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Inside Politics

Haugen: Facebook is "Putting its Profits before People"; Whistleblower: Facebook Deepens Divides, Destabilizes Democracies, Sows Violence; Pence says he and Trump "Parted Amicably" after 1/6 Threats; NIH Director Steps Down as Key Positions in Biden Administration Remain Unfilled. Aired 12-12.30p ET

Aired October 05, 2021 - 12:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: --John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Mike Pence and insurrection amnesia, the Former Vice President says the media is hyping what happened on January 6th. This as another Trump White House insider says she is worried to Trump come back would bring the 1/6 crew into the White House.

Plus, the top public health official steps down in the middle of the COVID pandemic. The White House now must replace Dr. Francis Collins and the top FDA job that's still vacant too. President Biden heading right now to a Michigan battleground congressional district, he's urging Democrats to accept a smaller spending plan, and he's also searching for a path prevent a government default.

We begin though with important and damning testimony up on Capitol Hill. Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen telling Senators, the social media giant time and time again put profits over safety. Despite evidence its platforms were harming children, and inciting hate and violence.


FRANCES HAUGEN, FACEBOOK WHISTLEBLOWER: I saw Facebook repeatedly encounter conflicts between its own profits and our safety. Facebook consistently resolved these conflicts in favor of its own profits. The result has been more division, more harm, more lies, more threats, and more combat. In some cases, this dangerous online talk has led to actual violence that harms and even kills people.


KING: Haugen says the company hides evidence of the damaging impact and that the responsibility rests with Mark Zuckerberg.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HAUGEN: Mark has built an organization that is very metrics driven, that isn't - it is intended to be flat, there is no unilateral responsibility. The metrics make the decision, unfortunately, that itself is a decision. And in the end, if he is the CEO, and the Chairman of Facebook, he is responsible for those decisions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The buck stops with him.

HAUGEN: The buck stops with him.


KING: With me now to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Donie O'Sullivan and Jennifer Grygiel, Assistant Professor of Communications and Social Media at Syracuse University. Donie let me start with you up on Capitol Hill. What jumped out at you as the most compelling and most important testimony today, as members of this committee and other members of Congress tried to debate what should we do about it?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's all about the kids. You know, this is what I think is so compelling, and which is so emotive and why we're even seeing some talk of bipartisanship here on the committee that is about protecting the most vulnerable people in our society, children.

And that is what this whistleblower Frances Haugen, who frankly is a nightmare for Facebook right now she is articulate, compelling. And she's speaking like a normal person. You know, oftentimes, tech executives come up here they sound like robots when they're explaining these things. She is laying it all out very, very clearly.

And look, this is something that we a lot of us know to be true also, right? There's so many of us can relate to having people in our lives who have become addicted to social media who've been harassed on social media, who have gone down rabbit holes of misinformation, or as this hearing has been talking a lot about eating disorders.

And we saw this week as well how Senator Blumenthal's office found that Instagram was pushing eating disorder accounts at promoting eating disorder pages to a teenagers account, John.

KING: And Jennifer Grygiel, it's the scope of this. Donie is talking about children on Instagram, going to being steered essentially into conversations about anorexia being bullied by classmates, and then you have the other end of the spectrum?

Ms. Haugen also talking about violence and hate speech and saying the company knows it's there. And I want you to listen to this part where she talked about before the election, yes; Facebook essentially turned it off or turned the switch to set a higher bar, but then reopened the floodgates.


HAUGEN: The choices that were happening on the platform were really about how reactive and twitchy was the platform, right? Like how viral was the platform? And Facebook changed those safety defaults in the run up to the election because they knew they were dangerous.

And because they wanted that growth back, they wanted the celebration of the platform back after the election, they return to their original defaults, and the fact that they had to break the glass on January 6th, and turn them back on. I think that's deeply problematic.


KING: When you hear that part about deeply problematic, one of the challenges is a number one who had Facebook, should we be making these decisions? Should it be individual? Should it be artificial intelligence? Number two, how transparent must the company be should the company be to parents but also to members of Congress?

Do you get a sense now that members that are there a bipartisan consensus or they're beginning to start having those conversations about what should be regulated and what should Facebook and other platforms be forced to show us?

JENNIFER GRYGIEL, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF COMMUNICATIONS & SOCIAL MEDIA, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY: I'm happy to that she's testifying because as an external researcher, it was very difficult to be able to draw that conclusion for the public. So now we have the inside information that helps to provide that transparency.


