Return to Transcripts main page

ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Private Funeral for Whitney Houston; Prescription Drug Dangers

Aired February 14, 2012 - 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's 10:00 here on the East Coast.

And we begin tonight with the very latest on the death of Whitney Houston. Her funeral on Saturday will be private in her hometown, Newark, New Jersey -- Governor Chris Christie today ordering flags to be flown at half-staff on that day, her family deciding against a big public memorial.

Earlier reports said they were considering a 20,000-seat arena -- instead, no wake, no public viewing.

Services will take place in the neighborhood church that she grew up in, New Hope Baptist in Newark, the church she first sang, sitting in those very pews. This is where people first heard that incredible voice coming from the choir.

Janet Jackson knew and admired Whitney Houston and her voice. I talked to her today about her friend and the gift that she had. You'll hear her shortly.

Dr. Drew Pinsky also joins us and helps us understand the role a prescription drug that Houston was taking might have played in her death.

And 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta as well talked to us -- is on to talk about how Houston's history with narcotics could have broken her body down over time.

First, though, more on the very latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): The gold colored hearse carrying the body of Whitney Houston was greeted by crowd of fans shortly before midnight last night as it pulled up to this funeral home in Newark, New Jersey.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We love you, Whitney.

COOPER: Houston's mother Cissy arrived earlier and waited inside to receive her daughter's body. Friends say she's overwhelmed but staying song.

Newark is Houston's hometown and a private funeral will be held on Saturday at the house of worship she attended as a child, the New Hope Baptist Church.

How the 48-year-old singer died is still unclear and the investigation has so far yielded very few answers. Authorities are examining bottles of prescription pills found inside her hotel room the day she died. Friends say she was taking medication for a throat infection and was also taking the drug Xanax for anxiety.

Houston had a well-known struggle with drugs and alcohol in recent years, however a family friend tells CNN she was no longer an addict and didn't use hard drugs anymore. She had let it go, this family friend said, and we were proud of her.

Authorities downplayed the significance of the pills found in the hotel room saying the amount they found was less than what's usually found in an overdose situation. But they said they'd still be looking for any signs of illegal or prescription drugs in Houston's body at the time of her death.

ED WINTER, L.A. COUNTY CORONER'S OFFICE: No matter what medications they're taking until we run a tox and see the level and what's in the system we're not going to speculate.

COOPER: Investigators are also speaking with Houston's medical team, according to the "Los Angeles Times," to learn of any underlying condition she may have had.

On Saturday, she was found unconscious and unresponsive under water in the bath by her assistant, Mary Jones, who called for help. Her staff pulled her out of the tub and authorities arrived on scene minutes later. They tried to resuscitate Houston but it was too late. She was pronounced dead in the hotel room.

Days after her death, the music world continues to pay tribute to Houston. Aretha Franklin honored her during a private concert on Monday night shown here on ABC's "Good Morning America."

ARETHA FRANKLIN, MUSICIAN: Ms. Whitney Elizabeth Houston.

COOPER: In four days, Houston will be laid to rest. But it will be weeks until investigators have final answers over what may have caused her sudden and shocking death.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Let's dig deeper now in the role if any drugs especially prescription drugs may have played in Whitney Houston's death. A close family friend tells CNN that Houston was, in his words, no longer an addict and no longer using hard drugs. He said she'd been clean from hard drugs for three years but took Xanax for anxiety, adding, it was not unusual for her to have a drink when she went out.

Now we won't know for several weeks whether Houston combined the two before she died or took excessive amounts of either.

Joining us now is 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta and addiction medicine specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky, host of "Dr. Drew" on HLN. Sanjay, as I said, we don't know what Houston died of. We're awaiting these toxicology results. What can happen, though, to a human body when even a small amount of prescription drugs are mixed together and, worse, when alcohol is added to that mix?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the best way to think about this is you think about the umbrella term central nervous system depressants. It's a big, big term, but basically it means these medications, even in isolation can sort of depress your central nervous system and affect the things that you don't think about in your body. Your ability to regulate your heart rate, your blood pressure, and also your drive to breathe.

So in isolation they can do this, although that's something that people try and be mindful of. But when you add things together, to your point, and you mix in alcohol as well, it's not a one-plus-one- equals-two situation. When they say the term synergistic, they're referring to this idea that in combination, they're somehow worse than just simply being additive.

So the idea that someone, you know, these things that you don't think about are affected, your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and that's a possibility with the mixing of these medications.

COOPER: Dr. Drew, Whitney Houston's last performance was with singer Kelly Price, it was very impromptu at a party two nights before her death. Kelly Price told me she saw Whitney Houston drinking champagne as many people were at this party. I just want to play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Did it worry you to see her drinking at all, given her past?

