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Elon Musk Tweets Link To Conspiracy Theory About Paul Pelosi Attack; Source: Suspect In Pelosi Attack Had Zip Ties And Duct Tape; Powerball Jackpot Grows To Estimated $1 Billion, Drawing Tonight. Aired 7:30-8a ET
Aired October 31, 2022 - 07:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Twitter's new owner, Elon Musk, giving credence to a fringe conspiracy theory about the violent attack on Paul Pelosi. It took Musk about six hours to finally delete the tweet, but it is raising questions about what the social media network will be like under its new leader.
With us now is CNN media analyst and Axios media reporter, Sara Fischer.
I've got to say, this was something that Elon Musk chose this in the first days that he owns Twitter to lay down his marker by retweeting this fringe conspiracy theory. Talk to us about the source that he chose to lean into.
SARA FISCHER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST, MEDIA REPORTER, AXIOS (via Webex by Cisco): Yes, it was a pretty dicey decision, John.
The source is the Santa Monica Observer, and it's a site that's known for publishing misinformation around things like COVID, politics, vaccines -- you name it. This site, I think is about six years old and it was made by a lawyer and a former councilman who is conservative in California.
But what really is the big deal here John is that Elon Musk is trying to court advertisers right now and convince them that this is a great platform for them to put their messages on. And at the same time, he is helping to spread misinformation by tweeting out these links. It's not a really good look if you're trying to pay off some of the debt from your massive deal.
BERMAN: So, he took the tweet down in about six hours. What statement did he put out explaining why he ever posted that misinformation?
FISCHER: I mean, we never really got a statement and that's one of the most concerning things here. I mean, if Elon Musk wants to convince advertisers that he's serious about brand safety and convince the community -- all of Twitter's 237 million daily active users -- that he's serious about this platform, then he probably should have said something or acknowledged it. But we don't really have much from him right now.
BERMAN: And again, he has influence. He's got more than 100 million followers on this site, correct? And you can see the impact that his statement has Sara because when you referred to what he put out as misinformation, what did you hear back?
FISCHER: Oh, my gosh, my inbox -- it's still ringing off the hook. I mean, people were saying this is misinformation. This isn't a rumor, this is valid fact. Why aren't you, as the mainstream media, reporting this out? And I think it comes to show that when Elon Musk tweets something, a lot of people respond as if it's fact.
The other interesting thing about it John, he has so much influence that for many hours last -- yesterday, I couldn't even access the site. Elon Musk drove so much traffic to the Santa Monica Observer that the site went down. I mean, that shows you just the power of one tweet to 112 million people globally can have.
BERMAN: So, besides spreading conspiracy theories, what has Elon Musk made clear that he's going to do, or what have you learned that he is doing to Twitter in his first days on the job?
FISCHER: Well, he's trying really fast to revamp this product. He's laying off a bunch of engineers. I'm told that he's brought in his own squad of former Tesla engineers, former PayPal executives, and even former Twitter executives to figure out who is going to get cut and who is going to stay.
And from a product perspective, he's testing out new ideas suggesting, in part, that he might actually force people who are verified to pay to stay verified. Now, the price that's been thrown out there is $20.00 a month. You know in a newsroom, John, $20.00 a month for 12 months -- that's a crazy amount of money. I don't know that he's going to get away with charging users that much.
But it's a big deal if he wants to force verified accounts to pay to stay verified because there are so many verified accounts of politicians at the local level all around the world that might not be able to afford it. And if they're not verified, it's one of the fastest ways misinformation can actually spread because you don't have a valid account to figure out who is saying that message.
BERMAN: And it's a sign that maybe stopping the spread of misinformation isn't a priority. Is that possible?
FISCHER: It's definitely not a priority. I asked people -- I asked people in that squad that Elon Musk brought in where is content moderation on the list of priorities right now? They said oh, we're not even thinking about it. They are solely focused on product, and efficiency, and layoffs right now.
Now, eventually, will content moderation come into play? I mean, it has to. They don't have an advertising business without it. But it's definitely not a priority right now. BERMAN: Sara Fischer, great to see you this morning. Thanks so much.
FISCHER: Thank you.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: We do have some new details about the attack on Paul Pelosi, the speaker's husband. A law enforcement source telling CNN the man who is alleged to have carried out the attack with a hammer in the couple's San Francisco home also had a bag that contained multiple zip ties as well as duct tape.
