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Newsrooms Are Sorting Through The "Facebook Papers"; Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) Is Interviewed About The Facebook Papers; Study: YouTube Viewers Get Locked In Political Bubbles; The Big Problem With 'Both Sides' Political Coverage; Links Between The 'Big Lie' And Vaccine Lies; Where Did This School Board Narrative Come From. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired October 24, 2021 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: So, striketober, terrible word, and the great resignation may look chaotic, but this is just the kind of chaos the American economy needs.
Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter live in studio here in New York. And this is RELIABLE SOURCES, where we examine the story behind the story. We try to figure out what's reliable.
This hour, a veteran political reporter who just can't take it anymore. She says the press is failing the public by soft peddling the GOP's radicalization. Her name is Jackie Calmes and she'll join me live.
And on a related note, why bursting the Fox media bubble is hard. We have an exclusive look at a new study of YouTube rabbit holes.
Plus, a psychologist's provocative point of view about the delusions that fuel the big lie.
But, first, what is Facebook doing to us? Maybe the better question is phrased this way, what are we doing to each other with the tools, with the weapons Facebook is providing?
That is going to be a big theme this coming week as a consortium of news outlets come out with stories based on internal Facebook reports and discussions. These are just a few of the participating news outlets -- CNN, NBC, "The A.P.", "The New York Times," "The Atlantic", Bloomberg.
And "The A.P." says the stories are coming out on Monday, really kicking off what "Axios" calls a week-long Facebook flood. But already, we agree seeing some of the reports like this one atop the front page of "The Washington Post" this morning looking at reactions inside Facebook after January 6th.
The stories are based, in part, on the documents that Frances Haugen smuggled out of Facebook. She handed over evidence to the SEC alleging Facebook has been misleading investors and the public. And now redacted versions of those papers she provided are in the hands of dozens of journalists who are combing through them, looking for new insights.
And the result is the reporting you're starting to see this weekend -- reporting about misinformation, tripping alarms inside Facebook, about debates internally about what and how to do.
A lot of stories overnight and this morning about the rampant spread of hate in India, about how Facebook platforms in India stoked religious hatred and caused so much violence and even death in India. It's a reminder this is a global story we're talking about.
And that's why this next quote stood out to me the most. This is from a new story in "The Wall Street Journal" citing a July 2020 report from inside Facebook. A Muslim man in Mumbai said to Facebook researchers, quote, if social media survives ten more years like this, there will be only hatred, there will be only hatred.
These platforms, they're pulling at us, pulling us apart. That's one of the themes of the Facebook papers. And that's one of the big events on Monday. We're going to see more stories from the Facebook papers on Monday.
Also Monday, Haugen is expected to give testimony, give evidence to the U.K. parliament for its draft online safety bill.
And, third, when markets close in the U.S., Facebook will release its quarterly earnings on Monday, sure to show extraordinary profits from its billions of users and many advertising customers. So while Facebook gets richer, we all get poorer.
Standing by here, Facebook oversight board member, Suzanne Nossel. We'll speak with her in a moment.
But first, Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat from Connecticut, chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security. That is committee that held the hearing with Facebook whistle-blower Frances Haugen.
Senator, thank you for coming on the program.
You've been reading these stories based on the Facebook papers this weekend. What new have you learned?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): What we're seeing, Brian, is really a drum beat of disclosures from Facebook and Instagram's own files. That point is really important because the research and studies that reveal Facebook putting profits over people are from Facebook's own files revealed to them long before it was revealed to us. And yet, they disregarded them and continued exploiting children to fatten their bottom lines.
And I think what we're seeing here is a building drum beat for accountability, a movement for reform that will require disclosure of the powerful algorithms that drive disruptive content to children and others, the hate speech in foreign countries but also the anger and depression that is amplified by those algorithms as it leads children down rabbit holes in this kind of feedback cycle.
So, be prepared for more disclosures coming this week and in the coming weeks.
STELTER: You've been putting pressure on Mark Zuckerberg to testify before your committee. What day? Can you tell us when he's coming?
BLUMENTHAL: I wish I could. I wish Mark Zuckerberg would stand up to his responsibility. You know, he controls that company in a way few other single individuals do in corporate America. And he should be held accountable -- so should Facebook for the kind of destructive content they are pushing.