KELLY PRICE, FRIEND OF WHITNEY HOUSTON: Well, no, I wasn't worried about it. I didn't see where it was excessive. I didn't see -- I saw her with a couple of glasses of champagne. And then our interactions were normal. There was nothing that seemed that it was over the top. She didn't seem to be intoxicated to me. Again, I know intoxicated when I see it. And so I wasn't worried about it at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: You said that hearing from her friends like that makes you angry. Why?

DR. DREW PINSKY, HLN HOST: Oh, Anderson, it is -- no disrespect but this is the highest level of ignorance. The fact is that just because somebody isn't doing hard drugs does not mean their addiction is not active.

Please, everybody, I'm trying to get this message across to the world and -- it seems to be falling on deaf ears. If you have addiction today, you are not going to die of hard drugs, you're going to die a prescription death. That is how addicts die today. Period. Every one of my patients in the last five years that has died of their addictive pathology, was taking medications a doctor prescribed. Often the way their doctor told them but they happened to put them in combination because they're an addict. They take a little more than everybody else and put a little alcohol.

Seeing Whitney with champagne in her hand should have been an alarm sounding for all of her friends. They should have pulled her aside and said, Whitney, you were in treatment just last May, my god, what's going on. You seem to be not doing so well, let's get you to a meeting right away where the goal is abstinence for a reason. Not because it's mean or mean spirited. But because it what saves lives.

People with addiction do not put pills in their mouth without being in harm's way. And when are we going to learn this? How many deaths? Brittany Murphy, you know, Michael Jackson, just go down the list. Every single celebrity you've seen die in the last five years has been a prescription death with the duplicitous involvement of their physician without understanding the addictive pathology just as these friends are not understanding it.

COOPER: But, Dr. Drew, I mean, there's plenty of people who take Xanax and have a glass of champagne, no? Or am I completely wrong?

PINSKY: Absolutely. And they're not drug addicts. These are -- listen, Anderson, I have got to interrupt you again. Absolutely. These are excellent medications used properly.

Listen, opiates, pain medication, these are exceedingly important medications unless you're an opiate addict. Sir William Osler, at the turn of the century, called opium and opiates, morphine sulfate God's own medicine, because we can eliminate suffering. It's extremely compelling for physicians to give opiates and end suffering.

The problem is for people with a certain genetic makeup, it has a very dark side that will kill them if they continue to be exposed to it.

Sanjay, don't you agree with me?

GUPTA: Well, I -- and I think there's a certain percentage of people who in -- when they take these things in combination, even if they haven't been addicts. That's the thing. And people think there's a perception that prescription drugs, because they're prescription drugs, are safer somehow not the illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin.

And to Dr. Drew's point, I mean, one person dies every 19 minutes of prescription drug overdoses. I'm a lot of those people were addicts, but I think, you know, there's a larger message here. And you know the business traveler who takes a Xanax, maybe has a drink and then takes an Ambien to sleep at night, that may sound more familiar that I realized --

PINSKY: That's somebody in trouble. GUPTA: But that can really get somebody in trouble regardless of whether they even had an addiction history in the past. So it's quite frightening. The CDC called this a silent epidemic.

(CROSSTALK)

PINSKY: And I wouldn't -- Sanjay, it's not so silent. We're reporting on it every night here on CNN and HLN. I'm talking about it every night on my show at 9:00.

But the fact is here, we have to understand that this is what kills people. I will refer you back to leagues of rock stars that did God knows how much illicit drugs. They did their cocaine -- look at Ozzy. Look at Rolling Stones. They did tons of illicit drugs. They're alive.

It's since we graduated to prescription drugs that the death rate of addiction has gone up dramatically. You can go to any 12-step meeting in this country, and it's filled with people with pill problems all of a sudden.

COOPER: So --

PINSKY: It wasn't that way five years ago, and it's much more pernicious. It's where you -- as you see in these series, Sanjay, we're having trouble getting people to understand that it's even a massive issue and it's dangerous.

COOPER: Well, Sanjay, I find what you just said really interesting. So you can -- if -- I have never had a Xanax. But if you take a Xanax and an Ambien and have a sip of alcohol or a couple of alcohols that can be a real problem for somebody even somebody who's not an addict?

GUPTA: That's right. I mean, -- and I mean, more than a sip of alcohol presumably. But the thing about it is it goes back to this idea again that these medications in isolation, you know, have a certain impact on the central nervous system.

And while no one -- you know, I think the perception is while no one says, you know, having a drink is a good idea, I mean, you're warned when you get these medications not to take these them in combination with alcohol, the message probably hasn't been loud enough that look, it's not just a bad idea, you could die from this unintentionally. And it's the number one cause of death now among a certain age population in this country and it's more a common cause of death than cocaine and heroin combined. It is more common either intentionally or accidentally --

PINSKY: Combined.

