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CNN Tonight

Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-CA) Office Confirms She Had Encephalitis, Contradicting Her Own Denial; Walgreens to Pay San Francisco $230 Million in Opioid Settlement; Matt Araiza No Longer a Subject of the Gang Rape Investigation; Penguin Random House, PEN America and others Filed a Suit to Florida School District on Book Bans and Restrictions. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired May 18, 2023 - 22:00   ET



SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: That is where we are right now.

Thank you so much for joining us. CNN Tonight with Alisyn Camerota starts right now. Hey, Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it does, Sara. Thank you very much. Great to see you.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to CNN Tonight.

We'll learning that Senator Dianne Feinstein has been sicker than we thought. We knew she had shingles. But we're learning that she also had encephalitis, meaning brain inflammation. The 89-year-old senator has been away from work for months. All of this raises questions about how old is too old to serve in Congress. Our panel will share their thoughts on that special number.

Plus, the case of the ex-Buffalo bill player, Matt Araiza, a rookie who was cut from the team after ugly accusations went public. But now, prosecutors have declined to press criminal charges against him. Was his career ended prematurely?

And battling book bans, the lawsuit by parents and authors against a Florida school district that's been removing books from shelves. Freedom of speech versus parents' rights, which one will win?

But let's begin with Dianne Feinstein and questions about her fitness for office. The senator was out of work for a month fighting a bout of shingles. But today, we learned she suffered from encephalitis, inflammation of the brain, something she denied to CNN earlier today. She described it as a really bad flu.

Her staff also confirmed today that she's suffering from a rare neurological disorder called Ramsey Hunt Syndrome, which causes facial paralysis. The pictures of her back at work show a more frail senator than we're used to seeing, and her Senate colleagues are sidestepping questions about her health, her age and her fitness to serve.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you have confidence that she can continue to do this rigorous job?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): We're all human, and we all have health issues. And right now, she is performing as a United States senator doing her job.

REPORTER: Are you worried about her abilities to do her job?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): I can't answer that. Well, let me -- because I don't know. I have confidence in her judgment and her family's judgment and her staff's judgment.


CAMEROTA: Okay, let's bring in my panel. We have the reality checker himself, John Avlon, also former Boston T.V. Reporter and Republican New Hampshire Congressional Candidate Gail Huff Brown, Coleman Hughes, host of Conversations with Coleman Podcast, and the always thoughtful and delightful New York Times Reporter Emma Goldberg. Great to have all of you.

John, that was interesting what Senator Kennedy said there, I have faith in her family and her staff. Why are her family and staff letting her continue to work when she is so clearly infirm?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's the right question and the senators were dodging out of deference. And the Senate obviously -- the Senate is -- you know, having people in their 80s is not unusual, more than the average workplace, but what Dianne Feinstein is displaying is something far more troubling.

Here's a distinguished public servant, somebody who was the mayor of San Francisco, but she does not seem to have a clear grasp on where she is or where she has been. I don't think that, you know, it's not a stretch to say that doesn't serve the people of California well, and I think there's some political considerations around the reluctance to name an appointment, she would have to resign, because it might have an impact on the primary.

But that's a secondary concern, it seems to me. This is a really extreme example of what happens when people stay in the game far too long when, for their health and dignity, they should be able to enjoy life not in this position of responsibility.

GAIL HUFF BROWN, FORMER REPUBLICAN NEW HAMPSHIRE CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I'm wondering if she was pushed back in. I mean, if she was pushed to come back long before she was ready, encephalitis can be a long-lasting illness.

CAMEROTA: By whom? Who would have pressured her?

BROWN: Well, I don't know, Chuck Schumer, maybe other members who absolutely need her for a vote. You know, she's key in the judiciary committee. The president is having a difficult time getting his nominees through. It's important to get somebody in there that can provide a vote for the Democrats and help to push through some of those nominees.

CAMEROTA: Coleman, how old is too old to serve in Congress?

COLEMAN HUGHES, HOST, CONVERSATIONS WITH COLEMAN PODCAST: So, to your point, the word Senate and senile actually come from the same Latin root.

AVLON: Is that right?

