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Interview With Former NASA Astronaut, Retired Colonel Terry Virts; Interview With Anti-Corruption Foundation Executive Director Vladimir Ashurkov; Interview With Special Olympics Chairman And Son Of Eunice Kennedy, Shriver Timothy Shriver; Interview With "Under The Skin" Author Linda Villarosa. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired June 21, 2023 - 16:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Welcome to AMANPOUR. Here's what's coming up.
Underwater sounds heard in the search for the missing submersible. But the news comes as precious oxygen supply dwindles. We look at the desperate
race to save the crew with former International Space Station commander, Terry Virts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DASHA NAVALNAYA, ALEXEI NAVALNY'S DAUGHTER: They constantly wake him up during the night to physically torture him, to psychologically tortured
him. And I want him to get medical access immediately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: -- a daughter pleads for her father's health, as new extremism charges against Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, could add
decades to his sentence. I talk to his associate and friend, Vladimir Ashurkov.
Then, Special Olympics chairman Timothy Shriver sees dignity, peace and inclusion as the world games are underway in Berlin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LINDA VILLAROSA, AUTHOR, "UNDER THE SKIN": Poverty makes everything worse. But poverty is not the only reason for black women's maternal mortality.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: -- the pregnancy death of athlete Tori Bowie shines a harsh light on black maternal mortality again. Michel Martin speaks with author
and journalist Linda Villarosa.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga in New York sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.
A huge search is underway for five people on a missing sub, which is running dangerously low on oxygen. Searchers have picked up the sound of
banging underwater, according to an internal U.S. government memo seed by CNN. Now, that has given rescue teams hope of finding the Titan
submersible, which went missing on a dive to the wreckage of the Titanic. But time is critical. Officials think they have less than a day of oxygen
On board are a British adventure, a French diver, a Pakistani father and son, and the founder of the company operating the tour, OceanGate.
The Titanic lies around 12,500 feet below sea level, at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean. Now, that's about 10 times the height of the Empire
State Building, just to put it into perspective for viewers. Terry Virts is a veteran NASA astronaut and retired colonel in the U.S. Air Force. He is
also close friends with Hamish Harding, who is on the submersible.
Colonel Virts, thank you so much with being -- for being with us today. I know it's a very difficult time for you. Tell us about the last contact
that you had with Hamish, right before he set off on this expedition.
RET. COL. TERRY VIRTS, FORMER NASA ASTRONAUT AND CLOSE FRIENDS WITH HAMISH HARDING: Yes. Hamish texted his crew from One More Orbit, the mission that
we did flying around the earth a few years ago, and said, you know, I'm heading off to dive today, with a big exclamation point. He was very
excited about it. The weather had been bad. So, there had been some delays. And that was right before they went below the sea and submerged.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. And we know a Canadian surveillance plane has detected, as we have reported, some banging noises in the remote area of the North
Atlantic. Some reports say that's happening at about 30-minute increments. What was your reaction when you heard that report? And is that standard
protocol in emergencies?
VIRTS: Well, that was very good news. The question is, is that coming from the crew or not? And that's what we need to find out. There was reporting
earlier this morning that said that they're tapping out an SOS pattern, you know, dot, dot, dot, dash, dash, dash. So, hopefully, that's true. I
haven't been able to verify that, it was reported on some news outlets. So, if that's true, that means the crew is alive, the cabin, the pressure
vessel is intact. And that's really the question.
And so, there's a couple things that need to happen. It's a search and rescue mission. So, there are several drones underwater right now. Very
deep water, it's over 12,000 feet below the surface of the sea looking for them, trying to find them, tapping will actually help, the sonar can home
in on that and triangulate. And then, they'll need to be able to rescue them, and this is all happening when the time is very short.
You know, they're running low on oxygen. There might be carbon dioxide building up, and it's very cold in there, which, ironically, to a point, is
good because that slows your metabolic rate. It actually slows the amount of oxygen and Co2. So, that makes that problem better. But if you're too
cold, then that's not good either. So, it's a tough problem right now.
GOLODRYGA: And it's an ambitious task now, to say the least, for rescuers. Coast guard officials say that they've searched about 10,000 square miles,
that's roughly the size of Massachusetts thus far. Could there be another explanation for the sound that they're hearing?
VIRTS: Well, you know, there may be submarines in the area that are making mechanical noises. If it's just a strange mechanical noise it could -- like
I said, it could be a submarine. But if it's an SOS Morse Code, then it's the crew. We know that for sure. The question is, is that what they're
hearing? Are they continuing to hear it? This coast guard press conference will hopefully answer some of these questions. But the -- and there's more
drones and more ships on the way.
I've been saying the positive news here is that we haven't heard bad news, like you --
VIRTS: -- haven't seen a wreck, we haven't seen debris floating, we haven't, you know, heard something that would tell us that there's no hope.
And if we're hearing tapping, so that's a good thing. And as long as we have that, we have hope. But the clock is on, the race is on against the
clock. And they need to be able to find them quickly. And then, hopefully, be able to rescue them.
There's a giant navy crane going out there, that's kind of a big claw that could potentially grab it and pull it up.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. That's what I --
VIRTS: So, you know, hopefully, they can find them. Yes.
GOLODRYGA: That's what I wanted to ask you about, and we'll let our viewers. And, you know, if anything comes out of this press conference that
we don't already know, but here's what we do know, and that is that three vessels, one with sonar capabilities, has joined the search, in addition to
a French operated robot that's capable of operating at such depth.
