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A Look Back on the Career of Rush Limbaugh; When Will America Reach Herd Immunity; California and Florida See Similar Virus Rates Despite Different Strategies; Is Digital Currency Bitcoin a Safe Bet; The Nortons On Their "7 Yards" Film Journey. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired February 20, 2021 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: The truth about Rush. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. I didn't know Rush Limbaugh personally. I was in his company just once, but he had an enormous impact on my profession and our nation. News of his passing has been met with as divided a reaction as his work while he was alive, but Rush's legacy is more complicated than any caricature.
I myself have previously written and spoken extensively about the destructive influence of a polarized media on our national discourse and how I think an important milestone was his syndication in 1988. Quite simply, there would never have been a President Donald Trump without talk show host Rush Limbaugh paving the way.
It's no coincidence that years before he announced his candidacy, Trump had a former aide listen to thousands of hours of talk radio to discover what issues Americans cared about most. After a three decade long priming by Rush, by 2016, GOP primary voters were ready to vote for a candidate who reminded them of their favorite talk host and Trump seized the moment and like no one else before him, he resonated with Limbaugh's listeners.
One need only look at the letter made public this week by "The New York Times" that a cousin sent to Congressman Adam Kinzinger, one of the few Republicans who had voted to impeach Former President Trump. In castigating Kinzinger, the Trumper cited God, Trump and talk radio hosts, Limbaugh above all. Quote, "You should be very proud that you have lost the respect of Lou Dobbs, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Greg Kelly, et cetera and most importantly in our book, Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh and us."
Think about that. Rush's sway over this person was such that it overruled her family loyalty and had her literally demonizing her cousin for having a difference of opinion. Such was Rush's reach with conservatives. With his passing, many others now finally recognize the truth of what I've been saying for years about how Limbaugh led the way to polarization and the coarsening of our national dialogue.
But what's been missing in all the analysis from the left and the right is an accurate understanding of what made Limbaugh so effective, so impactful whether you agreed or disagreed. I would argue it wasn't politics, it wasn't ideology. It was his mastery of entertainment skills.
I saw it up close on a particular night, October of 2007. Back then, I was the morning man at a Philadelphia radio station, a Rush affiliate, when he came to speak at the ornate historic Academy of Music in Philadelphia, the one-time home of the orchestra. When invited by station management to introduce him, I passed. I didn't feel it was right for me or for him.
It was a year before the 2008 election which would provide a break point between me and the GOP. I knew I was about to renounce my Republican registration, but I did attend the event, taking my father as my guest. Dad was a big Rush fan. Beforehand, we went backstage and met Rush Limbaugh, then settled in to watch the performance. Ninety minutes at a podium without notes. No PowerPoint. Just his voice, conviction, humor, storytelling. With the strength of personality, he had an amazing hold over the audience.
I wrote about what I witnessed in my column for the daily news. I said, "The maestro onstage at the Academy of Music one week ago wielded a microphone instead of a baton. And while the Philadelphia Orchestra was nowhere in sight, you could say the evening selection was a version of "Fanfare for the Common Man." The conductor? Rush Limbaugh."
I then wrote about his rise, how he'd filled a void with his syndication when there were no conservative outlets. Rush, I said, built them a clubhouse, but mostly what stood out was his command of the spoken word, his raw entertainment skills.
I concluded thusly, "Rush on stage is more ringleader than Republican, more entertainer than conservative. Unassailable is his status as a headliner. You don't attract 15 million plus listeners a week or 2,000 people for a night on Broad Street by being anything less."
That was 2007. By 2016, Rush and his imitators had created a climate that facilitated the nomination and ultimately the election of Donald Trump. When Trump gave Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom, it brought their story full circle. No one has explained the connection between talk radio and Trump's rise like Brian Rosenwald, a University of Pennsylvania professor who actually earned a PhD by studying talk radio.
When, in 2019, he published a book called "Talk Radio's America," I hosted him here on CNN to explain the Trump Limbaugh causation. Rush Limbaugh was watching, and he thought Rosenwald nailed it.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, HOST, THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW: This guy kind of gets it. His name is Brian Rosenwald. He was on CNN Saturday. So, nobody saw this which is why I want to share these sound bites with you. Michael Smerconish was talking to him about his new book "Talk Radio's America" and Smerconish says, "You say it wasn't the escalator ride that began the Trump candidacy. It was actually August 1st, 1988 that began the Trump candidacy. How come?
