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CNN Tonight

Sources: Assessment COVID-19 Leaked From Chinese Lab Is A Minority View Within U.S. Intel Community; Proposed Bill Sparks Accusations Of "Takeover" In Jackson, Mississippi; Instagram Users Are Being Served Gory Videos Of Killing And Torture; Study: Zero-Calorie Sweetener Linked To Heart Attack And Stroke. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired February 27, 2023 - 23:00   ET



SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That is not new information. I mean, reporters who have been covering this know that. In fact, one of the lead researchers in the lab there in Wuhan is Shi Zhengli, known as the "bat lady." She is known as that because she has been studying bats and coronaviruses really since the days of SARS, so for some 20 years. So that is not new information.

What I think we need to know is, were the coronaviruses that were being studied in the lab similar, identical or related to the virus that caused COVID? You want to look at the actual viruses and do genetic sequencing of those viruses.

Another thing that you could do, Alisyn is there were blood samples that were taken from workers in the lab at that time. If you are able to go back and look at those blood samples and say, did they show antibodies to the COVID virus, then that would be another pretty definitive piece of data. And then, you know, you would obviously want to have a complete forensics investigation of the lab.

But it is these things, these types of things that we don't have still. That has been the lack of transparency that so many people have been talking about. I think the answer to the question, I think, everybody is answering in knowable, but we don't know it because we don't have all the data.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And Sanjay, it's interesting because you even spoke with some scientists who worked in Wuhan. What did they say about how hard it is to get information in China?

GUPTA: Well, they say it is really hard. I mean, it's interesting because there was this World Health Organization investigation. I talked to Peter Daszak, who also runs EcoHealth Alliance, an organization that was doing research in Wuhan. So, he had sort of two hats that he was wearing, but he was part of that investigative team from the WHO.

And I specifically asked about the database, right? There is a database of all the viruses that are being studied. If that data bases there, and we can go back and look and see how closely the viruses approximate the COVID virus, that would be really good information. So, I asked him specifically about that. Listen to him.


GUPTA: Have you been able now, then as a member of the WHO team or in any capacity, to look at that data?


GUPTA: That sounds concerning, Peter, if it is as serious and we're trying to be as thorough as possible. Maybe it amounts to nothing. But I think the fact that you still haven't seen that database, it is just -- it is just going to raise a lot of eyebrows as we go forward.

DASZAK: Well, broadly so. I think that, you know, China should be more open about the things that they have not released.


GUPTA: So, one of the most basic things that you would look for as a part of an investigation, again, the database. What was being studied in those labs? That wasn't available to the World Health Organization team, Alisyn, and they weren't allowed to go back in after that first investigation. So, we still don't -- we still don't know.

CAMEROTA: And then Sanjay, you've also spoken to several U.S. health officials who support the lab leak theory, and they cast skepticism also on the outbreak timeline. So, what have they told you?

GUPTA: Well, so, this is -- this is very interesting. We're talking about Robert Redfield here, who is CDC director, Alisyn, you remember. And that's important because he probably had access to information that maybe the general public did not have at the time that he was the CDC director.

I talked to him right after he left office, and he was pretty forthcoming about his thoughts on this, still speculative but interesting reasoning. Take a listen.


ROBERT REDFIELD, FORMER DIRECTOR OF CDC: I do not believe this somehow came from a bat to a human. Normally, when a pathogen goes from a (INAUDIBLE) to human, it takes a while for it -- to figure out how to become more and more efficient in human to human transmission. I just don't think this makes biological sense.


GUPTA: So, you know, he is saying he does not think it makes biological sense. But again, Alisyn, he did have an access to information that most people did not have access to, so it is more informed opinion.

That was really interesting. When a virus starts to sort of spread in humans, usually, it is not very contagious. It becomes increasingly contagious as it spreads more and more. This virus, according to Dr. Redfield, really started spreading like wildfire right away, suggesting to him at least it had been studied in a lab and slowly becoming increasingly contagious in a lab before it accidentally leaked. Speculative, but interesting.

CAMEROTA: Yeah. He makes a very compelling case, I think, and he always has been. I mean, he was out front with this theory before other people were.

