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Fox Reporter Pushes Anti-Vax Talking Points; Tragic Trend of Anti-Vaxxers; Judge Lina Hidalgo is Interviewed about Covid Hospitalizations; Katie McGrady is Interviewed about Pope Francis' Comments. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired January 11, 2022 - 08:30   ET



BRIAN STELTER, CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Announced yet. They're being worked on in secret. That is what I'm going to keep an eye on. Manafort can spin his BS, but there is still more to come in terms of Trump reveals from some of these authors that are in the -- let's say the reality-based world and not Paul Manafort's world.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Brian Stelter, keeping his eye on secrets. I love that. Nothing I like more than that.

Listen, Brian, I want you to react to a moment from the White House Briefing Room yesterday.



PETER DOOCY, FOX NEWS: I'm triple vaxxed, still got Covid. You're triple vaxxed, still got Covid. Why is the president still referring to this as a pandemic of the unvaccinated?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There is a huge difference between that and being unvaccinated. You are 17 times more likely to go to the hospital if you're not vaccinated, 20 times more likely to die. And those are significant, serious statistics. So, yes, the impact for people who are unvaccinated is far more dire than those who are vaccinated.


BERMAN: Brian, you'll be shocked to know the questioner there was Peter Doocy of Fox.

STELTER: Peter Doocy of Fox. Fox, which purposefully airs these briefings up until Peter Doocy's question so that the Fox audience can see Doocy sparring with Jen Psaki.

But Psaki, of course, had the important answer that I hope the Fox audience heard, that, OK, it's not the pandemic of the unvaccinated, it's mass death of the unvaccinated. Is that what they want Biden to say, it's the mass death of the unvaccinated because almost everybody being hospitalized is unvaccinated, almost everybody in real trouble is unvaccinated.

I think Peter Doocy should listen to his father, Steve Doocy, who said last week, he said, I talked to a doctor, he said the vaccines are like a Kevlar vest. It won't stop you from getting shot, but it will probably stop you from getting killed. That's great advice from dad. Maybe Peter should call his dad.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, maybe. Or he could just listen to him, right, at his place of work?

STELTER: Well, he's on TV, right.

KEILAR: What's the difference between being vaccinated or unvaccinated? Oh, you know, it's just life or death. There you go. A pretty good answer from Jen Psaki, I will say.


KEILAR: Brian, thank you so much.

STELTER: Thanks.

BERMAN: So, a tragic trend. Public personalities downplaying Covid, trashing the vaccine. Some are dying of Covid.

John Avlon with a "Reality Check."

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENOR POLITICAL ANALYST: As omicron rages across the country, confusion reigns for many folks as well. After all, breakthrough cases are rising fast, and that's causing some people to get cynical while others double down on vaccine disinformation.

Folks like right-wing commentator Candace Owens, who told followers that she wouldn't take the vaccine, even on her death bed.

And that echoes blusters from Sarah Palin, who said that she'd only get a shot, quote, over my dead body.

Now, this would seem to be tempting fate given that nearly 840,000 Americans have died from Covid, including more than 300,000 after vaccines became widely available. And that's the tragedy here, because even as the U.S. is poised to break Covid hospitalization rates due to omicron, the vast majority are among the unvaccinated, who are also 20 times more likely to die of Covid than those who are fully vaccinated and boosted.

And despite those terrible odds, some people still seem willing to die to own the (INAUDIBLE), which means they're willing to die for a lie. Many of them have been misled by right-wing media, fallen prey to conspiracy entrepreneurs or partisan grifters. But perhaps the most damning proof point is the number of prominent anti-vaxxers who've died of Covid during this pandemic. And it's a long list, but I think it's important to say their names, not to shame them, but so others don't die in vain, because some tried to warn their followers that they'd been wrong in their final days, like Nashville radio host Phil Valentine. And, in fact, local right-wing radio lost a number of vocal anti-vax advocates, like Florida's Dick Farrel and Mark Bernier, who both died in August. Farrel, a "Newsmax" fill-in host called Covid a scam-demic on air, called Dr. Anthony Fauci a, quote, power-tripping, lying freak. But from his sick bed, he texted a friend to get the shot, saying that he regretted not getting one himself.

Covid also came for anti-vax Christian radio host Pastor Bob Enyart and Jimmy DeYoung, who called the vaccine, quote, government control. Far right podcast host Douglas Kuzma caught Covid at a QAnon-friendly conference and initially blamed it on anthrax, while pro-Trump radio programmer Todd Tucker died of Covid after reportedly ridiculing vaccines on Facebook.

And arguably the most influential of these folks was Marcus Lamb, the 64-year-old co-founder of Christian TV network Daystar, who told people to pray rather than get vaccinated.

And, of course, the feedback loop between right-wing media and Republicans is strong. And so we've seen vocal anti-vax politicos pass as well. Like 52-year-old Washington state senator Doug Ericksen, a staunch conservative who led Trump's campaign in his state.


Or Michigan official William Hartmann, a vaccine opponent who you might remember tried to block Joe Biden's election win in Detroit. Or Texas Republican official H. Scott Apley, who mocked vaccines and masks on social media. He was just 45.