BRIAN ROSENWALD, AUTHOR, "TALK RADIO'S AMERICA": That's the day that Rush Limbaugh takes his act national and it's a great show and people tune in and they start this habit -- forming this habit of listening to talk radio and then later cable news and what they hear every day is calls for a fighter. You know, it doesn't make for good radio to say, hey, nuance, compromise. That stuff's boring, but fighting, that's good radio and Donald Trump captured that ethos.
LIMBAUGH: So, this guy is claiming that this program is what effectively set the stage, laid the groundwork for Trump to come in. Next question, "Now lest anybody think the book is a hit job on Rush, you give Limbaugh props, being a master showman and a performing virtuoso."
ROSENWALD: Michael, he blazed a path. He created an entirely different media form from anything that ever existed before because he's a great show. You know, early in his time on the air, he would abort callers, he would play a vacuum cleaner sound effect, you'd hear screams in the background as he's hanging up on a caller. There were things nobody had ever seen or heard, and people had to tune in every day because they never knew what he was going to say.
LIMBAUGH: This guy gets it. This guy gets it more than anybody that I've ever encountered writing either about talk radio in general or about this program.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
SMERCONISH: Limbaugh liked that part, but there was more to my interview that he didn't air for his ditto-heads.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: There's this mindset out there, you reference puppet master, that the whole talk landscape was controlled by individuals eager to spread conservative wisdom and ideology. In the book, that's not the conclusion you reach. What was the motivation?
ROSENWALD: The motivation, as Rush always said, was to charge confiscatory advertising rates which means how can we make the most money? What's the best, most engaging show that we can put on every single day? And that didn't always work with what Republicans wanted to do.
At times, Republicans would say, hey, this is the best deal we can cut and talk radio would say no, stand up and fight for us, you know, fight for our values, they're rolling over again for the mainstream media, for Democrats, that's all they do, they just roll over. And that's the sentiment that helps, you know, give us Donald Trump.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Rush had a tendency to see things in black and white, not shades of gray, but his own legacy was more nuanced. Limbaugh was a gifted showman who unfortunately used those skills to usher in an era where entertainment and news reporting became conflated, enabling those who possessed microphones to supplant traditional political leadership, thereby valuing brand and sound bite over legislative achievement and rendering "compromise" a dirty word. I'm sure by now both the left and right are cringing by my analysis.
Still to come, with COVID cases dropping, some are saying we'll have heard immunity sooner than we thought. Are they right?
And while Floridians have enjoyed a laissez-faire year with COVID, Californians have been mostly in lockdown and yet both states' coronavirus statistics are virtually identical. How can that be?
Plus, the volatile digital currency Bitcoin has long confounded many financial experts. Right now, it's flying high and legitimate businesses are starting to accept it as payment. Is it here to stay? I want to know what you think. Go to my website at Smerconish.com this hour and answer this week's survey question. Would you invest in Bitcoin?
SMERCONISH: When will America finally reach herd immunity? This week in a "Wall Street Journal" essay, one doctor from Johns Hopkins makes the rosy prediction that it could be as soon as April. Dr. Marty Makary says new daily coronavirus infections have declined 77 percent in the past six weeks and that it's driven by the high number of people who have already been infected and vaccinated.
Meanwhile, President Biden says he hopes Americans can return to normalcy by the end of the year and the director of the CDC warns that America is still seeing more infections a day than it did at the height of the summer peak. She also cautions that the current downward trend is threatened by the new spread of variants, but Dr. Makary largely dismisses the presence of the variants, noting the cases are dropping in the U.K. where a variant quickly became dominant.
Here's more interesting coronavirus data. Since the early days of the pandemic, no two states have been more different in their approaches to fighting coronavirus than California and Florida and yet both states ended up with roughly the same outcome. In California, gatherings were limited, bars were closed, indoor dining prohibited, a mask mandate imposed, and residents were implored to stay home.
While in Florida, there was never a mask mandate, restrictions on businesses and restaurants were lifted and schools have stayed open. That's because Governor Ron DeSantis said he trusted his residents to use common sense. So, here's how things have panned out. The COVID Tracking Project from Johns Hopkins says over the course of the pandemic, California has a rate of more than 8,600 cases per 100,000 people, while Florida has a rate of more than 8,400 cases per 100,000. It's similar with deaths. California has recorded about 120 deaths per 100,000 compared with Florida's 137 deaths per 100,000.
