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MERS Virus Spreads Inside U.S.; Weather Helping Fire Crews in California; NYT Fight Turns Public and Nasty

Aired May 18, 2014 - 07:00   ET


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Victor, Christi, this is now the third person in the United States who has been found to have MERS or the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

Now, this third person, it's a little bit different than the first two and I'll tell you why. The first two people, they were infected, they got infected in Saudi Arabia and then they got on a plane and came here. This third one, this third one came infected in the United States, so this is now the first case of someone becoming infected on U.S. soil.

And here's what happened: this third case, he had a meeting with one of the first two cases, a gentleman in Indiana. So, this new case, a man from Illinois, and the man from Indiana, had a meeting late in April, for 40 minutes they sat and they talked, they were within six feet of each other. They shook hands and that was their only physical contact that we know about. The next day they had another meeting which was even shorter. So, just two meetings, one 40 minutes, one even shorter. The only physical contact we know of was a handshake. That apparently is enough to share MERS from one person to another.

This is a little bit different, I think, in many people's minds than what was said before. Before, doctors were referring to MERS has something that in order to get it, you had to have close contact, someone who lived in your household or the kind of contact that a doctor and a patient would have repeatedly over time. This is a little bit different, and I think it will definitely raise concern for some people, can I get MERS just from having a business meeting with someone?

Now, having said that, it is important to note, MERS is not a virus that is super easy to transmit person to person. It's not like the common cold or the flu or measles. You still need to have contact. You can't get MERS from what we know by just passing someone in a hallway.

This is a new virus. It's only been around for two years. It's only been in this country for a couple of weeks. So, doctors are still learning more about how MERS is spread, how it's contracted.

And experts I've been talking to said they expect to see more MERS cases in this country in the future -- Victor, Christi. VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you very much.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: We want to talk about southern California, what's going on there this morning, because we know wildfires had destroyed thousands of acres of landscape there. This morning, though, we are understanding firefighters do seem to have the upper hand, which is the good news, a lot of the most destructive fires are now largely contained.

BLACKWELL: Tens of thousands of people, they're now able to go back home. Officials are lifting the evacuation orders, although some residents are upset that it took so long to get the all clear. But those orders are still in place at Camp Pendleton. Three of the fires have converged on that base.

And our Indra Petersons has more on the fire fighting efforts there at Camp Pendleton.


INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: This is the airstrip the marines use to battle these blazes. In all, they dropped a half a million gallons of water and 150 round trips and we just went along for one of them.

(voice-over): A wall of flames closing in on a marine airstrip, a military base under siege.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I watch as this marched from about a half a mile away almost to within 200 meters of us. And I could feel the heat on my face as this thing approached.

PETERSONS: Enter the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, and 22 helicopters ready to battle the flames. On this flight, we're headed for a lake on the base with a 300-gallon bucket in tow. Our chopper is guided by a crew chief manning a door in the chopper floor known as the hellhole.

From our window, you can see the delicate balance as other choppers lower toward the lake. Our pilot does the same, lowering the bucket until it's submerged. Once the bucket's full we head for the fire line.

(on camera): Right now, we're flying directly over the fire line. You can actually see how badly burned this area is after these fires.

(voice-over): Again using the hellhole and a lot of precision, the crew chief spots the right moment to make the drop. On his signal the water is released. In all, these choppers made over 900 drops.

At the fire's peak, Captain Bradley Gibson pulled it off with zero visibility.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see your lead aircraft go into smoke and he just disappears. You don't know if he goes straight ahead, you don't know if he's coming out to the left, you don't know if he got his bucket dropped off or not. So, best you can do is hope.

PETERSONS: The smoke so intense it cut off the main water supply on the base, forcing the crews to look elsewhere. This video shows a marine chopper hovering over the Pacific Ocean.

(on camera): So you just went along on one ride, but in all, these marines have spent 250 hours in the air fighting these blazes. It helped them get the upper hand on this fire and the cooler weather here is only expected to help even further.


PAUL: All righty. Indra Petersons, thanks so much.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about the weather Indra says is expected to help even further there in southern California.

PAUL: Oh, my goodness, yes.

Alexandra Steele, what is your assessment of the weather there today?