We are joined now with Susan Page. She is the Washington Bureau chief at USA Today. She is also the author of the book "Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power."
We were just speaking in the commercial break and you pointed out that statement that the speaker put out -- the language that she and her family are heartbroken and traumatized -- that's the kind of thing you don't hear from Speaker Pelosi.
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY, AUTHOR, "MADAM SPEAKER: NANCY PELOSI AND THE LESSONS OF POWER": That's right. She's made a brand of being defiant to the attacks that she's had -- the political attacks -- the increasingly violent rhetoric for 20 years. And for her to put out a statement that said she and her children and her grandchildren are heartbroken and traumatized is a vulnerable side of Nancy Pelosi that she does not often reveal.
Of course, how could she not be? Her husband of 59 years, an 82-year- old man, asleep in his bed to awaken to an assailant -- an attempted assassin of his -- of his wife attacking him -- threatening him with a hammer, carrying duct tape and ties -- zip ties. How could that not be traumatic?
BERMAN: You know -- and it is so interesting because in your book you talk about conversations you had with Nancy Pelosi surrounding January 6 when they were coming for her using very similar language -- where is Nancy? And then, she was still talking tough -- explain.
PAGE: Oh, yes. I talked to her about three months after January 6 happened and I said if they had caught you would they have killed you? And she said yes -- that was what they were trying to do. And then she said but I'm a street fighter. They would have had a battle on their hands. And we were sitting in her speaker's office. She lifted up her foot to show me her stiletto heels and she said besides, I could have used these as a weapon.
So that's a sign of how she has chosen to deal with the fact that she has been the number one target for Republicans, politically and otherwise, but this a whole different game.
KEILAR: We've seen some Republicans speak out against this, but there have been a lot who have not been as vociferous as you would expect that they would. And then there was a moment over the weekend with Virginia Gov. Youngkin saying this about Nancy Pelosi.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. GLENN YOUNGKIN, (R) VIRGINIA: Speaker Pelosi's husband -- they had a break-in last night in their house and he was assaulted. There's no room for violence anywhere. But we're going to send her back to be with him in California. That's what we're going to go do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: I'm surprised -- I wonder if you're surprised that that's something Youngkin personally would say.
PAGE: You know, I think to use this as an opportunity for humor hours after the assault -- that surprised me. And Gov. Youngkin has campaigned and won office in Virginia, which has become a swing state, by not -- by being a kind of moderate figure -- presenting himself in kind of a moderate way. And this seemed like -- I was surprised by his statement. I've been surprised that he has not taken steps to address it.
BERMAN: Talk to us more -- actually, I think we have some sound that you pointed out to me reminded me of -- you say Nancy Pelosi has been the target of rhetoric like this for some time. And I think we have a clip of Kevin McCarthy using some language sometime -- this is well before the attack last week, but this is still Kevin McCarthy -- listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel. It's going to be hard not to hit her with it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: It's going to be hard not to hit her with it. Again, Kevin McCarthy making a joke about hitting Nancy Pelosi with the gavel, but the type of rhetoric that she has been subjected to over the years.
PAGE: Marjorie Taylor Greene has said before this assault that Nancy Pelosi was a traitor. And what do we do with traitors? We executive them.
And the problem isn't that Marjorie Taylor Greene actually wants someone to execute Nancy Pelosi, it's that words have consequences. Words have meaning. Words have power.
What did we learn from the January 6 trials? We have rioter after rioter saying they thought the president was telling them to do this. They thought it was the right thing to do because of the harsh rhetoric that was being used.
KEILAR: What did we learn from the softball shooting of Republicans, though? I just wonder if when you are ratcheting up rhetoric, period, if there ends up being just an audience for it across the political spectrum. Who does it serve? PAGE: Yes. And an attack on -- violence or an arrest outside of Justice Kavanaugh's house. So, some threats to Republicans and conservatives, although the rhetoric has been fiercer on the Republican side.
And it contributes to this toxic brew we have now in our politics where Republicans don't believe the election result. They don't trust the election results to be fair and accurate. What do you do if the election isn't fair and accurate? Maybe you turn to violence. It is a very dangerous place we're in.
KEILAR: Look -- and obviously, fiercer on the Republican side.
KEILAR: But Republicans understand what it is, right? I mean, Steve Scalise was shot. And it just makes you wonder why Republicans aren't speaking up more when they know what the -- what the cost is here.
