Return to Transcripts main page


Has Cancel Culture Gone Too Far?; Plea For Free Speech Attacked; Can Schools Safely Reopen This Fall?; Will Commuting Roger Stone's Sentence Hurt President Trump In November?; Will Presidential Debates Help Or Hurt Biden?; Would The Southern District Of New York Cut A Deal With Epstein's Confidante? Aired 9-10a ET

Aired July 11, 2020 - 09:00   ET



MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Intellectual food fight. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. So what happens when more than 100 intellectuals make a bid to defend free speech in the face of cancel culture? They get canceled, of course, proving the existence of exactly the sentiments about which they were complaining.

This week, a letter was published online by Harper's Magazine under the headline, "A letter on justice, and open debate." It bore signatures from people all over the political landscape like Malcolm Gladwell, David Brooks, neo-con Francis Fukuyama, leftist Noam Chomsky, Margaret Atwood and CNN's own Fareed Zakaria.

After acknowledging this important cultural moment of racial and social justice, it said this. "This needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity.

Well, the response was swift. The signers were called thin-skinned, privileged and fearing their loss of relevance. Some signers capitulated. Barnard professor Jennifer Boylan tweeted an apology for having signed, quote, "I did not know who else had signed the letter.

I thought I was endorsing a well-meaning, if vague, message against internet shaming. I did know Chomsky, Steinem and Atwood were in and I thought good company. The consequences are mine to bear. I'm so sorry."

But best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell tweeted, "I signed the Halpers letter -- 'Harper's' letter because there were lots of people who also signed the 'Harper's' letter whose views I disagreed with. I thought that was the point of the 'Harper's' letter."

By week's end, the letter had caused what "The Daily Beast" labeled a media circular firing squad. Then came a joint scathing response from an opposing group of 150 plus intellectuals and media figures, some of whom requested anonymity to protect their jobs.

This one was headlined "A More Specific Letter on Justice and Open Debate" and it reads in part, "Their letter," meaning the first one, "seeks to uphold a stifling atmosphere and prioritizes signal-blasting their discomfort in the face of valid criticism.

The signatories, many of them white, wealthy and endowed with massive platforms, argue that they are afraid of being silenced, that so- called cancel culture is out of control and that they fear for their jobs and free exchange of ideas even as they speak from one of the most prestigious magazines in the country."

If you're having trouble following the highbrow brouhaha, fear not. I think I can bring home the bombast with a trip to the kitchen cupboard -- beans, Goya beans. The CEO of this kitchen staple was in the Rose Garden on Thursday where he praised the president while announcing that Goya would donate 1 million cans of chickpeas and 1 million other food products to American food banks.


ROBERT UNANUE, PRESIDENT, GOYA FOODS: We're all truly blessed, at the same time, to have a leader President Trump who is a builder.


SMERCONISH: Well, there hasn't been this much stink about beans since the campfire scene in "Blazing Saddles." By Friday morning, the hashtag #Goyaway was trending as prominent Hispanic American leaders called for a boycott of Goya products. Celebrities like Chrissy Teigen were tweeting things like, "A shame. Don't care how good the beans taste though. Bye-bye." AOC tweeted, so did "Hamilton" playwright Lin- Manuel Miranda.

Goya beans CEO Robert Unanue told "Fox News" that he was not apologizing for praising the president, called the boycott suppression of speech. You know, once beans were controversial only if we were debating chili recipes. Now they too are part of the partisan divide like everything else. I want to know what you think. Go to my website, Vote on this week's survey question. Has cancel culture gone too far?

Joining me now to discuss, one of the five people who spearheaded the initial letter, Thomas Chatterton Williams, a columnist for "Harper's" and contributing writer for "The New York Times Magazine." He's also the author of the memoir, "Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race." Thomas, give me an example of what led to the drafting of your letter.

