Nightly News Netcast   |  January 09, 2014

January 9: Nightly News Thursday broadcast 

Angry, embarrassed and humiliated’ Christie apologizes; Traffic mayhem takes toll on N.J. town; Will traffic troubles detour Christie’s political ambitions?; Obama announces new poverty battle initiative; Airport becomes hub for thousands of refugees; The Two Words That Cost Medicare Patients Thousands; Castro Looks Thin in New Photo; Vermont Gov. Focuses on Heroin Crisis; Which Airline Fairs Best?; Loehmann’s Closes Its Doors; Life After Soldier’s Famed Salute

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> on our broadcast tonight, damage control, chris christie says he was blindsided by his own staff as he scrambles now to contain the scandal. tonight, the fallout and potential trouble ahead.

>>> and paying the price, a warning for anyone on medicare about something that is happening to a lot of patients, and the problem is the fine print that could cost you a fortune.

>>> and the salute, a badly wounded american soldier , the photo that inspired so many people and after following this veteran's journey for the first time tonight, we hear from him. nightly news begins now.

>>> good evening, the governor of new jersey , chris christie , said today he is angry, he is embarrassed. he is humiliated, but he is innocent. he was talking about a monumental multi-day traffic backup on the busiest bridge in the world, the george washington bridge , which connects new jersey with new york. now we know it was put together by a member of the governor's senior staff and a political appointee who apparently wanted to use heavy traffic as a political payback. but today during an epic, almost two-hour long news conference, the governor, who is one of the big stars of his political party said it was not him and he did not know what his own people had done. we begin tonight with nbc 's kelly o'donnell who took part in the questioning today. live in ft. lee, new jersey, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian , chris christie fired a deputy and a member of his staff, saying they betrayed him. he said he gathered all of his senior staff around and had been wrongly told nobody was involved. so he apologized today about the jokes he made about the traffic jam story. his trademark in your face style, tempered today by scandal inside his own circle.

>> they hurt the people of new jersey and hurt the people of ft. lee, and the person who needs to apologize for that is me.

>> reporter: appearing contrite, sometimes mournful. and in his words, embarrassed.

>> i am humiliated by the fact that i did not know this and that i was deceived. that is an awful way to feel.

>> reporter: facing more than 20 cameras, dozens of questions in a marathon news conference with his national political future on the line, governor chris christie insisted he never knew about and never okayed what he called a political vendetta.

>> let me tell you everybody, i was blindsided yesterday.

>> reporter: christie said he learned only yesterday about a series of damaging e-mails which he called stupid and callous, now firing bridget anne kelly seen here with the governor in september. wrote time for some traffic problems in ft. lee, today, the man who responded, got it. he appeared at a state assembly hearing.

>> on advice of my counsel, i assert my right to remain silent.

>> reporter: david wildstein who already resigned from the port authority , refused to answer questions.

>> same answer, sir.

>> reporter: the e-mails suggest there was a deliberate political motivation, behind four days of snarled traffic last september at the george washington bridge .

>> the delays at the gw bridge are a solid hour.

>> reporter: aimed at the democratic mayor of ft. lee, who did not back christie in the election. christie said he does not lead a culture of political payback critics say this shows you are a . political bully, that your style is payback, are you? and does this compromise your ability to serve?

>> no, i'm not, kelly , listen, politics ain't bean bag , and everybody who engages in politics in the country knows that. on the other hand, that is very, very different than saying somebody is a bully. i am who i am, but i am not a bully.

>> reporter: the governor promised action and headed to ft. lee to apologize at first to the mayor who resisted at first.

>> we would ask that he delay his visit here today.

>> reporter: but christie came anyway. with lots of coverage of the coming and going of their private meeting.

>> very good, very warm, very productive.

>> reporter: and the mayor said after that meeting that he does take the governor at his word that he was not personally involved. christie says more facts need to come out and likely will as questions continue. and one unusual thing today, brian , especially for chris christie , there was very little conversation at that news conference about his presidential decision.

>> kelly o'donnell starting us off on this incredible televised chapter that played out on live tv today, thank you. bears repeating, gw bridge is the busiest in the world, think about the impact this had on all the lives, the vehicles, the doctor's appointments, people late for work, anybody with an emergency, and don't forget, it was the first day of school. nbc 's stephanie gosk is live in ft. lee. the town, after all, hardest hit by all of it.

>> reporter: the people of ft. lee are no strangers to traffic. the backup on the bridge happens every day, but not like that week. how bad was it?

>> it was very bad, worse than ever.

>> reporter: this is just regular traffic, an average day for ft. lee, you can already see how difficult it is for emergency responders to get where they need to go. the real traffic situation started on september 9th . the next day, ft. lee's coordinator wrote a letter to the mayor, over the past two days we have had delayed response times due to the traffic. he describes several cases including a car accident with multiple injuries. he says he was forced to jump the curb in order to avoid the stand still traffic. school children got caught up in the mess, too, the first day back from vacation. some did not reach the classrooms until noon.

>> out of the blue, everybody was back, it took me two hours to get into work. other staff members, it took them a long time. students were impacted because they were late going to class on the first day.

