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Anti-Vaccine Conservatives Dying of COVID; Lies and Conspiracies Spread about Biden; Russian and China Use Social Media to Divide the U.S.; Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) is Interviewed about Vaccine Timeline for Kids. Aired 8:30-9a ET
Aired August 31, 2021 - 08:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Recently accused the government of, quote, acting like Nazis and their push to get more Americans vaccinated and he died Saturday after a three-week battle with coronavirus.
His death comes after Phil Valentine, another conservative radio host in Tennessee, and Dick Farrel, a Florida based radio host and Newsmax anchor, also both died from coronavirus and scoffing at the need for vaccines and voicing skepticism about how effective they are.
Joining us now is CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp.
Given this new trend in what we are seeing, is there any chance it could change minds? Because we're hearing, you know, from Phil Valentine's brother who was saying, if he could tell you now to get it, he would.
S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, you hope so. I mean these are anecdotal examples, but you hope that they are jarring enough. I think this is a bigger problem, though, with right-wing media. And, you know, years ago I was asked to fill in for a right-wing radio host for a couple days. I did my job. I brought my strong opinions and passion and facts and was told after, by the station owner, that was great but you aren't outraged enough.
And I think the industrial outrage complex that has taken over right- wing media has been really corrosive. Outrage is all that matters. And I think a lot of these guys that you just mentioned really, you know, took their characters seriously and wore their characters not just on the air but when they got home, to the point that they refused a lifesaving vaccine in the midst of a global pandemic.
And, look, even Trump wasn't that method. You know, Trump got the vaccine eventually and is now getting booed at his own rallies for telling people to get it. But I think if you're a viewer or a listener and you are prone to these arguments, you are going to take these radio guys very seriously when really all they're doing is acting a part.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Look, it's a tragedy for them and their families.
CUPP: Yes. Oh.
BERMAN: It really is. It's an even bigger tragedy if people listened to them.
CUPP: Yes, and many do.
BERMAN: And many do. And then it begs the question, OK, so if the deaths of these people, with now all their families speaking out can't change minds, what can? You know, I -- I hear from scientists within the government, government scientists, who say, you know, it's hard for us because we sometimes feel, when we start speaking out on vaccines, it just backfires.
CUPP: Deaf ears.
CUPP: Yes, and I think it's important to look at the data here. This is not just the three of us talking about this out of nowhere. The data is very clear, the largest group of Americans who are unlikely to get the vaccine are white Republicans. Within that group, one of the largest groups are Republicans who watch right-wing news. This is not made up. This is a very real correlation, now cause and effect.
And you have to ask, OK, these three radio hosts hopefully will do the job. But the deaths of millions of -- of people worldwide, and hundreds of thousands of Americans, did not do that job. So you have to wonder if these people are reachable. You hope they are, but I'm not so sure.
COLLINS: And we keep hearing from the White House, you know, listen to your doctor, talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated. But in reality, a lot of people listen to people like this. They have more outsized influence than a primary care doctor would.
BERMAN: Or like a doctor named Dr. Facebook, who's not a great doctor in my experience.
S.E., stand by for a moment, if you will, because we have an audio visual presentation we'd like you to see.
A couple of just lies spreading about President Biden in certain circles. CNN fact checker Daniel Dale here to set the record straight.
DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: Two really weird, little lies about President Joe Biden went viral this past weekend among some conservatives on Twitter.
The first of these lies was that the remains of the final U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan had been returned to a U.S. military base and nobody from the Biden admiration had shown up to honor them. This claim was tweeted by a Republican congressional candidates, among others. It was amplified by a Fox News host among others. It was complete nonsense.
These tweets were tweeted on Saturday night, hours before the remains of the troops actually arrived at Dover Air Force Base. When they did land shortly after 8:00 a.m. on Sunday, President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, the secretary of state, secretary of defense and numerous other Biden administration officials were there for the dignified transfer.
The other weird lie was that President Biden fell asleep during a White House meeting last week with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Now, the video shows this, again, just did not happen. The video shows that President Biden did drop his head and keep it there right after Prime Minister Bennett made reference to that week's difficult days, presumably a reference to what happened in Afghanistan. But President Biden kept moving his hands the whole time. In other words, he was clearly awake.
And what a lot of the viral tweets cut out was that President Biden responded immediately and appropriately right after Prime Minister Bennett stopped talking.
Take a watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NAFTALI BENNETT, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Mr. President.
I look forward to working with you now and the many years forward. Thank you.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, thank you. And you give me credit, much of which should go to Barack Obama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DALE: Once again, this was a whole bunch of nonsense.
John and Kaitlan.
COLLINS: There is lying and spreading misinformation, and then there is lying and spreading misinformation about fallen soldiers while their parents have just found out in the hours before that they have died in action.
CUPP: Yes, it's appalling. But it's also, I'm sad to say, not surprising. There have been no consequence for lying, whether that's as a president, President Trump, elected officials, members of the right-wing media. There are no consequence. There is, in fact, safe harbor for doing so. And lots of people who find conspiracy theories and lies to be more comforting than facts and the truth.