GUPTA: -- than car incidents.

PINSKY: Right.

GUPTA: You know, you think about car accidents and how common they are --

PINSKY: Right.

COOPER: It's interesting, Dr. Drew, to hear the source, a family friend saying to CNN that she was no longer an addict. Most addicts I know will say, I'm still an addict, I'm just not using.

PINSKY: Let's be super clear.

If you ever been -- had sufficient relationship with a chemical that you are given the diagnosis of addiction and admitted -- you meet criteria for admission to a drug treatment center, that is the same as saying you're a diabetic, or you're an asthmatic, or you have cancer. There's criteria, you met that criteria, and just like those other conditions, it is a chronic disease, in a case of addiction, like diabetes that'll be with you the rest of your life. Period.

And it has to be managed on a daily basis or it is active. Now the degree of activity varies. They can be as mild as, hey, I'm dying to have a drink or as active as, hey, I'm slamming heroin. It's a spectrum.

COOPER: So then --

PINSKY: And when somebody who has been diagnosed with this is toasting with champagne, they are in harm's way.

COOPER: So, again, pardon my ignorance on this, but I think this is a larger more important conversation. Is it ever OK for somebody who's been an addict with pills or cocaine or whatever to then have a drink of alcohol even if they're not using the other? I mean, -- or if you're an addict in one thing are you an addict in all?

PINSKY: Not to -- not to put your audience to sleep with this biology but it is a disorder of a deep region of the brain called the medial forebrain bundle, the reward apparatus, and anything that triggers that reward apparatus with an extra physiological biology triggers the disease of addiction. It just so happens that all chemicals that cause addiction share that potential. So any of these things will reawaken the dragon.

COOPER: It's a tragic discussion to have but I think an important one.

DR. Drew, appreciate it. Sanjay, as well. Thank you.

GUPTA: You got it. Thanks.

COOPER: Again it's important to point out we don't know how Whitney Houston died. We don't know if drugs played a part. That said, drug abuse is a serious problem in this country. And as Sanjay said, one person in America dies every 19 minutes from prescription drug misuse. And Sanjay also pointed out they're not all drug addicts. And they said it is a very serious problem.

Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook or Google+. Add us to your circles. Or follow me on Twitter tonight @AndersonCooper is the address. I will be tweeting tonight.

Just ahead, Janet Jackson on the Whitney Houston that she knew. Her unforgettable voice and the loss her family is now feeling.

Later: Bobby Brown is speaking out about his daughter. We'll bring you that. And we'll take a closer look at their explosive marriage and turbulent life together.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Whitney Houston was admired by more than just her fans. Her voice left even her fellow singers breathless, Janet Jackson among them. She admired Houston's talent and she's been through the kind of loss, the investigation, the questions and rumors, all of it, that the Houston family is now experiencing.

I spoke with Janet Jackson today for an interview that's going to air Monday on my daytime program "Anderson." Here's some of the moments that stood out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: We've all been kind of reeling from the death of Whitney Houston. When you heard the news, what did you think?

JANET JACKSON, MUSICIAN: I -- I couldn't believe it. I -- immediately, I started shaking. I was trying to text everyone that I knew to let them know. And I was speechless. I could not believe it. I could not --

COOPER: Where were you when you heard the news?

JACKSON: I was -- I was home, here. And I just so happened to be watching TV and I saw this news flash. And I still can't believe it.

COOPER: We've all been kind of re-listening to her and, you know, her performance singing "The Star-Spangled Banner." And to you, I mean, what was she like as a performer?

JACKSON: Incredible. I mean, she was known as "the voice." And just -- when she would open her mouth and this instrument would come out, you would obviously understand why. She was such a -- such a sweet, sweet soul, and especially back in the -- back in the early -- the late '80s, early '90s is when I connected with Whitney the most.

And it doesn't matter if we were doing an awards show, we would always take the time out to find one another. Either she'd come to my dressing room to say, hey, and I would be in makeup or I would find her in her dressing room to say, hey, we'd always find time to talk with one another. She was such, such a sweet soul.

COOPER: My thoughts obviously, and I think everybody, is with her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, who -- I mean, has just got to be reeling. JACKSON: Very -- it's very devastating. And I pray for her and her family. Even Bobby. I mean, he's going through so much. They're all going through so much. The mother.

COOPER: Yes.

JACKSON: It's very sad.

COOPER: And her mother spoke to her a short time before she passed. And again, for a parent to out-live a child is just -- you know, it's the worst thing there is. What advice do you have for her family, for her kid?

JACKSON: For her --

COOPER: For her child.

JACKSON: It's just -- it's a very, very tough time. I mean, it's -- even though it's still a loss. I lost my brother, she lost her mother, there's still a difference even though it's still a loss from the family. So I can't truly -- I don't truly know what that is like and being so young.

