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The Plague Year; Georgia Run-Off Elections Arrive. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired January 05, 2021 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT: One state, one state can chart the course not just for the next four years, but for the next generation.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Georgia on their minds, as Democrats and Republicans vie for two Senate seats that will determine the fate of
Then: the plague year. Lawrence Wright on how the U.S. got it so wrong so far and what lies ahead in the fight against COVID-19.
IJEOMA OLUO, AUTHOR, "MEDIOCRE: THE DANGEROUS LEGACY OF WHITE MALE AMERICA": Many white Americans, and especially white men, don't even think
of themselves as white most of the time.
AMANPOUR: Author Ijeoma Oluo talks to our Hari Sreenivasan about the dangerous legacy of white male America.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
It's Groundhog Day, by which I mean it's Election Day for the state of Georgia, as voters head back to the polls for another high-stakes vote in
the midst, of course, of a pandemic that continues. This time, control of the U.S. Senate is on the line, Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly
Loeffler fighting to protect their seats from Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and the Reverend Raphael Warnock.
The run-off is because, on Election Day November 3, no candidate received above 50 percent of the vote. Now, both the Republican senators oppose the
routine certification by Congress of Joe Biden's victory in November. And the fact that high-level Trump-supporting Republicans are actually prepared
to publicly oppose the democratic process could be an ominous cloud that lingers even after Trump.
Joining me to discuss all of this is "The Atlantic"'s Anne Applebaum. She's in Poland. And her work focuses on how to protect democracy. And "Irish
Times" columnist Fintan O'Toole, who has exhaustively chronicled the Trump years for his readers.
Welcome, both of you, to the program.
Anne, let me start with you, because your latest column talks about what was or is Trumpism and the Trump ideology. Many talked about the economy,
about America first, about draining the swamp. But you come to a different conclusion.
ANNE APPLEBAUM, "THE ATLANTIC": Yes.
So, I think it's become pretty clear, even in the last few days, that Trumpism isn't what it was advertised as, isn't what it has been analyzed
as. It isn't anything to do with economics. It isn't to do with foreign policy. It isn't to do with bringing the troops home. It isn't to do with
any of the issues that it's been attached to.
I mean, the essence of Trumpism, the deepest meaning of Trumpism is that it's a rejection of reality,and it's a projection of victory for Trump and
for his followers, no matter whether that victory is real or not.
And so what we're seeing is the president claiming victory where he's lost. We see his followers claiming victory, though they have lost. And we have
seen also, more importantly, the Republican senators and the vice president and the secretary of state also following the same pattern.
They aren't contradicting Trump. They know he's lost. They know he lost the election. But because they too are vying for the same mantle, they also
hope someday to lead the same political movement, they too need to keep telling their followers that they have won, even though they have not.
And that is actually the essence of the movement. And that's the piece of it that will carry on. We are now seeing a battle between potential
successors to Trump, who are all trying to create that same feeling of inevitable victory, we won despite the facts, we triumph over reality, no
matter what happens.
AMANPOUR: So, essentially, it goes to the heart of the democratic process. And it's sort of a -- for want of a better term, an anti-democratic
I want to play this selection of sound bites that a CNN reporter gathered from Trump supporters in Georgia just ahead of this election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Do you think that Trump will eventually accept that Biden is the next president?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. Biden is not.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Biden isn't.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trump is the next president.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to the inauguration for Trump. I have booked it before the election, because I have faith he's going to be there
and he's going to be doing -- he's going to be elected.
QUESTION: Will you accept Joe Biden as president?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, he will never be my president.
QUESTION: OK. But you know -- you accept that he's going to be inaugurated?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I don't.
QUESTION: I mean, how could that change at this point?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it could be civil war. You never know.
QUESTION: You don't actually want a civil war, do you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't. But show us the voting machines. Show us the ballots. Show us that this was a fair election, or we will never accept
another vote again ever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Fintan O'Toole, because you have written about this trajectory here, what do you make when you hear those voters and those Trump
supporters speaking in such stark, stark language?
FINTAN O'TOOLE, COLUMNIST, "IRISH TIMES": Well, it's shocking, but it's not surprising, because what we have to bear in mind with all of this is
that Trump's antics of recent days are very much what he told his voters he was going to do.
The one thing you can say in Trump's favor is that he doesn't hide what his agenda is. And Trump has been saying for more than a year that he would
refuse to accept the results of the election unless he won, and that there would be no peaceful transition of power, because it was inconceivable --
and this really relates to what Anne was saying -- it's just inconceivable that Trump would not win.
This is the language of the mentality of autocracy. In an autocracy, it is not imaginable that the great leader can be removed. And for 75 million
people who voted for Trump, they voted, effectively, for autocracy over democracy.
That's the profound consequence of what Trump has managed to do. He has created an enormous base for anti-democratic politics in one of the world's
AMANPOUR: And, indeed, you write about that.
You say: "Trump kept his eye on the great strategic prize, the creation in the U.S. of a vast and impassioned base for anti-democratic politics. And
this is his legacy. He successfully led a vast number of voters along the path from hatred of government to contempt for rational deliberation to the
inevitable endpoint, disdain for the electoral process itself."
