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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Culture of Hazing; Romney Goes After Gingrich
Aired December 14, 2011 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It 10:00 here on the East Coast.
We begin "Keeping Them Honest" with the search for accountability in the beating of Florida A&M band member Bria Hunter and the death of drum major Robert Champion. His killing and her beating happened not even three weeks apart.
The first incident should have been a warning sign. It could have been a warning sign. But, apparently, it wasn't enough to prevent what happened next, what happened to Robert Champion.
We hesitate to call it hazing because it's not the kind of pranks, drinking and minor paddling you'd ordinarily associate with that word. Yet the students allegedly beating other students. Something that is wildly practice until recently, apparently, tolerated. Even though year after year young men and young women are bruised, battered and, possibly in Champion's case, beaten to death.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
911 OPERATOR: OK. Is he awake?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He wasn't responding. We thought he was breathing. He was making noises.
911 OPERATOR: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I don't even know if he's breathing now.
911 OPERATOR: OK. Is he awake? Do you know?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His eyes are open. His eyes are open. He's not responding.
911 OPERATOR: OK. But is he breathing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have no idea. I can not tell you that.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
COOPER: That was the 911 call November 19 after a game as Robert Champion lay dying on the band bus. Other members say he may have undergone a rite to passage known as "Crossing Bus C." One band member who wants to remain anonymous describes "Crossing Bus C" as walking backward through the bus getting beaten as you go. Again this is a little less than three weeks after a clarinet player, Bria Hunter, was beaten. After her beating was reported to campus police. After she ended up in the hospital with blood clots and cracked thigh bone.
Three fellow band members are charged with that beating. Bria is leaving A&M and plans to sue the university.
In a moment, you're going to see what happened when we went searching for answers from the university president, James Ammons. You'll hear him claim there is a veil of secrecy when it comes to brutal hazing as if no one could have known.
But "Keeping Them Honest," how secret can it be when there's been one incident after another involving this band going back years? Ten years ago a student was beaten so badly he had to be hospitalized for kidney failure. Thirteen years ago a band member named Ivory Lucky was beaten. In 2004, the university settled a lawsuit with Lucky.
And just weeks before Robert Champion's death, band member Julian White suspended 26 members for alleged hazing. Twenty-six members.
Sounds more like common knowledge than something shrouded in secrecy.
And if Ammons was unaware of the record at his own institution, he might have been tipped off by reporting on other incidents involving marching bands in other historically black colleges like this.
Last November Frank Deford of HBO's "Real Sports" with Bryant Gumbel profiled a Lagarian Bridgewater. As a freshman band member at Southern University, he was beaten by upper classmen. Then when he was an upper classmen, he did the same to others.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANK DEFORD, HBO'S "REAL SPORTS": We asked Lagarian to demonstrate a typical night of hazing for the freshmen who the upper classmen call crabs.
Let's imagine that we're having a crab here. How would it work if it's your turn to haze him?
LAGARIAN BRIDGEWATER, SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY BAND MEMBER: He is standing around in the middle where this chair is.
BRIDGEWATER: People all get around him in a circle. You tell him to bend over in a crouch position.
DEFORD: Just like that? And you're hitting him?
BRIDGEWATER: Yes, sir.
DEFORD: Right in there?
BRIDGEWATER: Yes, sir. So they just keep hitting fast.
DEFORD: You're not easing up. That's hard.
BRIDGEWATER: It's a competition thing. So the person before me hit on me. And the next person now comes and hit him harder.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That's "Real Sports'" Frank Deford's report. A full year before Bria Hunter's beating and Robert Champion's death. We sent Jason Carroll down in Tallahassee looking for answers and accountability."Keeping Them Honest." Take a look.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): James Ammons, that man in the car there, is Florida A&M's president.
(on camera): Hi, how are you? I'm Jason Carroll with CNN.
JAMES AMMONS, PRESIDENT, FLORIDA A&M UNIVERSITY: Hey, Jason. How you are doing this morning?
CARROLL: I'm well, thank you, sir.
(voice-over): As university president, the buck, so to speak, stops with him.
(on camera): We've reached out to you, as you know, several times in the past. But have been not successful in terms of getting you to respond.
(voice-over): Despite numerous phone calls and e-mails, Ammons had not responded to our questions about hazing. So we caught up with him on campus.
(on camera): Do you believe, though, in any way, shape or form the university has done enough to stop what has happened at the school in the past?
AMMONS: Let me just say this, you know, our number one priority is the health, safety, and well-being of our students. And with this tragic situation that we have involving the death of Robert Champion, our hearts just go out to his family.
CARROLL: As you know before Robert Champion's death, you had another situation with another young woman here at the university. She was hazed. As a result three young men have now been arrested. That was before his death. And so the question is, why wasn't something done before?
AMMONS: We have policies, procedures, and every incident of hazing that we've had has gone through the investigatory process. CARROLL: So isn't it clear that the policies you have in place aren't working? And that those policies need to be changed?