COOPER: Yes.

JACKSON: But it was hard for me. It was very, very difficult for me. I didn't want to accept it. It's very difficult. And you have to come to terms at some point. You have to actually give it up to God and it sounds so mean but you have to move on. You can't hold on to that. Because it can be very devastating.

COOPER: Yes.

JACKSON: And sometimes therapy is the best thing.

COOPER: And TV people always use that word "closure" when they're talking about loss. And as someone who's lost family members as well, I don't -- I don't think there is such a thing as closure. I think that's a made-up TV word.

JACKSON: No, there -- I don't think there is either. But you have to go on with life.

COOPER: Yes.

JACKSON: You figure out a way to move on with life. But you -- it would always -- it's always right here.

COOPER: Yes.

JACKSON: And there's never a day where I don't think about my -- not one day has gone by where I don't think about my brother and my other brothers and sisters have said the same thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Janet Jackson earlier today. Again, the full interview airs next Monday on my daytime program, "Anderson." Check your local listings for that.

Friends of Whitney Houston says she had battled demons even in her early days. Last night Jennifer Holliday told Piers Morgan they were all around a lot of drugs back in the '80s and Houston was using. As far as the public was concerned, though, Whitney Houston's unraveling only became really apparent after she and Bobby Brown married back in 1992.

Brown canceled a concert tour, rushed back to Los Angeles last night. He's the one on the blue hoodie in the middle of that pack of photographers.

Late today, Brown issued a statement concerning his daughter, Bobbi Kristina, who was hospitalized shortly after her mother died. It reads -- quote -- "My daughter did visit with doctors at Cedars- Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on Saturday. She's been released and is presently with my family including her siblings. Obviously, the death of her mother is affecting her, however we will get through this tragedy as a family. Again I ask for privacy during this time."

Privacy, though, has not always been high on Bobby Brown's agenda or Whitney Houston's. For years they have pursued publicity and drew notoriety.

More on that tonight from Randi Kaye.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On Saturday, Bobby Brown took to the stage to declare his love for his ex-wife.

BOBBY BROWN, MUSICIAN: I would like to say, I love you, Whitney.

KAYE: As this iReport shows he was there for a reunion of the 1980s boy band New Edition of which Brown was a founding member with songs like "Cool It Now." And "Candy Girl."

New Edition wrote a string of hits out of Boston's mean streets and into stardom. But Brown's on stage antics and a feud with fellow member Ralph Tresvant led the group to kick Brown out in 1986.

Undaunted, Brown went on to a successful solo career with hits like "My Prerogative" and "Every Little Step" from his 1988 album, "Don't Be Cruel."

Brown and Houston married in 1992. On the surface, it seemed perfect. The pop princess and the R&B singer. But there were signs of trouble. In 1995, Brown was present at a shooting outside a seedy Boston bar that claimed the life of his bodyguard, Steven Sealy. Sealy was shot in the head several times and died inside a Bentley registered to Whitney Houston.

Then there were Brown's arrest for DUI in 1996, for marijuana possession and speeding in 2002, parole violations in 2003.

And in 2005, the couple put their rocky marriage on a short lived reality show called "Being Bobby Brown" for all the world to see.

WHITNEY HOUSTON, MUSICIAN: You're going to hear this for the rest of the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) year. You are going to hear this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) for the rest of the year. You don't think about me (OFF-MIKE) everybody (OFF-MIKE) It's not right. It's not right.

KAYE (on camera): By the time that reality show aired, Houston's career was already in tatters. Two years later, so was her marriage. They divorced after 15 years together and Brown was not awarded custody of their daughter, Bobbi Kristina.

(voice-over): Brown explained to "The Insider" why their marriage had been so volatile.

QUESTION: How often would you and Whitney use together?

BROWN: I used an awful lot.

QUESTION: What were your drugs of choice during those times?

BROWN: Cocaine. Cocaine. It's a powerful drug. I just think I was bored, you know. I just gotten married and you know things wasn't right. Unfortunately, I turned to alcohol and drugs.

KAYE: But Brown was trying to leave that type of behavior behind. And despite their tumultuous marriage, "People" magazine reports that on Saturday, Brown cried on stage over the death of his ex-wife.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We're going to have much more ahead, including a rare look at Whitney Houston performing when she was young.

Also ahead, there are reports that Houston was close to broke when she died, facing foreclosure on at least one of her homes, living off advances. The question is, are those reports true?

We'll investigate ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We showed you the inside of New Hope Baptist Church at the top of the program. What we didn't show was what people might have heard from the pews when a very young Whitney Houston was singing the gospel there. Now we can.

The video quality is not very good. I want to warn you, but the beauty of it, the beauty of her voice and the potential of it shines through. Watch. She had her whole life ahead of her in that video. This weekend, Whitney Houston will be back in the New Hope Baptist Church. She's come home. She's going to be surrounded by people who knew her, knew that voice, knew that child.

