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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Companies Like Spotify And Apple Under Scrutiny for Hosting Podcasts Pushing Misinformation; Voting Rights Advocates Fear More GOP Efforts To Control Election Processes, Restrict Voting; How Far-Right Media Is Aiding In Dismantling U.S. Democracy. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired January 28, 2022 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: A reminder. Don't miss Full Circle, our digital news show that gives us a chance to dig into some important topics and have in-depth conversations.

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News continues, here on CNN, with Jim Acosta, and "DEMOCRACY IN PERIL."


JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST, DEMOCRACY IN PERIL: Anderson, thank you very much.

I am Jim Acosta. And this is DEMOCRACY IN PERIL.

Tonight, we are going on offense, against the lies. And when you think about the poisonous lies, undermining our democracy, Trump probably first comes to mind, or social media outlets, like Facebook or Twitter. And of course, the manure-spreaders like Fox, Newsmax, or OAN.

You're going to hear tonight, from a former Fox anchor, who has some thoughts, on what Comrade Tucker Carlson, has been pulling lately, sounding like a mouthpiece, for the Russians, over at the Bolshevik Factory, as we described it last night.

Another Carlson, Gretchen Carlson, no relation, will take us down the Fox rabbit hole, with an insider's view. She left Fox in 2016, two weeks before candidate Trump, accepted, the Republican nomination.

But what's largely escaped, similar scrutiny, and condemnation, for helping fanned the flames, of the insurrection, and now providing the fuel, for the next bonfire of the insanities, is the podcast ecosystem.

A really eye-popping recent study, by the Brookings Institution, analyzed how podcasts pushed misinformation, about voter fraud, before and after the election, and specifically between the election, and January 6, 2021.

Researchers reviewed nearly 1,500 episodes, from 20 of the most popular political podcasts, and found that bogus allegations of election fraud, rose dramatically, in the run-up to the insurrection, with more than 50 percent of all episodes, devoted to the Big Lie.

Here's a flavor from that moment in time.


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER PERSONAL ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: We have evidence of ballots, being brought in, in the middle of the night, that look like they were just written off. They come in, in ash cans, paper bags, cardboard boxes.

CHARLIE KIRK, HOST, THE CHARLIE KIRK SHOW: Mike Pence does not have to accept the results of polluted and poisoned electors.

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP: If they steal this election, they have basically thwarted the will of the people. The deplorables understand what you're trying to do here. You're trying to steal it. Not going to be stolen.

And all I can say is strap in, the War Room, a posse, you have made this happen. And tomorrow, it's game day. So, strap in. Let's get ready.

STEVEN CROWDER, CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There are issues of mail-in ballots that are obviously not being tallied accurately.


CROWDER: Or coming in after election, as well as being totally invalidated, because they weren't actually signed, by some kind of a witness. We also have the issues of plenty of dead people voting, OK?

We also have the issues of computer glitches that we already know to the tunes of thousands.


ACOSTA: Those were some of the worst offenders. But tragically, there are tons more.

Brookings did a tally of podcast episodes, spreading election lies, from a few months, before the election, to the insurrection itself. And Steve Bannon's War Room, surprise, takes the top prize, for amplifying Trump's BS, the most.

Second in line was the Rush Limbaugh Show. Close behind, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck. And behind them, Mark Levin, Dan Bongino, Michael Knowles, Steve Crowder, and Ben Shapiro.

It's like the Mount Rushmore of misinformation there. But Bannon truly is in a league of his own.


BANNON: All hell is going to break loose, tomorrow. Just understand this. All hell is going to break loose, tomorrow.


ACOSTA: Who knows, if Bannon will ever pay a price for that? He's certainly not going to give you the shirts off his back.

But seriously, there should be some corporate responsibility, in all of this. Hello Apple?

You can find Bannon's "War Room" show, on Apple Podcasts, even the ones, right before the insurrection. And you can find many of the other hosts, on Apple Podcasts too. Is removing disinformation something Apple, and other platforms, should consider?

Well CEO, Tim Cook, said publicly, on the day of the attack on the Capitol, those responsible should be held to account. So, what about people like Bannon?

There were some social media companies that cracked down, on Trump, for his dangerous lies, like Facebook and Twitter. Trump's Twitter account is permanently gone. And aren't we all the better for it? It's not like we miss him tweeting about "Celebrity Apprentice!"

And YouTube has also launched, an effort, to remove content, pushing election fraud lies. It removed Bannon's channel altogether, on January 8, after the attack, for violating their terms of service.