THOMAS CHATTERTON WILLIAMS, COLUMNIST, HARPER'S/CONTRIBUTING WRITER, NY TIMES MAGAZINE: Thank you for having me. The letter came out of a conversation that several of us have been having for quite some time now. It came out of a response to a more general mood and atmosphere and climate that we've been noticing in our nation's cultural institutions and media landscape and so it wasn't spurred by any one particular incident, but we thought about the timing quite a bit and we thought there's never going to be really a good time for this, so it's important that we get it out now sooner than later.

SMERCONISH: One of the criticisms is that largely your group consists of folks who are white, who are wealthy and who come from large platforms. Your response is what?

CHATTERTON WILLIAMS: My response is that Salman Rushdie is not white. We have people that have been locked in prison ...

SMERCONISH: Thomas, your signal is freezing. I'm going to put up on the screen in the hope that we get you back in time to respond one of the other criticisms that was raised in the opposing letter. It said this, "In truth, black, brown and LGBTQ people, particularly black and trans people, can now critique elites publicly and hold them accountable socially; this seems to be the letters greatest concern. What's perhaps even more grating to many of the signatories is that a critique of their long-held views is persuasive." Will you respond to that?


CHATTERTON WILLIAMS: Sure. I just want to respond first, though, to the original point which is that we have extraordinary diversity in our letter. We have African-American writers like Dwayne Betts who have done eight years in an adult prison when they were minors who are worried of -- time (ph) stigma. I think that those people need to be taken very seriously. Salman Rushdie, Kamel Daoud, these are writers that have lived with fatwas over their head. Kamel Daoud lives in Algeria right now and has a fatwa.

I have not seen anybody respond to their positions of privilege or their -- or the supposed whiteness of their identities and that's a problem. We have people cherry-picking signatories to try to say that it's somehow a white production. I'm one of the original people that drafted the letter. I've never been white in my life. So part of the problem is that we're putting identities over ideas and we're also cherry-picking the identities we want to disagree with.

SMERCONISH: And as to the item that I put on the screen, the criticism that, hey, perhaps you are finding what they're saying persuasive, you would say what?

CHATTERTON WILLIAMS: If it were persuasive, that would be fine, but if it's so persuasive, why do we need Twitter campaigns to go to (ph) people's employers? That's the opposite of persuasion to me.

SMERCONISH: Thomas, can we define the line? You know, to me, this is reminiscent of Potter Stewart and what he famously said about pornography, "Very hard to articulate, but I know it when I see it." What would you say the standard is that we're trying to put forth?

CHATTERTON WILLIAMS: I think we need to put forth a standard that stipulates employers will not immediately react to Twitter storms. It's very easy to cause a Twitter pile-on. It's very unsettling when your employer immediately cancels you and we don't use the term cancel culture because it's been co-opted by a very divisive president.

But when your employer does what happened to David Shor, a young researcher who tweeted peer-reviewed research by the Princeton academic Omar Wasow that simply said (INAUDIBLE) effective than violent protests, he was -- he was fired for this because there was a Twitter storm. This is -- this is madness. We need to take a step back and have a moratorium on Twitter-induced firings and the HR department should be completely separate from the social media department in my personal view.

SMERCONISH: A moratorium on Twitter filing. I appreciate it. I agree with what you had to say. Thomas Chatterton Williams, thank you. Sorry for the technical snafus.

CHATTERTON WILLIAMS: Thank you so much.

SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish or go to my Facebook page throughout the course of the program. I will respond to some as best I can. This comes, I think, from Twitter. What do we have? "Cancel culture is going to get Trump re-elected. At least wait."

It's interesting and, you know, my guest just said that he doesn't favor the words cancel culture. I will tell you in determining the survey question today I struggled because I wasn't sure how to verbalize what I was trying to get across and I worried that people would read conservatism, liberalism. I don't see this as a red or a blue issue, but I hear your point that the blowback to some of what we're describing may be to the president's benefit.

I want to know what you think. Go to my website this hour at and answer the survey question. Has cancel culture, for lack of a better description, gone too far?

Up ahead, we're barreling toward the end of summer break, yet school status is still a giant question mark for many kids and parents. As the political debate rages over reopening schools, we'll take a look at the ethical implications.

