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Climate Scientist Wins $1 Million Verdict Against Right-Wing Writers; Zillow Adds Individual Room Rentals to Combat Rising Housing Costs; Inside Bizarre Right-Wing Taylor Swift Conspiracy Theories. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired February 09, 2024 - 15:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: A major victory for a prominent climate scientist, Michael Mann. He won his long-fought legal battle against two conservative writers.

In 2012, the man falsely claimed that Mann had manipulated data in his research that showed a dramatically warming planet. And they compared him to convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky, saying that instead of molesting children, Mann was molesting data. Juries in D.C. found that the pair made their statements with maliciousness, spite, ill will, vengeance, or deliberate intent to harm. And they awarded him more than $1 million in damages.

And here he is now with us, Michael Mann, presidential distinguished professor, director of the Center for Science, Sustainability, and the Media at UPenn. Also the author of the book, "Our Fragile Moment."

Michael, 12 years is a long time to have to fight here. How do you feel today?

MICHAEL MANN, WON LAWSUIT AGAINST CONSERVATIVE WRITERS: Yes, it is. It's good to be with you, Brianna. And I feel good. And I'll tell you why. It isn't just about me in defending my science from scurrilous attacks and defamatory claims. It's really about the defense of science.

You know, it's appropriate to debate science, to challenge other people's scientific findings. That's part of what Carl Sagan described as the self-correcting machinery of science.

But that doesn't mean that you can lie about scientists. It doesn't mean that you can defame them and make false claims about them. And in today's world, you know, we see so much disinformation. We see attacks on science and attacks on scientists. And I think it was an important message at this moment in time that it's not OK to make false claims about scientists and to make defamatory accusations against scientists, that there is a limit to what is protected speech.

KEILAR: And climate science has come so far. Belief in climate science has come so far. You attracted skeptics, really. It was after you became famous for your so-called hockey stick graph that was published in the journal Nature. That was back in 1998. It showed the rapidly warming planet really raised the alarm on the situation. Here we are, you know, 26 years later. What is your message now to people, so many of whom have really woken up to this since then?

MANN: Well, I'll tell you, my message is this. You know, once again, open debate is a good thing in our public discourse, in our scientific discourse. But it is not OK to make false accusations and defamatory accusations against scientists as part of an ideologically driven agenda to discredit science that might be inconvenient to your political views.

And we see that with climate science, but we see that today with public health science when it comes to the science of vaccines. And in fact, I'm now undertaking a project with my good friend Peter Hotez, which is one of the leading public health scientists in the country, who has also been subject to all sorts of scurrilous attacks and false allegations because of the vaccine work that he has done and that he is doing.


And the fact that his work, again, is opposed by some people who harbor political views about vaccines and about COVID-19. You know, it's OK to be skeptical about science, to be skeptical about scientific claims. And the more, you know, the stronger those claims, the more skepticism that is warranted.

But it's not OK to, again, to attack scientists and to make defamatory claims about them because of your political opposition to their scientific findings.

KEILAR: Michael, what do you worry is the effect on whether it's public health or even, you know, global health, the health of our planet, which affects us all, when you have people making boogeymen out of scientists like yourself?

MANN: Well, I really worry about that, right, especially young scientists who see the attacks on, just like myself, scientists like Anthony Fauci and my good friend Peter Hotez. They look at that, and, you know, that chills the discourse. That potentially leads them to sort of withdraw into their laboratories. They don't want to get involved, get into the fray, and to be part of the effort to communicate their scientific findings to the public, out of fear that they will be attacked, that they will be viciously attacked. Again, by those who have a vested interest in discrediting science that's inconvenient to their economic interests or their political viewpoints.

And so, this is a message to my fellow scientists that, you know, that it is not OK for people to attack you, to make false allegations against you, to defame you.

And hopefully that will create some space where scientists feel a little bit more, you know, that they're more comfortable in leaving the laboratory and communicating their findings to the public. Because we rely upon, you know, the best available science, as you said, both when it comes to our own health and the health of this planet. What could be more important than the health of our, you know, of us and our fellow human beings and the planet that we live on? Those are really the stakes here.

KEILAR: Yes, we don't want there to be that chilling effect. Michael, great to have you. Thank you so much and congratulations. We appreciate your time today.

