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Study Retracted Linking Autism to Vaccines; Pilots Blamed for Buffalo Crash; Planes with Problems Allowed to Fly; Some Survivors Beat the Odds in Haiti; Future Uncertain for Detained American Baptists in Haiti; Oscar Frontrunners Come With Friendly Battle of the Exes; Pro-and-Con Conversation on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Aired February 2, 2010 - 13:00   ET


T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thank you there, Betty. It's T.J., sitting in for Ali Velshi today.

We're going to be taking you through the next couple of hours here, digging deeper on topics here, and as always, you can hit us up at AliVelshi on Twitter and also TJHolmesCNN.

We want to start today with a story that has really rocked the medical world. Parents, this is one every parent is going to be interested in, because the study and the doctor that started the whole debate about the link between vaccines and autism has now been discredited. Yes, the doctor and that initial study.

We want to go right ahead and bring in our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen. This had a lot of people going, "Wow," when this came down. Now, let's give everybody a little background here. This is the study, and this is the doctor that kicked off this whole debate.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I was telling you that as a mom and as a medical correspondent, I get zillions -- zillions -- of questions from my friends, saying, "Should I vaccinate my child? I'm afraid they might develop autism." So this is really -- people, parents are really concerned.

Well, this is the study that started all of that concern back in 1998. Let's take a little look at this time line here. In 1998, "The Lancet," which is a British medical journal, published a study by Andrew Wakefield showing a link between autism and vaccines.

Well, now in 2010, those "Lancet" editors retracted the study from the published record. Here's what they said. They said, "It has become clear that several elements of the 1988 paper by Wakefield are incorrect. Therefore, we fully retract this paper from the published record."

Now, it's interesting, because they -- they won't answer questions. When we called them and said, "Can you sort of elucidate further?," they didn't really answer any questions.

HOLMES: Well, explain to us just how rare it is and how extraordinary of a step it is to take -- to go that far and say -- essentially wipe this thing from the record?

COHEN: It is really, really rare. I mean, I'm not sure that I can remember a case...


COHEN: ... since I've been -- been a medical reporter, which is nearly two decades. I mean, I think there have been a few, but not many.

And we called some editors of medical journals, and we said, "How often does this happen?" And they said this is extremely rare.

Now, "The Lancet" did say -- they kind of alluded to a problem with the study where they said that -- they appear to be saying it wasn't properly randomized. In other words, that the study subjects were not selected at random. When you do a study, you've got to select your study subjects at random. You can't hand-pick the ones that are going to prove your thesis. So that appears to be the reason why they retracted, or one of the reasons.

HOLMES: Now, since his initial study, people have, of course, fortified their positions. They either believe that these vaccines lead to autism, or people believe they don't. This study has been discredited in a lot of ways over the years, but, still, is this going to change anything now that we have, essentially, an official retraction of that study?

COHEN: But you're so right. People are in camps about this. They are in camps. There's sort of the Jenny McCarthy camp that says, "There's a link, there's a link, there's a link. I think vaccines cause autism."

And you know, we talked to some of those folks, and I don't think they're going to change. They say there have been many studies since that original "Lancet" study that find a link between autism and vaccines. They really believe in this.

In fact, there were protests in England in the past couple of days in favor of Dr. Wakefield. You can see they're out there, supporting Dr. Wakefield. These people firmly believe there's a link between autism and vaccines. Many of these people have children with autism, and they believe the vaccines did it. And even "The Lancet" withdrawing the statement is not going to change their minds.

HOLMES: All right. We talk about other scrutiny of this. I guess this news we got today with "The Lancet" retracting the study, this makes it official, if you will.

But over the years, so many doctors who were part of that initial study have come out and said, "We don't want any part of it anymore." And also, there have been some major -- I mean, some serious official -- I mean, the CDC, as well, who have discredited the study. So, I mean, where are we now? Parents are looking at this like, "What do I do now? What's it supposed to be?" COHEN: Right. Most of the authors, most of Andrew Wakefield's co-authors have backed away from that study and disassociated themselves. And pretty much every major medical group: The Centers for Disease Control, The Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics, says that there is no link, that the science isn't there.

So parents need to make the decision on their own. I mean, they can go with what all of these major groups are saying. They can go with "The Lancet" retracting the study. Or, you know, they're free not to vaccinate their children. I mean, that is a choice that parents are allowed to make.

HOLMES: What happens to the doctor now?

COHEN: That's a good question. I mean, you have to wonder if he'll still going to have the same following, but certainly, those protests make you think that he will still have a following.

HOLMES: All right. Like you said, you -- this is probably the topic you get most of the questions on.

COHEN: Oh, absolutely.

HOLMES: I can imagine you're about to get a whole lot more.

COHEN: That's right.

HOLMES: Thank you very much.

COHEN: Thank you.

HOLMES: But again, a major, major news story today, in that the original, the doctor, and the study that started it all, have officially been "X'd" from the books, if you will. We'll continue to follow that story. Elizabeth will continue to follow it, as well.