And President Trump's friend and advisor Roger Stone was headed to the pokey this week, but the president, ignoring the advice of some around him, commuted his sentence. How will this play in November? I'll ask David Axelrod.




SMERCONISH: Like almost every other issue in our highly partisan society, the question of whether to reopen schools has now turned into a political debate. We know where the president stands. He pushed the CDC to make their reopening guidelines less stringent.

The CDC isn't changing its guidelines in response to the president, but the director now says keeping schools closed would be an even greater public health threat. And in Florida, a state facing a dramatic uptick in COVID-19 cases, the governor equates schools with essential businesses.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RON DESANTIS, (R) GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA: If you can do Home Depot, if you can do Walmart, if you can do these things, we absolutely can do the schools.


SMERCONISH: Even Walt Disney World theme parks, a not-so-essential business in his state, now up and running as of today. So if the most magical place on earth is opening its gates, what about the schools? My next guest says opening schools in the midst of a pandemic isn't about politics, it's about ethics.

Dr. Arthur Caplan is the founding head of the Division of Medical Ethics at the NYU Langone School of Medicine. Dr. Caplan, what do you say about the president saying open those schools and get the kids back in?

ARTHUR CAPLAN, FOUNDING HEAD, DIVISION OF MEDICAL ETHICS AT NYU SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: I think, Michael, and thanks for having me, it's a gigantic unregulated experiment. You know, we've had this virus around maybe four months. We don't know what the impact is on children, if the virus is in their bodies in terms of longer term health. We don't really even understand how infective they are both to each other, to their teachers, bringing the virus home.


So you're asking kids to go back who can't give permission, can't make a choice and I think the first order of business should be safety, not let's go back to normal.

SMERCONISH: Of what concern, of what consideration, if any, based on what I'm hearing you say should economic factors be? If their parents are unemployed unless the kids are somewhere else, should that be factored into the mix by policy-makers?

CAPLAN: Well, I don't think you ask kids to sacrifice so that their parents can go back to work by going to school. If it's babysitting, you want, if it's daycare we need, then let's set it up in safer conditions.

You know, Michael, schools are not set up to be a place of social distancing. A lot of them have kids crammed in 30 to a small room. For little kids, they're not going to be able to mask or wash their hands or maintain hygiene. It's also the case that a lot of our schools -- Baltimore, Philly, Flint, places like that -- are a mess. They don't have heat, they don't have proper ventilation. Some of them don't even have running water to wash the kids' hands to maintain hygiene there.

So look, sure, I understand we've got to get the economy going, but you don't do it by saying, well, let's just send the kids back to whatever school it is. Remember, too, some of these kids have underlying conditions, asthma, juvenile diabetes. We're going to just send them back as well?

SMERCONISH: I read the CDC guidelines. I don't know how many have actually taken the time to do it. They're not so expansive, but I did not find them particularly onerous. I should tell you when I made that observation on radio and read some of the provisions allowed, people called me and said. well. that wouldn't work in my school, that wouldn't work in this school. Here's my takeaway, one-size-fits-all can't apply here. There are different dynamics. Each one of these schools is different. Each one of these districts is run differently. Would we -- would we agree on that?

CAPLAN: We do because, look, it's one thing to say, hey, let's go back to high school and we can ask the kids to do certain things as opposed to let's go back to kindergarten and ask the kids to do certain things. Some schools are overnight in dorms.

Do they count? You know, there's a lot of homeschooling and there's a fair amount of remote learning we've been in. My view would be the CDC guidelines are a minimum. I certainly wouldn't weaken them, but let's take advantage of opportunities to keep kids away from one another.

And remember, Michael, we've got to protect the teachers, we've got to protect the bus driver, you got to protect the older janitor. These kids may not have an immediate risk, I hope they don't, to each other and themselves, but they could be doing quite a bit of health damage to the people trying to support them. Depends on the school. One size absolutely does not fit all.

