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CNN This Morning

China's Accusing U.S. of Politicizing Covid-19; DeSantis Embarks on Book Tour; Dr. Dhruv Khullar is Interviewed about a Sweetener Linked to Heart Attacks and Strokes; Chloe Melas Discusses Grandfather's WWII Memoir. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired February 28, 2023 - 06:30   ET



DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Drive from the market. The high-level biosafety lab sits on the institute's sprawling campus. A four-story structure. At the top, a sophisticated air purification system. At the bottom, and underneath the lab, decontamination equipment that allows for safe sewage disposal. The research takes place here on the second floor. Some have questioned the lab staff's training. And the Chinese themselves even raised concerns in 2018. At the time, the WID's (ph) director, Yong Jaming (ph), co-authored a paper pointing out safety issues across all biosafety labs in China. He warned, in part, that there was a lack of enough operable technical standards.

But there is another lower-level biosafety lab in Wuhan. The Wuhan Center for Disease Control. Research was also conducted here, including that of bats and coronaviruses. Located just a couple of boxes from the Huanan Seafood Market, in fact. The Chinese government has repeatedly denied the claims that the virus leaked from a lab and its state media unleashed a relentless propaganda campaign.

Using digital articles, TV reports, documentaries, even a rap song. The aim, to sew doubt and deflect blame.

Monday's response from the foreign ministry also cited the World Health Organization. In January, 2021, the WHO sent a team of international experts into Wuhan to research the origins. But that was already more than a year after the initial outbreak. The team initially considered the lab leak theory to be highly unlikely. But when the WHO requested a second field visit for more research, China said, no.


CULVER: And they're sticking by that, Poppy. They don't want international experts to be going back into China, back into Wuhan, to continue their investigation. As China sees it right now, this investigation is over and they're fine with an inconclusive result. But it's interesting, as you point out, the majority of the U.S. intel community still believes that this is likely a natural origin, jumping from animals to humans, and/or that there's just not enough evidence.

But from the Chinese state media perspective, they're looking at this as the U.S. trying to gather as much as possible. They even link it to the surveillance balloon. They link it to the suggestion the China may be providing Russia arms when it comes to the invasion of Ukraine. And they're saying this is just the U.S. doing yet another thing to potentially smear China. And they've politicized the whole issue at this point.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, but the reality is to understand how to prevent another crisis that killed millions of people, you have to understand exactly how it happened.

David -

CULVER: It would help immensely. Yes.

HARLOW: David Culver, great reporting. Thank you.

CULVER: Thanks.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Also on the world stage, any moment now we are going to hear from Russian President Putin as he is speaking out at a meeting of his federal security service. He's expected to address last year's operational activities and lay out his priorities for the coming year. Obviously, the west and European allies are going to be listening closely. All of this is coming amid Putin's effort to frame his war in Ukraine as some kind of defensive strategy. Obviously, it is not. He may also address his plans, though, for a spring offensive. Something that we've seen officials say they do expect to happen.

All of this is coming as Putin and really the entire Russian government was not invited to this month's Munich Security Conference because his war was dominating discussions so they did not feel it was appropriate to invite them for obvious reasons. It remains to be seen whether or not the dialogue will Putin is going to be possible at next year's conference given he has signaled no end in sight to his war in Ukraine.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: And, straight ahead, we have the takeaways from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' new book. Is it the soft launch of a 2024 run? Yes, probably.



COLLINS: A new book out today and a new campaign style video appear to be paving the way for an expected presidential run by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The 44-year-old governor is inching toward a White House campaign and expanding his political coalition, meeting privately with donors and is starting a book tour in Florida today. He's got stops in Texas and California and beyond. He's got several stops in key presidential states. He's also using the levers of his office, signing a bill yesterday that gives him control of Walt Disney world's formerly self-governing district, effectively punishing the entertainment giant as they've been speaking out against his agenda.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny has been covering all of this and joins us now.

Jeff, we've heard Governor DeSantis talk about, you know, the Florida blueprint and this way to revive America. He's very clearly using this time and using his office now to pave the way for what his presidential run might look like.


He absolutely is. And we've been leafing through this book since yesterday, I've been reading it, and really you get a sense of what a campaign might look like. But, importantly, he has a bumper sticker message, and that's to make America Florida.

And this is what he writes about that in the book. This is kind of the takeaway at the end of the book here. He says, the battles we have fought in Florida, from defeating the biomedical security state - of course talking about Covid - to stifling woke corporations to fighting indoctrination in schools strike at the heart of what it means to be a Floridian and an American. So that is a sign that he really wants to use the agenda that he's been signing into law, use these laws that he's been really proposing as his calling card for a presidential race.

And he talks about corporations. As you said, Kaitlan, he signed into law yesterday the Disney bill that really has been at the heart of this parental rights act. He talks about this and about Republicans and corporations. He says this, corporate America has become a major protagonist in battles over American politics and culture. The battlelines almost invariably find large, publicly traded corporations lining up behind leftist causes.


He adds, old guard corporate Republicanism is not up to the task at hand.