GUPTA: Yes, he was.

CAMEROTA: Sanjay, thank you for explaining all of that. Really helpful.

GUPTA: You got it. Thank you.

CAMEROTA: The White House is also weighing in on the Energy Department's assessment that COVID-19 most likely came from a lab leak in China. Here is National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby on CNN earlier tonight.


JOHN KIRBY, COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: What I can tell you is that there is no consensus among the Intelligence Community or elsewhere in the government on exactly how COVID originated. But we want to know. The president wants to know because he wants to be able to put us in a position where we can better prevent another pandemic.



CAMEROTA: Okay, joining me now to discuss all of this with the latest, we have "Los Angeles Times" op-ed columnist LZ Granderson, CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller, special correspondent for "Vanity Fair" Molly Jong-Fast, former Democratic Congressman Mondaire Jones, and political commentator Scott Jennings.

Okay, so, tell us, John, how -- why is the Intel Community divided and how does it work when they're divided? Are they looking at different evidence?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: They're looking at the same evidence, and the National Intelligence Council, which is like the gray beards of the Intelligence Community, the experts of the experts, pull all this together, and they what John Kirby said, which is the Intelligence Community can agree with this.

So, they looked at this in 2021, I think it was four intelligence agencies, including the National Intelligence Council, believed it came from an animal, probably in the market. One intelligence agency, now stay with me here, decided with moderate confidence, the FBI, that it probably came from a lab based on the, you know, the power and speed with which it spread. And now, the Department of Energy has come over to say, with low confidence, they agree. Now, you are likely to win the Powerball jackpot next week, I assess, with low confidence. That's how likely that is.


MILLER: So, you can have, out of 16 intelligence agencies, some of them did not look at this, the Coast Guard, people like that don't weigh in because it's not their field, but out of the core group that weighed in, you can have people looking at the same intelligence who disagree on the finding that they would make from it and the level of confidence they would put behind it.

CAMEROTA: Okay, that's fair. So, in other words, the Department of Energy, with their new assessment, at least to us, has not seen something new --

MILLER: Well, they --

CAMEROTA: -- or have they?


MILLER: They updated their assessment based on some new intelligence, but I --

CAMEROTA: We don't know what that is.

MILLER: We don't know that is. But I wouldn't make that big a deal of it because it didn't cause all the other agencies to sway over. So, it is something that to the Department of Energy's scientists was the nuance that move them from assessing one thing to maybe another but with low confidence which is different without a distinction.

CAMEROTA: Scott, I want to bring you in because I don't have to tell you how many people pooh-poohed the lab leak theory, it turns out, prematurely.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDNET TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah, completely. You had a lot of conservatives at the time that this was all breaking, like Tom Cotton, senator from Arkansas, is one, but many others. And they were, you know, made fun of. They were mocked as conspiracy theorists.

But we saw this on a number of fronts. You know, masks, lockdowns, natural immunity. Now, this lab leak theory. You had a number of people who are simply saying, I am skeptical or I have questions about this. And there were -- you know, everybody in the media, the Democratic Party, the left, came down on people like a ton of bricks for even simply raising questions.

And so, today, you have a lot of conservatives saying, uh-huh, how the turntables --

(LAUGHTER) JENNINGS: -- and saying it was right of us to ask questions. And I think what everybody wants to know is, why were so many people so invested in shutting down anyone who simply raised a question about this or those other things I mentioned at the time? That is what the conservatives want to know.

And I think this has really reduced public confidence, frankly, what you are hearing about some of these public health issues given, you know, how much this is different today than what we were told two years ago.

CAMEROTA: No, Scott. I mean, it -- the jury is still out. I mean, the jury is still out. But I grant you that the Department of Energy saying this lends a lot more credence than certainly headlines suggested, as you say, when they were mocking people. But the jury is still out. We actually don't know what the origin is still.

JENNINGS: Yeah, but my point is, when people were simply raising questions about it, they were called kooks, they were called quacks, they were called conspiracy theorists for even raising the possibility that this might have come out of a lab. And now, you have intelligence agencies saying, yeah, it might have, I agree.

