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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Tonight: Nashville Holds Candlelight Vigil For Shooting Victims; Court Docs: Top Fox Executive Lashed Out At Reporter Who Fact Checked Trump's Election Lies, Said It Was "Bad For Business"; Taiwan's President To Stop In U.S. Amid Fraying U.S.-China Relationship; Gen. Milley Warns Russia, China, Iran "Moving Closer Together"; "Ruby Bridges: Movie Under Review By School District After Parent Complaint. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired March 29, 2023 - 16:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much for the update.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: And thank you so much for watching today.

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Some answers, but the big question remains. Why?

THE LEAD starts right now.

The police chief says they have yet to uncover any specific problems at the Nashville school shooter, school work or home. This is we learned investigators believe Audrey Hale had some kind of weapons training before gunning down three 9-year-olds and three adults.

Plus, a stunning new filing in the dominion lawsuit against Fox News. Newly revealed emails show Fox News' chief executive told staff not to fact check Trump's election lies because it was, quote, bad for business. What about what's good for journalism? Just a question.

And then a parent complaints and now a Florida school district is reviewing in 1998 Disney movie about Ruby Bridges integrating a New Orleans school. We're talking with the movie screenwriter.


BROWN: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper.

And we start today with our national lead. In just a few hours from now, the city of Nashville will come together for a candlelight vigil to honor the three children and three adults gunned down at their school earlier this week. And First Lady Jill Biden, a teacher herself, is also expected to attend. Nashville police say they're still trying to figure out the motive behind the attack at the Covenant School on Monday morning. A department spokesman says they now believe the shooter had some type

of weapons training. But they're not clear on when or where that took place. The police chief also says the shooter didn't appear to have any problems at home or when they were students at that school. Although investigators are confident the private Christian school was but six specifically targeted.

CNN's Carlos Suarez starts off our coverage from Nashville, where we're learning more about the six victims who tragically lost their lives.


CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The motive for why 28 year old Audrey Hale shot and killed six people at the Covenant school is still unclear. Nashville police chief John Drake spoke to CNN today about the investigation.

CHIEF JOHN DRAKE, METROPOLITAN NASHVILLE POLICE: What we know is the suspect actually went to that school, and as I said once before that there may be some resentment, but we haven't been able to confirm that.

SUAREZ: The chief said detectives are still going over a notebook that hail left behind with writings inside. Authorities believe Hale had weapons training and may have stopped somewhere between leaving home and arriving at the school. According to the chief, Hale did not have problems at the school while a student.

DRAKE: The suspect was under doctor's care. For any emotional disorder of some type of right now, we don't have any indication that there was any problems at the school or at home.

SUAREZ: The chief said detectives believe the parents did not know about the seven weapons Hale legally owned.

DRAKE: The parents felt like she should not own any weapons. She did have one weapon that they encourage her to sell, which she did, so they thought she didn't have any more.

SUAREZ: We're also learning more details about the six victims. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee released a video statement saying his wife, Maria, had a close relationship with one of the victims, Cynthia Peak.

GOV. BILL LEE (R), TENNESSEE: Maria woke up this morning without one of her best friends. Cindy Peak. Cindy and Maria and Katherine Koonce were all teachers at the same school and have been family friends for decades.

SUAREZ: Gun safety advocates protested outside the Tennessee general assembly in Nashville on Tuesday. The Tennessee chapter of Moms Demand Action said lawmakers delayed hearing a number of proposed bills related to firearms safety.

LEEANN HEWLETT, VOLUNTEER, TENNESSEE MOMS DEMAND ACTION: Enough is enough. We appreciate the thoughts and prayers that our legislature legislators give us but it's time for them to act.

SUAREZ: However, Governor Lee said right now is not the time to discuss and debate policy.

LEE: There will be a time to talk about the legislation and the budget proposals that we brought forth even this year, and clearly there's more work to do.


