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At Least 36 Dead after Trains Collide in Greece; Chicago Mayor Loses Reelection Bid in Race Dominated by Crime; FBI Director: Coronavirus 'Most Likely' Leaked from Wuhan Lab; Rupert Murdoch Admits FOX News Hosts Endorsed Election Lies. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired March 01, 2023 - 06:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It is the top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. We are glad you're with us.

And we do begin with breaking news, this overnight. A deadly train disaster in Greece. Two trains crashing into one another, killing more than 36 people. We have those latest developments.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: For the first time in more than 30 years, Chicago's sitting mayor has lost re-election in a race that was dominated by rising crime. Is it a warning sign for other big-city Democrats and progressives?

Plus this.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: You're talking about a potential leak from a Chinese government-controlled lab that killed millions of Americans.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: That's the head of the FBI providing his first public confirmation on their assessment about COVID originally leaking from a Chinese lab. We'll have more on his comments ahead.

HARLOW: All of that ahead, but first, to our breaking news. A devastating train crash in Greece. It has killed more than 36 people. Dozens are injured.

A passenger train carrying hundreds of people collided head on with a freight train. Multiple cars derailed, several catching fire. This happened just North of Athens.

State broadcasters there reporting that both trains were traveling on the same track for several miles before this collision.

First responders still working, trying to find survivors in the twisted, melted wreckage. A hospital official says most of the passengers were young people.

For reporting on this and an update, let's go to Eleni Giokos. She joins us now with the latest on the tragedy.

Eleni, it's terrible news. What do you know at this hour?

ELENI GIOKOS, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's absolutely horrific. The passengers that survived say that the impact was so intense that it felt like an earthquake. People were being thrown around in the carriages.

Two -- the first two carriages caught alight. There's nothing really left of those carriages. You have cranes and metal-cutting machinery right now, trying to work through the wreckage to see if there are more victims.

We are hearing family members and parents of university students waiting outside the hospital, to identify or at least figure out where their loved ones are.

Three hundred and forty-six people on that passenger train, traveling up from Athens to Thessaloniki. And then a cargo train on the same track, then head-on collision.

So many questions around why weren't there any safety protocols that were activated? They were traveling on the same track for several miles, as you say.

The national broadcaster also saying that there's just so many questions around the safety of the railway. Sixty-six people are injured, seven of whom are currently in critical condition.

The prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, was just at the crash site, saying that there will be no efforts spared to figure out why this happened and to ensure this doesn't happen again.

But this is absolutely tragic, and you're hearing sad and horrific stories of the victims at this point, Poppy.

HARLOW: Tragedy. That sounds like it could have been preventable.


HARLOW: Eleni, thank you for the reporting, very much.


LEMON: We take you to Chicago now, where the mayor lost re-election in a resounding defeat that could have implications for big-city Democrats. There is no question that crime was the big issue that dominated this race. And Lori Lightfoot came in third place, failing to advance to a runoff.


MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D), CHICAGO: I'm grateful that we worked together to remove a record number of guns off our streets, reduce homicides and started making real progress on public safety.


LEMON: So here's what happened. Under Mayor Lightfoot's watch, violent crime spiked in Chicago. It made national headlines. It became a talking point for Republicans and former President Trump.

Shootings and murders dropped last year, but other crimes, including carjackings and robberies, are up. That's according to police.

So the candidate who won the most votes is a Democrat, a Democrat with a tough-on-crime platform and the endorsement of Chicago's police union. He received nearly double the number of votes that Lori Lightfoot did.

Now, our Omar Jimenez, live now in the Windy City for us this morning, my old stomping grounds.

Good morning to you. You know, Omar, crime has become a top campaign issue in Chicago and other big cities.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really has. And you know, midway through her administration, Mayor Lori Lightfoot told me if people don't feel safe, literally nothing else matters. And I think this, in part, was the embodiment of that.

She was the city's first black woman to be mayor. She is the city's first openly gay mayor. And now she is set to be the first full-term incumbent mayor in Chicago history to lose re-election in at least the last 40 years.


Now when you look at what she dealt with, she says we're on the other side of what she described as a once-in-a-lifetime set of challenges from the peak of a pandemic, to jumps in gun violence we saw here and in other places, civil unrest and more.

LEMON: So let me ask you a little bit more about this. Is there an early favorite to take for Lightfoot heading -- not heading to this runoff? The runoff is in April. Is it Paul Vallas, or who is it?

JIMENEZ: Well, at this point, it's essentially a battle between the police union and the teachers' union.

Paul Vallas, a former head of schools in Chicago and in Philadelphia, is backed by the police union. Really ran on a tough public safety campaign.