By the way, we are never going to know the answer to this because the Chinese government will never allow anyone to have access or transparency here to the facts that would lead us to know. We'll never know the answer, but it is a distinct possibility as acknowledged now two years after the fact when certain people were raising it and being shouted down in the public square.


MOLLY JONG-FAST, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, VANITY FAIR: I think this is really unfair, Scott, to put together masking and vaccines with the lab leak. I mean, again, we don't know what happened, whether or not it was a lab leak. But we certainly know that masking helps prevent people from getting sick. We know that horse de-wormer does not work on COVID.

I mean, there were certainly a lot of COVID misinformation. The number one spreader of COVID misinformation, you will remember, in 2021, or even before that, was Donald Trump. Right?


I mean -- so, I don't think that -- I don't necessarily think that these two things -- I think that you are confabulating a lot of different things.

CAMEROTA: Okay, hold on, let me get Mondaire in. Go.

MONDAIRE JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I would be pissed if I were to find out along with the rest of the public that this was because of a lab leak because I do feel like we have been disabused of this theory by --

CAMEROTA: By whom?

JONES: -- agencies who had downplayed the possibility --

CAMEROTA: So, like the WHO, for instance? I mean, who else -- because I remember -- first of all, it was Joe Biden who said, please continue this investigation, to the Department of Energy.

JONES: Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: And it was Dr. Redfield, as we just heard, former CDC director, who said that he believed it was a lab leak. So, who is doing the disabusing?

JONES: I think -- I think there was a downplaying of it. I mean, I had heard a number of reports from different agencies saying that it is unlikely to have been a lab leak.

Having said that, I have a distinct different recollection from Scott when it comes to the claims that were being made by people like Tom Cotton out of Arizona and others in the Republican Party. It wasn't simply asking questions. It was -- it was stating with confidence.

People were really speaking with their chest that this had to have been a Chinese conspiracy to infect the American people and the world, in fact, through biological warfare. That was uncomfortable for me because no one had a basis to believe that without more evidence.

CAMEROTA: LZ, before I let you say this, I just want to remind people, in July of 2021, you know -- I'll just let it speak for itself. Here's Jon Stewart on Stephen Colbert.


JON STEWART, TALK SHOW HOST, "THE PROBLEM WITH JON STEWART": Science has in many ways helped ease the suffering of this pandemic, which was more than likely caused by science.


Is the novel respiratory coronavirus overtaking Wuhan, China? What do we do? Oh, you know, we can ask the Wuhan novel respiratory coronavirus lab. The disease is the same name as the lab. Can I -- let me see your business card. Show me your business card.

Oh, I work at the coronavirus lab in Wuhan. Oh, because there is a coronavirus loose in Wuhan. How did that happen? Maybe a bat flew into the cloaca of a turkey and then it sneezed into my chili, and now we all have coronavirus.

STEPHEN COLBERT, CBS HOST: Wait a second. Wait a second.

STEWART: Okay, okay, what are these? What are these?

COLBERT: Wait a second. Jon --

STEWART: Oh, my God. Oh, my God. There has been an outbreak of chocolatey goodness near Hershey, Pennsylvania. What do you think happened? Oh, I don't know. Maybe a steam shovel made it with a cocoa bean or it is the (bleep) chocolate factory.


Maybe that's it.


CAMEROTA: There you go, LZ.


MILLER: I think he assessed that with high confidence.


CAMEROTA: There was high confidence right there.

GRANDERSON: I don't think that my obsession or concern when it comes to COVID is really where it began, but as much as our response was to it, because, yes, we can certainly talk about the very beginnings of this virus, but the reason why the messaging got conflated and confused and very difficult for people to disseminate was because people were purposely trying to downplay the impact of the virus. That is early in 2020. Scott knows it. We all know this. This is a flu, it will be gone, it'll be done by the summer.

CAMEROTA: I think everybody was always interested in the origins.

GRANDERSON: People were --

CAMEROTA: People were fighting about it.