Let's turn to someone, with a podcast, himself. Scott Galloway, Host of "The Prof G Pod with Scott Galloway," and Professor of Marketing, at NYU Stern School of Business. He's also a host on the upcoming CNN+.

Scott, great to see you. It seems like podcasts are an ideal tool for misinformation. And it's been happening under the radar, I think, for millions of Americans. Obviously, a lot of people tune in. But I think a lot of people did not realize all of this was going on.


Why do you suppose that's the case? And what do you think can be done about it?


Yes, it's podcasts. I don't think people realize the impact podcasts are having. It's one of the few mediums. It's growing. 40 percent of Americans say they've listened to a podcast, in the last 30 days.

In addition, there's something, it's a kind of an intimate relationship, when you're listening to someone, and have AirPods, in your ears. And they're very influential. I would argue, though, that it's more like traditional media. Generally speaking, they're on algorithms trying to enrage people, by forwarding you, certain podcasts.

So, and also, I would argue that Jim that we're about to see more guardrails, put in place, so whether it's legal liability, whether it's advertisers, or as we saw, with Neil Young, artists withdrawing.

I think these platforms that distribute podcasts are probably more vulnerable than Facebook or Google. If an advertiser, or if an artist leaves, they just don't feel it. So, I think this is more like traditional media.

But if more shoes drop, specifically, more artists leave platforms, or advertisers, that are much more concentrated, across these platforms, speak up? I think you'll start to see more and more attention paid to this misinformation, being spread, on this kind of emerging medium, if you will.

ACOSTA: And what about, Steve Bannon, and his podcast? I mean, he's still--


ACOSTA: --running this podcast, despite being under indictment, for contempt of Congress, refusing to comply with that subpoena, in the January 6 investigation. But you can still - you could go on your Apple Podcasts app, and there he is right there. I mean, why doesn't Apple do something about that?

GALLOWAY: Yes. So, to be clear, I don't like it when Big Tech wraps themselves in a First Amendment blanket.


GALLOWAY: Because the First Amendment says that the governments not supposed to pass any laws that prohibit free speech.

And these organizations have no real obligation to the First Amendment. They have an obligation to their shareholders. And they've consistently opted for those interests, over the interests of the Commonwealth.

I do think, however, Jim, that it's somewhat dangerous territory, to begin going after people, for what's perceived as political views.

Now, if you're able to reverse engineer death, or injury, from the insurrection to a specific call to action, I would argue there's some liability there.

And we saw, you mentioned another cable news network. They went on air, and apologized, to a company that owned voting machines, because they incorrectly spread information, misinformation, around those machines being weaponized. Whereas, that same misinformation, on Facebook or Google, could not - was harmless to them, because of Section 230.

But I don't think - I think you can try and hold these platforms accountable, or threaten to cancel your subscription, or an artist can say they're coming off of them. But I think people are somewhat wary, to go after people, for their political views.

ACOSTA: Sure. No question about it. I do think there's a - there's maybe a distinction between political views, and what Steve Bannon was doing, right before the insurrection--


ACOSTA: --saying, "All hell is going to break loose. Strap in." I mean, he was - he was really instigating people there.

But let me ask you about this. As for the role of the platforms, here's what Spotify's CEO told "Axios," last year, about why he doesn't feel like they have a responsibility, for what is said by podcasters.


DANIEL EK, FOUNDER AND CEO, SPOTIFY: We have a lot of really well-paid rappers on Spotify too, that make tens of millions of dollars, if not more, each year from Spotify. And we don't dictate what they're putting in their songs, either.


ACOSTA: So, what's the difference between say, rap lyrics, and a podcaster pushing election lies? Do you buy that excuse there, from the CEO?

GALLOWAY: I think there's a link there. Where I think that argument falls flat or deflates, Jim, is that any content a rapper is putting out, or even strongly held extremist political views, don't - shouldn't be conflated with junk science that spread, and results in our ICUs being overrun.

ACOSTA: Right.

GALLOWAY: So, I do think Americans, and the courts, correctly afford special protections or fidelity, to medical information, to the spread of junk science, as we're seeing with Joe Rogan.

I would argue that look, if you can reverse-engineer some of Steve Bannon's comments, to injury, from an insurrection? That's one thing. And that, obviously, courts would have to figure that out.

What I think that Spotify will come under pressure for, is when 270 doctors say that this is a real bit - that Joe Rogan is a menace. And we have 850,000 dead Americans, more Americans have died from COVID, than all combat fatalities combined, in all of our conflicts.


