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President Trump Pushing More Conspiracy Theories; ABC Cancels 'Roseanne' Following Racist Tweets. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 29, 2018 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: ABC pulled the plug on "Roseanne," perhaps the most popular network TV show in America.

THE LEAD starts right now.


Breaking news this: "Roseanne" is canceled, after a crude and racist Twitter rant. What might President Trump have to say about this at a rally tonight?

Armed with exactly zero facts, point peddling a brand-new conspiracy theory, this one that the investigation into election meddling will actually meddle in the next election.

Plus, spy vs. spy. Kim Jong-un sends his right-hand man to meet the CIA chief to save the summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. Could they really be shaking hands two weeks from today?

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with breaking news in the national lead today.

ABC Entertainment dropping bombshell news this afternoon. Executives there canceling their hit sitcom "Roseanne," the highest rated new show of the year. The canning coming in response to the show's star, Roseanne Barr, going on a racist Twitter rant earlier today, suggesting that former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett is the offspring of the -- quote -- "Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes" -- unquote.

Nakedly Islamophobic, nakedly racist, and comments that ABC called -- quote -- "abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values."

The talent agency that represents Barr, ICM Partners, also dropped her this afternoon. Barr later deleted the tweet and wrote another trying to apologize to Valerie Jarrett, but by then it was too late. The whole world had seen this nastiness.

It's a vileness that Barr has been showing to the world for years on social media, one might note. The reboot of the '90s sitcom in which Roseanne played a Trump supporter was an instant hit earlier this year, garnering 18 million viewers in its premiere back in March, with the second season order just days later.

It was heralded, the show, by the president of the United States, who phoned Roseanne Barr to congratulate her after the premiere and said this exactly two months ago today.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look at Roseanne. I called her yesterday. Look at her ratings. Look at her ratings.


They were unbelievable, over 18 million people. And it was about us.

They haven't figured out the. Fake news hasn't quite figured it out yet.


TAPPER: Oh, I think folks have figured it out.

CNN's Tom Foreman joins me now.

And, Tom, "Roseanne"a huge ratings boost to ABC. How big of a deal is it for them to cancel a show like this? Has it ever been done before, a network canceling a number one show?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't say it's ever been done this way, for sure, in the sense that this happened not only a gigantic decision, but it happened at absolutely lightning speed.


FOREMAN (voice-over): "Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes had a baby=vj."

That is the tweet that sank a TV empire. Roseanne's racist slam of former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett came in the wee hours, and Twitter erupted.

Roseanne quickly took it down and tweeted: "I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans. I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks."

But the damage was done. Co-star Sara Gilbert said the comments were: "abhorrent and do not reflect the beliefs of our cast and crew. This is incredibly sad and difficult."

Producer and comedian Wanda Sykes: "I will not be returning to @Roseanne on ABC."

Other Obama staffers and some viewers called for a boycott and ABC called it quits, saying the tweet was "abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values." LAURIE METCALF, ACTRESS: You can't just stand on the front porch staring at your Muslim neighbors.


FOREMAN: Since its return earlier this year, Roseanne's hit show has engaged explosive topics, immigration, terrorism, religious and racial intolerance, with her character romping as a rabid conservative and supporter of President Trump.

He loved it.

TRUMP: Look at Roseanne. I called her yesterday. Look at her ratings. Look at her ratings. Over 18 million people. And it was about us.

FOREMAN: But Roseanne's support for the far right went beyond the studio, with attacks on gun control advocates, a particularly nasty comment about former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, and a stab at former President Clinton's daughter, calling her Chelsea Soros Clinton, suggesting she is married to the son of noted liberal billionaire George Soros.

When Chelsea Clinton corrected her while still complimenting Soros, Roseanne apologized, but then repeated a false claim that Soros was a Nazi. "Were you aware of that? But we all make mistakes, right, Chelsea?"