GRYGIEL: And so to put this in context, it's almost as if Instagram and Facebook platforms are mediating society. This isn't just about cyber-bullying that people are experiencing. It's a societal pressure that is building within teenagers that are driving them towards self- harm towards eating disorders.

And let me tell you, I'm here to provide context. Believe these parents that have been talking to Senator Blumenthal, it is horrific, what is happening, I don't think there's been enough context around exactly what an eating disorder looks like.

What you see are images of children starving themselves on this platform, and then others witnessing that and replicating it. That is why Instagram especially is so dangerous, and the same with self, other forms of self-harm.

KING: And so let's hear a little bit more about that. Because I again, I think sometimes you need to shock the system in Congress, especially given the polarization especially given legitimate issues about free speech and government regulation, or private industry, you have to shock the system. Let's listen to a little bit more from the whistleblower Ms. Haugen about the issue of cigarettes.


HAUGEN: I would like to emphasize one of the documents that we send in on problematic use examined the rates of problematic use by age, and that peaked with 14 year olds, it's what - it's just like cigarettes, teenagers don't have good self-regulation. They say explicitly, I feel bad when I use Instagram, and yet I can't stop.


KING: The question then becomes Donie, what next? What regulatory steps? What can you force this company, which has resisted these efforts before and which spends a boatload of lobbyists to stop Congress, you get a compelling hearing like this; you get a great witness like this? But a couple of days past Facebook's money machine kick in and nothing happens.

O'SULLIVAN: Republicans and Democrats have agreed for a long time that there has to be some regulation, a big tech, but they've had absolutely opposite ideas on what should happen. And that's all because you know, most of our conversation and national debate in this country about social media has sort of focus on the political realm.

And you know, you immediately go into first amendment issues, and there is a very legitimate debate there. But when it comes to something like this, about the protection of children about something as simple as pushing accounts that glorify anorexia and other eating disorders to kids, that is surely something that I think we can see these senators, come together on, and they certainly indicated that today.

Just one final point I want to make John, obviously, today's hearing is focused on the protection of children. But as you mentioned, and you play that clip, Haugen there spoke a bit about the guardrails Facebook had in place in the lead up to the election and the stopping the spread of misinformation.

We know they didn't work very well, but there were some guardrails. She explained how they came down before the insurrection. Facebook is pushing back and saying, well, we left some of these guardrails up, but they're not actually saying what they took down.

Adam Schiff indicated yesterday that he is interested in speaking to this whistleblower. So it's very, very likely I think that we'll see her back up here on Capitol Hill in the coming weeks.

KING: And again, the issue is then transparency and access to the information. You know if this whistleblower telling the truth, she sure sounds like she is she sort of provided documents to Congress, Facebook will push back, let's listen here.

This is Antigone Davis, who's the Head of Global Security for Facebook saying essentially, oh, we're not perfect, but we're doing our best.


ANTIGONE DAVIS, FACEBOOK GLOBAL HEAD OF SAFETY: One of the underlying principles behind the work that we do is ensuring people's safety and security. And most people really do feel quite safe and secure on our platform. So and they're coming back, and they're using our platform because they do feel safe and secure. And we are doing a good job to get that content off. But I do think that there are validation systems that people want in place.


KING: So Jennifer, help people understand, and I think you made a very important point and your earlier answer as an independent researcher, you try to do the best you can to track these platforms and how they operate, where the alarm bells should be? What changes should be made?

But your access to information is quite limited, because they control it, and they're not always welcoming to share it.

GRYGIEL: The stuff that I was seeing, especially around 2019, when the UK was looking into this issue is so graphic, we cannot show it on television. It is so graphic; I feel bad sharing with other journalists that they couldn't probably even show it in the hearing. When they compare it to smoking cigarettes it's not even close. I'm talking about mutilation and lacerations that go from the hip to their ankles. OK. I am talking about horrific self-harm.

And when these parents are saying that some of their children have been driven to suicide that is real I believe them.


GRYGIEL: And I think we need to believe parents at this point who have experienced the absolute darkness that's being promoted on especially Instagram, and we need to start to call up at - well. He is the head of this. It is not just Mark Zuckerberg at this point. He needs to also take more accountability for what is happening in the shadows on that platform.

KING: The accountability is the key word. Let's help the focus in the Congress continues to transparency, accountability and more testimony. Jennifer Grygiel grateful for the work you do great for your time today. But more importantly for the work you do. Donie O'Sullivan, I know you'll keep track of the hearing as it continues and come back to us with more news.