Even Section 230 has carve-outs, for sex trafficking, for IP violation. And I think it's just a different ballgame, when you start talking about junk science, as it relates to medical topics. So, I think they might have--


GALLOWAY: --they might have poked the wrong bear, here. We'll see if other shoes drop, if you will.

ACOSTA: So, does that mean that Neil Young could use some help, in all of this? I mean, if some other big-name artists, were to step in, and, hop on the bandwagon, so to speak?

GALLOWAY: Well, that's exactly right, Jim. This was an economic decision. Joe Rogan is the biggest artist in the world, in a medium, podcasting. Neil Young is not. And so, this was probably a fairly easy decision for them.

Now, if Taylor Swift or Drake decide they want off the platform, they might find religion, around junk science, as it relates to COVID-19.

ACOSTA: Yes. And what worries you the most, right now, when you just look at, the entire spectrum of disinformation that we see out there? Is it podcast? Is it places like Fox? Is it all of that taken together?

GALLOWAY: I think it's a few things. I think our discourse has become incredibly coarse.

I think there are algorithms, on Facebook and Google that will recommend extreme dieting sites, to a five-foot-10 100-pound 15-year- old, or suggest a white supremacist site, to a young man, who is searching.

I worry that these organizations have become so bulletproof, and have overrun Washington, that their ability, to show no regard, for a reckless abandon for the health of a Commonwealth, weaponize our elections, depress our teens that the odds are that (ph) deterrence really isn't in place here, that they have largely run amok, and are immune from the same standards, we've held other companies to.

For some reason, we have granted these companies the mother of all hall passes. And anyone who's struggling with a daughter, who has an eating disorder, and then finds out these extreme dieting sites, have been suggested to her, by the algorithm?


GALLOWAY: That takes it to a whole new level. So, my fear is that we don't hold these companies to the same standards, we've held every other company.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. All right, Scott Galloway, given us a lot to think about. Thanks very much. We appreciate it. Looking forward to your show, on CNN+, as well. Thanks a lot.

GALLOWAY: Thanks, Jim. Good to be with you.

ACOSTA: Good to see.

And next, our spotlight, turns to Georgia, a state that's investigating Trump's attempted coup. But the Big Lie is still as toxic as ever.

A special report, next.



ACOSTA: As Georgia prepares to impanel a special grand jury, to look into Trump's election interference efforts, Republicans there, are only doubling down, on the Big Lie, even though you'll remember Trump was caught on tape, asking the governor (ph), for 11,000 more votes.

Three State recounts affirmed Biden's win. As CNN's Sara Murray shows us, it's what Republicans are doing now that's putting the future of our elections in doubt.


REP. JODY HICE (R-GA): I, for one, do not believe that Brad Raffensperger has protected our election integrity in this state.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Georgia, Donald Trump hand-picked a slate of election-deniers, to challenge Republicans, who refused to overturn the 2020 election.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jody is running against one of the worst secretary of states in America, RINO Brad Raffensperger.

MURRAY (voice-over): The local Cobb County Republican Party planned a vigil to pray for the January 6, quote, "Patriots."

And state lawmakers are already proposing new legislation that some say will make it harder to vote, in upcoming elections. That's a snapshot of the Georgia GOP, a year after Republicans lost the state's two U.S. Senate seats.

SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): It's raining change, in Georgia!

MURRAY (voice-over): And 14 months, after Democrats flipped Georgia, Blue, in a presidential race, for the first time, in nearly 30 years.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You've changed the state, by bringing more people, legally, to the polls.

MURRAY (voice-over): A political smackdown like that might have come, with a reckoning for Republicans. An acknowledgement that lying about the 2020 election being stolen.

TRUMP: The Left lies. They cheat. And they steal.

MURRAY (voice-over): Wasn't great for GOP turnout.

SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: I think it's a mistake to rehash the 2020 election again. It's over. It's dawned. We lost.

MURRAY (voice-over): Instead, much of the Party remains tightly bound to Trump.

Republicans here are crafting campaigns around fears about widespread voter fraud that didn't exist, and pushing policies, to chip away, at voting access that expanded, during the pandemic.

In Cobb County, Republican Party Chairwoman, Salleigh Grubbs, has questions about whether Trump actually lost Georgia, a defeat confirmed by three separate counts of ballots. And those questions still linger, ahead of the GOP primary.

