not like they are going and getting anything. They are doing it for spite, for fun. It's not good for a neighborhood or for any community.
BROWN: In some cities police are reluctant to link it to the knock out game because the evidence doesn't support it or a concern that bringing attention to it going to breed copy cats.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The press named it the so-called knock out game. We don't discount that exists, it's a possibility. We have investigated and continue to investigate.
BROWN: Whether the knockout game is real or not, the penalty for the crimes can be stiff. In St. Louis where the victim was killed, the 20-year-old suspect was sentenced to life in prison. Pamela Brown, CNN, New York.
(END VIDEOTAPE) BERMAN: Phoebe Connolly doesn't care what you call this crime. That is not what's important to her. It happened to her in North West, Washington, the neighborhood called Columbia Heights. She was on her bike and joins me tonight. Phoebe, walk us through what happened to you.
PHOEBE CONNOLLY, PUNCHED BY TEEN: On Friday, November 15th, I was biking home and I was biking up 11th Street in Colombia Heights, and as I was making my way up the hill, I noticed there was a group of teenagers biking up the hill ahead of me, and by the time I got to -- close to the top of the hill, they had stopped and I continued biking and they separated themselves into two groups.
There was about five kids on the right-hand side, and three kids on the left, and as I approached the group, I had to bike through them, and I said excuse me, as I was biking through, and just as I was passing through the group, one of the kids of the group biked off and cut me off, cut my past of direction off and turned his bike so that he was going down the hill as I was going up it and as we passed, he reached out and punched me in the face and said woo pow as he hit me in the face and the whole group of kids laughed.
BERMAN: So you obviously knew you had been punched in the face. You knew you had been assaulted. At what point did it occur to you it was more than a one-off attack?
CONNOLLY: I didn't think too much about it. You know, I was bothered by it. It was annoyed by it. It frustrated me. It upset me that a group of kids were laughing at me after having hit me. I wasn't, you know, seriously injured, and I mentioned it to some friends, and they said that it sounded like it was the knock out game, which I had never heard of before.
So I Googled it and when I Googled it, the second news line that came up was knock out game comes to Colombia Heights, and I found that very curious since I was in Colombia Heights, and I read the news article and it stated that the night before, a woman was walking down 14th Street in the same neighborhood, and was punched in the back of the head.
As I learned more about it, it was a group of kids on bikes. They all laughed when it happened. So it did sound very similar to what happened to me.
BERMAN: So one of the ironies is you work on youth programs. You spend time with teenagers and bring an inside perspective on the thought process here. What do you want the people who did this, what do you want them to think about?
CONNOLLY: Yes, I think that's a great question. And I think, you know, that was one of my main incentives, the reason that I called the police was because my understanding of teenagers is they just don't always think about the ramifications of their actions, how they can hurt people, how they can, you know, cause problems for the rest of their lives. And I think that's an important thing for them to recognize, and, you know, for me, I can only speak about my individual incident that happened, and I'm generally somebody who prefers to think about what is behind something versus why someone did it, and I think that is something that's really important for us to do is look at these incidents in a more productive way.
And instead of constantly replaying them on media or on YouTube or whatever it is, I really feel like that's just creating more of a culture of fear and polarization instead of spending time thinking about why it is that people are choosing to do this and how can it be stopped and prevented.
BERMAN: Phoebe Connolly, sorry, you had to go through this, but we are so glad you're doing OK now. Thank you so much for being with us.
CONNOLLY: Thank you.
BERMAN: Up next, Pope Francis calls for big changes in the Catholic Church, and meet the severely disfigured man that the pope hugged and kissed. The man shares how this encounter changed his life.
Ahead, an update on our breaking news, the nor'easter on the move and threatening holiday travel plans for millions and millions of people.
BERMAN: Today Pope Francis put his new vision for the Roman Catholic Church bluntly forth in writing challenging church leaders to change course and shift their focus to the poor. He wrote, "I prefer a church which is bruised hurting and dirty because it's been on the streets rather a church which is unhealthy for being confined and from clinging to its own security."
That's right. He basically told church leaders they spent too much time parsing church doctrine. He advised them to get their shoes muddy, to get involved in the lives of their parishioners. It's the first major document that this pope has written by himself since becoming pope, another of the key messages, he said the world changed and the church must change with it.
In other words, it is a major break from the past. Earlier I spoke to CNN senior Vatican analyst, John Allen.
BERMAN: John, this is a pretty remarkable document with some awfully startling language. In your piece today you write it's tantamount to an "I have a dream" speech from Pope Francis. What do you mean by that?
JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: Well, I mean, this document, 224 pages in length, which is kind of a vision statement as to how Francis understands the role of the Catholic Church begins with a dream. Francis says that he has a dream of a church that's more missionary and focused on outreach rather than collapsing on itself. And it's more merciful, that is that doesn't focus on what he calls rules that make us hash judges, but instead, is more tolerant and compassionate and to achieve that dream, he signals that he's open to change on a staggering variety of fronts. It's not that everything is up for grabs.
He says on women priests and abortion, two controversial fronts, the things are not going to change but beyond that, he said that he's interested in a decentralization of the power of the pope, a kind of democratizing of the church. He wants to empower lady.