We want to move on to another story. We are closing the book on that Colgan Air crash. You'll remember this one. And the blame is going squarely at the pilots.

Federal investigators are weighing in now, almost a year after that Buffalo tragedy.


HOLMES: Well, a lot of you will remember that Colgan Air crash. It was actually Continental Express Flight 3407 that crashed near Buffalo right at about a year ago, killing 50 people.

Well, we're starting to get answers as to what exactly happened, and the NTSB placing the blame squarely on the pilots. Again, you'll remember 49 people were on board that plane that were killed. One person on the ground was killed. But we have been hearing -- been hearing the past couple of days about exactly what caused this. Meetings by the NTSB, and they're saying the pilot and copilot could have actually prevented this crash from happening.

Here's one of the quotes they're using. They said, "The crew did not perform in a way consistent with the training they received." They're saying that the pilot, Marvin Renslow, actually was, quote, "casual and relaxed," engaging in, again I'm quoting, "almost continuous conversation with the first officer."

And about that first officer. Her name was Rebecca Shaw, saying she was, quote, "startled and confused" when that plane entered a stall.

So, they did not hold back in a lot of ways and kind of putting a lot of the blame on those pilots.

Now, they opened, actually, that meeting, actually, in saying, "We are not here to really impugn the character of these particular pilots," not saying they're not good people, just in this particular incident, they did not perform the way the we hoped that training would have taught them to perform.

The NTSB vice chairman, Christopher Hart, talking now today at this hearing about what could actually help in that pilot experience. Take a listen.


CHRISTOPHER HART, NTSB VICE CHAIRMAN: The military was famous for world-class training, and not only that, but they had a very sensible and robust wash-out mechanism to take people out of the system who were not -- who just did not have what it took to be a good and competent pilot.

Unfortunately, in the civilian world, ours is not -- our washout system is not quite so good. For example, we -- our standards are if you meet the standards, you can have a license. It doesn't say, if you pass the test first time, the third time, the eighth time. It doesn't say how many times you can flunk the test. It just says if you pass the test, you're in.


HOLMES: All right, let me bring in former DOT inspector and current aviation attorney Mary Schiavo.

And ma'am, I think you -- you just heard what he said there, and that's a little scary to hear: it doesn't matter how many times you flunk, as long as you pass one time. I assume nothing -- I mean, you are the former inspector general there, at DOT. I assume nothing there surprises you that you hear about the conclusions about what went wrong in this crash.

MARY SCHIAVO, AVIATION ATTORNEY: Well, no. And also the NTSB at their prior hearing, I was at the fact-finding hearings on this accident. It was clear they were headed in this direction. And they do find fault with the pilots in about 3 out of 4 times in crashes. However, there were some additional factors in that manuals, the Colgan flight manuals and aircraft manuals had mistakes in them. And these pilots hadn't actually had hands-on training. They'd never felt a stick shaker or stick pusher before, and that's really pretty shocking. The first time they felt it, they had 50 lives at stake.

HOLMES: And again, as a guy who flies frequently, and a lot of people listening fly frequently, as well, we scratch our heads to think that something like that is possible. That is the first time they actually felt that in a real-life scenario.

But, again, ma'am, are you telling me that some of this stuff -- is that an isolated incident, or something like this, that inexperienced of a pilot, is commonplace?

SCHIAVO: It is commonplace industry-wide in the regional carriers. And in the past, that used to be a small percentage of our carriers, but now it's 53 percent of the flights in the United States of America.

And so, the -- the gray hairs in the cockpit, you find those only on the big flights. Sometimes on the transcontinental or the inter- transoceanic. But a lot of our flights are being performed by young people, and in many cases, young people earning at the very lowest salary scales. And as soon as they can escape the regionals, they do. So the experience goes with the bigger planes. More -- bigger plane, more experience.

HOLMES: All right. Well, again, former Department of Transportation inspector general and current aviation attorney -- excuse me -- Mary Schiavo. Don't you go anywhere. Because we're talking about that one topic, but we've got something else that's not going to make a lot of frequent fliers feel good. We're going to talk to her again after this break.

And we're going to talk about the last place you want to have an emergency, of course, is 30,000 feet up in the air. But tens of thousands of flights are taking off, even though they need fixes. Yes, aisle or window is the least of your problems.


HOLMES: All right, don't know if you're going to want to go flying after you hear this story. There's a "USA Today" investigation just out that finds 65,000 airline flights over the past six years should not have happened because the planes were not maintained to FAA standards. Sixty-five-thousand flights. It's possible you were on one of them. Millions of passengers were on those flights.

The reporter on this story, from the "USA Today," was Gary Stoller. He joins us now on the phone from Connecticut, and also rejoining the conversation is former Department of Transportation inspector general Mary Schiavo.