So, he's talking here about his party. Of course, a big business has been a long ally of the Republican Party, but this is a big difference from his stand at the beginning of his political life when he was talking about limited government only a decade ago. Now he's talking about sort of using government to control corporations.

Then he also talks about the former president. He's very gentle as he talks about Donald Trump, of course. But something very interesting he says about that 2018 governor's race. Of course, the former president has talked so much about how he created the governor, how that endorsement back in 2018 sort of sent him on the way.

DeSantis says, not so fast. Take a look at this. He says, I do not think Republican primary voters are sheep who simply follow an endorsement from a politician they like without any individual analysis. He said it was actually his debate performances in that 2018 primary that set him on his way to a come from behind victory. So, he praises the former president in some respects. He certainly does not go after him with large criticism. But very interestingly he says that it was his own debate performance, not those endorsements and said Republican primary voters are not like sheep.

So, this certainly is a blueprint for how he would like to potentially run for president. And that is not coming today but it is coming soon.

LEMON: Does he only talk about the positives of what he perceives as the positives, because if you look at - he talks about, you know, I guess, Florida being the state of freedom. Florida has the third highest number of Covid deaths after California and Texas.

ZELENY: Right.

LEMON: That's according to the CNN John Hopkins data. Also, Florida has the 13th highest Covid death rate over the pandemic, 402 deaths per 100,000 people. That's over the pandemic.

So, does he talk about what he could have done better rather than just, oh, Florida's great and come to Florida and we're the state of freedom.

ZELENY: In a word, no. I mean this is - look, this is a campaign book. This is written by Ron DeSantis. This is not an independent sort of look at this. This is not a Woodward and Bernstein sort of a deep dive into his first term as governor. He's talking about it as a memoir. He's talking about his big business. He's talking about people coming to Florida. So certainly this is only half of the story. And Republican primary voters will get the other chance to rebut this, of course.

But, interestingly, he is set to announce, we're told, not until after the Florida legislative session in May or early June, but he does want to have an imprint on the race right now. That's why he's going out with this book tour, to try and potentially freeze other candidates out of donors and attention, et cetera.


LEMON: And it's just starting.

Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much. We appreciate that.

ZELENY: You bet.

HARLOW: Ahead, the new study that may make you reconsider what sweetener you put in your coffee this morning. Dr. Dhruv Khullar has much more. We'll tell you what it is, next.



LEMON: OK, so it's coffee time, right, usually in the morning. As you prepare your morning cup of coffee or tea, there is a serious new health concern about a popular 0-calorie sweetener. It's called Erythritol. According to a new study, it has been linked to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, even death. Doctors say it's an ingredient in some popular sweeteners and a range of foods, especially keto diet products. But it's hard to identify specific drinks or foods that contain. That's because, according to the study, there is no rule requiring the sweetener to be named on a product's label.

Why as that? What's going on with this?

Let's discuss now, physician and assistant professor of health policy at Weil Cornell Medical - Medicine, I should say. That's where I go to the doctor. Dr. Dhruv Khullar.

Thank you very much. I appreciate that. He's also a contributor to "The New Yorker."

I appreciate you joining us.

So, good morning.


LEMON: Why -- what are the health concerns and why isn't this listed?

KHULLAR: Yes, so Erythritol is an artificial sweetener that a lot of people use. And it's really gained popularity in the last couple years. That's in part because it looks like sugar, it tastes like sugar, but it doesn't have any of the calories and it doesn't affect our blood glucose levels. And so a lot of people with medical conditions, like diabetes, tend to use it.

But this new study shows that people with higher levels of Erythritol in their blood, they had much higher risk of stroke, heart attack and other cardiac problems. And so there's a real concern here. They think that the mechanism might be that it activates our platelets and so it kind of causes our blood to clot and that can cause all sorts of downstream problems.


LEMON: Can I - can I ask something real quickly?


LEMON: Excuse me. Because I know people are thinking this. I use - I always say I use a sweetener - I probably shouldn't name it -- in my coffee. How is this different than those sweeteners or is it different? Because I'm sure people at home use those different types of sweeteners as well.

KHULLAR: Yes, so it -- Erythritol is actually mixed in with a lot of sweeteners that are commonly used.


KHULLAR: So, Splenda, Truvia, these types of sweeteners, they contain this because it helped bulk up and add to the sweetener and give it that kind of sugary feeling. LEMON: Got it.

HARLOW: I was just going to ask, didn't the FDA approve this?

KHULLAR: It did. So the FDA approved this in 2001 and it is generally considered safe. This is new research. It's also preliminary research. So, one thing to keep in mind is that this is kind of the first pass at this. And there's a lot of limitations of the study as well. So they found people with higher levels in their blood tended to have higher risk. It's correlation, not necessarily causation. They also focused on people with underlying medical problems, people with diabetes, people with heart disease, and so it's not clear that this has the same effects for the general population.


COLLINS: I want to switch subjects for a moment because something else we've been talking about a lot lately is the mental health crisis that's happening in this company, but also artificial intelligence. And I love "The New Yorker." I read it all the time. And you have a new piece where you talk about this idea that artificial intelligence could be used to address the mental health crisis.


