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Newt Gingrich Leads in Polls; Uprising in Syria Continues

Aired January 27, 2012 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Erin, thanks. Good evening, everyone.

We begin tonight keeping them honest with the biggest state so far, Florida, exhausting on a challenging President Obama, new polling tonight on that race, new evidence that whatever happens in Florida is probably just the beginning of a long, hot winter for Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. The two traded accusations during the CNN debate last night and we're keeping them honest on a lot of things they said.

First off, the new polling data out today from Quinnipiac University's latest survey of a likely GOP voters in Florida. Fascinating staff, it shows Governor Romney out in front, 38 to 29 over speaker Gingrich, and the speaker's momentum after his South Carolina victory stolen.

But, 32 percent of those voters said they might change their mind by Tuesday which is why Floridians targeted by millions of dollars in campaign advertising are about to get a fresh bombardment.


COOPER: Sounds like a horror movie or a trailer from a horror movie. That's from the pro-Gingrich super PAC winning our future. It's a trailer for another one of those so-called documentaries like the ones that super PAC ran in South Carolina. Whether it will be any more accurate than last one as anybody's guess. What's almost certain is that it's designed to damage Governor Romney both now and further down the road.

Despite Romney's momentum in Florida, the Gallup's national polling suggests the race could stretch on. It shows speaker Gingrich maintaining a hefty lead over Romney, 32 to 24 percent nationwide. That eight-point gap in fact is the widest it's been since polling began earlier this month.

Now, those numbers can and no doubt will change. But for now, they give the Gingrich camp reason to continue, whatever happens next in Florida, whatever happened last night. What's happening now in Florida is the Gingrich-Romney brawl over ties that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which Republicans blamed the housing meltdown. It erupted in last night's CNN debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We discovered to our shock, that governor Romney owns shares in both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Governor Romney made a million dollars of selling some of that. To maybe governor Romney in the spirit of openness should tell us how much money he has made off of how many households that have been foreclosed by his investments.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My investments for the last ten years have been the blind trusts managed by trustee. Secondly, the investments that they made, we have learned about this as we made our financial disclosure, have been in mutual funds and bonds. I don't own stock in either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

Mr. Speaker, I don't like sounds like an enormous revelation. But, if you checked your own investments? You also have mutual funds that also invest in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.


COOPER: We should point out, those poll numbers by the way, were all before last night's debate. They don't reflect what happened last night.

Speaker Gingrich, you'll remember was a paid contractor for Freddie Mac to the tune of about $1.7 million for his consulting group. And now the contract explicitly said he was not acting as a lobbyist, he answered directly to Freddie's chief lobbyist and several lawmakers claimed that the former speaker did in fact lobby them.

As for Governor Romney's claim that his Freddie investments were part of the blind trust that he had no control over. "But Keeping them Honest," that's only partly true.

Take a look the financial disclosure form he filed with the federal election commission back in August. Right there on page seven, it shows holdings by the W. Mitt Romney IRA, which is not a blind trust of $100,000 to a quarter million dollars in bonds from FHLMC, that's Freddie Mac.

Also on page seven, there's a similar investment in FNMA, the federal national mortgage association, Fannie Mae. Again, that's money outside of Romney's blind trust. And last night Romney spoke of his blind trust almost a virtue saying it allowed him to quote, "Avoid any conflicts of interest."

"Keeping them honest" though, back in 1994, when he's campaign against Ed Kennedy, he did really trust blind trust.


ROMNEY: The blind trust is an age old ruse if you will, which is to say, you can always tell a blind trust what it can and cannot do. You give a blind trust rules.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Getting back to today though, speaker Gingrich also has some consistency problems. Before last night, he was turning boycott any debate like NBC's on Monday that didn't allow audience members to cheer or boo or applause.


GINGRICH: I wish I would have protested when Brian Williams took them out of it. And I think he took him out of it because the immediate where is terrified that the audience is going to side with the candidate against the media which what they have done in every debate. And we're going to serve notice on future debates, we're not going to allow that to happen. That's wrong, the media doesn't control free speech. People ought to be able to applaud if they want to.


COOPER: That was Tuesday. Today, after CNN's debate, which there was applause and cheering and booing, his campaign is complaining about the audience. Senior adviser, Kevin Calame, telling the "Huffington Post: that the Romney campaign quote, "definitely packed the room."

But, "Keeping them honest," there's simply no evidence of that. First both Governor Romney and speaker Gingrich got plenty of cheers. Here's a Romney moment.