SUAREZ (on camera): And as the city of Nashville gets ready to remember the sixth victims, that there is word tonight that the head of school, 60-year-old Katherine Koonce, may have died trying to protect the children. A city official here says that Koonce left a zoom meeting once the shooting began, and according to police, the position of her body where she was found, leads them to believe that there was some encounter between her and the shooter in one of the hallways -- Pam.


BROWN: Just gives you chills. Carlos Suarez in Nashville for us -- thank you.

And joining me now to discuss is Brian Higgins. He is the former chief of the Bergen County, New Jersey, Police Department and a former SWAT team commander.

So Nashville Police are saying they are still trying to figure out a motive. But there's no evidence at this stage that the shooter had any problems at home or as a previous student of this school. So what are investigators doing to try and figure out the motive now?

BRIAN HIGGINS, FORMER CHIEF, BERGEN COUNTY POLICE: So they're going to go through social media posting. They're going to interview anybody who's interacted with this individual -- friends, the casual interactions and then they're going to trace these firearms and the purchase of the ammunition to try and piece together a picture of how this occurred.

BROWN: You've been through active shooter training before. What do you make of how the officers responded in this case that body cam video showing officers locating and killing the shooter within about three minutes of entering the school?

HIGGINS: The key parts of active shooter training for law enforcement is that they respond, respond quickly, and moved to the threat.

These officers didn't wait for special equipment or tactical teams. They move to where the shooter was. They engaged the shooter and, just ended the threat. So, it appears that they did a perfect job or as good as can be expected under circumstances that we see.

BROWN: The shooting, of course, has renewed the debate around semiautomatic weapons. You are familiar with these as a former SWAT commander. In your view, does any civilian need to own an AR-15?

HIGGINS: Well, if we look at why these weapons were designed and how they were designed, they were designed specifically for the military, not just the weapon itself, but the ammunition and what that ammunition does and the damage that is incurred once it enters the body.

So if you -- if we focus on why these weapons were designed, they were really designed with a military view and designed for conflict. They were not designed for self defense or hunting. So the question remains, how did someone like this obtain these firearms? Should they obtain these firearms? And how prevalent should they be in our country?

BROWN: Yeah, obtaining them legally , and these are firearms that are meant to kill, I mean, military purpose. That means they are -- that's their intended purpose to kill.

But with so many of these guns already owned across the country, you have to ask, would a ban even work? What do you think?

HIGGINS: That's the big question. And, quite frankly, mine would just be an opinion. But there are some organizations out there, nonprofit and others that have done general studies.

It would be very difficult to narrow down, but I've heard numbers in the 50 to 100 years to -- if we were to pass laws today, an outlaw all these weapons, there are, we know it's in the millions firearms in the United States. How we would get those weapons? Could we then? If the laws were passed, how would law enforcement obtain those firearms?

So the question is really how do we protect ourselves against the fire? That's the number one question. There has to be multiple layers of security.

BROWN: I mean, that's the reality.

HIGGINS: Beefing schools and work. Yes.

BROWN: That is the reality.

All right. Brian Higgins, nice talking to you. Thank you for your time.

And now, I want to bring in Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr. He is the chief of surgery and director of the university of Chicago Trauma Center. And, also psychologist and author Andrea Bonior.

Thank you both for being here.

Dr. Rogers, we were just talking there with Brian. You heard about AR- 15s and how these are weapons that were meant for the military. And now, you have researchers at Wayne State University studying how bullets affect the human body. And this is what the aftermath of an AR-15 round looks like when it's fired into this block, which represents human tissue, and it is just stunning to see how an assault rifle round breaks apart inside the mass.

Help us better understand the type of damage this can cause.

DR. SELWYN O. ROGERS JR., CHIEF OF SURGERY & DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO TRAUMA CENTER: Well, unfortunately as a trauma surgeon on the South Side of Chicago, these weapons are basically weapons of destruction. They destroyed tissue as they evolved and cascade through the human body. The bullet itself creates a pattern of injury that involves a blast effect.