Gary, let me ask you this simple question: after doing this study, are you more nervous about flying these days? GARY STOLLER, REPORTER, "USA TODAY": I wouldn't say I am more nervous about flying, because I've known about these problems for many years and reported on them. I think, certainly, there's a reason for many consumers to have deep concern about the maintenance on their airplane. To have at least 65,000 flights flying in un-airworthy condition is certainly not a good thing.

HOLMES: How were these things, these flights, allowed to take off? I guess we say they shouldn't have taken off, but I guess what mechanisms or lapses are in place that allows them to take off?

STOLLER: Well, often the FAA will only find these problems after the flights have taken off. It could be many months before the FAA looks through records and finds the problem. I also found that something the FAA would find a problem, mention it to the airline. The airplane would continue to fly despite the FAA pointing out the problem to them.

HOLMES: Mary, let me bring you back in here. Where is the breakdown, would you say? And I know some of this has to do with the fact that many airlines are, surprised to hear, and a lot of people would be surprised to hear it, outsourcing the maintenance, even outsourcing it to -- not just some other company, but foreign companies.

SCHIAVO: That's right. And Gary is right on, spot on in this article. What's occurring is we've kind of got a perfect storm. The airlines are outsourcing more and more maintenance issues, and this is a trend that started in the early '90s, except it's increased three- fold.

The FAA often follows the airline. They have maintenance inspectors that find to the airline. But the airlines are allowed to farm out, including to non-FAA approved repair stations.

HOLMES: Mary, why?

SCHIAVO: All they have to do is -- yes. All they have to do is recertify, and they're pretty much on an honor system. We just -- we don't have any more inspectors today than we had 15 years ago, and yet the airline industry is dramatically different.

HOLMES: Why is that allowed? Mary, that sounds nuts.

SCHIAVO: Well, it is nuts. But the FAA has the theory; it's their way of doing business. They believe, and they have said this publicly in hearings, et cetera, that they are in partnership with the airlines and that the airlines should be allowed to self-report. If they find a problem and they report it, they receive amnesty.

So, the FAA has taken a bit of hands-off approach, in part. In all fairness to the FAA, they only have about 3,600 inspectors to cover the world.

You know, for example, in China alone there are 100 -- over 100 repair stations. And so they have to cover the word -- world with a very small workforce, so they allow the carriers to self-report. And if the carriers turn themselves in, then they don't get a work action.

But what has happened is they have now farmed out so much of the maintenance...


SCHIAVO: ... that quality control has really suffered, and no one can really -- no one can really police it, because a lot of it is simply outside the United States.

HOLMES: Well, let's put up on the screen here a response from the FAA. And Gary, I'm going to bring you back in after we read this statement here. But the FAA saying, U.S. Airlines "regard safety as their highest priority" -- excuse me -- "responsibility. Their maintenance programs reflect that commitment to safety."

Now, after your reporting, Gary, do you have a problem with that statement?

STOLLER: Well, I believe airlines do want to have safe flights. No one wants to have flights that have problems. However, these problems just keep recurring.

The inspector general for the Department of Transportation has pointed out that airlines and the FAA have poor oversight over a lot of the repair-station work. So the oversight is not being done; the work isn't being done. Yes, I believe that airlines would like to have safe operation, but there are so many problems.

HOLMES: And last thing here to both of you, if you can, quickly, for me. Do the airlines, frankly, need some kind of help? Of course, they are trying to keep a business running, and we historically, over the past few years, several years at least, they have been losing, hemorrhaging money, in a lot of ways. Do they need some kind of federal help to raise these standards, because a lot of this seems to be the result of them just trying to cut corners and save money.

Gary, I'll let you take it, and Mary, I'll let you wrap up.

STOLLER: John Gollier (ph), a former member of National Transportation Safety Board, had suggested that some of these fines or maybe even all of the fine money at the FAA, when they find a problem, actually be invested back into the airlines' programs to improve these maintenance programs. That's one idea. Whether it work -- whether it will work, I guess we don't know.

HOLMES: Mary, you go ahead. What do you think will work?

SCHIAVO: I'm going to use the big "R" word: regulation and re- regulation. The problem is that the airlines are in a situation very much like they were in the '30s. They're breeding -- bleeding red ink. They need help on safety. They have lost control on some of their operations. And the airlines were regulated because they asked for it in the '30s.

I think we're in a situation where we have to seriously consider whether we don't need additional federal oversight over these operations to ensure that we don't backslide. We want to keep safety right where it is: No. 1 priority.

HOLMES: All right. Well, Mary Schiavo and Gary Stoller, again, from the "USA Today." It is an interesting, albeit a scary read. But thank you both for being here. We will hopefully continue this conversation later. Thank you both so much.

Well, no matter what you do out there, send a text, maybe buy some popcorn, raid that mini bar, chances are you've done at least one of those things. But you have to realize how much you get ripped off when you do so. We're going to be breaking down just how much you are paying through the roof.