So, Anne, as we're seeing this play out, and particularly you are in a part of Europe where there has been quite a lot of disdain for the electoral and
the democratic process, how does this continue to affect the rest of the world?
APPLEBAUM: It has an enormous impact on the rest of the world.
I mean, even in the first hours -- days and hours after the election, when Trump was refusing to accept the result, the Polish government here -- I'm
in Warsaw right now -- was also refusing to recognize that Biden won, because they read the far right American press, and they read the same Web
sites the Republican voters read.
And they assume that there was a -- there was even one of the president -- the Polish president's advisers came on television and said, well, the
election has happened, now it goes to the courts, as if that's normal, as if it's normal for an election to be contested.
And so, yes, anti-democratic politicians and political leaders who are hoping to make the same conversion of their political parties or countries
from democracy to a de facto autocracy or to a one-party state are watching what happens in the United States very carefully.
There will be imitators. There will be people doing the same thing. There will be -- it will become normal not to accept elections. The great power
of American democracy was always its example. We always talked a lot, including me, about democracy promotion of how America could help
democratic movements abroad.
But, really, it was the American example, that 250 years of peaceful change of power, that inspired people. And this will now inspire people in the
AMANPOUR: So, Fintan, you say -- and Anne sort of touched on it a little bit as well, but you say that, for Trump, political was always personal,
the two were inextricably linked.
And you write that: "Trump has unfinished business. A republic he wants to destroy still stands. It is for him not goodbye, but hasta la vista.
Instead of waving him off, those who want to rebuild American democracy will have to put a stake through his heart."
Describe what that stake looks like. And do you -- even though you have written this and you have chronicled these four years of this assault on
democracy, do you not take hope from the fact that democracy did actually play out, we did see the results of the election, we have seen local
election officials refuse to be intimidated by him, we have seen the courts refuse to be bent to a political will?
Does that not give you some hope?
O'TOOLE: Oh, very much.
And, I mean, let's be clear. Joe Biden's victory -- and it is a victory -- is of enormous consequence, even just negatively. The consequence of Trump
having won again, I think, would have been absolutely catastrophic.
So, of course, there's huge relief, and quite rightly, that Biden will be the next president of the United States. However, I think what we have seen
since the election really brings home the reality that this is not going back to some sort of imagined pre-2016 normality.
Trump didn't come from nowhere. He came from a very strong American tradition of hatred of government, of nativism, of racism. He has deployed
tactics and tools which were available to him because they're part of American culture.
And what Trump has done is, he's moved those on, right? So, he's managed to push those in a very coherent way towards an absolute and open refusal to
accept even the basics of democratic governance. And that's not that's not normal, and it's not going to simply evaporate on January 20, when Joe
Biden becomes president.
And I think this is what both Biden and the rest of the world have to be very aware of. The United States is not going to be a stable so-called
normal democracy for the next four years. It's going to be at the heart of a struggle.
And Biden has to undo in a way the personality that he has forged throughout his whole political life. His whole political life is
consensual. It's hands across the aisle. It's a sort of backslapping Irish pol.
He's very, very good at it. He's very skilled at it. But they're like the skills of a horse whisperer when you're up against mad dogs. They're no use
in this new context. He has to be a fighter. And he has to be a fighter in a really fundamental way now, which is for democracy. He has to keep
saying, I'm not just the president of a democracy. I am somebody who has been elected to reestablish and protect a democracy which is under siege
from a major political party within it.
This is not about liberalism vs. conservatism. It's about democracy vs. autocracy.
AMANPOUR: So, Anne, pick that up, because Biden obviously did frame his candidacy in saving the soul of America.
And by that, presumably, he meant protecting Americans' democracy and all the rule of law that goes with it and the human and moral rights that go
with it. That's a really interesting challenge that Fintan lays out for Biden, for him to sort of change type and revert to something that he
hasn't been publicly all his political life.
APPLEBAUM: Yes, he is going to have to step up to the plate in a way that he's -- he's being challenged in a way that he never has been before.
He is instinctively a consensus politician. He wants to reach across the aisle. He wants to do deals. And he may have to do something a little bit
more than that. I mean, I do think that it's incorrect to say that everybody who voted for Trump is an autocrat, or everybody who voted for
Trump rejects the idea of America.
I think there are winnable voices on the other side. Certainly, there are some -- there will be -- it's very small, but there will be a few
Republicans in Congress in the Senate who it will be possible to work with. And I do think there's a part of the public he could work with, he could
try to reach out to.
And, in a way, he doesn't have a choice. I mean, reaching out to that middle, however small it is or however narrow it is, is exactly what he
needs to do in order to keep -- in order to keep the country going and in order to carry out the deeper forms that we need.
I mean, this is one of the most challenging presidencies in modern history. I mean, he's facing a pandemic, an economic crisis, a democracy crisis.