Of course, all this tragic misinformation has a downstream effect on people like 30-year-old mask opponent Caleb Wallace, founder of a group called the San Antonio Freedom Defenders. Or the Minnesota anti- mask doctor Christopher Foley, who pushed unproven alternative treatments. Or, more recently, the 46-year-old Orange County Deputy DA Kelly Ernby, who fought vaccine mandates and looked to a future in Republican politics. Her husband said she was not vaccinated.

All of these are tragedies. Unnecessary losses that have brought heartbreak to their family and friends. And they are sadly not isolated. At a time when conspiracy theories persist, despite a rising death toll among the unvaccinated, there are many, many more cases we could mention. But what more evidence could anti-vax skeptics really need?

Don't let yourself be a statistic. Because, let's face it, these people died for a lie. It is a stark and painful reminder that disinformation and misinformation can be deadly, especially during a pandemic.

And that's your "Reality Check."

BERMAN: And, John Avlon, thank you very much.

Pope Francis jumps with both feet into two huge debates.

KEILAR: And we do have some new details on the sudden death of Bob Saget, including what police found when they entered his hotel room. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


KEILAR: We do have some breaking news. The U.S. has just broken the all-time pandemic record for Covid hospitalizations. There are now more than 145,000 Americans in the hospital with Covid. And, of course, the vast majority of them, they're in serious condition are unvaccinated. One of the areas seen increasing hospitalization rates is Houston, and that has led Harris County, Texas, where Houston is located, to raise its Covid threat level to red. That is its highest level.

And joining us now is Judge Lina Hidalgo, county judge for Harris County there in Texas. She announced this decision yesterday.

Judge, thank you so much for being with us.

And, look, you happen to be with us as we see the country moving past this record for hospitalizations. The difference is that people have the choice now of being vaccinated.

What does that say to you about where we are in this pandemic?

JUDGE LINA HIDALGO, COUNTY JUDGE FOR HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS: Yes. We're seeing the numbers and we're seeing the impact very much on the ground. And I'll tell you, you know, it's not only the fact that hospital beds are being taken up by Covid positive patients, displacing the heart attacks and the strokes and the appendicitis cases, et cetera. But also this virus is spreading so fast that we have a lot of medical staff out.

You know, it's hard for me to blame the community necessarily on this. What we have to remember is, this is a disaster. A disaster response that became politicized. And, unfortunately, that continues to be the case. So this should be another wake-up call for anybody out there with a public platform that is raising questions about the efficacy of the vaccine because it continues to cost lives.

And while, you know, we've been in this situation of overwhelmed hospitals in the past, the difference now is, it is simply because the unvaccinated refuse to take that step. And I don't think that's necessarily a bottom-up thing. I think we all know that's a top-down narrative that has now been per perpetuated politically for a while.

KEILAR: Tell us about, in Harris County, raising the threat level to red. What does that mean?

HIDALGO: It's simply signaling to the community where we are. And we have certain thresholds. And so, you know, we've been hit with this omicron wave, just as every other community in our nation. But until very recently, we only saw that reflected, you know, mostly in the case counts, which, of course, impact our economy. People out sick, but not so much the hospitals.

Just yesterday, we crossed a threshold where over 18 percent of our ICU hospital beds are right now being taken up by Covid patients. And so that was the threshold to say, OK, red alert, this is the toughest level because it means that we're not having enough beds for everybody else.

And so, you know, the governor removed my authority to do really anything policy-wise, but it goes back to the sense of mixed messaging. My job right now, as a county executive, is to make sure that I'm very clear with the community as to where we are. So I'm saying, you know, get vaccinated. Even if you are vaccinated, wear a mask. And then policies like, we're distributing rapid tests to schools so that they can make sure that the kids who have a close contact, but who are not sick themselves, can get a negative test, you know, come back to school and continue on with their education.

So, I'm hoping that it will be a way for the community to see that, you know, we -- we're in a tough situation again. We can make it the last time we are at red if people do their part and get their vaccine and just use common sense measures when out and about.

KEILAR: Yes, all great advice.

Judge Hidalgo, thank you for being with us.

HIDALGO: Thank you.

KEILAR: Here's what else to watch today.


ON SCREEN TEXT: 10:00 a.m. ET, Senate Covid-19 hearing.

2:40 p.m. ET, Biden and Harris attend MLK ceremony.

3:00 p.m. ET, Biden and Harris voting rights speech.



KEILAR: Developing overnight, more trouble for tennis star Novak Djokovic. Why he's now being investigated for potentially lying on travel documents.

BERMAN: They transplanted a pig heart into a human.

That, plus the pope sounding the alarm on cancel culture.


BERMAN: All right, developing this morning, Pope Francis issuing a warning about the dangers of cancel culture and the lack of dialogue around important issues like climate change and Covid.



POPE FRANCIS (through translator): The cancel culture invading many circles and public institutions. As a result, agendas are increasingly dictated by a mindset that rejects the natural foundations of humanity and the cultural roots that constitute the identities of many peoples.


