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tv   NBC Nightly News  NBC  December 30, 2011 5:30pm-6:00pm PST

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on the broadcast tonight, backing down. an about-face over the new fee from the largest cell phone company in america. tonight, verizon bows to a customer backlash. poll position. the latest numbers from the new nbc news poll, plus an emotional moment for newt gingrich. remembering mom. wiping away tears. tonight, one on one with the surging rick santorum. l.a. on alert and southern californians on edge. a serial arsonist torches hollywood. investigators scramble to solve a mystery. and what lies beneath? as the earth heats up an incredible phenomenon. you won't believe what we're going to show you. you won't believe what we're going to show you. "nightly news" begins now.
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captions paid for by nbc-universal television good evening. i'm harry smith filling in for brian. power to the people is a phrase from the '60s u.s. corporations have begun to feel in a big way this year. whenever companies propose new policies or changes consumers don't agree with, the response is instantaneous and unequivocal. as we reported last night, the latest case comes from phone giant verizon. as pete williams reports, verizon is listening. pete, good evening. >> reporter: harry, barely 24 hours after saying it would charge a fee for paying bills online, verizon wireless abruptly took it back. the company said it was acting in response to what it politely called customer feedback.
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cell phone and internet users have been complaining loudly since word of the new fee first leaked out, flooding twitter with critical comments and launching petition drives. >> i think it's a little bit unfair. i mean, it's going to affect how i think about verizon. >> reporter: all in response to the company's plan to charge $2 when customers pay their bills once a month either by phone or by going to the company's website. it offered a host of ways to avoid the fee such as signing up for automatic billing. then an official of the federal communications commission said, on behalf of american consumers, we are concerned about verizon's actions and are looking into the matter. the company's about-face came late today. in a written statement the ceo of verizon wireless, dan mead said, we take great care to listen to our customers, adding that the decision was based on their input. customers immediately declared victory on twitter. oh, yeah, said one. verizon can hear you now. power of the masses equals amazing, said another. and a third said simply, we did it. industry experts said they may
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have thought the fee would push more customers into using automatic billing which speeds up payments. it's the latest in a series of corporate reversals forced by consumer protest and scrutiny from federal regulators. three credit card companies abandoned plans to charge a fee for using debit cards after a backlash. video company netflix backed off a plan to divorce its internet and mail services. >> companies are learning that the price sensitivity is there. customers online in particular can respond quickly and they are going to have to think of other ways to get customers to do what they want rather than charging a fee. >> reporter: tonight verizon says it will continue to encourage customers to pay their bills without having to go to the company's website every month. the key term here being encourage and not charge a fee. harry? >> pete williams in washington tonight. thanks. to presidential politics now. just four days until the iowa caucuses. tonight, our new nbc news marist poll showing mitt romney and ron
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paul are running neck and neck. romney drawing support from 23% of likely caucus goers. paul just a few points behind at 21%. rick santorum is third at 15%. newt gingrich was moved to tears at one event today, has fallen to fifth place. nbc's peter alexander is in des moines with more. peter, good evening. >> reporter: harry, good evening. as you noted the frontrunners mitt romney and ron paul are so confident tonight ron paul said he plans to take the weekend off. mitt romney is already campaigning in new hampshire tonight, the next state to vote, trying to shore up his support there. mitt romney continued trying to position himself as the presumptive republican nominee, directing much of his fire at the president. >> do you want more of barack obama? >> no! >> reporter: today turning to popular new jersey governor chris christie to help seal votes who offered a playful jab. >> you don't do what you're supposed to do on tuesday for
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mitt romney, i will be back jersey-style, people. i will be back. >> reporter: romney deflected a question from nbc's andrea mitchell over whether he would release his tax returns. >> you know, if i become president then i will consider that. it's premature to talk about it at this stage. >> is there a secret? people know you're wealthy. >> i understand. >> there's nothing to hide. >> no, i agree. there's nothing to hide. >> reporter: newt gingrich who just a month ago was on top is now viewed by more than a third of iowa caucus-goers as an unacceptable nominee. he got emotional at a forum for mothers while recalling his mom's mental health problems later in life. >> my whole emphasis on brain science comes indirectly from dealing -- now you got me emotional -- from dealing with the real problems of real people in my family. >> reporter: meanwhile rick perry intensified his criticism of rick santorum over his record on earmarks in congress.