Think of it as a mini explosion once the bullet traverses the skin, and that it tumbles and yards through the human body, destroying everything in its path and leaves of mushroom effect beyond the path of the bullet, which is very different than a smaller caliber weapon that takes essentially a straight line.


So when we take care of these patients, unfortunately, the injuries go way beyond what would be anything imaginable from a straight line, leaving significant destruction and unfortunately killing people.

BROWN: Yeah, yeah, and you think about children and what it would do to a child's body? It's just awful. Just awful.

Andrea, police say the shooter was being treated by a doctor for an emotional disorder. How the doctors go about deciding if their patient is a security risk? And what kind of obligation do they have to report it?

ANDREA BONIOR, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: It's not an exact science, unfortunately. One of the biggest predictors of violence is past violent behavior. Preliminary indications here certainly would say there wasn't necessarily any evidence of that.

And that's why I think when we think about all of the mental health resources that we need, and all of the people saying, oh, this is a mental health problem, which is a vast oversimplification. We really still need to put our money where our mouth is, because there's so many people hurting. There are so many people that are traumatized from their own experiences related to shootings at this point that we're really a nation in crisis, when we think about this, and lots of people are suffering, and there aren't the mental health resources that there should be.

BROWN: Absolutely, and speaking about mental health. I mean, this takes such a big toll on doctors, I imagine, Dr. Rogers. You actually wrote this essay about the toll that doctors experience from treating gunshot patients. Walk us through what that's like.

ROGERS: Well, you know, we often think of doctors, nurses, health care providers of all types as invincible. In fact, we do feel, we are human.

And when we have faced with a person and their family and their close contacts on the worst day of their life when bullet traverses their body and creates physical injury, what we don't see is the emotional and psychological injury that it does on the patient, on their family on the communities in which we all live. And those communities include us as healthcare providers.

And the very fact that we witnessed some of the worst tragedies, loss of mothers, loss of fathers, loss of children, we take that burden with us. It does not leave us when we leave the trauma bay, or leave the hospital. We bring it home, bring it home to our families, we're bringing home to our children, and it weighs on us, and it weighs on us every single day.

I remember every single death that I've had to tell a grieving mother or grieving brother or a grieving friend that the loved one will never come home again. I've had people say to me, go back, go back, go back, you can save them. And I say, no.

I used those words: No. They are dead. I have to use those words.

BROWN: Yeah.

ROGERS: Those are words that I don't want to use but I have to, because that's the only way a person can absorb the reality that their loved one will never come home again.

BROWN: Wow, Andrea, final words to you.

BONIOR: Thinking about children right now, that might be asking their parents about this and hearing about it, we really need to be in oasis for our kids and make sure we give them space from some of these images and make sure that they recognize that they can talk about their feelings.

A lot of parents ask me what's the perfect thing to say? What's the right thing to say? When something tragic like this happens? And I think really, it's about how to listen more so than what to say, how to teach them that feelings are okay and that it's okay to be scared, but that we can support each other by talking about it.

BROWN: All right. Thank you. That's great advice.

Andrea Bonior, Dr. Selwyn O. Rogers Jr., what a -- what a discussion and this discussion will continue, sadly. We appreciate it.

Well, coming up, newly released emails show the head of Fox News lashing out at staff for what? Because they tried to fact check Trump's election lies.

And then, Pope Francis in the hospital. First, the Vatican said it was previously scheduled tests, but now they're revealing more details about the pope's condition.

We'll be back.


[16:18:27] BROWN: Topping our politics lead, another stunning new filing in the Dominion lawsuit against Fox. Newly revealed emails showing Fox News chief executive Suzanne Scott lashing out in an email after a correspondent fact-checked Trump's election lies, which is a basic duty of journalists.

Quote, this is what she said: This has to stop now. The audience is furious, and we are just feeding the material. Bad for business.

And another email, Scott dinged host Dana Perino for having a, quote, dismissive tone about Trump's baseless claims about the 2020 election.

All right. We have our panel here to talk about this.