SALLEIGH GRUBBS, COBB COUNTY GOP PARTY CHAIRWOMAN: Do I trust the process? It's a hard question. I trust the election process. Do I think that there are improvements that still need to be made? Yes, I do.

MURRAY (voice-over): Deeply held doubts, about a fairly decided election, fueled an insurrection, on January 6.

And while Grubbs, condemns the violence that day?

GRUBBS: The people, who participated, in a violent way, I do think that there needs to be justice for that.

MURRAY (voice-over): She also defended the vigil, scheduled for January 6, this year that was canceled, amid backlashes.

GRUBBS: It wasn't to glorify what happened on January, the 6th. The only thing that I could possibly change is the messaging, because my heart is still in the right place. I want justice to be done, for the people, who are held.

MURRAY (voice-over): Now, she's pouring hours, into fighting for GOP victories, in 2022.

GRUBBS: We can't stay in 2020. We do have to move forward. But we take what we learned in 2020, and we take that with us, to prepare.

MURRAY (voice-over): But after Cobb County censured Republican Governor, Brian Kemp, last year?

JASON SHEPHERD, FORMER COBB COUNTY GOP CHAIRMAN: I think it sends a message that we want to follow whoever Donald Trump tells us we need to follow.

MURRAY (voice-over): Its former chairman, Jason Shepard, who quit the party's leadership committee, in protest, isn't sure Grubbs, can unite Republicans, if a candidate, who hasn't been endorsed by Trump, wins the primary.


SHEPHERD: By censuring Brian Kemp, the Cobb GOP has basically made it very hard, to be able to go with a straight face, and say, "Oh, we now support Brian Kemp 110 percent, because he is our nominee."

MURRAY (voice-over): Uniting the party may prove challenging, across the state. For many GOP candidates here, their 2022 message, is largely about 2020.

DAVID PERDUE (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Today, we're divided. And Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger are to blame.

MURRAY (voice-over): Trump convinced former Senator, David Perdue, to embrace the 2020 election lies, and challenge Kemp, who certified the 2020 election, in the face of Trump's fury.

And the former President, is backing election-denier, and congressman, Jody Hice, as Hice makes absurd claims, like this one.

HICE: I'm convinced quite frankly that if Martin Luther King were alive today, he would be on the side of the Republicans, on this issue. Voter integrity matters.

MURRAY (voice-over): Hice is challenging Republican Brad Raffensperger for Secretary of State, after Raffensperger famously spurned Trump's attempts, to overturn the 2020 election.

CHAMBLISS: The Democrats are famous for running negative campaigns.

MURRAY (voice-over): Saxby Chambliss, who represented Georgia, for 20 years, in the House, then Senate, empathizes with voters, swayed by the election lies. But says, it's time to move on.

CHAMBLISS: Realistically, it's dawned, and it's over.

MURRAY (voice-over): Otherwise, he fears a replay of the Senate run- offs, when Republican stayed home.

CHAMBLISS: If I were on the ballot, in 2022, I would not re-litigate 2020 election issues. The Republican Party still stands for the basic principles of smaller government, more freedoms, of individuals, and lower taxes. That's what they ought to be talking about.

MURRAY (voice-over): He says there's simply no evidence to support the ongoing doubts, about the election.

CHAMBLISS: When you looked at the facts, on the ground, then there was just no facts to substantiate it.

MURRAY (voice-over): And doesn't want to see efforts to undermine election results become the norm.

CHAMBLISS: Everybody ought to be able to vote. And their vote ought to be counted, if they are a valid voter.

On Election Night, we want to figure out who won, and who lost, and let's move on.

MURRAY (voice-over): Voting rights advocate, Helen Butler, has her own concerns, about 2022, mainly that Republicans are exerting more control, over elections, and making it harder, to vote.

HELEN BUTLER, THE GEORGIA COALITION FOR THE PEOPLES' AGENDA: My home county, Morgan County. MURRAY (voice-over): She's among the Black Democrats booted, from county election boards, after the Republican-led state legislature, paved the way, for six counties, to overhaul them.

This shift gave local Republicans more power, to name nearly all new board members, rather than the prior practice of divvying up appointments, by political party.

BUTLER: If you're unhappy with the outcome of an election, this is a way that you can have total control of the process.

MURRAY (voice-over): The move comes on top of Republicans passing a restrictive new voting law that imposes new voter identification requirements, for absentee ballots, limits the use and number of ballot drop boxes, empower state officials, to take over local election boards, and makes it a crime, to give voters, waiting in line, food and water.