And if I can wind up one other thing, you know, we're going back, flu is coming, a lot of these kids haven't had their vaccines. There's nothing in the guidelines that say before kids go back to school, get measle shots, get mumps shots. Do you really want to send them into a toxic, microbial stew of flu, measles and COVID?

SMERCONISH: Final question. It sounds like the comments that you've offered have been focused on K through 12, not college. First, am I right? And second, if so, do you see that differently?

CAPLAN: See college very differently. So there are situations where you have a big, sprawling campus, you can get back to college, might be able to distance, obviously the kids can hopefully follow instructions. Different to cram them back into dorms. You know they're not going to be doing anything hygienic there. We don't even have (ph) to get into what they might be up to, but I think it's a breeding ground for the virus to spread.

So it depends on the college, depends on the university. That's a place where remote learning can and should take place. End of the day, whenever we can keep kids learning, but away from school, away from infecting one another and the people that work with them and bringing the virus home, why don't we do that?

SMERCONISH: Dr. Caplan, thanks as always.

CAPLAN: My pleasure.

SMERCONISH: More social media reaction. This, I think, from Facebook. What do we have? "I believe that coming up with ways to reopen school safely is about health and education. I also believe the threats from the administration have nothing to do with health or education. I think that is strictly economic and political."

Laurie, as I just said to Dr. Caplan, my own view, for what it's worth, is I don't think there could be one solution for the entire country. I recommend that people take a look at the CDC guidelines as parents, as taxpayers and teachers and administrators and determine can this work in your school because every single school in every single district all across the country is different. I just don't want there to be one decision made for the entire country.

I want to remind you to answer the survey question at I'm told we're getting tremendous reaction to this. Has cancel culture gone too far? Go to and cast a ballot.

[09:20:00] Up ahead, last night, President Trump commuted the prison sentence for his longtime friend Roger Stone. I'll ask David Axelrod about the political implications.

Plus, the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein's ex-girlfriend and alleged sex trafficking accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell has many wondering if she'll cop a plea to turn evidence against A list names, but how interested are prosecutors in her little black book?


SMERCONISH: Will commuting Roger Stone's prison sentence hurt President Trump's chances of winning in November? Stone was convicted last November of seven charges, including lying to Congress and witness tampering, as part of the Mueller investigation. Prosecutors said that Roger Stone had done so to protect President Trump. Stone told reporters this about his conversation last night with the president.



ROGER STONE, LONGTIME TRUMP FRIEND & FORMER CAMPAIGN ADVISER: He said you understand I have the option, I have the authority to either grant a pardon or commute your sentence. He says you should understand that a pardon would be -- would be final and that in accepting a pardon, you are accepting guilt and I would rather see you fight this out which is why I'm commuting your sentence.


SMERCONISH: This morning, the President had this to say via Twitter, "Roger Stone was targeted by an illegal witch hunt that never should have taken place. It is the other side that are criminals, including Biden and Obama who spied on my campaign," all caps, "AND GOT CAUGHT." Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden already leading polls by a widening margin. What effect might the Stone commutation have?

Joining me now to discuss is David Axelrod, CNN senior political commentator and of course former senior advisor to President Obama. Hey, David, during the commercial break, I looked at Twitter. Jack Goldsmith at Harvard had an interesting observation. He said that President Trump, in comparison to his predecessors, doesn't often pardon or commute, but when he does, he often knows the people ...


SMERCONISH: ... which distinguishes him from his predecessors. Any thought to that?

AXELROD: I was just looking at the list this morning. Many of them are political heroes of the right and some of them, as in the case of Roger Stone, are intimates of Trump who have serviced Trump in some way and who are looking for relief.

Look, I think that you and I both know, Michael, that we both have been in journalism, we've both been in politics, but if you want to dump a bad story, you do it on Friday night after the evening news when it's going to get the least attention. It'll get attention, but not as much and Trump has been taking full advantage of that in the previous weeks firing the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, firing inspector's general and now this.