PAGE: Steve Scalise spoke out against the attack --
BERMAN: He did.
PAGE: -- on Paul Pelosi.
KEILAR: He did.
PAGE: Kevin McCarthy did, too. But yesterday, in an interview, he also said he thought it was part of -- it wasn't fair to blame the rhetoric for this escalating political violence.
And we had the Republican chairwoman saying it's an example -- it's a result of democratic justice policies, not political rhetoric. I think that's a hard case to make.
KEILAR: Yes. Time for some serious soul-searching. But I feel like we say that a lot.
Susan Page, thank you so much for being with us.
PAGE: Thank you.
KEILAR: The tax fraud trial of the Trump Organization ramps up today with opening statements and the first witness testimony. What to expect, ahead.
BERMAN: Russians attacking critical infrastructure facilities in Kyiv overnight, leaving thousands in the dark. We are there live.
BERMAN: This morning, the Powerball jackpot has grown to an estimated $1 billion. If someone wins tonight's drawing, it would be the second- largest jackpot in Powerball history. CNN's Ryan Young live in Atlanta with -- oh, man, Ryan, I've just been
standing where you are so many times. It's like the quintessential lottery live shot. Talk to us about the jackpot tonight.
RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, why not? You've got to do it, right?
YOUNG: People are getting their morning coffee. They're thinking about these lottery dreams.
You've done this before, John. You talk to people and they're talking about what they would do if they won the billion dollars. Well, the first thing you have to do is you have to pick the right numbers. You've got to have these numbers, and no one has done that 37 times in a row. All these drawings are going pretty fast.
But at the end of the day, one of the greatest things about this story is the fact that everyone gets the chance to have a fantasy about what they would if they won a billion dollars. John, you may buy Patriot tickets because I know you're such a big Patriots fan.
But the whole idea -- we've been seeing people coming this morning, grab their cup of coffee, run over to the (audio gap) --
YOUNG: -- their family. They would make sure they started investing. I asked one woman why would you invest with a billion dollars? At this point, you have enough money where you don't have to worry about the rest. But people are thinking about the idea of having that generational wealth.
You know these locations like this Quik Trip here -- there are so many people flooding in in the morning to get their coffee and to get whatever they're going to get before they go to work. But at the same time, they're stopping at machines like this one because a billion dollars is something that's really attractive.
Even if you don't pay the lottery, why not take a chance -- five, 10, 15 dollars. You don't want to get out of hand but you also don't want to be left out of those office pools. So, hopefully, John, you won't leave us out in Atlanta if you guys are doing an office pool in New York. But so many people having the conversation about a billion dollars, especially if no one wins and it rolls over again.
BERMAN: Office pools are treacherous things, Ryan. You can't trust anyone -- you can't. How do you know the person that goes and buys the tickets isn't buying their own ticket on the side? Don't trust it. That's my advice to you.
I was worried -- we lost you there for a second and we didn't use it --
YOUNG: But you want to be -- but you want to be -- but you want to be involved in it, right? Because at the end of the day, you would not want to be the last person left at work if everyone else won.
But if you think about this, record sales have been going. We've seen people lining up from other states are coming to Georgia. There have been times where businesses will set up outside of these lottery destinations to put their food trucks to make sure the people who are standing in line are fed. Not happening right now. Of course, it's Halloween. Maybe people will do a little later trick or treating and getting their own lottery numbers.
It's one of those things that you -- kind of unites everyone. But at the same time, people really want to fantasize about that big jackpot.
BERMAN: See, I don't think it's uniting. I think it's every man for himself. I'm not doing the office pool and if I win I'm not sharing, Ryan. I just want to make that clear.
KEILAR: What the heck.
YOUNG: You're not going to share at all?
KEILAR: Come on.
BERMAN: No, no -- are you kidding?
YOUNG: I would share. I would take you to a Patriots-Dolphins game.
BERMAN: I'll take you -- I'll take you to a football game. I'll take you to a football game. I will do that.
I will say I was worried we lost -- I was worried we lost Ryan after that --
KEILAR: I was going to share -- I was going to share with you.
BERMAN: Yes. I think it's too late for that.
KEILAR: Well, my goodness. All right, I'll just keep my paltry billion for myself.
BERMAN: You can take your meager billion dollars.