HOLMES: Taking a look at some of the top stories we're keeping an eye on.

Just say no to sex. It's an age-old debate. Does sex ed that teaches abstinence only does it work? Well, University of Pennsylvania researchers now say such programs may influence kids to delay sexual activities, especially if those programs don't just preach morals.

Turning to the president now, who's taking his message beyond the beltway and straight to the people today, holding a town hall in Nashua, New Hampshire. That's happening next hour. He's going to spotlight his proposal to boost lending to small businesses. CNN will bring that to you live when it happens.

Also, "We Are the World" is back. More than 75 stars came together yesterday to re-record that charity anthem. This time they were raising money for charity. Pink, Kanye West, the Jonas Brothers, just among the few to take part. The song first came out, as you'll remember, 25 years ago to raise money for Africa.

Well, a lot of you out there in this position, you can't believe the size of that cell-phone bill. You can't believe how much you got to shell out for popcorn at the theater. You can believe this, though: you're getting ripped off.

Stephanie Elam, my dear, dear friend, good to talk to you. Always have good advice for you when I get to talk to you on the air. And I don't understand why you don't just call me and tell me this stuff. Yes, just call me and tell me.


HOLMES: No call.

ELAM: I could text you, but then you're probably not -- you're probably not going to like it as much, T.J.

HOLMES: All right. ELAM: Because what CNNmoney has found out, CNNmoney has done a little digging here. And they found out that text messaging actually has quite the markup. Let's say, oh, 6,500 percent of a markup.

That's because they're short, quick, and cheap to send these text messages, and they cost the carriers a third of a cent to deliver, but you know, most of us would pay for a text plan with our cell-phone bill, so it usually costs, like, 20 cents going out or ten cents coming in. And most of us do have a bundle that says, you know what? Unlimited texting. So they're making money hand over fist when it comes to texting, T.J.

HOLMES: So it only costs them very little to allow you to send the thing, but they're charging you a lot for it. Now, are we better off doing the text plans?

ELAM: I would say you probably are.


ELAM: Simply because if you go over it, then you get hit with another limit, too. It depends. My niece just got a telephone -- her cell phone. She texts me all the time. I just went to unlimited texting. Just makes it easier.

Now, that's not the only place.

HOLMES: All right.

ELAM: Because it happens. It's true. She'll just say, "Hi, Auntie."

The next place that you find out you are getting ripped off a bit is at the movie theater. Believe it or not.

HOLMES: We know this one.

ELAM: I think most of us maybe know this one. The movie theater popcorn, 900 percent markup there. A medium bag, it costs them 60 cents to make. and it costs $6.

The theaters are like, "Look, people, we really make our money off the concession stands. We don't make our money off of the movies." That's a fractional part of their income. So really, movie theaters are in the business of selling junk food and water and soda pop and all that kind of stuff. So that one we kind of knew about.

But the hotel mini bars. Are you a mini bar guy?

HOLMES: I'm a mini bar guy.

ELAM: Actually, that's true. I knew the answer to that question before I asked it.

But you're looking at a 1,300 percent markup here to use the stuff in the hotel mini bars. Now, these things in that little drawer and also in the refrigerator are usually marked up by three to four percent of retail. And they often include rarer products, so you feel, "Ooh, I don't know how much this would cost," because it's some, you know, almonds that they harvested at the top of a mountain some place I'd never heard of. So that's part of the issues there.

But the hotels are saying you're paying for the convenience of having it in your room.


ELAM: The other thing that you have in your room there, movies, and the hotel movies are also marked up. They're marked up by 200 percent. That's because, you know, the movies in the room can cost you about 10 to 15 bucks. If you just went and one from your store, it would be like five bucks. So that was also up there, too.

And don't even talk about getting a bottle of wine at dinner. That's also really marked up. You don't even want to know about that. Cheaper to get a bottle.

HOLMES: Obviously, I need to call you, because I'm wasting money left and right. Stephanie Elam, always good to talk to you, my dear friend. Always good advice. Thank you.

ELAM: You too, my friend. Take care.

HOLMES: All right. Well, as we know, the job market out there is tight right now, but if you're looking for work, why not check out the best? "Fortune" magazine out with its list of the 100 best companies to work for. Just in case you didn't get enough of a dose of Stephanie Elam, here she is again.


ELAM (voice-over): It's a bear business that's gone to the dogs. What company lets you work side by side with your four-legged friend? Find out after the break.




ELAM (voice-over): What company lets employees bring their dog to work? Build-a-Bear Workshop. And kids are welcome, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel so well-taken care of here, because of the family environment that we have.

ELAM: At the toy store's headquarters in St. Louis, employees can opt for a compressed workweek. But other benefits also make working more bearable. A concierge takes care of dry cleaning, on- site oil charges and even Fido could be picked up for doggie day care.

Build-a-Bear Workshop is 80th on "Fortune" magazine's list of the best 100 companies to work for.