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Roseanne Barr's tweets are frequently controversial, but this time it really became a wildfire because of just how racist and bizarre the comments were.

FOREMAN: So, the network pulled the plug. The chief executive of Disney, which owns ABC, tweeting: "There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing."


FOREMAN: But the fallout from this may not be so simple.


Not only are there millions of viewers and millions of dollars at stake, but for many parts of conservative America, this was one of the very few shows on network TV that seemed to express some ideas that are felt very strongly in some red states, not necessarily these overtly racist views, but other views about politics.

And, therefore, the fallout from this could be just as energized as the outrage over the tweets.

TAPPER: Right, the backlash to come.

All right, Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

My political panel is here with me. Symone Sanders, let me start with you.

Obviously, there's no debate. The comments are abhorrent. Do you give ABC credit for moving relatively quickly?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Relatively is the word here, Jake.

Roseanne tweeted those tweets at 2:45 a.m. of this morning. In a pre- Trump America, I totally believe that she -- her show would have been canceled and she would have been out on her tail by 8:00 a.m. before people had their Cocoa Puffs.

But, unfortunately, it took until late in the afternoon, many deliberations, for the reason I think Tom just talked about, that folks were thinking about how this would play with conservative America, with the viewers.

And that is wrong. So I'm glad that ABC finally did make a move. We think companies like ABC and Starbucks make moves, where the federal government has failed to act in terms of having a moral compass.

So I'm glad they did it, but the fact of the matter is, I don't think Roseanne should have a show in the first place. They knew what they were getting. Roseanne showed folks who she was a long time ago. And today it came to a head yet again.

TAPPER: well, that's a question I'm hearing from a lot of critics, Amanda Carpenter.

Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney, which owns ABC, said: "There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing."

But, as Tom pointed out, Roseanne had previously compared Susan Rice, another African-American woman who was an adviser to President Obama, to an ape in a different tweet. It's not as though this was the first time she'd ever demonstrated a predilection for conspiracy theories or abject racism.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: To me, this gets at a broader question that I think people far and wide outside of ABC are struggling with.

And it has been pushed to the forefront because of Donald Trump. Does personal contact -- conduct matter? Does decency matter? Something that you talk about. Are you allowed to be a public figure and voice these really nasty thoughts privately and then enjoy a leadership position, whether it be in the media or in politics?

I think we're getting to a better place. Previously, that answer was, yes, she can say these things. She can dress up as a Nazi and hide behind memes and satire to promote really horrible things. And that's something that a lot of Donald Trump supporters do.

Maybe Donald Trump has made people in corporate America rethink that kind of position. Personal conduct does matter. And we're not going to give these people a wonderful platform if they use that influence to hurt people.

SANDERS: I actually don't think so, Amanda.

Look, previously, I would have thought, in a pre-Trump America, again, Roseanne would have been fired much quicker than she was today. She was granted a green-lit show, a reboot, after she was depicted wearing -- wearing an apron and a mustache and pulling what was I guess Jew -- quote, unquote -- "Jew cookies" out of the oven, very anti-Semitic.

She had the tweets. And so what I think we're seeing here is that because of Trump, because -- ABC talked about the whole reason they gave Roseanne a show because she gives a voice to people in Middle America.

Well, let me tell you. I'm from Middle America. And the friends that I have from Omaha, Nebraska, and all throughout the state of Nebraska, they don't -- Roseanne doesn't speak for them. And so I think there's a gross misunderstanding in Hollywood about who Middle America is and what it is in fact that they want.

CARPENTER: And I think that's it exactly.

I also come from the Midwest. I grew up in a town where people lived in houses like Roseanne's houses. And it's refreshing to see lower- to middle-class white depicted. But my first memory of Roseanne was I was 8 years old when I saw her on television just trashing the national anthem.

That doesn't scream to me Republicanism. That's not conservative in any way. But I think big media misunderstands Middle America so much, they look at Roseanne and say, oh, yes, that's what they want.

