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Over 100 Sears, Kmart Stores Closing; Iowa Caucuses One Week Away; Fact-Finders in Volatile Syrian City; ; Iraq & Iran's Newfound Friendship; Was Gingrich For Romney-Care? Dottie Sandusky Stands By Her Husband

Aired December 27, 2011 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR: We're live from Studio 7. I'm Drew Griffin, in today for Suzanne Malveaux.

Let's get you up to speed for this Tuesday, December 27th.

It's all about politics, right? The Republican presidential race shifting to overdrive. Just a week to go now until the Iowa caucuses, the first big test really of the 2012 presidential race.

The candidates are crisscrossing that state. Five campaigning in Iowa today, actually. So far, none have won the support of a particular Iowa congressman whose endorsement carries a lot of weight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: A large percentage of Iowans haven't decided. I'm among them. I thought I would come to a conclusion in September or October. It's nearly the end of December, and we're within a week of the caucus, and I have not gotten to that point where my head and my heart come together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: Still up in the air.

A fact-finding team on the ground today in the Syrian city of Homs. But we are hearing reports of more gunfire near a volatile neighborhood in that city.

A team of Arab League monitors is trying to get the government to uphold its promise. That would be to end the brutal crackdown on protesters. Activists say more than 6,000 people have been killed since that uprising started in March.

Police in Detroit say three of four women found dead in car trunks have been linked to online sex ads. All of these victims are black women who are in their 20s. Police say three of these women had profiles on backpage.com. That's a Web site used to buy and sell things, but it also offers adult services.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF RALPH GODBEE, DETROIT POLICE: We felt that it was imperative to alert the public that deciding to meet unknown persons via the Internet can be extremely dangerous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: In Maine, authorities confident now that missing toddler they are searching for has been abducted. She's 24-month-old Aila Reynolds (ph), last seen in her bed days before Christmas. There's a $30,000 reward being offered for anybody with information that could help find that girl.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD REYNOLDS, FATHER: Just bring her home to us. I want my baby home. I want her home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: The mayor of Stamford, Connecticut, holding a news conference this afternoon to talk about a devastating Christmas Day fire that gutted that home right there. Investigators have not yet said what caused the fire. It killed three young girls and their grandparents in the middle of the night. The mother of the girls was trying to reach her children when firefighters got there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF ANTONIO CONTE, STAMFORD FIRE DEPT.: What this poor family has to endure, what this mother has to endure from this point on for the rest of her life, it's too much to bear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: The housing market taking another step backward in most major cities. The S&P Case-Shiller index just out this morning shows home prices dropped for a six straight month in October, down 1.2 percent from the previous month. The biggest declines, Atlanta, Detroit and Minneapolis. Analysts say it's just soft demand. People are either renting or looking for big bargains.

Britain's Prince Philip released from the hospital this morning following heart surgery. The 90-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth suffered chest pains last Friday. Buckingham Palace says he had a minimally invasive procedure to treat a blocked artery.

Now it's on to the times and tough times for a major retail company. It turns out the holiday season hasn't been so bright for Sears. Now its parent company plans to close as many as 120 Sears and Kmart stores.

Alison Kosik joins us from the New York Stock Exchange with details.

Alison, disappointing holiday sales figures for Sears and Kmart. How bad were they that they come out just days after Christmas and say, look, we're shutting stores?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. And those sales numbers, Drew, were pretty bad. The company says sales this quarter are down more than five percent. Overall, down six percent at Sears, down more than four percent at Kmart. And that's pretty bad when you look at the overall holiday sales that are expected to be up by three percent this year. So obviously Sears in tough shape at this point.

And you know how this is. In business, Drew, there are winners and there are losers, so Sears, in this case, was a big, big loser this season -- Drew.

GRIFFIN: Have they said where these stores are?

KOSIK: They haven't yet named which stores will be closing. One retail analyst told CNN Money that he believes that Kmart stores located outside the company's home base in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions, that those will close first.

Also, look for those anchor stores. If Sears anchors any kind of mall that you live near, those could be vulnerable. And that's partly because malls haven't done such a great job holing on to other tenants, so you see that foot traffic sort of goes away when you see all those vacancies inside the shopping malls -- Drew.