It's our job to report on the facts of her death and her life, sometimes those facts are not pleasant and they haven't been this week. So many people want to remember the beauty of Whitney Houston's voice right now. They're buying her music once again. Right now, there are seven Whitney Houston albums on Amazon's top 10 -- top 10 sellers, 26 singles on the iTunes' top 100.

Sadly, there are reports that Houston was low on cash when she died. A "New York Daily News" reporting she was -- quote -- "leaning heavily" on her mentor, producer, Clive Davis, to keep homes in New Jersey and Atlanta out of foreclosure. Those kinds of reports often surface when a superstar dies. But celebrity finances are notoriously murky. One thing is clear, though, once upon a time no one was bigger than Whitney Houston.

Tom Foreman has details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Measuring the wealth of Whitney is difficult at best.

But a good starting place is her 1992 hit movie, "The Bodyguard." Over 20 years, it has made almost $411 million. The soundtrack has sold 17 million copies in the U.S. alone. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, that's the most ever, more than "Purple Rain" and "Saturday Night Fever," and, of course, the film also gave us that song.

"I Will Always Love You" sold four million copies in its first year alone. That's seven records every minute. It was great news for Houston and maybe even better news for Dolly Parton, who wrote it. Under recording law, Parton, not Houston or her estate, is the one that gets paid every time you hear that song on the radio. She talked about the tune recently on Anderson's daytime talk show.

DOLLY PARTON, MUSICIAN: And then, when Whitney did it, and it made all that money, I got all the money for the publishing and for the writing, and I bought a lot of cheap wigs.

FOREMAN: Still, Houston's music was the cornerstone of her empire, and her records broke records time and again. She produced more No. 1 singles in a row than even the Beatles. Her songs not only climbed the charts fast but stayed near the top for long periods.

How much she earned from all that is uncertain. But when ABC's Diane Sawyer asked about rumors of using crack, the singer herself suggested she had enormous wealth.

WHITNEY HOUSTON, ACTRESS: First of all, let's get one thing straight. Crack is cheap. I make too much money to ever smoke crack. Let's get that straight, OK? I don't do crack; I don't do that. Crack is whack.

FOREMAN: Now, her songs are dominating online sales, just as Michael Jackson's did after his sudden loss. And that could be worth many millions. In the two years after his death, Billboard says he sold 16 million songs and almost 11 million albums.

(on camera) Certainly, there have been celebrities who have spent their fortunes as fast as they have made them, but Houston would have had to work at that. After all, in the mid-'90s, she was widely regarded as one of the wealthiest entertainers on the planet. She owned property, made tens of millions of dollars touring. And in 2001, she signed a record deal worth $100 million.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The show underwent a huge transformation.

FOREMAN (voice-over): And her appeal continues, the Grammys, packed with references and tributes to Houston, scored its biggest audience in almost 30 years.

When her final film, "Sparkle," is released later this year, industry experts expect it to build even more on the fame and fortune of Whitney Houston.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Randi Kaye is following some other stories for us tonight. She joins us with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Randi.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, breaking news from Capitol Hill. House and Senate negotiators hammering out a tentative bill on extending the payroll tax cut and jobless benefits. That's the word from GOP lawmakers. The deal would also prevent cuts in Medicare payments to doctors. A vote could happen by Friday when Congress adjourns for a week.

Reports tonight of some of the worst shelling yet on neighbors in Syria, that as snipers fire on just about anyone out on the streets. New video shows what appears to be a government gunman targeting a young child. Human rights groups report at least 40 Syrians died today alone. CNN cannot independently verify these reports or the video.

And Chinese vice president Xi Jinping in a five-day visit to the White House today. President Obama used the Oval Office meeting to remind the man in line to be his country's next leader of the importance of a trade balance between the U.S. and China -- Anderson.

COOPER: Still ahead, Rick Santorum hoping for a big victory on Mitt Romney's home turf of Michigan. New poll numbers out. The race there heating up. We'll take a look at what Santorum's surge in Michigan means and break down the race as it is nationwide right now.

Also ahead, former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour trying to stay out of the spotlight and turned down our invitation for weeks now to come on the program to explain hundreds of controversial pardons. Our Ed Lavandera, however, caught up with him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Governor, can we talk to us about the pardons? We'll wait out here, then.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: In "Raw Politics" tonight, Rick Santorum surging in Mitt Romney's home state of Michigan. The primary there is now two weeks from today. The Santorum campaign is turning up the heat, launching a pair of new TV ads today. He's hoping for a big win, obviously, in the state where Romney was born and the state where Romney's father served as governor.

