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DOJ Investigating Threats to Local School Boards; Why Isn't Facebook Responsible For Its Content?; Patients Denied Transplants For Refusing COVID Vaccine. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired October 09, 2021 - 09:00   ET



MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Some parents need detention. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. Are you willing to serve on a local school board? Before you answer, let me roll some tape. What you're watching is a montage of recent events at school board meetings across the country. Behavior has been so appalling by parents that it led Attorney General Merrick Garland to ask the FBI and U.S. attorneys to combat a spike in harassment, intimidation and violent threats.

The issue hits home with me because my public high school's auditorium was recently the scene of such a contentious meeting. I read about it in a local weekly newspaper, "The Bucks County Herald." The high school auditorium was being used

because attendance was anticipated to be so large for a meeting where COVID masks were to be discussed. The chief medical officer and the CEO for the local hospital were there trying to educate the community and board members about COVID transmission.

When the medical officer spoke, some attendees screamed, "Lies," and hooted him down. There was a vote taken that night on whether masks should be required in this public school system and afterwards, one of the board members resigned, saying, "I'm done with the bullying effective tonight." He said that he'd received death threats, he and his wife needed police protection.

Who could blame him for resigning? You take a thankless, after-hours job for little or no money in an effort to be involved in your community and you're rewarded with stalking and death threats. And he's not alone. There have been many reports of school board members resigning across the country. What worries me is the void created and who'll fill it. Probably the kooks, the most extreme among us, the type who would come to a public meeting and make threatening comments.

It's just the latest example of our public discourse being led by the loudest voices and so it's no wonder that AG Garland is getting involved. This week, his office released a statement which included this, quote, "In recent months, there's been a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers and staff who participate in the vital work of running our nation's public schools.

While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views. Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation's core values. Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety."

Of course, that's not the way that it's being interpreted in some quarters. By way of illustration, Senator Josh Hawley asked this of a DoJ official who was defending the new policy.


SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): Is parents waiting, sometimes for hours, to speak at a local school board meeting to express concerns about Critical Race Theory or the masking of their students, particularly young children, is that in and of itself, is that harassment and intimidation?


SMERCONISH: Well, the answer to that is of course not, but harassment and intimidation is defined by social media like this sent to the board chair in Sarasota, Florida who will join me in just a moment, "Stay the F out of our lives. You don't get to take those decisions and if you try, you won't like the outcome, I promise you that." Or "Shut your F-ing mouth when it comes to parenting. Parents are going to kick down the door and drag you out by your hair."

Or "Your power trip will end and this house of cards will collapse -- with you under it I hope." Plus, a wanted poster of her was circulated on social media saying she was guilty of child abuse.

On Tuesday, the "New York Post" put this topic on its cover and said, "Parents and politicians are slamming the Department of Justice's decision to bring in the FBI to investigate a spike in 'threats against school administrators, board members, teachers and staff,' saying the Biden administration is likening their protests of 'woke' policies such as Critical Race Theory -- as well as mandatory mask wearing -- to domestic terrorism."

The critics of Garland see the AG's action as intending to stifle parent protests so as to enable mask mandates and the spread of Critical Race Theory. The "Post" quotes this tweet by Asra Nomani, vice president of investigations and strategy at Parents Defending Education who's been a vocal opponent of school boards which implements so-called "woke" ideas into the curricula such as Critical Race Theory.

"Dear Merrick Garland and Christopher Wray, this is what a domestic terrorist looks like? You are criminalizing parenting, and you owe the people of America a swift apology."

Sorry. There's not a widespread movement afoot to force Critical Race Theory on every public student in America.

[09:05:02] That issue is being given outsized influence and attention over at "Fox." Most of the unruliness that's taking place in school board meetings across the country is by people who've been whipped into a frenzy over masks and vaccination by the same media outlets who now tell us that Merrick Garland wants to criminalize the town square despite his statement recognizing spirited debate.

These angry parents are like school in the summertime -- no class. If you're going to serve in the public arena, your face will be marred by dust and sweat, but hopefully not your own blood. The temperature's too hot, the climate's too dangerous. Somebody's going to get hurt. Better we act before that happens.