TAPPER: Well, let me ask you a question, because among her many tweets this morning were a couple having to do with George Soros, lies about George Soros, who is a survivor of the Holocaust, about him being a Nazi, about whatever, just lies about George Soros.

And Donald Trump Jr. guy retweeted some of these conspiracy theory tweets about George Soros. Now, you're not necessarily responsible for your own retweets.


SANDERS: Oh, I think you are, Jake.

TAPPER: You are. OK.

SANDERS: I think you are responsible for your retweets.

You're responsible when you make the conscious decision to click that button. And so on if -- I hope folks are ready to jump on the bandwagon and call Donald Trump Jr. anti-Semitic, say that he's trafficking in bigotry and anti-Semitism and that has no place here in America and condemn it.

I hope folks call on the president to address his son. He's such an involved father, as they like to say, since he was meddling in putting out the statement of the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and the Russian, if you will.



TAPPER: Russian lawyer, yes.

SANDERS: So, I hope we're going to hear something on that.

You do not get to abdicate responsibility in America simply because you have a certain platform of you have reached a certain level of status. There are many people across -- I just hearken back to Jemele Hill.

When she had the tweets where she called Donald Trump a white supremacist...

TAPPER: ESPN anchor.


She called Donald Trump a white supremacist. And ESPN moved very swiftly to censor her and suspend her for weeks.

TAPPER: And the White House called for her to be fired.

SANDERS: And the White House called for her to be fired.

And so there's this assertion that for some folks, Roseanne was just making jokes or Donald Trump Jr. just had a retweet. Folks need to start being held accountable.

And I hope we will call for the same level of accountability for folks in this White House, Donald Trump Jr. and whomever else that folks call for others.

TAPPER: President Trump is going to be speaking tonight.

I find it impossible to imagine he's not going to say something about this. What do you think he's going to do? Is he going to say, Hollywood is trying to silence us? Is he going to condemn what Roseanne tweeted? What do you think he could say?

CARPENTER: He may make a point about political correctness, which is this isn't the issue.

TAPPER: This isn't political correctness. This is just racism.



And what Roseanne says is -- in similar to who what promoted Donald Trump. She was alt-right before we knew what alt-right was, right? Everyone thinks, oh, political correctness. No. This whole hiding behind memes and jokes to push racism and anti-Semitism has been happening for a long time.

Donald Trump, in his leadership position, has brought that out more, playing the both sides argument at all times. I would expect to see some both sides-ism tonight.

And I'm sorry. I can't keep wringing my hands about what Donald Trump is going to do, because this needs to be a conversation about what other people are going to do. If you are in a position of media power, are you willing to regulate your platform in some manner and give up some clicks in the name of civility?

ABC did the right thing. I'm looking at Facebook and Twitter to start doing more of the same.

TAPPER: All right, stick around. We have a lot more to talk about.

Some breaking news on what went down inside ABC today and why they hired Roseanne in the first place. This isn't, of course, the first time she's said something racist or trafficked in conspiracy theories.

That's next. Stay with us.


[16:16:25] TAPPER: In our money lead today, just last week, the president of the Disney-ABC Television Group was bragging about the success of the TV show "Roseanne" at industry events. It was first time in 24 years they had the number one show in America, according to "Variety". Now, as of this afternoon, "Roseanne" has been canceled.

Let's bring back my panel and joining us is CNN's Brian Stelter who's been covering the story.

Brian, let me start with you. You have some new reporting about how ABC and Disney brass came to this decision?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and how quickly during the day today this was decided, a couple hours past before the announcement. But right away, Disney and ABC executives agreed they had to pull the plug from this show. There's no way to have "Roseanne" on TV without actually having Roseanne Barr and there was no way to keep her on the show given these racist and anti-Semitic messages.

But ABC chose to hire her in the first place and that is worthy of some scrutiny, that's why heads are kind of spinning in Hollywood today. There's never been a cancelation quite like this before. A show premieres to record ratings, then it's canceled right away.