All this comes as brand-new CNN/ORC poll numbers show Romney losing his nationwide lead. He's now in a virtual tie, 32-34 percent, with Santorum. That two-point difference is within the poll's margin of error.

Meantime, a "New York Times"/CBS News poll shows Santorum with a 14-point lead among conservative Republican voters.

Let's talk it now with Ari Fleischer, a CNN political contributor and former White House press secretary for President George W. Bush; also CNN Democratic strategist, Cornell Belcher, and he's a pollster and strategist for the Obama 2012 campaign.

Ari, Romney's negatives are way up. Santorum's basically seems to winning evangelicals, Tea Party voters, blue-collar voters and, man, looking at intensity for the moment, he's got far more stronger supporters than Romney. What's going on here?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Mitt Romney is decaying conservatives, and that's the core of his problem. This has been the issue with Mitt Romney from the beginning. Conservatives didn't trust him. They didn't think he was one of them. They didn't think he was authentic.

And what conservatives have been waiting for is someone to emerge to take Mitt Romney on one-on-one, and that's where Mitt Romney has always been most vulnerable. This is the problem Mitt Romney has. He needs to take Rick Santorum down a few notches, and he needs to move himself up in the favorable area a few notches by connecting with Republican conservatives on economic policy.

COOPER: Cornell, before you get too happy on the Democratic side, though, 68 percent of those polls say Romney is going to win the nomination. In other words, they may be trying to send a message, but Romney is going to be their guy, isn't he?

CORNELL BELCHER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I wouldn't say, you know, us get happy. I think we're fine with taking on either one of those guys. I mean, here's the problem. You know, if you go back and look at our primary in '08, the majority of voters and Democratic primary voters thought that Hillary Clinton was going to win because that was conventional wisdom was the saying.

I think what's really interesting, you know, not from a partisan perspective but from a historical perspective, you look at the last couple of election cycles, what's going on here, is you have the grassroots of both parties rejecting what the establishment says is their best candidate, rejecting what the establishment wants. And I think it's really remarkable.

I mean, this sort of fluidity in the electorate and this sort of volatility in the electorate means anything can happen. And I think there's real grassroots on the right speaking up and saying, "No, we don't want what the establishment wants. We want to go in a different direction." I think that's very unique.

COOPER: It is amazing, Ari, in this race, I mean, everybody has been a front-runner at one time or another. Santorum is sort of the last guy standing and now surging. No one gave him a shot a few weeks ago. It's extraordinary.

FLEISCHER: If you remember, Anderson, last summer you and I started talking about this. And the one thing I said then was that there's no solid foundation underneath any one candidate. Every candidate's foundation is built on something that's shifting and changeable. And that's highly unusual for modern Republicans. Republicans are very hierarchical. We almost always know who's next and flock to that candidate.

This campaign has been wide open. That's why you've seen so many different people, from Bachmann to Santorum to Newt to Cain to Perry, back to Santorum, surge and take the lead at one point.

It's not too late, of course, for Mitt Romney. He has an organizational stretch in that he's got a lot of money and he's running in states where others are not running. And that's very important when it comes to the delegate chase. But what we all thought was a good month for Mitt Romney is really turning into anything but that.

COOPER: And at this point, doesn't he need to keep this from becoming a two-man race between him and Rick Santorum?

BELCHER: I think he -- I think the fact that Ari is pulling back from Mitt Romney, saying the establishment is beginning to pull back from Mitt Romney, I think that's really news. That's interesting.

No, I think right now if you're Romney, you want Newt Gingrich in this race, especially when you take that swing through the southern states. You've got to have Newt Gingrich in that race. I don't know what it is. Perhaps it's a matter of not being able to pull their buys right now, but right now, they're going to have to turn their attention to Santorum and stop what's happening now. I said this a while back, that that core conservative evangelical base of the Republican Party coalesce around one candidate, that candidate, I'd like their chances of being their nominee. If you're -- if you're Romney right now, you're terrified that, in fact, that you were effective at tearing down Newt Gingrich. And now they're coalescing around Santorum, who quite frankly, has a lot of conservative bona fides that's going to be hard to tear down.

COOPER: Ari, A, are you pulling back from Mitt Romney? And, B, I mean, after that Santorum sweep of those three states, people say, well, now Mitt Romney is going to focus the fire on Santorum. Doesn't seem in Michigan the super PAC is.

FLEISCHER: Well, on one, I've always been neutral. I'm having a lot of fun, actually, being an analyst and watching each of the different Republicans trying to say what they did right and what they did wrong. I'm just calling it as I see this race unfolding. I've always been in the neutral camp. Once we have a nominee, believe me, I'll be fully un-neutral.