Coming up for us, a shift of politics and Mike Pence following the boss yet again now the Former Vice President says the media is hyping January 6th to try to demean Trump voters.



KING: Remember, Mike Pence was rushed to a secure room at the Capitol on January 6th as some rioters' storm the building and others built the gallows outside and voiced their rage. But forgive and forget is apparently the Pence view of that day now with a twist of blaming the media.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I know the media wants to distract from the Biden Administration's failed agenda by focusing on one day in January, they want to use that one day to try and demean the character and intentions of 74 million Americans who believed we could be strong again and prosperous again and supported our administration in 2016 and 2020.


KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Melanie Zanona, Seung Min Kim of "The Washington Post", NPR's Asma Khalid and Tia Mitchell of "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution". Blaming the media is a tired old trick that goes back a long way.

He was vice president, he was governor he was a congressman, we can do two things at once. We'll talk about the by the agenda later in the program, sir, thank you very much. Really, really they were storming the - they were storming the building calling for his head that day. And he wants to pretend the media is now just typing it so that we don't have to talk about other things.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: And I think it also ignores the fact that Former President Trump continues to spread the same misinformation and disinformation about the general election that helped fuel that riot that day. He's still talking about it.

So the media is talking about it. Number one, because there were people who are arrested and faced charges, serious charges. But Former President Trump hasn't let it go either.

ASMA KHALID, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: But Trump is the icon of the Republican Party, right and the Republican Party really waiting in limbo to see whether he'll run or not, again in 2024? I would argue like what are their choices does Mike Pence have if he wants to retain a position in the current Republican Party?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: It's a sad calculation. But that is clearly what the calculation is. I mean, the litmus test in the GOP is do you believe that like lie or not, and we're starting to see Pence wrap his arms around that narrative even though he didn't overturn the election results.

We're also learning from recent books that came out that he actually was desperately trying to find ways to do that behind the scenes and so he wasn't necessarily the constitutional hero that he was made out to be.

KING: Right. So Pence to hold some place in today's Republican Party has to still parrot the boss and spew misinformation. Even though the evidence before us maybe the January 6th Committee will find out something else was that while his life was in danger, as long as the Speaker of the House and other members of Congress while they were building a gallows outside and chanting hang Mike Pence, we don't know that the President of the United States at the time Mr. Trump did anything.


KING: And yet, now he has to follow the law.

KIM: Right. And that just speaks to the power that President Trump retains over the Republican Party these days and just a reminder to not only Mike Pence, but to everyone that that one day in January was the most significant breach of our Capitol since the war of 1812 just to be clear.

But again, like Asma was saying in terms of a political choice, Mike Pence doesn't have a lot of options here and are reporting from my colleagues at "The Washington Post" show that President Trump is very closely watching a couple of potential Republican contenders in 2024.

You know, Ron DeSantis of Florida, being one and Mike Pence seeing the other. We've seen some moves that Former Vice President Pence has made by going to Iowa making some clear, telegraphing some clear potential future bids should President Trump not run again but because of just the big lie that's perpetuated in today's Republican primary. This is this really this balance that Pence is trying to strike despite what is true, and what is out there?

KING: To that point remember, he's on Hannity, number one. So he wants to minimize what happened on January 6th, despite him being rushed by his secret service detail to safety. And then he also wants to make clear to any Trump voters out there watching. Maybe the boss won't run maybe there'll be some reason he doesn't run. And if I run remember, we're still buds.


PENCE: I can tell you that we parted amicably at the end of the administration, and we've talked a number of times since we both left office.


KING: No problem.

MITCHELL: Yes, I think that's - it's just so interesting. The reality of January 6th that I think Republicans we continue to see them try to minimize. I was in the Capitol that day. It was a serious breach of security, a serious threat to the safety of elected officials.

And it's just very interesting that Republicans whose own safety was threatened that day are still prioritizing allegiance to Former President Trump over their own safety in some, some aspects.


KING: One who is not and she's been criticized for other reasons to bring them up if you wish, but Stephanie Grisham who worked in the Trump White House for a long time, now wrote as writing a book - written a book.

She does not like what she saw at least that's what she says in the book. And she worries listen to this that because of what we're talking about, because Republicans will clearly condemn what happened that day will clearly condemned the former president. She says if there's a Trump come back, he's going to bring a lot of those people inside the gates.