Certainly, the short term, the weather will be better, but it's the longer term that's the bigger problem. Why? You know, what's happened, we've been on the West Coast in California in this blocking pattern. In essence, kind of staving off the rain from California, keeping it north and keeping it west. So, this is the third dry winter in a row, allowing 2013 to be the driest year on record for California and 2014 shaping up to be even drier.

But again, for the short term, we have seen the pattern change, that ridge is given way to a trough, cooler air coming in, so we are seeing improving conditions forecast-wise with increased humidity, kind of a shift in the winds now, coming off the water. So, short term, weather-wise, it is favorable. Temperatures are coming down out of the 90s and the 70s now. Humidity is coming up, but the fire forecast is less so. So, that's the problem, kind of the stage has been set.

All right. Here in the Southeast, we've got rain expected stormy conditions in the Southeast, severe storms here today in the Northern Plains, rain in the Northwest, maybe in northern California, but certainly not in the Southwest, showers and some storms here along the East Coast as well, for a wet, cooler Sunday than we've seen in quite some time.

BLACKWELL: Alexandra Steele, thank you.


PAUL: There is a fight at "The New York Times" and it is getting nasty. BLACKWELL: Yes, there are allegations of sexism after the executive editor was fired. Now, the publisher says, hold on, that is not what happened. You are about to hear his very, very blunt response.

PAUL: And talk about blunt, protesters on campuses nationwide, these protests are over graduation.


PAUL: So, 60 years after the historic Brown versus Board of Education ruling that banned school segregation, Attorney General Eric Holder says segregation is recurring now today.

BLACKWELL: Holder was speaking to graduates at Morgan State University yesterday. He also told them that subtle racism is more damaging than hateful outbursts from people like, you know, L.A. Clippers coach Donald Sterling. And he said this, this is a quote, "Proposals that feed uncertainty question the desire of a people to work and relegate particular Americans to economic despair are more malignant than intolerant public statements, no matter how many eyebrows the outburst might raise."

PAUL: Holder also said subtle racism cuts deeper and endures longer than racist rants. So, Eric Holder's speech -- I mean, that's just one example today, of the impactful words we hear during graduation season. Today, we know Madeleine Albright is giving commencement at Dickinson College, Katie Couric at Trinity College, and Temple Grandin at Providence College.

BLACKWELL: But the bigger news has been about who is not speaking. Student protests led to Condoleezza Rice canceling at Rutgers, IMF managing director, Christine Lagarde, at Smith College, former Cal-Berkeley chancellor, Robert Birgeneau at Haverford.

Joining me now is Michael Rushmore. Do we have Michael Rushmore this morning?

MICHAEL RUSHMORE: Hi, it's Michael.

BLACKWELL: Good, we have Michael Rushmore who led the protest and Ian is another person on the letter at Haverford, and we've got Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Michael, let me start with you. Why did you have such a problem with Birgeneau and why did you say his decision not to speak was after all the work was a minor victory?

MICHAEL RUSHMORE, HAVERFORD SENIOR: Well, what we had an issue with was his response during Occupy Cal a couple of years ago where he's largely accountable, he said so himself for police brutality against protesters and he's never really been held to account.

And I think what Greg is going to say, this is a freedom of speech issue. I don't think it is. We didn't want to honor this man as somebody who upholds the values and ideals we hold here at Haverford. He can come here any other day of the year.

BLACKWELL: Let's Greg speak for himself.


PAUL: Greg, go ahead.

GREG LUKIANOFF, FOUNDATION FOR INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS IN EDUCATION: You see, the problem is, we've actually come to call this time of year dis-invitation season at FIRE, because it's common for students and faculty to get together and demand that speakers be disinvited, and you have to understand, this lasts all year round and doesn't just affect commencement.

So, since 2012, we're talking about 26 speakers successfully disinvited, which means either they were actually uninvited or they stepped down in the face of protest. And to me when you start factoring everything together it's becoming very difficult to find someone who is acceptable to speak on a college campus.

PAUL: That is the point that I wanted to make. Nobody is perfect, not one of us sitting here or out there have perfect pasts, so how, as you know, you are talking about, Michael, this is what you wanted. How do you know it's what everybody on your campus wanted?