Sarasota County, Florida has been one of many sites of civil unrest. This was the scene at a board meeting in August as many parents displayed their opposition to the implementation of a school mask mandate which ultimately passed. When protesters then gathered outside the home of the board chairwoman, Jimmy Kimmel showed it on his program.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE!": This is from Sarasota, Florida. So they have a mask mandate for students. They want the kids to wear masks, which doesn't seem like a lot to ask during a pandemic, but it upset some parents so much they decided to stage a protest outside the chairwoman of the school board's house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We see you in there, Shirley. We want you to come out for a redress of grievances.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No to vaccines. No to masks.

KIMMEL: OK. Says a guy who is wearing a mask as he walks by. What is going on? What is wrong with these people?


SMERCONISH: Funny, but sad, right? Sarasota school board chairwoman Shirley Brown joins me now. Thanks so much for being here. What has been the worst of what you've had to deal with in terms of community or parental reaction?

SHIRLEY BROWN, CHAIR, SARASOTA COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD: Well, I think one of the worst things is the actions at the board meetings, you know, the calling of names, you know, you know, tyrant, Marxist, communist and, you know, we're going to get you and it's kind of ironic because, I mean, after serving 15 years, I've decided not to run again for re- election, but that doesn't matter. It doesn't stop their threats.

And it's the threats on social media. They'll follow you, they'll take movies of you and then if anyone comes to the board to speak in favor of the mask mandates, they'll take clips of those and they'll do background information on those people, you know, like posting our addresses on social media. You know, these are things that if they were the children in the schools doing it to other students, yes, they would be reprimanded for it, but, you know, I'm a public official so I guess I'm open prey.

SMERCONISH: Well, I don't know. I mean, I think -- I think it comes with the territory to be subject to criticism for sure, but not to be subject to some of those menacing social media posts or a wanted picture that has your image on it.

You heard me in my commentary. What I'm most concerned about is the fact that the Shirley Browns are going to get out, right? And I know in your case, your husband's retired, there are other things you would like to do. I worry that the very people who are responsible for this obnoxious behavior, threatening behavior are going to be the ones who will fill the void. Do you share that concern?

BROWN: Oh, I'm absolutely concerned about that and, you know, we've got, you know, the same people that are behind starting these organizations, you know, like Moms for Liberty, you know, as part of our Republican state committee and they're part of that and they're actively working to make sure that they get conservative school board members elected across the state and they've got, you know, millions of dollars put into that to go at the school board elections.

But let me tell you, at the same time, there's a lot of other parents that care and they're afraid to come to the meetings because when they're at the meetings ...


BROWN: ... they get harassed by these people, but there are people standing up now that say, no, we need to protect our public schools and that's what it is. I mean, you know, I'm not afraid of a fight, I mean, especially when you're talking about the public education of our kids because I know that public schools have been under attack.

When I go to Tallahassee, they don't call them public schools, they call them government schools and they want to shut down our schools and, you know, move kids over to charter schools and private schools without the oversight of the state and that's wrong. I mean, public schools is what they call the bulldozer that levels the playing field of opportunities in our country. Public schools have helped to make this country great.


And we will protect them, and more people are coming forward that will. Of course, they're staying in the background now because of these people who come to the meetings that are so obnoxious at times, but, you know, we don't want to shut out ...

SMERCONISH: Quick final question.

BROWN: Yes. Go ahead.

SMERCONISH: A final question if I might. how much of this is about Critical Race Theory and is that even a part of the curricula in Sarasota?

BROWN: Well, the governor has said that Critical Race Theory is not a part of our agenda, but anytime anybody mentions Black Lives Matter, you know, that has to be pulled from a classroom. You know, that's kind of disturbing to me that they are shutting down and what I call whitewashing our American history.

So Critical Race Theory, a lot of times they'll point to those things and say, oh, that's critical race where it really isn't, it's teaching the truth, but we can't mention Black Lives Matter or have anything like that in our schools anymore.

SMERCONISH: But my point is that parents are being whipped into a frenzy on a subject that you're not even dealing with and it's not even taught in your schools; am I right in saying that?

BROWN: Right. I mean, it's banned from the state standards and the governor is saying what we can and can't teach in our schools and they're very strict on that and if they find anything in it, they're pulling these things. But what we're also doing is encouraging parents to look at what they're in -- and we've given the rights to parents and others to examine everything that's in our schools.