ROMNEY: It's simply the kind of over the top rhetoric that has characterized American politics for too long. And I'm glad that Mark Rubio called you out for it. I'm glad you withdrew it. I think you should apologized for it and I think she's recognized that having differences of opinion on issues does not justify labeling people with highly charges epithets.



COOPER: Now here's a Gingrich moment.

GINGRICH: I want to control the border, I want English to be the official language of government. I want us to have a lot of opportunities --



COOPER: They have an applause there. You can decide for yourself. As for packing the audience, here's how it worked. Each campaign got 25 seats. The university got 100. The other roughly 1,000 seats were allocated by Florida's Republican party which is not aligned with any one candidate. It distributed tickets to registered Republican voters who are not known to be supporters of any candidate.

Digging deep now, where the primary picture, looks like in Florida and beyond, Let's turn to chief national correspondent, John King -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, three contests so far, 25 delegates in Iowa, 12 in New Hampshire, 25 in South Carolina. The biggest prize is Florida, it votes on Tuesday, 50 delegates at stake there.

If you look at the polling, the latest polling shows Governor Romney opening a decent lead over speaker Gingrich. We will see if that holds up in the final days. And then after Florida, well, where do we go from here? Where we go next is Nevada, 28 delegates at stake when Nevada holds it caucuses on February 4.

Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri are next. That's on February 7th. The asterisk here because Missouri has a primary on this day, the delegates will actually be awarded a bit later in the process. But you see what it's at stake.

Then Maine, Ron Paul was up in Maine today, 21 delegates at stake. When Maine hold its caucuses on February 11, two big primaries in the month, Arizona and Michigan. You see 59 delegates at stake there. This gets you through the end of February.

If the race is then going on, wow, March is a huge month, 17 states, plus some U.S. territories, 755 delegates total at play in the month of March.

So we're going to end January in Florida, Arizona in Michigan and then February. And if the races goes on, Anderson, a very, very consequential March.

COOPER: It is going to be fascinating. John, thanks.

Now, let's bring in our political analyst, Gloria Borger and David Gergen.

David, Gingrich's performance last night played to the narrative that has played to most of his payer, when he's good, he's very, very good, and when he's not, he's not.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. It was one of the great mysteries last night, Anderson. And, you know, CNN contributors have been doing from reporting and they tell me that look. One of the things he did yesterday was he held three events where is Romney's held one and rested and prepared for the debate.

And from all appearances, Newt Gingrich walked in unprepared thinking he would wing it. And Romney's team had done much a better organizational job preparing him to stop him on a couple of things.

And finally, you know, bring Gingrich from getting for calling around and talking to people. There are a number of people telling him to cool it. Don't be so hot. All of that played into the Newt Gingrich in South Carolina disappeared in Florida and lost both debates in effect in the public's mind and I think it has contributed to an overwhelming sense now that it's Romney's to lose on Tuesday in Florida and it's a hugely consequential primary.

COOPER: Gloria. I heard Gingrich on the campaign trail today saying - I read it that that he had said, that he was sort of quieter last night because he was so stunned at the misinformation, the incorrect things that Romney was saying that he kind of wanted to fact check it and he was kind of looking down at his feet at times.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I think that's a pretty good explanation and spin from Newt Gingrich. Look, I have covered Newt Gingrich for a really long time. I covered him when he was speaker of the house. And the thing that strikes me about Gingrich, is that he's much more comfortable as a back bencher when he's throwing the bombs, than when he has to take a leadership position.

And he went into this debate essentially with a lot of momentum from South Carolina. He's very good at this, he wanted the audience, he wanted to play to the audience and he was getting the kind of advice, which is OK, now you're at the front-runner. You have to start appealing to a wider swathe, because if you're going to be the nominee, you have to take it the entire way.

And I think he didn't have much of a strategy and I think he was uncomfortable for the first time. He seemed really uncomfortable to me. And also don't forget, Mitt Romney had pretty good opposition research on. And so, I think he was flummoxed, you know, some of the time.

COOPER: I did, David, that moment when Wolf Blitzer kind a stood up to him and push back on the, you know, his attempt to kind of turn things on the media, the elite media, as he has done in ever debate. And that Governor Romney also stepped in. I thought that was kind of interesting and it seems to sort of flummoxed him. But can he turn it around, David?

GERGEN: I'm not sure he can turn it around in the next few days. He doesn't have the money to spend on television that Mitt Romney has overwhelming though n the airwaves against --

COOPER: Well, like three to one I think.

GERGEN: Yes. It's like 3-1 and the debates were his best shot. And for him to show up tired as he did in the first one, looked tired and little flat earlier in the week. And then to come last night and to be flat, you know. And to rather than having a strategy as Gloria points out, sort of come in impulsively and change his style. You know, I think left him in a situation where he very likely to lose on two states. It's a - it is one of the great mysteries of life.