Hospitalization rates, California is at 24 hospitalizations per 100,000 people, Florida about 22 hospitalizations per 100,000. Also, with hospitalizations, it's important to note age. Just 15 percent of California's population is at least 65 years old, while 21 percent of Florida's population is 65 years or older, meaning more residents in Florida are vulnerable to a virus that preys on the elderly.
Finally, not only the states' results were the same, but so were their trajectories. California saw spikes in April. Florida saw spikes in May. Both spiked again during summer, then once again in early January before declining. So were coronavirus lockdowns necessary? Did they work? What can we learn from the information?
Joining me now to discuss is Dr. Stuart Ray, Infectious Diseases Professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Thanks, Doctor, for being here. When I, as a layperson, non-physician just flip through those charts, in particular when you look at the cases California versus Florida, when you look at the hospitalizations California versus Florida, the deaths California versus Florida, they look remarkably similar. What are you seeing in the data?
DR. STUARY RAY, INFECTIOUS DISEASES PROFESSOR, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Well, I think that it's wonderful to see patterns and equivalencies between states and I think it's very appealing to make those sorts of conclusions. I think the hard part is to understand some of the detailed differences.
So, when we think about the state of California, rates in L.A. County have been tremendously higher than rates in the San Francisco area, yet they're under the same state jurisdiction, the same lockdown. So, if we think lockdowns are the difference, then how do we understand those differences between municipal regions?
I think that that's pretty tough to do. I think a more likely explanation is that there's a pendulum of public opinion that is swinging back and forth and with the holiday travel, we saw a lot of movement of people which resulted in cases which generate a synchronized sense of alarm and that that has resulted in big drops nationwide.
So, I think it's appealing to invoke the lockdowns and I will comment that lockdowns are all about timing. We saw a lockdown in March in California that was very effective and at a time when we would have thought that they'd have a big rise, they blunted it and I think many experts attributed success to that lockdown.
The lockdown in California in December was announced ...
SMERCONISH: Doctor ... RAY: Oh, sorry. Go ahead.
SMERCONISH: No, no. Please finish your thought.
RAY: So the lockdown in December was announced on December 3rd, went into force December 5th. They already had 20,000 cases per day in California at that point. So, you know, closing the barn door after the horses left may not protect communities that are vulnerable.
SMERCONISH: I want to talk about herd immunity. A colleague of yours from Johns Hopkins wrote for "The Wall Street Journal" and I'll put on the screen what I -- what I thought was the critical part of the essay. "Testing has been capturing only from 10 to 25 percent of infections depending on when, during the pandemic, someone got the virus. Applying a time-weighted case capture average of 1 in 6.5 to the cumulative 28 million confirmed cases would mean about 55 percent of Americans have natural immunity.
Now add people getting vaccinated. As of this week, 15 percent of Americans have received the vaccine and the figure is rising fast. Former Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb estimates 250 million doses will have been delivered to some 150 million people by the end of March.
There is reason to think the country is racing toward an extremely low level of infection. As more people have been infected, most of whom have mild or no symptoms, there are fewer Americans left to be infected. At the current trajectory, I expect COVID will be mostly gone by April, allowing Americans to resume a normal life."
Do you agree?
RAY: I don't and I can't help thinking about someone else saying that COVID will be done by Easter or May and that didn't go very well a year ago.
You know, the notion that everybody who's been infected is fully immune is one that doesn't have a lot of data to support it. We've seen re-infections with the second infection, even in people with normal immune systems, being more severe than the first and we don't have a good estimate of the number of re-infections. I think that number that Dr. Makary invokes of 1 percent is wrong for a variety of reasons that I'd be happy to go into.
So the other challenge is we really don't have a measure of immunity. So I think right now, when we see a downturn nationwide in almost every state, suggesting that everybody got a little alarmed at the end of December and early January with the number of cases and deaths, that if people start celebrating before we reach the end zone, that often doesn't go well. We need to wait till we're in the end zone ...
SMERCONISH: Quick ...
RAY: ... to celebrate. SMERCONISH: Quick final question. I want to put on screen a graph from "The New York Times" today which says that total immunity in the United states today -- it's hard for you to read that chart I'm sure, but here's the bottom line, that we're right now at about 40 percent. Do you agree with that?
RAY: I think that's reasonable. We don't have a good measure of immunity, but I think that is a good estimate and I think we have a ways to go before we reach herd immunity.