So it's scaring a lot of our teachers too. They're getting frustrated because they're having complaints filed against them all the time too. So it's not just school boards they're after. They're going after some of our teachers and putting them in an awkward position too and when a parent saw that these teachers signed something that supported Critical Race Theory and teaching accurate history, they put those parent -- those teachers' addresses out on social media too.

So they're not only going after school board members, they're whipped up in a frenzy and politics is what's behind it.

SMERCONISH: I mean, that's the real intimidation. The real -- the real intimidation is shutting down those voices and yet the complaint is, oh, parents are trying -- are being stifled by the attorney general. Shirley Brown, thank you. I really appreciate your having been here. Wish you good things.

BROWN: Thank you very much.

SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish. Go to my Facebook page, YouTube, however you find me. I'll read some responses throughout the course of the program. Catherine, what do we have? Twitter, "Smerconish, if the public is getting that angry, perhaps the school board members should get off their high horses and listen to the public they were elected to represent."

No, Joseph, they shouldn't listen to just the nastiest people who come out, right? They should be listening to the community sentiment at large, but unfortunately those loud voices, the unruly ones -- this is a much bigger point about the country generally -- are drowning out all the sanity.

You know, the sane folks aren't the ones who come out. They're the ones who are at home because they're putting the kids to bed and working and doing other things. It's the -- it's the fringes who are overly represented and, no, I don't want them calling all the shots. They should be represented, but not calling all the shots.

Up ahead, the latest jobs report is bad news for the Biden administration, but also confusing. Why is the number of unfilled jobs higher than the number of unemployed Americans? The surprising answer is coming up which leads me to this week's survey question. Go to my website at and answer this question: Why aren't more people working? Is it pay or the pandemic's impact on people's psychology?




SMERCONISH: The new job numbers are in. They're bad news for the Biden administration. Why is this happening? In September, U.S. employers added only 194,000 jobs. That was down from 336,000 -- pardon me -- 366,000 in August and far below the more than 1 million plus jobs added in July. As of the last business day in July, the number of job openings in the United States was 10.9 million and as of September, 7.7 million Americans are unemployed.

So, if there's a job for everyone, why is every job not filled? Jamie Aten offers a provocative answer in this piece that he wrote for, "Our Psychology, Not Pay, is Driving the Great Resignation." Dr. Aten joins me now. He's founder and co-director of the Wheaton College Humanitarian Disaster Institute. So you study disaster psychology, the psychology of those who've been caught up in some form of disaster. What is it that you see in the pandemic as it relates to jobs?

JAMIE ATEN, FOUNDER & CO-DIRECTOR, WHEATON COLLEGE HUMANITARIAN DISASTER INST.: Well, Michael, thanks for having me and I think one of the biggest things that has really stood out to me, having studied disasters for the last 15 years around the globe including COVID-19, is that what's happening here isn't just about pay, but it's much deeper.

What's happening is that this trauma of going through COVID-19 is causing people to reevaluate their life, including their careers, and they're looking for better ways to live, which means that businesses are going to have to change the way they do things if they want to be able to retain and attract new employees.

SMERCONISH: I get radio callers, callers to my radio program, day in and day out who are small businesspeople, and they say, wait a minute, it's all about the government paying too much money, eviction forbearance or the enhanced unemployment benefits. You know, I as a small businessperson am now competing with the federal government, but you think it's more than that.

ATEN: Absolutely. You know, one of the things that small businesses can offer that the government can't offer to their employees are a number of different factors, such as having a sense of community, being able to find meaning and purpose in their work, being able to serve their local communities.


So I think that the small business owner can really start to do even small things like creating new opportunities of hiring within that can go a long way because people are looking for opportunities for growth.

SMERCONISH: Well, Dr. Aten, you've anticipated my next question. so maybe I am a franchise for a fast-food company or some other type of small business. There are many that are just struggling to fill jobs. Give me a tip. If you're right and it's more psychology than pay -- and you do acknowledge pay is a factor -- what should I be doing to attract a workforce?

ATEN: One of the things that you can really start to do is to really focus on creating that opportunity for the worker and that can range from anything from providing additional training to help them improving their skill set, helping them find new ways to be able to serve underserved individuals in their own communities and if you're a small business owner and you're still around hiring, it means that you have a passion for what you do. Share that passion with your employees, help them to catch that vision and to be able to join into something bigger than themselves.