GRANDERSON: But when you -- when you start talking about the response to it and then you start talking about where it came from, that all gets conflated together. That's where the racism came from. That is where the increase in Asian American attacks came from, because people start to conflate these words from -- with who is giving the messaging, that it's not that big of a deal.

It is big of a deal. They did it. Now, these people say, all people from this country are responsible for what happened to the planet. So, I think that we need to displace apart the beginnings of COVID with our response from COVID. I think Scott is talking a lot about the response and not enough about the beginnings of it.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, I think we are all trying to talk about the origins of it. I think Scott makes a great point that people felt certain before we knew certainly. And we may never know certainly. But to your point, your final point because we have to go, is that in the intel community, you need to have an open mind. That is rule number one.

MILLER: That's true. We saw that in the anthrax case. Right? We look at Saddam Hussein right after 9/11. We looked at al-Qaeda. We looked at a couple of suspects who -- we really took them apart. I was in the FBI at the time. It turned out to be a U.S. government scientist and a U.S. government lab who wanted extra funding.

CAMEROTA: Yeah. Okay, thank you all very much.


Meanwhile, is there a takeover in the works in one of America's blackest big cities? Next, the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi is here to talk about the battle putting his city against the GOP-dominated state government. This is about voting rights, about public safety, about crime, about race. We'll be right back.


CAMEROTA: A proposed bill is sparking accusations of a takeover in Jackson, Mississippi. State House Republicans there are sponsoring a bill this month that would essentially create a new court system for the city designed by white conservative state officials. Jackson, Mississippi is 83% Black, one of America's blackest big cities.

A state Senate committee passed a different version of this bill that takes out some of those controversial elements, but those provisions could be added back in during negotiations. Supporters of the bill say it is about addressing the growing crime in the city, but the mayor of Jackson calls this -- quote -- "colonization and apartheid."


Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba joins me now. Mayor, thank you so much for being here. Can you explain what this is? What would happen if this bill passes?

MAYOR CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA, JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI: First of all, I appreciate the time and appreciate the lifting up of this issue. I think that we have a number of dynamics at play. This bill is a thinly-veiled attempt to create a circumstance of continued police abuse.

In the last six months of 2022, there were at least seven media reported incidents of capital police-involved incidents, shootings with the officers. It is a voting rights abuse where judges will be appointed, not elected by the residents, where prosecutors will be appointed and not hired by the district attorney (INAUDIBLE) equivalent to Jim Crow 2.0. It is a state-sponsored system of stripping people of both political power and voting rights ability.

CAMEROTA: As you know, the people who sponsored it say this is necessary because crime has gotten so bad. So, they need to set up these other legal guardrails.

ANTAR LUMUMBA: Yeah. Well, you know, there has been a deliberate and willful neglect of the things that the city of Jackson has asked for in order to continue with the issues of public safety. Things like additional support in terms of ballistic technology for our police department, in terms of support of our real time crime center, which is a 21st century mechanism to support our police officers, in terms of alternatives to support public safety such as our violence interruption and credible messenger programs.

We've gone through extreme measures, engaging people like Wells Fargo Bank and the National League of Cities. That has given us seed money to create (INAUDIBLE) for violence prevention and for recovery.

All the while, the state of Mississippi has avoided that and instead proposed this takeover which allows judges to have jurisdiction over civil matters that has nothing to do with the issue of crime and public safety, while initially drafting a jurisdiction or a district which largely covers the most densely populated (INAUDIBLE) of the city and the areas of the city that have the lowest rate of crime.

And so, it is a trojan horse that comes in the name of public safety, but is actually an attack on Black leadership.

CAMEROTA: Here is what one of the sponsors has to say about it. This is State Rep. Trey Lamar, a Republican. He says this bill is totally racially neutral. It is only designed to assist the court systems in Hinds County by helping a portion of Jackson, the Capitol Complex Improvement District, which was carved out back in 2017 and had full support of Democrats back then. What is your response?

ANTAR LUMUMBA: Well, I don't know what he would say in terms of the full support of Democrats. In 2017, I was a part of a group called the Coalition for Economic Justice where we solved this as a trojan horse at that time.