HUGHES: That is right. The word is --

AVLON: Nice etymology there.

HUGHES: -- senex, which literally means old man. So, this idea that the elderly who should lead us has very deep root, and there's something to it, which is that you have experience, you have wisdom but there's a limit, right?

And I think, you know, a good question to ask is what does the market think is the best for leadership, right? What the average age -- yes, so like the average CEO of a Fortune 500 company, I looked up, 57.


The median age for an MLB coach, manager, is about 50, 52.

So, the market seems to think the 50s are prime time for a leader because you've got the experience, you've got decades of wisdom, but you also still have the mental acuity, right? But in politics, there's this wait your turn mentality, where if you run for office too young, everyone else in the world of politics looks down on you like you're skipping the line, and so we end up with leaders that are just not in their prime and this is what we're seeing.

CAMEROTA: So interesting that you say that Coleman, because, Emma, let's look at how old in terms of the current Congress, okay, which is a quite old Congress, in terms of this is how many are 75 years or older. Let me put up the list. There are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, that are 75 or older. As our youngest member of the panel, what are your thoughts on this?

EMMA GOLDBERG, BUSINESS REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Maybe we need to transition from senex to Gen X, right? It will be time. I did -- I was looking enough as well, and over 60 percent of Congress is made up of boomers and the silent generation.

And I think we also need to think about who has the greatest stake in some of the public policy issues that are on the table. I mean, think about who's going to be living on this planet that's wrecked by climate change. Who's going to be feeling the ramifications of artificial intelligence and social media?

I think young people have a lot of both particular insight and particular energy when it comes to thinking about how to innovate and regulate some of the most urgent issues that are facing us. And I think one of the motivating issues is because that we're all seeing the images that are coming out of Feinstein's return, I saw an exchange between reporters at the L.A. Times who were asking her about her return, and she seemed to indicate she hadn't even thought she'd been gone.

So, I think there are really questions about mental acuity and physical fitness, but then also about who can really bring the energy and the imagination that's needed to govern on some of the fast-moving issues that are going to affect Gen Z and Millennials.

CAMEROTA: So, are we comfortable with an age limit? Is that we're suggesting?

AVLON: I think. There's a lot of different ways to be 75, a lot of different ways to be 80. But when you have someone in a position of real power representing, you know, the most populous state in the nation having a hard time locating herself, saying she was not, in fact, out of work. Look, that's just cruel. That's unkind. It is not respecting the dignity of the service she has given to-date. So, as long as somebody is crisp and clear, at some point, there's diminishing returns. But we should be focusing more on less people being in office for decades. That itself is also fine.

BROWN: Term limits. I'm all for term limits. I think that we need term limits.

CAMEROTA: For how long to be a senator?

BROWN: Three -- for Senate, two, two terms.

AVLON: 12, you think 12 years?

BROWN: Yes. And for Congress, three.

CAMEROTA: And does that -- would you -- you'd rather see that than an age limit or do you also the idea --

BROWN: No. I would rather see term limits. Because I think that would automatically help to keep, you know, people from spending.

AVLON: Yes. I think both that may be too limited a time, but I think also that would create -- the power would all be in the staff. That would create then a permanent government in the part of the staff if there's that high a turnover.

CAMEROTA: What do you think?

BROWN: I don't think so.

HUGHES: Lots of places and lots of jobs have mandatory retirement ages. Other countries in Europe do it differently. You can't be president before, what, you're 35. No one seems uncomfortable with there being an age limit on the younger side for some reason. But the notion that there could be an age limit on the older side is like somehow people lose their minds. I think that that would be a pretty equitable and wise way to deal with the issue.

BROWN: I think you would also face some discrimination, though.

HUGHES: I don't think it should be 75. I think 75 is way too young. 80 maybe.

BROWN: Ageism is a real too.

And like you said, to your point, an 80-year-old in one person could be very different from an 80-year-old in another person. My mother is 85, and4, and she's younger than me. So --

CAMEROTA: How does that happen? How does that work?

Yes, okay. I mean, so what's -- so, last then, what's going to happen with Dianne Feinstein? What's going to happen here? What's going to happen next?