And we're asking not only for Mark Zuckerberg but disclosure of all of these documents that you are seeing now in real time from other whistle-blowers. And we anticipate and hope there will be more whistle-blowers.
STELTER: That's interesting. Have you heard from any others?
BLUMENTHAL: We know of others. We hope to hear from others. We hope that we'll have testimony from others, if they're willing to step forward.
I think what you're seeing is Facebook employees who are disgusted and just fed up, saying enough is enough, coming forward because Facebook itself disbanded that civic integrity unit that was supposed to impose some accountability.
But, clearly, Facebook is unable to police itself, unable to impose self-moderation. And that's why this reform is going to build as a movement.
STELTER: And all of this leads us to what exactly? Facebook says it wants regulation. What exactly are you hoping to accomplish?
BLUMENTHAL: What we're hearing from Facebook is platitudes and bromides. When it says it wants regulation, at the same time, it is fighting that regulation tooth and nail, day and night, with armies of lawyers, millions of dollars in lobbying. And so, I must say, Facebook saying it wants regulation is the height of disingenuousness.
What we want is Facebook in fact to cooperate in imposing legal accountability, piercing the shield of legal immunity that it has and other tech platforms have. We want to go and explore other tech platforms as well.
We're having TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube testify on Tuesday because I've heard from parents they see the same problems there as occurs on Facebook and Instagram. Eating disorders, online bullying, self-harm, even suicide.
And we want Facebook, in effect, to face the music here and come clean, reveal all of its files. It says we've been selectively curating what's been disclosed, but Facebook ought to come clean and reveal everything.
STELTER: So that next hearing on Tuesday, you're broadening out, looking at these other platforms as well. Do you -- do you view them in rank order? Do you view Facebook as the worst offender and the others lower down? How do you -- how do you handle that?
BLUMENTHAL: For me, the question is not who's the worst, but how do we reform them all? Not a race to the bottom. It should be a race to the top.
And what I'd like to see is there'd be competition for who can be the best. Instead what we saw over the weekend was a report that Google, a year or so ago, in fact, tried to discourage participation by other tech platforms in cooperating with the government. And so, I think that we're on the verge of the public really demanding this reform movement. And rather than trying to rank who's worse, I'd like to see the ranking as to who is the best.
Senator Blumenthal, thank you very much for being here.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you, Brian.
STELTER: This just in during the conversation with CNN's Donie O'Sullivan, a new memo from Nick Clegg, the top executive of Facebook, saying, hey, staffers brace for more about headlines in the coming days. Now, that is because of the Facebook papers we were talking about, these disclosures coming from Frances Haugen's document dump that reporters are combing through and we're going to see more of those stories in the coming days.
For another perspective on this, let me bring in Suzanne Nossel. She's a member of the Facebook oversight board, and she's the CEO of Pan America.
Great to see you, Suzanne.
SUZANNE NOSSEL, MEMBER, FACEBOOK OVERSIGHT BOARD: Great to be here.
STELTER: First, oversight board 101. For folks who don't know what it is -- what is it you all do on the board?
NOSSEL: Yeah, sure. So, Facebook decided probably roughly two years ago that they wanted to bring in outside expertise to oversee their content decisions. They didn't want to bear the full weight of responsibility for big questions like, should Donald Trump be allowed on the platform? I think they're very ambivalent about regulation. A lot of people think the creation of the board was an effort to fend off regulation. So what they decided to do was assemble a group of experts from around
the world. There are 20 of us so far, just about five Americans, so very international. It's people with human rights backgrounds, journalism backgrounds, legal backgrounds.
And we come together, our main role is to adjudicate cases. So if content is left up on the platform and people find it objectionable, think it breaks Facebook's rules --
NOSSEL: -- we can review that. Or if content is taken down and people protest and say, hey, why was that picture objected to? We can review that and render a decision.
We really scrutinize how Facebook came to that judgment. But, of course, over the last couple of months, you know, we've seen kind of cases are sort of the tip of the iceberg when it comes to oversight and accountability of Facebook.
STELTER: This is from your first report that just came out this week. It found people don't know why they're getting banned, why they're getting content taken down. There are a lot of users are in the dark when they are moderated or affected by Facebook.
So that seems like a big problem, you are flagging among other problems.