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>> why did you ask the taxpayers of iowa to support a teapot museum in north carolina? >> reporter: michele bachmann lost her political director thursday and was greeted by underwelming crowds at several events today. >> i guess our effort wasn't to bring crowds out. we were just dropping in. >> reporter: ron paul stayed on point with his solid base of supporters. >> when government gets too big, that's when we have to worry about our dangers. >> reporter: one of mitt romney's sons yesterday said he would release his tax returns as soon as barack obama released his birth certificate. he was accused of pandering to the extremists who still question where the president was born. romney's son later apologized on twitter. >> peter alexander in des moines tonight. thank you. now to the contender. enjoying a well-timed surge in the polls, rick santorum. our political director and chief white house correspondent
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chuck todd went one on one with rick santorum today. chuck joins us now from ames. chuck, good evening. >> reporter: good evening, harry. you know, every long shot presidential candidate comes to iowa hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. most of them fail, but rick santorum may just buck the odds. rick santorum doing what he's been doing for the better part of a year. old fashioned retail politics. today it's ames for an iowa state bowl game party. earlier, we caught up with him at his nondescript iowa headquarters. not the picture of a campaign polls indicate is surging. what took so long? >> i said from the beginning it would be hard work and a message and messenger and experience. >> reporter: he admits it was frustrating at times and he regrets letting that show. >> i felt like i needed to buy a ticket to be at the debates sometimes. that probably didn't serve me well to have that kind of
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feeling. >> reporter: santorum struggled for months to get traction here. >> can we win? how many times i got that and my kids were telling me and all the volunteers. we love you, but nobody in the media talks about you. >> reporter: now he's testing arguments against mitt romney if he becomes the conservative alternative. >> i don't think a liberal massachusetts governor is going to come and be able to go and relate to folks as well as the guy who grew up as the grandson of a coal miner. >> reporter: he takes issue with the idea that romney is more electable. >> he has no track record of attracting reagan democrats. that's how you win the industrial mid western states that are necessary to win this election. reagan democrats, that's my bread and butter. >> reporter: santorum pushed back on accusations that he was a pork barrel senator. >> i don't think anyone can look at my record in congress and say i was a go along, get along guy. >> reporter: a devout catholic, santorum tried to draw a line between his personal beliefs and governing. >> just because something i believe is immoral doesn't mean the government needs to police that and make it a criminal
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offense. >> reporter: he said his belief in marriage isn't something he should set aside. >> marriage i think has to be one thing for everybody. you can't have 50 different marriage laws in this country. you have to have one marriage law. >> reporter: our new nbc marist poll is the second one this week to show santorum moving closer to the top. two quick takeaways about it that indicate how fluid this race may be and why santorum may not be done surging. while romney leads the entire field, the three candidates that have more committed supporters who say they are not going to waive on caucus night are santorum, paul and perry. all above romney. romney's support may be soft. we brought up newt gingrich who slid down to fifth place. one of the reasons, he's now only second to ron paul among iowa republicans who say he would be an unacceptable republican nominee. >> still plenty undecided out there. in ames tonight, thank you very much, chuck todd. rick santorum will be david gregory's exclusive guest sunday
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morning on "meet the press." overseas now to syria which today saw one of the largest demonstrations there in months. it's been a year of uprisings and violent crackdowns across the region, but the crisis in syria continues without let-up. today, dozens more were killed. nbc's ayman mohyeldin has our report from neighboring jordan. >> reporter: nine months into the syrian uprising, hundreds of thousands of syrians took to the streets today, protesting a regime that shows no signs of backing down. in this year of the arab spring a wave of change that toppled hosni mubarak of egypt and moammar gadhafi of libya. bashar al asad of syria has so far managed to hold on to power. the cost, more than 5,000 lives since march with more killed each day, even as many soldiers defect and the uprising lurches toward civil war. nothing has slowed down the carnage.