SMERCONISH: Here's what you wrote in part. We'll put this on the screen. "We found that being exposed to traumatic events like the pandemic can have a profound impact on five key areas of your life -- appreciation of life, social relationships, openness to possibilities, personal strength and existential change."

You know, the question that I ask is if you're right and it's psychology and they're looking for something more fulfilling from life, how can they afford not to be working today? Which takes me back to my earlier point. Maybe it's because they've been able to save resources from enhanced unemployment benefits or from eviction forbearance and not having to pay rent. You get the final word.

ATEN: Well, one of the things that I would really encourage is that we create ways for employees to be able to speak more into the opportunities that they're actually looking for. So if you're the employer, be listening to those around you. Are they looking for more flexible work? Are they looking for different ways to spend more time with their family? It's time that we start to change things.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Aten, thanks so much. You've inspired today's survey question.

ATEN: Thanks for having me.

SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're saying via social media. What do we have? This comes from the world of Twitter I believe. "When the government stops subsidizing not working, they will go back to work. Everyone is trying to make it complicated when it's not. Also, people with no skills have been told they deserve $20 an hour by the same people so that doesn't help either."

Wade, that is a viewpoint that you've just expressed that I hear time and again from small businesspeople who say they just can't attract a workforce. Dr. Aten says pays got something to do with it for sure, but that we need to be looking at the pandemic as an epiphany moment, AKA another disaster. For example, Katrina and that people who had the ability to make a life change are seizing that opportunity.

It's a great survey question. Go to right now and answer this week's question. Why aren't more people working? If there's a job for everybody out there theoretically, is it pay or the pandemic's impact on people's psychology? Can't wait to see the result of that.

Up ahead, what if America's most dangerous news source is your Facebook feed? As the whistleblower revealed, its algorithms are designed to ramp up division and discord. Can it be fixed?

Plus, before you can get an organ transplant, many hospitals are starting to require both patient and donor to be vaccinated against COVID-19. In Colorado where one unvaccinated woman is being denied a kidney, an elected official has called the policy sad and disgusting. Who's right?




SMERCONISH: What if I told you this week's most important news story is about a social media platform? I know. There's no shortage of news this week, right? The mess on Capitol Hill, the troubling jobs report, the president's plummeting poll numbers, energy costs, supply chain issues, the search for Brian Laundrie, my favorite, Captain Kirk really going into space.

But in this climate, the most important long-term story is none of the above. It's Facebook and it's ongoing impact and effect on our news diet. By now, we've all heard about the Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen who revealed herself on "60 Minutes" and testified to Congress. She's analogized the impact of an unregulated Facebook to big tobacco and seat belts and opioids.

Part of what she's revealed is how Facebook knows that Instagram, which it owns, is toxic for teen girls because of the impact that it has on body image and that's important, but there's something else that impacts us all and it goes to the heart of our democracy. For a long time, I've tried to educate about the perils of a polarized media. We've never had so much choice in where we can get our news and information and yet so few seem to exercise that opportunity.

Instead, we hunker down in our silos of ideological media worlds that reaffirm our previously held views instead of sampling competing thought. The climate won't change, I say, until more of us change the channel. Well, for many, Facebook controls the remote. Their Newsfeed where users get a constantly updated, personalized source of both news and personal information like photos is where most of the platform's 3 billion users spend their time.


Advertising here and at Instagram accounts for nearly all of the $86 billion in Facebook's revenue last year. What determines what gets in each user's feed? That would be Facebook's proprietary algorithm. It considers what they know of your interests and associations and feeds you content to keep you hooked. And in 2018 when the algorithm's formula was changed, supposedly to improve a user's well-being, it instead rewarded the angriest most divisive voices.

Think of that friend or relative that we all have who takes their politics to an extreme. Their own internal memos acknowledged -- quote -- "Misinformation, toxicity, and violent content are inordinately prevalent among reshares."

Yes, there's a lot of news to digest but none of it will matter if we don't first get the public arena under control so that people know how to properly judge what their digesting. Incentivize outlets to provide balance and educate consumers about the limitations of being overly dependent upon one source. It is time to restore some decorum. And as I said earlier, "Stop ceding the town square to the loudest voices whether it's on TV, in print or online."

So, what can be done about the algorithms that enable Facebook to keep people hooked by spurring misinformation and outrage? My next guest literally wrote the book about Section 230 of the 1996 law known as the Communications Decency Act which reads, "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."