MANN: Thank you.

KEILAR: And when we come back, fighting inflation in the housing market, how one company is making it easier to find individual rooms online for those who are looking to share living expenses with a roommate.



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Zillow is taking a step to combat rising housing costs. The real estate giant is going to start letting homeowners list individual room rentals instead of only entire homes or apartments.

The company says the move is a win-win for renters and homeowners. CNN's Matt Egan joins us now. Matt, what's behind this new housing option?

MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Well, Boris, it is tough out there for renters and for homebuyers. It's so tough that Zillow, a company that is known for letting people list their homes, is actually going to let people start to list individual rooms as a way to try to fight back.

Now, as a lot of our viewers out there know, rent, it's spiked after COVID as the housing market went on fire. Before COVID, to comfortably afford to rent in the United States, you needed to make about $60,000 a year. Now, $78,000. That is quite the jump. And that is why Zillow is letting people who want to rent start to look for individual rooms.

And this could be especially helpful in some of those cities where it's really expensive to rent, like Los Angeles and Seattle and right here in New York. But it's also tough out there, of course, for homebuyers. First they were hit by record high home prices, and then they were hit by very high mortgage rates.

And so what's happened is paychecks are being swallowed up more and more by monthly mortgage payments. This chart shows that. The higher the chart, the line goes, the more unaffordable this housing market has gotten. And right now it is historically unaffordable. And some of the people who have been lucky enough to buy in this market, they are now struggling to make their monthly payments. And Zillow is betting that some of them might just be willing to have a roommate to try to get by right now.

It could get a little awkward for some of them, but I guess that beats running out of money. And you know, all of this is part of a, it's a broader trend. It's known as house hacking, where people are coming up with ways to try to make money off of their home.

So for example, some people, they are renting out parking spaces in their driveways. Other people are renting out their pools.


And there's even a trend where people are renting out their fenced in yards and turning them into dog parks.

I think all of this just shows how people are trying to get creative right now as they try to make ends meet. And I don't know, Boris, maybe this is all just an elaborate way for me to ask you, the next time you're in town, can I interest you in renting a room in our house?

SANCHEZ: Definitely not a room, but that pool, maybe in summertime, Matt. I'm coming back for that pool. Matt Egan, thanks so much for the update.

EGAN: I wish.

SANCHEZ: Brianna.

EGAN: Thanks, Boris.

KEILAR: Now to some of the other headlines that we're watching. More Americans are struggling to pay their credit card bills, with the delinquency rate hitting a 12-year high of 8.5 percent in 2023. The Moody's Ratings Agency expecting the trend is going to worsen, reaching 10 percent by next year, citing what it believes will be a cooler job market. Car loan defaults also expected to peak between 8 percent and 9 percent this year.

Also the FCC is outlawing robocalls that use voices generated by artificial intelligence. The ruling allows states to take legal action against bad actors during this year's election.

And an emotional, bittersweet moment in Los Angeles on Thursday. Vanessa Bryant, the wife of late basketball star Kobe Bryant, helping unveil the first of three statues honoring the Lakers legend. Bryant is the seventh player in Lakers history to be commemorated with a statue. Both Bryant and his daughter died in a helicopter crash in California just over four years ago. His wife saying he chose this pose for this statue.

Coming up, a look at the bizarre conspiracy theories behind the Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce pop culture phenomenon. You've got to hear them to believe them. Just ahead.



KEILAR: I can't dance every time --

SANCHEZ: You can't (INAUDIBLE) with this time. KEILAR: -- the music comes on.

SANCHEZ: Every time this stinger promo comes on, Brianna asks, there it is, there we go.

KEILAR: All right, dancing poorly.

SANCHEZ: This year's Super Bowl could score monster ratings, thanks in large part, we have to admit, to pop star Taylor Swift, who I had never heard of until very recently. Fans are not only betting on which team is going to win or what color the Gatorade is going to be that gets splashed on the winning coach, but also how many times they're going to catch a glimpse of the pop singer on camera.

KEILAR: Meanwhile, there is a barrage of right-wing conspiracy theories that have emerged, including a claim about the NFL scripting the singer's relationship with player Travis Kelce to boost views.