GRIFFIN: And if I was to guess what was wrong at these stores, it seems like Sears still has that high overhead of the high-ticket kind of stores, but trying to attract the lowball market, which is being sucked up by Target and Wal-Mart, right?

KOSIK: Exactly. And not just Target and Wal-Mart. Don't forget Amazon.com, Home Depot, Macy's. Sears has just been getting beat by the competition on price, especially on appliances and electronics.

Consumers of course have gotten smarter about how to use the Web to find the best price, and they've punished companies that haven't been able to keep up. So that's one of the reasons why you're seeing Sears so battered and bruised, it's because customers are going elsewhere -- Drew.

(STOCK MARKET REPORT)

GRIFFIN: All right, Alison. We'll see you later on. Thanks a lot.

Here's another sign of the times, falling movie sales. It's also your chance to "Talk Back."

Today's question: Is the big screen really worth it?

"The New York Times" reports today that sales of movie tickets at movie theaters are down by $500 million. We did some number and movie popcorn crunching to figure out why more people are apparently staying home. Here you go.

The average price of a movie nationwide is close to $8. I know what you're saying. That's a lot less than what you pay.

In Manhattan, adults will show out $13 for a multiplex movie ticket. In Los Angeles, it could be $19 for a 3-D film. So a family of four will plunk down $78 for tickets?

Then you add the snacks. A medium bag of popcorn, six bucks. A couple of sodas, about five bucks a pop.

And we're talking big money to see a movie on the big screen. Compare that to renting a movie on demand at home with an average price of about $5 or $6 for most cable or digital television companies. That may explain why people are opting to sit on their coaches in front of their own flat screens with surround sound instead of heading to the theater.

We want to hear from you though. Is experience of the movie on the big screen really worth it?

You can leave your comments on Suzanne Malveaux's Facebook page. That's Facebook.com/SuzanneCNN. We're going to share some of your responses a little later in this hour.

Here's a rundown also of some of the stories we are covering.

First, just one week before the Iowa caucuses, Republican candidates campaigning around the state today. We're going to have live reports.

And a huge fight involving some 200 people. This, at the Mall of America. We'll tell you what may have sparked it on the day after Christmas.

Stormy weather going to get in the way for lots of folks trying to make it back home from the holidays.

And also, how much did the wife of Jerry Sandusky know about his relationships with children? The Penn State scandal. A neighbor sheds new light on what was going on with that family.

And a former prisoner sharing his story of brutal treatment inside one of North Korea's prison camps.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Hitler gassed people. Kim Jong-il sucked the life out of people through starvation and forced labor."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRIFFIN: Republican presidential candidates are crisscrossing Iowa on the ground and on the airwaves. We're just a week away now from the Iowa caucuses, the first votes of this 2012 presidential race. Candidates, along with political action committees backing them, have spent a ton on TV ads in Iowa.

Joe Johns, live from Des Moines.

And Joe, we've got this three-way traffic jam in the polls. Who are they?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, very close and interesting, certainly for the caucuses right now. You've got three Republicans, as you said, bunched up at the top and within the statistical margin of error. That would be Ron Paul up there at the very top, but not far behind, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, all within one point of each other, and statistically dead heat. A lot of stories there.

Ron Paul, who's expected back out here in the state tomorrow, he spent a lot of time here and has a very good organization here in the state. And it's been suggested that he's sort of been flying under the radar, if you will, and that could be one of the reasons why he really hasn't seen a big drop.

Newt Gingrich, another story. Just a couple weeks ago, he was running very strong. Now, not so much, perhaps because of all the attacks on him.

And Mitt Romney, of course, this is a candidate who is not necessarily expected to, you know, sort of win here, doesn't really have to win here, but certainly has to have a very good showing in the Iowa caucuses as we move two New Hampshire, where he's expected to be much stronger.

You can't talk about the caucuses of course without talking about the conservative trio. That would be Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry. They of course have been crisscrossing the state, bus tours and whatnot. Very interested in trying to get that Evangelical vote which is so strong here. In the last caucus, something like 60 percent of people who participated related and said they were Evangelicals.