NOSSEL: Absolutely. When you don't get a coherent answer as to what rule you've supposedly broken, what exactly in your post violated that rule, what, if anything, you can do to remediate it, it's very black box. It's impossible to get a human being on the line to actually ask a question.
Facebook treats individuals as users, not as customers. So there's no sort of customer service that we're attuned to in other industries where, you know, there is recourse, there's a website, there's a chat bot at least, and you can escalate it to a human if it's a serious subject.
STELTER: But correct me if I'm wrong, that's because the users are the advertisers.
NOSSEL: That's right.
NOSSEL: But, look, you know, it's the users who are generating the profitability of this business. So, that's part of a cultural shift that I think is necessary here. They've got to do more to police hatred, vitriol, bullying on the platform. And we're seeing that, you know, coming out in spades through all of these different revelations.
You know, at the same time, my background's in free expression, I'm the CEO of Pan America by day, I don't want Facebook to just wipe content out without any explanation. I want people to have a recourse if they believe their ability to express themself has been unjustifiably impaired.
They ought to have somewhere to go to get an answer as to why and to resolve it if it was done without a basis.
STELTER: What are you expecting to learn from these papers? Are we at the point where there is still more to know about what's going on inside Facebook? Or are we at the point, Suzanne, where it's like, okay, everyone sees the problem, we just can't agree on what to do about it?
NOSSEL: The revelations sort of have -- are being of a repetitive quality --
STELTER: Yeah, yeah, a little bit.
NOSSEL: -- you know, where is there a hand-wringing staffer saying, you know, it's just terrible what happened in India, or in Sri Lanka, or in Myanmar, or right here in the United States of America, and we could have done more. You know, here were the tools and techniques, here's what we knew at the time about what was going wrong.
And, so, you know, what we're trying to do as a board is use the authority, the power, the relationship that we have with Facebook to press for more transparency to really dig into some of these systems like the cross-check system that they have for large accounts where there's added scrutiny given when there's content that flags, that is flagged for a takedown.
STELTER: What it means is if you're a celebrity, you can get away with it.
NOSSEL: Seems to me in that. That's not what they say about it.
STELTER: Donald Trump --
NOSSEL: But -- you know, it seems like at least in some cases it's, in effect, so-called white-listing --
NOSSEL: -- where nothing gets taken down, and that's because not -- not because the content's not violating but perhaps because of the identity of the poster.
STELTER: And you all are calling out Facebook saying, you've misled us about that. We need to do more.
So, there's a lot more to learn, you're saying?
NOSSEL: Very much so and a lot more pushing to do. And that's how we're trying to use, you know, the authority, the responsibility we have.
STELTER: Right. Suzanne, thank you for being here.
NOSSEL: Thank you.
STELTER: Good to see you.
Coming up after a break, take a trip with us down a YouTube rabbit hole and hear from a panel of experts about what it all means.
And later, from school board meetings to congressional hearings, what's going wrong on the education beat?
STELTER: It's like hearing a broken record repeating and repeating, playing the same tune until you can't get it out of your head. YouTube is that good or that bad at locking people into political echo chambers.
A group called Tech Transparency Project is releasing a new study today that's all about this. It says the echo chamber problem is worse in Fox's America. TTP is a nonpartisan watchdog group funded by people like Craig Newmark and Pierre Omidyar. It wanted to look at how videos from Fox and MSNBC are recommended, how often and how many, and it found a real disparity. Look on screen.
I asked the group's director about this, Katie Paul. Here's what she said about the findings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATIE PAUL, TECH TRANSPARENCY PROJECT DIRECTOR: One of the major differences we found between right-wing content on YouTube and left- wing content on YouTube was that the Fox viewer never broke out of their Fox feedback you know. While YouTube's algorithm eventually served up a more mixed assortment to an MSNBC viewer, including quite a bit of Fox.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: This is an issue across the tech ecosphere. New research from inside Twitter shows, quote, it amplifies more tweets from right wing politicians and news outlets than content from left wing sources? So, is that because right-wing ideas are catchier? Are they supported by a stronger media machine? Or are the algorithms favoring the right and tilting the playing field?
Paul points out, it doesn't have to be this way.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL: There are ways for platforms like YouTube to combat these kind of filter bubbles. YouTube kids, for instance, stopped the auto play feature of the next algorithmically recommended videos. This type of change could be used beyond YouTube kids to ensure that people are not being driven toward radicalized content.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Yeah, but ultimately, she says, if the business's model about maximizing time on site, keeping people online as long as possible, then it's hard to imagine anything changing.