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not even the presence of arab league observers. their job, to ensure the asad regime's compliance is an agreement aimed at ending the crackdown. while the syrian government has allowed the arab league observers in, it has all but banned foreign media from reporting firsthand from inside the country. the opposition is using home video to get the message out and hoping the observers present will help them be heard. in this amateur footage not independently verified residents placed the body of a dead child on the hood of the observer's car. but the arab league has been of little help so far. opposition groups say more than 130 syrians have been killed since the observers finally arrived this week. president asad claims he's waging war against terrorist gangs and foreign elements trying to divide the country. few believe that, but so far the world seems helpless to stop him and so do the syrians in the streets. ayman mohyeldin, nbc news.
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>> in southern california tonight a growing mystery has police on alert and firefighters scrambling to solve a hollywood whodoneit. investigators say a serial arsonist is torching l.a. nbc's george lewis reports. >> reporter: los angeles firefighters had their hands full as they responded to call after call. autos parked in carports burning, the flames spreading to surrounding buildings in many cases. mike robins went door to door to warn his neighbors. >> within just about -- you know, a couple minutes that carport was pretty well enveloped. >> reporter: investigators said the fires had been deliberately set. one firefighter was injured when he fell. >> very dangerous fires. these can certainly lead to loss of life, injury. we're very concerned about it. >> reporter: there were a total of 19 fires in hollywood and the neighboring city of west hollywood. some of them near famous
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landmarks. one of the incidents was at the former home of the late rock star jim morrison. the fire reported at about 1:20 this morning. ironically morrison who performed with the doors in the 1960s was the guy who famously sang "come on, baby, light my fire." now arson investigators are koem combing through surveillance videos to see if they can find out who lit these fires. police arrested two men for arson on thursday. they were in jail during friday's incident. >> when it's something manmade and someone is trying to do harm and trying to cause damage, yeah, it does hit home with us. >> reporter: law enforcement and fire officials say it's a tense situation tonight as they wait to see if there will be another arson epidemic. george lewis, nbc news, hollywood. it was a mixed day on wall street, this last trading day of 2011. the dow finished down 69 points
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but gained 5.5% for the year. the nasdaq closed down 9 and the s&p closed down 5, ending the year right about where it began. when "nightly news" continues, a remarkable phenomenon in a place very few people have ever seen. you've got to see it to believe it. later, good-bye and good riddance. why so many people are ready to say adios to 2011.
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the unusually warm weather
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this winter has people talking. but what if warmer weather itself could set off a catastrophic chain reaction releasing a massive cloud of dangerous greenhouse gases into the atmosphere? those gases have been frozen in the arctic for thousands of years, locked just underground in places like siberia. nbc's jim maceda traveled to one of the most remote spots on earth to find out more. >> reporter: there is a ticking bomb in this vast remote land and sergei zimoff might be the man to disarm it. the russian geophysicist came tracking the call of the wild but over the years he realized he was standing on a powder keg with vast amounts of highly flammable methane seeping from the earth below. more greenhouse gas than man has made since the industrial
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revolution -- some 500 billion tons. where is it all coming from? permafrost. for thousands of years it's trapped the carbon rich soil, a compost of ice age plant and animal remains. but global warming is melting the permafrost and exposing the soil. one result, bones of woolly mammoths and other prehistoric animals, once buried deep in permafrost, now cover this lakebed like a giant graveyard. >> there are hundreds more like them all over the shore here. >> reporter: as it melts the permafrost leaves behind scenes of utter destruction. >> the force is a huge bomb. it's a catastrophe for climate, for global agriculture. >> reporter: u.s. scientists are taking notice. adam wolf, a princeton biologist who's worked in siberia said the rise in temperature from such an explosive event could threaten the planet.
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>> where the warming is so extreme that it's hard for us to really fathom. >> reporter: unless this works. zimoff calls it his pleistocene park. an idea so simple it sounds absurd. why not go back in time and recreate the very conditions that existed in the colder days of the woolly mammoth. that's right. turn this into the second ice age. so zimoff bought some land, shipped in herds of animals, horses, canadian bison and reindeer. with a four ton truck like a mammoth he knocked down trees that absorb heat and grasslands, as in ancient times, reappeared. the herds ate the grass and trampled the cold snow into the ground. temperatures fell and at least in this park the permafrost is now stable. science 101. >> at first, people say, it's unbelievable.