SMERCONISH: Right, but if you -- but if you look at the rate by which we're vaccinating people and presume that it's going to continue to tick upward, doesn't it mean that perhaps by spring, we've reached somewhere between 70 and 85 percent of immunity, herd immunity?
RAY: I do think that we have a chance. If we really ramp up vaccination, and we need people to help support that, that we could reach herd immunity by summer and we also know something happens in summer with these respiratory viruses. We may see a drop in incidence for that other reason too, but I think now is not the time to be celebrating except for (ph) ...
SMERCONISH: Dr. Ray, thanks for that. I appreciate. Didn't mean to insinuate we should be celebrating yet, but hopefully there's light at the end of the tunnel.
RAY: I'm with you, Michael (ph).
SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're saying via Smerconish Twitter and Facebook. From the world of Twitter I think, what do we have? "Herd mentality without vaccination is suicidal." I don't think anybody is advocating that we go the route of herd immunity without vaccination because so many people would die as the virus continues to spread, but both are taking place right now, an escalating rate of vaccination and so many people who've already had the virus.
A lot of data out there. I'm not an expert. Read "The Wall Street Journal" essay, factor in what you heard from Dr. Ray and I think that "The New York Times" did a pretty darn good job today in trying to explain how complicated a subject it really is.
Up ahead, Bitcoin is so mainstream that Mastercard and, as I like to say it, Tesla are accepting it for payments. Three years ago, these two experts fought here about whether cryptocurrency was a scam, so I invited them back to see if they're now in agreement that digital currency is for real. That's inspired this week's survey question at Smerconish.com. Would you invest in Bitcoin?
And in 2010, a football injury left this college freshman paralyzed from the neck down. Doctors told him he had a 3 percent chance of ever moving again. He is here to tell an unbelievable story.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
CHRIS NORTON, ONCE-PARALYZED COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYER: Just in a matter of seconds, I went from independent to dependent and I couldn't feel a thing. I'm not going to be part of the 97 percent that doesn't recover from this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A little farther Good.
NORTON: I'm going to do what I can to beat it.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
JESSICA DEAN, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jessica Dean on Capitol Hill and this is CNN.
SMERCONISH: Bitcoin, the digital currency created a dozen years ago as an alternative to cash, is exploding in value. Will it last? Many financial experts dismissed the cryptocurrency as a fad and thought it would ultimately prove worthless. At the end of the day Friday, its value was over $55,000. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, recently bought 1.5 billion of Bitcoin and said his company will accept it as payment for its electric cars.
Mastercard, Apple Pay, among others are now allowing it to be used as a form of payment. What's driving this extreme bull market and is it now a safer investment? January 6th, 2018, I hosted a debate on this program between a Bitcoin bear and a Bitcoin bull. That morning, Bitcoin was worth around $17,000. Two years earlier, Vivek Wadhwa, a tech entrepreneur and author, had declared Bitcoin dead and is sticking to his guns, at least then.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VIVEK WADHWA, TECH ENTREPRENEUR AND AUTHOR: I think that it's the greatest scam of modern times. Bitcoin is never going to be a digital currency. It's simply going to implode before you know it and regular people who trust you are going to lose their shirts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Dan Morehead, founder of the first Bitcoin-focused hedge fund, defended the currency.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN MOREHEAD, FOUND AND CEO, PANTERA CAPITAL: I'm a trader. I can never be sure of anything as you are as a writer, but when you -- when that piece was written, that was two years ago and since then, $100,000 in Bitcoin would be worth $4.5 million.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Since, Bitcoin has more than tripled in the intervening three years and Pantera Bitcoin fund is up more than 69,000 percent. I, of course, had to invite both men back to check in. Dan Morehead, who started his career at Goldman Sachs, is founder and CEO of Pantera Capital. Vivek Wadhwa is a distinguished fellow at Harvard Law School's Labor and Work Life Program.
His most recent book is " From Incremental to Exponential: How Large Companies Can See the Future and Rethink Innovation." Vivek, I think Dan is probably here for a victory lap. If that is true, is it premature?
VIVEK WADHWA, DISTINGUISHED FELLOW, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Michael, when is the last time you bought a pizza with Bitcoin? Never. When is the last time anyone watching this used Bitcoin to transact commerce? Practically never.