And Brandon Johnson, a Cook County commissioner, a former teacher, he's backed by the teachers' union. Take a listen to them both.


PAUL VALLAS (D), CHICAGO MAYORAL CANDIDATE: We will make Chicago the safest city in America.

BRANDON JOHNSON (D), CHICAGO MAYORAL CANDIDATE: Months ago, they said they didn't know who I was. Well, if you didn't know, now you know.


JIMENEZ: Johnson obviously excited. But, you know, he really talked about how he wants to end the tale of two cities, where one side of the city has resources and the other doesn't.

Vallas also talked about wanting to be a mayor for all of Chicago. And those are both messages I think we are going to see play out in the lead-up to this April 4th runoff election. And that happened because no candidate this time, as expected, got 50 percent of the vote. And so now April 4th is when we decide on a new mayor of Chicago.

LEMON: What's interesting, it looks like the conservative side of the Democratic Party and the progressive side kind of squeezed out Lori Lightfoot right there in the middle.

JIMENEZ: Yes. I mean, it makes you wonder if the matchup for Lightfoot would have been more favorable if it was her against Vallas in the runoff. But you know, it shakes out the way it does, and -- and we'll see what happens.

LEMON: Omar Jimenez, live in Chicago. Thank you, Omar. Appreciate it.

COLLINS: Also new this morning, the FBI director, Christopher Wray, is now providing the first public confirmation that the bureau does believe the pandemic was most likely caused by a lab leak.


WRAY: You know, the FBI has folks -- agents, professionals, analysts, virologists, microbiologists, et cetera -- who focus specifically on the dangers of biological threats, which include things like novel viruses like COVID. And the concerns that, in the wrong hands, some bad guys, a hostile nation state, a terrorist, a criminal, the threats that those could pose.


COLLINS: CNN'S Natasha Bertrand joins us now.

Natasha, it's notable to hear from him saying this publicly. We knew that the FBI had made this conclusion. Now they are in the same camp as the Department of Energy with their updated assessment of this.

It is notable to hear from him, though, talk about not just what this means, what their assessment is, but also to point the finger at China, saying that they are the ones who are still blocking the United States and other nations from finding out truly what happened.

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: And that's the big problem here, Kaitlan, is that the intelligence community, while different elements of the IC have different opinions about what happened here, ultimately, what they do agree on -- and this is according to a 2021 report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence -- is that China's cooperation in this investigation is going to be pretty essential to coming to a definitive conclusion about how the pandemic began.

And multiple high-ranking U.S. officials have said that it appears that China has been thwarting efforts by the international community to do that, to actually do a thorough investigation into the origins of the pandemic.

But it is notable that Chris Wray kind of came out and said this, because we have not heard from him directly on this subject since the FBI, of course, did conclude, according to our sources, with moderate confidence that the pandemic emerged from a lab leak.

So hearing him say that and saying that the FBI has -- has thought for quite some time, indicating that they have not actually changed their position over the last nearly two years, is quite notable, especially as you said, after the Department of Energy concluded with low confidence that this emerged from a lab leak.

But as many officials have said, it is probably -- we're probably not going to get to the bottom of this definitively without some kind of smoking gun here, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Which is kind of mind-blowing. And so we've got the Department of Energy and the FBI over here that said that they do believe it was a lab leak despite, you know, that it's not a high- confidence assessment.

But we have other agencies that either have not made a determination or believe that it could have been passed on from an animal.


What does that divide say about the government as a whole and their approach to this, if there is no smoking gun that they have?

BERTRAND: Yes, Kaitlan. Well, we should note that the -- the FBI's view and the Department of Energy's view is still a minority opinion within the intelligence community.

The eight intel agencies that produced that first assessment back in 2021, plus the National Intelligence Council, the majority of them believe that this emerged naturally from -- from an animal in the wild.

And then you have the Department of Energy and the FBI, who believe it was a lab leak. And then others are still undecided, right? They believe that both hypotheses are plausible, but there's just not enough evidence to figure it out definitively.

And so I think that the IC has pretty much concluded here that, without more on-the-ground information, it is probably just going to be impossible to say, moving forward, how this actually began.

Because there's only so much you can do from afar, right? Analyzing the data without that kind of on-the-ground investigation, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes. And we know we'll hear from other officials when they testify in the next week or so.

Natasha, thank you.

And in our next half hour, we should note that John Avlon is going to take a closer look at the origins of the lab leak theory: how it was approached previously, the way people talk about it now and what that looks like.

HARLOW: On further review. Look forward to that.

Meantime this morning, the FAA is investigating a really close call, a near collision of two aircraft in Boston on Monday. This is in the middle of a number of alarming close calls at U.S. airports. Right?