A few months ago, ABC chief Ben Sherwood was quoted saying, you cannot control Roseanne Barr, but you can decide whether to give her a show or not. And essentially, ABC thought the reward would exceed the risk. They thought she would tone down her wacky tweeting and focus on making the show great.

But again and again, even after the show premiered, she continued to post inappropriate sometimes unhinged messages. She would tweet about fringe conspiracy theories and things like that. A source at Disney said to me this afternoon this was her third or fourth flare-up. So, even though it was the first controversy to get international attention, it was the third or fourth time ABC had problems with her tweeting. The Disney source said enough was enough.

TAPPER: And, Brian, Disney -- I mean, they had to make a decision here. Roseanne brought in more than 18 million viewers for its first episode.


TAPPER: The second season already in pre-production. Was the risk of a financial hit for keeping the show or for letting the show go greater? In other words, there might have been if they kept the show, if they didn't cancel it, there might have been boycotts. They might have been all that -- all that good diverse programming that ABC has been working on for years, et cetera, might have been for naught.

STELTER: That's exactly right. Advertisers were going to be skittish about associating themselves with "Roseanne." Even if they weren't calling ABC today demanding the show being taken off the air, it was clear the advertiser community was going to shun this sitcom. And that's an incredible turn of events from two weeks ago when Roseanne but on stage in New York promoting the second season in front of hundreds of advertisers.

But the bottom line is what she posted today was insulting to African- Americans, to Muslims, Jews. This was racist hate, and there was no way to come back from it. There was no way to come back from that.

I do think we're going to see a backlash though. This was a show embraced by Trump's America, so to speak. ABC was trying to appeal to the heartland. I hope Hollywood doesn't throw that idea out just because of Roseanne. There's a lot better ways, a lot more appealing ways to reach red states to appeal to Trump supporters without being in business with a conspiracy theorist.

TAPPER: All right. Let's just bring the panel in here.

And, Amanda Carpenter, you were nodding when Brian was saying that, don't throw out the idea of trying to do more programming for red state America. Just -- you don't have to bring in somebody who says racist things and conspiracy theories in order to do it.

CARPENTER: Yes. To me the whole push, and I understand Donald Trump embraced Roseanne so people said, yes, she represents Donald Trump's America. But Donald Trump's America is not, you know, the heartland that I think me and Symone know.

If you ask me, the most Republican show on ABC was, I would say it's "Shark Tank". People compete, pure embrace of capitalism.

[16:20:00] To me, that's a Republican show.

But I think there's a big push to put crass people like Roseanne to be represented as Republicans and Republican Party by people who don't like Republicans.

Don't put me in that box with Roseanne. There's a lot of Republicans like me who feel the same way. There needs to be a reflection point and what Republicans actually stand for that is apart from Trump, because there's a lot of us that are apart from people and people like Roseanne.

TAPPER: And, Symone, there's a human dimension to this as well. Shonda Rhimes who's the creator of several ABC hit shows, "Scandal", "Grey's Anatomy", "How to Get Away with Murder", she tweeted the terrible part is all the talented innocent people who worked on that show now suffer because of this #notjustice.

And I wonder. There about -- I've been told by an industry insider, about 300 people now out of work. You know, dreams shattered, lives ruined temporarily. Was there a different option? Is there a way to have --


TAPPER: No? This was the only --

SANDERS: "Roseanne" was the title character in the show. The show was "Roseanne". The show wasn't your mama from Middle America. The show was, in fact, Roseanne.

So, there was no other option. And it's unfortunate that 300 people are now out of work. Their lives have upended today. But that is the price that you pay when you get in bed with someone like Roseanne Barr. Roseanne has been consistent on who she was.

And I find it interesting what Brian said about that they thought Roseanne would tamp down the tweeting. That's what folks thought about Donald Trump.

TAPPER: Right.