GOLBERG: I think that's what a lot of people are wondering. And I think people are also thinking about this as a little bit of an indication of what comes next. How do we incentivize young people to feel empowered to run for office? And I think when young people look at Congress and the visual, they have resembles their grandparents, I don't know that that's the most motivating image.

CAMEROTA: All right. Thank you all very much for all of that.

HUGHES: You clearly haven't seen my grandparents.

CAMEROTA: Next, Walgreens will pay San Francisco nearly $230 million for its role in the city's opioid epidemic.


But can they use that money to fix what the mayor calls brazen open air drug dealing? We'll discuss that.


CAMEROTA: All right. The city of San Francisco has reached a $230 million settlement with Walgreens for its role in the distribution of opioids. A federal judge ruled that the pharmacy chain could be held liable for contributing to the city's opioid epidemic.

Joining us now is David Chiu, the San Francisco City attorney. Mr. Chew, thank you so much for being here.

Can you just explain why Walgreens? Because I think we're all familiar with the role that Purdue Pharma had, the role that unscrupulous doctors had, but isn't Walgreens, isn't a pharmacy just following doctor's orders when they fill your prescription?

DAVID CHIU, SAN FRANCISCO CITY ATTORNEY: Well, you know, one would think, but there were many companies that were involved in creating this opioid crisis. What we discovered as we brought this lawsuit against Walgreens and others is that Walgreens played a significant role in pushing patients to consume the prescription opioids that they got addicted to. They pressured their pharmacist to fill, fill, fill their prescriptions, and that came from corporate hierarchy. They were chasing billions of dollars of profit over safety, and in that time period, they were not in compliance with federal law. So, this is why they absolutely have played a role in this opioid crisis that we see playing out on our streets every day.


CAMEROTA: I mean, I know this is a moot point because the city won, and Walgreens has to pay. But here is Walgreens' statement. They said Walgreens disputes liability, and there is no admission of fault in the settlement agreement. We never manufactured or marketed opioids nor did we distribute them to pill mills and internet pharmacies. Did you want them to admit fault in this?

CHIU: I think the fact that they have agreed to pay our city $230 million says what it needs to say. It's the largest single award for any city in the country by one single opioid defendant. It came after a trial where a federal judge in his opinion documented exactly what Walgreens did in violating lawsuit and being part of the cycle of addiction.

The fact of the matter is we see the suffering on our streets every day all across America. It's easy to blame the folks who are right in front of us. But it's important to remember that they were some of the most profitable companies in the world that engineered this health crisis, that engineered this cycle of addiction.

CAMEROTA: In terms of the rampant drug use that people have seen on the streets of San Francisco, how much can you attribute to Walgreens? And the reason I ask is because Mayor London Breed wrote a letter, this was in March of 2023. She said she was most concerned about drug dealing on the streets, describing dealers as becoming increasingly aggressive with police, ambassadors, other city workers and residence with violence and shootings surrounding, quote, brazen open air drug dealing scenes. So, that sounds like it's beyond Walgreens.

CHIU: Well, certainly drug dealers play a very significant role in this in providing the supply of drugs. But the demand, I would suggest, was really cultivated by the opioid industry, and I'll explain why. So, when we talk about the cycle of addiction, there's a direct connection between the addictions we're seeing on our streets today and what happened some years ago, in the 1990s, when companies created very dangerous and addictive prescription opioids. They manufactured this crisis of undiagnosed pain. They marketed these products as safe. They were lying. There were millions of Americans, an entire generation that got addicted to prescription opioids. They abused them, and then they shifted to street drugs, like heroin and fentanyl.

In the trial we admitted evidence that 70 to 80 percent of the heroin users on our streets began their addictions with prescription opioids. And that's exactly what Walgreen's was pushing. Also in the trial, it came out that Walgreens had over 1.2 million prescriptions just in our city alone that should have been red flagged under the law, but they looked the other way to chase their profits, and as a result, addicted members of our community, our brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers to this, and that is what is causing the suffering on our streets, the addicts on our streets who are consuming heroin and fentanyl today.