APPLEBAUM: And finding ways to reach across the aisle, not just to fellow politicians, but to Americans, is absolutely going to be one of his main
AMANPOUR: in the midst of all this, once we know the result of the Georgia election run-off, we then have the next drama, which is, on Wednesday,
where a routine certification process by the vice president is going to be challenged by at least a dozen Republican senators, this obviously the
certification of the Electoral College vote.
This is what President Trump said about Vice President Pence, who's going to have to do his constitutional duty and certify. But this is what
President Trump said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope Mike Pence comes through for us, I have to tell you.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
TRUMP: I hope that our great vice president, our great vice president comes through for us. He's a great guy. Of course, if he doesn't come
through, I won't like him quite as much.
TRUMP: No, Mike is a great guy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: It's really quite difficult to see all this, plus on the back of that hour-long conversation, when he was trying to get the Georgia
secretary of state to give him the balance of the votes by which he lost the election in Georgia.
Fintan, this -- when you see this happening, and you see a president hoping that his vice president is going to undo the democratic vote, even though
there's no chance -- we hear now from allies of the president they're really trying, but they don't think they will have any chance of doing it.
But they want to give it one college try in Congress tomorrow.
What do you make of it? What does Ireland make of it? What do people in Europe make of it?
O'TOOLE: Well, I think, for people who've been paying attention, it's not that surprising.
And I think one thing about Trump is that people have been paying attention. He has sucked so much oxygen towards himself, I think, in
Ireland and Europe, around the world, that I think most people sort of know what he's like and know that his intention has been personal rule.
This has been the aim all along is really to make the United States a kind of wholly owned subsidiary of Trump -- the Trump corporation. That's what
he wants to do. And I think what's obvious to people as well is that Trump, as a brand, remains incredibly powerful. He's like Coca-Cola or Apple. He
has a highly devoted, expanded base.
And he's going to use that base. And this is I think what's going to be fascinating to see how this plays out. I mean, as Anne says, there are
people in the Republican party who still have some basic commitment to democracy. We have seen that crucially at state level.
But at federal level, it is astonishing that you may well have a majority of the entire Republican congressional delegation, if you include all the
House members, who will not come out and accept the results of the election.
And so Trump has created not just this base, but he's created a political party that no longer has any secure commitment to democracy itself. And I
think, for most Europeans, that's deeply, deeply worrying, because there had been this hope, as we were saying before, that this strange episode
would be over and that this was just a sort of aberration in American life and American politics.
I think it must be clear to the European Union that it actually has to work very, very closely together with Biden. There's an urgency now for the
democracies to work together to reestablish the centrality of democratic values.
And they have to do that in a way that is actually quite aggressive, isn't just about saying, we're all committed to democracy, isn't that lovely? It
has to be going back to the sense that we are in an existential struggle for the future of democracy itself.
AMANPOUR: Anne, I want to end by asking you a related, but somewhat different question, and that is about the pandemic.
I heard recently on a radio program from the great Larry Brilliant, who's the doctor, the epidemiologist, the person who really knows so much about
Anyway, he was saying, rightly, that world leaders had the playbooks to deal with these pandemics, that they had war-gamed did. They knew that
there was something going to happen of this nature. And what they hadn't reckoned with, though, was the failure of Western democracies, the populism
and the nationalism that has infected Western democracies, that created this dysfunction in dealing with this pandemic.
I wonder if you can comment on that, I mean, from conspiracy theories to the inability to get an all-of-government process to respond to it.
APPLEBAUM: Yes, I think you have hit on something very important.
I think people believed that pandemic planning was a scientific process. It was about preparing tests or vaccines. It was about discussing government
communications. And all of those are ideas about fighting disease that belong to a previous era.
The truth is that we now live in an era when -- where rumor and conspiracy theory travel much faster than real news, where people have lost -- I mean,
it's not just -- I mean, distrust is an insufficient word. And people have no faith anymore in so-called mainstream media, that is, in journalism that
involves fact-checking and conversation and research.
Instead, they're willing to believe material they find on Facebook. I mean, and just to return to the beginning of the conversation, the essence of
Trumpism is this. Trumpism is also based on this. It's about -- it's developed out of that world in which rumor, imaginary victories, an
imaginary world is much stronger and more appealing to people than the real world.
And none of us have yet understood the political implications, the scientific implications, or, obviously, the health implications of that
change in the information economy and in the way that we now have conversations.
And it was -- the pandemic really brought this home, not just in the U.S., but also in the U.K. and all over the world.
Anne Applebaum, Fintan O'Toole, thank you so much for joining us.
Now, some of the leading experts and epidemiologists say we're going to continue with COVID because, here in England, a third severe lockdown with
cases spiking is under way, and the United States has 20 million cases and more than 350,000 deaths.
So, what went wrong and what lies ahead?
Joining me is author Lawrence Wright. He recently took over the whole of "The New Yorker" with a deeply researched investigation called simply "The
And he's joining me now from Austin, Texas.
Lawrence Wright, welcome back to the program.
I wonder whether...
LAWRENCE WRIGHT, STAFF WRITER, "THE NEW YORKER": It's good to...