In the old days this story is about people buying, you know, pizza with Bitcoin, but we don't use it as a digital currency anymore. What it is right now is a speculative asset. It is as valuable as casino chips are. And it's exactly what this is. Now, the argument will be that Bitcoin will reach $100,000. It could reach half a million dollars or it could be down to $5,000. We don't know.
Just like GameStop. It is really GameStop on steroids. 10X greater than GameStop. The difference between GameStop and Bitcoin is that GameStop had a bunch of nerds and geeks and good people who had no experience in finance behind it. This has (INAUDIBLE) investor that has tech moguls who are pouring billions into it. What happens is that they pour billions into it the price rises, they cash out, take their profits.
And, you know, you've got the zealots like my friend Dan who persuade everyone and new investors to come in and buy it and they lose their shirts and leave bankrupt and crying. Where the rich got richer and then they buy it again after the price drops and then it falls again. So the common man, the common person loses no matter what happens here and the rich keep getting richer.
SMERCONISH: Dan, Friday night happens to be pizza night in our house. Last night I used cash. Does Vivek have a point that until and unless it reaches a degree where Bitcoin is used to buy the Friday night pie, we don't have anything here?
DAN MOREHEAD, FOUNDER AND CEO, PANTERA CAPITAL: No, Bitcoin does dozens of different use cases from digital gold to cross border money movements to all kinds of things. And really the last thing it will do is be good for buying a pizza.
Actually, the first commercial transaction with Bitcoin was a developer who bought pizza with 10,000 Bitcoin. And that is worth $100 million, $5 billion today. So that is why people don't use it to buy things at the moment because it is appreciating at such a rapid rate. And those arguments have been made by the very small percentage of people who are negative on cryptocurrencies. But it is really being used.
Seven percent of cross border money movement from U.S. to Mexico goes over Bitcoin. We recently sold a company in the Philippines that has one out of every 10 adults in the country using Bitcoin. So Bitcoin is being used and the investors that are investing in it today aren't investing in it because it is great if buying a cup of coffee today. They are investing in it because it's going to disrupt finance payments, all these industries. And 10 years from now, it will be good for buying a cup of coffee.
SMERCONISH: Vivek, why are you unpersuaded given the news that Bank of New York Mellon Corp., which is the nation's largest bank, or Tesla or PayPal or Apple Pay, there seem to be so many vendors maybe not a pizza yet, but so many vendors that are recognizing it as a form of currency they'll accept.
WADHWA: Yes. There is a fear missing out right now and that's how bubbles go. The big Tulip -- the Dutch Tulip bubble it was the same way. So now -- and the difference here is that you've got intelligent, sophisticated investors, billionaires. I mean, Elon Musk spending $1.5 billion of his company's money which comes from the public, which comes from tax breaks on a casino. That is the type of behavior you have and these people could inflate it a lot more.
I was also watching GameStop the same way. I said, oh, my God, there is no telling where this thing goes. This could be worth a trillion dollars just like Bitcoin is or it could go bust. And guess what? It went bust. The same thing could happen with Bitcoin. We don't know.
I mean, like I said right now I would bet it will be -- go to $100,000 in the next few weeks the way it's going. But what happens after that? It's going to drop again. And, again, the people who bought it at $100,000 are going to lose their life savings and the rich who sold it are going to put the profits away and then reinvest in it and it's going to go up again. It is a game.
SMERCONISH: Hey, Dan, everything I know about the markets I learned by watching "Wall Street." And it's like -- it's like Vivek is the Lou Mannheim character who advises Bud Fox, hey, it's all about fundamentals, kid. Don't ever lose sight of that. I don't know if you know the movie reference but respond to what you just heard.
MOREHEAD: Yes, you know, it is actually funny. Pantera's previous investment prior to Bitcoin was an investment in Tesla motors in 2011. I heard all of the same arguments. It's just a car company. There hasn't been a car company go public in the United States since Ford Motor Company went public. It is just Tesla and Elon Musk fan boys that buy the stock.
It is disrupting transportation. It is disrupting power generation. It is disrupting power storage. So Tesla now is, you know, kind of safe from criticisms like Vivek has said. The criticisms of Bitcoin are, you know, essentially all the same. And in one of his previous papers, he said Bitcoin is the Pets.com of this era. And I think that is a great analog.
The major investor in Pets.com invested in a bunch of ideas to help people use these new technologies, to what is now called the internet. And some didn't work. You know, the sock puppet never really figured out logistics. But the investor in Pets.com is a guy named Jeff Bezos and his company is doing pretty well. It really disrupted a lot of things. And that's basically what's happening with Bitcoin.