The agency says JetBlue, a flight by JetBlue was coming in to land when a private Lear-60 jet took out without clearance from an intersecting tarmac, though. Look at that.

Air-traffic controllers told the Learjet to line up and wait as that JetBlue flight approached. And the Learjet pilot even read those instructions back clearly but, for some reason, began to take off instead.

Flight Trader [SIC] says that the planes came within just 565 feet of one another. Luckily, there were no injuries. But this is the fifth close call at a U.S. airport this year. Other instances took place here in New York; in Austin, Texas; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Burbank, California.

LEMON: The bombshells just keep coming. The latest revelations from a lawsuit against FOX News and the stunning admissions from its owner, Rupert Murdoch. Owner Rupert Murdoch.



STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, CBS'S "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": The former president took to his fake social media site to ask, "Why is Rupert Murdoch throwing his anchors under the table?"

OK, that's not an expression. But you know what they say: The squeaky wheel gets the hose again. And nobody puts baby in a blender.


LEMON: Listen, obviously, fodder for late night. But this is deadly serious. When you think about what happened with the insurrection, people dying. You think about what it means for our democracy; you think about what it means for the First Amendment. You think about what it means for jobs that are protected under the First Amendment, the freedom of the press.

Not red or blue. It's green. That's from Rupert Murdoch's bombshell deposition before lawyers for Dominion Voting Systems. The billionaire owner of FOX News making it very clear money was a factor in letting false claims of election fraud populate his airwaves.

Dominion is suing the network for defamation and is seeking $1.6 billion in damages. Lawyers for FOX have called the lawsuit -- and I quote here -- "dubious."

Let's discuss now. Former "Baltimore Sun" media critic and professor of communications and media studies at Goucher College, David Zurawik is here; and CNN political commentator and co-founder and editor in chief of "The Dispatch," Jonah Goldberg, joins us, as well.

Jonah, a caveat here: you used to work at FOX, and should note that you have been subpoenaed and deposed by Dominion on this case. So you can't speak on your own deposition, unless you want to. That's your choice. But I don't think that would be a smart move at this point.

We appreciate both of you joining us.

As I sit here, this is fodder and maybe for late night. But this is deadly serious, Jonah, when you think about what the election lies narrative merited, led to January 6th, an insurrection. People going to jail. Deaths. This is -- this is maybe one of the most consequential cases when it comes to the media and freedom of the press that -- at least in recent times.

JONAH GOLDBERG, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that's probably right. And we should have -- we should just, as a matter of due diligence, keep a grain of salt that we've really only heard the blistering case from Dominion, which I think is very powerful and very persuasive and jives with my experience in many ways.

But we don't know all the facts of what FOX's response is going to be to this. So who knows?

And we should also note that all media companies that aren't nonprofit are in the profit-making business. The difference here is that, if you read these -- these documents, what comes across blisteringly clear is that FOX management thought that the competing issues here have nothing really to do with serious journalism and telling the truth.

They had to do with holding onto an audience, even -- even if that cost them their integrity and their reputation for -- as telling the truth to their own audience, because they created kind of a monster with their own audience that they were then terrified of.

HARLOW: David, I'm really struck by the fact that what Rupert Murdoch said in the deposition when he was deposed -- "It's not blue. It's not red. It's green." He was talking about why they kept allowing Mike Lindell to come on and spew these lies -- remains true.

Because they still make a lot of money. And they still have good ratings. So does any of this change FOX?

DAVID ZURAWIK, COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA STUDIES PROFESSOR, GOUCHER COLLEGE: You know, you would hope that it would, Poppy. But if you look across the history of FOX -- and this is interesting. Because people talk about losing -- will it -- will it ever be known as a news channel again, as it lost its right to be called a news channel?

FOX never was a news channel. It was founded in 1996 by a media political operative, Roger Ailes, as a political operation, not a journalistic operation.

In journalism, mainstream journalism, we think of our role as providing citizens with information so that they can make good choices about their life so that they can be free and self-governing. That's the public service aspect of what we do.


FOX was founded as, essentially, a propaganda network for conservative viewpoints. And at the time, the -- you know, Ailes may have been right. You certainly could have that voice on mainstream media.

Except FOX became so powerful, it became the dominant voice. And as the Republican -- two things. As the Republican Party and conservatism moved way to the right, especially in the last decade or so, FOX went with it.

And that was their core audience. And that's how they made money. And Jonah is absolutely right. They are now a prisoner of those kinds of profits. And they have to keep feeding that beast of their core audience.

I don't think -- I really -- I really -- it's impossible to predict at this point what's going to happen. This is serious, serious stuff. All the things Don said in his setup are absolutely right about the First Amendment, about freedom of speech, about how you're going to operate as a mainstream news channel.