AMMONS: One of the things that we have found with hazing is that there is a -- there's a veil of secrecy. This is a culture, not just here at Florida A&M University. It's on college and university campuses all across America.
CARROLL: Have you made any headway into making some changes here at the university? Things that can you tell us. Some tangible things.
AMMONS: There have been people incarcerated as a result of hazing. So I mean, there is a stiff law. There are legal consequences for anyone engaged in hazing. We have adopted policies, procedures. But what I think you --
CARROLL: But nothing seems to be working.
AMMONS: Well --
AMMONS: The other thing -- the other thing is that when you look at the number of cases that we have had on our campus and you look at cases on other campuses, there is not a rampant kind of behavior.
CARROLL: Do you believe you bear personally any responsibility for what has happened to any of these students here?
AMMONS: Personal responsibility? I have done everything in accordance to the law here in the state of Florida.
CARROLL: About three hours after that interview we received this document from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement which says during the course of their investigation, they uncovered possible fraud and/or misconduct by employees here at the university.
(voice-over): The document reads, "The department has initiated a separate criminal investigation to examine these matters." So to find out more about the new investigation, we wanted to talk to Mr. Ammons again.
(on camera): Just wanted to follow up with you about that possible follow-up interview with Mr. Ammons.
(voice-over): Ammons' spokeswoman said she would get back to us, she never did. Shortly after that, an interview scheduled with the chairman of the university's board of trustees, Solomon Badger, was canceled.
Students and band members we spoke to disagree on how the problem has been addressed and whether it can be solved.
RYAN RICHARDS, FLORIDA A&M BAND MEMBER: We definitely realize our faults and where we went wrong. And we're just trying to move forward from here and take steps necessary to move forward. ALEXIS WHITE, FLORIDA A&M STUDENT: Yesterday my friend was telling me how he was hazed. But, you know, he was still telling me. It still goes on. I mean, no one is anymore afraid than they were before.
CARROLL (on camera): But why do you think that is? I mean, the university says they're trying to do everything they can to change policy here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's because of us. We have to make change.
COOPER: Jason, fascinating interview and fascinating information about this new investigation. Have you learned any more about it?
CARROLL: Well, yes. Well, investigators are saying very little about this new investigation, Anderson. But a source close to the investigation tells me that this new one has to deal with financial fraud.
Basically what happens while investigators were looking into the allegations of hazing here, they came up with new allegations about financial fraud. So what we have now are two separate investigations. They are unrelated. But still an unsettling development obviously for university officials here -- Anderson.
COOPER: And what do we know about the young men accused of beating this woman Bria Hunter weeks before Robert Champion died?
CARROLL: That's an interesting part of this story. Apparently, Bria Hunter and these three men, these three young men, were part of a group called the Red Dogs. And this is the best way to explain it. Just before I went on the air with you, just about a few minutes ago, I got off the phone with a band member and he explained it this way.
Basically, what you have when you have this band, Anderson, you have various sections within the band and they form their own subgroups. Their own sort of sub-clubs. And crossing your section is basically the process where you're hazed and you're officially initiated into that particular section.
Now the Red Dogs, according to what I'm being told by at least one of these band members, was just a group of people who were from Georgia and they banded together and formed their own group. So that's what we're hearing about this particular group that Bria Hunter belonged to called the Red Dogs.
COOPER: All right.
COOPER: Jason, appreciate all the great reporting you've been doing. Thank you, Jason Carroll.
The marching band has been suspended from performing since Robert Champion's death. As Jason mentioned, both he and Bria Hunter are believed to have belonged to this subgroup in the band called the Red Dogs -- the Red Dog Order which is made up of band members from Georgia.
There are other groups, each kind of enforcing its own brand of discipline, each kind of fraternity unto itself.
Let's talk about it more with Professor Ricky Jones, director of the Center on Race and Inequality at the University of Louisville and author of "Black Haze, Violent, Sacrifice, and Manhood in Black Greek- Letter Fraternities." Also joining us, CNN analyst, Roland Martin.
So, Professor, a university like Florida A&M, they say they have the no hazing policy, but clearly, it's an open secret that this is happening. How much does a school -- do they know about what's going on? How much do they care about actually stopping it?
RICKY JONES, PROFESSOR OF PAN-AFRICAN STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE: Well, I won't say how much they care about it. But let's cut to the chase. Everybody at that school, from the band director to the students to the administrators all the way to the president, they know that this is a practice that goes on in these bands. It also goes on in black Greek-letter organizations which the bands are mimicking.
They're very clear on that. When they say they don't know about it, they're either lying or they should be fired for negligence. This is going on throughout the south of HBCUs. It's going on predominantly white universities where there are black Greek-letter organizations. Clearly the policies do not work. And you're having people injured throughout -- around the country. And you're having people killed.
And so what the -- what the bands, what other organizations are really saying to these schools and these administrators is, this is the way we do things. This is the way we've always done things. And this is the way we're going to continue to do things.
And so as an administrator or even an elected official in a state that's concerned about this the question is what are you going to do with these organizations once you take that into account?