HOLMES: We saw, of course, people being pulled out of the rubble of Haiti's earthquake days and even weeks after they were buried alive. So why did they survive against all odds whiles so many others did not?

Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta looks for answers to a life-or-death question.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We've seen story after impossible story of survivors beating the odds. This 5-year-old boy was pulled out after eight days. He was severely dehydrated.

This clerk at a hotel store was found after 11 days. He survived on food and drinks left in the store's wreckage. That's according to his brother. This man says he was entombed in the rubble for 14 days with a fractured hip. He says he had no food and survived by rationing water from a two-gallon jug.

And then there's this seemingly impossible image of this girl, rescued after 15 days. Rescuers think she had access to water from the bathroom where she was trapped.

In all more than 130 were rescued since Haiti's earthquake three weeks ago.

(On camera): So what really dictates someone's ability to survive these types of situations? You might guess the first requirement to survive is air. Imagine being trapped in a situation like this in a closed space with not enough oxygen, you're probably just going to have hours.

In fact, a lot of rescue workers when they show up in a situation like this, they'll actually bring this carbon dioxide monitors. You make carbon dioxide when you exhale. And they'll look for carbon dioxide pockets. If they find a carbon dioxide pocket, it's possible that someone is alive in there and quietly breathing.

(Voice-over): Water is the next critical element. Now there's no consensus on just how long a person can survive without it.

In fact, the study to find out would be unethical. Seventy-two to 96 hours, that seems to be the window. So anybody found after three to four days most likely had some access to water, even if only licking the dew off surrounding services.

Food comes next. People have gone up to two months as part of a hunger strike or a fast. And they survived. Accounts by earthquake survivors talk about eating rotten apples and other food that had been next to them. This woman may be the longest survivor ever trapped after a disaster. Naqsha Bibi. She reportedly lived for more than 60 days buried in the rubble of her home after an earthquake in Pakistan 2005. I met her myself.

(On camera): Can I see her legs? How much weight did she lose here in her legs? Wow. There is no muscle mass or fat, just skin and bones.

(Voice-over): There is no large study of all of these survivors, and maybe there shouldn't be. Because they're all extraordinary, each and every one of them, all by themselves.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.


HOLMES: Well, it seemed like the government of Haiti wanted to come down pretty hard on ten Americans they're accusing of child trafficking, but now could there be some leniency? We're getting the latest on those ten Americans. Stay with us.


HOLMES: We're still following the story of those ten Americans arrested for trying to take 33 Haitian children out of Haiti into the Dominican Republic. They're accused of child trafficking. They say they were just trying to help out.

Our Karl Penhaul has been following this story for us. He's live for us in Port-au-Prince. They were scheduled to have a court hearing today. So, I guess, now where are these Americans? is that court hearing going to happen?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, T.J., from what we know, the Americans are here at the headquarters of the judicial police. This is where they've been held in a jail since they were arrested.

What we understand, they were never due to go into a court, because the court system has practically collapsed since the earthquake. That even according to the Haitian prime minister, so the judge was due to come here. That as far as we know has not happened so far, and Haitian authorities are no longer saying (AUDIO GAP) whether it will or not take place in the court. The information minister has now told journalists to shut up about the Americans. He said "I can't tell you any more. When I know any more, I will tell you."

Certainly what we found out in our own investigations yesterday, we went to the village of the farming community of Calabas, about an hour's drive up in the mountains. There we found the parents and relatives of 21 of the 33 children. And what we found out there is that most of these kids are not orphans, as the American Baptists said they believed, but in fact, said they believed, but, in fact, have one or the other or in some cases both parents in the very least, or some very close relatives that were looking after them. These kids were never in orphanages.

But what is amazing is that the parents themselves said, "We handed our kids, we gave our kids away to the Americans, because we were simply too poor after the quake to provide for them. We hoped the Americans would take them into a better future, T.J."

HOLMES: Karl, given that, Karl, the parents and relatives said, yes, we handed them over to the Americans. Is there any sign, any signal from the Haitian government that maybe they could allow a little leniency here for these Americans, if it seems like they didn't have any ill intent?

PENHAUL: On that front, I do not believe so, T.J., because I put it to the Haitian prime minister, Jean-max Bellieve , and he said, hey, it looks like some of the parents were in agreement. He was very clear. He said American Baptists or Americans or foreigners of any shape or stripe cannot take Haitian kids away without documents, without passports, without official permission. The Americans did not have any of that permission, and he also said Haitian parents cannot just give their children away. This has to go through a legal process.

So, what he said, to me, was he believes that this is a clear case of kidnapping, and he said not only the Americans could be prosecuted, but also the Haitian parents who gave the kids away. And those 33 kids are in care, in temporary shelter at an (INAUDIBLE) SOS Children's Villages (AUDIO GAP)

HOLMES: All right, looks like...

PENHAUL: ... and the government is now carrying out an investigation, the circumstances, that parents gave their kids away, and they could also file a legal case as well, T.J.