Ryan, thank you very much -- enjoy. Enjoy your coffee because that's probably what you'll end up winning today.
BERMAN: All right, Halloween festivities in South Korea quickly turning into tragedy. Details on the investigation into the deadly crowd surge that left more than 150 dead.
KEILAR: And Paul Pelosi, the speaker's husband, recovering after being attacked at their home. What a source told CNN about what the alleged attacker brought with him to the scene.
KEILAR: The attack on Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband is highlighting the growing threat that domestic extremists pose just eight days before the midterm elections.
John Avlon has today's Reality Check.
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Halloween is all about fear and fun, trick or treat. But if you're really looking to get a fright, Election Day seems like the main event.
Fearmongering is a prime driver of our politics these days and evidence suggests it's making us bitter and paranoid, undermining civic trust, and occasionally erupting into violence.
Now, the hammer attack on Nancy Pelosi's 82-year-old husband Paul, by an individual who police say was hunting the Speaker of the House, is just the latest ugly example.
Since the January 6 attack on our Capitol, we've seen armed men arrested near conservative Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's house. Another armed man arrested outside the Seattle home of progressive Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, as well as an attack on an FBI office in Cincinnati after the agency searched for classified documents being held at Mar-a-Lago.
Now, federal officials are warning that domestic violent extremists pose a heightened threat around the midterm elections just eight days away.
We cannot get numbed into thinking this is normal, but let's be real. We are reaping what we have sown. American politics today is full of hate-fueled rhetorical attacks and the proliferation of misinformation via social media.
There's even a phrase for it -- 'Devil Terms' -- coined by Professor Jennifer Mercieca from Texas A&M. Now, 'Devil Terms' are designed to demonize and even dehumanize political opponents, leaving little room for reasoning together.
The New York Times ran an analysis of devil terms in 3.7 million posts, fundraising emails, and speeches going back to 2010 and found that current members of Congress who fought certifying the election on January 6 used polarizing language on Twitter about 55 percent more than other Republicans, and nearly triple the rate of Democrats. In other words, embracing Trump's election lies seem to be a slippery slope towards other forms of extremism.
And here's another way to gauge it. GOP election objectors referred to their opponents as socialists, in more than 1,800 tweets, more than twice as often as other Republicans, while Democrats called the other side fascist around 80 times.
So while there is a feedback loop between perceptions of extremes on the left and right, they are not equivalent within the two parties right now. If anything, the problem is getting worse because more than half of all GOP nominees are running on election denial this year. And if folks only accept the results of an election they win -- well, that's not democracy at all.
Now, on a smaller scale, Democrats are not immune from trying to profit from polarization. Remember during the primaries when Democrats were warning about Trump's threat to democracy and some of them actually targeted the few Republicans in the primary who had the guts to stand up to Trump? They believed if an election denier won that primary they'd be easy to beat in the general election.
Well, now we're seeing a Democratic activist group running ads attacking one of the sole remaining Republicans who voted for Trump's impeachment, California Congressman David Valadao, and trying to make it look like they're hitting him from the right -- yes. A political action committee called Voter Protection Project is running ads calling Valadao a, quote, "traitor who turned his back on Trump" -- presumably, to erode right-wing turnout.
Look, I get that politics can feel like a zero-sum game but this is dishonest and dishonorable. We need to recognize courage and character across the aisle if we want Congress to work because democracy depends on an assumption of goodwill among fellow citizens. And these devil terms take direct aim at that goodwill. We can already see this fearmongering online has real-world effects.
And there are folks who say that calling out these election lies is self-divisive, but I'm not buying it. Insisting on a fact-based debate is absolutely necessary for a self-governing society.
We need to confront fear with facts and steer towards solutions that decrease polarization and misinformation, armed with the understanding that the vast majority of Americans are not hard partisans who hate the other side.
America's been playing a dangerous game by enabling these extremes to profit from polarization while flooding the zone with hate -- not least because it pushes good people away from participating in civics and politics. Defending our democracy will require fewer of these devil terms and more appeals to the better angels of our nature.
And that's your reality check.
KEILAR: John Avlon, thank you for that.
AVLON: Thanks, guys.
KEILAR: And NEW DAY continues right now.
BERMAN: A Halloween celebration turns disastrous.
I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar.
At least 154 people were killed Saturday night in a crush of surging partygoers in Seoul, South Korea. [08:00:00]