So, I mean, there's blame to go around, but if you are part of the media -- and I'm looking at you, Fox News, and you are not fact checking Laura Ingraham, you are not fact checking your hosts and your anchors and your reporters, you are the problem.
BERMAN: Well, they couldn't exist. I mean, I'm sorry. I mean how could -- how could they exist as a network if all of a sudden they started fact checking --
CUPP: They started doing that, they started doing journalism? And this is not to say there isn't -- there aren't people at Fox News doing good journalism. But Fox News has, for too long now, given comfort to liars and gaslighters and fact deniers.
BERMAN: S.E. Cupp, you brighten our day. Thank you for coming here. Very nice to see you.
CUPP: Oh, thanks for having me.
BERMAN: Up next, how Russia and China are trying to take advantage of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. We have a "Reality Check," next.
COLLINS: And when can kids under 12 get a COVID-19 shot? That is a question every parent is asking and one that one lawmakers is on a quest to get answers to.
COLLINS: A blockbuster new report shows that Russia and China are using social media to, once again, divide the U.S. This time over Afghanistan. John Avlon has a "Reality Check."
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: America's foreign adversaries like to amplify our divides. They do it via social media, pushing polarization because they know it makes us weak. It's a game of divide and conquer. And many Americans are unwitting accomplices.
For example, a few months ago we learned that QAnon conspiracy theories were being pumped up by Russia and China. They've done the same thing with anti-vaxx conspiracies during COVID. And now a new report by the Althea Group, airing first here on CNN NEW DAY, shows how Russian and Chinese backed state media have been pushing memes and great propaganda to amplifying divisions around America's withdrawal from Afghanistan and some of them echo Republican riffs you might have heard.
For example, this post from R.T.'s (ph) Twitter account shows an Afghan refugee family with military grade weapons photoshopped onto their backpacks and asking, are some terrorists getting a free ride out of Afghanistan? But not for nothing, but it was posted the day after ex-President Trump released a statement asking, how many terrorists will Joe Biden bring to America, which itself was just one day after R.T. posted this tweet showing a wolf in sheep's clothing, wearing a turban, citing Vladimir Putin's warning of terrorists disguised as refugees. Russian state media also posted a meme asking whether the Taliban was trolling Joe Biden's well-known love of ice cream, while other echoed right-wing talk TV's refrain about the president' alleged diminished capacity for decision making. This continuing themes Russia pushed along with the Trump campaign back in 2020. The disinformation campaign confirmed in an ABC News report, which was initially suppressed by Trump's own Department of Homeland Security. But proving that misinformation preys on the gullible on both sides of the political spectrum, the website RedFish, which proports to be a left- wing journalism group, but which the (INAUDIBLE) report, as well as Twitter and Facebook, say is actually aligned with Russia, pushed tweets featuring Hugo Chavez and horrific scenes of Afghans falling from a transport plane to criticize America's alleged imperialism.
But perhaps the tweet that underscores the overall effort came from R.T., using a pride flag to criticize America's liberal influence on global culture, echoing some conservative complaints here in the United States. But R.T. gave their game away with this tag, western democracy can take a seat now. Thanks.
Because that's what this is really all about, running down liberal democracy as a global governing model and not coincidentally that's what Chinese state -- or affiliated media is focused on as well.
For example, this tweet joking that the Talbian's takeover was a smoother transition of power than we saw here in the United States after Donald Trump's big lie and the attack on the Capitol. So, for the record, if you took part in that, Chinese communists are laughing at you as a symbol of American weakness.
Now, Chinese state media accounts also piled on, saying the U.S. abandoned Afghan allies, accusing America of hypocrisy on refugees and the rights of women. But perhaps the most serious geostrategic charge is that America's withdrawal after 20 years means that the U.S. is not a dependable ally, with China drawing quick line in the defense of Taiwan, as in this "Global Times" editorial cartoon showing an American eagle leading the president of Taiwan into a gaping hole in the ground.
Now, this echoes some conservative concerns about Taiwan in the wake of U.S. withdrawal, albeit from a far different and far more genuine policy perspective.
Now, overall, the Althea Group found that Chinese State media affiliated posts about America and Afghanistan reached nearly 198 million accounts between August 14th and the 25th. These are snapshots from the misinformation wars, showing how America's divisions are being exploited by our adversaries, even on issues of war and peace. They use internet humor and memes to push their agenda, though nothing is darkly funny and hypocritical as Chinese president for life Xi Jinping calling on all parties in Afghanistan to build an open and exclusive political framework. That's according to Reuters.
Bottom line, this report is a timely reminder that authoritarian nations are waging an endless information war on liberal democracy. So don't buy into it with your confirmation bias clicks.
And that's your "Reality Check."
COLLINS: John Avlon, as always, thank you for that.
So notable given, of course, that has been a big question about what is the relationship going to be like when NATO allies following this U.S. exit. And how is it with President Biden going forward at big summits, talking about what this means for the U.S.' standing.