Mitt Romney by contrast, a good organization change changed his debate codes before he came into this week and clearly benefited from it. COOPER: Gloria, if Gingrich doesn't win Florida, is there a space on the calendar in the weeks ahead for him to come back into the game?

BORGER: It's very difficult, it will be very difficult. First of all it's going to be more difficult to raise money. He does have a super PAC sugar daddy --

COOPER: By the way, this is a guy that who has come back from the dead multiple times.

BORGER: Yes. I know, exactly. Exactly.

But, you know, the states that are coming up that John King pointed out like Nevada, Michigan are very positive towards Mitt Romney. He'll be heading into super Tuesday with the deficit. And it does get harder to raise money when you're not succeeding on the campaign trail. And I think that it would be difficult for him.

There is the super PAC as I said. But I do think what Gingrich has to do is convince tea party voters that he is the conservative who can represent them. And I think Santorum, even though he's not going to win in Florida still stands in his way on that issue as he saw in the debate the other night. And he also has to convince people, Newt does, that he's the anti-establishment candidate and that gets more and more difficult when people realize that he cement the last few decades in Washington a.

COOPER: David Gergen, Gloria, thank you very much. We got to leave it there.

Let us know what you think. We are on facebook, Google plus. Add us to your circles. Follow me on Twitter tonight @andersoncooper. I'm already twitting some.

Up next, the hunt for a killer who earned his release by getting to know Mississippi's former governor Haley Barbour. HE was working for the governor in the mansion. The governor is speaking out to try to justify pardoning this guy. You decide for yourself if you buy, but he's on the loose, no one knows where he is and authorities would like to.

Later, we get a rare up close look inside the battle for Syria. Opposition forces getting remarkably close to Damascus as the government killing escalates. This thing is spiraling out of control very quickly.

Our Arab correspondent, Arwa Damon is there. We will talk to her. Let's also checked in with Isha - Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we have got a follow-up of the Italian cruise ship disaster you simply will not believe. Remember the cruise line offered a discount on their next voyage. Well, wait until you hear what Costa is now offering passengers as a settlement and the cash that they comes with. That and more, when "360" continues. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Crime and punishment tonight, there's a killer on the loose. But Joseph Ozment did not escape from prison. He was set free by the governor and his record wiped clean, pardoned. We are talking tonight about the state of Mississippi of course in the outgoing governor's decision to pardon more than 200 felons including four murderers. Now, the victims' families were outraged. A lot of Mississippians were outrage. Much of the country was basically just puzzled by how this could have happened especially when it came out that all four killers had earned their pardon because they worked at the governor's mansion.

Well, tonight on "JOHN KING USA," former governor Haley Barbour defended his actions.


HALEY BARBOUR, FORMER MISSISSIPPI GOVERNOR: For decades, our government's mansion has been served primarily by mansion by inmates from the state penal system. Almost all murders because the experts say people who committed one crime of passion in their life, after they serve 20 years, these have served an average 20 years, are the least likely to ever commit another crime.

That's why they have always been the people who served. I am comfortable every one of these will mention are rehabilitated and have redeemed themselves and they deserve a second chance. And that's what Christians believe, my wife and I are Christians.


COOPER: "Keeping them honest," though, the experts we spoken to and had some of them on the program said, the governor simply doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes this idea that if you committed a crime of passion, you killed a woman, if you killed your girlfriend or your wife, you are not going to do it. Mississippi's attorney general took action to put the pardons on hold, a court order, the killers should check in with authorities. All of them have except for one.

More tonight on him from Ed Lavandera.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joseph Ozment's wanted picture is going off all over the central county in northwest Mississippi. Bu this isn't just an place hanging up the picture. The old road convenience store where Ozment murdered Ricky Montgomery 19 years ago.

MARY MCABEE, VICTIM'S BROTHER: To have it really a bit is wrong.

LAVANDERA: Mary Mcabee cannot bring herself to set-foot inside where her brother was killed. The thought of her brother's killer walking free and pardoned is pure anguish. MCABEE: I'm fearful. At this point, you have a cold-blooded murder. In my opinion, he's a cold blooded murder to do what he's done. And if he thinks he may have to go back to prison, what has he got to lose? For it easy, what is he doing.

LAVANDERA: Only Ozment's family seems to know what he's doing now. But on a December night in 1992, he and a group of friends planned to rob the convenience store to get some Christmas money.