He had to do this because Roger Stone was set to report to prison on Tuesday, but I expect that he'll use his pardon and commutation power on behalf of Paul Manafort, on behalf of Michael Flynn if necessary if that case moves forward even though all of them have either been convicted or have pled guilty to crimes related to the Mueller investigation. And, you know, so yes, I think he sees -- he sees everything, including the pardon power, as a political tool to be used on his own behalf and on behalf of his allies.

SMERCONISH: Does this move the needle? You heard the explanation that the president offered this morning to lay off on both Obama and Biden previous conduct, the Mueller probe. They've sort of preconditioned the GOP "Fox" base for that. Aren't the people who are upset by this news already upset about the president?

AXELROD: Absolutely. I think those who are disinclined to vote for Trump will find this one more reason not to vote for Trump and the Trump base will buy his explanation for what did. His problem is that the base isn't large enough to win and everything he's doing lately seems to be almost designed to shrink himself to his irreducible core base.

So this was not helpful to him, but Roger Stone was helpful to him. You remember the president referred to people who cooperate with prosecutors as rats and he's elevated people who didn't, like Manafort and Stone, to heroic status among his base. So, you know, I don't think this is going to move the needle in the election, but the needle isn't where Trump needs it to be.

SMERCONISH: You said something a moment ago that brings to mind that recently I've been described the Trump strategy as a grapefruit squeezing strategy and sometimes there's just no more juice, sometimes there's just no more pulp to be had.

When I look at the last couple of weeks, David, and he talks about Confederate monuments and he talks about the Mueller probe and he replays the sort of Greatest Hits roll, the Nascar episodes, to me, it's all intended to invigorate the base without any eye toward expanding the tent. Are there enough folks left in the tent for him to get reelected? That's really the question I want to ask you.

AXELROD: You know, I don't think so, Michael. If you look at the last election, there are four groups that he carried, seniors, the suburbs -- seniors, people over 65, the suburbs, college-educated white voters and Independent voters. He's losing all of them now and some by quite a margin.

The suburbs have moved away from him dramatically. You're sitting there in the state of Pennsylvania.


AXELROD: And you know that if the suburbs move dramatically against a Republican candidate it's very hard to win a statewide race. That's one of the states he's counted on to put together his electoral majority and that is reaping replayed throughout the country.

He has a base-only view of politics. And he thinks that if he just energizes his base that that will be adequate. But, you know, in service of energizing his base, he's actually digging a bigger hole with everyone else such as his handling of the aftermath of the George Floyd murder in Minneapolis. And, of course, his ongoing denial of the COVID-19 pandemic. These things are making a huge, huge hole for him that I think it's going to be very hard for him to dig out of.

SMERCONISH: Quick final question, quick final question, that the pandemic, not because Joe Biden would wish it to be, but it is a political benefit, is it not? It takes him out of the limelight except in those circumstance where is he wants to be. Trump is now essentially running against himself and can't win, it would seem, according to polling data a referendum on his performance.

AXELROD: One hundred percent. But it's only true, Michael, because Donald Trump didn't do what so many governors across this country have done and put the politics aside, followed the signs, given direct and honest guidance to his constituents. If he had behaved that way, he could have put this election away. I'm convinced of it.

He would have had the reverse effect of what we spoke about a moment ago. He would have enlarged his base. He would have allayed concerns. But Trump is Trump. And he's just not capable of doing that.

He thinks through this political lens at all times. And that has caught up with him now.

SMERCONISH: David, thank you so much.

AXELROD: Good to be with you, always.

SMERCONISH: I want to remind you to answer the survey question at this hour.

"Has cancel culture gone too far?" Still to come, Ghislaine Maxwell has been arrested and charged for her alleged role in conspiring with Jeffrey Epstein to sexually abuse underage girls. And while the world is anxiously awaiting to see what big shot names she may throw under the bus I am left wondering if the Southern District of New York would even have any interest in her little black book. I'll ask Elie Honig.



SMERCONISH: When multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges last year the outrage, the disappointment was palpable. With Epstein gone, would we ever know the full extent of who else may have been involved in his alleged labyrinth of sexual abuse?