I'm joined now by Philip Bump, national correspondent at the "Washington Post", journalist and host of "The Run Tell This" podcast, Mara Schiavocampo, and CNN senior media reporter, Oliver Darcy.
Welcome to you all this.
This new report about YouTube is up on the TTP website. It's more evidence, Oliver, of something that's been emerging for years, right?
OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Right.
STELTER: That not only are these echo chambers really, really insidious, they're also louder more on one side than the other.
DARCY: Right, and I don't think it comes as a surprise to anyone, including the folks at YouTube that their recommendation algorithm is really a radicalization machine. The thing is, what are they to do about this problem?
It's one thing to recommend puppy videos to someone interested in dogs. It's a totally different thing to send someone down a rabbit hole where they are seeing misinformation, extremist political rhetoric, et cetera, et cetera.
So the message is what are they going to do to solve for this issue? And I don't think we've heard a really great solution or answer yet.
STELTER: But the tech platforms say, and I think it's fair to say, Mara -- well, cable news had the same problem. Traditional media has the same problem. If you're watching videos on Fox, aren't you just watching Fox News?
I mean, isn't it true that traditional media's house is not clean even as we talk about big tech?
MARA SCHIAVOCAMPO, JOURNALIST: So, here's the thing, this right-wing content has always performed very well. You can look at talk radio and see how astronomical conservative viewpoints are there. And so, now, we're seeing the digital equivalent of that, not just in YouTube, but also podcasts. If you look at the Apple charts, the top performing news podcasts are almost all on the right.
But here's what's different. You now have the algorithm that's essentially putting the thumb on the scale, that's putting weight to assist them in growing their audiences. So even if you have extremist views, even if your views are what would be considered fringe, you now have the algorithm that wants to keep people on the site for as long as possible, and the best way to do that is to bring up these deep, emotional responses.
And so that is what's tilting the balance. That's what's different. People's personal views are not affecting television programming, but they are affecting what they're seeing on YouTube.
STELTER: Right, and it's about feelings over facts so often.
So, a new entrant into this world this week -- Donald Trump announcing Truth Social, this business venture he has where he's getting an infusion of cash and he says he's launching a social media operation. It looks just like Twitter. And he also says it's going to launch a media platform, maybe make TV shows.
But the big news, Philip, was, OK, he is actually going to launch a version of Twitter. He says he's doing it. He's raising a lot of money doing it. He has lots of Trump fans buy into his stock.
Should the press take this seriously?
PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yeah. I mean, we can't not take it seriously because this is essentially Donald Trump reinstating his direct-to-the-pipeline to his base which was how he was able to gain power in 2015, 2016.
But I think what's fascinating about Truth Social in particular is that part of what we haven't talked about yet is the fact that the right is very good at policing technology and media companies as well. They are very adamant about saying you guys are cracking down on it, it's too hard, you need to scale it back.
And that's what's causing Twitter and Facebook to even say, OK, well, we need to change what we're doing because we don't want to silence the voices which are yelling at us the loudest. Essentially what Trump's platform allows him to do allows him to say, hey, this is the place where you're not going to be censoring the way that Titter and Facebook are.
And it creates, you know, Make America Great Again was all about elevating this idea that you could say whatever you wanted to say and go back to the old times when the rules didn't apply, and that's what Trump is now promising with this new platform.
STELTER: What about you, Mara? Are you taking it seriously?
SCHIAVOCAMPO: I am. It'd be very easy to discredit this, right?
STELTER: And a lot of people already have. They say it's a joke, dismiss it.
SCHIAVOCAMPO: Absolutely, it would be easy to dismiss it as a joke because Donald Trump, arguably, has not created a successful business, running a social media platform is a business, and it's not an easy business.
However, I think that would be just as much of a mistake as dismissing his candidacy for presidency. And we all saw that that was something that should've been taken seriously. And there is a lot of potential here.
You have a man who is the de facto leader of 75 million Americans who feel very strongly about him, who feel very strongly about their freedoms, who are very upset about the fact that he's been kicked off these platforms. And him having a direct tie to his audience that no one can police is a very, very scary thought.