COOPER: So Roland, what can be done? I mean, is this something that has just existed through -- you know, through the years at these schools and is always going to exist?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN ANALYST: Well, first of all, with all due respect to the professor, I think you have to broaden this conversation. It goes beyond HBCUs, it goes beyond black Greek-letter fraternities and sororities.
Look, I'm a graduate of Texas A&M University. Two years ago two members of our Texas A&M Corps of Cadets were charged for hazing. In 1984, a corps cadet actually died going through some exercises. What you have here -- so you have historically white fraternities and sororities, you have hazing as well. Hazing is about culture. It is about institution where you largely have young folks who are in control of these institutions and so they are doing what they -- what they need to do.
You have two things going on. You have also alumni members, graduate members who have a belief that if you want to go through what I went through, I have a greater appreciation of you as a member. So if you don't go through it, then I don't regard you in the same way. So that kind of peer pressure is applied.
I still have people writing on my Facebook and Twitter page saying that -- well, you are a paper member of a fraternity if you didn't go through that sort of test that I went through. What is needed is obviously for peers -- you can have all the rules in place, but -- Anderson, but you have to have peers who are saying, I cannot allow this because you're not going to tarnish our reputation and put us in jeopardy by your actions.
That's the most important aspect of this.
COOPER: And, Professor, do you believe hazing is worse in African-American colleges and fraternities than it is in non- predominantly African-American ones?
JONES: Yes. And that's what I was about to say, with all due respect to Roland. I'm not saying that hazing does not exist in other organizations.
But the physical brand of hazing that we encounter, and I have been researching this for over 20 years at this point. I attended the U.S. Naval Academy before I transferred went to Morehouse College. So, I went through the plebe experience. I went through the fraternity experience and that I'm a member of Kappa Alpha Psi.
What you're seeing -- yes, you do have hazing in white groups. But you find a lot of alcohol abuse and pranks going on in those groups. There are no student -- registered student organizations at HBCUs or at predominantly white schools where we -- with the frequency that we see with this. Find the levels of physical abuse in black- letter organizations --
JONES: -- and in HBCU bands.
JONES: We just don't find it.
COOPER: But wait, hold on. And, Professor, are you saying that the -- for the bands at a school like Florida A&M, that that behavior is sort of migrated from or been learned from the fraternity and the band is kind of mirroring that fraternity? JONES: Yes. Because at HBCUs, if you go to any college campus around this country, the most popular people are usually the athletes and the fraternity members, fraternities -- the Greeks. If you go to HBCUs, you have a third element there. You have athletes which a much lower level than the PWIs. You have Greeks and you have band members.
People don't go to HBCU games to see the football game. They go to see the bands. And let me be clear. I'm not saying this happens at all HBCUs and all HBCU bands. It is predominant at HBCUs where the bands are a very desirable commodity. The FAMU, Southerns, Jackson States of the world. And this is why -- you know, I work with Frank Deford on that story on HBO last year. And there was an incredible blowback from the black community accusing the people of HBO of prejudice and myself for being misinformed. And now we have somebody dead.
And I said then, it's not a question of when, it's a -- it's not a question of if, it's a question of when somebody else will be injured or killed. And this is what we're dealing with.
MARTIN: Anderson --
COOPER: For our viewers, HBCU is historically black colleges and universities.
MARTIN: And PWI is predominantly white institution.
MARTIN: Anderson, for me, this is not a debate about a HBCU or predominantly white institution.
I'm looking at the story right now from "The Bryan-College Station Eagle" where in 2002 some cavalry members of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets beat six students with axe handles and used horse manure and water on students who misbehaved.
So you know what? Texas A&M, predominantly white institution. My point is regardless of whether you're a predominantly white institution or an HBCU, what is required to confront hazing, you clearly have to have state laws where people understand you can go to jail if you're engaged in this behavior.
But secondly and most importantly, you have to have individuals who say we're not going to allow this culture to go forward.
When I pledge in spring of 1989, Alpha Phi Alpha, I have made it clear to my brothers, I'm not getting beat by somebody. It's not going to happen. But here's what was interesting. When I went to my national convention that summer and we talked about hazing, I had some brothers in the chapter who said, hey, man, don't tell anybody you didn't get hazed or you didn't get any wood, which means paddling, because it may not come out right. And I said wait a minute, if we pledged me in the right way, why should we not say it? And so that is a culture. You have to have people in bands, in fraternities, in sororities looking at somebody else and say, you might be my brother or my sister or a band member, but you're not going to do that. You're not going to jeopardize us by your actions.
That's what is required. And we need young people coming in these bands saying, I'm not taking a beating so -- simply because I want to play an instrument. This is also trickling down to the high school level. How I do know, Anderson? Because I went through this in 1984 with some folks said you have to get beat because you're in the band. I said no, I'm not. It's not going to happen.
JONES: And I have gone through this stuff --
COOPER: Go ahead.