SMERCONISH: Vivek, you get the final 10 seconds. Go ahead.
WADHWA: OK. What happens if Elon Musk's CFO loses his password for the $1.5 billion, he has? That's going to go down the toilet. That's the risk with Bitcoin that it's all based on passwords. Computers can be hacked.
You know, Elon Musk doesn't remember the password for the $1.5 billion and someone in his company does and it's easy as that to steal money like that. So it will take one fall like that for this thing to crash and burn.
SMERCONISH: Gentlemen, I appreciate both of you. And I will definitely invite you back. Thank you so much.
WADHWA: Thank you, my friend.
MOREHEAD: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: From the world of Twitter. What do we have coming in?
Smerconish, I would never invest in Bitcoin but I would also never let a Tesla do the driving for me. Old school.
Hey, I used to feel -- I used to feel the same way. But I let that car drive me to the studio today. So now I'm thinking to myself maybe I'm wrong about Bitcoin as well.
Go to my Web site at Smerconish.com and answer this week's survey question. Would you -- I can't wait to see. Because I have no idea how you're going to vote on this. Would you invest in Bitcoin? I know you wish you already had. That is not today's question. The question is would you invest in Bitcoin?
Still to come, a new documentary chronicles the inspiring journey of a former college football player who became paralyzed in 2010, determined to beat the odds Chris Norton withheld from his then fiancee Emily sought to wake across the stage at his graduation in 2015, look at that footage, and succeeded. With an accomplishment like that, it is no surprise the video has been viewed more than 300 million times on social media and the Nortons join me next.
SMERCONISH: A few seconds changed the trajectory of a young man's life forever. As an 18-year-old college freshman Chris Norton suffered a devastating spinal cord injury in 2010 while playing in a football game leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Doctors gave Norton only a 3 percent chance of every moving again. Odds he was determined to beat.
Norton began several years of intense medical and physical therapy all with the ambitious goal in mind of walking across the stage at his college graduation. He had met his significant other Emily three years after the accident. She had been by his side ever since.
EMILY NORTON, CHRIS NORTON'S WIFE: We had no idea how he was going to walk across the stage. He was walking in this big walker. He was working four, five hours every single day. Sometimes even more.
CHRIS NORTON, QUADRIPLEGIC STAR OF "7 YARDS" DOCUMENTARY: I went to that graduation walk. I busted myself for years, if I trip and fall, so be it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Christopher Norton.
SMERCONISH: What happened next is a comeback story that will inspire anyone to overcome the odds. The video of his triumphant walk across the stage at his college graduation became a viral sensation with more than 300 million views. Norton's determination was on display for another inspiring feat in 2018 when he walked his then fiancee Emily seven yards down the aisle at their wedding side by side.
More of his remarkable story is being told in the brand new documentary "7 Yards" where Norton himself reenacted the football tackle that changed his life. It's available to purchase and rent on Apple TV, Prime video and other on demand platforms come Tuesday. Chris and Emily Norton both join me now.
I'm so thrilled to see both of you. Chris Norton is a motivational speaker. He's the author and founder of the Chris Norton Foundation. And together Chris and Emily co-authored the book "The Seven Longest Yards." The Nortons are also currently adoptive and foster parents to count them, seven children.
OK, Chris, it's 2010, you're 18, you're playing college football as a freshman on a beautiful day in Iowa. Your parents are in the stands. And this freakish injury paralyzes you. What was it like to have to recreate that for the movie?
CHRIS NORTON: Well, going into it, I wasn't worried about it. You know, as a motivational speaker, I have to tell my story thousands of times. But when you put on the shoulder pads again, the helmet, and you are lying in the exact same spot that you were seven years earlier, all those emotions just come flooding back. And I can just remember the fear that I had and just wondering about my future.
But obviously being seven years out from that moment, now I have peace in my heart knowing where I was at, I have the love of my life, I was having children. So the great peace then, but I know this is going to be really impactful for the viewer to having to recreating that moment. [09:45:03]
So I'm really glad we did it.
SMERCONISH: Emily, you're a saint. You were able to look past his injury when the two of you met. I wonder if everyone would have been able to do that in a similar circumstance. What was the attraction? What brought you into his life?