BERMAN: Joining me now is host of the Catholic Channel on Sirius XM, Katie McGrady.

Katie, I warned you, we liked you so much we were going to have you back. This is your fault.


BERMAN: So, listen, you say the pope wasn't talking really about the same cancel culture that we think about here in the United States. It's slightly different given who he was talking to. What do you mean?

MCGRADY: I think so. I mean I think audience is really important. The pope was addressing ambassadors this time. So, obviously, he's talking to the world. Anytime the pope open his mouth, we all get to pay attention. He's an important guy. But this particular audience are people who are doing negotiations or who are involved in conversations at different government levels. These are people who have access to the leaders of nations.

And so him saying, look, cancel culture can sometimes limit our perspectives, cancel culture can prevent us from dialogue, that's -- that's different than the cancel culture we sometimes think about here, which is, don't buy these beans or let's tear down this statue.

BERMAN: And also, obviously, cancel culture in theory important to the pope because of the issues of redemption that are so important to the faith, yes?

MCGRADY: Absolutely. I mean we, as Catholics, and I say that as a Catholic, and I say that to people who maybe are curious about Catholicism, the pope is reminding us that cancel culture would basically freeze somebody at the worst moment of their life, what they said, what they've done, maybe judge something with a historical perspective that isn't actually taking into account what was going on in the world at the time or what was the common belief or the common system, even if we know now it's wrong, we're freezing someone and we're not allowing the opportunity for -- I'm going to use the big Catholic buzzword, for mercy, for the chance to actually listen.

Pope Francis, from the get-go, and we've had Pope Francis as a pope for a while, Pope Francis, from the start, has talked about dialogue. That's been the big theme of his papacy, how do we talk to people. How do we listen to what somebody says, even if we disagree? And if I just decide, OK, no, I'm canceling you, I'm not listening to you, I'm not dialoguing with you, and later on in his speech he talks about how that prevents countries that are much smaller from ever coming to the table.

BERMAN: And, finally, I'm always struck by the way the pope talks about vaccinations, because he doesn't --


BERMAN: He's adamant. I mean he is adamant in support of it.

MCGRADY: He is. I mean the pope and the Catholic leaders across the world have said we have a responsibility to care for others. We have a responsibility to care for our world. We are not isolated people. Vaccination, as of this point, proves to be the best way to slow the spread, to use that buzzword. So we should consider it.

Now, the Vatican has been very clear that mandates and forcing someone, and could potentially violate someone's conscience, well, that's a bit of a gray area, we need to talk about that. But Pope Francis is vaccinated. Pope Benedict XVI is vaccinated. Many, many leaders in the Catholic Church from the states have talked about this.

So, yes, he's never really wavered on the point that as a Catholic you can and perhaps really even should receive the vaccine. I'm triple vaccinated. We kind of hold that up as a -- we're excited about that in our home and I think that that's something that Catholics should be a little more vocal about at times, that this was not something that violated my conscience and the pope happens to agree with me.

BERMAN: Yes, he revels in the science, which I always find very interesting.


BERMAN: Katie McGrady, you did it again. You just won yourself another ticket to NEW DAY here in the future. Look forward to speaking to you again.

MCGRADY: Thanks so much, John. Appreciate it.

BERMAN: President Biden heading to Georgia today to push voting rights legislation. Why voting rights activists are boycotting his speech.

KEILAR: And meet the woman who just hit a line drive through baseball's glass ceiling.



BERMAN: So, history made. The New York Yankees tapping the first female manager of a minor league baseball team. Thirty-four-year-old Rachel Balkovec will be the manager of the Yankees' low A squad, the Tampa Tarpons. Balkovec joined the Yankees' organization in 2019 as the first woman to be a full time hitting coach in minor league baseball. She said she dreams of becoming a general manager one day. She says she has probably had to work a little harder than a male counterpart, but she views that as an advantage. Congratulations to her and the Yankees.

KEILAR: Yes, big congrats.

OK, Berman, scientists have taught goldfish how to drive. So maybe there's hope for me, right? Not only can they drive, but some of them are pretty good at it. Maybe better than some humans.

So, take a look here. Don't expect to see a fish in the furious movie coming out anytime soon. I mean, really, Berman, you should get that dad joke. I got the dad joke there.

But Israeli researchers have successfully trained these goldfish to drive on land. They used this remote sensing technology which helps them navigate their vehicle.


RONEN SEGEV, NEUROSCIENTIST, BEN-GURION UNIVERSITY OF THE NEGEV: We used six fish and they were all able to learn the task to some extent. There were very good fish that were doing excellent and there were mediocre fish that were -- showed controlling of the vehicle, but were less proficient in driving.


BERMAN: The mediocre fish were actually all from Boston, by the way, where they're terrible drivers. It turns out, that where the fish from dictates how it can drive.

KEILAR: Maybe the ones from D.C. weren't merging very well, right?

BERMAN: Yes. Clearly. Clearly. Because they're sick of all the circles.


They can't handle the circles in D.C. because they don't go around and around and around.

KEILAR: That's right. That's right.

BERMAN: All this and they put a pig heart in a human.