JONES: Again with, all due respect to Roland, none of that has worked. None of that has worked. Not policy changes, not this approach to individual psychology. The point is these students want to belong. And this is a culture. Now I do agree, we're not fundamentally disagreeing. But the culture is so deeply entrenched that there is no way to dismantle it.
So this is the argument that I'm making and not many people are making this argument. I am simply saying that no policy, no laws -- remember, hazing is a felony in the state of Florida. I have some of my fraternity brothers in this -- at this very same school go to jail a few years ago because of hazing.
It cannot be stopped. So the next question is, when are university officials and legal officials going to take steps to disband these organizations across the board?
COOPER: You're saying ban the band?
MARTIN: That's not it. In our society right now, burglaries --
JONES: There is no other option.
MARTIN: Anderson, follow me here. In our society, burglaries, homicides take place. We have deterrents as a part of that. So for some folks, they have death penalty, life imprisonment. The reality is, when you have individuals -- we can talk about police brutality where people protect their own on police forces.
We have a natural way of life in our country where we protect institutions. People are afraid to be a whistle-blower or being ostracized by the people in a corporation. COOPER: We've got to wrap it up.
MARTIN: What I'm saying is you got to have procedures in place. You might not say I can't end it all, but you can at least stop a lot of it if you take a hard line to it. COOPER: Professor?
COOPER: You've got to disband the organization?
JONES: Exactly. they have taken -- they have taken hard lines since policy changes in 1990 throughout Pan Hill in a different school with HBCU bands. It simply has not worked. So what --
MARTIN: Do you disband police forces for police brutality? No.
COOPER: I got to end it up.
JONES: That's apples and oranges. I'm saying we cannot let emotion get in the way of the facts and the facts are --
MARTIN: No, no emotion.
JONES: -- that nobody has been able to stop this to date and so if we want to save black lives in these organizations and other lives, period, we get rid of these organizations. But this is a particularly black problem.
MARTIN: No, it's not. No, it's not.
JONES: The way it's --
MARTIN: This is not a black thing.
JONES: I absolutely disagree. Not in this level.
MARTIN: A lot of predominantly white school are pretty much, though.
JONES: I went to both. I went to both.
COOPER: I appreciate both of your perspectives. I want to continue this conversation because it's a really good one and important one to have. We will have you on both again.
Professor Jones, thank you. Really interesting points. Roland Martin, as well.
Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, Google+. Add us to circles. Follow me on Twitter. Join me in Twitter right now @AndersonCooper. Let's talk about it on Twitter. There's breaking news about paycheck coming up and next which one is the kettle and which one is the pot. Multimillionaire Mitt Romney launches an attack on Newt Gingrich's wealth. How is that working for him? We've got the "Raw Politics" on that.
Later, a new twist in a bizarre case of a serial killer's rampage discovered by accident. John Walsh from "America's Most Wanted" joins us.
COOPER: "Raw Politics" now: As we reported last night, Newt Gingrich has claimed the clear front-runner status of the Republican nomination has caused a tactical shift for the Romney campaign which at first refused to even engage with Gingrich to now all-out attacking him.
Just hours ago in an interview broadcast on "The CBS Evening News," Mr. Romney tried out what some might call risky material. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's a wealthy man. A very wealthy man. If you have a half a million dollar purchase from Tiffany's, you are not a middle class American.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Keep in mind, that criticism comes from a man whose net worth is estimated between $190 and $250 million. A man who less than a week ago is heavily criticized for looking out of touch when he challenged Governor Rick Perry to a $10,000 bet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: Rick, I will tell you what. Ten thousand bucks? $10,000 bet?
GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not in the betting business.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Attacking Gingrich on his wealth isn't the only thing he said to CBS. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: Newt Gingrich has been an unreliable leader in the conservative movement. This is a person who has a very questionable record when it comes to leading conservative principles.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: This from a man who has been painted as a flip-flopper who has gone on record as not being the most conservatives of candidates.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: I think people recognize that I'm not a partisan Republican, that I'm someone who is moderate and that my views are progressive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That was back in 2002. Somewhat contradictory statements from Mitt Romney back then. As we mentioned, it's new material, new lines of attack for Mr. Romney. The question is, does he open himself up to charges of hypocrisy by taking this new tack?
Joining me now is CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger and senior political analyst David Gergen.
David, what do you make of this new line of attack?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He should throw out that material and find something new.
GERGEN: Listen, Anderson, he's got every reason to be frustrated. Mitt Romney looked like the inevitable nominee. And here comes Newt Gingrich out of nowhere and has seized the lead from him and Mitt Romney has faded some. So I understand the frustration. And I applaud him for asking Ann Romney to be on the stump. She's a terrific asset for him. Get his sons out there.
But this is beneath him and it's also -- it just -- he just played right into inviting you to go replay that $10,000 bet sequel. He could have put that story away. That could have been last week's news. Instead, you know, he chooses to attack Gingrich's wealth? Come on. You know Romney is about 30 times -- at least 30 times more wealth than Gingrich.
