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Elon Musk Set to Buy Twitter; U.S. Secures 20 Million Courses of COVID Antiviral Pill; Johnny Depp Ends Testimony in Defamation Case Against Ex-Wife. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired April 26, 2022 - 07:30   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Apart from the actual actions of course like this might take, if you are someone who is trying to figure out how to vote, what do you feel in terms of, OK, if I take this risk, if I try to do this, am I going to get myself in trouble, is this going to be a problem? I mean, that's how voter intimidation works. So I think as we are reporting out this story and following this, it's going to be really important to consider that kind of an impact.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And I think one big question is, do other Republican governors try to follow in his footsteps here? And we should note Democrats in Florida say this is not necessary.

HUNT: Yes.

COLLINS: Kasie Hunt, thank you for joining us this morning.

HUNT: Thank you. Nice to see you.

COLLINS: And we have more on our breaking news, as we are getting word that the Russians have forced civilians in Mariupol to work at mass graves in exchange for food and water. We'll show you what those new images show us, next.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, what does a Twitter owned by Elon Musk actually look like? A reality check, next.



BERMAN: The world's richest human sets to take control of Twitter. It took 11 days, but the company's board unanimously approved Elon Musk's bid to buy the social media platform for $44 billion.

John Avlon with a "Reality Check."

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: So when the world's richest man buys one of the world's biggest social media platforms, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, this is not your typical corporate takeover, but then Twitter is not your typical company. It's a digital town square to quote its new owner Elon Musk. And its influence far exceeds its reach towards profitability.

Get this, 90 percent of tweets come from just 25 percent of adult users, according to a Pew study. So what happens on Twitter doesn't reflect real life but it can distort perceptions of reality by amplifying the extremes and undermining our ability to reason together.

It all brings to mind a new article in "The Atlantic" called "Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid?" Its author NYU professor Jonathan Haidt places a lot of blame for our tribal polarization on social media and its mob mentality. Quote, "Social media is empowerment of the far left, the far right, domestic trolls and foreign agents. It's creating a system that looks less like democracy and more like ruled by the most aggressive, Haidt writes.

Well, the good news is that he sees the problem as largely structure. It's an environment we created and we can still fix. Haidt cites the advent of Twitter's retweet button and Facebook's like and share functions as the beginning of the mess we're in because it incentivized outrage and group thing. Turning us into, quote, "our most moralistic and least reflective selves."

We've all seen the problems, but what are the solutions? The conservatives have been cheering Musk's commitment to free speech and reduced content moderation which is a game of Whack-a-Mole on a good day. Liberals are concerned that this will further open the floodgates for hate speech and disinformation. And there are a lot of acid tests ahead. Like whether Musk will re-platform people who've been booted like followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory or folks spreading the big lie.

Now keep in mind that a study by Zignal Labs found that 73 percent decrease in online misinformation about election fraud in the week after Trump and allies were suspended from several social media platforms, post-January 6th. So you can't pretend there's no civic harm in amplifying lies. But let's not assume the worse just yet, OK. Let's instead look at what Musk says he wants to do.

In a statement, he offered a few broad commitments like making the algorithms open to increase trust. Defeating the span bots and authenticating all humans. These are good ideas and they track with some of Haidt's overall recommendations. Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen has argued for reform and transparency of algorithms rather than simply overhauling Section 230 which protects companies from being libel for user's content. She's also suggested modifying Facebook share function so that people can't automatically amplify the outrage du jour. This isn't censorship, right? It just makes it more difficult to boost

disinformation. That's a good thing given that lies tend to go viral faster than facts. But perhaps the biggest reform would beat-back bots by requiring a user verification and human authentication. As Haidt says, this one change would wipe out most of hundreds of millions of bots and fake accounts that currently pollute the major platforms.

It would also likely reduce the frequency of death threats, rape threats, racist nastiness, and trolling more generally. Because research shows that antisocial behavior becomes more common online when people feel that their identity is unknown and untraceable. So that sounds like a step in the right direction, right? But it's also a measure of how we define deviancy down.

In the coming months, we'll see whether the often erratic Elon Musk follows through with his promises and if they'll make this digital town square better or far worse. But waiting for a billionaire to save us isn't exactly a great sign of (INAUDIBLE).

What's clear is that we can't remain complacent. The rise in social media without clear rules of the road and basic guardrails has distorted reality, divided society and now threatens democracy itself. And that's your "Reality Check."

BERMAN: Great time to address all of this to be sure. John Avlon, thank you.

COLLINS: We are in a complicated moment in the pandemic. That's how a top White House official is framing it as cases are relatively low, but trending up in most of the country, driven by the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron. Hospitalizations are up 9 percent from last week. But the White House says this scenario is different given that nearly 220 million Americans are fully vaccinated with about 100 million that have been boosted.


We now have COVID therapeutic drugs which do have the potential to game-changing when it comes to treatments. This morning, the White House is announcing that it has secured the purchase of 20 million treatment courses of Paxlovid, which is Pfizer's antiviral pill.