STELTER: So, where do we end up, Oliver? Where are we going to be a year from now? If he launches this thing, where are we going to be? Just even more one America, two different worlds split right down, just no overlap at all?
DARCY: If it succeeds, perhaps you see some sort of more of a splintering of the information.
STELTER: You're skeptical. You said if he succeeds.
DARCY: I have a hard -- I mean, this is coming from the person who couldn't even manage to run a successful blog for more than a month, right?
STELTER: OK, fair.
DARCY: And this has been tried time and time again. There are a lot of people who have put a lot of money into trying to create a right-wing social media platform. They have really not succeeded so far. So I am, I would say, in the skeptical camp here.
But if anyone can do it, maybe it is the former president. He has this big built-in base. We'll see if he can actually pull it off. You know, right when he launched it, it was immediately hacked and defaced.
So, again, I'm not -- I'm in the skeptical category. If he does launch it, I think it will really, again, just splinter the information economy even further.
STELTER: When he said he's going to launch TV shows, because I thought, well, that exists.
It's called Fox News. Trump TV exists, it's called Newsmax and One America News. It's an extremely crowded market.
I mean, don't you find that, Philip? You track this world. It's in a very crowded market.
BUMP: Yeah, it is. I'm curious. There's always going to be this appetite for things that people want to hear. And part of the reason that Facebook is so successful is because people hear the things they want and then they can share that with other people as well. So, it's not the algorithms. It's also people consciously choosing to share these things, of course.
Donald Trump entering into this new social media space allows him to inject more of that stuff -- STELTER: Right.
BUMP: -- into the calculus, and into the conversation, then people can then amplify. He's very frustrated.
I mean, I like to refer to this as his vertigo movement, the old Jimmy Stewart movie, where he lost his first true love, which is Twitter. Now, he's recreating Twitter because he's desperate to be back in this conversation. And this, if nothing else, will certainly have that direct pipeline which pipeline which could be problematic.
STELTER: And all the talk about Facebook and YouTube and how about how all these platforms are hurting society, it makes me think, OK, well, if Facebook didn't exist, book face will exist, you know? If twitter didn't exist, Vitter would exist. Trump's going to make his own platform.
That maybe the issue is not entirely just the sites, it's ourselves? Is that fair? And we got to look inward? Some of this is about ourselves and, you know?
STELTER: All right. Up next here on the program, everybody's coming back. We're talking about the dangers of both-siderism. Veteran reporter Jackie Calmes will join me, talking about what the press core is getting wrong when it comes to covering Washington.
STELTER: Hey, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES, I'm Brian Stelter. A thought-provoking column in the "Los Angeles Times" recently -- let me show you the headline. It says journalists are failing the public with both-siderism in political coverage.
The author of that column is a veteran journalist who spent many years at the New York Times and now is at the LA Times. Her name is Jackie Calmes. She's here with me now.
Jackie, great to see you, I want to dive right into your argument about what both-siderism is and why it's still in the public?
Who's -- you know, is it that we're treating Democrats or Republicans equally, and ignoring GOP radicalism -- it radicalism, is at the heart of the problem?
JACKIE CALMES, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST, LOS ANGELES TIMES: In a sense, I mean, I -- there's no -- there's no question that journalists are recognizing the radicalization of the Republican Party. I think what's changed a little bit is that since Trump left office, there's more of a sense that that maybe we're back to normal.
But it is -- you know, this is not a new problem, or a new, you know, dynamic. I first started to chase, you mentioned, I was at the New York Times, well, for 18 years before that I was at the Wall Street Journal.
CALMES: I've never done my job, you know, it's more than -- more than a quarter-century, I've never done my job or did as when I was a reporter, any differently at both papers, even though the "Journals" known as a conservative paper, "The New York Times" as a liberal paper, they both gave news the same way, which was fact-based. And I've tried to always -- I think I'm a very fair reporter and give both sides of the story.
But what started to happen back in the mid-90s with the takeover of the House by the House Republicans and in particular, Newt Gingrich, was a new nasty, I mean, his byword was being nasty, and norms busting, and obstructionist sort of governance, well, you couldn't really call it governance, that sort of was a precursor for Trump.
And, and it was, you know, when both sides ism is sort of like, you know, to be simplistic about it, as you say, well, you reported something that's somewhat critical of Republicans, then you sort of have to say, something along the lines of, but both sides do it, Democrats are as guilty as well.