It seems to be an odd line of attack. I think he ought to throw it away. Find something else. There are other ways to go after Newt Gingrich. And by the way, today in "The New York Times" -- he sat down with "The New York Times" today and he called Gingrich zany -- zany. That's very unusual.
COOPER: Gloria, what do you make of it? I mean, would Romney have even brought the whole Tiffany's thing, had he not made this $10,000 blunder bet?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I -- look, I think raising it today was ridiculous. I think his campaign is clearly trying to change their attack line on Newt Gingrich because they started out by calling him a career politician. That did work very well when Gingrich pointed out that Romney himself would have been a career politician had he won all the races he competed in, so that didn't work.
They're really trying, I think, to focus Mitt Romney on talking about Newt Gingrich's temperament and his dependability and his lack of discipline which is an on going narrative about Newt Gingrich.
I would argue that would be a little bit more lucrative for them than talking about the issue of consistency because Romney is known as a flip-flopper and also money which of course is ridiculous for him to raise about Gingrich.
COOPER: Yes, I mean, David, for Mitt Romney to be attacking him as an unreliable conservative, again, that just opens him up to all sorts of things.
GERGEN: Absolutely. Every time you go after somebody on an issue that you're vulnerable you're self on, it basically invites the media to replay all of the ways in which you're weak or you've been a flip-flopper or whatever it is.
You know, they have -- they have an argument that many -- there's a reason why Mitt Romney does better against Barack Obama than Newt Gingrich does, and there is a perception that Newt Gingrich is, you know, has an uneven temperament, doesn't have the temperament for the job.
That's an area which is worth exploring.
GERGEN: I would leave out all the personal stuff. It's just asking -- it raises the question, you want a man of this temperament in the oval office, a man who is going to be the difference between war and peace. That's a legitimate question.
BORGER: And he did do that.
GERGEN: And there are others who are going to raise it.
BORGER: He did do that today in that same "New York Times" interview where he called Newt Gingrich zany. He also questioned and said, look, this is about leadership and a leader needs to be someone, and here's his quote, "sobriety, stability, patience, and temperance." Those are probably words that the campaign would like him to use.
GERGEN: Right. And what he said --
BORGER: They probably didn't want him to attack him -- yes?
GERGEN: Gloria is exactly right. And when he said it, Gloria, I thought the other night when Mitt Romney said I'm not a bomb thrower, that was a well placed line.
BORGER: Right. GERGEN: That was a good -- that's a good and legitimate argument. Newt has got his own arguments to respond to that. He's trying to convince people, listen, I am a much more mature person than I was back in the 1990s.
COOPER: But I guess unless you confront Gingrich, how do you get him to -- you know, I mean, is Gingrich -- is Romney thinking unless you kind of get into a fist to cuff with him, how do you get him to be zany? I mean, he -- do you just kind of say, well, he's got a temper or he's the bomb thrower without him actually throwing any --
COOPER: Is that effective?
BORGER: Exactly. You know, in fact, today at a press availability, Newt Gingrich essentially said that he felt that he was being baited. And I think he has a point there which is that Newt Gingrich has been kind of smooth and he's vowed a positive campaign and all the rest. And he's not responding to these things. And so he says I feel like people are baiting me because they want Newt Gingrich to behave as the old Newt Gingrich.
Let me come back to this, Anderson. Listen, if you're in this situation, I think what voters look for in the Republican base is a fellow who can take the fight to Obama, not take the fight to Gingrich. So what you would normally do is if you're a candidate, go after the president and make -- and be presidential. But then you would assemble maybe 15 or 20 people that work with Newt Gingrich back in the '90s, put them on the same platform together, have a press conference with those people and that will play on television for three days.
COOPER: We'll leave it there.
David Gergen, Gloria Borger, it's getting interesting.
Up next: breaking news from Capitol Hill, Democrats apparently backing down big time in the battle over how to extend pay for extending the -- or -- excuse me -- how to pay for extending the payroll tax cut.
Plus, nearly a year-and-a-half since she disappeared, police may have found this woman, Shannon Gilbert -- details ahead.
COOPER: Breaking news tonight. You'll be seeing it in your paycheck. As you know, Democrats and Republicans have been battling over extending the payroll tax cut, which means 1,000 extra dollars or more for working families. They've been divided on how to pay for it, though, with Democrats pushing for a surtax on income above $1 million. Pushing, that is, until this moment.
Tonight, Kate Bolduan is at Capitol Hill right now with the latest.
Kate, so what's going on? The Democrats have dropped their insistence on this so-called millionaire surtax?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is actually -- this is a major concession on the part of Democrats that came this afternoon after a meeting at the White House with Senate Democratic leaders.
This -- this millionaire surtax is a provision, is a kind of an issue, that Democrats as well as the president have been insisting on all along. This is a surtax on income over $1 million. And this is what Democrats said they wanted as part of any end deal to extend the payroll tax cut in order to pay for it. As Republicans are insisting that the tax cut extension be paid for.