RUSHMORE: Well, we held a community forum where well over 100 people showed up. We're not a very large school and the overwhelming majority of people were not excited about Birgeneau coming to camp us so it was pretty clear.

PAUL: How do you -- does somebody have to be perfect?

RUSHMORE: Oh God, no, no.

PAUL: There is something in everybody's past that somebody is not going to agree with, right?

RUSHMORE: Right. We initially have four commencement speakers, so three others are attending. And I don't think any of them are perfect. I'm excited to see all of them.

BLACKWELL: So, I'm reading from this letter you spent Dr. Birgeneau there are many signatures on this, maybe 40 or 50. Many of us admire the work you've done on issues such as LGBT rights, affordable education, the plight of undocumented workers, your scholarly work. We would welcome to you Haverford College -- and you go along to make about nine or so demands in order to have him speak.

Was there nothing you could have learned from him that day, although you disagree with the choice that he, according to your own letter, and other persons who have signed it, has apologized for?

RUSHMORE: I think that there's a lot that we could learn from him. I don't want to give him an award and honor him. He should come to Haverford College and give a speech some other day of the year where it's not an honor, which is what a commencement speech. I wouldn't go when I'm graduating, but I'd go and listen and maybe I'd ask him a question, I don't know, I'd enjoy it, because there's a lot we could learn from him. I just don't think his values seem to align with the values of our school so why would we give him an award.

PAUL: OK. Greg, let me ask you, the fact that some of these folks are backing down and they're not going, as we were saying, would it not inspire more to go and talk about adversity, and the difficulties you faced in life? Whether you want to be there or not, what does it say about the people who are asked and then who say forget it, I'm not going to go?

LUKIANOFF: Well, that's what I'm afraid is happening, is that ultimately, it's going to discourage a lot of interesting voices from being present on campus. I hear what I call the not on my special day argument, but I'd have more sympathy for it, the idea I don't want this person speaking at commencement but I'd be fine at any other time, it just hasn't been true. In case after case, most of the cases that I talk about, 26 that I just talked about, those aren't commencement speeches. Those are people trying to come to camp to us give a speech.

And the problem when you start actually have the strict purity test for speakers on campus, you really end up limiting the marketplace of ideas.

RUSHMORE: I actually agree with you on that. I'll just tell you, I totally agree that that's an issue, if that's happening other days of the year.

BLACKWELL: And, Michael, who did you get in place of Dr. Birgeneau.

RUSHMORE: Well, since we have the three other speakers, he wasn't replaced. We have Fred Krupp from Environmental Defense Fund, William Bowen, who used to be president of Princeton, and Elizabeth Alexander, a poem who's known for a poem that she gave at the first inauguration of Obama.

PAUL: All righty. Well, happy graduation to everybody who is graduating.


PAUL: And, Greg Lukianoff and Michael Rushmore, we appreciate your time today. Thank you.

LUKIANOFF: Thanks for having me.

RUSHMORE: Thank you.

PAUL: Sure.

BLACKWELL: What for all intents and purposes should have been a private affair is now gone public.

PAUL: We're talking about the sudden termination of Jill Abramson from "The New York Times." Wait until you hear what her publisher just said about that whole thing.

BLACKWELL: And the United Airlines flight plunges 600 feet in 60 seconds to avoid a midair collision. We'll tell you about that.


PAUL: All righty. Well, the publisher of "The New York Times" is disputing claims that sexism fueled the firing of his executive editor, even though that's something that a lot of people are talking about.

BLACKWELL: Yes, there's this new statement from Arthur Sulzberger who goes into detail about Jill Abramson's alleged shortcomings. This is a quote, "During her tenure, I heard repeatedly from our newsroom colleagues, women and men, about a series of issues including arbitrary decision-making and failure to consult and bring colleagues with her in adequate communication, public mistreatment of her colleagues as well."

PAUL: And CNN has just confirmed that Abramson will deliver the commencement speech tomorrow at Wake Forest University. And no word on whether she'll respond to her former boss's criticism especially in that venue.

BLACKWELL: We'll talk more about this in our next hour.