CAMEROTA: And last, Mr. Chiu, I've read that the city of San Francisco estimates it could cost $8.1 billion to abate the crisis. How will $230 million spread over 14 years solve that?

CHIU: Well, I should mention we have actually at this time a total of over $350 million of settlements from a variety of companies. But I'll also say this, that there is no amount of money that will bring back the lives that we have lost. We have all experienced these tragedies. We mourn every day for those we have lost. But this is money, hundreds of millions of dollars that will help to address the suffering that we're seeing and hopefully help us to turn the corner of this opioid crisis.

CAMEROTA: David Chiu, thank you very much for all the information. We really appreciate it.

CHIU: Thanks for having me on.

CAMEROTA: We're back now with John Avlon, Gail Huff Brown, Coleman Hughes and Emma Goldberg.

So, Coleman, your thoughts?

HUGHES: Yes. So, I have a family member who's had surgeries and been prescribed Oxycontin once in 2020, once in 2022 -- or actually in 2019. And in 2019, she got Oxycontin. And after just a few days went off of it and had withdrawal symptoms, right? And the doctor, the surgeon, nobody warned her that this was going to happen, and it happened that fast.

Cut to last year, had a similar surgery, got less Oxy this time, and when I was picking it up at the pharmacy, the pharmacist had a whole protocol. I couldn't get it immediately. There had to be a double and a triple check.

So, it seems like things are changing in the right direction, and this lawsuit is a part of that. What really disturbs me is not that big pharma didn't do its due diligence. I think no one is surprised by that. What really disturbs me is the fact-finding in this lawsuit suggests that a lot of doctors are overprescribing drugs because they are somehow getting kickbacks.


Not just like 1 percent of doctors, like -- right, he said 1.2 million, right? So, you do the math. That had to be a lot of doctors that are essentially corrupt. And how do you trust your doctor after a finding like this?

CAMEROTA: Gail, this was in San Francisco, you're in New Hampshire that is no stranger to this. BROWN: No stranger at all. In fact, New Hampshire got $310 million over 18 years. And I will say the money does help. There's no question about it.

CAMEROTA: What do they apply to? Like are these to rehabs? Where do they put the money to?

BROWN: The money goes to programs, to rehab. It goes to communities, because the people shouldering this are the firefighters, the EMTs. I interviewed a firefighter in Colebrook, New Hampshire, who had been to the same house over a dozen times to resuscitate, with Narcan, the same woman who ultimately died of a drug overdose, opioid related. And it's tragic. These are the people that are seeing it day in and day out.

A lot of money goes to help these communities that are hiring more people, that have to buy the Narcan and be able to help. But it's a desperate problem.

But I'll tell you, money isn't the only solution. You have to have family support. You have to have people around you. I think a lot of these people, they just don't have that support system, and they end up in rehab for a month, and then they're back out. Two months later, they're back at it again.

AVLON: And I think San Francisco, in some ways, has become the poster child for that kind of civic chaos that gets created in the wake of the combination of drug addiction, hopelessness, homelessness, and creating civic disorder.

But I do think there's a real question about where this money is going to go in the case of San Francisco. It's not going to make a dent in the larger issue. But throwing money at problems unless, it's targeted, it just gets absorbed back in the coffers. There are a lot of municipal costs that come from drug addiction of this sort, this epidemic.

CAMEROTA: Meaning like Gail was talking about, the firefighters.

AVLON: Yes, absolutely, E.R. docs and everything else. But how the money is going to be used is really the question. If it's just going to get reabsorbed into the budget, it's not going to make a dent in dealing with the underlying problem.

GOLBERG: I mean, I do have to think every dollar towards these problems is enormously helpful, especially because, I mean, when you're looking at a crisis of this magnitude, it's so challenging to even conceive of what does accountability look like. Like there's so many individuals and so many corporations and groups that contributed to this crisis being at the scale that it is today.

And so I think any moment in any situation in which we can get some form of accountability and some money on the table towards the services people desperately need, especially in a place like San Francisco. I mean, even since the start of this year, 268 people have died of accidental overdoses. That's 72 more than the year before that. So, this problem is actually continuing to grow larger. And I think any moment that we have where we can, you know, have some form of accountability and some dollars behind that is a step in the right direction.

