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At This Hour

Striking Staff Closes LAUSD Schools For Second Day; Dominion Vs. Fox News Enters Day Two Of Court Hearing; 2015 Death Of Stephen Smith Investigated As Homicide. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired March 22, 2023 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Now, schools are closed again today for more than half a million children in Los Angeles. About 30,000 school support staff from the nation's second-largest school district, they are on the picket line. They're demanding better pay, better treatment, and better hours. Standing alongside them in solidarity now is the 35 -- the 35,000 members of the District's Teachers Union. And also now, the White House is weighing in urging both parties, the union and the school district, to find a quick resolution to all of this.


Joining me right now is Austin Beutner. He's a former superintendent for that school district, Los Angeles Unified. It's good to see you again, Austin.


BOLDUAN: The union's asking for a 30 percent pay raise, $2 in -- plus $2 an hour over the next four years. What do you think is going to happen here?

BEUTNER: I hope those who are doing the work in schools get fairly taken care of. And some context matters. If you recall, we spoke repeatedly during the pandemic, these are the people who made sure Los Angeles got fed. They made sure every student had a computer and internet access. They made sure everybody got a COVID test and everybody got a COVID vaccine. And as a result, Los Angeles students were the only ones in the nation to see improvement in both math and reading in fourth and eighth grade. These are our heroes.

Now, with an average wage of $25,000, they're struggling to get by. Los Angeles is a very expensive place to live. And I think when the district has record revenue and record surplus, it's time to treat people fairly and take care of those who are doing the work in schools.

BOLDUAN: If they've been negotiating anything for something like a year now, why do you think it got to this? BEUTNER: I don't know. It shouldn't have if the district has the money, which I think they do with the record revenue and record surplus. Take care of people. Treat them with respect. Make sure they provide -- you provide them with the love and attention that they did for the entire community.

It shouldn't have gotten to this point. I think as soon as everybody can be back in schools. Nobody wants to see a strike. But these are the people who -- they're the glue. They hold the school together and we should be taking care of them.

BOLDUAN: The current superintendent, Alberto Carvalho, he has put some of the blame on the past administration. I want to play for you what he told CNN yesterday.


ALBERTO CARVALHO, SUPERINTENDENT, LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT: This is the result of a crescendo of frustration that goes back many, many, many years. This new team has inherited these conditions. We are negotiating. And I remain hopeful that we'll be able to have a legitimate conversation that may result in a precedent-setting contract.


BOLDUAN: Union leaders do -- and union members, they do not seem happy with how the superintendent has handled this. How do you think he's doing? How do you think he's handling this?

BEUTNER: Well, I know he's trying hard. I know that everybody's trying hard to get this solved. It's been a year of negotiation. And think about it. If you're struggling to get by, you're making bits more than minimum wage in Los Angeles, and they ask for a raise, and you don't hear back for months and months and months, that lack of respect, and that frustration, I'm sure has boiled over. Let's get people back to work, let's treat them fairly, and let's move on and make sure kids are getting the education they need and deserve.

BOLDUAN: They're jumping on a tweet where he mentioned something about a circus as well. What do you -- how do you think that's played into this?

BEUTNER: Again, I think you'd have to talk to those who are picketing.


BEUTNER: Those who are not at schools today. I've heard repeatedly -- you know, this is about respect, treat people fairly. And what I saw in schools, I saw people getting up at three and four o'clock in the morning to make sure kids get meals to start at the bus depot and take kids from all over Los Angeles to whatever school their family is chosen to enroll them in.

I saw people -- you can see kind of behind my shoulder here, there's a tile mosaic of a bus. This was made for me by a bus driver during the pandemic who was not just working with the bus to make sure her kids had a computer and internet access but she was helping an art teacher with their kids in their art project, which happen to be tile mosaics. And they made this for me.

These are people who put in the extra time. They care about the kids in the community, and many of their own kids. They live and work in Los Angeles. It's time we take care of them.

BOLDUAN: I want to talk to you about what this means for the kids. Because as you mentioned, we talked so often during the pandemic when schools were shut down and what the impact was, and everything you were doing because schools were shut down for all of these kids that they couldn't get into the classrooms. They're forced to stay home again for this three-day strike we -- that we hear this is going to be you know, kids stuck in the middle once again. What do you say about that?

BEUTNER: It shouldn't get to this point. I think that it's unfortunate. I am sure no one wants to be on a strike. These are people struggling to get by. Losing a few days' pay is apocalyptic. It's a real sacrifice.

I think if we can treat them fairly, kids will be back in school. We'll move forward. And it's unfortunate it's gotten to this point because everyone knows the best place for kids to be is in school each and every day.

BOLDUAN: Yes, when we know that all too well, especially of the last few years. Austin, thanks for the time.

BEUTNER: Yes. Kate, thank you for having me.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

So, Dominion Voting wants Fox News Chairman Rupert Murdoch to take the stand. The latest from the high-stakes hearing, next.



BOLDUAN: At this hour, the Norfolk Southern CEO is back in the hot seat on Capitol Hill facing more questions. His testimony is coming as they are still cleaning up from the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. Ohio's governor also spoke out this morning telling CNN that the community still has a ways to go and he's pushing Congress to step in. Listen.


GOV MIKE DEWINE, (R-OH): Out of those two bills, we all be able to get a bill that will make a big, big difference. You know, I served many years in the House and the Senate. I'm not going to get into the gory details about which version of the bill is better, but we just -- we need the changes. I think either bill will do a good job.