And the husband of a pregnant woman sentenced to death after refusing to renounce her faith, she's now talking. He says that he's praying for his wife who is now sitting in a Sudanese prison with her 20-month-old toddler. The court considers the woman Muslim because of her father's faith and also found her guilty of adultery because she's married to a Christian.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I was considered innocent in the marriage revoke. The revoking means that my son is no longer my son and the one come is not my son, too. Will not be my son. This innocence means nothing and I will appeal for myself and I will appeal for my wife.


BLACKWELL: Consider this: she was sentenced to death also 100 lashes.

Meantime, the Sudanese government defends the verdict, although officials say it's a preliminary ruling.

The controversy sparked outrage from human rights organizations understandably around the world.

PAUL: We'll take a look at the helicopters and what they're seeing as they try to rescue people from rising floodwaters in the Balkans there. One area in Bosnia, Herzegovina saw two months worth of rainfall in two days. At least 20 deaths are blamed on the flooding across the region, and in all, more than 16,000 people had to evacuate their homes.

So, the Red Sox organization says the woman who fell down an elevator shaft at Fenway Park suffered serious injuries. The elevator door on the fourth opened and the walked through, butt the elevator was two floors down and she plunged down that elevator shaft.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We estimated she had fallen anywhere from 20 to 30 feet. The firefighters went to the upper floors, were able to look down and see her. You know, she was not moving. They worked to get the woman into this flexible stretcher, strap her in, and lower it down.


PAUL: The 22-year-old woman has not been publicly identified. Investigators are looking into why those doors were open.

BLACKWELL: The two Boeing jets that nearly collided last month were at altitudes assigned to them by air traffic controllers. That's according to the NTSB. Now, this incident came to light after a passenger on one of the planes blogged about it. Look at this animation here.

Kevin Townsend (ph) says he was returning to California from Hawaii when his plane suddenly dropped hundreds of feet.


KEVIN TOWNSEND: Felt kind of like the plane had just gone dead in the air and started dropping, turmoil and noise, all the tray tables were rattling. It was a really violent and scary experience.


BLACKWELL: This was a near disaster, and the exact cause, why they were assigned those altitudes is being investigated.

You know the fight between Jay-Z and Solange in the elevator? You know what I'm talking about. It just screamed "Saturday Night Live", didn't it?

PAUL: Well, "SNL" heard it loud and clear, so you're about to see the show's rendition of what was really going on.

But, first, time to check in with Dr. Sanjay Gupta for a look at what's ahead on "SGMD" at 7:30 Eastern.

Good morning, Sanjay.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Christi, they say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, they say it takes 10,000 hours to perfect a new skill -- well, I'm here to tell you that none of that is true. You can learn any new skill pretty well in just 20 hours. I'll show you the trick on "SGMD" at bottom of the hour. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLACKWELL: "Saturday Night Live" decided to poke a little fun at the whole Jay-Z/Solange elevator fight. You know they would.

PAUL: They did it right at the season finale of last night's show.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now that I have you alone, I've been waiting to do this a long time. As God is my witness, I would never do anything to hurt you.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what? And to prove it we got an exclusion video, this time with the audio included.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It tells a completely different story, look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Man, what a great party.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my God, there's a spider on you.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kick it! Oh, great job. I love you Solange.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, thanks again for help with that spider.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know what? No problem. Foot five!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go back to the party.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, that would be fun. Oh my God the spider's back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got arachnophobia.

I love you.



PAUL: So you know what? BLACKWELL: It got better.

Then big sister Beyonce showed up.

PAUL: Played by? One "SNL" alum, Maya Rudolph.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did somebody say my name? Hey, it's me, Beyonce. Beyonce. Queen B. B. Home baby. Baby back. Back. Bah humbug.

And it's my turn to talk.

Last week, we was all at the met ball having a great time. We'd been drinkin', watermelon, but the next morning, we woke up and saw the people had posted a picture of us, and I was like, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh, nah, nah, nah, nah.

So if you think I condone this invasion of privacy, then you must not know about me. You must not know about me (INAUDIBLE) --


BLACKWELL: I love it. I'll be present -- where is this breeze that is always there with Beyonce?

PAUL: Woo! We need to get some of that, just put a fan there.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, Maya Rudolph, for contributing to that.

Hey, we'll be back here at the top of the hour, 8:00 Eastern, for more NEW DAY.

We will see you then. Stick around.

"SANJAY GUPTA, M.D." is with you next.