HOLMES: Wow, Karl, we appreciate you being on top of that story. Appreciate you working through a little satellite issue, and we were able to get the story from you just fine. But, Karl, thank you so much. We will continue to check in with you.

We are awaiting the president of the United States, President Barack Obama. He is holding a town hall, getting out of Washington. Went up to New Hampshire. Holding a town hall and talking about incentives to help small businesses, to help them to start hiring people. Going to be hearing from him, we're expecting around 2:15. We'll keep an eye on it. When the president takes the stage, we will take it live. Stay here with us.


HOLMES: Checking some of the headlines today. Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha is in intensive care after gallbladder surgery last week. The 77-year-old Democrat is at a Virginia hospital center outside D.C. But the congressman's office would not comment on his condition.

Have an autism alert here for you. A once-landmark study linking autism to childhood vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella has been retracted. The 1988 paper led to a major dropoff in vaccinations. Now, the lead researchers is being accused of acting unethically in his research. Also, the paper has been retracted in full.

President Obama wants small businesses to know help is on the way. He's getting ready to hold a town hall in Nashua, New Hampshire. That's happening next next hour, expecting it about 30, 35 minutes from now. He's trying to get the public behind a plan to spur lending (COUGHS) -- excuse me -- to Main Street businesses. We'll bring it to you live when it does happen.

Well, would you believe we have a battle of the exes? The 3D movie "Avatar" and the war thriller "The Hurt Locker" each got nine Oscar nominations this morning. Their respective directors were once married. Let's get to entertainment correspondent Kareen Wynter live in Los Angeles.

Whoo! That's an interesting twist there. Now is a part of the divorce...


HOLMES: ... if he wins, does she get his statuette in the divorce?

WYNTER: Yes. They'll be splitting it right down the middle.

Seriously, this is a friendly battle. They both support each other, but, yes, James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow were once married and they are now going head to head for the big award. The Best Picture category. You have James Cameron's mega blockbuster film. It's made so money. Grossed more than $2 billion in ticket sales worldwide.

And then you have, T.J., going up against a little war film doing quite well, cleaning up so many awards this season. "The Hurt Locker." So, Kathryn Bigelow she has a little bit of momentum, so to speak, going in to this race, because she recently won the Directors Guild award for that. But again, friendly competition. And they are both supportive, but you know they want to take home the coveted prize.

HOLMES: Of course! You say the momentum kind of goes to "The Hurt Locker" there, everyone seems to be saying "Avatar" is a shoo-in, but we shall see.

But this is interesting, Kareen. This is the first time we're seeing ten movies being nominated. Go through some of those ten that we wouldn't have seen had it still been five, like we've been seeing over the past number of years?

WYNTER: Can you believe it? They broadened it from five to ten? Everyone and their mom.

HOLMES: Yes. WYNTER: Is in this category, it seems. So, the Disney Pixar film, for example, "Up." It's very, very rare to see an animated film in the best picture category. In fact, the last time this happened, T.J., was 1991 with the "Beauty and the Beast."

So, there's your list. "Avatar," "The Hurt Locker," "Inglourious Basterds," "Precious," "The Blind Side," "District 9." We chatted a little bit and were surprised to see that one in there. It's all about ratings. The Academy wants to boost ratings. They've seen a little bit of a decline over the last several years. Last year it jumped a little bit, but they want to have a megayear in terms of audience.

HOLMES: So, again, is that what we're talking about? Is that strictly it, trying to include more movies that are more popular. Because so many people seem to -- I mean, nothing wrong with these independent films, the kind of artsy films that didn't do so well at the box office. A lot of people over the years, what movie was nominated? That was strictly it, to boost ratings?

WYNTER: To boost ratings and, again, to broaden the audience. There are people now who may be in to animated films, so you have "Up," you have the smaller film, the film that could, the film that is really doing amazing, this Academy Award season. "The Hurt Locker," it's picked up so many awards.

And that's also interesting, T.J., because it lost money in its U.S. theatrical release. It was made for about $11 million, and right now it stands at around $16 million in terms of grossing, but you have your whole mixed bag there. Different films and it's opening the doors, and, again, it's hoping -- they're hoping the Academy that this will translate in to more viewers.

I want to also mention "The Blind Side," a big, big film. People had their eyes on Sandra Bullock. She really, really cleaned up at the S.A.G. awards and the golden globes, so they're thinking she may be a favorite going in to this race. She released a statement this morning to say how truly honored she is to be in this category, her first nomination.

And also, Jeff Bridges for "Crazy Heart." Not sure if you've seen that movie. He plays this washed-up country singer, amazing performance. He actually sings in the film and plays guitar, again, another movie to watch. T.J.?

HOLMES: All right. We'll keep an eye on it. And I promise, we'll get you back on and maybe get you on the show over the weekend. Because I want to talk to you about some more stuff, including the Razzies. We don't have time to get to it here.