AMANPOUR: ... I might just start with you -- I'm sorry. Sorry to interrupt.
I wonder whether I might just start by asking you to follow up. You did such an amazing article that everybody's talking about. The politics of it
is something that the scientists just never figured they would have to deal with.
What do you make of the last conversation I just had with Anne Applebaum, that that was in -- as much to do with the failings of the response in the
U.S., the U.K. and other populist nationalist governments?
WRIGHT: I thought Anne's point was very profound. And I think we are in a different era.
It is an era of distrust, not just of authority, but of science and all authority really. And into the middle of this comes a disease that should
be a unifying factor. But, instead, what has happened is that we have just grown more divided.
It's not a whole worldwide problem, Christiane. There was a poll done of different Western nations about whether they felt that their country had
become more unified or less in fighting this epidemic. And only the U.S. and the U.K. said that their country was less unified than it was before
So, specifically, those two countries have really suffered politically.
AMANPOUR: So, take the United States, which you closely investigated.
How did this -- what are your main takeaways of the main mistakes? Because there have to have been mistakes, with 350,000 dead in the leading medical
and scientific nation of the world, and 20 million cases in the U.S. What are your main takeaways about the key moments that led to this?
WRIGHT: Well, there were three.
The first was, at the beginning of the year, the Chinese refused to let the United States authorities come in and investigate what was going on. And
had they gone in, according to Robert Redfield, he was certainly would have discovered right away that there was asymptomatic transmission.
But it really wasn't until the middle of March that became an established feature of our response to this. And the idea was, it's flu. And it was a
terrible misconception, that it was going to be just like the flu. When you get sick, you will be symptomatic, and you will go to bed and -- but you
will pass it because you're symptomatic.
No, it's more like polio, where like one out of 200 people with polio is symptomatic. In this case, it's 50 to 70 percent of the victims are
asymptomatic. That was mistake number one. Mistake number two was the test, a catastrophe, a sad tragedy for what was once a great institution, the
Centers for Disease Control.
But the FDA played a role in that too. To roll out a test -- we lost all of February to a bungled test and to the FDA's intransigent feeling that it
couldn't let the test go forward, which would easily have been done if they had just discarded one element of that test.
And the final strike three was the masks. And here you can lay the blame at the feet of the president. His own advisers told him that masks were our
last chance to try to contain this contagion.
And he announced on television, everybody says this is a good idea. It may be a good idea, but it's voluntary, and I'm not going to do it.
At that moment, he politicized the mask question, and really threw away our last chance to do anything to stave off this catastrophe that engulfed our
AMANPOUR: Honestly, as I listen to you speak, it is such a tragedy, the idea that masks, something so simple, and yet so effective, was so
politicized, and therefore not used as effectively as they could have been is really something that's like a dagger really to the mind and to the
But I want to ask you about -- you also say that this pandemic is sort of like an X-ray about the frailties of the society. And you're looking at the
U.S. society, but it could be here, it could be anywhere where they have bungled it.
What do you mean by that?
WRIGHT: Well, when you have a war or depression or a pandemic, your country comes under stress. And, suddenly, things are visible to you, for
instance, the failures of our government.
Beforehand, there was a global pandemic report that showed how all the countries of the world measured in their ability to respond to a
hypothetical pandemic in the future. And the report was pretty dismal for most countries, but there was one country that stood above all, and that
was United States, and the U.K. was not far behind.
And so you might have thought at that point that we were well-prepared. The pandemic showed us the truth about our society and about our ability and
willingness to address something that has been such a tragedy worldwide, but especially in countries like ours, where we had the resources, where we
had the knowledge, but failed to act on it.
AMANPOUR: I want to play you just a sort of a mash-up of some sound bites by the president, his health secretary, and another about the vaccine. This
is actually -- Moncef Slaoui is the other one, who is the head of warp Operation Warp Speed.
Now, you say -- and you're right -- that Operation Warp Speed should be hugely credited. I mean, the fact that these vaccines have come out is a
remarkable thing. But these are some of the promises that were made, and then we will talk about them. Hold on one second.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We will deliver 100 million doses of a safe vaccine before the end of the year. It may be quite a bit sooner than that.
ALEX AZAR, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: We expect to have approximately 40 million doses by the end of this year. So that would allow
us to vaccinate 20 million people in December
DR. MONCEF SLAOUI, CHIEF ADVISER, OPERATION WARP SPEED: Overall, in the month of December, between the two vaccines, the Pfizer and the Moderna
vaccine, we expect to have immunized 20 million of our American people, and keeping 20 million doses for their second immunization a few weeks later.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, that was promises for December. We're now into the first week of January, and, apparently, only five million vaccines have taken
place -- vaccinations.
You talk about the failure of the masks, the PPE, and all the rest of it. Are you concerned that this may not get rolled out in an efficient way soon
WRIGHT: Oh, concerned? Yes, I am. I'm concerned and angry.
This is our one chance to protect our population, especially with this new variant of the disease, which spreads so much more rapidly. So, there's a
race, and we're way behind. This new variant is already racing through our country, as it has in England.