The other story, of course, Drew -- and I'll sort of leave you with that -- is the ad spending in the final days as we go into the home stretch. This is the headline on the front of the "Des Moines Register," if you will, "$10 Million Ad Blitz." So that shows you a little bit about what's going on here. Apparently, Rick Perry, at the very top, followed by Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, in the competition to see who can spend the most money in the ad wars as we approach the Iowa caucuses.

Drew, back to you.

GRIFFIN: Joe, it is good to own a TV station in Iowa this week. That is for sure. They're spending lots of money out there.

Joe Johns, live in Des Moines.

We'll see you a little bit later on.

A reminder -- tune in a week from today for the country's first real vote. "America's Choice 2012," live coverage of the Iowa caucuses. It's beginning Tuesday night, January 3rd, 7:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

And later this afternoon, at 4:00 Eastern, Newt Gingrich is live in "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer. And that is also only on CNN.

There's a huge fight at Minnesota's Mall of America. We're going to tell you what this was all about.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRIFFIN: Let's check our stories from our affiliates across the country at this hour.

This YouTube video shows chaos that broke out at Minnesota's Mall of America on the day after Christmas. Two hundred people were fighting after a rumor spread that a couple of rappers, Lil Wayne and Drake, were visiting the mall.

Nine people were arrested, no serious injuries. I don't think the rappers were there.

Check out this great video. An armed robber didn't know what he was in for when he held up this We Buy Gold store in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Love it, huh? The clerk distracted the guy, handing him the money, and hit him with a left hook. The punch knocked the robber out. The clerk held him down until police arrived.

How do you like that, Reynolds?

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: He had it coming.

GRIFFIN: A man boarding a flight from Vegas found $10,000 in two Caesar's Palace envelopes. Apparently, a guy won it gambling and dropped it while running for his flight. It took a good Samaritan two weeks to track him down and give the money back. The guys says the airport wouldn't even take his name down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wanted to show my kids the right thing to do. If it happened to me, I sure would want that back. You think about all the bills you can pay. It felt so good to be able to get it back to the guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: Boy, imagine -- it sounds like a scene from -- what was that, "Bachelor Party," or something.

(WEATHER REPORT)

GRIFFIN: Hey. You know some girls like superheroes, right?

WOLF: I do think so.

GRIFFIN: Some boys like princesses. That's just the way it is. But one little girl from New York is taking a stand against toy makers' unethical marketing and gender stereotypes.

Check out this rant from Riley. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RILEY, RANTED ABOUT TOYS: -- for all the girls to buy princesses and all the boys to buy superheroes? Girls want superheroes and the boys want superheroes. The companies who make these try to trick the girls into buying the pink stuff instead of stuff that boys want to buy, right? Yes.

So why do all the girls have to buy princesses? Some girls like superheroes. Some girls like princesses. Some boys want superheroes, some boys want princesses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. Absolutely.

RILEY: Why do all the girls have to buy pink stuff and all the boys have to like different color stuff?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: That's right. Why?

WOLF: Love it. Do not fence her in.

GRIFFIN: Outrage.

WOLF: Beautiful.

GRIFFIN: A politician in the making.

WOLF: It's a wonderful thing. She's got a great point. I mean, why limit yourself? Why focus these toys into ways that kids can only choose from one or another? Just keep it open for everyone.

GRIFFIN: I bet you we should keep that video. She's going to be the head of Mattel or something like that in years to come.

WOLF: And it all began with a rant about toy freedom. Toy choice. How about that?

GRIFFIN: Reynolds Wolf and Riley.

Thanks a lot.

Well, Hollywood may need a superhero to rescue falling ticket sales this year. Sales down despite 3-D movie ticket sales selling for as much as $20 a pop.

You've been responding to our "Talk Back" question, which is this: Is the big screen worth it? We're going to have some of your responses just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRIFFIN: That's some of the video we're taking in from Homs today in Syria. A team of Arab League observers now on the ground trying to get the government to end this, a brutal crackdown on protesters. Syria's keeping international journalists out of that country.

That's why CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom is following developments in Syria from Cairo, Egypt.