But given that, are you optimistic that there are enough capable tools and technologies available to rescue this vessel if it is found and bring it
back up to the surface?
VIRTS: Well, most of all, I want to say thank you to the coast guard and the navy, the Canadian government, the British government helped. There's
some -- the first vessel there was a commercial vessel that, I think, did a lot of effort. We need to be very thankful for them. So, thanks for the
I think if they can be rescued, they will because this effort -- you know, we have some of the best people in the world doing it. But the problem is
going to be time, and they need to be able to find them. They probably need a little bit of luck.
Another problem is, assuming -- we're assuming they're on the floor, they could be at the surface. I don't think they are because I think radar would
be able to find them. But it's been five (INAUDIBLE), I understand, and that makes it harder to find something. I've spoken with some very senior
navy folks and they could potentially be on the surface and we just haven't found them yet. That would be the best-case scenario.
The problem is they're near the Titanic, which is a debris field full of metal debris. And so, sonar is going to have a hard time picking them out
from a piece of the Titanic that might be right near them. So, I, you know, hope and pray that this search effort goes quickly. They're able to find
GOLODRYGA: And it's about two and a half miles, the Titanic, that we're looking at footage of underwater there. Two-minute expedition to go down,
two and a half miles. The latest that we're hearing from this press conference is that they still have not been able to locate this vessel. So,
not the news necessarily that we want to be hearing right now. But we do know that the search is ongoing.
Any idea, in your view, as to what could've gone wrong? Because this is the third expedition of this type for this vessel to have taken place. And we
have heard the previous two, though they have been successful, there were some issues that even lead to legal challenges and cases. They had lost
contact and communication. We've heard from those who had been on board the previous missions. What do you think could've gone wrong this time?
VIRTS: Yes. There's been a lot of speculation and I'm sure all that is going to come out. Let's get the search and rescue done first. And I think
there's going to be lots of things that come out. But in the short-term, you know, there could just be a pressure hole failure, and that would be
bad, that would have been instantaneous. That probably would've been very obvious on sonar. So, we probably would've known if that had happened.
If there's a smaller mechanical failure, there could be a compartment or some part of the outside part of the submarine that filled up with water.
And when that happens, it would sink. And it has a system that drops weights, and when it drops weights, it should go to the surface. But if
some of those compartments is filled with water, dropping the weights won't help, it's going to be stuck at the bottom. I've heard some speculation
that that might have been what happened.
And if there was a mechanical failure that might have broken off their sonar antenna so they're not able to talk to us. So, it maybe that there
were some -- like Apollo 13 had an explosion on the outside of the spaceship, but they were OK on the inside. Something like that might have
And essentially, we're in an Apollo 13 situation right now, race against the clock, the crews are running low on oxygen, and other consumables. It's
-- they're very cold. And there's a huge effort, you know, up here on earth, back then it was down here on earth, to get them home. The parallels
to Apollo 13 are very interesting.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. It's fastening to hear you talk about those parallels. We do know that the search may be complicated by weather. A storm is expected
to move through the North Atlantic today. Talk about how that can complicate this mission.
VIRTS: Well, one of the ways it could complicate it, let's say best-case scenario, they find them. They're pulling them up. Just getting them on the
ship is tough in rough seas. They've had issues getting off the ship in rough seas where they actually damaged the sub and passed missions, from
what I understand. So, getting them on being -- having the boat be able to stabilize the crane. I'm not a navy guy, I'm just a fighter pilot. So, I
don't talk too much navy here.
But clearly, they're requiring ships to be somewhat stable. And also, you know, if there is noise from waves, that might complicate the sonar. But
you'll have to ask the coast guard and navy about that. I'm just an air force guy.
But the one thing I want to say, you know, people are talking about this is a big effort and there's a lot of expense and people are working on it. The
good news is, I don't think anything like this has been attempted before. So, I'm sure that the coast guard and navy are going to learn some very
valuable lessons. This is operational exercise that we didn't want and we certainly didn't plan, but I think it's going to be a good exercise for the
men and women that are making this happen.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. We do know that the best of the best are now involved in this search. Let me just ask you, because, obviously, missions like this
are not risk free. We know that and those that are on board and that sign up for this type of missions know that ahead of time. But this particular
company, CNN is reporting, that two former OceanGate employees voiced safety concerns two years ago about the vessel. And this follows a "New
York Times" report that in 2018 more than three dozen industry leaders had warned this company's CEO, who happens to be on board, that its
experimental approach, is what the word -- the phrasing they used, and decision to forgo a traditional assessment could lead to potentially
catastrophic problems with this mission.
From your perspective and expertise, was this an unsafe trip from the start?
VIRTS: Well, I actually don't know. I haven't been involved in any technical decisions at all with this company. I've never heard of OceanGate
and tell a couple of days ago. So, I can't say.
What I can say is I teach a class at -- ironically, at Harvard Business School called Why Organizations Fail. And we talk about the challenger in
Columbia accidents that were two NASA space shuttle accidents, and they were entirely preventable. There were people speaking up, management didn't
listen to that because they had budgetary and scheduled pressures. And so, that's a common problem that space company -- aerospace companies have to
look out for, any company, if you're a Wall Street investment bank, if you're a pharmaceutical company, any large organization has to look out for
these problems, which is why that course is so relevant.
I don't know if that applies in this situation.