You say, can artificial minds heal real ones? What do we stand to gain or lose in letting them try. Obviously, there are huge risks with this. We know that. We've talked about what could go wrong. But you actually think that there could be some upside here.

KHULLAR: That's exactly right. We know that America is going through an enormous mental health crisis. One in five Americans has some type of mental health problem over the course of the year. A lot of that, I think, is due to our use of technology. Now we have these even more powerful technologies, like AI ChatBots. So, you might think that this is a bad thing, and in some ways there are real risks, but there's also real potential. I mean these things can help us scale treatment. So before everyone needed a one-on-one therapist and this is a way that we can automate some of that.

But these AI algorithms, they can also look through our medical records, they can look through our social media use, our sleep habits and put all of these things together and give us a real view of our own personal mental health. And so I think while there are many, many risks of this, there's also a lot of potential, and we need to think carefully about it going forward.

COLLINS: It's fascinating. We will. We'll see where it goes and how it develops.

Doctor, thank you so much for joining us here at the table.

KHULLAR: Thanks for having me.

LEMON: Thank you. COLLINS: All right, also this morning, look - we have a live look of the Supreme Court. Those are the steps right out in front this morning. It is going to be a big day for the Supreme Court. In just hours, oral arguments are going to get underway for President Biden's student debt relief program. And in the next hour we're going to be joined by the official who's been pushing to get this relief sent out. That's Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

LEMON: Wow, how did the sun come up so fast. It was dark when I walked in here. The Supreme Court, it's light out there.

And her grandfather's story is set to become a Steven Spielberg series. Our own Chloe Melas is here to talk about the re-release of her grandfather's memoir. There she is. She's next.



LEMON: Welcome back, everyone.

The memories of a World War II hero will soon play out on the small screen. The memoir, "Luck of the Draw: My Story of the Air War in Europe" is being turned into a miniseries co-produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. It will be called "Masters of the Air."

That memoir was written by Airman Frank Murphy, who is the late grandfather of CNN's own Chloe Melas.

Well, Murphy's story details what it was like to be a navigator for the 100th Bomb Group known as the Bloody 100th. He writes about being shot down out of his B-17 aircraft and surviving months in a German prisoner of war camp.

So, here we go with our entertainment correspondent, reporter, Chloe Melas, now live.

Thank you.


LEMON: I know. What -- what an honor to have you here and to be a part of this because I would imagine - listen, this story has been out there about your grandfather. This is a re-release, right, plus it's going to be a miniseries. This has to be a very emotional thing for you and your entire family. Didn't you and your mom write the forward for the --

MELAS: Oh, yes. Yes. So, I don't want to cry. But, yes, I mean my -- I was just saying in the commercial break to Kaitlan, my grandfather was just a great human being. And I grew up listening to these stories about my grandfather in World War II. But I just kind of assumed that everybody had a grandfather that went through these experiences. And many of us do have -- know someone who served in World War II.

LEMON: The greatest generation, right? MELAS: But my grandfather, what makes his story unique, is also the

fact that he spent almost 10 years writing this book. He published it for our family. It was with a small publisher. You know, he paid for the print run. And he would just hand them out to anybody. But it's been out of print essentially from the moment it came out.

And when we knew that Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg were going to be making a TV show called "Masters of the Air" and that my grandfather was going to be a character, that's when my mother and I decided to release this memoir.

And my grandfather, he flew 21 missions over Nazi occupied Europe. And he was shot down on his 21st mission. Two of the men in his crew died that day. And he was a prisoner of war in incredibly tough conditions for a year and a half. The same prison camp where the great escape took place.

LEMON: Let me see.

HARLOW: You've gotten such praise, Chloe, from David Petraeus, from former Energy Secretary Rick Perry, from Tom Hanks, who has a blurb on the cover there. I just wonder what that feels like for your family.

MELAS: You know, Tom Hanks, I'll never forget when I got the e-mail from him. And I was like, is this real?

HARLOW: Just Tom here.

MELAS: And he says on the cover, how did those boys do such things? And this is not just about my grandfather. This is about all the young boys that took to the skies. They were barely 18 years old, having never faced combat before. They're up in these B-17s that are like tin cans. They're absolutely freezing cold. And they're watching these planes go down all around them. This is when we were doing daylight strategic bombing to hit our targets because we thought doing it during the day we would have a better likelihood of being successful. That is still -- the jury is out on whether that was a good idea or not. But we lost many men because we were just targets in the sky waiting to be picked off.

And, again, you know, so many men died. My grandmother's group, known as the Bloody 100th. In the book my grandfather writes about a death march from one prison camp to another. This one always chokes me up. But my grandfather wrote in the book that they knew that the Russians were advancing on Staliv (ph) Loof (ph) Three. And as they marched through the snow to another prison camp, the men were collapsing all around them. And my grandfather writes in the book about how they carried each other on their backs. They made makeshift sleds. And I still have one of the shoes that my grandfather wore on that march and it sits in my office at home.


And my little boys, Leo and Luke, they're three and five, and like we talk about Frank like he's still alive today.