Enter the recent arrest of Ghislaine Maxwell, the one time girlfriend and alleged accomplice of Epstein. She's been charged by federal prosecutors in New York for her alleged role in conspiring with Epstein to recruit, groom and sexually abuse underage girls as young as 14.

She's previously denied any wrongdoing. Now people are clamoring to know if Maxwell will name any of Epstein's cohorts. But she is the big fry in this case, given the mountains of heinous allegations leveled against her, would the feds actually be willing to cut a deal in exchange for her little black book?

Joining me now is Elie Honig, CNN legal analyst and former assistant U.S. attorney for the district bringing changes against Maxwell, the Southern District of New York. OK. Elie, I know that the public is interested. I know that the media is interested. Do you think the Southern District is all that interested in her little black book?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They really should be, Michael. There was a thing we used to say to juries back when I was in the Southern District of New York which is it would be really nice if we could make big criminal cases solely by relying on testimony from school teachers and nurses and good people.

But the reality is good people like that can't take you inside a criminal organization only another criminal can. And the cold hard reality is people like to think the prosecutors do everything based off "CSI" stuff and lab magic. The reality is cooperating witnesses are the lifeblood especially a federal prosecutor. Sometimes, you have to flip a really bad person in order to catch even more bad people.

SMERCONISH: If you, Elie Honig, were leading this prosecution, would you allow her to name a name, hypothetically, of course, that she has a name to be named? Or would you demand she give you everything?

HONIG: Everything. That's the deal in the Southern District. There's no halfway cooperation. It is all or nothing.

When you cooperate you have to admit everything you did. You have to plead guilty to it. And you have to be willing to testify against others.

I would take that little black book the first time I met with her in the conference room and I would go through it, entry by entry, A to Z, each person. Who is this person? How do you know them? Were they at all involved and do you have any other documents or evidence backing it up? You go through it start to finish.

SMERCONISH: What level of leniency would she be provided, hypothetically speaking, if she just pled guilty now?

HONIG: Yes. If she just pled guilty without a cooperation agreement she'd get very little leniency. If I was back at the SDNY I would be willing to give her basically nothing if she didn't cooperate.


HONIG: If she does cooperate though the reality is if you do cooperate, that's where you fare the best. And honestly, cooperators get really good deals. I cooperate to people who had committed multiple murders and ended up doing three, four, five years.

Look, it doesn't feel great. But sometimes you have to just do -- as a prosecutor you just have to do the cold hard utilitarian math and say, this person is bad. They pled guilty but they gave us all these other really bad, really culpable people.

SMERCONISH: I guess the part that I'm struggling with is that she faces 35 years for having been the procurer. That's the allegation here. And I'm not sweeping it under the rug. I'm not excusing it. But if I was someone on that plane, whatever the hell they called it, the flying Lolita or whatever, one or two times are you really going to cut the sentence that she'd be facing so as to get that one individual, whoever that may be?


HONIG: Well, it would be more than one individual. I mean, I would -- she would have to deliver quite a bit. I think, you always have to sort of do that math. If all she does is deliver one person or someone else who helped sort of tangentially run the operation --


HONIG: -- then you're not interesting. But if she can deliver everybody, and a lot of individuals, then, yes, I would be OK with somebody getting a significant break. You have to sort of balance the scales of justice here.

And, look, the victims have a right, I believe, to see as many people as possible brought to justice. And I think if you speak to the victims I think they would tell you that this was a -- it certainly seems from the indictment like this was a very large operation, a lot of wrong doers here. At this moment all we have is Jeffrey Epstein who is dead and Ghislaine Maxwell. I want to get the whole story.

SMERCONISH: OK. A final and important subject, am I right that this is being handled in the Southern District of New York by the Public Corruption Unit, and if so, why would that be the case?

HONIG: Yes, it is, Michael, and that jumped off the page to me. So, these cases, these sex trafficking cases are ordinarily handled in the Southern District by the Organized Crime Unit now called the Violent and Organized Crime Unit. I know because I was in that unit. I was chief of that unit and I did these cases through that unit.