VIRTS: But this is the kind of situation where, you know, there are parallels to the space shuttle accidents, potentially, if those are true.
VIRTS: Well, the best headline that we can bring you right now and our viewers from this pressure is that it is still 100 percent a search and
rescue mission. So, they're still hopeful that they can find all on board alive and bring them up to safety and to the surface as soon as possible.
We'll continue to follow the story.
Colonel, thank you so much for your time. And we are rooting for your friend, Hamish, and everyone else on board to be found alive and well.
VIRTS: Well, thank you for covering it. I know the friends and family. I can't tell you how many text messages I'm getting from Hamish's friends and
VIRTS: They all have so many friends and family. They appreciate this effort. So, thank you.
GOLODRYGA: Of course. Thank you so much. We appreciate it, too.
Well, another trial for jailed Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, began this week at a maximum-security penal colony 150 miles outside of
Moscow. The hearing is behind closed doors, the press is excluded. Even Navalny's father was forced to leave the courtroom.
Navalny faces a new charge of extremism, a conviction that could add 30 years to his sentence. Now, he's already serving 11 years for the crime of
"creating an extremist community." Vladimir Ashurkov is a close ally of Navalny's and leads his Anti-Corruption Foundation, and he joins me now
Vladimir, it is good to see you. I wish it was under better circumstances.
Let's talk about these latest charges. Alexei Navalny is 47 years old. Already serving, as we mentioned, an 11 and half year sentence, and he
could be spending a lot more time behind bars of he is convicted. What do we know about these new charges?
VLADIMIR ASHURKOV, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ANTI-CORRUPTION FOUNDATION: They are loosely defined. It's extremism. And it's creation of extremism --
extremist organization. So, the Anti-Corruption Foundation, which has been the legal and organizational platform for Navalny and our team since 2012,
has been deemed extremist. And now, he is charged with creating this and managing this organization. It's all trumped up. And this sentence that
this charge is carrying is indeed, up to 30 years.
And we've seen in recent verdicts against opposition members in Russia, Vladimir Kara-Murza 25 years, Ilya Yashi eight years, that Russian
authorities just disperse these verdicts with little concern for justice.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. The prosecution rate in Russia right now under Vladimir Putin's control the Kremlin is near 100 percent. We mentioned that this
trial is being held about 150 miles outside of Moscow. Very difficult for journalists to get access. They had streamed some of this hearing, though
it was cut in and out. Why do you think that authorities are going to such great lengths to hide him and to keep this trial from the public?
ASHURKOV: Well, Alexei Navalny is arguably the most famous and prominent political prisoner globally right now, and certainly, in Russia. So, I
think any attention that the authorities would like to avoid attention of the public and attention to the specific proceedings of this trial, which
is a sham. So, that's why the -- in contrast to usual procedure, Navalny was not transferred to Moscow for the trial but he -- it's by video link
from his penal colony. And also, in the first proceedings that took place two days ago, the trial was closed to media and journalists.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. We're looking at that video right now. And he does appear thin and gaunt. There had been a lot of concern for the past -- over a year
now about his health and his well-being. What do you know about his current condition?
ASHURKOV: Well, he's a tough man. Over the last two and a half years that he has been in prison there has always been concerns about his health. He
even conducted a month-long hunger strike when he was denied medical help. He seems to be OK now. And one sign of his resilience is that he continues
to send messages against the war and against Putin's dictatorship from his prison.
GOLODRYGA: We spent a lot of time here in the States, and at CNN in particular, trying to interview his family members, including his daughter,
Dasha, and his wife, Yulia. We saw that his parents were kicked out of the courtroom, not allowed inside, as they traveled to this hearing as well.
And his father spoke to the media outside of his car just moments after he was kicked out. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANATOLY NAVALY, ALEXEI NAVALNY'S FATHER (through translator): No shame, no conscience, no honor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: How is his family doing? How are his parents doing? How is his brother doing? The family members that are there in Russia in particular?
ASHURKOV: His family is a big source of support and encouragement for him, and especially, his wife, Yulia Navalny, is really the rock on which
Navalny stands now. And she has been supportive throughout his political career, which is -- he's now in jail but he has suffered from persecution
from Russian authorities for the last 10 years at least. Including his assassination by Novichok, and now, including the prison term. But his
family is praying for him and wishes him to stay strong.
GOLODRYGA: Your team announced this week a new campaign to turn Russian public opinion against Vladimir Putin, and specifically, against the war in
Ukraine. Let me quote part of the announcement, "We will conduct an election campaign against war and against Putin. Just that. A long,
stubborn, exhausting but fundamentally important campaign where we will turn people against this war."
Let me just ask you, Vladimir, how will this work practically? And why wait so long to introduce this new campaign, well over a year since this illegal
invasion took place?
ASHURKOV: We always look for ways to engage with people in Russia, despite all the problems and all the oppressive laws that have been put in place.
And it may not make the headlines of global media, but the situation in Russia is changing.
I will give you one statistic. Six months ago, in November 2022, when we did our poll on whether you know in Russia, whether you know somebody who
has been killed during the war in Ukraine. And in November, the answer was 5 percent who knew somebody who was killed in that war. And in May, it was
20 percent. So, this is a dramatic shift and it does make a difference in how people think about the war, even though openly -- talk towards the war
openly is quite dangerous in Russia now.
So, we want to amplify this change in mood, this change in behavior, this change in attitude towards the war and we want to use modern methods of
campaigning, social media messengers, anonymous call centers, to try to agitate, to try to talk to people in Russia about what is going on.