This is Joseph Ozment's confession, he admits coming in this store with a friend. Came over to this freezer, grab the beer. When his friend walked in, he immediately shot Ricky Montgomery three times. And as Ozment was walking out to the store, he saw Ricky Montgomery crawling across the floor towards him. He looked down, shot him twice in the head. And he admits that he shot him because he didn't want Ricky Montgomery to be able to identify him. And he did all of this so that his take in this crime could be between $50 and $60.

MCABEE: They said he was begging for help. We can't imagine how that feels.

LAVANDERA: He was begging to Ozment?

MCABEE: And then to shoot him in the head, to know that he was all alone. That's the worst thing that you know can't help someone you love.

LAVANDERA: This is the courthouse where Ozment pled guilty?

JOHN CHAMPION, OZMENTS PROSECUTOR: This is the courthouse he pled guilty right up on the second floor there.

LAVANDERA: Ozment's murder case was judged him as first case. Prosecutors needed Ozment's testimony against the second killer so they spared him from the death penalty in exchange for his system.

CHAMPION: Ozment already proved he can't live in our society by our rules and he committed the ultimate act by taking someone's life, so, no, he should never get out.

LAVANDERA: Do you think he could do this again?

CHAMPION: Ozment is the type of guy. He has proven he could do it once.

LAVANDERA: The last time Mississippi authorities saw Joseph Ozment, he walked off the grounds of the governor's mansion, his mother picked him up and drove off. They believe he's on the run and hiding on somewhere on these back country roads of northwest Mississippi or near Memphis.

JIM HOOD, ATTORNEY GENERAL, MISSISSIPPI: He's avoiding service. His mother knows it, all of their relatives know. We have been there knocking on doors.


COOPER: Nowhere he is. I mean, are they cooperating?

LAVANDERA: According to the attorney general they have been able to make contact with several of the relatives and they haven't been able to get anywhere with that part of the search. And obviously people around here in northwest Mississippi have their eyes out for him. His pictures have gone up. They have heard so much about this case over the last three weeks.

We got a lead on what we believe was a relative of Joseph Ozment today. We went knocked on the door. Someone appeared to the window and then refused to open the door. So, everything seems to be kind of hitting dead end at this point.

And there's someone around here said, look. This guy has got a pardoned piece of paper that says he's a pardoned criminal. He could travel all over the world if he wishes.

COOPER: Ed Lavandera, appreciate it. We will continue following.

Just ahead, new signs of that situation in Syria is getting worse, the death toll surging. The resistance digging in. What a CNN crew found when it traveled just a short distance outside Damascus today. Some pretty surprising stuffs.

Also ahead, Costa cruise line makes a settlement offer to passengers who survived the ship's wreck (inaudible) coast. And also, get slapped by a big law suit. Latest on that ahead.


COOPER: In Syria, disturbing signs that things could be spinning out of control. According to an opposition activists groups, Syrian soldiers and security forces killed 135 people over just the last two days including 18 children and eight women. Well, of course, CNN can't independently confirm the report and we can't verify the video you're about to see either.

But we got to warned you. The images are extremely hard to look at. You may want to turn away. But again, this is what is happening.

Activists say at least eight members of the family, the same family shown here, were killed. All but three of them were children. You can see six of the bodies in body bags. The video was reportedly shot in Homs where most of the killings were reported.

The violence in Syria has become so wide spread and hard to track, the United Nations has stopped counting the dead. It's last official death toll more than 5,000.

And today, CNN crew drove from central Damascus to town just outside the capital. It has to passed to check point, wasn't manned though by the Syrian military, but is sure military manned by the so- called free Syrian army. Resistance group that's claims they now have controlled an area outside Damascus.

Here's Arwa Damon.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Follow us, the armed and masked men say. They are members of the free Syrian army. A group of us, journalists, had banded together to see how far we could get. We had heard of a funeral in the neighborhood of Sakra (ph). Few expected the free Syrian army to also control this much territory around it.

We're hardly a 15-minute drive from the heart of Damascus, and you can see the scene here. No one's stopped us on our way and this area seems to be and controlled of the free Syrian army for now.

The activist in our car points out the free Syrian army fighting positions. At the main square amid calls for the fall of the regime and Bashar's execution, the free Syrian army fighters are hailed as heroes.

We are constantly getting mobbed by people who want to show us the various bullet holes in the ceiling. This man says up there a rocket hit and they have managed to fixed that, repair that for now. But everybody's coming, really wanting to get the story out, wanting their perspective to be seen and heard and wanting people to understand what it is they're going through, because they say all they're asking for is freedom.

All of a sudden, chaos. Rumor that the security forces are coming causes mass panic. Everyone here knows firsthand what a that means.