I'm going to go first to you, Scott. These emails show once again that fox executives placed financial considerations before truth. Your reaction?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, my reaction is that when you're watching stuff on television, you're getting one of three things. You're getting the news. You're getting opinion journalism, or you're just getting a narrative, something that is scripted to -- designed to give you an experience, but not necessarily designed to give you the truth. And that's what we're finding out in some of these filings.

And so, I think when people are consuming, you know, political information on television, you have to -- you have to consider, what am I getting here? Am I getting the truth? Am I getting opinion journalism?

Or am I just getting something that's really akin to, you know the same kind of thing you get on professional wrestling, which is a scripted experience designed to make you feel a certain way, but not necessarily designed to make you any smarter?

BROWN: Van, Fox is a nine any wrongdoing, saying, quote, these documents once again demonstrate dominions continued reliance on cherry-picked, quotes, without context to generate headlines in order to distract from the facts of this case.


So, Fox wants to make this all about the First Amendment. Do you buy that argument?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't buy the argument if you're going to call yourself news. They're not Fox entertainment. They're not Fox wrestling. They call themselves Fox News.

And there's a definition for news. Everybody agrees with -- it has to do with facts.

And you know, fox is named after a furry, predatory mammal that cannot be trusted to guard the henhouse or anything else. And in that regard their living up to their first part of the name, Fox. They're foxy, but there's no news. They need to admit that.

BROWN: Well, and the bottom line, though, the reality here is Scott, Fox is the leading conservative network and has massive influence in Republican politics. Do you see that changing as a result of the revelations in this lawsuit?

JENNINGS: No, I don't. And I think they're going to remain a dominant player. I mean, look, if you want to get a message out to Republicans, Fox News is where you go to do it. I think the -- you know, what would be great is if you could get messages out, but also at the same time, tell people the truth about what's going on in the world.

And again, I just -- I keep going back to this idea of what is the purpose of you know, a particular television show and as Van said, you know, telling people something that they want to hear, or that makes them feel good, or that makes them feel hopeful is not necessarily the same as telling them the truth or telling them what the news is. But for a lot of people, what they hear there is the gospel.

I just want to say one thing, my friend Dana Perino is a good broadcaster. She's a honest person, and I don't like seeing her get dumped on this, but I would just say Dana is a trustworthy person and the fact that she was on television like some other journalists trying to tell the truth to me is noteworthy.

BROWN: Yeah, I mean, to be clear, she was the one trying to tell the truth, according to this lawsuit in the communications, and she was getting dinged by Suzanne Scott for trying to tell the truth for trying to do, you know, journalism, which is reporting the facts and the truth.

So let's turn to another big story. That's out. Of course, we're all watching. I'm here in Manhattan right now we're watching with the grand jury is going to do. They're examining Donald Trump's role in the hush money payments scheme with adult performer Stormy Daniels that is set to break for most of April.

A source tells CNN. Trump praised the grand jury as we know on Truth Social this morning, writing, quote: I have gained such respect for this grand jury and perhaps even a grand jury system as a whole. The evidence is so overwhelming in my favor and so ridiculously bad for the highly partisan and hateful district attorney.

Van, how do you interpret that?

JONES: Well, when they indict him, I don't think he's going to be saying the same thing. So, you know, it -- basically today, you know, Trump tries to manage his emotions moment to moment. So he's feeling good about what seems to be a delay. But let's not forget he was the one who said he was going to be arrested a week ago or whenever it was.

And so, there's no delay accepting the false timeline he created, grand juries take as long as they taking. But those of us who are part of this business know they take the time that they take and we'll see. BROWN: All right. I want to get to another topic before our time runs

out, so I'm going to skip ahead to what happened in Nashville, the school shooting what we're hearing on the political front.

Scott, President Biden is calling on Congress to pass as assault weapons ban in the wake of that school shooting. As we hear once again, Republicans are saying that any gun control legislation is a nonstarter.