And it's -- without having a vaccine actually in the arms of the people, then we're -- it's not the vaccine that prevents the spread of the
contagion. It's the vaccination. And so we have the vaccine, but the second part of it, which gets me so steamed up, is that it's, in many cases, just
not getting out into the arms of Americans and Britons and people who need it.
AMANPOUR: And why not?
We're showing pictures right now. First, we showed elderly people in Florida basically camping out all night, sitting on picnic chairs and
covered in blankets, trying to wait to get their vaccination.
What is the problem with the logistics, with the actual operation?
WRIGHT: Well, there's a lack of leadership that has characterized the entire experience of America with this pandemic.
If there were going to be 100 million doses and -- or even 20 million doses, there should have been preparation to spread it around and get it,
everybody order it, have it all in place.
Once again, there was no real national plan. It's been broke -- in the United States, it's broken into 50 different epidemics each run by the
state which has never had any experience with this at all.
And so, you know, go from county to county, from state to state, the rules are different. Nobody knows what the rules are. And also, you know,
pharmacies have been told, you will get a hundred doses, they may not have the storage. You have to have these ultra-cold freezers and things like
that. It's a chaotic -- I mean, I have to say a lot of people have stepped up and worked very hard to get their vaccines stored properly and in the
arms of their patients. But really the absence of leadership is really striking.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you, because I want to play this soundbite. We've heard it over and again, but it's still, I think, quite galling because it
was in February, which was early, early, early, early. And it was when Bob Woodward was doing his interviews with President Trump for the book that he
wrote about Trump. And Trump is saying then in February that he knows that this is a massively dangerous disease. Let's just listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: You just breathe the air, that's how it's passed. It's also more deadly than your -- you know, even your strenuous
flus. This is more deadly. This is 5 -- you know, this is 5 percent versus 1 percent and less than 1 percent, you know. So, this is deadly stuff.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: To this day, I can't understand, Larry, A, why that wasn't released when the president said it, given that he, in public, was saying
something completely the opposite. And if you -- if that had been released then, do you think it would've made a difference? Do you think it might've
been a game changer?
WRIGHT: Political leadership would have been a game changer at any point along this experience, Christiane, and we haven't had that. But something
he said in there that people may have overlooked is, you can get it from breathing the air.
Now, what that means is it's an aerosol. And the implication is masks would help. They might even prevent the spread of the disease. And it was rarely
remarked, honestly. And at the very highest level, Trump was hearing, this could be an aerosol. Had we known that, you know, it would have made a
profound difference, I think, in our approach to how we were going to approach this particular virus.
AMANPOUR: You know, you do talk about things that they got right, warp speed is one of them. But you also focus on Trump administration official
who lasted the -- you know, the term, Matt Pottinger. And you talk about how he, you know, tried to move the ball ahead. Just tell me what he did
and whether he was listened to.
WRIGHT: Well, you know, I'm fond of him in the sense that he's a reporter. He was a reporter for the "Wall Street Journal." And every once in a while,
I think you should appreciate the skills that we reporters have to develop. Matt was in China during SARS and he covered that. So, he had the
experience of seeing how that country hid the disease. And he also had sources.
So, when he started hearing about this, you know, unknown pneumonia circulating in Wuhan, he started calling his sources. And he was struck by
the difference in what they were saying in China and what the Chinese government was saying officially. There was a tremendous disparity, this
felt ominous and very familiar to him. So, he continued to pursue, you know, where is this virus coming from, how dangerous is it?
It happens that his wife was -- had -- was a former epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control, and his brother is an infectious disease
doctor in Washington State. So, he called upon these resources that he had. The intelligence community in the United States had no information about
this. So, just an ex-reporter talking to his sources and members of his family found out more about the virus and the danger that it posed to our
country than our i (INAUDIBLE) intelligence agencies.
AMANPOUR: Finally, I just want to ask you to follow up on Matt Pottinger, because according to U.S. tabloids and some American tabloids, you know, he
is apparently a proponent -- or he believes this theory that the coronavirus came out of a Chinese lab, that it was generated in a
government-run laboratory. Have you actually talked to him about that? Does this theory at this late stage hold any water to you?
WRIGHT: I'm investigating it, Christiane. I'm not throwing it away as a possibility. The original idea was that this came out of a wet market in
Wuhan, some exotic animal, maybe a pangolin had caught a virus from a bat and it transmuted into a disease that was more available to human
There weren't any pangolins apparently in the market. There was no evidence that the animals had been affected. And, you know, One of the Chinese top
doctors said that the market itself was another victim of the disease because it was slandered in that way. So, we don't know. We don't know
where the virus came from. We know originally it came from bats.
How did it become a human disease? There were two virology labs in Wuhan renowned throughout the world for their work with bats. They did do things,
especially in one of them, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, they did what's called gain of function experiments where you take a natural virus and pass
it -- you know, mutate it and see how many changes would be required to make it a humanly transmissible virus. They did such experiments. So, it's
not crazy to say that it might've happened that way, but it's also not proved.