It was a false alarm but we heard the government forces had the area encircled.

You see that them?

Is there anything up ahead? We asked this man at a check point. They say, there are clashes and point us in another direction. That way is also blocked. A sniper up ahead. We could hear gunshots in the distance and scramble away. A small group of activists takes us down back routes. The government may control the heart of Damascus but it's losing more ground by the day and the rest of outskirts.


COOPER: Arwa Daman joins me now from Damascus. Are you shocked to see check points run by the Syrian army which is an opposition group made up mainly of defectors from Assad's forces so close to Damascus.

DAMON: Yes, we were. And we were quite surprised that it was literally less than a minute after we beard off one of the main highway that we came across the first checkpoint. What we have been seeing is that the free Syrian army appears to be growing and gaining more and more territory. They are not perhaps in full control of these particular areas, but then again, neither, it would seems, is the government. If you look to other city like flash point city of Homs, they are in control a huge chunks of that city. When we were there with the governor a few days ago, there was only one neighborhood that they felt it was safe enough for us to be able to get out of the bus and began filming it.

COOPER: So, how strong is this Free Syrian army? Because I mean, few months ago it seems like it was just a random group of, you know, defectors here and there. And where do they get their numbers from?

DAMON: Well, the numbers are a bit all over the place from estimates would go as high as 50,000, another will say 10,000. They are made up, as you see, mostly of defectors but the group we came across today, they had civilians amongst them as well that decided to pick up and join the free Syrian army's ranks.

And if you will remember, everyone here has military experience because everyone has to go through a few years of obligatory military duty. The weapons were being towed. When they discussed, they take weapons with them. Sometimes they're able to buy weapons off of other soldiers. And they were also saying that when clashes take place, sometimes, the Syrian forces leave weapons behind and then of course you have the issue of weapons being smuggled across the various forces into the country.

COOPER: You make the point the opposition to the regime is not one group but factions its many sides. And that Jeannie has been let out of the bottle in Syria, explain that.

DAMON: You know, the dynamics here is incredibly complex. And the great concern is that neither side really has full control over the situation. The government is trying to maintain this firm stance, but we keep seeing chunks of territory spiraling out of control.

The opposition is fractured on every single level, Anderson. The street which is the engine behind this entire movement operates independently of the organizations that are outside of the country, like the Syrian national council.

Add to that, even the street level activists sometime do not necessarily operate as one cozy serve unit. Plus, you have defector of these French extremist elements that completely have their own agenda.

You have these undertones of sectarian violence at places like Homs. When you look at this entire picture, it most certainly seems as if the country is on a collision course towards some sort of sectarian or civil war.

COOPER: Yes, dangerous and difficult days ahead, no doubt about it. Arwa Damon, thank you.

Well, ahead on the program tonight, outrage over all the animals left behind in the wake of Japan's nuclear disaster in that radiation exclusion zone.

They have been fending for themselves in this no man's land. It was evacuated almost a year ago. Our correspondent goes in to see how the animals are doing. But first, Isha, joins us with the "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, some of the passengers who were in the cruise ship that crashed off of Italy's coast have filed lawsuits against the ship's operators. Sixteen people died and 16 are missing.

Meantime, Costa cruise is offering payments of $14,000 each to survivors who were not hurt. Accepting the settlement means they cannot sue.

A federal judge sentenced Colton Harris Moore to six and a half years in prison for the infamous string of thefts and burglaries that earned him the nickname, "The Barefoot Bandit." Harris Moore is already serving more than seven years on charges in Washington State. The sentences will run concurrently.

A (inaudible) group is pushing to have a size of two levy bridges in New Orleans placed on a national register of historic places. The industrial canal flooded near the (inaudible) during Hurricane Katrina and the 17th Street levee broke in the storm's aftermath.

And, Anderson, it is time to get your cocoa fix on. It is National Chocolate Cake Day. Some of us at "360" we thought that every day is chocolate cake day, but apparently we stand corrected.

COOPER: Yes, every day should be chocolate cake day.

SESAY: I say by the power vested in me as a foreigner, be everyday be chocolate cake day.

COOPER: Time now for the shot. On my daytime talk show, we did something called the Anderson's mystery guest. I have to guest who's behind the screen by listening to the voice.

Today, I was so excited. This was the first time we did it. I was almost floored. I mean that literally, I almost fell down when I jumped on a table. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: I have an article of clothing in the Smithsonian Institute.

COOPER: My god, is it Fonzi? Wow. This is so exciting. I'm so excited. My God.

