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Pentagon Defends Milley Without Confirming Details in New Book; CNN Poll: Most Americans Feel Democracy is Under Attack; Prominent South Carolina Lawyer Tells Police He Hired Someone to Shoot Him; WSJ: Internal Docs Show Facebook Knows Instagram is Toxic for Teen Girls. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired September 15, 2021 - 15:30   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: So, it's very delicate to talk about. However, the unnerving part of this whole story is that so many of the top officials thought that something was so wrong with President Trump that they had to go to these extraordinary measures.

And I mean just to remind everybody, the people who have known Donald Trump the longest and the best, I'm talking about his niece, his, you know, ghost writer they have talked about this kind of personality disorder that does not allow for loss and that that he would become unhinged if he were to lose. And this is just -- I mean your reporting dove tails with that I would say.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, just think about all the words we've heard along the way from top White House officials, erratic, unhinged, unstable, crazy town.

I spoke to a senior Republican official who said to me, no one should be criticizing Milley. They all knew Trump was bonkers, that's a quote. And that what Milley did was he stood up and took precautions to make sure nothing dangerous or illegal happened.

So, the people who were around him, who were seeing him every day after the election, particularly -- but in the book it details really the last year of Trump, saw behavior that they thought was explosive and dangerous.

CAMEROTA: Jamie Gangel, thank you as always for all of the reporting. Our thanks also to Olivia Troy. We're sorry we had some technical difficulties there.

OK, new CNN polling just released, it finds that most Americans feel that democracy is under attack in this country. What does that mean? What's driving those results? All that next.



CAMEROTA: All right, now to President Trump's election loss and the blizzard of lies that he's told about it to continue -- that continue to poison the country. It's been more than 300 days since Donald Trump lost the presidency and a just released CNN poll found that most Americans believe that democracy is under attack as a result of what's happened since.

The poll finds that much of the fear about democracy comes from Republicans who still support Trump. The poll also saw more than three out of four Republicans who still do not believe that Joe Biden won the 2020 election.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: CNN political director David Chalian has the full details of the poll. David, walk us through numbers.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, guys, this is pretty troubling information. And Alisyn, you're right, you showed that 56 percent number of Americans. It's pretty broad bipartisan agreement that democracy is under attack.

But you are right to note that it is Republicans, 75 percent of Republicans say that 46 percent of Democrats. Republicans are driving that but of course we have to think about Republicans in a couple different categories.

So, take a look it gets even dramatic when you look at the Republicans who say that Donald Trump should lead the party, nearly eight in ten. 79 percent say democracy is under attack but even the non-Trump wing of the party, 51 percent, a slim majority say democracy is under attack.

This I think is one of the most concerning numbers in the poll. We asked folks, do you think it's likely that an elections official will overturn the results of a future election simply because their party lost? 51 percent of Americans in this poll think that's likely.

I mean that's the complete undermining of the democracy. And look here, you can see it by party. 49 percent of Democrats think it's likely that an election could be overturned, 48 percent of independents and again we see Republicans even more so are saying this kind of stuff. 57 percent of Republicans likely that an election will be overturned.

You noted the big lie. This is now just part of the gospel of the Republican Party. Did Joe Biden legitimately win enough votes for the presidency? 78 percent of Republicans say no. 78 percent of Republicans say no. That's because Donald Trump keeps telling that big lie.

And when you look at this even further, 54 percent, guys, of those Republicans that say no, say that there's solid evidence that Joe Biden did not legitimately win the election. When you and I know there's no evidence whatsoever that that's the case but 54 percent of those Republicans that say he didn't win, they say actually there's solid evidence he didn't win. This is hard kind of environment to have a functioning democracy in.

CAMEROTA: Yes, such a great point, David. And also, I would say to have a news environment in. I mean these are people who believe they are getting real information from their -- I'm using air quotes -- news channel. But we know that there are now a proliferation of channels that spread misinformation. And so, you can just see the seeds right there. I mean the product of it right there.

CHALIAN: No doubt.

BLACKWELL: All right, David Chalian, thanks so much.

CHALIAN: Thanks, guys.


BLACKWELL: Stunning admissions of a failed hit job. The latest plot twist here in a series of crimes involving a prominent South Carolina family. Twists and turns seemingly every day in this story.


CAMEROTA: There are more bizarre twists in the story of Alex Murdaugh. He's that prominent and influential South Carolina attorney who was shot on in the head on September 4th several months after his wife and son were murdered inside their sprawling estate.


Murdaugh's attorney says Murdaugh staged his own shooting to let his surviving son collect on a $10 million life insurance policy.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is following this story, Dianne, it gets stranger every day.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, more twists to this than the roads that actually head down to Hampton County, South Carolina. So, look, here's what Alex Murdaugh attorneys say, Alisyn. Essentially, they say that, you know, he bears some fault in this but they're essentially putting this on a 20-year opioid addiction that has worsened in the three months since he found his wife and son's body shot to death on their property. Take a listen to why they said he orchestrated this.


DICK HARPOOTLIAN, ALEX MURDAUGH'S ATTORNEY: The murder of his son and wife, 90 days ago took a tremendous toll on him. His father died of cancer that same week. Most people couldn't get through that. He got through it with the use of opioids. On that Saturday morning he was trying to get off the opioids. He was not taking any of them. Was in a massive depression, realized that things were going to get very, very, very bad and he decided to end his life. He believed that $10 million dollar had a suicide exclusion.