>> reporter: today, the u.s. attorney in new jersey announced an inquiry into whether or not federal law was broken, while at the diner at the foot of the bridge, some of the people watched their governor explain and apologize for nearly two hours.

>> he tells it like it is.

>> reporter: did you find him believable?

>> no.

>> reporter: can you tell me why?

>> almost trying too hard.

>> reporter: he thinks governor christie lied today.

>> i don't think he had any trouble doing it either, his whole political career is on the line.

>> reporter: governor christie 's political future depends on who believes him, convincing the people of ft. lee who sat here in bumper to bumper traffic for hours is one of the governor's biggest challenges. brian ?

>> stephanie gosk at the gw bridge in ft. lee, new jersey, thank you. and because politics is a huge part of all of this, let's talk about that with our political director and chief white house correspondent chuck todd , chuck all day long i heard many say if he got any of this wrong, any a little untruthful, he is done. but let's say it all holds up, what shape is his political career in right now?

>> reporter: well, it is not in good shape, but survivable, it is in full blown scandal, we assume that will be for the next year. but that is the problem he has now, let's assume all he says is true, 100% true. okay, that is fine, he will deal with the drip, drip, everybody is going to look at the -- forget the endorsements, the retributions for people who did not endorse. what happened to people who did endorse? did they get special favors? it is not just the democrats having fun with this, oh, look, the biggest threat the republicans have to upending the democrat's dominance in the white house , it is the others feeling it. other republicans who don't want to have to face chris christie in the primaries, they're feeding this. so he is feeling it from both sides. so the shine was off. he was exposed today as just another politician. and that, in the long run, could be the worst thing that happens today.

>> chuck todd , covering this out of nowhere story that blossomed again today, thank you.

>>> on the day after the 50th anniversary of lbj's declared war on poverty, president obama announced a new initiative in that battle today. the president named five so-called promise zones around this country, areas that will receive tax breaks and other assistance aimed at creating jobs and improving education and housing. the first of them will be in philadelphia, l.a., san antonio , southeastern kentucky and the choctaw nation in oklahoma, we have more tonight in the crisis currently playing out in africa. there has been new violence playing out in the last 24 hours in the central african republic , happening since the coup took place last march. some foreign troops are there, mostly french and other african forces but not enough to keep order. a million people fled the fighting, trying to avoid the disaster. ann curry is in the city of bangui, where they came to help.

>> reporter: people took shelter under the wings of the abandoned planes. this is bangui airport, now, the country's biggest camp for displaced people . 100,000 fled their homes to escape the violence and came here. and in this desperate place, linda tries to manage the unmanageable. she is from norway, a former producer of that country's "who wants to be a millionaire" before she had an awakening.

>> at the end of the day it is just a tv show . and i wanted to do something more with my life.

>> reporter: she is now with doctors without borders, tending lost children in the 50-bed hospital , to looking over thousands of vaccinations.

>> in a camp like this, we look at a high risk of epidemic.

>> reporter: she also runs a make shift clinic that treats 400 people a day. it was there where we met tara boyles, a dr. from seattle who also left her old life behind. after her 12-year marriage ended in divorce, she discovered her calling.

>> it is difficult, it is challenging, it is stressful. but it is very -- rewarding.

>> reporter: why?

>> because you can make an immediate difference.

>> reporter: she deals with everything from the casualties of war to pregnancies.

>> she is eight months pregnant. newborns.

>> he is not breast feeding very well.

>> reporter: and her own struggle to stay hopeful. a 7 month-old child died here this morning.

>> every time you lose a child or patient it is always difficult.

>> reporter: but in the chaos here, she has found clarity.

>> if you can make an impact somehow, some way, even one-on-one in this grand scheme of chaos, all the terrible conditions, to me, that is meaningful.

>> reporter: finding meaning where lives hang in the balance. ann curry , nbc news, bangui.

>> still ahead for us tonight as we continue. a whole lot of hospital patients caught off guard. and it is costing them a lot of money, a new warning about something everybody on medicare should be aware of.

>>> and later, the wounded veteran pictured in the salute seen around the world tonight. tonight he tells us the story behind it and talks about the long journey since.

>>> back as promised with this new warning for everyone on medicare . specifically, it is about the words that appear on hospital forms and small differences in the fine print that could mean thousands of dollars in payments down the line. we get details on this story tonight from our national correspondent, kate snow .

>> reporter: 79-year-old m.j. is doing physical therapy after a bad spill in september. she spent three days in the hospital getting the same care as an in-patient but was not classified as one. instead, her chart said she was only under observation.

>> it was illogical, i had a broken leg , it didn't make sense at all, what were they going to observe?

>> reporter: and here is what she didn't understand, that label, under observation, technically made her an out-patient and that means that medicare won't care for her rehab in a nursing facility which costs $28,000.

>> the whole thing is outrageous and it is not right.

>> it is a huge problem, there are almost 2 million people every year who are stuck in this observation status alice in wonderland world.

>> reporter: the number of patients in this status increased dramatically since 2006 , and just last year, more than 600,000 cases were like m.j.'s, patients in the hospital for three days or more, but not eligible for coverage.