The fact that this is being charged out of Public Corruption tells me there is some public officials somewhere past, present involved in this somehow. This happened one other time in my experience. The office did this big sex trafficking case. I was sitting there thinking why is this coming out of the Public Corruption Unit? It turned out that was the case where Eliot Spitzer, then the governor of New York, was client nine.

So, I keep a close eye on that. I think that's a really important tell.

SMERCONISH: And, by the way, he was a public figure meaning Jeffrey Epstein. But that alone wouldn't put this in the public. We're talking about someone with portfolio, right? Elected official --

HONIG: Exactly.

SMERCONISH: -- someone with government stature?

HONIG: Exactly. This isn't just the famous people unit. This is the Public Corruption Unit. It has to be a public official of some type.

SMERCONISH: All right. I'm taking away from this segment that if Elie Honig were prosecuting the case, he'd want to go after everybody. Whether that's going to be the way the SD -- New York handles it, we'll see.

HONIG: Thanks, Michael. That's how I operated back then. Yes, I think I would try to do it again if I could.

SMERCONISH: Remind me never to be prosecuted by you. Thank you, Elie.

HONIG: Can do. Thanks, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Let's check in on your tweets and Facebook comments. What do we have, Catherine? From the world of Twitter, I believe.

How can her safety or even her life be protected? There are some mighty powerful people who would like to shut her up.

Well, Janet, that's what we presume, right, you must be reading "The Daily Mail" as often as I am. I mean, I don't know what the facts are. What I think I know is largely predicated -- I'll give them a shout out on that Netflix documentary which is called "Filthy Rich." Holy smokes, if half the stuff in there is true, she's got a real issue.

I want to remind you to answer the survey question at this hour.

"Has cancel culture gone too far?"

Hey, my first ever CNN special airs tonight at 10:00 p.m. "Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Started Talking." Though it has nothing to do with the pandemic it's only happening because of the pandemic. I'll explain in just a moment.

Plus, as always, your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. And we'll give you the final result of the survey question. So go vote right now if you haven't already done so.

"Has cancel culture gone too far," at



SMERCONISH: I'll be back on CNN tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, due to COVID. But this is not a typical pandemic special.

Two months ago I was about to begin a new nationwide speaking tour called "Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Talking" commemorating my 30th anniversary in talk radio. Tickets for the first two nights in Philadelphia were sold out. The rest of the tour was being planned. Then came COVID.

Money was refunded. The tour was cancelled but where I had spent considerable time preparing. And in a climate of uncertainty as to when I'd get on the road, I decided to deliver the presentation in an empty historic theater. And have it recorded by a masked and socially distant crew.

I hope you'll watch tonight. The back story is my favorite part. I had a great stage director in Bill Fennelly. But this was directed by a friend of 40-plus years a television producer named Chris Strand. When the two of us were in junior high school, we both worked on the TV crew. And we dreamed of doing a project together. Well, we are. It just took a while longer than we anticipated.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome. Welcome.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To the Michael Smerconish program.

SMERCONISH (voice-over): Hey, gang, thanks so much for being here. It was 30 years ago tonight that I marked the beginning of my career in talk radio.

I met Ronald Reagan. I twice interviewed President Barack Obama. I drank champagne from the Stanley Cup. I had a seven-hour dinner with Fidel Castro at his house.

(on camera): Of course, I talk for a living.

[09:50:01] It's always been my calling. And not because I'm a lawyer, not because I have a background in politics. In retrospect, I guess I just wanted the attention.

I host a daily radio program that bears my name. I have a weekly cable television program and I have authored seven books. I am pleased with those achievements, but I am far more proud of what went into them.

In 1980, I turned 18 and registered to vote as a Republican. You know, like my parents. That spring my father decides to make a run for public office.

My first time as a voter, I got to vote for my dad, and to cast my first presidential ballot. So, George Herbert Walker Bush wins the Pennsylvania primary. My dad lost his. But I was hooked on politics.