SANDERS: They thought he would change when he got into office, that, you know, the presidency would change him. And the presidency has just magnified who he actually is. Same thing with Roseanne.

So, I'm sorry, I can't feel bad for this. This -- Roseanne should have never had a show to begin with.

TAPPER: Brian, just a little bit of time left. You have something to say about this. This through line of conspiracy theories and racism, Roseanne and somebody else prominent in America?

STELTER: Yes, that's right. This issue is not going to go away. This issue of people wanting to believe ridiculous conspiracy theories that they read about on the fringe of the Internet, that's not going away just because Roseanne might be going away. That's a deeper problem that America has to confront.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks one and all.

Will President Trump spread a conspiracy theory about why "Roseanne" was canceled? It won't be the first one he made up today. Stay with us.


[16:26:22] TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead.

ABC firing comedienne Roseanne Barr today, canceling her TV show after she sent racist and bigoted tweets. Now, some critics of ABC have asked why the network hired her in the first place given the fact that Roseanne has a history of bigotry and she's eagerly spread unhinged conspiracy theories for years.

The truth is, of course, that's uncomfortable to acknowledge, but conspiracy theories are now often being shared by the most powerful person in the country. Just today, President Trump continued his lie- packed crusade against the law enforcement investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia. He extended and built upon his previous false conspiracy theories.

Today, he stated that it's actually special counsel Robert Mueller who will be guilty of election interference. You heard that right. Not Putin. Mueller.

The president tweeted today, quote: The 13 angry Democrats plus people who worked at years for Obama working on the rigged Russia witch hunt will be meddling with the midterm elections, especially now that Republicans are taking the lead in polls. There was no collusion except by the Democrats, unquote, alleging all in just one tweet.

So many lies. So little evidence for any of that. So many things to fact check.

We can start with the fact that the investigation is, quote, rigged. That the special counsel's team will be, quote, meddling in the midterm elections. No evidence for that. That they're pushing a political agenda.

Here are some facts. Eight of the at least 17 lawyers on Mueller's team have previously donated to Democrats, eight of 17, ninth attorney donated to candidates from both parties. But we should also note the investigation is being led by Robert Mueller, a registered Republican first appointed FBI director by Republican George W. Bush. And the investigation is overseen by the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a Republican appointed to that job by President Trump, and also the FBI director is Christopher Wray, who has given money to Republicans, and is a registered Republican, appointed by President Trump.

Joining me to unpack this conspiracy-minded president is Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times". She wrote the story about how the president uses these conspiracy theories to erode trust in everyone except for himself.

Maggie, thanks for joining us.

I don't need to tell you, the Mueller probe, partly a witch hunt. It's resulted in 75 criminal charges, 22 people and companies charged.

But here's the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, explaining the strategy of undermining Mueller. Take a listen.


RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP ATTORNEY: Of course, we have to do it in defending the president. We're defending to a large extent -- remember, Dana, we're defending here it is for public opinion, because eventually the decision here is going to be impeach, not impeach.


TAPPER: So, they're acknowledging that they're trying to change the public opinion so that members of Congress are less likely to impeach, and what do you think? It might be working to a degree.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It's certainly working among Republicans, Jake. And thank you for having me.

There are a lot of polls or some that recently that have shown a shift in public opinion about the Mueller probe. It's been slight, and it has predominantly been among Republicans. Remember, all Republicans are not the president's base. The fact that he is able to influence any segment of the electorate in this way means that he's going to keep doing it.

I think what's remarkable about what Giuliani is not the fact that this is happening but that the fact that they are talking about it so incredibly openly. It is all of a piece with -- and them being candid, we're trying to discredit the Mueller probe -- look, there have been others who have discredited special prosecutors, the Clinton White House certainly tried to discredit that investigation.


HABERMAN: That is not new.

What is new is a president who says things like that tweet that you read before, that is so incredibly fact challenged or devoid of fact in some cases, and there were about four different claims in here.