I want to be clear that the Democrats who did support it in that moment in time were supporting something that was aimed in the vein or at least cloaked in the vein of the infrastructure bill to support infrastructure projects around capital institutions or facilities and not a measure that created its own court system, not a measure that created a police department with a lack of accountability to the residents and allow these levels of abuse to take place.

And so, there was a difference of opinion amongst democratic leadership at this time, but what is clear is that no one sponsored or no one supported what we are now seeing.

CAMEROTA: So, mayor, what are you and fellow Democrats going to do about this?

ANTAR LUMUMBA: Well, we are going to continue to not only attempt to kill it before it becomes law, but, you know, we have a few tools left in the shed. I will not fully lay out all of the efforts that we will undertake in order to defeat this measure, but we will not rest until we see this come to its conclusion.

CAMEROTA: Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, thank you very much for your time tonight. We're going to continue to discuss this. We really appreciate you being here.

My panel is back with me now. Elie, I don't even understand. So, let me just pull up again what the House bill said. It would expand the Capitol Complex district to cover a third of Jackson's population. It will create new judicial district with state government-appointed judges. Judges will be appointed by the state Supreme Court chief justice. Prosecute would be at appointed by the state attorney general.

This is a parallel justice system?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So, there is a big difference between the bill that the House Mississippi State House passed, which you just outlined, and the bill that the state Senate passed. The key question is going to be how do they reconcile that.


But if this one that you just laid out, the House version, becomes law, one of those tools that the mayor was just talking about, I guarantee you, it was a lawsuit.

He is going to make an equal protection challenge. He is going to say you're depriving the people of the city of their votes. You're installing a parallel justice system installed by people who don't live in this jurisdiction. I think they'll have a very good claim. So, it will be really important to see which version of this becomes law.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but is there a precedent for a parallel justice system in the city?

HONIG: Boy, there -- you know, this is -- this is new ground. I mean, it's pretty flagrant.

JONES: Jim Crow, right?

HONIG: It's pretty flagrant to say the state is going to impose this justice system, judges and prosecutors. And only this one time -- where everybody else in the state gets to vote on their own representative, I can't think of one, I'll tell you that much.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead.

JONES: Sherrilyn Ifill, the former leader of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, made a very important point on Twitter a few days ago. That is had the conservative super majority on the Supreme Court of the United States not gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act, this would not be possible, because Mississippi would have to submit any changes to its voting laws to either the Department of Justice or a three-judge panel for approval for precisely the reason that the mayor is now alleging, because this is a history.

This is a state with a history of racial discrimination and that this would be an example of something that probably would not survive scrutiny where it to have to go through the Voting Rights Act process that now no longer exists.

CAMEROTA: John, about the crime in Jackson, is that, you know, predicate for doing something this rush there?

MILLER: Well, we can't lose sight of the problem. I mean, Jackson is a city in a series of crises. You've got the water crisis, you've got the zoo (ph) crisis, you've got the crime crisis. But if you look at that, I think the murder rate for the United States is five per 100,000. In Jackson, it's 88. So, it's per capita, probably the murder capital of the United States with 153,000 people, that many murders. That's a real problem.

So, with the state, if you take the state's claim, we are trying to fix this, what the state saying is the city is out of control, we are going to take the capital police, we are going to give them citywide authority, we are going to increase their numbers, we are going to set up prosecutors and judges that will put people in jail, and we are going to get a hold of this crime thing starting from the center of the city of the capitol.

The problem with that, as Elie and Mondaire said, it lacks all due process. Voters don't get to say people aren't elected. Its unilateral act on the part of the state that, as you pointed out, a little unprecedented. A state takeover of a city without going through any mechanics.

GRANDERSON: That unprecedented. When you think about what happened in other states during the early days of the great recession where you had white GOP leaders of states and governors say this city here can't manage its education, so we are going to take education over, or this city over here -- I distinctly remember this happening in Benton Harbor (ph). I'm from Detroit. I know the state tried to take over the education system because Detroiters couldn't lead and they needed help.

The reality is that you had white flight (ph) in the 50s and 60s and into the 70s. That not only took away the diversity but also, hello, tax dollars, right, to be able to actually take care of the cities. When those went off to the suburbs, you have the city maintain the same size but with few (INAUDIBLE) operating.