Wow. OK. You had no idea -- Henry Winkler, I am such a fan of Henry Winkler's. This is a man who has accomplished so much in his career. First of all as a child, I was obsessed.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: I was so obsessed. I had Fonzi sheets. I went to Fonzi' Halloween. I was obsessed with Fonzi, to meet him was very --

SESAY: Do the Fonz thing?


COOPER: Everybody knows that he did that.

SESAY: Do the move, you know the move.

COOPER: I have no idea what you're talking about.

SESAY: You almost fell, OK?

COOPER: I love to watch her try to do the Fonz. Give me a little bit more Fonzi. What is that?

SESAY: Really?

COOPER: Hello, mate, cheerio, I am the Fonz. Is that how it went?

SESAY: I give up officially. I give up.

COOPER: That's how it went, I think.

SESAY: You don't know how to do it, that's what this is really about.

COOPER: You can't challenge me on my Fonz knowledge. I know everything about the Fonz. Isha, we shall check back with you a little bit later up.

Coming up, we have a story about Dr. Sanjay Gupta and it's part of a longer report that he's done. And it's really extraordinary because if you played a contact sport when you were in school or your child is playing a contact sport.

You really need to see this report about how football head injuries are harming even killing youngest players and just the dangers of a concussion. I got a concussion when I was in college playing sports. It's really an eye opening report. That's going to be later on tonight on this program.

Also ahead, after Japan's nuclear disaster, thousands of animals were left behind in the contamination zone, the evacuation zone. Our correspondent ventured into the zone to see what's happened to them nearly one year later. We'll be right back.


COOPER: When the Giants and the Patriots take the field in this year's Super Bowl, they're going to no doubt hit each other hard as they possibly can. The odds are high that some could suffer a concussion. It's long been considered an occupational hazard, but the NFL is now facing 21 lawsuits filed by former NFL players and their families. Five hundred plaintiffs in all, all claiming the NFL deliberately downplayed the dangers of concussions for decades despite knowing the risks.

These are former players who are living and some are dying with brain damage. But it's not just pro football that's risky. There are more 3.5 million sports related concussions each year in the United States.

The average high school football player gets 650 hits to the head in each season. New research is showing the devastating toll those are blows to the head can take on players' brains. Chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been investigating what he found is incredibly disturbing. Take a look.


CONNIE STILES, MOTHER OF NATHAN STILES: The ironic thing is that Nathan didn't start football until he was in seventh grade because he didn't want to get hurt.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was October 28, 2010, the last game of his senior year, the best game of his career. He ran for two touchdowns, 165 yards in just the first two quarters.

And then two minutes before halftime, he walked off the field. Screamed that his head hurt and he collapsed. Nathan died early the next morning. Nathan died of second impact syndrome.

Earlier in the month, at a homecoming game, he got a concussion. Everyone including Nathan's doctor thought that it healed.

(on camera): Do you get angry at all?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No -- I was here in shock.

CONNIE STILES: I couldn't look at this book for a long time.

GUPTA (voice-over): The Stiles would find meaning in Nathan's tragic death because of this woman.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the last time you were here we had maybe five brains, now we're up to, we're in the 90s.

GUPTA: Dr. Ann McKee runs the world's largest brain bank. It's a joint project between the Veterans Administration and Boston University.

I first met her several years ago when she began finding evidence in the brains of deceased NFL players of unnatural protein deposits.

Those are the same kind of proteins found in Alzheimer's. It's called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It's a progressive degenerative disease, which leads to dementia and Alzheimer's like symptoms.

But the difference is these symptoms are usually found in people in their 80s not their 40s.

(on camera): What we're seeing here. Is this definitely caused by blows to the head?

DR. ANN MCKEE, CHIEF NEUROPATHOLOGIST, BEDFORD VA MEDICAL CENTER: It's never been seen in any reported case except for the case of blows to the head.

GUPTA (voice-over): That's exactly what the Stiles wanted to know when they donated Nathan's brain to McKee's center. Did repeated blows to the brain cause that kind of damage in young Nathan's brain? And the answer was yes. Under the microscope -- we saw telltale signs of the protein.

(on camera): Does this surprise you?

MCKEE: Yes, it definitely did. It can start very early.

GUPTA (voice-over): And for the first time, Dr. McKee is about to show Nathan's parents what she found.

MCKEE: Hi, Ann McKee, how do you do?

GUPTA: Nothing Ann McKee is about to tell them will bring Nathan back. But the Stiles hope that this rare gift will teach us more about brain concussions than we have ever known before.

RON STILES, FATHER OF NATHAN STILES: We have all the confidence in the world that there's something to be learned from it. It's in the right place here to do just that.