AMANPOUR: Lawrence Wright, thank you so much. That was an incredible investigative piece, really unbelievable reading. Thanks for being with us.
And turning to another pandemic, which is still raging, of course racism. The Black Lives Matter protests and the social media buzz may have died
down somewhat. Some changes have been made, and many have been promised. But the job is not done. Author, Ijeoma Oluo, 2018 book "So You Want to
Talk About Race" shut up the best-seller list after George Floyd was killed. And her other book "Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male
America" explains how society preserves this power regardless of merit. Here she is talking to our Hari Sreenivasan about it.
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks. Ijeoma Oluo, Thanks for joining us.
What are examples of the mediocrity that you're describing on maybe a perhaps a day-to-day basis? Because you also talk about the sort of
intersection and interconnectedness of race and gender. And you go back in several chapters in history talking about not just the women's movement but
also the civil rights movement. And yet, here we are at this place where white male is still the dominant lens through how our policies are created
and how we interact on a daily basis.
IJEOMA OLUO, AUTHOR, "MEDIOCRE: THE DANGEROUS LEGACY OF WHITE MALE AMERICA": Yes. You know, every day if you are, you know, let's say, a
black woman or a woman of color in any kind of workspace, you absolutely are familiar with this phenomenon of the mediocre white male. And, you
know, when Sarah Hagi tweeted about having the confidence of a mediocre white man, the reason why it took off because was because anyone who's been
in any kind of public environment are voted someone into office and been through elections, recognizes what it looks like.
To have someone who seems to have that management material that has nothing to do with their actual qualifications, their leadership skills, their
knowledge, it has to do with the way they look in a suit and tie or how demanding they can seem in a meeting or how they can talk over women and
people of color, right.
And we see this time and time again, white men who fell upward while people of color and women are trying so desperately to just prove their worth and
working twice as hard and still are passed over time and time again. So, I'm like at an everyday level, we see this all of the time and we see this
impacting our lives.
But it also becomes incredibly dangerous when we try to protect it. Because the only way you can protect the image that you deserve to be in power
because you're white and male and nothing else, it means you really can't allow an image of someone who isn't white and male being more talented than
you, being more successful than you. And so, it's not only we elevate certain people regardless of their skill or talent, but we suppress others
in order to keep that elevation.
SREENIVASAN: So, it's not explicit, it's just that you have to stay better than someone else?
OLUO: Exactly. And it's this measurement, right. It's the idea. And there have been studies that have shown this that -- there's a really great book
called "White Identity Politics" by Ashley Jardina that also shows that many white Americans and especially white men don't even think of
themselves as white most of the time until there's a change in the status quo for women and people of color. And then suddenly they're like, what
does it mean, what does this mean to me, what does this mean? Because when you have a comparative identity that's defined not by what you bring into
the world but instead how much better you are than others, then a change in how others are doing is a primary threat to your identity.
SREENIVASAN: There's a passage in your book about the corporate world that say, a funny thing happens when a woman or a person of color is promoted to
the head of the company. White male managers stop collaborating with their co-workers especially their women co-workers and co-workers of color. Why
do white men decrease their level of performance when a woman becomes CEO? Because suddenly they feel less connected to the company.
That's a -- and you can abstract from that not just in the corporate level but really in the civic and government level as well.
OLUO: Yes, absolutely. You know, when I was reading this study, it felt very familiar. On a personal level, we've definitely seen this. But when
you look politically and you see surveys that show, you know, when Barack Obama was president, white people saying, I don't think he represents me.
But he was absolutely representing more than anything, the interests of white America. And he was, you know, by all measurements, a pretty centrist
But because he looked different, suddenly you're disengaging. And I think we saw this on -- we see this in companies all of the time. We see in film
when suddenly there's more people of color in films and it suddenly becomes a black film or an Asian film and not a film that white people feel like
they can relate to. And we absolutely see this in our government when people of color rise to any sort of prominence or power in our government,
suddenly there are people in the white populous who feel like it doesn't represent me anymore, and especially white men, and this also happens for
And so, we saw this -- you know, there's quotes in the book, too, talking about, you know, Bernie supporters who felt like we were talking too much
about women and they were saying, it means there's no dudes allowed anywhere. Simply because we were trying to address issues that didn't
always center them.
So, just the slightest shift can cause some white men to completely disengage, not only disengage but really hinder and try to harm the systems
that before they felt like they were a part of.
SREENIVASAN: How do we change that in the corporate environment where we can say, you know what, the pattern of practice here has been looking at
running this company through one particular lens?
OLUO: Yes. I think part of it first starts with being really honest and figuring out where you stand. I speak to corporations and schools and
government entities all over the country. And when I ask them, how are you doing as far as race and gender, what I get are some very vague feelings,
right. I think we're doing OK, maybe some people are upset.
But what we don't get is, you know, have you surveyed your employees to see -- your employees of color, your female employees to ask what they would
need to feel successful and supported? Have you taken analysis of the issues you've already documented and had as far as race and gender in your
workplace? You know, do you know where people are likely to slip up? Because we have to stop assuming everything's fine unless the problems rise
to the level that you are being made aware of it.