AVLON: I think it's a question of how it's targeted, what it's being used for. The assumption that it's going to go directly towards solving that problem is an assumption. I've not been able to find documentation. We know there are cases where large dollar amounts are given to larger civic problems, and they don't tend to make a dent in it. So, it's really a question how it's going to be deployed. Is it going to be targeted or not?

GOLDBERG: I would say, what's the alternative that the money, you know, is distributed?

HUGHES: Here's an idea. Refund the police. San Francisco has had one of the worst records in the past three years in terms of soft on crime, mass retirements, police force shrinking, people getting their house broken into over and over and over again and the police don't come. Refund the police.

BROWN: I like that.

AVLON: That would be targeted.

CAMEROTA: All right. On that note, thank you all very much.

Okay. So, what happens when accusations and judgments happen in the court of public opinion well before a court of law? John is here to take a look at this case right after this.



CAMEROTA: Tonight, we want to explore the case of ex-Buffalo Bill Matt Araiza and what happens when an ugly accusation is tried in the court of public opinion versus a court of law.

John Avlon is here with a segment we call Upon Further Review. John, tell us what we need to know.

AVLON: It should go without saying that all accusations of sexual assault need to be taken seriously, but being convicted in the court of public opinion is not the same thing as being convicted in a court of law. And that's especially true if charges are never filed because investigations exonerate the accused but that information is not fully released to the public.

And that's what seems to have happened in the case of Buffalo Bills Punter Matt Araiza, a rookie who was cut from the team after ugly accusations went public.

Now, the incident in question occurred in October 2021 when Araiza was still an undergraduate at San Diego State University, where he'd broken an NCAA record capped by an 86-yard punt. Before he ever played a regular season game for the Bills, a civil lawsuit alleged that he participated in a brutal gang rape of a 17-year-old girl at an off campus party.

The details were awful. And though Araiza denied it at the time, the Bills cut ties with him almost immediately. The accusations received extensive coverage from leading sports reporters and mainstream outlets and, in some cases, they seemed to assume his guilt.

But after 124-day investigation, local prosecutors announced in December that they would not file criminal charges. The decision was based on an investigation that included more than 35 taped witness interviews, ten search warrants and turned over four terabytes of digital information, including videos from the party and tracking data.

In addition, CNN has obtained a 200-page-plus transcript of a conversation between the D.A.'s office, the accuser and her attorney, in which the deputy D.A. lays out the evidence and explains why criminal charges weren't being filed.


Bottom-line, the D.A. concluded that Araiza had left the party before the alleged sexual assault took place. Now, the attorney for the young woman says that a civil case is still going forward, stating, our case alleges more than gang rape, it also alleges statutory rape and rape by intoxication, based on sex, Araiza admits he had with my client before the gang rape occurred. Whether he'd left before the gang rape occurred hardly vindicates him, they said.

Well, Araiza in court filing says that any alleged relations were consensual. In an interview with the "San Diego Union Tribune," Araiza reiterated his innocence. Says that this experience woke him up to the reality of how quickly your life can change. He still hopes that some team will sign him.

Now, as columnist Mary Katherine Ham, a former CNN contributor, wrote for "OutKick" the coverage, quote, in 2023, where does Matt Araiza go to get his reputation and career back? Should he be treated as toxic because of the accusation when he hasn't been charged let alone convicted or should it be given a second chance?

Now, whenever allegations of sexual assault occur those women should be heard the allegations should be fully investigated. But that does not mean that we should skip over due process, or ignore relevant facts. Truth is the goal of both the justice system and journalism. It can be an elusive goal.

But sometimes there's a rush to judgment based on initial information. But when the facts come in, the principles of justice and journalism require that the truth be spoken at least as loudly as the initial accusations. That's just the right thing to do upon further review.

CAMEROTA: John, thank you so much for that. Thank you for doing such a deep dive into all of the transcript and the background and the research on that. Emma, let's talk about that very thought-provoking question. What does

happen to Matt Araiza and his reputation and his future in the absence of a charge or a conviction?