And over 1 million Russians have left Russia since the war started. And we want to utilize these people, many of whom abhor Putin's regime and are
victims of its persecution to try to engage with people in Russia using this modern communication methods.
GOLODRYGA: I don't have to tell you that there is a rocky relationship between members of your organization and those in leadership in Ukraine.
And I'm curious, again, going back to my previous question, as to why launched this campaign now and not sooner? Do you think that that's a
hindrance, that there isn't a closer relationship with the Ukrainian officials, with the Zelenskyy government, and your specific organization?
ASHURKOV: Well, we understand that the key to demise of Putin's regime is now what's happening on the battlefields of Ukraine. We understand that
Ukrainians, in general, are quite hostile towards Russia, and in many cases, they don't differentiate between Russians who are pro war, who are
in Russia, who are outside of Russia. So, we are not offended. Indeed, it is difficult for Russian activists like us to work with the Ukrainians now.
With respect to why we launch it now, it's really not easy to figure out the way of how to influence the situation in Russia from outside, in the
atmosphere of repression and dangers. So, we came up with this idea, and that's that -- where we will put our efforts from now on.
GOLODRYGA: Are you surprised or would you like to see more cooperation between Ukrainian officials and your organization, perhaps even hearing
President Zelenskyy when he says that he adamantly will not be negotiating with moderate Putin, that he threw out somebody like Alexei Navalny as
somebody that he sees as the future of Russia, because it does seem like there is a setback in relations between those on the opposition in Russia
and those in power in Ukraine right now?
ASHURKOV: For sure, it would make sense for us to talk. Because Russia, even if it's defeated on the battlefield, and there is a start of political
transformation, Russia will not disintegrate and it will not cease from the global map.
So, something will come after Putin. And we believe that we will be a part of the solution that comes after dictatorship and Russia resumes its path
towards normal development as a democratic, European country. And of course, that is -- it may not be the immediate sort of thing on the agenda
of the Ukrainian authorities, but for sure, we need to be thinking ahead about these issues.
GOLODRYGA: Does that mean working with opposition, other parties in the opposition part -- group there in Russia itself? Because the Russian
opposition was invited to European parliament in Brussels earlier this year. And the Anti-Corruption Foundation, your foundation, refused to go.
And there is some concern that this infighting among the opposition is only emboldening one person, and that is Vladimir Putin, who may be up for re-
election, and I put that in air quotes, in 2024.
ASHURKOV: We -- Alexei Navalny and our team became, over years, arguably, the most prominent force in the Russian opposition because we focused not
on words, but on deeds. And we don't see much use in participating in another congress of opposition. We would much rather work on doing
something practical, like a recent campaign for raising money for political prisoners where we worked together with various opposition groups, with
independent journalists from Russia to raise over half a million dollars for political prisoners in Russia.
We would much rather put our effort into creating something like this campaigning machine that we talked about than in another forum where we'll
be talking -- there has been a lot of talks about what the opposition should do, but there is been much less practical efforts.
GOLODRYGA: Vladimir Ashurkov, always great to see you. Thank you so much for joining. We appreciate it.
Well, turning now to welcome news of extraordinary human potential. One of the world's largest sporting events this year is happening now in Berlin.
7,000 competitors from nearly 200 countries have come together for the Special Olympics World Summer Games.
Every competitor has an intellectual disability. It's a multi-sport event, but it's not all about the medals. As event chair Timothy Shriver says, we
don't ask the question who is the best, we ask what is your best? Shriver has led the Special Olympics since 1996. His mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver
founded the games.
And Timothy Shriver is joining us now. Welcome to the program. I'm really looking forward to this conversation and to these games ahead, more than
7,000 Olympians in Berlin right now. Talk to us about what the mood is like there?
TIMOTHY SHRIVER, SPECIAL OLYMPICS CHAIRMAN AND SON OF EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER: I'm in Berlin. Thank you for having me, Bianna.
The mood here is extraordinary. I think it sort of almost gives me goosebumps to say that I think Berlin is the most welcoming place on earth
right now. We opened the games at the Olympic Stadium, as the same Olympic Stadium where Jesse Owens won a gold medal in 1936, defying the forces of
division and contempt and hatred and violence with bravery and with skill.
This is the first time the Olympic flame has been back in Berlin. It entered that stadium with 7,000, as you point, people, from all over the
world, people with intellectual differences, the most humble, in some ways, people on earth. But in another way, the most beautiful, proud and powerful
people on earth. Because their message is, right in that stadium, look, we can overcome division. It is possible. When people say the world doesn't
change, they're wrong. And we proved that at the opening ceremonies and our athletes are proving it every day here in Berlin.
GOLODRYGA: You mentioned it's the first Olympic torch that's been lifted there since 1936. We should also note, that your mother, Eunice, was with
President Kennedy in 1963 for his famous Ich bin ein Berliner speech.
So much tragedy, obviously, unfolded in those circumstances in between. But also, so much hope and promise. What does this specifically mean for you
SHRIVER: Well, you know, many people have come up to me here in Berlin and said, you know, when your ongoing President Kennedy said those words in
1963, it gave us hope. It reminded us that the forces of division wouldn't win, couldn't win. That we were seen and held and valued by people around
the world. That the American president said that he was one of us.