(END VIDEOTAPE) GALLAGHER: And so according to authorities, Murdaugh determined that if someone killed him, his only surviving son, Buster, would be able to collect on that $10 million life insurance policy. The state law enforcement division says that he chose a former client of his, someone who had represented in the past, 61-year-old Curtis Edward Smith and that he gave Smith the gun and asked him to shoot him.

Now obviously, Murdaugh did survive this. Smith is now facing charges ranging from assisted suicide to conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, to assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.

At this time, Alisyn, Victor, Murdaugh is not facing charges any charges related to the plot it sounds like to have himself killed. But he's being investigated for misappropriating funds from his law firm that he resigned from just before being shot in the head. Which he is now in rehab we're told and has been there a couple days since he was shot.

BLACKWELL: So much going on there. Dianne Gallagher, thank you for helping us understand it.

CAMEROTA: OK, now to this important story. Lawmakers are demanding answers from Facebook after an internal report reveals Instagram's toxic effect on teenage girls and their mental health. What the company has known for more than a year. We discuss next.



CAMEROTA: A damning "Wall Street Journal" report finds that Facebook's own researchers have repeatedly warned that Instagram is toxic for teenage girls.

One piece of this research reads, quote, we make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls. Another portion reads, quote, teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.

BLACKWELL: With us now is clinical psychologist Dr. Lisa Strohman. Dr. Strohman, thank you for being with us. And I know this focuses on young girls. But I can only imagine, if I had Instagram as a 12-year- old boy what I would feel at that age as well. This causes real damage to mental health and body image. Explain what this report is showing us.

DR. LISA STROHMAN, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, the report actually shows that they're complicit in understanding and knowing that their platform is creating a mental health crisis among our youth, and yet they continue to accelerate and they continue to add more and more ad dollars in order to get more kids on this platform. And it doesn't matter that their casualty rate of 32 percent of kids, they looked at that as a success that 68 percent of their users were having fun on the platform.

So, we really have to look at whether or not they're looking in the weeds as I work as a clinical psychologist with kids that are self- harming and cutting and talking about suicide. So, to me it looks like a bad PR moment for Facebook, and definitely the curtains have come off on what's going on behind closed doors.

CAMEROTA: This reminds me so much of the tobacco companies. The tobacco companies who knew for years the harm they were doing to Americans' health. Yet, they testified, you know, in front of Congress that it wasn't the case. And here is Mark Zuckerberg when he testified on March 25th in front of Congress.


MARK ZUCKERBERG, CEO, FACEBOOK: The research that we've seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental health benefits and well-being benefits like helping people feel more connected and less lonely.


CAMEROTA: It can have positive mental health benefits, but their research shows for teenage girls it doesn't.

STROHMAN: It's something that he knows. And, in fact, when he testified in Congress, I spent the entire time looking at all of that footage. And the smirk and the smug look on his face understanding that he was able to essentially dupe Congressional leaders to think that what he was doing is OK.

And not get anything in his platform looked at in a deeper dive and hide this information from the American public. Where parents are losing children and parents are suffering through how do we help our children get through just day-to-day existence without having mental health crisis. And he's over there fueling the fire in that arena. And to me it's criminal.

BLACKWELL: So, when Instagram says -- and we should say that Facebook bought Instagram nine years ago or so. Says that it's looking for new ways now to discourage users from focusing on their physical appearance. How much credence do you give that claim that they're looking into ways to stop that?

STROHMAN: You know, it seems to me if you look at the report, they talk about doing these nudges and that they're trying to figure out a way to manage this algorithm that they've created. In fact, I did a Ted talk and talked about this manage algorithm. They've lost control of it. And so, when they're doing these nudges to get people and kids into other areas, what you're telling me is that we should now turn around and trust where they're nudging these children to go. When in fact, they don't care that 32 percent of them are in a mental health crisis.

So, it concerns me that we're not looking at what the statistics are showing and what it is and who it is that's controlling where these kids look.

[15:55:00] CAMEROTA: You know, I just want to read one more portion from the report. This one is about not logging off. So, it's about not logging off. It says Instagram's researchers noted that those struggling with the platform's psychological effects weren't necessarily logging off. Teens regularly reported wanting to spend less time on Instagram. The presentations note. But lacked the self-control to do so.

It's an addiction. I mean I see it with my own teenagers, it's an addiction. We can't expect 14- and 15-year-old girls to know how to self-regulate when you keep, you know, it's feeding your kind of endorphins in a certain way to keep seeing all these images. And again, the fact that Instagram and Facebook have known this for years.

STROHMAN: Not only have they known this, they've used, like you mentioned, the tobacco playbook in order to get the addiction. They have that dopamine reward system totally honed in for these kids with an undeveloped frontal lobe, they have no chance to get off of it in a way, particularly when they present the data and the way that they're presenting it.

BLACKWELL: All right, Dr. Lisa Strohman, thank you so much for being with us. Again, I can only imagine if I had social media as a teenager --

STROHMAN: All of us.

BLACKWELL: -- how I would feel and the impact that would have on me. Again, thank you so much.

CAMEROTA: Thanks, doctor. Really interesting.

BLACKWELL: THE LEAD with JAKE TAPPER starts after a break.