So joining us this morning is the Biden administration's new COVID-19 response coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha, someone of course that our audience is widely familiar with since we have talked to you so much during this pandemic.

But I'd like to start this morning with this purchase of Paxlovid, and this new secure -- what you guys have secured now at the White House because of course this is so critical when it comes to testing, to treat. And I wonder, what is your plan to make this more widely available?

DR. ASHISH K. JHA, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Yes, so good morning and thank you for having me here. Treatments are the next phase of this pandemic where we have to make these treatments -- these highly effective treatments widely available. And so we're doing four big things. After putting a lot of work into acquiring all of these Paxlovid for the American people, we're going to make it availability across pharmacies, across America.

Right now there are about 20,000 sites that have them. Our hope is pretty soon, pharmacies will be able to order directly from the federal government. That will get us about 30,000, eventually to 40,000. Basically every pharmacy in America should be able to get it.

We're going to do education of doctors so they become more familiar and start prescribing more. We're certainly going to focus on education of patients so patients understand that this therapeutic is out there. And then last but not least, we're going to think about what the federal government can do in terms of surging test-to-treat sites into locations so that we provide yet one more alternative for patients to get there.

The bottom line is we want to make this therapeutic widely available to all Americans so people stop getting, you know, particularly sick or dying once they get infected, if they get infected with COVID.

COLLINS: Well, in addition to being widely available and accessible, though, people also need to just know more about it because it doesn't seem like it's being that widely used at this moment. So I wonder what is the plan to change that aspect of this as well?

JHA: Yes, you know, when the drug was first authorized at the end of December, we had very little supply. The whole world had very little supply. We put a lot of work in to expanding that supply, acquiring it for the American people. But there are still a lot of people out there who believe that this is somehow in very short supply. That it's only limited to the very sickest or very highest risk.

So we've really got to get out there and share information with people that we now have a lot more Paxlovid available. And anybody who's at all at high risk, anybody who meets the FDA criteria should be getting Paxlovid.

COLLINS: So your message is that it is widely available, doctors should be prescribing it. That's good to know. I do want to switch, because we are now a weak into no masks on mass transit which means millions of people have been traveling on planes, trains and buses over the last week without wearing a mask. And so I wonder if you are seeing an effect of that on the case rates?

JHA: Yes, you know, the case rates across the country, as you know, are rising. We don't have any evidence that the lifting of the mask mandate itself is directly responsible. Those were starting to rise when BA.2 really took over. But what we do know is that mass transit is just one more place where the virus can spread. And unlike other places, unlike a restaurant or some other place where if somebody next to you is coughing, you have the ability to get up and move.

On transit, you often don't. Certainly on airplanes, you don't. So we're going to watch this carefully. But we do want to see what happens with cases going forward. COLLINS: Is the administration having discussions about changing the

rules for predeparture testing?

JHA: You know, we're looking at all of these things. Obviously, our primary purpose is to -- our focus is on protecting the American people. So we're examining all of the rules we have around travel to figure out, how do we make traveling easier. But how do we also continue to protect Americans.

COLLINS: How long do you expect that rule to be in place?

JHA: You know, we have not made any assessment. That is an assessment that the CDC makes. So the CDC scientists will continue to look at that and make determinations.

COLLINS: Dr. Jha, you've said that every four to six months since the beginning of this pandemic, we've seen the emergence of a variant. Not just any kind of variant, but significant variants. Delta, Omicron, that of course have caused these disruptions. And so I wonder, are you watching for the next variant right now?

JHA: We are absolutely monitoring the situation to see if there are any -- if there is an emergence of any new variant. I mean, look, again, as I mentioned, you know, about every four to six months, whether it's Alpha, Delta, Omicron, we don't know when the next variant will hit. Obviously, all of us hope that we don't get any more variants but hope is not a strategy, right? We have got to prepare for future variants.

And while we may hope that we don't see any more, we do hope that we don't see anymore, we've got to be ready if Mother Nature throws another curve ball at us.

COLLINS: And I know that's why you guys have been calling on Congress to pass more COVID-19 funding.


We'll continue to follow that on Capitol Hill. Dr. Jha, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

JHA: Thank you.

COLLINS: We have more on the breaking news out of Ukraine as well this morning, with Russia intensifying its attacks in the east as the U.S. is ramping up its rhetoric.

BERMAN: Plus, see what happened in court when Johnny Depp was confronted with some of his own texts and his drinking habits. That's next.


BERMAN: Actor Johnny Depp ending his testimony in his million-dollar defamation trial against ex-wife Amber Heard, arguing that he was the victim of domestic abuse, not her. CNN's Jean Casarez reports.


JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On his fourth day on the stand, Johnny Depp concluded his testimony in his defamation case against his ex-wife Amber Heard.


On cross examination, Depp's alcohol abuse was again questioned.

BEN ROTTENBORN, AMBER HEARD'S ATTORNEY: Miss Heard wasn't the only one who had a problem with your drinking, correct?

JOHNNY DEPP, ACTOR: So if anyone had a problem with my drinking, at any time in my life it was me. The person that I have ever abused in my life is myself.