BOLDUAN: DeWine is set to visit East Palestine as well to see the area's cleanup efforts and how it's looking tomorrow.


So, Dominion Voting and Fox News, they are back in court today hashing it out in a summary judgment hearing in Dominion's $1.6 billion defamation suit against Fox News. Both sides are trying to convince the judge to declare them the winner before the case goes to trial.

Jessica Schneider has the very latest for us. Jessica, there was -- this was only supposed to last one day. What's happening in court then today?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, Kate, the arguments ran long yesterday. Both sides now back before a judge. And this is a Delaware State judge. He'll determine whether he alone will decide this case on the facts that are already out there, or if this will, in fact, go to a jury trial.

So, interestingly, this morning, Fox News lawyers accused Dominion of manipulating its data to justify that $1.6 billion demand in this defamation case. Fox is saying that this billion-dollar-plus demand it was only concocted to garner media coverage around this case. And they argue that Dominion is really worth less than that since they generated less than $11 million in annual earnings before the 2020 race.

So, there's still a question as this hearing is going on now about whether this case maybe could settle before any potential trial. But if it does go to trial, that would likely start next month. And the stakes, in this case, are enormous, both money-wise, but this would also be a major test of First Amendment law because Dominion is saying that Fox News executives and its hosts knew that they were airing false claims accusing Dominion Voting of using its machines and software to rig the 2020 election.

Then you have Fox News, and they're saying we can't be held liable for airing what are inherently newsworthy allegations from public figures like Rudy Giuliani, and lawyer Sidney Powell, who is really at the forefront of these allegations. So, in recent weeks leading up to this hearing, we've seen explosive inside communications from the hosts where they talk about how outrageous the claims were against Dominion but they did really nothing on air to tamp down on those allegations.

Interestingly, here, Kate. Fox corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch, he's also been implicated. His texts and e-mails have come out. And now Dominion wants Rupert Murdoch and his CEO son Lachlan Murdoch to testify if there is a trial here. Fox News is pushing back, saying that it would be a hardship for them to actually appear and that it would just create a media circus.

So, we'll see, Kate, what will happen. This hearing will likely conclude this afternoon. The judge will then decide whether or not to grant summary judgment. If he doesn't, the case will move to a trial which will likely be at some point starting next month. Kat.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Then, we will standby to standby for updates on this one.


BOLDUAN: Thank you so much, Jessica.

So, we also have a major update on an investigation in South Carolina. Police now are saying that the death of Stephen Smith is a homicide investigation now. How this turn came about and why it's tied to the Murdoch investigation? A live report coming up next.

But first, Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains why taking quick breaks during the day is so beneficial to your health in today's "CHASING LIFE."


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta, host of CNN's "CHASING LIFE" podcast. When you hate the gym, you can't find the time to get there, I know what you mean. Here's what might help. Schedule some quick activity breaks and do them as often as you can. Keep in mind.

The enemy here is sitting, sitting for too long can increase your risk of things like diabetes and heart conditions, even certain types of cancer. So just a five-minute walk every half hour can help reduce those risks. That's according to a new study published by the American College of Sports Medicine. And that walk they say doesn't even have to be fast. You just need to be up and moving.

The study found that these little activity snacks as they call them, reduce blood pressure by a sizable amount in healthy adults and offered even more benefits in those with chronic conditions. And if you can't really leave the desk, try some box squats. I mean, you get up and you sit back down and you do that over and over again. Looks silly? Who cares? Moving your body regularly is what's so important for good health.

And you can hear more about how to optimize your health and chase life, wherever you get your podcast.



BOLDUAN: This morning, state investigators in South Carolina are now treating the 2015 death of Stephen Smith as a homicide. Questions about Smith's death were raised during the Alex Murdaugh murder investigation. Smith's death was reported at the time as a hit and run but officials are now publicly acknowledging that they do not believe that to be the case.

Dianne Gallagher is following this and she joins us now. Diane, this investigation has been mentioned often in the same breath as the Murdoch murders. Is there a connection? [11:55:03]

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kate, the only real connection that has been made official between the death of Stephen Smith and the Murdaugh family is the fact that back in June of 2021, the state law enforcement division announced that it was opening the case into Stephen Smith's killing because of information it gathered while looking into the murders of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh.

I'll since that point they have never gleaned what that information was or what a further connection may have been. But look, I have an attorney for Stephen Smith's mother, Sandy said that yesterday, the chief of SLED called him and said that now that the Murdaugh trial is over, they are able to put more manpower, more investigative power into Stephen's homicide investigation, and also noted that perhaps more people would be willing to speak about anything that they may know.

So, again, there have been no suspects named in Stephen Smith's killing. But back in 2015 when highway patrol was doing an investigation, there were plenty of people who mentioned the Murdaugh name and including Buster Murdaugh, the only surviving son of Alex Murdaugh. He, of course, issued a statement this afternoon -- this week saying explicitly denying it, that he had nothing to do with it.

He said that this has gone on for far too long. These baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false. I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death. And my heart goes out to the Smith family.

Kate, look. hear the family of Stephen Smith is asking anybody who has any information to please contact state authorities there in South Carolina.

BOLDUAN: Dianne, thank you so much for that. I appreciate it.

Thank you all for watching AT THIS HOUR. I'm Kate Bolduan. "INSIDE POLITICS WITH JOHN KING" starts after this break.