That, you know, unfortunately, President Kennedy, obviously, did not live to see the wall come down. But my mom, who is here, did live to see the
wall come down. And she also lived to see this movement of hers rise up around the world. We're in 190 countries, can you imagine, over a million
volunteers who put on over 100,000 events every year, Bianna, can you imagine? I mean, try to cover that story, you know?
These are people all over the world, and their conviction is not just to tear down the physical walls of institutions and places of segregation, but
to tear down also the walls you can't see. Tear down the walls of fear, tear down the walls of discrimination and oppression. And to do that with
the joy of sport and the power of our work in schools and health, every day around the world.
So, for me, to be here where my uncle, obviously, changed, I think, the course of history.
Where my mom would be so proud to be back to see her community, the athletes of Special Olympics, in their own way, changing the course of
history right now, it's very humbling and there's a lot of emotion here.
GOLODRYGA: Yes, I can just see that in your face. And your mother, wow, way ahead of her time and just talking about breaking down barriers, and
breaking down walls, and unifying people and overcoming discrimination, and really boosting inclusivity as well. And we should note, this is the first
Special Olympics since COVID. And people with special, with intellectual disabilities, we should note, are three times more likely to contract
COVID-19, six times more likely to die from COVID-19. So, talk about what the mood is there among the athletes and participants to be back?
SHRIVER: Well, you know, there's a lot of exuberance here. Our community is an exuberant community. It's an open community. It's a community that loves
to touch, to hug, to join hands, to put your arm on someone else's soldier. But these athletes that are here, they deserve to go home to countries
where they can go to school. And they deserve to go home to countries where our doctor will see them and give them high quality care. And they deserve
to go home to countries where they have a chance to get a job, to live in a community, to be a part of a faith-based institution. Too frequently,
that's not the case.
And so, we are -- part of what we're doing here is reminding people that special Olympics is more than simply a sports organization. We're super
proud of the athletic achievement of our community. But we're challenging countries. We launched a global coalition for inclusion here. Countries
like China and Egypt, and now Angola and others are joining us, committing to opening schools. I mean, you'd think it would be normal nowadays to
assume that every child can go to school. It's not. 85 percent of children with intellectual disabilities don't ever go to school. Can you imagine?
And so, countries are recognizing, they've made commitments to U.N. conventions and these kinds of things. But now, it's time for action. You
know, we don't want to just wait and wait and wait and wait. It's time for action. So, we're challenging nations all over the world to join us. We'll
bring the sports, we'll teach children to play together, we'll teach children to join unified teams. When we teach children to do that, they
themselves will become agents of inclusion and schools will be better.
Children who don't have disabilities will learn more. They'll learn better values. They'll learn better behaviors. They'll make their school climates,
and they'll actually achieve higher test scores. This is a remarkable data we found when we implement our unified sports programs in schools in the
United States and other countries.
So, we're here to have a great time. To have a, kind of, a release from the painful experiences of the last several years of COVID and being isolated.
But our athletes know a lot about isolation.
GOLODRYGA: They do.
SHRIVER: And it wasn't just COVID that created isolation.
GOLODRYGA: They do.
SHRIVER: They want not just an end to COVID, but they want an end to all the isolation, and we're here to remind them where with them to bring that
GOLODRYGA: And your mother was one of their first advocates. Let's show viewers the -- her speech, the opening speech there for the opening
ceremony, the first Special Olympics in 1968 in Chicago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER, TIMOTHY SHRIVER'S MOTHER: In ancient Rome, the gladiators went into the arena with these words on their lips, let me win.
But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt. Today, all of you young athletes are in the arena. Many of you will win. But, even more
important, I know you will be brave and bring credit to your parents and to your country. Let us begin the Olympics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: I -- it must give you chills when you hear your mother's voice there saying those powerful words. And her own sister, Rosemary Kennedy,
was disabled as well, intellectually disabled. And your mother, famously said that it wasn't about Rosemary alone. That this mission was much larger
than just one person. It was to address all of the people around the world who are going through very, very similar things and experiences. Talk about
SHRIVER: Well, you know, my mom was -- loved her sister. She saw the way the world treated her sister. She believed deeply that there was nothing
wrong with her sister but there was a lot wrong with the way her sister was being treated. But she also didn't want people to think this was just a
You know, sometimes in philanthropy, say, well, what Mrs. Smith's cause, or what's Mr. Jones's cause? Oh, that's their cause. She didn't want it to be
her cause. She didn't want it to be a family cause. She wanted it to be a justice cause. A decency. A dignity cause. That people around the world,
political figures, whether they knew of someone with an intellectual challenge or not, would recognize the claim to justice in this movement.
They would recognize the claim to decency, and integrity, health care.
I mean, the discrimination in health care is shocking in -- around the world. Our athletes were denied access to vaccines, denied access to
ventilators, denied access to treatment in many places where there was a crisis.
Why? Because people thought, well, their lives don't matter as much. Outrageous. That's what my mom felt.
GOLODRYGA: Timothy --
SHRIVER: I mean, she'd say this to me over and over again. This is outrageous. You know, maybe you can hear me. I'm a little bit scared, she's
saying it to me now. Get to work.
GOLODRYGA: You are your --
SHRIVER: Tell the story.
GOLODRYGA: You are --
SHRIVER: Demand change.