So this is a major development on the part of Democrats who, because I'll tell you, Anderson, for the past, I would say, week, there has been very little negotiating, if at all. And both sides seem to just be retreating more to their corners than actually trying to reach a compromise.
So while this is one step forward, it's hard to say that this is, you know, we can see the end -- the end game or the kind of end zone, if you will, because it still leaves many steps to go to try to reach a negotiation in this long, drawn-out battle to try to extend this payroll tax extension before it expires at the end of the year.
But late this evening was the first time that the leaders, House Speaker John Boehner, Republican leader in the Senate Mitch McConnell, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, the first time they sat down together to actually start talking about all of these year-end issues. It was described to me as a gut check. So that in and of itself is significant.
I know it shouldn't be -- should not be significant that these leaders are actually sitting down, but they have not been talking at all. And they finally are starting to get to that point at least this evening, Anderson.
COOPER: And what does this mean for the possibility of a government shutdown down the road?
BOLDUAN: Yes, this whole government shutdown thing was not actually part of this fight having to do with the payroll tax extension until this week. And that has now -- this massive funding bill that they've been working on for months has now gotten wrapped into this payroll -- this payroll tax fight.
The government, if they don't come to an agreement, is running out of funding on Friday. I think it's kind of part of this overall negotiation at this point, and probably the same goes for the government shutdown as it goes for the payroll tax cut extension.
It seems that they are at least talking now, which is better than not talking up here on Capitol Hill. But we're not out of the woods yet. There are some issues that they obviously need to overcome. And, of course, they all have the eye on the clock themselves. And, of course, they all want to leave for their own holiday break. But that doesn't mean that we won't be working through this weekend or through next week. But there -- if we can say there's some good news, they're talking.
COOPER: Got to get that holiday break in.
BOLDUAN: Got to. You know it.
COOPER: Kate Bolduan, appreciate it.
Now, looking at some of the other stories -- we've had a lot of holiday breaks this year -- Susan Hendricks joins us with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Susan.
SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think they have, Anderson. Thank you.
President Obama welcomed home returning troops from Iraq at Fort Bragg today. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So as your commander in chief, and on behalf of a grateful nation, I'm proud to finally say that these two words, and I know your families agree, "Welcome home." Welcome home. Welcome home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENDRICKS: Well said. The president also paid tribute to more than 4,000 troops who died in the Iraq war.
Lawyers for an Idaho man accused of shooting at the White House last month say their client is able to assist in his defense and is mentally competent to stand trial. We're talking about this man, 21- year-old Oscar Ortega Hernandez. He was charged with attempted assassination of President Obama.
And how about this? Stocks took a dive on Wall Street today. The Dow was down 131 points. The S&P fell 14.
And finally, the number of married couples in the U.S. is at a record low. According to the latest figures from the Pew Research Center, 51 percent of American adults are married. That is a 5 percent drop from the previous year.
Anderson, back to you.
COOPER: All right. Thanks very much. Appreciate it.
Time now for "The Shot." Kids are starting to get excited about Christmas, I think, for a while now. And in their gleeful anticipation, Jimmy Kimmel saw an opportunity. He gave parents a YouTube challenge. Let your kids open a present early. Film their reaction. The catch was it had to be a really terrible present. Here are some of the results from "Jimmy Kimmel Live."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you get?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't like this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: An old banana.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: An old banana. Isn't that exciting?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got a girl activity book of stickers! I am not a girl!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not a boy!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not a boy either.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the worst present ever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Aww. That's so sad. Gosh.
There's a lot more happening around the country, the world, the serious stuff ahead.
Still to come, growing cries from the international community. The unrest in Syria threatens to spill into an all-out civil war.
And next, how police solved the case of Shannon Gilbert. She disappeared and how her disappearance led to the discovery of a possible serial killer. We'll be right back.
COOPER: "Crime & Punishment" tonight, exactly one year after Long Island police found the first of what would become ten sets of human remains stretched along miles of the Long Island coast, the woman whose disappearance first prompted the search may have been found.
Her name is Shannon Gilbert. She worked as a sex worker. She advertised her services on Craigslist. She vanished May 2010. And despite months of searching, her case went cold. Then a week ago, police found some of her belongings -- a purse, a cell phone, jeans, sneakers. In the last 24 hours, what's believed to be her body was found about a quarter of a mile away near where she was last seen alive and just miles from where the other bodies were found.
Now a medical examiner is going to determine if the remains are, in fact, Gilbert's. Police are saying they don't think her death is linked to the others and may not even be a murder.
COOPER (voice-over): It's a mystery that stumped investigators, and it all began with this woman, Shannon Gilbert, who was 24 when she disappeared 19 months ago. Her disappearance triggered massive searches along a stretch of remote beaches on Long Island about 40 miles east of New York City and turned up the remains of ten bodies in the process.
The discoveries were shocking. Eight women, one toddler believed to be the daughter of a victim, and a man wearing women's clothing. All of them dumped in a marshy area, leading police to believe either a serial killer or several killers were to blame. Despite the discoveries and months of searching, there was no sign of Gilbert until a crack in the case.