Mohammed, we're hearing reports that thousands of demonstrators took to the streets again today. What can you tell us?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Drew, opposition activists there tell us that tens of thousands of demonstrators calling for an end to the regime of Bashar al-Assad took to the streets of Homs today. The reason they gathered was because they were no longer facing a crackdown by the military there. There was a live stream video that showed earlier many people chanting for help from the international community.

Now, we're told just in the past hour from residents in Homs that some members of this protest tried to go to another area of the city called Clock Square, where they believe that members of the Arab League delegation were so that they could speak to them, and that when they got there, some eyewitnesses tell us that the protesters in Clock Square were fired upon, tear gas and bullets, and that many people were injured and that they tried to flee the scene.

We're also told that in the area of the city where we see those tens of thousands, that also a crackdown ensued in the past hour. That's according to one eyewitness in Homs.

So the fear at this hour is that if the Arab League delegation leaves the city, what will happen. Arab League members tell us that some members of that delegation have left Homs and have gone back to Damascus, and that others are going to stay in Homs overnight, but we're trying to get more details from those members of the Arab League as far as what they're seeing and hearing specifically at this hour -- Drew.

GRIFFIN: Will you have access to those Arab League monitors once they come out of Syria and are perhaps able to speak directly about what they did see and what they were prevented from seeing?

JAMJOOM: Well, Drew, we're trying to find out right now. We've been in touch with members of the Arab League mission that are in Syria. We've been in touch with some of the members today that were in Damascus, some of the members that were in Homs.

You know, they seem optimistic they'll be able to do their mission, but we're trying to find out more from them as far as what they're seeing, what they've heard from people there on the ground. We've seen videos, amateur videos, purporting to show these members in Homs. Some of them purporting to show residents there pleading with other people there in Homs for help from the international community and from the Arab League in the presence of monitors, but we just haven't heard yet a detailed account of what those monitors have seen and what else they expect to see and what they're reporting back to the rest of the delegations that's in Damascus at this hour -- Drew.

GRIFFIN: All right. Mohammed Jamjoom.

I believe we're seeing some of that video now that you were speaking of.

Mohammed Jamjoom from Cairo, Egypt, reporting on the Syrian issues.

And Syria's president, you know, is under enormous international pressure to end the violence. Activists say now more than 6,000 people may have died in the crackdown, but just a few weeks ago, President Assad denied the government was brutalizing and killing anyone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIA: We don't kill our people. Nobody kill -- no government in the world kills its people unless it's led by a crazy person. For me, as president, I became president because of the public support. It's impossible for anyone in this state to give orders to kill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: That was the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on December 9th, talking to ABC's Barbara Walters. But his own people told a different story.

CNN's Anderson Cooper talked to a Western reporter who managed to sneak into that country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAMITA NAVAI, REPORTER, PBS FRONTLINE: People are terrified in a lot of the towns outside Syria. The economy has ground to a standstill. There are daily violent house-to-house raids. Activists and protesters too scared to leave (INAUDIBLE) during the day, so they live life on the run, living in safe house -- moving from safe house to safe house.

Life is not as normal. In fact, it feels like a wartime era there.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "AC 360": And Ramita, when you hear the Syrian leader, the dictator of Syria saying we're not ordering the deaths of people, that there are no house-to-house searches, people aren't being arrested and killed in their homes, what do you think? You've seen it for yourself.

NAVAI: Yes. I mean, on some level, it's quite laughable. I was watching an Assad interview, and I was laughing at the same time and screaming at the television, because, of course, what's happening there is absolutely undeniable. It's all around you. You can't escape it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: The initiative currently under way by the Arab League calls for security forces to withdraw from cities, release detainees, and end all forms of violence.

We'll keep you posted on that.

Here's a rundown now of some of the stories we're working on.

Next, former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky already in the middle of a child sex abuse scandal, why his wife of 45 years is now facing some tough questions.

Then, the reason Iran wants to expand its military ties with Iraq.

Also, a look back at the stories that defined 2011.

And later, talk about stuck with no place to go. A family stranded in their SUV, buried under four feet of snow. They were there for almost two days.