MCKEE: I think I want it to be my life's mission to make sure that this doesn't happen to other kids.

GUPTA: McKee knows how much more vulnerable these young kids may be. When the young developing brain is hit during football, no matter how hard, the brain is rocked.

It's like an egg inside its shell. It stretches. The delicate fibers pulled. Fluids violently sloshed around the brain trying to absorb the blow.

MCKEE: Youths are at risk for any changes in that fluid balance an they may not be able to handle it as well.

GUPTA (on camera): It sounds like you're saying they're more at risk than adults?

MCKEE: Absolutely.


COOPER: Sanjay, that kind of brain damage in a 17-year-old athlete is shocking. How come is it for football players to get that kind of dimension?

GUPTA: Well, you know, the way things stand now, Anderson, the only way this could be diagnosed, this particular process is after someone has died. So what this lab is doing and this is brand-new science, Anderson.

It's emerging now. They have looked at about 100 brains and they saw these types of changes in 57 of them so more than half of them had these changes. Again, Alzheimer's-like changes in very young brains.

The one -- the sad story of Nathan's -- what you just saw there in that piece, Anderson, he was just 17 years old. And that was the youngest that they've ever seen this, but there have been five players under the age of 30. So it's quite dramatic to see in people that young, Anderson.

COOPER: It's so great for his parents to, you know, to try to want to help others and allow science to kind of learn from their loss, from their son. You say that helmets may be giving players, especially high school players a false sense of security. They don't actually prevent against concussions. How can that be?

GUPTA: You really have to understand what happens during a concussion. So a helmet can provide a pretty good protection to the skull overall. But the problem is, Anderson, if you take a look at this animation here, you see what happens during a concussion.

The brain is moving fast and then all of a sudden it stops and as a result, the brain sort of rocks back and forth within the skull. You see that. So the helmet can't stop that movement of the brain within the skull.

And that's a misconception that needs to be corrected because people say we need to get better helmets. That alone won't do it, Anderson.

COOPER: And we talked about these 500 plaintiffs, former NFL players, their families suing the NFL over concussions. Are they blaming the league for not doing enough to protect them?

GUPTA: The best way I could sort of piece this together and I've talked to some of the lawyers and looked through the complaint, basically they're saying, look, the NFL knew some time ago, even several years ago, tens of years ago that there was a problem in terms of football causing these concussions and those concussions having long-term effects.

So it's really become a question of who knew what and when did they know it, that's hard to prove. As I mentioned some of the science with specific regard to the brain is emerging right now. The plaintiffs say, look, since the 1920s, we have known these long-term impacts of these hits to the brain.

So I don't know where this goes exactly, Anderson, but that seems to be the sort of crux of the lawsuit. COOPER: I think it's so important especially for young people, because when you're in school, you want to be in sports. I remember getting a concussion in college and not thinking anything of it. I just think it's important to get that information out there.

Sanjay, appreciate you doing that. And you watch Sanjay's report, "Big Hits, Broken Dreams" this Sunday night at 8:00 Eastern on CNN, really important stuff.

Coming up tonight, inside Japan's exclusion zone where tens of thousands of people were evacuated after the nuclear accident, but animals, a lot of animals, their pets were left behind. We're going to take you into the exclusion zone to show what's being done for those animals nearly a year a later. They're still there.

Also, ahead, the 911 call from the night that Demi Moore was taken to the hospital.


COOPER: Now 360 follow-up. The animals left behind in the wake of Japan's nuclear disaster. Nearly a year ago, tens of thousands of people as you remember were evacuated from about a 12-mile area near the Fukishima Daiichi Nuclear Plant after the plant was severely damaged in the earthquake and the tsunami.

Now the only signs of life in the area are the abandoned animals. They're still there. The radiation levels are still high. But CNN was allowed inside the zone with an animal rescue group. Here's CNN's Kyung Lah and her report. A warning, some of the pictures you're going to see are disturbing.


KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What strikes you first is what you can't see, people, gone almost an entire year, time has stood still, except for the animals.

(on camera): Something that you see all over this area is there's livestock. These are animals that have been abandoned for almost a year now.

(voice-over): A scene repeated across the exclusion zone throughout these small farming towns, cows, ostriches, domesticated cats and dogs now running wild who've managed to stay alive in desperate conditions. The remains of those who haven't litter the region.

Animal rights group, United Kennel Club Japan found this female puppy about six weeks old dead from apparent disease. Poor dog says a volunteer. The group came into the exclusion zone last month with the government's permission to rescue strayed.