BERMAN: I -- look, one thing to be sure of, if there is an open wound, Russia and China will try to exploit it.
COLLINS: Not surprising at all.
Meanwhile, the Republican congressmen talking about bloodshed as he spreads election lies.
BERMAN: Plus, COVID vaccines for young children. How much longer will parents have to wait?
BERMAN: It's a question on the minds of plenty of parents as kids return to in-person learning at school. When can children younger than 12 get their COVID shots? It a simple question. At least it sounds like a simple question. But getting a straight answer has turned out to be fairly complicated for everyone, including members of Congress, including Democratic Congresswoman Katy Porter of California. She is the mother of three school-age children who is co-leading a bipartisan effort to get more clarity from the FDA.
Congresswoman, thanks so much for being with us.
Why is this so important to you?
REP. KATIE PORTER (D-CA): Parents have enough that they're dealing with right now, with finding child care. Many women and young -- parents of young children trying to return to work to make ends meet, they need clear information about what the procession is, what the timeline is going to be, because that makes a difference to how they're thinking about return to school, child care, custody arrangements, vacation plans.
I'm a mom of three kids, so I'm used to a lot of he said, she said, it's her fault, this is what really happened. But here we have the former FDA commissioner saying it could be November, early winter. We have the NIH director saying, not before the beginning of the year, the very, very end of 2021. We have Pfizer saying they're going to submit data in September. And the result is parents are confused.
BERMAN: So, you've asked the FDA for a simple answer, which it sounds like you think should be forthcoming. What have they told you? PORTER: Well, they've provided a letter in response to the letter that
we sent them from over 100 Congress members, a bipartisan letter. They provided a response. It's fairly short. We've also asked for an in- person -- sorry, a briefing from the FDA so that we can best explain this to our constituents.
For me, we're not going to rush the science. We have to let the FDA and let the pharmaceutical companies do their jobs and follow the process. But we can give people clear information about what those steps are and what the benchmarks are. And then our goal as Congress members, of course, is to share that information with our constituents. It's one of the most common questions I get asked when I'm out and about, when is my child going to be able to get vaccinated is a question I ask every day I kiss my daughter and send her off to school.
BERMAN: It's -- you're not saying speed up the science. You're telling the FDA, look, speed it -- you just want them to be able to tell people a date or at least a rough date or why it will take until this date.
PORTER: Yes, absolutely. The process for kids is going to be a little bit different. We're dealing with different age trenches (ph). We're talking about, I think, five to 11-year-olds as being the likely first group. Then there's some question about will it be two-year-olds, will it be six-month olds. And parents can have the information. They can understand the process. That's going to build trust and build confidence and give parents the scientific information and foundation that they need to absolutely get ready and be ready and take advantage of this vaccine when it's delivered.
So this is about knowing that the FDA is working hard. Could they communicate that work to parents? Back to school nights, school registration, these were huge opportunities to communicate with groups of parents, some of whom are very hard to reach. And the FDA missed that window to give information about the steps in the process. And I think that was a loss. And I'm going to work hard to try to get this information and get it out as soon as I can.
BERMAN: Well, when you get it, give it to us, too. Thank you for that.
BERMAN: Listen, I want to ask you about one of your colleagues, Republican Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, who seemed as if he was threatening violence, or at least bloodshed. He was talking to some constituents, and he said, if our election systems continue to be rigged -- which I will note they're not -- continue to be stolen -- which I will note they weren't -- than it's going to lead to one place, and that's bloodshed. And I will tell you, as much as I'm willing to defend our liberty at all cost, there's nothing I would dread doing more than having to pick up arms against a fellow American.
How do you read that and to what extent do you, as one of his colleagues, feel threatened? PORTER: Well, I think the issue is that this is a huge threat to our
entire democracy, not just to the members -- other members of Congress, not just to the institution of Congress, but he's literally talking about violence against each other. He is talking about a precondition of civil unrest or even civil war. And most importantly, as you pointed out, he's repeating lies.
And I think the fundamental duty that my constituents have put to me, Republican, Democrat, independent, young and old, white, brown and black is to -- that they can trust me to be truthful with them. And it's very, very upsetting to have this kind of absolute outright lie, and then violence layered upon it. It's a toxic brew. We saw what the results can be on January 6th. And we have to do everything we can to get our democracy back on a course to civil engagement.
BERMAN: Representative Katie Porter, we appreciate you being with us this morning.
PORTER: Absolutely. Thank you.
BERMAN: So just ahead, what happens now that the last U.S. soldier has left Afghanistan after 20 years of war? The White House, the Pentagon and the Middle East. We are everywhere as the president gets ready to address the nation.
COLLINS: And before we go, it is time for "The Good Stuff."
As animal shelters across the country are stepping in to save Louisiana's homeless pets. They helped moved these dogs and cats out of Hurricane Ida's path. And not only did it keep them safe from the storm, it could also give them a better shot at finding a home. Several shelters from Boston to San Diego now have them up for adoption and it also made room in Louisiana shelters for those animals that were injured or separated from their owners during the storm.
Thank you for letting me join this morning.