EMMA GOLDBERG, BUSINESS REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: I think that's an important question, but I also -- first of all, you know, in all the reading that I've done about this case, what sticks with me first and foremost is how unbelievably challenging, heartbreaking, just wrenching it is for a woman to come forward and report sexual misconduct, sexual assault, any kind of untoward sexual behavior. It's just one of the most challenging situations I think any woman can go through.

I saw this on my college campus when we were, you know, trying to change our process for reporting sexual assault and I spoke with so many classmates who were going through the process. And it's just the kind of factors that people run through their mind about disclosing things to their family, to their friends, at, you know, facing the accuser.

It's just not a decision anybody takes lightly. And that was really one of the things that was running through my head, as I saw the decision not to go forward with the criminal charges. It's just one of the most challenging situations any woman can go through. And we've all seen this play out in the Me Too movement over the last few years. I think we've been reminded time and again that this isn't a decision anyone takes lightly. And that you know is the foremost issue that I think people should be holding on.

CAMEROTA: I'm glad you point that out. And I'm also glad that you bring it up on college campuses. This is an epidemic on college campuses, or at least I think -- I think that's a fair way to characterize it. This happens a lot because they don't, the rules are -- are sort of squishy on college campuses. The college offices often don't want to call the police. They often sweep this stuff under the carpet.

GAIL HUFF-BROWN, FORMER BROADCASTER: They waited seven months to carry out an investigation in this case. Seven months. The community was never notified, people on campus. And I am aware it happened off- campus, the incident. But oftentimes, even in those cases, the community will be notified because it involves students. But the San Diego State, they did nothing to notify people, to pursue an investigation, to do anything to uncover what exactly had happened. I'm the mother of two daughters.

And you know, when you read some of the details of this case, it is horrifying. I don't know where she goes to get her dignity back. I think he's going to have to wait until this plays out in the courts in the lawsuit.

CAMEROTA: Civilly.

HUFF-BROWN: Right, right, civilly. In the lawsuit before he's able to sort of resurrect his career. COLEMAN HUGHES, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE FREE PRESS: Look, I don't

think public opinion should get ahead of the justice system. I think we know from organizations like the Innocence Project that there are just they alone have exonerated hundreds and hundreds of men falsely accused of rape from prison, proven innocent because of DNA testing technology that wasn't available when they went into prison. And I believe the reason --

CAMEROTA: This isn't a false accusation.


CAMEROTA: The police agree something horrible happened.



But the reason I bring that up is only because the reason we have a criminal justice system is because the court of public opinion so often is a horrible way of judging the details of a situation. That's why we create a legal system to have these procedures where all evidence is admitted and that is a better way of actually getting real justice. So it's always tempting to get ahead of that process but I think we always should restrain ourselves and wait for that to play out.

CAMEROTA: Yes, except what Gail is saying, sometimes that is sluggish. The process of the campus doing their due diligence or even the police, it takes a long time and so are you saying that the Buffalo Bills shouldn't have let him go?

HUGHES: No, I don't think they should have stuck by him until the legal process took its course. Look, the reason we have a legal system is because anyone can accuse anyone of anything, right? And then what we know from cases like the Central Park Five, you know, Tawana Brawley, like these famous cases, it's always better to let the system play out, than jumping to one's first emotional reaction.

GOLDBERG: The court of public opinion can't throw anyone in prison. I would argue that's important.

HUGHES: Thank God it can't.

GOLDBERG: Well, it's important to look at the consequence. I mean, we are still -- the judicial system is still doing its job. And I would just remember that the rate of people coming forward with false accusations of sexual assault is so low. It really, really rarely happens when you think about just how consequential that decision is, how emotional and how fraught.

AVLON: It is, but I think to Coleman's point, you know, the due process and the investigations need to occur. This is a heart- wrenching story on every level. And this is not anything analogous to Duke-LaCrosse or whatever examples people want to put forward from the past. CAMEROTA: Do you think the Buffalo Bill should have let him go?