As for Michigan, you know, I do think he's got to set his sights on Santorum. Newt is fading. And if I were Mitt Romney's people, I would treat this as a one-on-one race against Rick Santorum. And I wouldn't worry about what the pundits are saying about don't go negative. This is a campaign. Campaigns are made for big boys. And he's going to have to do what he needs to do. Hopefully, it's policy oriented, that's where it needs to be, not personal. But if there are differences, he needs to bring them out.

I think there's an electability issue here. Mitt Romney continues to do much better among independents, but not as well as he used to, than Rick Santorum. That still is an important issue, who at the end of the day can win in the fall.

COOPER: Right. Ari Fleischer, Cornell Belcher, appreciate it. Thank you.

Still ahead tonight, we've been asking former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour to come on the program and answer questions or at least answer questions anywhere -- it doesn't have to be on this program -- about the pardons of convicted murderers and other felons. Well, he's refused, so we sent Ed Lavandera to track him down and keep him honest. We'll see what happened.

Also ahead, how prosecutors in Italy are trying to put Amanda Knox back in prison.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Tonight, "Keeping Them Honest" and searching for former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour in the wake of the pardoning scandal that's left victims' families in tears, asking how the criminals who murdered their loved ones could possibly have been set free and given pardons.

And we're heard from some of those family members on this program. We've also heard from the attorney general, who said he was trying to get the pardons overturned. The one person who will not talk to us is Haley Barbour himself.

For a month now, he's repeatedly turned down our requests to come on the program. And since he wouldn't come to us, we decided to go and try and find him. We finally did find him. We'll show you how that went in just a moment. But first, a recap on how we got to this point.

Right before he left office, Governor Barbour granted full pardons to more than 200 people, including four convicted murderers -- these men here -- who worked at the governor's mansion on a type of work release program. It's called a trustee program.

Barbour said elsewhere that they committed what he called "crimes of passion" and according to him, that makes them unlikely to commit another crime. He claims that's what experts say.

"Keeping Them Honest," though, experts said that is just not true.

Barbour has also said he and people in his office talked to victims' families before he pardoned the men who killed their loved ones. We talked to some of those family members, and they said that's not true either, and neither the governor nor any one from his office actually tried to get in touch with them.

So why would Barbour say that? This is one of the questions we wanted to ask him. But as I said, he won't come on the program. So CNN's Ed Lavandera went to try and get answers. Here's what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Since Haley Barbour won't come to us, we thought we'd go to him. We found the former Mississippi governor giving a speech at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.

(on camera) Hi, governor. Ed Lavandera with CNN. Can we talk to you real quick?

HALEY BARBOUR, FORMER GOVERNOR OF MISSISSIPPI: Let me get my instructions first. Then we'll talk.

LAVANDERA: Can you come out and talk to us? Give us a second?

(voice-over) He wouldn't give us a second and walked right inside the building, but not before showing us what he thought about the questions.

(on camera) Governor, can we talk to you a second?

We'll wait out here.

He just told me to stay where I'm cold. (voice-over) We waited. Barbour didn't come back. He gave his speech. The theme, ironically enough, was how government needs to do a better job of explaining its actions.

BARBOUR: I learned a great lesson about government when we did the census in 1970. And that is that the government is not a very good communicator. That the government doesn't do a good job of getting things across. So I've been trying all my career to do a better job.

LAVANDERA: But Governor Barbour wasn't in the mood to practice what he just preached.

(on camera) Governor, can we get a few minutes to talk with you about the pardons?

BARBOUR: When the Supreme Court rules, then it will be time to talk. I'm not so presumptuous -- I'm not so presumptuous as to predict what the Supreme Court will do. When they rule, we can talk.

LAVANDERA: The families want to hear -- the families want to hear from you. Why won't you talk to them?

(voice-over) The governor walked away again, so we waited outside to give him one last chance. This time, he surrounded himself with security to keep us away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back please.

LAVANDERA: Governor, we can knock this out in five minutes, Governor. Governor, can we just get five minutes?

BARBOUR: When the Supreme Court rules, then we can.

LAVANDERA: Why can't you talk to these families who want to hear from you, you refuse to meet with? Do you regret pardoning...

BARBOUR: Thank you very much, sir.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Ed Lavandera joins me now. I love when he said to you, stay out there where it's cold.

LAVANDERA: It was cold, just started snowing.

COOPER: And the fact that his speech was all about the importance of communicating is obviously ironic.

LAVANDERA: The irony, I think, speaks for itself.

COOPER: It's amazing that someone as seasoned a politician as Haley Barbour is has not talked about this issue very much. He was on John King's program, answered a few questions about it, but he's never -- you know, we've had plenty of experts who said the idea that so- called crimes of passion mean you're not going to commit other crimes is just not true. He claims the state has lots of experts. We haven't heard from one of them.

And even his calling these crimes of passion, some of them were clearly premeditated, well-thought-out killings.