Let's listen to Tennessee Congressman Tim Burchett.


REP. TIM BURCHETT (R-TN): Three precious little kids lost their lives, and I believe three adults and the shooter, of course, lost their life, too. So, it's a horrible, horrible situation. And we're not going to fix it. Criminals are going to be criminals.

If you think Washington is going to fix this problem, then you're wrong. They're not going to fix this problem. They are the problem.


BROWN: So, Scott, how do you make things worse than kids being shot up in school? I mean, is that really the right approach here to say? Well, we're not going to fix it. We're in this position of power, but you know, there's nothing we can do.

JENNINGS: Well, I think the reality is Congress not too long ago passed a big gun control package after a lot of compromise between the two parties, and the political reality is it is unlikely that in divided government, you're going to see any further legislation move.

And look, Republicans fundamentally don't believe that guns are the problem. They fundamentally believe that people committing evil acts are the problem and Democrats, I think, fundamentally believe that the guns and not the people of the problem.

So you have two groups of folks and divided government that just had have real different values and beliefs when it comes to what has become an all too common, tragic problem that we face together as a nation.


And so, these two parties just are not close to any kind of an agreement whatsoever on what the core of the issue is, and Republicans think we ought to focus on the people and Democrats think we ought to focus on the guns. I don't see that changing anytime soon.

BROWN: Yeah. And in the meantime, children are being killed in their schools.

Van, what do you think?

JONES: Well, I think that it's true that some Republican lawmakers are in a different place, but the vast majority of voters Democratic and Republican do have agreement about the need for, you know, stronger regulations for more gun safety legislation. Biden is much closer to the center of both parties when he says we should do something. The Republicans are when they say we should do nothing.

BROWN: Yeah. In the meantime, you know the message you sent by doing nothing is that this is something that's contrary is tolerating all of these school shootings.

All right. Van Jones, Scott Jennings. Thank you so much.

Well, the audacious warning from the Chinese government to the us today as Taiwan's president makes a pit stop in New York.



BROWN: Topping our world lead, a layover with lofty implications. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen just landed in New York on an unofficial stop, which is already soliciting threats from Beijing.

CNN's Kylie Atwood is at the State Department.

Kylie, this comes as China is also dropping hints about invading Taiwan.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that's right. And U.S. officials, what they're trying to say right now is that there's no reason for China to act aggressively or coercively against Taiwan as a result of President Tsai coming to the United States, because what they point out is that President Tsai has visited the U.S. six times before, as have previous presidents of Taiwan, and they have done so without incident, meaning that China hasn't responded aggressively.

But when you talk privately with U.S. officials, Pam, they are really concerned about what China might actually do, even though they're saying that they shouldn't respond aggressively, they really don't know what China has in store here. So they are on edge.

And, as you said, President Tsai is going to be in New York today, and tomorrow. The reason that we're calling this a transit instead of a visit is because the U.S. and Taiwan don't have official diplomatic relations. So this isn't official trip to the U.S. She's just coming through the United States on her way to Central America. And then on her way out of Central America, she's going to be stopping in Los Angeles, and that's where she is expected to meet with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Now, overnight, as you were saying earlier, the Chinese have said that they will, quote, fight back if she meets with McCarthy. So, of course, we'll watch to see what they do in response to her stopover in New York, but we'll be watching even more closely to see what they do when she potentially meets with McCarthy in L.A. next week -- Pam.

BROWN: All right. Kylie Atwood, thank you so much.

I want to bring in Congressman Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

Hi, Congressman.

Joint Chiefs chairman, General Mark Milley, testified today in front of your committee. Let's listen to part of that.


GEN. MARK MILLEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I'm concerned not only about that, but any the coherence and cohesion between Russia and China in this particular strategic environment that we're in. We're seeing that with the two of them are getting closer together.


BROWN: He added: Iran is also a concern and said the U.S. is facing an even more complicated threat in the Cold War. Do you agree with that assessment?

REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): Absolutely. I think both Chairman Milley and Secretary Austin and their testimony today clearly laid out the national security challenge we face and it's profound -- China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, they essentially want to break the current world order. We've spent the last 80 years since World War II trying to build a rules based international order where countries resolve their differences peacefully through international organizations.

You know, China and Russia want to push the west out, and they want to push that order down, so that they can pursue their interests aggressively so that they can bully the rest of the world.

We need to rally the rest of the world to maintain that international order, and I think both Secretary Austin, Chairman Milley laid out about that challenge and how we're trying to meet it quite well today.

BROWN: Yeah. And, General Milley, also said, though, that very little can be done to stop China from ramping up its nuclear program, but he also assured lawmakers that the U.S. arsenal can still defend the country if China does launch a nuclear weapon at the United States.

And I'm curious. Are you feeling more relieved or worried after that hearing?

SMITH: Well, I -- it's not. It's nothing I didn't already know. So I wouldn't say that went up or down.

But, look, I am quite confident we have a strong national security plan in place to create a situation where we are not going to be dragged into a war with China, where we are going to be able to defend our interests.

But, look, the overall goal here is peaceful coexistence with China. China is not going anywhere. They are growing power both economically and militarily.

And we're not going anywhere. We are a power both economically and militarily. We have to find some way to get along with China. But part of that is being sure that we are strong enough to deter for them from taking aggressive military action.

BROWN: I'm going to talk about Ukraine President Vladimir Zelenskyy and what he is saying that he wants to engage directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Is that a good idea in your view?

SMITH: Yes, I think it is. Look, I mean, China on Ukraine is trying to have it both ways. They claim to the rest of the world that they are champions of sovereignty, that they don't want to violate other countries sovereignty, or dictate how other countries can conduct their business.


But they refused to condemn Russia and some instances they've helped Russia as Russia has done the most violent, aggressive violation of sovereignty since the end of World War II.

So, China needs to be dragged into this, and I think President Zelenskyy is quite smart. Get China on the world stage, make sure that the rest of the world sees where China is at to pressure President Xi to not help Russia to actually live up to his rhetoric.

So I think it's a very smart move by President Zelenskyy.

BROWN: Before we let you go, I want to get your take on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Biden trading barbs over proposed judicial reforms in Israel. Yesterday, Biden said Netanyahu can't continue down this road. Netanyahu hit back saying he doesn't respond to pressure from abroad.

Do you think Biden made a strategic choice to bring this disagreement into such a public arena?

SMITH: Absolutely, and I think he was -- he was smart to do it. Look, Israel is a crucial and important ally for a whole wide variety of reasons. But what President Netanyahu was doing right now is dangerous. He's going after some of the central tenets of Israeli democracy.

You know, we're a partner with Israel, in part, because we've always said they are the sole democracy in the Middle East. I think a lot of the moves that President Netanyahu is making right now are undermining that.

We want to maintain a strong relationship with Israel. It's perfectly appropriate for President Biden to bring attention to the -- these movements by Netanyahu that threaten that.

I also want to know you and more than 100 other House Democrats signed onto a letter urging President Biden not to restart family detention at the border, insisting that there are alternatives to the cruelty of family detention. What are they and do law enforcement agencies have the resources to enforce these alternatives?

SMITH: The biggest alternative is effective asylum. You know, we have asylum laws in this country. When people seek asylum, there's a process for them to seek that figure out whether or not they qualify and either let them in or send them back. We need to spend a lot more time making sure that we have enough judges and enough process to go through this asylum process.

I think we can do this in a humane way. I do -- I support President Biden trying to work with Mexico and other countries. This isn't just a U.S. problem. Migrant problem starts throughout Latin America and traverse is a whole lot of different countries.

We have to work together to figure out the most humane way to deal with is undeniably crisis from multiple countries and for hundreds of thousands of not millions of people.

BROWN: So, then do you think the proposal on family detentions? What the Biden administration wants to do is inhumane?

SMITH: I don't think it's necessary as it's currently outlined, absolutely.