>> to the patients, our viewers, frankly it seems the hospitals share at least part of the blame for this.

>> sure, they're in the hospital , they will think all of this is a hospital decision. much of this is out of our hands.

>> reporter: the representative for most of the hospitals in the country say they're being squeezed by medicare . in-patients cost more so medicare aggressively audits the classifications given.

>> if you admit a patient to in-patient status, and they ed itit it years later, unfortunately the patient gets in the middle of this.

>> reporter: we wanted to talk to medicare , but they denied our request on this, citing litigation on this very issue. the hospital that treated m.j. wouldn't discuss it with us, but gave a statement saying it is obligated to follow medicare rules when assigning patients to their appropriate level of care. she and her husband who has parkinson's just moved in with their son in dallas to save money.

>> i worked my whole life. and i'm just appalled.

>> reporter: now, any money they can save will go to her rehab. so far legislative proposals to fix this problem have gone nowhere. advocates say patients who end up in the hospital need to make sure they're admitted as in-patients and are not just under observation. and if all else fails, ask to challenge the decision with medicare . bria brian ?

>> kate snow , thank you. we'll be right back with a surprise appearance that is getting a lot of attention.

>>> it has been a while since we last saw him in the latest photo of fidel castro is shocking, showing him looking very drawn and walking with a cane at a havana art center opening. he has been out of public view for almost a year now and is 87 years old. and in all the years since he came to power, the u.s. has had 11 presidents, from ike to obama. the government of vermont did something highly unusual this week, devoting his state of the state address to a single topic, which may surprise some folks in another part of the country. he talked about what he called a full-blown heroin crisis gripping the state of vermont . the number of people seeking help for addiction there is over 700%. the governor is calling for more emphasis on treatment rather than a focus on punishment.

>>> here in washington while the approval ratings for members of congress fell to an all-time low this past year at least they're all worth a record amount of money as a group. the center for responsive politics says for the first time in u.s. history , a majority of members of the congress are millionaires based on their own personal financial disclosure information.

>>> and mixed news on the airline industry for 2013 , while on the upside, fewer people are getting bumped this year, but now they are cutting flights and the on-time arrival rate went down 2% last year, and delta was singled out for the most number of cancelled flights among the carriers.

>>> among some women, loehmann's was the place to shop, especially those who didn't mind changes for low prices, but they're filing for bankruptcy, the era has come and gone. the store chain announced it will be out of business after the bankruptcy, and going out of business sales in all 39 stores in 11 states across the country.

>>> when we come back tonight, the wounded veteran who made that now famous salute from his hospital bed. we'll hear from him for the first time.

>>> the u.s. army rangers like to say, rangers lead the way. and they do, from their famous exploits on d-day, think private ryan, from their service to our two most recent wars. we have an update on an army ranger , an afghanistan veteran who we came to know because of a famous photo. it showed him saluting despite being under heavy sedation when he was awarded the purple heart in his hospital room. his name is josh hargis, and the photo went around the world. we got to know his wife back in october. tonight, nbc 's harry smith speaks for the first time with sergeant josh hargis.

>> reporter: josh hargis is one tough son of a gun , that he is up and about is proof of his grit. but then we knew that. that is josh. he had just been awarded a purple heart in a field hospital . no one dreamed he was conscious.

>> i felt stuck a little bit, so i started tugging on it and pulled it all the way up. and presented my salute as best as i could.

>> reporter: the picture went viral as soon as josh's wife, taylor , posted it on facebook, then taylor talked to us and the response kept growing.

>> i have a brown paper bag at home filled to the top with letters.

>> reporter: josh and taylor wish they could respond to every message and they want folks to know josh is doing well, taylor is too, she is due in may. how are you feeling?

>> i feel good, tired. hungry.

>> she is always hungry.

>> reporter: already, there have been milestones, like when josh stood up for the first time.

>> like the first big moment of like -- okay, we're on the road. we're healing.

>> reporter: did it feel like that for you, too?

>> being here, to hold my wife.

>> reporter: to hold your wife again, imagine. josh's left leg has healed enough to be fit for a prosthesis, and learning to walk is a tricky business , requiring serious core strength and being able to balance in a way you have to see to believe. all of this requires a kind of fearlessness.

>> i don't want the help.

>> reporter: you don't want it.

>> i don't.

>> reporter: that kind of courage is a little easier to come by when you have a solid support system. next month, taylor 's brother, sergeant patrick griffith is heading up a warrior's walk for what will be a lifetime of added costs.

>> i want them to know that no matter what happens throughout their life that they will always have us to back them.

>> reporter: josh and taylor are humbled by the attention they receive. but they want people to know the war is not over.

>> we're still asking this of our soldiers, go over there, maybe you will come back, maybe you won't. but go over there.

>> reporter: indeed, it is we, who should be saluting all of them. harry smith , nbc news, san antonio .

>> and that is our broadcast for this thursday night from our nbc news washington bureau. i'm brian williams , we'll look for you back home in our new york studios tomorrow evening. good night.