GOLODRYGA: -- you are indeed your mother's son, Timothy. And we're speaking about your family. So, I'd be remiss not to ask you about your cousin,
Robert F. Kennedy Junior, who declared his candidacy for president as a Democrat recently. He was on the Joe Rogan podcast and reiterated once
again his belief that vaccines can cause autism. There is no science to prove that and it has been debunked by many, many, many experts.
But more than that, you know, autism campaigners say that this rhetoric really stigmatizes those with intellectual disabilities as well. Are you
disappointed by his words and have you spoken with him about that?
SHRIVER: Well, here's the rule of thumb in my family. Special Olympics has no politics. We've welcomed Republicans and Democrats. We worked with
countries that have Chinese and socialist regimes. We work with all the different religions of the world. And so, none of the conflicts, either
within our family or within our politics come to this community.
And so, I'm here representing the athletes in this community of Special Olympics. I love my cousin, Bobby. He's a wonderful father. He's a terrific
cousin. He's an extraordinarily gifted human being in so many ways. I don't agree with him at all on his belief on vaccines. And I certainly don't
agree with him at all on his belief about autism in the positions you just stated.
But here, we're not for -- I'm not for either -- any political party, even a family member. I feel like it's important to emphasize here, that the
politics of this movement is the small P. It's the building up of relationships and dignity and trust. One family, one community, one state,
one country at a time. And allowing our athletes to be the teachers. We're not really, frankly, that impressed with any political figures. I'll just
be blunt about it.
GOLODRYGA: Well, your brother -- your --
SHRIVER: We're impressed with the athletes of Special Olympics.
GOLODRYGA: And they continue to impress us every single day. It's one of the reasons why we wanted to have this conversation with you. One of the
bright spots --
SHRIVER: Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: -- on the show today.
SHRIVER: I appreciate it.
GOLODRYGA: I just have to ask your brother, he's in Berlin with you as well, and he has endorsed President Biden for the presidential bid. Are you
-- endorse President Biden as well? Have you decided where you will be doing, where you'll be going?
SHRIVER: Not at this -- listen -- I mean, for the last 30 years, I've been in this movement and unfortunately, it's meant that I've had to slip out
and stay out of political campaigns. Personally, I have my own political convictions. But as a representative of this movement, I don't have any.
President Biden has been very supportive of our movement. President Trump was also supportive of our movement when he was in office. We've been very
fortunate in the United States to have the support of Presidents Reagan and Bush, both Bushes, President Obama, President Clinton, President Carter.
Really, since the beginning of our movement, we've enjoyed the support of both parties. And that, I hope, will continue.
GOLODRYGA: Well, Timothy Shriver, we look forward to hearing about these games and seeing more that come out of them. Best of luck, and thank you
for doing what you're doing in shining a light on these amazing people and athletes.
Well, turning now to the U.S., in the maternal mortality crisis facing black women who are three times more likely to die from pregnancy related
complications. Last month, Olympic gold medalist, Tori Bowie, died from birth -- childbirth complications when she was eight months pregnant.
Journalism Professor Linda Villarosa investigates the relationship between race and health in her latest book, "Under the Skin." She joins Michel
Martin to discuss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Bianna. Linda Villarosa, thank you so much for talking with us.
LINDA VILLAROSA, AUTHOR, "UNDER THE SKIN": Thank you. Good to see you again.
MARTIN: Likewise, although I'm story about why we're talking today. You are a recognized authority in science journalism on the issue of maternal
health more broadly, and black maternal health in particular. So, when you heard about the death of the Olympic gold medalist, Tory Bowie, who was,
you know, eight months pregnant, 32 years old, just, you know, just a really disturbing story. I was just curious what went through your mind?
VILLAROSA: I was heartbroken. I felt so sad for days, really. And specially because I'm a big fan of track and field. I remember her in the four by 100
meters relay when they won the Olympic medal in 2016. But also, it gets tiring and hearing the statistics about black maternal mortality.
MARTIN: Well, speaking of the Olympics, you know, three of the four members of that relay team, it emerges, all had complications during pregnancy or
giving birth. What do we make of that?
VILLAROSA: Well, I think it just speaks to how common this is among black women. And also, it speaks to really getting rid of the myth that it's all
related to poverty or it's all the women's fault. That this is a problem that has been growing and is at a crisis stage.
MARTIN: One of the things that I think people really remember is a piece that you wrote in 2018 where you pointed out that, you know, the thinking
had been that this is a poverty issue. That this is just, you know, people who have poor diet or poor access to health care. And you're reporting and
the research done by many in the medical field indicate that's just not the case when it comes to black women. That's not the relevant factor.
Could you say more about that? Why is race so powerful of an indicator when it comes to pregnancy complications and -- maternal mortality and infant
VILLAROSA: I think I want to first state that poverty makes everything worse. But poverty is not the only reason for black women's maternal
mortality. And I think I was really shocked when I first heard the statistic that even a black birthing person with a college degree or even
an advanced degree is more likely to die or almost die in childbirth than a white woman who hasn't finished high school.
And now, even newer research speaks to wealth. So, it used to be just education differences, but now even wealthy black families are more likely
to lose a mother during pregnancy childbirth and the time after. So, that is surprising. It was surprising to me. It still, sort of, gives me
goosebumps in a bad way.
MARTIN: Well -- and one of the reasons that we know this is that people are becoming more vocal about their experiences during childbirth. I mean, very
famous women, like, Serena Williams, Beyonce, and other track and field star, Allyson Felix, have shared some very disturbing stories about
experiences that they had. Some -- in some cases, near death experiences during childbirth. Are there some through lines here?