You have to instead assume because the study, the data shows that these things are happening. And so, then you build systemic solutions to prevent
it from happening and so that people can get used to a different way of doing things. It's not just, let's sit down and convince people, we have to
do it differently, it's, let's make policies that account for the fact that people are less likely to be supported when we have a woman at the head of
So, what does it look like then to tie someone's level of performance, you know, to how much they continue to engage, to how they support, you know,
to how they reach out and mentor and work with other people of different races and genders? You have to, you know, account for what's already
happening that the data shows is already happening instead of just assuming everything's fine until it gets to the point that it rises to HR or
SREENIVASAN: Are there inherent threats to whiteness, to masculinity, that drive this mediocre behavior?
OLUO: There are. Well, I think part of it too is just this is in part a function of capitalism. The idea is this is what -- this is the deal, this
is what you get for participating in this system. You will get this, you know, comfortable life, you will get your house with a two-car garage and
your wife and your kids, and this is the promise, and you deserve it, you were born for it, you know, this is your rights.
And the truth is, is that that never fully works out for everyone. We don't have enough to go around in this system that extracts most of the profits
to those at the very top. And so, what happens then? Well, you say, well, look around, you weren't going to have it, but this person took it and that
person took it. And who? The people who we've always said were supposed to be lower on the ladder.
So, you could say, oh, well, look, you know, we did all this affirmative action and that's why you don't have a job. Instead of saying, oh, 80
percent of the profits for this corporation went to, you know, stock holders and that's why you don't have a job, right.
And so, we have to look at this and see, you know, that people are being played. It really is a manipulation that ties into, you k now, people's
biases and really forces -- you know, makes them think that their biggest competition are the people that they've been told they're supposed to be
above and that their biggest problem are the rises and the gains for people that they were told they would never have to compete with.
SREENIVASAN: Now, there was -- I want to say, I think Ralph Shetty (ph) that does this work done on social mobility that people who are most likely
to oppose an increase in the minimum wage are the people who make just a little bit above where that level would be now because they fear all these
new people getting to their state, right. So, it's almost like that they, I'm cool with a rise in minimum wage. But wait a minute, now, you're making
me part of the bottom and I don't like that very much.
OLUO: Yes, absolutely. And you hear these questions, well, am I going to get a raise too, then? Because even though I wasn't starving, I still have
to feel like I got this much more than the people below me. It's the idea that the hierarchy shouldn't move.
So, people kind of hold these two competing thoughts. Like, yes, we don't want anyone to starve but also, I always want to see myself as doing this
much better than the people who have always been below me. And that's really harmful, especially in, you know, this kind of closed system where
we say there is this much money to go around, this much resources to go around. Then you suddenly -- you're always viewing the rise of others if it
doesn't immediately keep you above them at the same level as a threat.
SREENIVASAN: You also talk about how this is unhealthy for white males.
OLUO: Yes, absolutely. It is incredibly unhealthy. I mean, to wake up in the morning and not know if you're successful until you can measure how the
people supposedly below you are doing, it means that you don't actually have an inherent sense of self-worth. And it also cuts you off from
You can't connect with people if you're constantly measuring how much power you have over them or how much better you're doing than them. If success is
only comparative, if self-worth is only comparative, then you're lacking that real, you know, inherent sense of self-worth.
But also, because the story of this country, which is a lie, is that if you work hard you will get ahead, and you were meant to get ahead. And this is
the story that white men are able to, you know, believe in more than anyone else, right. As a black woman, the story told to me was that, if you work
hard you will get ahead. It's you have to work hard because otherwise you'll die in the street. But maybe, you know, you might make it if you
work extra, extra hard you might be OK.
But for many white men the thought is, of course, you do good, you'll get good, it'll be great. So, then what happens when it's not? Either something
is wrong with you or somebody stole from you. And so, we see this split, right. We see the violence. We see Charlottesville. We see this outward
violence of people that white men are thinking stole from them. And then you see the internal violence, the rage, the suicide of people who believe
I must be broken instead of looking at the system and saying the system's broken, it's something's wrong with me.
SREENIVASAN: I can see a viewer watching this segment and saying, OK, what's a white guy to do? I'm stuck here, I have no intentional racism in
my body, I don't want to be better then, I'm not trying to be this person, but I'm clearly profiting and benefitting from this system. What step can I
take to help?
OLUO: You know, one of the things I think is really important to recognize is systems of oppression don't only oppress people of color. They also give
power to people who weren't oppressed by those particular systems. So, recognize where your power is. Don't let the guilt stop you from actually
engaging that power. Because I -- we don't have that power, right.
So, saying, you know, yes, it sucks that politicians are going to listen to me and not you, so I'm just going to disengage from politics. No, it means
talk to those politicians, right. It means if you're in the work meeting and people listen to you and don't talk over you but they'll talk over
women and people of color, well, then use that voice to up and, you know, tying to people and women of color and support what they were trying to say
before they got talked over.
