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Candidates Court Iowa Evangelicals; Trump Skips Event; Fox And Amazon Sports Reporter Apologizes After Saying She Sometimes Made-Up NFL Sideline Reports; Survivors Describe Worst Atrocities Of Sudan's War. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired November 17, 2023 - 15:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Right now, some of the top Republican contenders for the White House are in Iowa courting the evangelical vote at an event called the Thanksgiving Family Forum. And once again, the man the candidates are all trying to beat isn't there. Donald Trump planning his own campaign event in Iowa as he does like to do. A recent poll had Trump with 43 percent of Iowa caucus goers. We have CNN's Alayna Treene following the action in Iowa. Are you getting any early reaction to his no show?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: We are, Brianna. I'd say this. I think the fact that he is dominating so much in the polls is very true for the people who will be in this room shortly when this event starts.


The evangelical voters they came out in big numbers for Donald Trump in 2016 and in 2020, and largely because of his rhetoric, his pro-life rhetoric on abortion. They also credit him with stacking the Supreme Court with conservative judges, and the overturning of Roe versus Wade.

And you're right, the big elephant in the room today though, is that he's not here. He is skipping this very famous Iowa event and instead choosing to hold his own rally tomorrow in the nearby Fort Dodge.

But his absence does give some of his other primary opponents an opening. We're going to see Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, all take the stage behind me shortly. And while it's going to be hard for them to try and eat into Donald Trump's support, that is exactly why they're here. They've been hitting the ground relentlessly in Iowa trying to court these voters. And many of them, particularly Ron DeSantis, who's effectively put all of his eggs in the Iowa basket in campaigning. Hope that winning potentially here could give them momentum in the other primaries.

Now just one quick thing, Brianna, that I want to point your attention to that I found really interesting. Democrats are also trying to capitalize on this event this weekend. They know that all of the top Republican contenders are going to be in Iowa, and so they've placed a series of billboards across the city attacking these candidates on abortion. One of them specifically going after Donald Trump, saying that he

would impose a national abortion ban. Of course he has said so far that he doesn't have plans to do so as a candidate. But also attacking the others who will be here today.

And I think that shouldn't be a surprise. Democrats see abortion as one of the key issues heading into 2024. But it's also going to be a key issue at this event, starting shortly -- Brianna.

All right, we'll be looking for that Alayna Treene. They're monitoring all the action. Thank you for that report -- Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: All right, thanks Brianna. Time now for a deep dive with two Republicans. CNN political commentator Alice Stewart and former Illinois Republican Congressman Joe Walsh. All right, so Joe, I'm going to start with you. You've run for president before, including in the Iowa caucuses. So you have interesting perspective. First of all, what is the significance of today's family forum in Des Moines, the one that Trump is skipping.

JOE WALSH, FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE (R-IL): Well, it's a huge deal because as Alice knows, it is in evangelical state. That is predominantly what the Republican vote is in that state. But I'm struck, Pamela, by Trump's not there again, and it doesn't matter. Republican voters are still with him. It's his party. He hasn't been at a debate, and here we are, two to three months later, that strategy of Trump's -- if he does strategy -- has worked.

BROWN: Well and it's interesting this event is supposed to be about what's most important to evangelical Americans. You heard Alayna talk there, about the strong grip that Trump still has on those evangelicals -- in Iowa in particular. And yet on the core issue, abortion, he sort of backpedaled on that.

ANNA STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think he realizes that ever since abortion -- overturning Roe v Wade and abortion has been the single issue on the ballot, then the people that support abortion rights have won out, and he recognizes the political liability of this Issue since Roe v Wade.

Here's the difference with this issue tonight. And as Joe knows, this is not a debate. This is a conversation with the candidates. And the thing about people in Iowa, they want to talk with these candidates one-on-one once or twice in their living rooms, in their coffee shops. And many of these candidates are trying to do so. They're doing the full Grassley. Visiting all 99 counties.

But what tonight is about, it's not as much about policy. It's about finding out what's in their hearts. And nothing will help a voter connect with someone more than finding about their character. So this is going to be -- the temperature is going to be much lower at this event. But it's a good way for them to show where they stand personally on a lot of these issues. Bob Vander Plaats, who is hosting this event, has supported all the caucus winners for as far back as I can remember. And everyone that I won. And he says this is about showing what's inside the character of these people. But it's also an opportunity to show a stark contrast with Donald Trump.

He doesn't think Donald Trump is the candidate for the Republican Party in the general, so he wants to show a contrast so people can look at, here's the alternative and time to turn the page.

BROWN: Because he's sour because of his backpedaling on the pro-life movement.

STEWART: Exactly.

WALSH: Everything Alice said is exactly correct. And I mean that. But well, but Trump's not there and it doesn't matter. Everybody there today doing what Alice said, they're going to do. They're all doing it to be the alternative -- period.