VILLAROSA: Well, both Allyson Felix and Tory Bowie had preeclampsia, which then became for Tory, eclampsia which is a severe -- the severest form of
preeclampsia. And black women are 60 percent more likely to have preeclampsia and also to have the most severe form. And that is also
transcends race, it also transcends class lines.
So, I think that is alarming. Allyson Felix also had preeclampsia and had a very low birth weight baby who was in the NICU right after birth. I read an
essay by her. She did everything right. She did -- had prenatal care. She knew what to do to keep herself healthy during pregnancy, but she still
almost had a tragic birth outcome. So, that speaks to beyond poverty and even beyond access to health care.
MARTIN: And one of the other things that I think your reporting and that of others has pointed out, is that these outcomes are getting worse. First of
all, why are these -- did these racial disparities exists? And why is it getting worse?
VILLAROSA: Well, I'm going to say one thing is the data has gotten better. So, now we know more than we did, even when I was first reporting in 2018.
COVID made things worse as far as in the country. But also, because we don't -- the reasons for black maternal mortality and for the gap that
transcends class and education. We're not sure how to combat it. It's very difficult because it has to do with toxic stress in society. And so, you
know, having better access to health care is always good. It always helps. But it hasn't closed the gap in this case.
MARTIN: Say more about what you mean about toxic stress and what role, you think, that plays or that the research indicates that that plays.
VILLAROSA: How I'd like to frame it is through the lens that Arline Geronimus uses, she's a researcher and a professor at the University of
Michigan. She calls it weathering. And her theory is that the lived experience of being black in America, especially a black woman, causes a
kind of toxic stress that comes -- becomes full-blown during birth, which is a stress test for the body. And so, then you see these poor birth
outcomes because of the day in, day out battling discrimination.
MARTIN: I am mindful of the fact that the doctor that you mentioned was so far ahead of her time. In fact, you reported on this. She actually got
death threats for her work. But you know, having said that, how do we identify that as, sort of an atmosphere condition as opposed to something
VILLAROSA: There was some very good data and research a couple of decades ago that this proved the genetic cause. And they looked at first generation
African immigrants from some of the poorest countries.
White women from Europe, white women from America, and black women from America. So, all three groups had normal birth weight babies except the
African American women, and their babies were significantly smaller. Then they looked at the next generation. So, one generation later, they looked
at the birth rates of the babies again. And the white babies from European countries had actually gotten a little larger. The white American babies
were the same, basically, normal birth weight. The black women -- black American women's babies were still small.
But now, in one generation, the women who were African immigrants, from some of the poorest countries in the Caribbean and Africa, their babies
matched African American and -- babies. And what I remember about that data was, it was by these two really wonderful researchers from Chicago. And,
you know, I've interviewed a lot of scientists and researchers and they don't really say things that are, kind of, like, outrageous. They're more
conservative. And I remember, they said, something about being black in America, black women, is bad for your body and bad for your baby and that
thing is racism.
MARTIN: The states with the highest maternal rates are all on the south. And I just have to wonder if that means something. I mean, Arkansas,
Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana. Does that mean something?
VILLAROSA: These are the states that have been, you know, underfunded, left behind many times. They have the poorest, as we call, social determinants
of health. The environments are often polluted. They don't have access often to healthy water. You can, you know, look at Mississippi as an
example, that's where Tory Bowie was born and raised and went to college.
And that has the highest rate of infant mortality. It has among the highest maternal mortality. It has the highest rate of child mortality. It's the
poorest state. And it also is the state with the highest percentage of black people.
Most black people in the country live in the south. So, you have a whole bunch of factors all coming together. And so, I think it's not surprising.
It's also the state where the Dobbs decision happened, so it was the end of reproductive justice in that state, so it made things worse. So, I was --
I'm not surprised, but I'm saddened. My family came up from Mississippi to Chicago, my grandparents and all of their siblings, and so it makes me sad
that Mississippi, especially, but so much of the south has been left behind.
MARTIN: How did you get interested in this, if you don't mind my asking?
VILLAROSA: I got interested when I heard those statistics. And I was really interested in weathering as well, because I wanted to have some kind of
rain for this. I also thought about my own birth. I was like Allyson Felix, I was -- did everything right. I was the health editor of essence magazine,
so I was really the poster child of good health, trying to be.
And I was really surprised in my second trimester that my doctor told me that my baby was not thriving inside. And I went to a specialist who was
asking me all kinds of questions, like, do you use drugs? Do you eat, you know, like every kind of unhealthy food? Do you drink? And all of these
questions. And then I finally asked my regular OB/GYN, why would I be asked these questions? And she said, you have something called intrauterine
growth restriction, which happens to people who are much less healthy than you, or who are using drugs and alcohol during pregnancy.
So, my baby was just short of preterm. I basically held her in so she was not preterm, but she was low birth weight and she weighed four pounds, 13
ounces. She could fit in the palm of my hand. She's downstairs now, working, and is a healthy young adult. But I always wondered, why would
that happen to me? And once I got the explanation for weathering and I understood that, then I thought, oh, I wonder if that is what happened to
me and my baby?
MARTIN: And I want to go back to something you said about, you know, the way that you were, sort of, interrogated. One of the things that you
pointed out in your reporting and others have as well is that it's not just the, sort of, the assumption that black women are doing something wrong.
Like they're eating the wrong things, they're drinking too much, et cetera. But it's also the not being listened to.