Let's move to the Penn State child sex abuse scandal. It's raising questions about the wife of accused former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

She is standing by her man, saying she believes he's innocent, but critics say Sandusky's wife of 45 years, Dottie, should have known what was going on in her own house and about her husband's alleged relations with young boys.

CNN contributor and "Patriot News" reporter, Sara Ganim, joins us from Plantation, Florida.

Sarah, in today's paper, you interviewed a former neighbor of the Sanduskys. What did he have to say about Dottie Sandusky, what she knew and how this family kind of operated?

SARA GANIM, REPORTER, PATRIOT NEWS & CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Drew, what he told me -- he grew up with the Sandusky family in their neighborhood. He was friends with some of their five adopted children. He told me he doesn't believe that Dottie could have known about this. He told me she's a very religious woman. It was something she always went back to in tough times, was back to her religion. That she wasn't someone who was in the forefront. Her husband was in the spotlight a lot and she liked to be at home taking care of things, really at home. She was even more than a housewife, he said, always taking care of the children because Jerry was on the road so much, with coaching, recruiting, games. You know how hectic a football schedule can be.

But he also told me this. He said, even though she liked to be behind the scenes, she wasn't the kind of person who would be silent if she saw something she believed was wrong. She would speak up. She was strict with her kids. She made sure everything was on time and right. And so he believes there was no way she could have known about this alleged abuse because he thinks she would have said something.

But it is kind of interesting, one thing he did tell me was that, probably about a decade ago, maybe a little less, he's not really sure when, but Dottie did express some concern that her husband might be falsely accused. And it's because she realized he could be touchy- feely with kids. Nothing like what's alleged, nothing like the child rape. That's a whole different category. But that she did bring up concerns that kids who were at risk might make accusations against him because he was always, you know, around them so much.

GRIFFIN: I got to tell you, I appreciate your reporting. But I find it so hard to believe the denials that are coming out of all the Penn State community. Here's a guy that was basically kicked out of the football program he loved. One of the accusers actually said I yelled for her in the basement of her home, trying to get her to help me with this issue. With all the suspicions that have been going on there for years, it's hard to believe his wife didn't know what was happening.

GANIM: You know, I talked to some experts. Aside from people who just know Dottie, these experts say it has happened before. And the dynamics of relationships with people like, you know, Jerry's alleged to be -- we've seen this before. We saw wit the man in Austria, who kept his daughter in a basement, impregnated her several times over decades, and his wife never knew because she was told not to go through a certain door, and she didn't go through a certain door. We saw Bernie Madoff's wife get on television not too long ago and say she didn't know about her husband's alleged crimes. Experts say this isn't something that is so farfetched, that the dynamics of a controlling relationship, this could happen. But it kind of remains to be seen in this case if that was the case, or if you believe the alleged victims who say they were around the family a lot, that they did show some outward signs and ask for help in some ways.

And it's not just Dottie. You have to remember, this whole case is about missed opportunities. This whole case is about adults knowing things and not doing the right thing, allegedly. So I think that remains to be scene, but there are cases where that has happened.

GRIFFIN: All right, Sara Ganim, reporting for us from Plantation, Florida, today. Thanks, Sara.

Now that the U.S. is out of Iraq, Iran may be moving in. The newfound friendship between the once-warring nations.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRIFFIN: Iran wants to strengthen its military ties with Iraq just a week after the last U.S. troops left.

Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, will explain what this means for the U.S., but we begin with CNN international correspondent, Arwa Damon, live in Baghdad.

Arwa, I guess what has kept these two countries apart was Saddam Hussein, and he's dead. So Iran has been moving in ever since.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, to a certain degree, it has, Drew. And it is quite natural that the two want to form some sort of a military cooperation, given the lengthy and porous border both countries share. What is concerning though is the type of military influence that Iran has that is not necessarily public spoken about. That comes via the Quds Force-backed Shia militant groups here. There are three main ones. They were the ones who were carrying out the majority of attacks against the U.S. military, along with, of course, the Sunni insurgent groups. And these groups claim they're only striking U.S. targets. However, the military, prior to withdrawing from Iraq, has said they're also reasonable for assassinations in the capitol, Baghdad. So the big question, moving forward, is Iran and Iraq going to have a, quote, unquote, "normal military relationship," or is Iran always going to try to exert some sort of influence by these Shia militant groups.