You know, it's about utilizing that power. So, whether that's power you have in your school system with the money you spend, whether it's the
influence you have with your white peers to look at local issues, use it, engage it, get past feeling like, oh, it's bad, so I'm going to engage. And
I hear this from a lot of white men going, yes, you know, white men suck, I don't want to be a part of it. No, be a part of it and make it better.
Engage with it and say it. Like, no one's going to hear you, you know, if you're someone that people feel are less than them.
So, if you're a white man and you hate the way white manhood looks, know that no one's going to, you know, listen to me the way they'll listen to
you, that you actually own this and you can engage with it and make it better. So, start looking at your power for opportunities to create real
SREENIVASAN: Well, what about white men who don't have any power or don't feel like they have any power? Because what you're saying is, is inherently
OLUO: Yes. Well, and you have some. And I will say it, it's important to recognize that there is less power for the average person than a lot of
people think there is, but you have some. You have that relative power. That's why often white men are clinging to the status. That's a bit of
power that they have they don't want to give up. Use that power. So, a lot of it is about educating yourself.
So, what I recommend often to white men is look at what's happening in your city, in your town. So, start saying, what are the graduation rates and the
testing rates by race in my schools? What are the -- how are women doing in STEM? What are the sexual assault rates in my area? Start looking at --
look at who's representing you in office. Look at where you're spending money. And say, OK, this is where I have some power. I can be heard here.
SREENIVASAN: In the wake of your last book, you want to talk about race and in the speaking engagements and the columns you have been writing, you
have personally been attacked in ways that I think most of our audience would find reprehensible. You know, tell us what does it mean to be doxed,
what does it mean to be swatted?
OLUO: Yes. We were actually just doxed again a little over a week ago. But doxing is where you put someone's personal information out on the internet
so that people who do not like you can harass you. And often, nowadays, for me, it's not only been me, my family, anybody associated with me. My mom is
currently getting harassing messages on her phone about me, people, you know, wishing horrible things to happen to me. And so, that's doxing and it
kind of creates this general feeling of unsafety. You know, it caused harassment. I've changed my phone number multiple times.
And then swatting is an offshoot of doxing where you -- once you have someone's address, you spoof a phone number from where they live and you
call the police and you make some sort of a threat. And the goal is to send a swat team into their house, to have someone, you know, guns out, knock
the door in. People have been killed from this because someone unsuspecting doesn't understand why a cop's banging their door in and reaches for a
phone, people think it's a gun.
So, last year our home was swatted. I was actually out of town. So, my 17- year-old son was asleep alone. And I got a call saying there was a reported shot fired in my home. And it was someone pretending to be my son saying
that he had murdered his parents and the goal was to actually target my son and send swat teams in the house.
Luckily, I knew that we were at risk because I knew we had been doxed. So, at least they called me and told me they were going before six officers
with guns showed up and six officers with guns did show up and wake -- pulled my son out of bed at 6:00 in the morning. But nobody broke the door
down at least. They at least knew there was a chance that everything was going to be OK because I got to talk to them. But I was literally across
the country trying to board a plane home and wondering if my son was going to get shot. And from then on it was regular, you know, terrorists at our
home. And the goal is to create violence and to use this against black people, to utilize police violence against black people. That is the goal
of this technique.
And so, it was very painful and scary. It is something that many black journalists face. It's also something that regular activists of color face
all of the time. It's pretty widespread, and police don't, in most jurisdictions, don't actually have a good response to it.
So, yes, that's the terrorism kind of you face for being a black woman in this country who speaks out and takes up space that people believe you
SREENIVASAN: Going into this new administration, what are you watching out for? What are you hopeful for?
OLUO: I am not naive enough to say this is going to be a revolutionary administration that's suddenly going to be, you know, embracing the
language of, like, black activists across the country. But I do hope to have a little more space to work with him. When we are out doing our
protests, to be heard a little bit more, to be able to maneuver a little bit more, that is my hope. That maybe we will have that grace and instead
of, you know, working with an administration that was actively trying to make it, you know, against the law to do the work that we've been doing.
And instead, to be able to operate it.
The work remains the same. It's just how hard is it to accomplish these goals? And I'm hoping it will be a little bit easier.
SREENIVASAN: Ijeoma Oluo, thanks so much for joining us.
OLUO: Thanks for having me.
AMANPOUR: Very sobering experiences and testimony there.
And finally, we end this show tonight with Martin Kenyon again, a 91-year- old man who shot to fame in December as one of the first in the U.K. to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
CNN spoke to him outside the hospital after he got his first dose. And this is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN KENYON, RECEIVED PFIZER/BIONTECH VACCINE: I am not going to have the bloody (INAUDIBLE) now. I don't intent to have it because I've got
granddaughters and I want to live a long time. Well, there's no point in dying now when I have lived this long, is there? I don't intend to anyway.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: A sensible man. And now, Martin is one of the first to receive the second and final dose of the vaccine, saying it is all done, I am going
to survive. Optimism in all the right places.
And that is it for now. You can always catch us online on our podcast and across social media. Thank you for watching and good-bye from London.