Then a sound from the back of the house, another dog is alive, a puppy. And moments later, they found the mother. Rescuers cage the traumatized dogs and carry out the dead puppy. The dogs, two surviving puppies and the mother are being taken care of in the UKC shelter.

Can you believe almost a year after this disaster, there's still stray animals all over this area. It's shameful says this man, we kept asking the government to rescue these animals since the beginning of the disaster.

He adds that there must have been a way to rescue the people and the animals at the same time. Japan's environmental agency tells CNN it wants to rescue as many livestock and animals as it can, but has chosen to take a prudent attitude because of the risk to humans in the contaminated area.

This shelter is now home to 350 cats and dogs, all from the exclusion zone, the survivors. But now the next challenge, UKC has tracked down almost all the owners who can't care for them, since the residents of the worst nuclear disaster in 25 years remain homeless themselves. Kyung Lah, CNN, from inside the exclusion zone.


COOPER: So sad to see those animals. Isha is back with another bulletin -- Isha.

SESAY: Anderson, the 911 call seeking help for actress, Demi Moore has been released. She was rushed to a hospital Monday night in Los Angeles.


UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: I need an ambulance here as soon as possible please. Why don't, why is that, why is an ambulance not on its way right now?


UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Yes, well, semiconscious, barely.


UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: She's breathing, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: Did she overdose on --

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: She's convulsing.


SESAY: A spokesman says Moore is being treated for exhaustion, but has not responded into reports that substance abuse is involved.

Today, a judge in Connecticut sentenced 31-year-old Joshu Komisarjevski to death. He was convicted of murdering Jennifer Hawk Petit and her two daughters during a violent home invasion in 2007.

And a spectacular crash for snowmobiler, Colten Moore, while making a 100-foot jump at the Winter X-Games, as you see there, he lost his grip, fell to the ground, amazingly, he was not hurt.

He went on to win a gold medal on his next try. This is absolutely amazing. Well zone for him, but Coops, before you go.

COOPER: Coming up, Pat Sajak and the "Ridiculist." We'll explain ahead.


COOPER: Time now for "The Ridiculist." And tonight we're adding "Wheel of Fortune" host Pat Sajak's recent confession. On an ESPN 2 show called "Dan Levitard" is highly questionable.

Pat Sajak admitted back in the day, the wheel wasn't the only thing spinning on his game show. Take a look.


PAT SAJAK, HOST, "WHEEL OF FORTUNE": Have you ever done "Wheel of Fortune" a little bit drunk.


COOPER: OK, he's talking about long time ago, the early days of the show is a lot different than the "Wheel of Fortune" you see now a days.


SAJAK: We had a different show then, you didn't win money, you won fake money with which you could buy cheesy prices. A turn table would go around and the housewives would say I would like the lamp. It was the most boring two minutes in television.


COOPER: I got to stop from there because I beg to differ, that part where they choose the prizes, that was TV gold.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For $584, I would like the handbag and scarf package. OK, for $245 I would like the ladies shoe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, still $147.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For $86 I would like the appliances.


COOPER: So the '80s. So as it turns out, the old format of the show had a lot to do with Pat Sajak's revelation that he and Vanna White would knock down a couple of cocktails.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SAJAK: Because we had all those prizes, we had endless time between shows. Our dinner breaks would be two and a half hours long while they drove in new cars and boats and gazebos and stuff.

At NBC in Burbank, we had a place called "Los Arcos" across the street, which is Spanish as you know for the arcos and they serve great margaritas so we would go down and have two or three or six and then come and do the last shows and have trouble recognizing the alphabet.


COOPER: OK, I need to buy a vowel because OMG, Pat and Vanna always seemed so composed, so professional. It's hard to believe that they were ever bombed on Margaritas on "Wheel of Fortune."


SAJAK: It's time to produce. Boy, lucky this is my last show. Here's Vanna White, ladies and gentlemen.


COOPER: There's no way Vanna could twirl like that and turn all the letters if she was on tequila. In fact, Sajak just stumbled over his words a little. It happens to everyone. I do it all the time.

If they were actually drunk, all sort of weird things would have happened.


SAJAK: We have 15 minutes left, come here, baby.


COOPER: For the record, Pat Sajak has since clarified saying he may have exaggerated a bit and he says he's too old now to even entertain such an ideo.


SAJAK: I would be hesitant to have anything to drink now, although I'm hammered at this moment.


COOPER: I'd say more, but I'm going to see if I can get a game of beer pong going. I'm thinking Pat Sajak, Alex Trebek versus me and Chuck Woolery. Now that's a game on the "Ridiculist."

Thanks for watching. I'll be back at 10:00, in one hour from now, with another edition of "360." "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts now.