GRIFFIN: Barbara Starr, this seems like a poke in the eye of the U.S. military, which has tried to deliver some sort of democratic freedom to Iraq. And now, possibly engaging in a pretty deep military friendship with Iran.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Iraq, following the war, is a sovereign country, the U.S. military will remind everyone, and that means they get to make their own decisions.

But Arwa has put her finger on what the concern is at the Pentagon and here in Washington, will the Iranian military have a regular cooperative relationship or is this going to be a behind-the- scenes surrogate relationship where these Iranian-backed militias engage in all sorts of activities inside Iraq that unsettle and destabilize the government.

I want to read for you what the Iranian chief of staff said about this. He says, "The Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to establish, boost and expand all types of military, defense and security cooperation with the friendly and brotherly nation of Iraq."

It all sounds pretty benign, but it's those years of Iranian backed militia movements inside Iraq that have everyone so concerned. And of course, Iraq is one country. Iran also exerting a good bit of behind-the-scenes influence in Afghanistan -- Drew?

GRIFFIN: Arwa, I mean, the U.S. is obviously concerned about this but I would think other Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, would be very concerned that Iran would establish some kind of government figure head or become, kind of, a puppet caretaker of Iraq.

DAMON: Absolutely. Especially when you look at the fact that this is, at the end of the day, a Shia dominated government. This is also a government that came to be because of negotiations that were largely mediated between the various Shia political parties by Iran itself.

But Iraq, for quite some time, has been a battlefield for various regional powers, to include Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey. It has also been a power struggle between the U.S. and Iran as well. And if we look beyond just Iraq, the maneuvers that Iran is undertaking right now, this massive military war game happening in the Persian Gulf and that critical oil strait, this, Iran is saying, is a message to the West that, if the West continues to try to threaten and impose additional sanctions, it is going to close this vital oil pipeline that has around 30 percent of the Iraq's -- the world's tanker-based oil proving through it. So what we're seeing here is not just dynamics of play inside Iraq, but Iran trying to flex its military muscle throughout the region.

GRIFFIN: Arwa Damon, in Baghdad, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon in Washington.

A very, very dynamic story, and complex, to say the least, as this post-U.S. Iraq tries to emerge as a country unto its own.

Thank you, both. Appreciate it.

Newt Gingrich has been blasting Mitt Romney over the health care plan passed in Massachusetts. But guess what? Turns out, Gingrich was for Romney-care before he was against it. Uh, oh. Details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRIFFIN: Well, Newt Gingrich has been blasting Mitt Romney over the health care plan passed when Romney was governor of Massachusetts. But he wasn't always blasting it. In fact, he might have been for it.

Paul Steinhauser, live from the campaign trial in Des Moines, Iowa.

Paul, it's kind of a little embarrassing thing to come up a week before the caucuses.

(LAUGHTER)

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, this is another case of before I was against it or something like that.

GRIFFIN: Yes, something like that.

STEINHAUSER: Here's the story line. Yes, something like that. Listen, we're talking about what the Republicans call Romney-care. This was passed by Governor Romney of Massachusetts in 2006 with support from Democrats as well. A lot of Republicans say that was the inspiration for what they call Obama-care, the National Health Care Reform Law, which is despised by a lot of Republicans.

Here's what the "Wall Street Journal" found. This is from an April 2006 newsletter published by Newt Gingrich's former consulting company, the Center for Health Transformation. In it, they say, "The health care bill Governor Romney signed into law this month has tremendous potential to affect major change in the American health care system." That was April of 2006, from the newsletter.

Drew, as you mentioned, nowadays, yes, Newt Gingrich, and all the other Republican candidates, except for Mitt Romney, criticizing Romney over that health care plan. Gingrich, really attacking it in the summer. Take a listen to what he said in our debate, our Las Vegas debate back in October. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Your plan essentially is one more big-government, bureaucratic, high-cost system, which candidly could not have been done by any other state because no other state had a Medicaid program as lavish as yours. And no other state got as much money from the federal government under the Bush administration for this experiment. So there's a lot of big government behind Romney-care, not as much as Obama-care, but a heck of a lot more than your campaign is admitting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEINHAUSER: A little bit of a different message, right, from that sound from October and that newsletter in 2006 -- Drew?