BROWN: Right. And Speaking of alternative, right, there's a lot of focus on Nikki Haley right now. The last debate clearly seemed to give her a boost. But she had already been polling well against Biden. In fact, in this new poll from Marquette Law School, Haley is beating President Biden by 10 points and a head-to-head match up. So I mean, is she the clear alternative to Trump now? And what explains her strength in a head-to-head matchup.

STEWART: I think that right there is a big argument in favor of looking at the electability of these candidates. We all know Donald Trump has a chokehold on the GOP right now.


But Republicans, rational Republicans need to look at this from the standpoint who can take on Joe Biden in the general election. And if her numbers are strong, that bodes well for her. And what she has done as my candidates always done, slow and steady wins the race. You start out with these low numbers and you build momentum. She's come into second place now in New Hampshire. She's doing well also in in Iowa. And here's the thing she has done really strong debate performances. Show where she's command on the issues and she's followed it up with her we tell politics.

And I think she more than anyone, has found the proper positioning on this abortion issue, saying look, we need to be truthful with the American people. We need to be rational about this, not demonize the other side and look at where we can agree on reasonable abortion limits and take it from there and not impose too strict of limits on this issue. And I think she's found a good argument for a general election.

WALSH: Yes, Trump's the nominee unless something happens. But Alice is right. I think Nikki is now the alternative for two reasons. Ron DeSantis has borne out to just be a horrible candidate. The more he meets people, people don't like him.

But the other point, Pamela, is Trump now has kind of punched a hole in that I can't beat Biden thing. Because the recent polls have shown that he's beating Biden or very competitive as well.

BROWN: Very competitive.

Stewart: It all depends on the polls.


Yes, and CNN's recent poll shows Trump at 49, Biden at 45. So you know, that's a significant argument, as you say, for him to say, I can actually beat Biden.

BROWN: Yes, and with this latest Marquette poll, I believe it's within the margin of error. But I think that that is certainly telling and worthy of focus for sure. Joe Walsh, Alice Stewart, thank you both. We really appreciate it.

Well, just ahead, an NFL sideline reporter is making headlines herself after saying she made-up some of her reports. What she's saying now?



KEILAR: Big fumble for Fox Sports Reporter and Amazon Prime anchor Charissa Thompson. She revealed this week that she would sometimes fabricate entire NFL sideline reports. Telling a podcast that she did it because the coach wouldn't come out at halftime or it was too late and she didn't want to screw up her report.

Well, now Thompson is apologizing in a post on Instagram today and trying to walk back the admission.

She says: I have never lied about anything or been unethical during my time as a sports broadcaster. In the absence of a coach providing any information that could further my report I would use information that I learned and saw during the first half to create my report.

And she goes on to say, quote: In these instances I never attributed anything I said to a player or coach.

Joining us now we have Christine Brennan. She is a CNN sports analyst and a sports columnist for USA TODAY. What do you make of her admission and then this attempt for clarification?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Brianna, this is a mess that she created. Totally unnecessary, of course. Brings all kinds of scrutiny and criticism on women in sports media. There are thousands of us now doing great work. And of course, there are many men also who are sideline reporters. Women are known for the job, but who are doing excellent work. They're great reporters. They do everything right. And she has discredited them.

And yes, she has apologized. But the fact that last night she was the host of the Amazon Prime broadcast and had that national forum to at that point, knowing this thing is just exploding, to say, hey, I blew it. I'm sorry. And say what, what you just read that she said. Instead she waits 12 more hours. I think that's unconscionable. And it's just a shame. Because instead of talking about all the great things about women in sports media, breaking barriers, ceilings, et cetera. Something I've cared about very much and worked very hard for, for years. We're now talking about this. Which is not reflective of the wonderful women and men in sports media who I know and work with.

KEILAR: So will the apology be enough? Because you know, as you detail in your column, what she said on the podcast that she had done is a fire-able offense.

BRENNAN: It is. I mean she should have -- before the apology she should have been fired. Obviously, Fox and Amazon did not fire her. You make something up -- I mean, you know this. Any of us know this. You make it up, you are done. And so that's what's troublesome.

The apology let's take it at face value. She has apologized. She said I'm sorry -- period. It wasn't if I did something. She did do a full apology.

The story that she says is very different from what she said on podcast when she was just, you know, yucking it up and having a great time and telling these stories. The damage that she has done is for her -- to herself and her reputation. I mean, who can believe anything she says? I hope for her that she can recover from this because I would think, you know, you hope that for anyone. But this is a huge mistake and a misstep and something that will not be forgotten I think for a while.

KEILAR: I think of how many times I talked to a reporter, maybe one of our White House correspondents, and I say, what is the White House reaction? They may not have it yet. And what do they say? We are still waiting to hear. And they say that. And it might be nice to have something to say, but they'll tell you they don't. And then they might give you some context, right? Something like that. This is sports. But it doesn't matter that it is sports.