I formed a club Lehigh University Youth for Reagan/Bush. I was an advanced man for sitting vice president of the United States. I traveled several times across country, planning the logistics of his personal appearances.

At age 23, I managed a portion of Senator Arlen Specter's re-election campaign. I ran for the same seat for which my father had run. I thought it would be a Hollywood ending. But I lost, too.

But it was a combination of all these unique political experiences at an early age that caused me to be invited as a guest on television and radio. And then I was given a guest host gig. And soon I was offered many of the most unpopular fill in times, Thanksgiving night, Super Bowl Sunday. I did them all. But I was now being paid for something that I would gladly have done for free.

I am so very fortunate. My political, my media work afforded me a really rich life. There were days when I guest hosted for both O'Reilly and Matthews. I would leave "FOX News" and walk into "30 Rock" and guest host "Hard Ball." I didn't know whether the risk was higher of me getting shot in the chest or shot in the back.

Hello, Governor?

THEN-GOVERNOR GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX) (on the phone): Michael, how are you?

SMERCONISH: I'm terrific. How are you doing?

BUSH: Good. I'm (INAUDIBLE) Texas.

SMERCONISH: Hey, Governor, we wish you Godspeed tonight.

BUSH: Thank you, buddy. (INAUDIBLE) is going to come down to the great state of Pennsylvania and that's why I'm calling, Michael.

SMERCONISH (on camera): By the time I went to the Middle East as a Pentagon guest, I was already leery of the Bush administration for what I thought was a lack of prosecuting the hunt for bin Laden. And I'm (INAUDIBLE). It looks like for six and a half years we have been outsourcing the hunt for bin Laden to a guy with no motivation to get him. Do you agree with my assessment? And what are you going to do to change it?

THEN-SENATOR BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: Absolutely. You may be aware of the fact that I made a speech in August, you remember that I was criticized.

SMERCONISH: Not by me, Senator. I applauded you.

OBAMA: I know.

SMERCONISH: Of course I've changed in the last 30 years. I think we all have, right? What's different is that in my case, all of my opinions have been captured on audio and videotape.

"Philadelphia" magazine, April issue 2009. What the hell was I thinking?

I moved from a reliably Republican voter to a registered independent. There's been a huge uptick in instability and polarization among our leaders in the exact same time period in which the media has moved to extremes.

Good for ratings, good for revenue, bad for the country.


SMERCONISH: I hope you'll watch.

Here's some of what came in during the course of this hour via social media. What do we have?

What is -- I guess that's, what is cancel? You mean capitalism? Seems to be functioning just the way it was intended.

Uncle Salty, I guess you mean you vote with your wallet. I totally get it. But really should you be voting with your wallet against this family owned business? I think the largest -- one of the largest Hispanic businesses in the country, the Goya bean folks, because the CEO goes to the White House and like he had done with President Obama, he praises the president.

I don't know, I'm not going to stop eating their beans. If I like the beans, I'm going to keep eating the beans. That's just my answer.

What else do we have?

Smerconish, thanks a lot. That "Blazing Saddles" reference made -- I wrote that last night, late at night, mind you. What did I say? I think I said there hasn't been this much stink about beans since "Blazing Saddles." And I am so sophomoric. Sorry. I wasn't sure if I would be able to deliver it without laughing in the opening commentary. I think I made it.

One more quickly if you don't mind. Here we go. How about all the Trumpsters who go after the NFL because of Kaepernick or NASCAR because of the Confederate flag? You support people you agree with. That is support the culture.

Yes. I would say support the product. If you like the product eat the product, worship the product, visit the product, go to the concert, et cetera, et cetera.


Here are the results of the survey. See how you all voted.

"Has cancel culture gone too far?"

Sixty-two percent say yes. Wow. More than 14,000 votes cast. Cancel culture, you say, has gone too far.

Have a good weekend. Don't forget, catch my special tonight, 10:00 p.m. in the East on CNN, "What I Wish I Knew Before I Started Talking." Thank you.