AVLON: I think it's understandable why they reacted that way but I don't -- but I don't -- I think he should get a second chance if he is exonerated going forward. He's been exonerated from criminal charges in an incredibly thorough investigation, and that you can't just dismiss that even if that may be your impulse the civil case trial that was will apparently go forward has -- has lower thresholds And that's a separate consideration But this seems like a tragedy for everyone involved. But the major issue, I think, that I was trying to get at is when the accusations get widespread coverage and the investigation does not reach those conclusions of the accusation, then that deserves equal amplification to the extent that's possible.

HUFF-BROWN: And I agree. And the media has to take some responsibility there, too. I mean, we have to be responsible for making sure that -- that follow-up, as you just did, is brought to the public's attention. It's one thing to say so-and-so got charged with something, but it's another to follow up and say, or is accused, but it's another to follow up and say, you know, that nothing resulted from it.

CAMEROTA: Yes, a status update. I really appreciate you doing that. Thank you all. Thanks so much.

Okay, a surge in book banning has a lot of people concerned, and now an organization is going to the courts to try to do something about it. They're suing a school district. We'll explain that.




CAMEROTA: A new lawsuit is targeting a Florida school district over the removal of books on race and identity issues from school libraries. Book publisher Penguin Random House, along with several parents, authors, and the free-speech advocacy group, PEN America, filed the suit against the Escambia County School District. The suit argues that school officials violated the First Amendment in restricting access to books.

Here with me now is PEN America CEO, Suzanne Nossel. Ms. Nossel, thanks so much for being here. Tell us the grounds for this lawsuit.

SUZANNE NOSSEL, CEO, PEN AMERICA: Sure. This case is emblematic of what we are seeing in a pattern across the country. We have hundreds of books that have been challenged by a single individual, one person, lodging a kind of summary challenge, clearly not even having read these books. And that initiates a process whereby in Escambia County, there's a review committee that reads the book, that deliberates over whether the book should be on the classroom shelves.

And there are cases after case where that committee agreed that the book had value, that this was something children should have access to, that kids could benefit from these stories. But nonetheless, the school board overrode their decision, took the books off the shelves, and is denying kids their freedom to read.

And so it's part of a pattern we're seeing across the country, and we wanted to take action and challenge this. We're challenging it under the 1st and 14th Amendments.

CAMEROTA: Can you tell us some of the titles of these books that students have lost access to? These books that we would know, are they generally new books? Are they generally books about transgender students? Is there a way to categorize them?

NOSSEL: You know, it's a long list. I mean, there are authors like Toni Morrison on the list, like Judy Blume. There are books like, "And Tango Makes Three," which is a story of two penguins in Central Park Zoo, two male penguins that come together to raise an orphan baby penguin.

And we do see a clear trend, and it's part of our case, is that these books overwhelmingly are by and about authors of color and LGBTQ narratives, that shows clear intent on the part of this district to exclude certain stories, to target particular populations and essentially erase them from these libraries.

CAMEROTA: What do you say to parents who say that they wanna have, that this is about parental rights, they wanna have control over what their children are exposed to?


NOSSEL: You can have control over what books kids bring home. But what this is, is taking the opinion of a single, it's not even a parent. When it comes to most of these challenges, it's actually a teacher in the school and having that person essentially dictate what 37,000 kids in a school district can and can't read. That is a matter of parental rights. It's the rights of all these other parents that are really in jeopardy here.

CAMEROTA: What do you want out of the Escambia School District? What are you fighting for here?

NOSSEL: Sure, we want to affirm the principle that book banning violates the First Amendment, that book banning when it targets people of color.

We want the books put back on shelves. We want to vindicate kids' freedom to read. The idea that books are dangerous, that kids in American public schools are being taught, that books are going to imperil them or corrupt them. You know, that is not how we educate a democratic citizenry. And we really think it's important that the court reform those principles.

CAMEROTA: While I have you, I want to ask you about Salman Rushdie, because he has made his first public in-person appearance since being attacked. Courage Award at the annual literary gala for PEN America. So tell us about that. What did he say?