He wants a more generous line on admission to the sacraments of the church, especially communion, which could have implications not just for divorced and remarried Catholics and there are millions of them around the world, but also prochoice Catholic politicians in places such as the United States where some bishops have threatened to publicly turn them away in the communion line.
So I mean, he is clearly letting loose the winds of change in the Catholic Church in multiple arenas. All of it is calculated to achieve this vision, this dream of a more missionary, more merciful Roman Catholicism.
BERMAN: There are suggestions. At least, you mentioned a few of some big changes here. Who's threatened by this?
ALLEN: Well, I mean, look, change is all threatening whether it's change in politics or change in the economy or change in religion. So certainly, there is going to be an old guard in the Vatican that's very wedded to older ways of doing business that is not going to like this.
There will be some conservative and traditional sectors of opinions of the grass roots that the worries that Francis is tossing the baby out with the bath water, but let's in the miss the big picture. The big picture is that in every region of the world where public opinion can be scientifically surveyed, Francis has the kind of approval rating that politicians and celebrities would crawl across hot coals to try to obtain.
The impression is he has overwhelming grass root support and that gives him the political capital that any leader needs to push through a change program.
BERMAN: John Allen, always illuminating to speak with you. Thanks so much for being with us.
Over the past eight months, Pope Francis has matched his words with his actions. It's a cliche, but it's true here. He is not just talk. He walks the walks. A recent image of him embracing a severely disfigured man goes viral. It's a symbol of this pope's compassion.
Ben Wedeman tracked down the man and learned that it wasn't just powerful for him. It was profoundly important. Here is his report up close.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): After four hours of work, Vinicio Riva is done, five days a week he does odd jobs at a home for the elderly in Northern Italy. By the way, did you notice something?
Yes, 53-year-old Vinicio suffers from a hereditary genetic condition called neurofibromatosis type 1. His body is almost completely covered from head to toe with growths, swellings and sores. His mother had the same condition as does his sister. He's had it since the age of 15.
His appearance often terrifies strangers. He recalls trying to take a seat on a bus, but being told by the passenger next to him to sit somewhere else.
I wanted to answer back, but I controlled myself, he says. I felt my blood pressure rise. I wanted to leave the bus, but I had a doctor's appointment. There were lots of people on the bus, but no one said a word. Not all strangers, however, react like that.
Earlier this month, Vinicio went with his aunt, Caterina, to St. Peters' Square where Pope Francis approached him and without a moment's hesitation, kissed and hugged him.
When he embraced me, he recalls, I quivered, I felt a great warmth. Aunt Katarina was struck by the pope's very down to earth manner.
I looked down at his shoes, they were like this, she says. I thought yes, this is someone who really walks and someone if he weren't wearing that clothing you wouldn't even know he's the pope.
Since then Vinicio has returned to his daily routines. He continues to work and route for his favorite soccer team, but something has changed. The pope's simple embrace was a signal to millions that underneath his tortured surface is a fellow human being.
I feel stronger and happier he tells me. I feel like I move ahead because the Lord is protecting me.
However, he still has some unfinished business with Pope Francis.
I hope he calls me so we can have a face-to-face meeting says Vinicio. I have many things to tell him. What do you want to tell him I ask?
That's a bit private he replies, it's between him and I.
He returns home from work on his bike, his dignity far more apparent than his illness. Ben Wedeman, CNN, Italy.
BERMAN: Remarkable. What a message, life truly changed.
Up next, an update on the breaking news, will high winds ground the famous Thanksgiving parade balloons here in New York City? Chad Myers has the updated holiday forecast. That's coming up next.
BERMAN: Back now to our breaking news, let's get the latest on the nor'easter and those flight delays that are really piling up. Chad Myers monitoring this in the Weather Center. Chad, what's the latest?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, all the way from Montreal down to Florida, that's how big the storm system is. Here is a live shot from Atlanta, Georgia. Coming down, winds picking up and here is what happens when that happens. There is Atlanta Hartsfield Airport. All planes trying to land except those planes aren't trying to land. They are doing circles up here in northeast, Georgia.
You hate it when your plane just goes around and around and around. That's what they are doing in South Georgia, as well. When you look at the flight board all you'll see is this word, delayed, delayed, delayed, delayed at Hartsfield-Jackson and that's from the low ceilings and a wind shift at the city of Atlanta.
BERMAN: Chad, that's amazing. Those are remarkable and depressing pictures. I've never seen the circles before. You've been talking about the wind of the nor'easter and there are concerns. What does it mean for the Macy's parade and balloons?
MYERS: There is a threshold, John, you can't have a sustained wind over 23. You can't have a wind gust over 34. I've watched this parade for 47 years since I was three. I've seen these guys trying to hold the balloons down, the big floats, especially my favorite underdog. Everybody knows that since I've been talking about it all day long.
The threshold for the morning parade is 34 for the wind guest. Here is what we have now, 25, here is tomorrow afternoon and that's the wind gust at parade time, right on the number. If it's higher than that, they cancel the balloons, if it's lower than that, the balloons fly. It's really amazing to see that's the number the threshold is.
BERMAN: Chad Myers, thank you so much. We hope you get your underdog. That does it for this edition of 360. Thanks for watching. "PIERS MORGAN LIVE" starts now.