And I just -- can you just say more about what role that that plays? I mean, this is something that maybe people will remember if they followed
Serena Williams' story. I mean, she's a world class athlete who's -- presumably knows her body very well. But when she tried to indicate to her
doctors, like, something was wrong and she suspected what it was, they didn't listen to her.
VILLAROSA: I'm always surprised at how often that happens, and one of the statistics that struck me, initially, was that black women are much more
likely to meet the person delivering their baby for the first time when they're delivering the baby.
So, that speaks to a, sort of, lack of consistency in health care. But also, even when your Serena Williams, who knew what was going on with her,
tried to communicate with physicians about what was going on with her and wasn't listened to initially. So, that speaks to something much worse
that's going on.
I think in general, overall, I think of the case of Dr. Susan Moore. It's not related to pregnancy, but she was a black woman who went into the
hospital with COVID in 2021. She was a physician herself, tried to speak to her caregivers about what was going on with her body. She wasn't listened
to. She made a video of herself from her hospital bed and spoke about that. And the refrain throughout her video was, this is how black people get
killed. And then she did die of COVID.
In the investigation of the hospital system in -- it was in Indiana. They - - one of the reasons they pointed to was they -- the -- some of the providers that were caring for her felt like intimidated by her medical
knowledge because she was a doctor. Saying please, this is the kind of care I need. So, that speaks to not being listened to that can turn out to be
MARTIN: And what you're saying is that that's not -- it's -- that, you know, education is not protective in the way that you might think that it
would be. You think that somebody who could speak to, you know, medical professionals on their level would be listened to. Is there any -- I don't
know, explanation for that?
VILLAROSA: I think part of it is a stereotype that's been floating around for hundreds of years of the angry black woman. So, then when we're
speaking with authority or we're speaking with -- trying to be assertive, it sounds to others angry because of the stereotype that we're often angry.
Sometimes, I show a cartoon of Serena Williams, you know, several years ago she was playing in the U.S. open, and she pushed back against a call.
There was a cartoon that ran shortly after of her looking completely crazy, super angry, just really out of control. And I thought, if that is the
image of her that is international, then when she gets into her hospital room and she starts talking about, actually, this is what I have. I have a
pulmonary embolism. I know what it is. This is what I need, she is sounding angry and then she's not listened to.
MARTIN: You mentioned that you are kind of haunted by the death of Tory Bowie for days. And I'm just wondering if there's anything that we can
point to that offers some hope in a situation like this?
VILLAROSA: When I saw that she had died of respiratory distress, I thought of the phrase, I can't breathe. George Floyd's words that became a rallying
cry for racial justice in this country. I am a really hopeful person, and I look at the way that medical students, midwifery students, nursing
students, are trying to be much more birth justice and social justice oriented. So, the providers that are working with black birthing people are
trying to do better.
With my book, I've traveled around the country to a lot of medical schools and I've been really excited about their willingness to think differently.
To want to be different kinds of providers. I think of Doula Care. Doula Care used to be something that was only for the privilege. Many doulas,
including the ones I wrote about in 2018, the doula collective, are much more birth justice oriented. We'll work with people on a sliding scale.
Some states cover doula services for often the most poor women or the women who need it most.
So, a doula is someone who can be with you when you're birthing to be your eyes and ears. When I was covering maternal mortality in 2018, it was
really the doula that saved the birthing person's life that I watched and was the hero of the story. So, those kinds of things do make me more
MARTIN: I do wonder if the end of nationwide access to abortion care will have an impact. I mean -- because, obviously, the proponents of these
restrictions believe that they are in the service of preserving life, and I'm just wondering if what you see in the landscape.
VILLAROSA: Well, I think the abortion is part of a package of reproductive justice, so that means people in this country and everywhere should have
the right to have a child. So, you can't be sterilized against your will or without your consent. Should have the right not to have a child, so that
means abortion care should be national. Should be a federal law. And birth control should be affordable and easily accessible.
And then the third part of reproductive justice is the right to raise a child in a safe and healthy environment. In -- if you get rid of abortion
care, you don't have reproductive justice. So, people that are against abortion and, you know, it's part of a bigger package. You have to also
care about mothers and babies.
MARTIN: I, kind of, am thinking about the fact that there has been such a backlash against looking at anything in a systemic way in some parts of the
country. I know a lot of the attention has been on, sort of, book bans and curricula, and the, say K through 12 years. But it just makes me wonder
that if there is so much resistance to thinking in systemic terms, how does this get addressed?
VILLAROSA: I have done several grand rounds at different hospitals, including the hospital where my own children were born, the OB/GYN
department. And I don't go in saying, I think you're all racist. I go in saying, we have a systemic and an institutional problem. And one of the
ways you can combat it is by going through some, kind of, implicit bias training or anti-racism training yourself just so you're aware as
individuals of, you know, of what you -- what may be going through your mind because of, you know, the racism that is baked into society.
And I try not to blame individuals. But I do say this is a problem. There is, without a doubt, there's so much evidence to say that we have
discrimination and racism in our health care system. It's not even arguable anymore. There's been, I like to say, that we have enough evidence to fill
the Library of Congress. So, we should stop arguing about that and try to figure out how to address the problem.
MARTIN: Linda Villarosa, thanks so much for talking with us about this.
VILLAROSA: Thank you. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Such a powerful and timely conversation.
Well, that is it for us for now. Thank you so much for watching and goodbye from New York.