Butler says, she'll make sure voters are aware of the changes.

BUTLER: And we're going to tell them, if you need to bring water, if you need to bring snacks, do it. Come prepared. We're going to make sure people are able to exercise their right to vote.

MURRAY (voice-over): But even she is eyeing the midterms skeptically.

BUTLER: They are trying to make life more difficult, for the election officials, and the voters. So, in terms of midterm elections outcome? We will be watching.


ACOSTA: And Sara Murray, joins me now.

Sara, how are Georgia Dems, trying to counter what the Republicans are doing there? I hope it's more than cookies and water.

MURRAY: Yes. It is more than cookies and water.

Look, they're making an effort that is essentially doomed to fail. But they're making an effort to try to repeal that new Georgia law, in the state legislature. We've also heard a lot from Democrats, in the state, saying they want to see the Federal Government act, and pass a Federal voting rights bill.

The other reality, I think, on the ground here, Jim is this is a weapon, in Democrats' arsenal, ahead of 2022. They're facing national headwinds, like Joe Biden's sinking approval rating. And so, they're going to use this rhetoric, from Republicans, to paint the entire Republican Party, as sort of the anti-democracy party.

ACOSTA: And perhaps hope that some Republicans stay home, because they still don't trust the process, which is what we saw the last time around.

All right, Sara Murray, thank you very much. Great report. Thanks, as always. We appreciate it.

MURRAY: Thanks, Jim.

ACOSTA: DEMOCRACY IN PERIL continues ahead, with the gridlock in Washington, the upcoming battle over an opening, on the Supreme Court. And a key question Democrats need to ask themselves. WWMD?

Hold on for that, next.



ACOSTA: Perhaps, it was this biting headline, from "The Onion" that crystallize, where we are, as a country, when it comes to the Supreme Court. "Mitch McConnell Blocks Justice Stephen Breyer From Retiring."

No. And I'm betting his staffers checked on this. McConnell cannot do that.

But it's no secret Democrats have been begging Breyer, to give up his seat, on the High Court, essentially in a panic that McConnell would block yet another Democratic president, from selecting a Supreme Court justice, should the GOP win control of the Senate, this fall.

Conservatives have a six-to-three majority, on the court. And it will stay that way, even after Breyer is replaced, which is a remarkable turn of events, considering this. Democrats have won the popular vote, in seven out of the last eight presidential elections. Of course, we have the Electoral College system, which is how Trump, who lost the popular vote, in 2016, got three picks, on the Supreme Court.

Now, a hard-right Supreme Court appears poised to turn back the clock to the 1970s. It's like Americans voted for "The West Wing," and instead got "That '70s Show!"


This has created the scenario, where the minority views, on major hot button issues, could carry the day, for a generation.

And that brings me to something Justice Sonia Sotomayor warned, late last year that overturning the 1973 landmark decision of Roe versus Wade would create a stench in Washington.


SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception, that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts? I don't see how it is possible.


ACOSTA: Sonia Sotomayor, is warning that the credibility of the Supreme Court is on the line, arguing, the most important reason, why abortion rights, are in jeopardy, is because the composition of the court has changed, not the merits of the case.

Just listen to how the Court's conservative justices have been weighing the case that could topple Roe, Mississippi's restrictive abortion law.


JOHN ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE: But if it really is an issue about choice, why is 15 weeks, not enough time?

SAMUEL ALITO, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: The fetus has an interest in having a life. And that doesn't change, does it? From the point before viability to the point after viability?

BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: The reason this issue is hard, is that you can't accommodate both interests. You have to pick. That's the fundamental problem.


ACOSTA: That last voice you heard, Brett Kavanaugh, a Trump-appointed justice, sounded inclined to uphold Mississippi's 15-week ban.

But back when he was being confirmed, he emphasized the importance of precedent.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): What would you say, your position today, is on a woman's right to choose?

KAVANAUGH: Well, as a judge?

FEINSTEIN: As a judge.

KAVANAUGH: As a judge, it is an important precedent of the Supreme Court. By it, I mean Roe v. Wade, and Planned Parenthood versus Casey. Been reaffirmed many times. Casey is precedent on precedent, which itself is an important factor.


ACOSTA: Our system appears to encourage nominees, to the Supreme Court, to mislead the public, about their views, which brings us back to Mitch McConnell, who has been plotting, as we know, a dominant conservative majority, on the Supreme Court, for years.