WYNTER: Oh, boy. It's a whole different segment.

HOLMES: It's a whole other segment. But thank you so much, Kareen. Good to see you. We'll talk to you soon.

WYNTER: Thank you, T.J. HOLMES: And of course, James Cameron and the cast of "Avatar" will be live on Larry King tomorrow. All the blue beams and everything. Not just the movie -- spawning a global dialogue. "LARRY KING LIVE," tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

A major offensive against the ban on gays serving openly in the military. Leading the charge, the commander in chief. We'll break down the latest on "don't ask, don't tell."


HOLMES: A new push under way to end the ban against gays serving openly in the U.S. military. Defense Secretary Robert Gates today ordered a one-year review of "don't ask, don't tell." The aim here is to try to reduce the number of gays being from the military. He's asking on orders from the commander in chief, President Obama.

Bill Clinton vowed to lift what was then a complete ban on gays in the military during his first presidential campaign, but he ran into a brick wall of opposition. So, he announced the compromise, "don't ask, don't tell" instead.


BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The issue is not whether there should be homosexuals in the military. Everyone concedes that there are. The issue is whether men and women who can and have served with real distinction should be excluded from military service solely on the basis of their status, and I believe they should not.


HOLMES: That was in 1993. Today, President Obama has taken the lead in the effort to end "don't ask, don't tell" and to allow gays to openly serve in the armed forces. He minced no words calling on Congress to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in his first State of the Union address last week.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.


HOLMES: I want to bring in two guests on this topic. From New York, joining me, Nathaniel Frank, the author of the book "Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America." He's also a senior fellow at the Palm Center in Santa Barbara, California. Also joining me as well from Washington, Mr. Tony Perkins, who is president of the D.C.-based Family Research Council. Also a veteran of the Marines. Gentlemen, thank you both for being here. Mr. Perkins, I'll start with you. Certainly a statement that you put out about the president's statement saying that it would jeopardize, by repealing the ban, and I'm quoting, "jeopardize our nation's security to advance the agenda of radical homosexual lobby." Now, I want you to explain that. How is repealing the ban jeopardize this country's security?

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, first, we have to ask the country what's changed since 1993 since this policy was enacted, which was a compromise policy, as you described earlier in the package.

Nothing has changed other than the fact that America is involved in two wars, and we live under a constant threat of terrorist attack. This is not the time to be tinkering with the military and making it a playground of social experimentation.

The military is there for one purpose. It's to fight wars, to defend this country and our way of life. It's not there to advance any kind of social policy, which is what this president is attempting to do.

HOLMES: Well, let's say that is what the president is attempting to do, if we do concede that point. If everybody happened to concede that point -- but still how would allowing gays to openly serve in some way put me, or my co-workers or the people in Georgia or anywhere else at risk and make this country less safe?

PERKINS: That's a good question. Congress has had 14 hearings since this policy was enacted in 1993, and they come to the same conclusion: that in order to have strong unit cohesion, to have strong unit, the cohesion and the strong military environment.

You know, most people haven't served in the military. They don't understand what's it's there for or in terms of the environment that it's created in which these people live. I mean, most people have not lived 80 people in one room. They don't understand that aspect of it, but also they don't understand the military is governed by a different code -- a different law. You have uniform code of military justice where not only is homosexual behavior illegal, so is adultery. And those standards are there because they need to have...

HOLMES: Let me -- I want to go ahead. Forgive me for cutting you off. I wanted to go ahead and bring in Mr. Frank on a couple of points he was making. Does he make a point that we sometimes think that the military should mirror what maybe is happening in society, but the military is a unique environment?

NATHANIEL FRANK, AUTHOR, "UNFRIENDLY FIRE": Well, I think it's astounding to suggest that someone like Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today he believes the policy should be lifted and our service members can handle the change, that someone like him doesn't understand the military.

We also have John Shalakashvili (ph), former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We have three -- two former and one current saying this is possible. There has never been any research anywhere showing that gays, open or otherwise, undercut the military.

In fact, we all know, everyone but Tony Perkins seems to know that a, gays are already serving in the military, always have. And not serving in the military but serving openly. Polls show that two- thirds of the military already know or suspect gays in their unit. And the other third, I have to say, are kidding themselves if they think they haven't shared quarters with a gay person.

So, this is about admitting reality. There's nothing radical or experimental about a policy that catches up with policy on the ground.

PERKINS: It's not a question of whether gays have served in the military or can serve in the military, as its not a question as to whether people who engage in other sexual behavior can serve or have served. It's what the military says is acceptable behavior. The focus son the behavior and not the individual and their orientation.

FRANK: Of course it's a question of...


FRANK: Of course, if gays already serve...

PERKINS: What you're calling for is a change in military code and law which would drop all sexual mores, the standards that's...