CASAREZ: Heard's attorney also played several more audio recordings of altercations between the couple.


AMBER HEARD, ACTRESS: Put your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) cigarette on someone else. You (EXPLETIVE DELETED) consequences of your action. That's it.



DEPP: I think that was another grossly exaggerated moment of Miss Heard. I did not put a cigarette out on her or throw a cigarette at her.

CASAREZ: Depp was sarcastic when answering a question about one brutal message Heard's attorney asked him about.

ROTTENBORN: You say she will hit the wall hard, four exclamation points, and then later down you say, I can only hope that karma kicks in and takes the gift of breath from her.

DEPP: I'm sorry, I was talking, is that all right?

ROTTENBORN: You answer my question. We'll take a look at the next statement. Thank you.

DEPP: As long as you're happy, sir.

CASAREZ: Depp also said that a previous text message where he referred to Heard as a burnt corpse was actually a reference to "Monty Python."

DEPP: It's just irreverent and abstract humor.

CASAREZ: In another text, the defense calls into question Depp's assertion that Heard severed his fingertip with a broken vodka bottle. Depp wrote, "She's so effing ambitious. She's so desperate for success and fame. That's probably why I was acquired, I cut the top of my middle finger off."

DEPP: It's just the way it was worded. It doesn't mean that I actually literally cut my finger off after -- at the age of 12 finding the only thing that gave me peace which is playing the guitar.

CASAREZ: The cornerstone of this trial is a 2018 opinion piece Heard wrote in "The Washington Post" alleging she was the victim of domestic violence. She did not name Depp, but the actor claims he was dropped from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise just days after its publication.

Heard's attorney brought up a barrage of bad press and headlines that predated Heard's op-ed that they argued could have derailed Depp's career.

ROTTENBORN: The "Daily Mail, vodka for breakfast, 72-hour drug binges, where did it all go wrong for Johnny Depp? After a string of flops and a ton of bad press, Johnny Depp's star power looks as wobbly as Jack Sparrow on a plank." Did I read that right?

DEPP: You read that very, very well.

CASAREZ: But by the end of the cross examination, Heard's attorney was constantly facing objections from Depp's legal team. On redirect, Depp was given another chance to plead his case. Describing the moments after he first learned of Heard's op-ed.

DEPP: It hurts. Yes. The blinding -- the blinding hurt. It was -- it was like somebody had hit me in the back of the head with a two by four.

CASAREZ: Depp emotionally concluded his testimony recalling a recorded conversation between himself and Heard after their explosive fight where part of Depp's finger was severed.


HEARD: I really did think (INAUDIBLE) with my life and I thought you would do it on accident. And I told you that. I said, oh, my god, I thought first time.

DEPP: Amber, I lost a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) finger, man, come on.

HEARD: Tell the world, Johnny. Tell them Johnny Depp, I, Johnny Depp, a man, I'm a victim, too, of domestic violence and I --

DEPP: Yes.

HEARD: You know, it's a fair fight.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you say in response when Miss Heard said, tell the world, Johnny, tell them Johnny Depp, I, Johnny Depp, a man, I'm a victim too of domestic violence?

DEPP: I said, yes. I am.


CASAREZ: Johnny Depp is suing for $50 million. Amber Heard tried to get this case dismissed, could not. She's countersuing for $100 million.

John, this is going to come down to the law and the jury instructions, because how does Virginia define abuse? What is abuse? If you slam a kitchen door because you're upset in your life, and she's standing there, is that abuse toward her? Is it? When you text someone that is not Amber Heard, but someone else, you're not talking to Amber Heard, right? But then what is the intent, generally, of Johnny Depp, and as an alleged victim, how does she interpret it?

BERMAN: Jean Casarez, it's quite a case, thank you so much.

A new report just in shows 2021 was the worst year for anti-Semitic incidents in the United States.

COLLINS: And newly released body camera video showing us the immediate moments after that shooting on the set of the movie "Rust."



BERMAN: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. It is Tuesday, April 26th. I'm John Berman. Brianna is off this morning. Chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins with me in Washington.

And win, win, win. It's a word appearing in U.S. officials' statements really in new ways and more than ever when it comes to Ukraine. We're hearing Ukraine can win. Ukraine is winning. We're hearing it in ways that we did not before, including moments ago from U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Listen to what he said this morning in Germany.


LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Ukraine clearly believes that it can win. And so does everyone here. Ukraine needs our help to win today and they will still need our help when the war is over.


BERMAN: It comes as Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov insists that Russia is committed to lowering the risk of nuclear war but he says the danger is real.


SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The danger is serious and real. And it should not be underestimated.


BERMAN: All right. Right now the U.N. secretary-general is in Moscow, speaking alongside Lavrov. Before going to Ukraine, the secretary- general will meet face to face with Vladimir Putin while he is in Moscow.

COLLINS: And U.S. officials say that the next few weeks are going to be critical in determining the ultimate outcome of this battle. As Secretary Austin says, that Putin's war is, quote, "indefensible and a war of his own choice."


AUSTIN: Russia's invasion is indefensible. And so are Russian atrocities.