After Justice Antonin Scalia died, in 2016, McConnell blocked Barack Obama's pick, Merrick Garland, by denying him any Senate hearings.

McConnell said it just wouldn't be right, to put Garland on the high court, during an election year.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): We're in the process of picking a President. And that new president ought to make this appointment, which will affect the Supreme Court, maybe for the next quarter of a century.


ACOSTA: Then, in 2020, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, less than two months before the election.

According to PBS, McConnell called Trump, the night Ginsburg died, urging him, to quickly select Amy Coney Barrett.


JOSH HOLMES, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: McConnell told him two things. He said, "First, I'm going to put out a statement that says we're going to fill the vacancy. Second," he said, "You've got to nominate Amy Coney Barrett."


ACOSTA: Less than a year later, get this, Justice Barrett actually appeared, at an event, at the McConnell Center, at the University of Louisville.

She told the crowd this. "My goal today is to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks." Now, where would anybody get an idea like that?

The polls show a majority of Americans oppose overturning Roe versus Wade. Opponents of Roe have become the dogs, who have caught the car, or the getaway car, depending on your point of view.

I suppose Democrats can just say "Life's a Mitch," which is why it's such a mystery to me that some Democrats are clinging to the filibuster, the same filibuster that is preventing all kinds of legislation, from passing, in the Senate, from abortion rights, to gun laws, to protecting this democracy, with new voting rights legislation.

And yet, the Senate no longer requires overcoming a filibuster, for confirming justices. It's a system that makes it easier, to pack the court than pass laws.

Consider the ages of Trump's Supreme Court justices. Brett Kavanaugh is 56. Neil Gorsuch is 54. Amy Coney Barrett is 49-years-old.

President Biden is likely to choose a young justice as well.

Is that what the Founders intended, an arms race, between both parties, over who can pick the youngest justices, for the High Court? Is this a pillar of our democracy, or fantasy football?


After they get their new Justice, Democrats might want to take a second look, at the filibuster, and ask themselves, "What's more important? Is the filibuster more important than election rights and women's rights?"

Democrats could just ask themselves "What would Mitch do?" McConnell has insisted he's against scrapping the filibuster. But what happens if the Republicans are back in power?

And if the filibuster does live on, McConnell gets his judges? What do Democrats get? I'll tell you. More of the same. I guess they can keep on telling themselves "Life's a Mitch."

The most-watched host of Fox News has been spreading dangerous conspiracy theories, about January 6, and now can't understand why the U.S. doesn't side with the Kremlin. His bosses, the Murdochs, must own what comes out of Tucker Carlson's mouth.

When we come back, we're going to talk to a former Fox host, about the network's impact, on the erosion of our democracy.

Gretchen Carlson is here. And she joins us next.



ACOSTA: It's no secret Donald Trump, and the far-right media, continue to operate, as one big machine, continuously pushing out false narratives, conspiracy theories, and the Big Lie, all the while ignoring its impact on our democracy, and descent into further chaos and peril.

So, what can the real news media do, to dispel this information? For that, I want to bring in former Fox News anchor, Gretchen Carlson.

Gretchen, it's great to see. Appreciate that so much.

Let's listen to what has been coming out of Fox lately, as tensions between Ukraine and Russia escalate. Let's listen to Tucker Carlson.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: But why would we take Ukraine's side and not Russia's side? It's sincere question. If you're looking for the American perspective?

REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): We're already on the Ukraine's side.

T. CARLSON: No, but why? I mean, who's got the energy reserves? Who's - who's the major player, in world affairs? Who's the potential counterbalance, against China, which is the actual threat?

Why would we take Ukraine's side? Why wouldn't we be on Russian side? I don't - I'm totally confused.

TURNER: Well, clearly.

Ukraine is a democracy, while Russia is an authoritarian regime that is seeking to impose its will, upon a validly-elected democracy, in Ukraine. And we're on the side of democracy.

T. CARLSON: Yes, I mean, I guess, I'm for democracy, in other countries, I guess.


ACOSTA: And Gretchen, and an "Axios" report, highlights how House Republicans are parroting Tucker Carlson's pro-Russian stance.

Why do you think Tucker does this? And why do the Murdochs allow it? Do they not even care? Or is just about money and ratings, do you think?

GRETCHEN CARLSON, FORMER FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Ratings, I think, first and foremost. But this is the result of fake news.