EMILY NORTON: Yes. I mean, a lot of him you see is his hard work. I mean, he's got this determination that he's never going to let his struggles determine who he is and where he goes. And I think the biggest thing that attracted me was how he not only went through something difficult, but instead he wanted to do something for other people. He wanted to use those difficulties and what he learned through it to help others in other situations.
And just because he is in a wheelchair, he is not any less of a person or a man, that does not determined who you are, your physical ability. So, yes, I just love who he is and the work ethic and how caring and loving he is.
SMERCONISH: Chris, a buddy of mine who is a physician wrote a book -- co-authored a book called "Compassionomics." And it makes the case that when there is a little added compassion exhibited by a medical provider it can make all the difference in the world with a patient. I don't want to give away too much about your story and the movie, but please tell us quickly about that nurse from Wyoming.
CHRIS NORTON: Yes, so I'm lying in there scared, it's the middle of the night, and this woman comes in to check my vitals. She gets done on one knee and she does something that I never expected. And she tells me to look her in the eyes and that she wasn't going to tell a lie and she told me in that moment while I was just crying, Chris, you will beat this. You will beat this. And those words changed the trajectory of my life. And I clung on to what she said to me every single day. Those words echoed in my head, Chris, you will beat this. And I just kept going and going, working as hard as I can each and every day.
SMERCONISH: At the other end of that spectrum, that compassionomics spectrum, is the doctor disbelieving when one day comes in to check you and you say, hey, I think I just moved -- what was it, your left big toe?
CHRIS NORTON: That's correct. Yes, so he comes in to check my toe and I tell him something is happening. And he tells me, Chris, you will never move anything in your legs ever again. And I was devastated.
When you are a patient in a vulnerable situation, you cling on to every single word your doctor, your medical professionals, tell you. So to be told that news, it was -- it wrecked me. But thankfully I was with my dad. He was there to encourage me. And also those words that Georgia told me of, Chris, you will beat this, I heard those words, I listened to them, I hold on to that faith and not that fear and I just kept going. A week later on Thanksgiving morning, I wiggled the exact left big toe he said I would never move again.
SMERCONISH: Emily, I only cried six times during the film. The one question I need to know, if you explained it, I missed it, why seven yards as a walk down the aisle? Why not five or 10?
EMILY NORTON: Yes, so it was seven years since Chris' injury. So we felt like that was significant to do seven yards representing those years and the struggles and everything that it took to get to that point, all the hard work and -- so that's -- that's where the seven yards came from.
SMERCONISH: You two are so, so inspiring. Thank you so much for being here to tell your story. I loved the movie. And I encourage everybody else to watch it.
No matter their circumstance, especially in these very partisan and divided times, it's a hell of a story. So thank you. I wish you all good things, Chris.
CHRIS NORTON: Thank you.
EMILY NORTON: Thank you.
CHRIS NORTON: Appreciate it.
SMERCONISH: Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments and we'll give you the final result of the survey question at Smerconish.com. Would you invest in Bitcoin? Go vote.
SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to the survey question this week at Smerconish.com. I have no idea how this one will go. Would you invest in Bitcoin? Survey says -- wow! I'm floored by that. It's like 55,000 and change. Or at least it was when I last checked. And 86 percent of you say no, not going to do it. OK. We'll continue to visit that subject with those two great guests.
Here's some of the other reaction during the course of the program. What do we have, Catherine?
Smerconish, Bitcoin, as an amateur, all I know about financial investment is never buy high. But how do you know if it's high? Right? We're already looking back at like when I did that initial interview and I said, well, when they were here before, you know, three years ago, it was at 19,000, now it's at 55,000. This is the high. I'm not going to buy it. What about the guy who thought 19,000 was the high and now he's kicking himself that he didn't pay 55,000 or less than 55,000?
What else came in? Here's another one. If both left and right are cringing at your analysis, that means you have probably done something right. Wow, Nick, how did a complimentary response get in there? Yes. Look, here's what I said in the opening commentary about Rush. [09:55:02]
What I said was that he was a gifted showman. Nobody can deny that. He was a gifted showman, a masterful entertainer. And I said it's unfortunate that he used those skills to drive a partisan divide in the country that many politicians have been following ever since his rise. And guess what -- guess what? Both of those are true.
And I understand that the response to the opening commentary -- go ahead and watch it online if you missed it -- is voluminous. If you took only one-half away from the analysis, then you missed my whole point. Actually, you reinforced my point.
Thank you for watching. See you next week.