NOSSEL: Well, it was very moving, Alisyn. Salomon has been very close to PEN America for decades. And when he was attacked last summer, it was devastating, many months went by. We didn't know if we'd see him again, what kind of condition he would be in. So he came tonight to greet everyone. He gave a powerful message about his commitment to the organization. We gave him an award for courage. He said, the real courage is not me, but it's those who leapt to the stage at Chicago, when he was attacked and saved his life and pinned down his attacker.

And he implored all of us to not give in to terror, to those who would strike fear, to those who seek to intimidate, and to stand up and continue to speak our truth. And it was an enormously powerful moment for all of our supporters and for free-speech defenders from around the world.

CAMEROTA: Suzanne Nossel, thank you for your time tonight and explaining to us what's happening.

NOSSEL: Thanks so much, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Okay, Charles Barkley going off on John Morant, the NBA player suspended for a second time for appearing to flash a gun. You're going to want to hear this. We'll play it for you, next.




CAMEROTA: Charles Barkley, never one to hold back his opinions, is criticizing Memphis Grizzlies guard, Ja Morant, and the people defending him over his latest gun incident. An Instagram live video on Sunday showed Morant, a rising star in the NBA, flashing a gun. The Grizzlies then suspended him from all team activities pending a review of the incident. Here's Barkley's message to Morant.


CHARLES BARKLEY, HOST, INSIDE THE NBA: When you're making $100 million a year, to play sports. Your life changes. There are certain rules and regulations you have to live by, plain and simple. You can't do stupid stuff. That's the tradeoff. Now, if you want to do all that stuff and give all that money back, more power to you. You can make that stance. You know what? I want to do what I want to do. I want to flash my gun and make videos and do things. Okay, that's fine. But you can't make money on the NBA doing this stuff.

I just hope that he grows up and realized like, yo man, first of all, you're not a thug. You're not a criminal. You're not a crook. You're a guy making a hundred million dollars a year to dribble us --


BARKLEY: -- 200 million to dribble a stupid basketball.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CAMEROTA: 100 million, 200, you know, details. In March, Morant was suspended by the league for eight games without pay after another video was posted showing him holding a gun at a Colorado nightclub.

I'm back with John and Coleman. Ok, Coleman, your thoughts here?

HUGHES: More important than the amount of money he makes is that when you're in the NBA you are a role model to You know hundreds of thousands millions of kids all around the world I know when I was a kid I very much looked up to basketball players and to -- to set that kind of an example for them. That's really what is most calling about this I do hope that he grows, I think he will and if he does he should absolutely have the chance to come back in the fold. But for now he does have to face consequences.

CAMEROTA: Here's what he said, John. I know I've disappointed a lot of people who have supported me. This is a journey and I recognize there is more work to do. My words may not mean much right now, but I take full responsibility for my actions. I'm committed to continuing to work on myself.

So I mean, it's legal to have a gun. Why can't he have one?

AVLON: Well, that's actually what Charles Barkley was getting at, right? Just as you can doesn't mean you should. And it gets to the point about with great power, with great privilege comes responsibility. You know, that guy has a contract for just a $200 million for five years. And because he's in a position where he's a role model, whether he wants to be one or not, it means you give up certain liberties. You know, yes, you have a constitutional right to carry a firearm, flash it around.

But it's not. Consistent with the responsibilities he has as a role model. Maybe that's the journey he's talking about. But, you know, and you could point out that politicians do this all too much. They brandish their guns and set a bad example too. Fair enough. But you've got to start somewhere. So, you know, Ja Morant, you know, if you want to take that note, Charles Barkley is saying, you know, you don't flash your firearm all over the joint.

CAMEROTA: John, Coleman, Thank you both very much.


Okay, coming up, some of our top reporters are here to talk about the stories they're working on for tomorrow, including the feud between Ron DeSantis and Disney. We're with them next.


CAMEROTA: Hi, everyone. Thanks for tuning into this hour where we bring you tomorrow's news tonight. We have our great lineup of reporters here with me tonight. Jeremy Diamond, Alayna Treane, Miguel Marquez and Sarah Fisher. Great to have all of you here on the couch.

Okay, so we begin with body camera footage of yet another mass shooting in America, this one in New Mexico.