And for years, that was, sort of, you know, simplistically, that was -- I was able to do that, and everyone else was able to do that. But by increasingly from 1995 on no, it was asymmetric, as the political scientists call it, and it was more descriptive of Republicans than Democrats.
STELTER: And you cover this in your book, "Dissent," showing -- it's called Dissent, but it's also the descent, I hope the GOP. With that in mind, you know, you say reporters are getting -- are starting to get it -- you get more to this I think reporters are getting it right more often.
But that, of course, causes more alienation, right? It causes Republican readers to just dismiss all the coverage. So, is it just -- it's just a vicious cycle? How do you -- where do you see us going, Jackie?
CALMES: It is -- it is difficult. And I have to say that some of the -- you know, the response I got that was critical to that column suggested that I was saying we shouldn't be objective anymore, we shouldn't be fair and balanced.
Of course, we should but I just think an objective and fact-based treatment of the news often means you can't report something that Republicans are doing without -- and suggest that this is indicative of a broader, more general problem in our politics without being clearer somehow, that it is no this is peculiar to Republicans. This is the nature of the Republican Party. And I think it's rooted in a -- in a dynamic in which the Republican Party which, at the beginning of my career, proudly was a small government party styled itself that way is now an anti-government party.
CALMES: And which means that it doesn't really care if government works well, and in fact when there's a Democrat as President, they do their darndest to make sure government doesn't work well, because they think that redounds to them politically.
So, I just think -- the one thing that made me write that column is a sense that there has been -- like I said at the outset, people feeling like, well, without Trump in the picture, we're sort of back to normal, and, in fact, we're not.
Trump still runs the party, the Republicans in Congress still marched to his beat and he, himself is very much still in the picture, and could conceivably be President again someday.
STELTER: It's a present-tense story. It's not a past tense story. I totally agree. Jackie, thank you very much for coming on.
CALMES: Thank you. Thanks, Brian.
STELTER: Up next, why journalism alone is not enough to explain belief in the big lie, belief in vaccine lies? We're going to get into the psychology in a moment.
STELTER: How exactly are election lies and vaccine lies related? Why are they connected? Why is there so much overlap between folks who think President Biden lost, and folks who think COVID vaccines are a threat?
I increasingly think the answers lie not in political analysis, but in psychology. We need to be booking more psychologists on television, so we decided to do that today.
Let me bring in Jay Van Bavel. He's an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in New York University and Co-Author of the book "The Power OF Us."
Jay, I've been wondering this for a while. Why is there so much overlap between the big lie and vaccine lies? Where is this coming from? And you have an answer, it's about identity.
JAY VAN BAVEL, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY & NEURAL SCIENCE, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: Yes. One of the core reasons is when you identify with a political party or a leader, you start to believe the information that's shared by that leader and fellow party members. And that becomes your belief system and so that can affect beliefs about elections, vaccines, the pandemic, or any other number of issues.
STELTER: So, it all becomes -- it's really led by that lever -- the world leader. You wrote this in March of 2020. Let's put the headline on screen. You wrote this for The Washington Post, you said. In a pandemic, political polarization could kill people.
This was like week two of the great shutdown. This was -- this was the very beginning of everything going downhill. Do you read that now and think I've never been so angry about being right. I mean, what's that, like? You called it, you saw it coming, you said people are going to die for polarized, and it's happened?
BAVEL: Yes. I mean, we're now, you know, over 700,000 people have died in a pandemic, and a big risk factor that's a problem in the U.S. more than in many other countries is polarization. So, other countries that have handled it, well, like New Zealand, have rallied together around a common identity.
Even if you look across the border north to Canada, they're polarized, but they didn't polarize the pandemic. So, leaders from Conservative Party and the Liberal Party, their rhetoric online and on -- in the media, and social media was similar, and so people across the political spectrum in Canada believed in the seriousness of the pandemic and did the right thing.
STELTER: But, be able to see it coming and then not been able to stop it, is there a frustration there?
BAVEL: Yes, it's an incredibly frustrating thing. It's like we can study these things in the lab or in the field as much as we want but if political leadership isn't there to do the right thing, and compel people to believe, you know, what the -- what the science is telling them, then we're at a loss.