BROWN: But do you think it's inhumane?

SMITH: Look, I mean, inhumane is going to mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. So it's hard for me to sort of, you know, say that one way or the other. I have to look at the policy closely.

I don't think it's necessary. I think it does cause suffering for children and families in a way that we ought to be able to avoid.

BROWN: All right. Democratic Congressman Adam Smith, thank you for your time.

SMITH: Thank you.

BROWN: Well, the Disney movie "Ruby Bridges" now under review by a Florida school district. The film screenwriter joins me live, up next.



BROWN: In our national lead, a Disney film is now under review by a Florida school district after a parent claim the movie was inappropriate. "Ruby Bridges" came out in 1998, and it's about a young Black girl who integrated at an all white elementary school in the South.

As CNN's Leyla Santiago reports, that parent claimed this movie teaches racial slurs and that, quote, White people hate Black people.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Disney movie tells the story of "Ruby Bridges", the six year old first grader who became the target of hatred and racism when she integrated and all white elementary school in New Orleans in 1960. It is now the latest flashpoint over instructional materials as the state of Florida limits how lessons on race, sexuality and gender are taught in the classroom.

The PG-rated movie is now under review by Pinellas County schools in Florida, a review that stems from a complaint by a parent of a second grader asking it be removed from the schools list of approved films.

The North Shore Elementary parent whose name was redacted, and the complaint form by the district says the movie is not age appropriate, spelling out objections to the use of racial slurs, and that the movie could teach students that White people hate Black people and is more appropriate for eighth graders.

It's not the first time some parents have objected to how the story of "Ruby Bridges" is taught in the classroom. In 2021, in Tennessee, one mom told CNN --

ROBIN STEENMAN, MEMBER, MOMS FOR LIBERTY, WILLIAMSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE: All this curriculum highlights is the mean white people and how she's victimized and it speaks to nothing of the good.

RUBY BRIDGES, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: So when I share my experiences my story in these books, I share our shared history. Good bad and ugly.

SANTIAGO: That's what Bridges herself told a U.S. House committee last year, according to the Florida district, the movie will not be shown at this particular school for the rest of the year but is still available at other schools in the district and in the districts movie library and will now go through the formal objection process to review challenged material per district policy.

No word on how long the review will take to complete.


SANTIAGO: And context here. This is the same Florida school district that in January pulled Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison's "Bluest Eye" when a parent complained about it, and it was reviewed from officials in January. That book was pulled from high school libraries -- Pam.

BROWN: All right. Leyla Santiago, thank you so much.

Toni Ann Johnson was the screenwriter for "Ruby Bridges", and she joins us now.

Toni Ann, what is your reaction to your film now being under review in Florida?

[16:45:03] TONI ANN JOHNSON, SCREENWRITER, "RUBY BRIDGES": I think it's unfortunate. I think it's too bad that one parent have the ability to stop other children from seeing the film for the rest of the year, and I think it's an overreaction. But it's not surprising because it seems like it's part of the Stop Woke Act, and the parents' rights movement, which gives parents unfortunately that power.

BROWN: You said that when you were six, that is when you were first called the n word.

What would you say to this parent who argues second graders are too young to learn about racism?

JOHNSON: I think that second graders have been seeing the film, and I've been told by teachers that it works for teachers as a teaching school. And if a six year old is old enough to be called the n word and has to understand what that means. Then second graders are old enough to learn what it means and to learn about the history of racism in this country.

BROWN: And you say that what this issue really comes down to is a parent feeling entitled to impose his or her will on other parents by not wanting teachers to show this film to the kids in their class. Tell us a little bit more about why you see it that way.

JOHNSON: Well I've expanded my views about how I see it because I understand a little bit more about the parents' rights movement, which I think is definitely coming out of the Stop Woke Act, which is limiting what can be taught in the classrooms limiting race inclusive instruction. So I think it's intentional. It's by design.

But one parent should not have the right to, you know, just say, I don't think this is right. And then everybody has to abide by that.