GRIFFIN: So what's the campaign saying about it? How's Newt explaining this?

STEINHAUSER: Well, I reached out to R.C. Hammond, the spokesman for the Gingrich presidential campaign. This is what he tells me. "This is old news that has been covered -- or covered already. Newt previously supported a mandate for health insurance and changed his mind after seeing its affects." That, again, from the campaign.

Hammond also says a couple of things about the newsletter. That it probably wasn't written by Gingrich.

(LAUGHTER)

That, don't take this as any kind of endorsement of the Romney health are plan. And he said that, if you look further into the newsletter, you will see that Gingrich -- the newsletter raises questions about the Romney health care plan. Drew, so let's see what happens --

(CROSSTALK)

GRIFFIN: So, wait a minute, Paul. It was written by Newt Gingrich, but later on, was that part that goes against Romney-care, written by Newt Gingrich? I want to keep it straight.

(LAUGHTER)

STEINHAUSER: We will check with the campaign on this one. But this Romney-care story has been a big one in the battle for the Republican nomination and, with a week to go until the Iowa caucuses, it remains one.

GRIFFIN: Paul, appreciate the reporting today. Thanks a lot.

For the latest political news, you know where to go, CNNpolitics.com. See all of Paul's work and everybody else out there on the trail in Iowa especially.

And this reminder. A week from today is when it's happening, "America's Choice 2012." Live coverage of the Iowa caucuses beginning Tuesday night, January 3rd, 7:00 eastern.

Well, the good, the bad and the ugly. The look back at the stories that helped shape 2011.

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GRIFFIN: You've been sounding off on our "Talk Back" question. Today, "The New York Times" reporting movie ticket sales down a half billion this year. With the high price of tickets and popcorn and less expensive alternatives for watching movies at home, we're asking you this -- is the big screen even worth it?

Here's what Arlene says. "No, I have been boycotting over a decade quietly. Entertainment as a whole," she says, "has lost the battle because of price gouging. When you go form $2.50 to $20 for a movie is ridiculous. The music industry," she says, "is going down, too for the same reasons, higher prices, less quality."

Russell, "It's still sort of worth it. The average home theater setup doesn't hold a candle to what you see in the theater. But considering the inflated refreshment and ticket prices, it's gotten to the point where I'm forced to sneak my own snacks in."

John says, "Why pay for high ticket prices to deal with crowds, talking and laughing during the movie, annoying cell phones, and expensive food when I can sit in the comfort of my home with a big screen and surround sound and, most important, no waiting in line at the restroom."

Ryan says, "Yes, it's worth it. Certain movies, like "Star Wars" will always be better when viewed on a screen measured in feet rather than inches."

Be part of the conversation at Facebook.com/suzannecnn. We'll have more of your comments next hour.

2011 filled with many events that will have people for talking for years to come. Tom Foreman shows us some of the best and some of the worst.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The word "crazy" keeps coming to mind. A crazy year.

(MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was one of those roller-coaster years.

(MUSIC)

ERIC BURNETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Talk about unexpected, right?

(MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: This year's been all over the place.

(MUSIC)

ANNOUNCER: The final liftoff of "Atlantis."

(MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This year was weird. Wasn't it?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think it's been a tough year for the country.

(MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I agree.

(MUSIC)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF TH UNITED STATES: The Iraq war is coming to an end.

(APPLAUSE)

FOREMAN: Let's start with the biggest, best story of 2011.

(MUSIC)

FOREMAN: The wholesale return of American troops from Iraq after more than eight years of combat, more than 4,000 lives lost, tens of thousands wounded. Whether you supported the war or not, this end was a long time coming.

(CHEERING)

FOREMAN: And even with Afghanistan still in play, it was welcome relief for many military families.