STELTER: So, I want to show you something that comes from the realm of comedy but may have a serious point. This is from the Daily Show from Jordan Klepper, he's been going to Trump rallies, he went to one interviewed a bunch of people, he came back with sound bites that were so shocking.
He kind of hoped it was a joke, but he kind of hoped that these people were edited out of context, he kind of hoped they didn't really say what they said, but here, watch, it was everything.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, Antifa like the corrupt FBI, basically, rhinos, corrupt politicians, the deep state, all that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe that it was people like me and people like you see over in that crowd that did it.
JORDAN KLEPPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Who was behind it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: FBI, CIA, at paid-for were used.
KLEPPER: Who is running the government right now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: So, who is running the government right now? President Trump. So, when you hear that, first of all, it's hope it's just comedy.
But there's something real there, there's -- we know there's something real there in the country. Is that all about identity? Do we explain these delusions just through people's identity?
BAVEL: I mean, identity is part of it, right? So, it's a psychological piece. But it's what universe of information people live in that interacts with their identity.
So, if they're hearing misinformation from the news sources that they tune into, from the people they follow on social media, from their local community leaders and peers, then they're going to be misled into believing all kinds of misinformation, lies, and conspiracy theories.
STELTER: And do you think delusion is a fair word to be using at this point, when it comes to people who believe you know, the election was stolen or that Trump is still President?
BAVEL: Yes. I mean, it's not a clinical delusion, so these are people, in theory, who wouldn't need like clinical help. They just need social support. They need people in their social environment who are more willing to give them accurate information.
STELTER: I so often think this is about social trust or lack of social trust, people who are alienated from institutions in society, they go down this identity, they go down these rabbit holes and what does the research show us -- psychology about bringing people back up out of them?
BAVEL: Yes. So, that's where it gets tough. And one of the reasons -- so there's research on, for example, people who are in cults, and so we can think of, like, you know, hardcore cults as people who are really committed to a certain belief. And what they found is when that belief is falsified, people feel an enormous amount of dissonance because it's like, either I stick with this belief system of people I care about and trust or accept that it's false and completely move on and start another life elsewhere.
And so that's incredibly challenging for people, and so when this has happened in Doomsday cults when their prophecy fails, they stick to the belief system, and often they'll start to proselytize it, try to convince other people to join it because they have to rationalize the fact that they're that committed to it.
STELTER: We're not ending on an optimistic note, are we professor?
STELTER: OK, but that's the reality right now. Thank you for coming on. Thanks so much, congrats to you.
BAVEL: Thank you.
STELTER: After the break here, we're going to dissect how a narrative is formed. You might have heard about it. DOJ calling parents domestic terrorists. Where did that come from? We have answers next
STELTER: So, let's look at how a narrative is born. The narrative is that the government is targeting conservative parents as domestic terrorists. Scary, right? Where did this narrative come from and why?
Well, first, we have to back away up. Pandemic school closures sparked a new era of political activism at the school board level, much of it on the right pushing for schools to open and masks off.
At the same time, a conservative media crusade against critical race theory spurred local concerns and conflicts and a new wave of book banning.
Many of the eruptions of the school boards were authentic, while others were ginned up for the cameras. And the bottom line is it sleepy school board meeting rooms have become battlegrounds, with local disputes, turning the national news driven by daily coverage on Fox and Newsmax.
So, that's the context for what came next. The National School Board Association pleading for help four weeks ago, saying educators need help dealing with the "growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation." School boards want to hear from parents, of course, they said, but it's getting scary out there.
This letter even said some of the threats "could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism." It's there, it was. There was the T- word.
Within days, Attorney General Merrick Garland said he was very concerned. He directed the DOJ to address the rise and "criminal conduct" directed towards school personnel. Criminal conduct, he said not parents shouting in a school board meeting, but threats stalking violence.
Now, that letter from Garland has triggered weeks and weeks and weeks of right-wing content, all summed up by this Sean Hannity banner, as families stand up against out-of-control school boards, Biden DOJ wants to make parents the villains.
So, on Fox News, you've heard the phrase domestic terrorist dozens of times. Obviously, the Biden DOJ never said it. It was a school board association that kind of sort of set it in a letter about serious threats, not about parents exercising their rights. But that's how a narrative is born.