LAVANDERA: The interviews that he gave early on was before you really got a chance to kind of unravel exactly what. There's 200 pardons. There's a lot to get through. It's taken a while to kind of unravel all this.

All the interviews he's done, he's done early on, have kind of glossed over big-picture kind of ideas as to what he's thinking. But there are much more specific questions that we have now at this point and obviously, you see the way he's reacting to them.

COOPER: You talked to -- we talked to a number of family members and you talked to victims' family members, who want answers. What do you think they want to hear? What do you think they want to ask the governor?

LAVANDERA: They just want to be able to sit across the table from him and, even if it's an answer they don't agree with, every one of them we've spoken to, "We just want him to look us in the eyes and tell us why he did this." And I think, with that, that would go a long way. But they haven't gotten that.

COOPER: And a number of them said they wanted to be able to have pled their case before these pardons were granted, which is an opportunity that they never got.

LAVANDERA: Many of these families, especially these trustees that worked at the governor's mansion, they knew, they'd heard that these guys were up for these jobs. And they knew that that meant, if get this and if they got that trustee job that was one step closer to them being pardoned. And they were trying to fight it along the way for the last couple of years and never -- they say they never got a chance.

COOPER: We'll keep at it. Ed Lavandera, appreciate it. Thanks.

Let check in with some of the other stories we're following. Randi Kaye has a "360 Bulletin."

KAYE: Anderson, Italian prosecutors have asked a judge to overturn the acquittal of American student Amanda Knox. She was convicted of murdering her roommate but later cleared. Knox's family calls the move harassment.

Penn State says child sex abuse allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky have cost the university more than $3 million. The tab includes legal, consulting and P.R. fees stemming from the investigation into the matter.

A "360" follow: Minnesota's largest school district voting to reverse rules requiring teachers remain neutral when discussing sexual identity issues. Two lawsuits claim the policy restricted teachers' ability to reduce bullying. And researchers are getting their first look at private dinner invitations and other documents belonging to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The Kennedy Library is releasing papers to mark the 50th anniversary of her televised tour of the White House that attracted 80 million viewers -- Anderson.

COOPER: Coming up, spending the evening alone? Well, take heart. We're putting Valentine's Day on the "RidicuList" next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Time now for the "RidicuList." And it's only appropriate that tonight we're adding Valentine's Day. Now look, I know, some people really love Valentine's Day, mostly the people who own chocolate shops, flower shops, teddy bear manufacturers.

There's no denying, it's kind of a greeting card holiday. Roses cost twice as much today. Restaurants are a living nightmare. And the whole pressure, frankly, leaves a lot of people feeling like Linus from the Charlie Brown Valentine's special.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN SHEA, VOICE OF LINUS VAN PELT: I spent all my money. I made a fool of myself. This one is for love! And this one is for Valentines! This one is for romance! This one is for Elizabeth Barrett Browning!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: A reference to Victorian poetry in a "Peanuts" cartoon. I'm telling you, those things have layers.

So how do we loathe thee, Valentine's Day? Let us count the ways. First, we're supposed to buy the candy and the flowers and the balloons and the card and then you're supposed to wait for hours and spend hundreds of dollars on some prefixed dinner if you have anyone to go out with in the first place, that is. Who needs it?

But I have to tell you, there are some pretty awesome alternatives. Believe it or not, White Castle takes reservations on Valentine's Day. Little known fact. And judging by the pictures, it looks like people really do enjoy it. Why spend money on some overpriced piece of jewelry when a slider says "I love you" just as well?

Maybe your town doesn't have a White Castle. Good news. There's another option.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Welcome to Waffle House. Are you guys ready to order? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jerry asked me to come to the candlelight dinner at Waffle House on Valentine's Day, and I was really excited. I thought it was unique and different.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The passion? At Waffle House? It's great.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I know what some of you are thinking: White Castle, Waffle House, that's just not upscale enough. If you really insist on spending a boatload of money, you could always go with this. Pizza Hut has a Tie the Knot with a $10 dinner box special. It includes pizza, bread sticks, and cinnamon sticks, along with limo service, flowers, private fireworks display, a ruby ring and photographer and videographer. It costs about $10,000. So there you go, fancy shmancy.

And if none of this strikes your fancy, you can always go with Valentine's Day nightclub recommendations from Stefon on "SNL."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL HADER, CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": This around-the-clock pee party is the creation of narcoleptic club owners Snooze and Lucci (ph). This place has everything: pugs, geezers, doo- wop groups, a wise old turtle that looks like Quincy Jones. And you'll have your own "When Harry Met Sally" moment when you share a special kiss with Gizmo, the coked-up gremlin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I love Stefon.

So whether going out clubbing or dining by candlelight at Waffle House, and especially is you're saying no to the whole charade, staying home alone and behaving like it's any other Tuesday, happy Valentine's Day.

Hey, that does it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.