We're seeing not only the fallout, from fake news, during the Trump era, but what happened with the insurrection on January 6 that now, it's moving into other areas. Not just news. Now, it's hitting science, with vaccines. And now, it's into Cold War politics.

I mean, the idea that we would be talking about whether or not we should support Ukraine or Russia? There wouldn't be a Republican on a planet that five years ago, would have said that they would have supported Russia, over Ukraine. But this is where we are now.

Conservative television news is certainly not the conservative news that was out there, even just five years ago.

ACOSTA: Yes, it's stunning. And since the insurrection, you mentioned that we've learned that some big names, over at Fox, were acting almost as advisers, to Trump, like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham.

And then, their texts came out, where it sort of suggests that they knew that there was a problem, inside the Trump White House, and that problem being the President, at the time.

You worked at Fox. Does this surprise you that Fox anchors would be advising a President, advising a White House?

G. CARLSON: Not necessarily. I'm not sure that it doesn't happen on the other side as well, depending on who happens to be in the office.

But I think the bigger story coming out of that is how disingenuous, it was, to be sending those texts of warning, while then going on the air, to the American people, and doing a complete injustice, and disservice, by saying something completely opposite, and ginning up this whole reaction that it was just fine and patriotic, for people, to be there, on January 6.

Slowly, but surely, this has morphed into eradicating any other point of view, since the Trump era that is not just opinion. It's gone from an opinion, which was fine, to completely devolving into non-fact- based conspiracy theories, and outright dangerous rhetoric, in my mind. And I think it's a complete disservice to our country. ACOSTA: Totally. And there have been these bizarre moments, where we've seen top Republicans, like Senator Ted Cruz, groveling on Tucker's show. I mean, did you ever think that day would come?

G. CARLSON: No. And I think that this is very upsetting to Republicans, also, to be quite honest.

I mean, I wish more of them would have the courage, to do what I did, quite honestly, and come forward, and take on a behemoth. But listen, for the safety of the Republican Party, and for our democracy, I wish more would.

Because this is not going to end well, in my mind. It's really hard to change people's opinions, because they're only watching what they want to hear. And that's the other problem that we have, in society, with the media right now, is that we're so siloed into only watching what we agree with.

And so, every day that thought process just gets reinforced time after time. I mean, there are some people Jim, who actually, when I'm walking through the airport, still think that I work at Fox News.


G. CARLSON: Because - yes, because they watch only Fox News. And they never covered my story there, obviously. And so, that's what they see, and what they hear. Now, that works on the other side, too. There's probably people that only watch other networks that have another point of view.



G. CARLSON: But I think it's incredibly dangerous, to have - there's a big difference between having a conservative opinion and having one that supports conspiracy theories.

ACOSTA: Totally. And despite your concerns about our democracy, you are trying to utilize our democracy, to make change. Wednesday, there's going to be a House vote, on your bill, what you've said will be one of the biggest accomplishments in your life.

Do you have the votes? And tell us about it.

G. CARLSON: Well, thank you so much for asking about it. This has been my personal passion, over the last five years, since I did sue Fox News, and Roger Ailes, for harassment.

So, I'm trying to get rid of the silencing mechanisms, mainly forced arbitration, for harassment and assault that keeps all these issues silent, in the workplace.

It's strange bedfellows, Jim. I know you'll love this. The co-sponsors in the Senate are Senator Lindsey Graham, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. It may be one of the few things they actually agree on. But they've both been champions of this. And I also have Republicans and Democrats in the House.

It will be the biggest labor law change, in the last 100 years, my biggest life accomplishment. But more importantly, this is going to change the landscape, making the workplace safer, for millions of people. And I'll be incredibly proud, when this moment happens.

ACOSTA: Gretchen Carlson, my hats off to you. Bringing Republicans and Democrats together? That's not easy these days. Even the President's having trouble with that!

But thanks for joining us tonight. Thanks for those perspectives. We really appreciate it.

G. CARLSON: Thanks for having me, Jim.

ACOSTA: Right-wing media thrives on stoking rage. And that makes it seem like we're the Divided States of America.

But John Avlon says there's reason for hope. I would love to hear some hope. And he'll tell us why, in tonight's Reality Check. That's next.



ACOSTA: As we've highlighted, throughout the week, the need to save our democracy is dire and urgent. But I don't say this, to leave you in despair. Keep in mind, there are plenty of things that divide us, yes. But there is so much more that unites us.

That is the subject of John Avlon's Reality Check, tonight. He's here to take us through it.

John, give us some hope here.