My parents weren't able to do that. I think this is a privileged that Black parents don't have. Black parents aren't able to just march into the school and say I don't like this movie so nobody can watch this movie for the rest of the year. That's a privilege that we don't have.

I had to watch a lot of things that I didn't like. I didn't have that choice.

BROWN: And I think I actually read that there was a book, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" that your parents didn't what you're reading. And so as an accommodation, you didn't read the book and you were moved to another area when that book was being discussed, right?

JOHNSON: My mother was allowed to opt out of that lesson for me, and I didn't read that book, but it would not have (AUDIO GAP) to her to say nobody can read the book, but we didn't have the parental rights movement. We didn't have the Stop Woke Act. We didn't have those rights and there was nobody trying to limit education for other children who was a different time.

But I do feel like it's, you know, this is a White parent taking away something that other children in the district could benefit from, and it's unfair and it's unnecessary.

If one child one doesn't want to watch the film or one parent doesn't want their kids to watch the film. That's fine. Don't watch it. But why are you imposing that on the entire school?

BROWN: Do you think that limiting young children's exposure to racism could make racism worse?

JOHNSON: Yes, because they don't understand it. And then they're too old -- if they don't get that education and they get out of school then they are -- they can say, well, I didn't understand that racism existed. Of course, it exists. It exists in their school, and this film helps teachers teach the beginnings of the civil rights movement and where race was at that time and how it affected Black children.

And I heard in the opening of parents saying that if there was no nothing in it. Aside from the bad White people -- that is absolutely not true. Watch the film. All the white people are not bad.

The film does highlight Black humanity, which a lot of films don't do. I didn't have any films like that as a child. There were no films that centered a young Black girl.

This film has been around for 25 years. It has worked for 25 years, and it can continue to work. This (AUDIO GAP) it's just different.

BROWN: Toni Ann Johnson, thank you.

Well, coming up, the Vatican says the pope now needs to spend a few days in the hospital. The latest from Rome, up next.



BROWN: In our faith lead, Pope Francis will stay in the hospital with a respiratory infection for at least the next few days. The Vatican says the 86-year-old pope was evaluated after complaining of breathing issues. Initially, the Vatican said the pope went to the hospital for previously scheduled tests.

And in the politics lead, new reaction today from Mike Pence after a judge ordered him to testify about his conversations with Donald Trump before the January 6th Capitol attack. Here's what he said.


MIKE PENCE (R), FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: We'll be speaking with our attorneys in Washington before the end of the week and sorting out what our next steps are. I obviously have nothing to hide.


BROWN: CNN's Wolf Blitzer will have this next in "THE SITUATION ROOM".

And, Wolf, soon you'll get to press Pence about his next steps.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: We're going to do an extensive live interview tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN, will be coming here in Washington. We'll have an opportunity to discuss all the very, very sensitive issues going on, and I'll press him on a lot of those issues, trying to get some sense of where he's going, what he's doing, certainly his intentions about running for the presidency in 2024. We'll discuss that.


We'll go through all four of these criminal investigations that are underway involving Trump. And as you know, Pamela, when he was here in Washington a few weeks ago, he spoke at the annual gridiron dinner and he really in that dinner. We were all sitting there wearing our white ties. Very fancy. Nice dinner.

We're all sitting there and all of a sudden, he really unloaded. He unloaded on Trump in the course of his remarks, which was not expected. I didn't expect it.

And ever since then, I really wanted to discuss with him, his thoughts, press him on some of these sensitive issues. We'll have a chance to do that. I'm really glad he's agreed to do this interview.

BRWON: Yeah, I was at that dinner, too, and it was a surprise.

Wolf, looking forward to that. Thank you so much.

"THE SITUATION ROOM" is up next and you can see wolves big interview with former Vice President Mike Pence tomorrow on "CNN PRIMETIME" at 9:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

And you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @PamelaBrownCNN or tweet the show @TheLeadCNN.