I'm kind of chuckling, but I shouldn't because there's a lot of people who believe this. Some people who think that this is to help President Biden's 2024 campaign.

And here to break it all down is Audie Cornish. She is the host of the CNN podcast "THE ASSIGNMENT". And Audie, this week on the podcast, I know you're taking a very serious topic.

It is, but it kind of is because it plays into a bigger issue that we're seeing here. Right. These conspiracy theories. And there are some professional choices that these two have made that, you know, right or wrong, whatever. They're just going about their lives. It is embroiled them in these culture wars.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you have two people at the height of their powers professionally. And Taylor Swift has proven to be able to not necessarily change votes, but certainly draw people into registering. That happened last fall when she did an Instagram post and something like 30,000 people, you know, increased their -- registered to vote. So she has demonstrable power there. And the White House is reportedly pursuing her endorsement.

Meanwhile, Travis Kelsey has cut commercials, I think, for Bud Light, also for State Farm, also for Pfizer.

So if you think about it, these are all companies that have been ensnared and people who are concerned with anti-woke politics. And if you think about it, vaccines and that issue is also very vulnerable to kind of conspiracy thinking. So it's the kind of thing where, you know, people who are into this, you can pull a lot of twigs and all kinds of stuff to feather your cuckoo's nest of conspiracy theories. And they neatly fall in the center of that circle.

SANCHEZ: This is just the latest round of conspiracy theories, like this sort of dot connecting that we saw explode in the political sense back in 2020 with QAnon.

CORNISH: Exactly. But also, you know, the Pentagon actually issued a statement about Taylor Swift saying, no, she is not part of a psychological operation. Right. That was a few months ago.

So this idea that the broader culture is forcing on people a kind of agenda, a cultural agenda, and that it happens through mainstream entertainments is sort of the root of the concern for people who are thinking this way.

SANCHEZ: And why is there such an appetite now for that kind of conspiracy theory, that sort of myth making, meaning making out of things that are innocuous?

CORNISH: Well, I mean, wake up, sheeple. I don't know if they're innocuous. People get all ideas about things. We are in that kind of age of our politics. And the reason why I wanted to dig into this is because no one is immune.

You know, the NFL has struggled the last couple of years after the Colin Kaepernick spectacle, after on and off the field violence issues of CTE. This is kind of a good moment for them. So they're really leaning in and cutting to her every few minutes and dropping the lyrics and people are shaking it off.

And the idea is like, look at us. This is good news. But because of these little sand traps, kind of cultural sand traps, you can still face a backlash. And one of the things both of these people are on the verge of is overexposure. You know, I'd hate to be Taylor Swift if, God forbid, Kansas City did not win.

KEILAR: But they're going to win.

CORNISH: Of course they will.

KEILAR: Because it is written.


CORNISH: I said they will.

KEILAR: Because it's happening.

CORNISH: Don't ask me. Listen, this has been my most controversial story, I think, since I did one on Harry and Meghan.

These are the most rabid fan bases of all, right? And they all come together in this weekend.

SANCHEZ: So I guess we've got a prediction. Do you think the Chiefs are going to win? Do you think the Chiefs are going to win as well?

CORNISH: I think Taylor Swift is going to win. That's all that matters.

SANCHEZ: We all win, I guess. Audie Cornish, thank you so much.

CORNISH: We all make for entertainment.

SANCHEZ: Come back anytime to see it on NEWS CENTRAL. KEILAR: I love it.

SANCHEZ: Be sure to check out her podcast, "THE ASSIGNMENT" with Audie Cornish. It's streaming right now on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. We'll be right back.



KEILAR: Before we go, we'd like to introduce you to the newest member of the CNN family, meet baby Eleanor Marie. She arrived yesterday morning to dad Alex Fonseca and his wife. Alex is one of our senior producers here on CNN NEWS CENTRAL and he tells us that Mama and Ellie are doing great and that big sister Cecilia, Ceci, is excited and can't wait to play and dance when her baby sibling is old enough.

SANCHEZ: Both girls are named after classic songs. Their middle names are in honor of Alex's late mother, Maria. So welcome to the world, baby Eleanor, and congratulations to the entire family. We are so thrilled for you and also to have another Dolphins and Heat fan in the world. Shout out to my boy Alex.

KEILAR: That's right.

And "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.