Listen, this is one of the voices of mainstream discourse in the conversation of American life. This is a big, big case.

But I'll tell you what. Short of getting blown out of the water by any kind of verdict -- and FOX has the money, certainly, to pay any kind of monetary fee -- I don't think FOX is going to change.

And I don't think its viewers, its core viewers are going to run away. FOX has become a lifestyle. FOX has become a 24/7 sort of war (ph) path here --

LEMON: Let us jump in here, though, David. You've got a lot to say.

COLLINS: But, Jonah, you -- you worked there for 12 years. And I wonder if you agree with how he's characterizing that.

Because you know, parts of the -- the deposition that also stuck out that I don't think have been covered as much as you (ph), Murdoch asking the CEO, Suzanne Scott, to say something supportive about Lindsey Graham.

The quote was, "We cannot lose the Senate, if at all possible." The word "we." But I wonder if you agree with the characterization that this is how

FOX has always been. You were there for 12 years. Or do you think it's changed?

GOLDBERG: Yes. So I mean, heaven forfend, as a Goucher graduate, I disagree with a Goucher professor. But I think that's -- I think that's -- that's overstated.

It is always -- look, I think I can say without any fear of contradiction Roger Ailes was a flawed human being. But one of the things that he knew and understood was that the credibility of FOX News as a network depended on the credibility of the FOX News division.

I know too many people who work in the FOX News division to this day who are serious, honest, and sincere journalists trying to do the job right. There are too many people, including who work at CNN, who got their starts or worked at FOX for a while and -- and have warm things to say about it, to just say it was always a political operation.

I think the problem that happened at FOX was that the opinion side was allowed to run free. Everyone likes to think that this was some grand policy, the transformation of FOX, set from above. It is really the lack of leadership under Suzanne Scott, the CEO, to reign in, curtail, discipline the primetime people in any way, to the point where the opinion side basically became the dog wagging the tail instead of the other way around. And the news side just became sort of this cleanup crew.

Even in the Dominion filings, the news division comes out OK in this. Bret Baier and "Special Report" fact-checked this stuff. The problem is at the brand level, the brand was more important than everything else.

And for Rupert and those guys, the definition of the brand was a safe harbor to be a -- a safe harbor for Trump supporters to hear only what they wanted to hear.

LEMON: But, Jonah, that's hard to break through when you have -- when the noise is so loud coming from the morning show, which they consider to be entertainment, and then opinion.

A very small portion of their programming -- well, the day side programming, is considered news.

And it's very hard when -- when you see how many people actually watch the opinion side, which is way more people than watch the news side. And it's hard to distinguish between what is opinion and what is news. And they really don't make a distinction about it. So that is -- I understand. I understand what you're --

GOLDBERG: I agree --


LEMON: -- saying. Go on. Go on. GOLDBERG: There is a problem across the media landscape, including at this network and at MSNBC. It's just wildly out of scale at FOX.

And the problem is, is that the opinion side started to set the news agenda. The issues that got ratings for the opinion people became the issues that the news side largely reported on. And it just became this sort of self-defeating process.

And then they just got addicted to the cash -- the ratings and the returns. And, you know, the old Chinese expression about riding the tiger. You can't get off, because you're afraid it will eat you. They couldn't get off --

LEMON: OK. So we've got to go, but how --


GOLDBERG: -- their audience.

LEMON: What happens then? Can they get off of this?

ZURAWIK: Jonah, I think that's what I said, Jonah.


LEMON: Is there -- can they change? Can they change after this? Can there be a reconfiguration of FOX News to bring it sort of back to what Roger Ailes may have wanted it to be?

GOLDBERG: If you're asking me, I think it's going to be very hard.

ZURAWIK: I don't think that you --


LEMON: OK. Both of you said I don't think so. I think it's going to be very hard. I think that's a consensus right there.

Gentlemen, thank you both. To be continued. We'll continue to talk about it. Appreciate having you on. Thank you.

We're going to have much, much more on the coverage of this story in our next hour here on CNN THIS MORNING.

COLLINS: Also on CNN THIS MORNING, we are going to talk about student loan and relief, whether or not it is on the table for millions of Americans or whether or not it's in jeopardy. Where does the Supreme Court stand after a critical hearing yesterday on President Biden's forgiveness plan?

HARLOW: Also new this morning, a big development from TikTok, rolling out a new feature to help teens cut back on their endless scrolling. We'll tell you what it means, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARLOW: Welcome back to CNN THIS MORNING. The first hearing of the House Select Committee on China kicked off last night with bipartisan concerns.

One of the top concerns is the social media giant TikTok. Lawmakers want President Biden -- some lawmakers want President Biden to ban the app from the U.S., citing security risks because of its ownership.