BRENNAN: No, no. And in fact, yes, if the if the coach walks by you or grimaces, say that. That's interesting to someone who would be. And I've done some sideline reporting in my day for Turner and for ESPN and ABC. And yes, you've got to be prepared. You've got -- I mean, the notes that everyone's scribbling, the amount of time that we work on this. Leslie Visser, I quote her in the column.


One of my dear friends and mentors and just the best. There's so many others out there. Andrea Kramer, Pam Oliver, who do it the right way.

And when you think of all the things we do on the print side, to double check, triple check, quadruple check a quote. Listen to it again. Listen to it again. That's what people need to know. And I'm afraid what the nation has had is a heavy dose here the last 24 hours of all the bad things in sports journalism. Versus the very serious good work that's being done in something, as you well know, that is a huge part of our culture. It's not just fun and games anymore.

KEILAR: It's big and we rely on it. Christine Brennan, we rely on you. Thank you for being here. We appreciate it -- Pam. BRENNAN: Thank you.

BROWN: All right, thanks so much for giving it to us straight from you two ladies.

All right, we're introducing you now to the top ten CNN Heroes of 2023. Mike Goldberg is leading a mission to revive coral reefs in Florida that are suffering due to high ocean temperatures.


MIKE GOLDBERG, I.CARE (voice-over): Coral reefs, without them, nothing is here. Simply put, they are what it is that brings the ecosystem together. Sadly, I've watched us lose that coral reef and the disappearance of that diverse marine ecosystem.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right there, everybody, all right, let's go down.

GOLDBERG (voice-over): But then he says, you know what? I'm going to do something.

GOLDBERG: I truly believe we're going to be successful with this restoration work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's amazing how fast this coral is growing.

GOLDBERG (voice-over): I see things every time I go in the water that give me hope.

I love being a part of it. You wake up every day and say, look what I get to do.


BROWN: Be sure to go to right now to vote for Mike for CNN Hero of the year or choose your favorite top ten hero. We'll be right back.



KEILAR: Communications in Darfur, Sudan, have been actively blocked by the Rapid Support Force, or the RSF, who are in a battle with the Sudanese Army for control of the country. Nima Elbagir and her team traveled to Chad to a border town where many survivors of atrocities have fled. And we must warn you what you are about to hear is very disturbing.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One by one, survivors come forward wanting to share, to document what has happened to them. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I held my 5-year-old brother

and ran with him to the mosque. The RSF chased us, shooting at us. A bullet hit my brother's head.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The RSF said leave these ones. We will find better ones to sell. These ones, let's rape them.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Textbook ethnic cleansing. These are the hallmarks of genocide. We interviewed over a dozen survivors and eyewitnesses who witnessed the abduction of at least 200 other girls.

Through their testimony, we were able to pinpoint key neighborhoods in Al Geneina where civilians were targeted and where women were being sold from slave houses. Places like al-Jabal, and Hala and Al-Zahra dormitory where survivors say they counted 75 girls abducted in one fell swoop. There is nowhere safe in Al Geneina.


KEILAR: And CNN Chief International investigative correspondent Nima Elbagir is with us now. Nima, this is not the first time, of course, that genocide has stalked the people of Darfur. And you covered the initial campaign of atrocities there as a young journalist, I know that's going to bring a lot back for people. How does this compare?

ELBAGIR (on camera): It is so much worse because the lesson that has been learned by these forces, whose leadership were involved in a previous genocide on the same people in the same region, is that they were not held accountable. And so this time they are unleashed. The idea that one region, in one country, could see two genocides potentially within the same century, within just two decades. I think at that point you have to ask, what is it that the world failed to do? And clearly what it failed to do is to hold these men to account.

BROWN: What else do it through the course you're reporting, what stood out to you? I mean, you have been covering this for so many years. Tell us more about what we think our viewers should know.

ELBAGIR: I think absolutely the fact that this it -- and I've been a journalist for 20 odd years, this is probably -- these were among some of the worst testimonies I have ever heard. There's a young boy in our documentary who's 17 years old. He agreed that we could use an alias. In fact, we insisted on not using his real name because we were worried about him. But he insisted that he wanted to show his face because he wanted people to know that he wasn't ashamed of what had been done to him. And what had been done to him as he was abducted by these paramilitary forces and then sold.

It sounded like something out of a description of slavery in the Deep South in the United States. The way that his arms were felt that the men he could hear them discussing whether he looked strong or, you know, would he be another useless one?


The idea that this is happening right now at this point in time. And the bravery of Mahdi for being so sure that not only did he want to tell the world what had been done to him, but the he had the maturity and the understanding to know that he had nothing to be ashamed of.

BROWN: So much courage. Wow.

KEILAR: Nima, thank you for being with us about your report. And be sure to our viewers to tune in to an all-new episode of "THE WHOLE STORY" with Anderson Cooper. That's one whole hour. One whole story airs Sunday at 9:00 Eastern and Pacific, only on CNN.

And "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts now.