(MUSIC)

FOREMAN: But some of the happy reunions may have been stifled by the biggest, baddest story confronting everyone once again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was the number one concern that everybody had? It was jobs. Everybody knew someone who lost their job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have been hovering between 9.2 and 9.1 for the past couple of years. You know, that's had made -- that's defined 2011.

FOREMAN: A late-year dip in to the 8 percent range helped a bit but despite ambitious talk of politicians about plans for recovering millions of jobs lost in the recession, unemployment lines remain long and frustration levels high.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The retail slump continued, wop, wop.

CLORIS LEACHMAN, ACTRESS: It's horrible enough to not be able to pay for yourself, to have a job, to work at what you're good at.

COOPER: It feels like, I think, to a lot of people that the game is rigged or they just can't get ahead. And there are some very, very severe imbalances in this country.

FOREMAN: At least there's this. If misery loves company, more Americans seem to be warming to the notion that the whole world is in this economic mess together.

LEACHMAN: We need each other. We need each other to buy each other's products and make it all work.

(MUSIC)

FOREMAN: The biggest blow-up goes to the Middle East where the Arab Spring movement ignited passions across the region.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think the Middle East wept crazy. We're just starting to pay attention.

COOPER: You know, I think what we're seeing happen in the Middle East is extraordinary.

(SHOUTING)

LEACHMAN: It's quite thrilling. And where's it all going to end?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: That's a preview of "All the Best, All the Worst of 2011," airing Saturday, New Year's Eve, 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. eastern with Tom Foreman.

Reliving a nightmare, a former prisoner shares his story of brutal treatment inside one of North Korea's prison camps.

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GRIFFIN: It turned out to be a pivotal point in relations between North and South Korea. A group of South Koreans traveled to Pyongyang. You see them here meeting with the head of North Korea's assembly. They also met with Kim Jong-il's youngest son. Kim Jong-un is North Korea's new leader following his father's death earlier this month. The private South Korean citizens paid their respects to the deceased dictator. Officially, the South has only expressed sympathy to the North Korean people. Kim's funeral is tonight and a memorial service is planned for Wednesday.

Kim Jong-il put fear in the hearts of millions and the terror intensified for those inside the country's prison camps. Paula Hancocks shares a former prisoner's story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kang Chol Kwan was sent to a North Korean concentration camp at the age of 9. His crime, his grandfather fell out of favor with the elite. He doesn't know why. His entire family, minus his mother, was sent to the Yordock (ph) camp. He survived there for 10 years before being released and managing to defect with a friend in 1992.

KANG CHOL KWAN, FORMER NORTH KOREAN PRISONER: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

HANCOCKS: He tells me, it was like Hitler's Auschwitz concentration camp, not as large, and there is a difference in the way people are killed. Hitler gassed people. Kim Jong-il sucked the life out of people through starvation and forced labor. He says, in some ways, people may have died in more misery.

Kang says he saw inmates die of malnutrition or exhaustion every single day. He himself almost died three times. His young age did not exempt him from hard labor. Public executions, according to Kang, were frequent.

KWAN: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

HANCOCKS: He says, usually they fired three bullets each in the head, chest and legs. But they would sometimes use machine guns, firing dozens of rounds in the head to destroy the body. They would also hang people and then stone the bodies until they were crushed. I witnessed these kinds of scenes dozens of times. He remembers his family being forced to eat mice, insects and grass to stay alive. He says prisoners were often beaten or tortured.

After writing a book about his experiences, Kang was invited to meet U.S. former President George W. Bush. He told him the U.S. needs to focus on giving food aid in return for abolishing prison camps rather than focusing exclusively on the nuclear issue.

North Korea does not admit to the existence of these concentration camps but Amnesty International released these satellite images earlier this year, which it says shows the size and location of the camps in remote mountainous regions of North Korea.

Comparing them to satellite images from 10 years ago and recent testimony from former inmates, the human rights group says these camps appear to have significantly increased in size. Amnesty believes they have been in operation since the 1950s.

(on camera): Kang says he often thinks of those who were in the camp at the same time as him, wondering if they're still there or even if they are still alive. He describes that time as a living hell, made only slightly more bearable now knowing that Kim Jong-il is dead. But, of course, the question is, will Kim Jong-un continue this deadly legacy? Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)