What's the number one precursor to crime? It's poverty! What's the industry in Mississippi? Does anyone know? Exactly. So, you have a very poor state, you have a white leadership in the state level, you have Black leaders in the city level, and you don't have any industry in which you can actually begin to think about getting people out of poverty. So, of course, there is going to be crime there.

These are the things that we've seen in the great recession, this is what we've seen coming out of the great white flight (ph). This is that -- I don't know if it's Jim Crow 2.0, 3.0, I just know that we've seen this pattern over and over again.

CAMEROTA: Let me get Scott in. Scott, your thoughts?

JENNINGS: Yeah, I think Jackson, Mississippi as one of if not the worst run city in America. You can't drink the water. It is not probably, it is the highest per capita murder rate in the United States. I think this is a failed state. It's completely and totally dysfunctional. The local leadership has failed, the mayor has failed, the city council has failed.

And I think what the state leaders in Mississippi are trying to do is get control of an unlivable situation. They want the city of Jackson to be habitable by human beings.

GRANDERSON: Scott, this is garbage! Scott, Scott, this is garbage! You know it. The people in Jackson, Mississippi have been asking the state officials to help them with the water problems for years. I personally have covered two times now. The people in Jackson, Mississippi couldn't drink the water.


And now you're going to tell me that the emergency that they need is dealing with crime? What about the emergency with water? Why wasn't that put up as a number one emergency? I think you're repeating some garbage. I don't think you're repeating actual facts.


JENNINGS: Well, I mean, who is in charge of water utility in any city or municipality in America? It's the mayor, it is the city council, it's the local leadership. They have totally failed. And because of that, the state legislature, the governor had to intervene. Now you have this highest per capita murder rate in the country.

This city is completely and totally dysfunctional. What is the city -- what is the state leadership supposed to? Just let this thing continue to spiral out of control? I don't know what the final bill is going to look like and there might be changes, but it would be irresponsible for the state legislature and the governor to just let this go on and on and on.

CAMEROTA: Yeah. Let me just say something. In terms -- I think you're talking about different things. You're talking about the origins, again, of this. How we got here.

GRANDERSON: How we get here.

CAMEROTA: And he's talking about the -- what are we going to do from here, the solutions.

GRANDERSON: That's exactly the routine. You forget about the origins, you talk about the problem, and then you blame Black people who the minorities living in the city, but you don't talk about how you got there.

CAMEROTA: And Mondaire?

JONES: The mayor has talked about wanting resources to help address the issue of crime as it exists now in addition to those violence interrupters, right, that he referenced, and other investments in reducing poverty and other things that we know tend to increase the risk of criminality at any a given community. That's a broader problem in this country. We talk often about how to stop crime as it currently exists and not enough about the precursors to crime, sort of solving for that on the front end, so that we actually don't spend as much time on it.

CAMEROTA: But let me just ask you. How do you solve this crime?

MILLER: So, I mean, this is the fundamental question. The mayor gave the menu (ph), right? Have a real time crime center. That needs additional support. I want a crime gun (ph) intelligence center to run these ballistics and shell casings. I need more cops. Last time I looked, they were down a hundred. And, you know, that is the kind of aid he is saying the state in a democratic process should give to a city. What the state is saying is, we are just going to do this, which is kind of a broken approach to it.

HONIG: To that point, I don't think that this solution, the House version, the more drastic version, really addresses the problem. They're just saying, we are going to choose your leaders for you. What is that gong to fix? So, I think whatever the intention is, just from a law enforcement perspective, this won't do anything to help.

CAMEROTA: Gentlemen, thank you all very much. Obviously, we will continue to follow this story. Meanwhile, more and more people are logging on to Instagram and getting a lot of violent content that they are not looking for, they didn't sign up for it. A "Washington Post" reporter has some answers about what is happening. Taylor Lorenz is here, next.




CAMEROTA: "The Washington Post" reports that some Instagram users are getting horrifyingly violent content that they never wanted to see. This is extremely disturbing stuff. Videos of torture, shootings, violent accidents, they are reaching thousands and thousands of people.