So, flash forward to the day Garland testified on Capitol Hill, and many of the GOP lawmakers sounded like Fox Talking Heads, watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS: They may be domestic terrorists.
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, FOX NEWS: Domestic terrorists.
REP. STEVE CHABOT, (R-OH): An act of domestic terrorism.
REP. BURGES OWENS, (R-UT): Domestic terrorists.
REP. TOM TIFFANY, (R-WI): Are we domestic terrorists? No.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: No, no, of course not. But this is how a narrative is formed, it's how it spreads, it's why the AG had to react, and now this weekend, there's breaking news about this.
So, let me bring the panel back, Philip Bump, Mara Schiavocampo, and Oliver Darcy, are all with me.
Philip, you wrote about this, and how this issue of schools, education, has become so high profile on the right. This is a winning issue it seems in right-wing media.
BUMP: Yes, exactly right. This is -- it's really important and I'm glad you brought in those legislators echoing what they saw on Fox News because this is very much about politics as well.
This is very much at the heart of the Virginia gubernatorial race. Monmouth polling showed a big spike in the salience of education and what kids are learning in schools in that race, which is obviously a very critical bellwether for next year.
But you know, your context was exactly right, that this is not about parents, but it is about people who are making violent threats against mostly volunteer school administrative officials.
And we've long seen, since the start of the Trump era, we've seen this weird conflation on the right of people who are being accused of really bad things with everyone who supports Trump. It started with the deplorable, right? Hillary Clinton says half of these people are sexist, racist, that's what Clinton said --
STELTER: The racist start-up horrible --
BUMP: That's exactly.
STELTER: -- And then everyone calls themselves deplorable?
BUMP: Exactly. In this, now, we're seeing the same thing happen here, because it's -- this victimization, which obviously Fox News helps amplify.
STELTER: January 6, another great example.
STELTER: You know, the claim that everybody, not just the criminals who tried to ransack our Capitol, but everybody who was -- you know.
So, Oliver, the National School Board Association, put a letter this weekend. They apologize, they back -- they backed up from the -- we shouldn't use that language. We shouldn't have said domestic terrorism. So, what does that mean? Is that just a win for Fox, what does this mean?
DARCY: I'm not sure if it's a win for Fox necessarily, or they're making a big deal out of --
STELTER: It is more content, though.
DARCY: It is -- it is more content. But I think you -- it's really important to point out here, Brian, in the segment is that this Fox News coverage, this right-wing media coverage led to, you know, important time with the Attorney General this past week.
DARCY: Meaning, basically wasted as these lawmakers play to the cameras. I mean, they know that the Biden DOJ is not targeting school board parents as domestic terrorists, but the audience believes that and so you have lawmakers who have the Attorney General, a pretty important guy in front of them, and there are a lot of serious questions to ask him.
And instead, they totally waste their time playing two cameras, because they know this is airing on Fox, and they know this is going to go viral and earn them political points. And that is really one of the side effects of this, you know, information economy.
STELTER: Right. Mara, it occurs to me that this is about education, but it's not about what we should be teaching, it's about people being afraid of what is taught. So, it's like almost like an anti-education beat.
SCHIAVOCAMPO: Yes, and we see the same thing with these conversations about critical race theory, but the issue is they're completely divorced from reality.
So, you'll have places that are seeking to ban the teaching of critical race theory when no one was teaching critical race theory or proposing to teach critical race theory. But Fox needs these narratives of its us against the government. It's us against these major cultural shifts.
[11:55:00] SCHIAVOCAMPO: And in the case of the School Board Association letter, they backed up that claim about domestic terrorism, which by the way, is unlawful intimidation for political purposes --
SCHIAVOCAMPO: -- which with a lot of these cases, it fits that definition. They backed it up with pages of examples of specific threats to them. I feel like they had to back up because of the optics of it, it didn't look good to be seen as calling parents domestic terrorists.
But again, as you know, they were talking about violent threats, not just people being upset. So, it's this narrative that's being created that is not based on reality.
STELTER: But to your point, there's something real going on, and there are real threats happening, and then there's a distraction from that and we end up talking about something that's not really happening.
And that's the upside-down we're all -- thank you panel. Thank you very much. That's all in here on television, but we'll join you online tonight for our "RELIABLE SOURCES Newsletter, sign up for free at reliablesources.com