RICHARD DORMER, SUFFOLK COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT: Discovered items which included the pocketbook with identification in the pocketbook belonging to Shannon Gilbert. We believe that this is her pocketbook.
COOPER: Gilbert advertised sex services on the Internet. And the night she disappeared, police believe she was with a client and ran off to get help, even though her belongings in this latest set of remains were found near the other ten bodies, police do not believe her case is related. In fact, they believe Gilbert may have gotten lost in the swamp, and drowned.
DORMER: She traveled at least a half mile, three quarters of a mile on foot through that -- through that muck, mud, brambles thick area. And it would be very easy to get exhausted and fall down and not be able to move any further.
COOPER: As for the other victims, police now believe one person is to blame and that the killer targeted prostitutes. Many of the victims advertised sex services on the Internet. Beyond that, there's little known about who's responsible for a string of deaths on this remote stretch of beach on Long Island.
COOPER: Well, some people have expressed disbelief at the police theory that Shannon Gilbert died accidentally. Earlier I spoke with "America's Most Wanted's" John Walsh. Walsh's son, as you know, was kidnapped and murdered back in 1981. He talked about how Gilbert's family might be feeling right now.
COOPER: So John, the remains haven't been conclusively identified as Shannon Gilbert's, although authorities seem pretty confidence. You've got to feel for Shannon's family at this point. Every time new remains were found, they thought finally they would know what happened to her, only to be told later on the body, you know, it wasn't found. JOHN WALSH, "AMERICA'S MOST WANTED": You're absolutely right, Anderson. In all the years that I've been doing this, I've met thousands of parents of missing children, missing adults, missing young women. And they all say the same thing: the not knowing is the worst. You can almost deal with it and start to get your life in order again if you know where your child's remains are, if they're dead. If they're dead, you want to take that child or that adult somewhere and bury them. The not knowing kill -- is killing them.
COOPER: Police say they don't believe that Shannon Gilbert was actually killed by the serial killer, that instead she fell into a marsh and drowned. What do you think happened?
WALSH: Well, it's very, very hard to say until they find her remains. But you know, there is a serial killer on the loose. There are ten bodies, and Suffolk County police are working long and hard.
And my heart goes out to this family. I've got to say to Shannon's parents, you can't give up looking, no matter what the assumptions are. The one way to keep your child's story in the news and to put, you know, to put that loved one's case in the forefront, is it's up to the parents. It's up to the parents to keep the story alive.
COOPER: She was last seen fleeing from the home of Joseph Brewer, who I guess she'd arranged a sexual encounter with. The police say, though, that Brewer is not a suspect.
WALSH: No, he's not a suspect in the Long Island serial killer case of those ten bodies. But she may -- she may have fallen in that marsh, or she may have run into somebody else, or this guy might have been nearby, this predator, whoever murdered these other people, and it may have been worst day of her life.
I know in my son's case, when Adam was ordered out of that store in Sears in Florida 30 years ago, no one could even conceive or know that there was a roaming serial killer predator that happened to be there that day looking for a child. And when Adam was ordered out of the store by a security guard, when he was observing some other people in a fight, it was the perfect timing for this predator.
So anything could have happened to this woman. But the not knowing is the worst for these parents.
COOPER: Some of the families of the victims have criticized the investigation, saying that, look, it's been a year since the bodies have been found. The police still don't have a suspect. Do you think that's a valid criticism?
WALSH: Well, as the parent of a murdered child, you know, you always want answers. You want, you need answers. You need answers to go on. You're looking for justice.
Now I've worked with the Suffolk County police before. I've done lots of cases with them. And we're considering doing the Long Island serial killer on "America's Most Wanted." I think they're stumped. I think they're being very honest with the parents.
It's a very unusual case, Anderson. You have ten bodies. One of those bodies is a child. One of those bodies is a man. Now you've got to wonder, is this guy meeting women on Craigslist or meeting part-time women involved in prostitution or drugs, and somehow a man got involved or a man saw him dumping a body?
I'm in Los Angeles, where we helped solve the Grim Sleeper serial killer story. There were eight bodies of women and one bodies -- one body of a man in the grim serial killer sleeper. This was a serial killer who killed women over 20 years and was identified by familial DNA.
That man's body was someone who witnessed him dumping one of the girls, and he cold-bloodedly killed that witness.
So the Long Island serial killer is an intriguing case. I always held out that it was one man, that it was one guy who was familiar with the area, probably still lives nearby there somewhere within a two-hour radius, felt comfortable to dump those bodies there.
So now Suffolk police said they think it's one guy, not multiple guys. And we're going to take a look at that case, because I think they're stumped. I think they're at the end of the road. The parents want answers. They need to know. The public needs to know, and people are afraid.
COOPER: John Walsh, thanks. Appreciate it.
Well, still ahead tonight, new violence in Syria. Dozens more killed.
Plus, a decision about criminal charges in that nationally- televised college basketball fight over the weekend.