Here is just one example. The "Post" shared an account with more than 560,000 followers captioned, "Hashtag watch: 16-year-old girl beaten and burned to death by vigilante mob."

Joining me now with more of her reporting is "Washington Post" technology columnist Taylor Lorenz. Taylor, thank you so much for being here. This is horrifying. I was so stunned by your article. Why are these -- this disgusting content popping up in people's feeds or on their accounts when they're not searching for it?

TAYLOR LORENZ, TECHNOLOGY COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: Yeah, it is absolutely horrifying. I think a lot of this content is frankly traumatizing users. So, what is happening is basically, Instagram has been boosting its product Reels, which is its TikTok competitor. It has been sort of elevating Reel's customer feed. And what meme pages realized is that by posting the most horrific content possible, that content will be rewarded with views and bubble up to the top of people's algorithms to the point that Instagram serving sometimes the first post of people that they see.

CAMEROTA: I read some of people's responses. It is traumatizing them. This is not anything you want to just stumble upon when you're just, you know, trying to check some fun video, and suddently you see something horrible.

I mean, I will read a portion of your article. One day last week, for large meme pages, two with more than 1 million followers, posted a video of a young child being shot in the head. The video amassed over 83,000 views in under three hours.

Why does that even live on Instagram? How have they not just taken that video down and made it inaccessible?

LORENZ: Yeah, it's wild. I mean, I actually conducted an experiment myself in the course of reporting this story where I took one of these videos and tried to upload it to TikTok. Now, TikTok has notoriously strong content moderation. Some people say too strong in certain areas. But it wouldn't even allow me to upload the video. It flagged immediately before it was served to one user.

So, I think it is disturbing that users are encountering this content, especially when they follow a meme page thinking that they are going to get funny content, lighthearted jokes, you know, and suddenly, because of the incentives that Instagram creates, these pages are posting gore and really disturbing videos.

CAMEROTA: Do you know who is behind these videos?


Is there any -- you know, I'm sure it's not one person, but is there some group that could be shut down that is posting violence like this?

LORENZ: Unfortunately, it's not one group. There are many, many, many Instagram pages. I mean, there are thousands of peoples in these group chats coordinating this type of stuff. They trade this violent imagery with each other, and then they negotiate sponsored-content deals.

The reason that these Instagram pages are posting this violent content is because it boosts their engagement rate, and they can then monetize their pages at a higher rate.

So, I think that Instagram needs to look at the way that it handles sponsored content. Maybe look at some of the incentive structures, of course. But more importantly, they need to root out these specific accounts and, you know, determine if they actually violated terms. If they have, you know, take an action.

CAMEROTA: I mean, how could they not? If you are showing a child being shot in the head, how could they not violate terms? Here is what Meta, the statement they released to you. The content is not eligible to be recommended and we remove content that breaks our rules. This is an adversarial space so we are always proactively monitoring and improving how we prevent bad actors from using new tactics to avoid detection and evade our enforcement.

Is that accurate?

LORENZ: I mean, what they are trying to say there is that this content, they say, is an eligible for a recommendation in the Reel's carousel (ph) and in the Instagram explore page and things like that. But they say -- I mean, how I interpret that statement is basically, well, these people follow meme pages, so what do they expect, apparently? That is the takeaway that I got from that. I think that that they are looking into these accounts.

Instagram, you would think does not want this content either because it is alienating users. Users do not want to see it. So, I do believe that they are going to take an action. But I think that they need to look at the whole way that they police this type of content because Instagram does have pretty strict guidelines in other areas, as we know. You know, you can't, for instance, show a woman's nipples, things like that. That will get you taken down right away.

CAMEROTA: I mean, obviously, they need to look at this because it is so vile and, again, so traumatizing for people who are surprised by it. Taylor Lorenz, thank you very much for your time. We really appreciate you bring this to our attention.

LORENZ: Thanks.

CAMEROTA: Okay, now, to this, ever reach for a zero-calorie sweetener? A new study finds that some of those sweeteners could be linked to heart attacks and strokes. We have all of the details you need to hear, next.