STEPHANIE GRISHAM, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY & COMMUNICATION DIRECTOR: Well, if people think that the people in that Trump White House are bad, perhaps I have a feeling the 1/6 crowd might be working in the White House in 2024, or the Sydney Powell, or the Rudy Giuliani's.


KING: But she is a minority voice, if you will, in Trump land, willing to speak out and criticize them. And again, the Trump team attacks her says she has no credibility.

KIM: Right. And it's also set aside her own credibility issues at the White House that she admitted to in these rounds of interviews promoting her book that she lied about Former Chief of Staff, John Kelly, and other issues.

But I thought one point that she made was really interesting, in light of some of the other reporting that's been out there is that one of the reasons that she's speaking out so forcefully is that she is more convinced that President Trump will run again in 2024.

And that's what our reporting has indicated that he does seem to be edging closer to a run that he actually wanted to announce something, although his advisors told him to hold off. So he, for example, wouldn't get blamed if the midterms didn't go too well, for the Republicans.

So it is worth listening to what Stephanie Grisham has to say when again, she's she has a book to promote, and whatnot and sort of the warnings that she is given because, you know, she is right. You know, if President Trump does run and win again, it will be a second term. He won't have to worry about a re-election. That's something to think about.

KING: If you're - if you're the Democrats, you would want Trump to announce now if he's correct, because then you have the issue and you have him as the issue in 2022 --

KHALID: --2020 it's like there is nothing that really galvanizes anybody, like fear and a lot of Democrats still continue to have fear of President Trump.

KING: Yes for legitimate reason in many cases. Up next for us a very big personnel change in an agency that is critical to the COVID fight. The Head of the NIH, Dr. Francis Collins is stepping down. Plus some big vaccine news we'll talk to Dr. Lena Wen after the break.



KING: Dr. Francis Collins, the longtime Head of the National Institutes of Health is stepping down. Dr. Collins is Dr. Anthony Fauci's boss, the 71 year old says after 12 years serving fewer than three presidents it's time for new leadership at NIH.

In an interview with "The Washington Post", he acknowledged the polarization and the political citation of science during this COVID pandemic. Dr. Collins is a born again Christian and when he was named to lead NIH back in 2009 some questioned whether a man of such deep faith should lead government scientists?

Let's bring in CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. This is big news. He's about A, in a giant job but B, leaving in the middle of a still chronic pandemic.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John, these will be very big shoes to fill at a very difficult time. I was just speaking with Dr. Anthony Fauci about Dr. Collins; the two men are very close. They've known each other for about 30 years.

And Dr. Fauci talked about his incredible input, what the research that he's done on cystic fibrosis on genetics is really hard to measure the scientific contributions that Dr. Collins has made over the years.

And in addition, as director, he's been really devoted to bringing in minorities to bringing in women to making those scientists Head of Institute's to put them in leadership positions. Let's take a look at a statement that Dr. Collins put out this morning.

He said I'm proud of all that we've accomplished. I fundamentally believe, however, that no single person should serve in the position too long, and that it's time to bring in a new scientist to lead the NIH into the future.

Now Dr. Fauci also mentioned just personally, how much Dr. Collins has meant to him, and he described him as just a very kind and considerate person. He actually called him folksy. He plays the guitar, he rides a motorcycle. He is a man of many interests.

And I've interviewed Dr. Collins many times over the years and what comes through is not just his scientific brilliance, but also his humility, John.

KING: His decency. You see it every time you hear him, Elizabeth Cohen grateful for that important reporting. Let's get some insights now and expertise from Dr. Leana Wen the Former City of Baltimore Health Commissioner.

Dr. Wen it is a big job and you hear the humility of Dr. Collins saying 12 years it's time for somebody else for it to happen in the middle of a pandemic at a time when some other key jobs including there's no Director of the FDA, Administrative the Food and Drug Administration right now. That's a big challenge for the White House.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: It is though I do want to add on to what Elizabeth was saying that Dr. Collins is a national treasure. He has led so many important scientific discoveries. The NIH also funds a lot of the academic research that's done in institutions around the country.

And there are so many treatments and discoveries that we have to credit Dr. Collins and his leadership for. But you're right; it is a lot of change during this time of a pandemic, the lack of an FDA Commissioner now nine months into the Biden Administration I think is something that a lot of people just do not understand.

The FDA is one of the most important agencies in the pandemic response.