And later, birthers try to make a statement in the sky over a football stadium and touchdown on "The RidicuList."
HENDRICKS: Hi there, I'm Susan Hendricks with a "360 Bulletin."
At least 33 people were killed just today in Syria's government crackdown on its citizens. That is according to an activist group. Now CNN cannot independently confirm the authenticity of those videos from Dura, but activists report that military and security forces are storming cities with tanks and heavy machine gunfire.
In Belgium, at least five people were killed, 130 people injured when a man opened fire and threw grenades into a city square near a Christmas market. The suspect killed himself at the end of the attack. Officials say he didn't leave any explanation for the rampage, but they have ruled out terrorism as a motive.
Prosecutors in Ohio say they are not filing any charges in the brawl -- take a look -- at a college basketball game over the weekend. One prosecutor says after talking with coaches from Xavier and the University of Cincinnati, he thinks the teams internally can deal with what happened better than the criminal justice system.
Today, a judge said Lindsay Lohan is doing well complying with her probation. The judge gave Lindsay Lohan more freedom to travel, since she is doing her court-appointed work at the morgue and going to therapy, as well. Her next hearing is in January.
We're talking entertainment now. The Screen Actors Guild Awards has revealed this year's nominees. "The Help" cleaned up, you could say, with four nominations, including best ensemble performance. Great movie there. It is up against "The Artist," "The Descendants," "Bridesmaids" and "Midnight in Paris." The SAG Awards will be handed out on January 29.
Now, tonight's "Beat 360" winners. Tonight's photo is this. Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman at Monday's Lincoln-Douglass-style debate in New Hampshire.
Our staff winner tonight is Ella. I love this one. Her caption: "Awkward moment when both candidates choose paper."
(SOUND EFFECT: GROANS)
HENDRICKS: Cue the sound effects.
Our viewer winner is Mike from Niagara Falls. His caption, "Right out of the gate, Huntsman appears to have the upper hand."
(SOUND EFFECT: GROANS)
HENDRICKS: Your "Beat 360" T-shirt is on the way.
Now we head back to Anderson.
COOPER: Thanks, Susan.
Coming up, a birther Web site sends a banner flying over a crowded football stadium. There was just one small glitch. It landed on "The RidicuList."
COOPER: Time for "The RidicuList." And tonight we're adding what we're calling the Banner to Nowhere.
Believe it or not, the birther movement, which questions the authenticity of President Obama's birth certificate, that movement is still alive and kicking. That's right. It's just not the second cousin you try to avoid at Thanksgiving who still brings this thing up. A campaign remains intact which tries to convince people that the birth certificate the president released back in April to quiet the, quote, "sideshows and carnival barkers" isn't real.
The Web site World Net Daily is still barking loud and clear, and now it's taking a side show on the road and trying to hit Americans right where they live, at football games.
On Sunday, a banner flew over the Cowboys-Giants game in Arlington, Texas. The banner read, "Where's the real birth certificate? WND.com." That banner flew over a stadium where almost 96,000 fans gathered to watch the game. There's the stadium.
There was just one small problem with this otherwise brilliant plan. As you can clearly see, the retractable roof at Cowboys stadium was closed. So no one inside actually saw the banner. Look, up in the sky, it's a bird, it's a plane -- sorry, my bad, just a roof. Oops.
But never letting the facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory, World Net Daily had this headline on its site. Quote, "NFL fans wonder where Obama's real birth certificate is. Nationally televised football game features surprise for Obama."
See, World Net Daily's all about the spin. I'd go so far as to say World Net Daily has more spin than a club deejay reading "Spin" magazine while sitting on a washing machine.
The site says the banner let everyone within eyeshot know -- oh, and the deejay also just got back from a spin class. I just thought of that one. I was a little bit late. The site says the banner let everyone within eye shot know there are serious questions about the president's, quote, "purported record of birth."
I don't know, but it looks to me like when they say everyone in eye shot, that might just have been a few passed-out tailgating stragglers in a mostly empty stadium parking lot.
This isn't the first time that World Net Daily has gone to great lengths at great cost to do something no one really noticed. Back in September, it also flew a banner over Tampa, Florida, where the CNN Republican debate was happening. The guy who started World Net Daily tells "Talking Points Memo" that it cost thousands of dollars to fly the plane and hire a helicopter to fly near it to take pictures and video. He says the Web site pays for it with help from contributions.
So, just as a public service in case you want to be involved in supporting this kind of high-flying effort in futility, maybe hop on over to World Net Daily's super store and buy one of their "Where's the real birth certificate?" yard signs. Sure to make a real impression on your neighbors. Now available at a discount price of only $17.95.
And don't forget to keep an eye out for more messages in the sky, although I must worn you: the truth makes a pretty formidable roof, even on "The RidicuList."
Starting next week, we're counting down the "Top Ten RidicuList of the Year," and we want you to help us pick them. Go to AC360.com; vote for your favorite. We'll stop airing the top ten Monday, December 19.
That does it for us tonight. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.