CAMEROTA: If you've got a sweet tooth, you might want to check the ingredient list before your next treat. A recent study found that a sugar replacement called erythritol is linked to increased risk of blood clotting, stroke, heart attack, even death. The study found that this sweetener is on par with the strongest cardiac risk factors like diabetes.

Okay guys, erythritol --

MONDAIRE: You are going to say Aretha Franklin.

CAMEROTA: She has nothing to do with this.


CAMEROTA: Erythritol, got it, is in a lot of stuff. It's in all the Keto reduced-sugar products like if you are on a Keto diet. And it is in Stevia. So, Stevia is, you know, a sugar replacement and this is used apparently to bulk it up.

Haven't we learned the lesson not to mess with mother nature when it comes to food? Shouldn't we not mess with mother nature about it? Should we just eat natural foods?

GRANDERSON: Clearly not. You know, I will say this about the artificial sweeteners. They've got a heel of a brand representative because they have convinced us that we are better than sugar. No matter what science says, we are better than sugar.

CAMEROTA: Do you use artificial sweeteners?

GRANDERSON: I definitely do some stuff in my Jack (ph). So, is Jack (ph) in diet? So, everything is diet.


GRANDERSON: Whatever is in the diet.

HONIG: Okay. Can I cite a precedent here?


GRANDERSON: I'm talking about cocktails, people.

JONES: Elie is the worst. Elie is the worst.

CAMEROTA: I'm glad you enjoyed that response. Yes, go, Elie.

HONIG: There is legal precedent on this. Do you all remember SnackWell's?


HONIG: These are (INAUDIBLE). We all remember.


HONIG: This was marketed as the miracle desert. There were cookies and stuff.


HONIG: But there was no sugar, no fat or something.

CAMEROTA: Yeah, no fat.

HONIG: First of all, they were horrible, right?

JONES: Right.

HONIG: They were -- what was the best one?

JONG-FAST: Chalky.

HONIG: Yeah. They were horrible. You had to eat 14 of them to even feel full. And now, we learned that they were doing all of this other stuff, too. So, we have known this for a long time.

CAMEROTA: Yeah, you can't -- there is no -- if you are craving sugar or fat, just eat sugar and fat.

JONES: Right.

CAMEROTA: Not all the time. Obviously, in moderation. You can eat a Mediterranean diet. Right?

JONG-FAST: Except pasta, all the time.

CAMEROTA: I know. Pasta is fine.

JONES: Pasta is okay.


CAMEROTA: Do you do artificial sweeteners?

JONES: No. Because I am telling you, this whole (INAUDIBLE) was advertised as being super healthy, even -- that it was very natural. I always thought there's no free rides (ph) on this.

CAMEROTA: What do you mixed with your Jack Daniels?


JONES: Lately, I've been doing vodka. Oh, God. Seriously, I don't use these sweeteners.


I try to drink black coffee now because I'm trying to cut down on just sugar intake generally. But I'm not going to stop. If -- you know, if somebody gives me Stevia, then --


JONES: Yeah.


JONES: It's inconclusive, right? I mean, we don't have definitive evidence that this is going to cause a heart attack.

CAMEROTA: I wouldn't risk it.


CAMEROTA: I wouldn't risk it.


JONG-FAST: A little evidence is enough on this one.

CAMEROTA: Just go back to regular sugar. I mean -- yeah. Glad we have resolved all of that. All right, everybody, we'll be right back.


CAMEROTA: There is something special coming up tomorrow night. Bill Maher sits down for a one-on-one with Jake Tapper.


What this late-night host think about all sorts of issues, including the upcoming 2024 election? This CNN primetime interview is tomorrow night at 9:00 on CNN, and then I will see right afterwards at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

Thank you so much for watching, everyone. Our coverage continues now.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Tonight, one rising superpower and two big stories with global impact. Whether it is to do with the looming threat in the biggest European armed conflict since the second world war or new assessment of the worst pandemic since 1918, China is front and center tonight.

In Ukraine, members of the administration spoke today and over the weekend, warning Beijing that arming Russia would be a mistake.