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next step, they say, why not? and third step, it's best idea. >> can the experiment be scaled up to stop the bomb? >> is it possible with proper investment? absolutely. >> reporter: zimoff admits he's a wilderness nut who never set out to save civilization but it might work out that way. jim maceda, nbc news, northeast siberia. >> when we come back it's lights-out this weekend for a household staple.
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we learned today that a recipient of this nation's highest military honor has died.
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mike colaulillo was one of 85 living recipients of the medal of honor for actions in germany during world war ii. on april 7, 1945, he risked his own life, leading his company into enemy fire to save a wounded fellow soldier. he passed away this morning in his hometown of duluth, minnesota. he was 86 years old. it's the end of an era for two fixtures of american life. on sunday it's lights out for the world changing invention, the incandescent lightbulb. despite a last ditch effort by some in congress to save it earlier this month, manufacturers will stop making them as they comply with a federal law requiring lightbulbs to be 25% more energy efficient. you will still be able to find them on store shelves for a few months until retailers run out of stock. and starting monday you will no longer be able to buy paper u.s. savings bonds at your neighborhood bank. a tradition that dates back to the days when fdr was president.
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instead you have to buy bonds online. the government said the decision to go paperless will save the treasury more than $100 million. and the good folks at michigan's lake superior state university are out with their annual list of words and phrases they say we should put to rest for a while. among this year's selections they wish to banish -- baby bump, ginormous, man cave, shared sacrifice and the new normal. and making the list, the word occupy. which you may have heard once or twice on this broadcast. up next here tonight, a lot of folks looking forward to turning the page on 2011.
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after all we've been through this year, tomorrow night's big ball drop in new york's times square cannot come soon enough
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for a lot of people ready to kiss 2011 good-bye. nbc's mike taibbi tonight on why so many are saying good riddance and hoping for the best for 2012. >> reporter: let's face it. even if 2011 wasn't an actual bummer for most people it sure felt like it. from new york's times square. >> it's scary. it really is scary. >> reporter: to pasadena on the left coast. >> feels like a lot of humanity has been lost. >> reporter: granted there was a lot to worry about. pro football, pro basketball and even the u.s. congress were on the brink of shutting down. they didn't. and though california spent months over a pending transportation mess they dubbed carmegeddon -- >> it certainly will be a traffic disaster -- >> reporter: -- it ended up as a news story about a highway shut down for a while. then there was oakland preacher harold camping who predicted the world would end may 21. >> it will begin with a huge
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earthquake. >> reporter: when it didn't he changed it to july 4, then october 21 and then stopped talking. still, recent polls show americans by huge margins, 2 to 1 and 3 to 1, think we are on the wrong track as all the occupy protests demonstrated it's worries about money. >> i lost a couple jobs because of the economy and things. everybody's going through that. >> maybe congress will get it back together and do what it needs to do and go forward. >> reporter: but 2012 is at hand and as the poet alexander pope once famously wrote, "hope springs eternal." you may have heard we have an election coming up. so around half the country will find its hopes rewarded. the other half might find entertainment if not solace on events already on the calendar. the london olympics, the jubilee celebration for the queen's 60th year of rule, a tour and album by the beach boys. of course the movie "2012" does have the mayan calendar predicting the world's destruction next december. >> california is going down. >> reporter: but that's just
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hollywood. in real life, 2012 is already worthy of optimism because it's not 2011. mike taibbi, nbc news, los angeles. >> and that is our broadcast for this friday night. thank you for being with us. i'm harry smith. we hope to see you right back here tomorrow evening. we hope to see you right back here tomorrow evening. good night and happy new year. -- captions by vitac -- right now at 6:00, thieves strike an unlikely target. the san francisco zoo. and tonight, there is an animal no one can account for. thanks for joining us, i'm garvin thomas. >> i'm janelle wang. raj and jessica are off tonight. developing news. stunning new details in the murder of a nursing student. and the threatening messages from her accused killer. newly released court documents show disturbing and threatening texts from gentleman zel


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