FRANK: That's actually incorrect. The UCMJ -- the UCMJ does not ban homosexual conduct and doesn't say anything about homosexuals. What it bans is sodomy, and that includes oral sex. According to polls, 80 percent of service members, including the military, engage in oral sex. So you know as well as I do...

PERKINS: You know exactly how..


FRANK: It doesn't single out gay people and this is not about the UCMJ.

PERKINS: It absolutely is. That actually is a federal statute.

HOLMES: Gentleman, let me jump in here for a second. We wanted to throw in polls here, and everyone has polls here or there, if you will, but some that CNN did -- we'll put on the screen.

Some of our latest reporting on this, which a lot of people were asked, they were in favor of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Thirty-seven percent said they opposed it and thought it treated gays too harshly and others thought it treated gays too leniently.

We also have another poll simply asking people should people who are openly gay be allowed to serve in the U.S. military? And 81 percent said, yes, they should be allowed.

So, Mr. Perkins, let me bring you back in here. Are you opposing it because you're afraid of what will happen to the military or you're opposing it more as a social concern of the expansive role and rights of homosexuals?

PERKINS: Well, I think it's a combination of both. If you've seen what this administration has laid out, a part of the agenda to actually tear down the Defense of Marriage Act is the first to impose this adoption of this new policy on the military.

But if you talk about polls, let's go back to the military times in 2008 had a poll of active duty military members. Fifty-eight percent said they were opposed to overturning this policy. And many have said that this will cause them to reconsider whether or not they stay in the military. It will have an impact upon recruiting. I mean, this is an issue of retention and recruitment for the military and ultimately could lead back to the imposition of a draft in order to fill the numbers and quotas in the military.

HOLMES: Mr. Frank, I'll go ahead and let you get back in there because I know you have something to say at least about the poll that he quoted...

FRANK: Thank you.

HOLMES: ... and you just interjected about something -- we're talking about the draft, we go from letting gays serve openly to a possible draft, you just suggested. Go ahead, Mr. Frank, I'll let you respond.

FRANK: I don't know how -- these are fear tactics. Polls show in Canada and Britain that when they ask service members if they -- if they wanted to serve with gays, two-thirds would absolutely refuse, but when they actually lifted the bans anyway, about two people -- two people, not the thousands predicted by the polls -- actually left. Because polls don't predict behavior, they express values.

And the polling is instructive, but we're not asking the right question. When you ask the military about their sentiments, you need to be sensitive to their concerns. But the question is not do you feel like serving with gays? It's are you capable of serving with gays?

And what the Joint Chiefs Chairman said today is don't underestimate our troops. They can do this. And the military is not about what some members in the military want. It's about what's good for the whole. And what's good for the whole is we need these 13,000 troops.

HOLMES: You believe in that, Mr. Perkins? You think that the military is capable, our men and women in uniform are capable of handling the change?

PERKINS: I think what we're looking at is what are going to be the long-term consequences, and what we're saying is that this is not the time to try this experiment at a time when we are stretched.

I mean, when you talk to young men and women who are serving in the military that are doing their second and third tour in Iraq or Afghanistan, constant deployments, this is not the time to question whether or not will it impact retention? Will it impact recruiting? If it just impacts it by 5 percent, that could be a drastic impact upon the readiness of our military and could put this nation at great risk.

HOLMES: And Mr. Perkins, to wrap here, I'll let you have the last word, Mr. Frank. But to you, Mr. Perkins, when you were in the military do you remember serving with anybody that you knew was a homosexual?

PERKINS: No, I did not.

HOLMES: Would that have had an impact on how you performed?

PERKINS: No, I think -- certainly it would if you were a recruit, and we've seen this when we began to mix the sexes in the military and we've had cases of sexual harassment where men have had positions of authority over women in training. That situation has been abused, and if you have this in basic training, it can be a very volatile situation.

So, I think these are some things that, again, I don't think people understand the dynamics of the military and the conditions in which these men and women live. And their concerns should be heard in this process, and, unfortunately, those who are in the chain of command today, taking their orders from the president, do not feel free to express their opinions. You've had over 1,000 staff officers, general officers who have spoken out against this policy who are retired and can speak without fear of retaliation.

FRANK: Those officers have not served under "don't ask, don't tell...."

HOLMES: Let's go ahead and wrap it up, Mr. Frank. Mr. Frank, you go ahead and wrap it up there.

FRANK: Yes, lifting the ban will also allow a lot more gay people to come in. So, there's no evidence that recruitment will suffer. But there is evidence that it will actually help. And this is, I think, a moral concern for social conservatives. It has very little to do with military effectiveness.

HOLMES: Well, gentleman, I appreciate you both. I appreciate the civility of the conversation. Glad we could -- really, we all need to be sitting down and having a conversation about this. An important topic. And certainly, we'll hope to have you both back to discuss this further.

But again, Mr. Perkins, Tony Perkins, and Nathaniel Frank, thank you both for being here.

PERKINS: Have a good day.

FRANK: Thank you.