Look, despite all the doom, and gloom, and division that seems to dominate our democracy, today, we got some good news. The U.S. economy grew 5.7 percent, last year, despite the drag of the pandemic. Now, that's the fastest, since 1984, when Reagan was reelected.

Now, typically, political sentiment falls the James Carville rule. "It's the economy, stupid!" But despite near-record growth, we're feeling not so fresh, as a nation.

A recent NBC News poll found that 72 percent of Americans think we're headed in the wrong direction. And look, there are plenty of rational reasons, for folks, to feel frustrated, from the ongoing pandemic to the persistence of the Big Lie, and rising costs, from inflation.

Yes, we face real challenges, as every generation does. Perfect, never on the menu. But what if I told you that we are not as deeply evenly and hopelessly divided as it feels? Because the truth is, we're not a 50-50 nation, on many major issues. Instead, there's surprisingly broad agreement, on basic facts and values, within America. It's just that a loud minority of the population keeps dominating the conversation.

Let me explain. The fact we have one political party that, for the most part, refuses to accept a free and fair presidential election, is bad for our democracy. No question about it.

But even if 69 percent of folks, who voted for Trump believe the Big Lie, as a recent "Washington Post" poll shows, that translates to just 29 percent of the American people, as a whole. That's not an evenly divided nation.

Instead, it's evidence of an intense minority, who have been indoctrinated by hyper-partisan nonsense. So, don't let them gaslight you, into thinking you're the crazy ones. They're the odd outliers.

Likewise, the persistence of the pandemic affects us all. And it is frustrating to see the Omicron variant so contagious. But the vast, vast majority of hospitalizations, and deaths, are among the unvaccinated. It's a self-inflicted tragedy.

But consider this. 75 percent of the American people have received at least one dose of the vaccine. That's extraordinary.

Now, that means that 25 percent of Americans, are still unvaccinated. And according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, they leaned three-to- one Republican. Now, it's impossible to say the exact overlap, between the 29 percent of Americans, who believe the Big Lie, and the 25 percent, who are still unvaccinated.

And these bitter enders do have a negative effect, though, on the overall health of our democracy. We're being held back, held hostage, some might say, by many of their conspiracy theorist beliefs.

But there's reason for hope. Because even many of the culture war wedge issues, that have dominated debates in the past, have seen movement towards majority consensus.

Take same-sex marriage. Now, according to the most recent Gallup poll, a record 70 percent of Americans, now believe in equal rights, on the issue. That's up from 27 percent, back in 1996.

Or marijuana legalization, Gallup shows it's reached a new high, with 68 percent support.

And it's worth noting that 72 percent of Americans oppose completely overturning Roe v. Wade, according to a Marquette poll, released just yesterday.

No wonder there's a discomfort with majoritarian democracy among some right-wing hyper-partisans.

Look, the divisions we're dealing with are real. But the good news is that we are not as deeply divided, as you might think. It's just that the right-wing echo chamber is loud, and relentless, in its dissemination of disinformation.

So, don't give up hope. Let's confront the challenges we face with the confidence that comes from knowing that our nation has overcome major obstacles, before, in the effort to form a more perfect union. And we will, again, if we can see our way, past all the screamers, to build on the considerable common ground that still exists.

And that's your Reality Check.


ACOSTA: And John, what is the one thing that could get us going in that direction, do you think?


AVLON: I think we need to emphasize what unites us more than what divides us. I think we need to give people the confidence that they're not alone.

ACOSTA: I love it. Sounds great. OK, let's do it.

AVLON: Thanks, Jim.

ACOSTA: John Avlon, thanks very much.

We'll be right back.


ACOSTA: And that's it for us tonight. Join us tomorrow, as we examine how right-wing radio, feeds its listeners, a steady diet, of lies and conspiracies.

And "DON LEMON TONIGHT" starts right now.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST, DON LEMON TONIGHT: You're going to need a lot more than an hour for that!

ACOSTA: I think that's just one segment, sadly.

LEMON: You need - you need weeks upon weeks upon weeks.


LEMON: I'll tell you a story.

ACOSTA: Please?

LEMON: So, I was home, with my mom, for the holidays, once. We were driving to New Orleans. And we're just flipping through the radios. I haven't listened to traditional radio, in such a long time.

ACOSTA: Right.

LEMON: And we're flipping through. And I found the conservative channel. And that has been at least two years or three years, my mom has never changed it. She says, "Because, sometimes I'm driving to Walmart, Don. And they're talking about you."