Joining me now is Jeff Kosseff. He's the author of "The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet." He's also the co-author of a piece just published this morning in "The Washington Post," "Why outlawing harmful social media content would face an uphill legal battle." He's an associate professor of cybersecurity law that the United States Naval Academy but speaks here today on his own behalf and not in an official capacity.

So I read your op-ed in "The Washington Post" today and it totally bummed me out. Is there nothing we can do about this algorithm issue?

JEFF KOSSEFF, AUTHOR, "THE TWENTY-SIX WORDS THAT CREATED THE INTERNET": Well, there actually is a lot that we can do about both algorithms and harmful speech online. One of the things -- especially when you're dealing with algorithms is -- and really incredibly important debate that Frances Haugen's testimony and disclosure has shed light on is, first that we need much more transparency. We do not know what is going on at the biggest tech companies.

Section 230, that you mentioned, was basically passed to give the platforms the flexibility and breathing room to develop moderation practices and curation practices that best serve their users. It's a very market-based theory but the problem with markets is they need information and transparency to work.

And -- I mean, I can say as someone who researches online speech issues and cybersecurity law, it is easier for me to go to the intelligence community and get information from them than it is to go to a big tech company. And that should not be the case. We need far more insight and Frances Haugen has done a tremendous public service in at least shedding some light, but we need a lot more.

SMERCONISH: And Jeff -- Professor Kosseff, the folks at Facebook they acknowledged this in an anticipatory release of a statement when she was about to go on "60 Minutes." Here's part of what Nick Clegg told the company. Quote -- "In January of 2018, we made ranking changes to promote meaningful social interactions so that you would see more content from friends, family and groups that your part of in your News Feed. This change was heavily driven by internal and external research that showed that meaningful engagement with friends and family on our platform was better for people's wellbeing, and we further refined and improved it over time as we do with all ranking metrics. Of course, everyone has a rogue uncle or an old school classmate who holds strong or extreme views we disagree with -- that's life -- and the change meant you are more likely to come across their posts too. Even so, we've developed industry-leading tools to remove hateful content and reduce the distribution of problematic content. As a result, the prevalence of hate speech on our platform is now down to 0.05 percent."

Well, that sounds impressive, but when you factor in that there are 3 billion users that's a lot of hate. So what's the solution?

KOSSEFF: Well, it is a lot of hate. And I'm not a public relations expert so I won't comment on how Facebook has handled all of these disclosures publicly. But what I will say is that hate speech in the United States, unlike other jurisdictions, is constitutionally protected. So, hate speech alone, we can't just pass a law saying platforms must remove it.


And -- so Section 230 is basically this idea if platforms have flexibility, they will be able to moderate harmful content that their users don't want. The problem with that is content moderation at scale, as you were just explaining, is incredibly difficult. And I'm not saying we throw our hands in the air. That's why transparency is so important. That's why privacy regulations are so important. Because it is a tough problem and I think we're just now getting serious enough about it to figure out, how do we look for solutions? And I think it's a debate that should have been had five or 10 years ago, but I'm glad we're having it now.

SMERCONISH: So the trial lawyer in me says, "Get rid of Section 230." They are then at least open to defamation actions and they would have to police their social media platforms. Obviously, it's not just Facebook. It would be similar platforms. Is that not a solution?

KOSSEFF: So, the problem with that is first -- and one thing I really stress is that the internet is not just Facebook. The internet is Yelp. It's Glassdoor. It's a community news site that allows user comments. And I think that if you made that change -- first off again, defamation is something that you can sue over. But there's a lot of harmful content especially in the current debate that is constitutionally protected. So that's a real challenge.

But even if you were to make that change, I think, Facebook would survive these changes to 230. I mean, I'm that D.C. and I can't go --

SMERCONISH: No. I'm not looking -- I'm not looking to take them down. I love it. I love all of these. But something's got -- something's got to change.

Give me the final comment, if I might, on this one. And it's this. If you go online in search of a product, a trip, you're going to take a vacation, and then you're bombarded with ads they've got your number. And you know it. I think we're all wise to that now.

I don't think that people understand the power exhibited by Facebook in determining what's in your news feed. You've got people thinking they're well-read when in fact they're being reaffirmed beliefs that you already have because Facebook knows what you looked at before.

Anyway, thank you so much for being here. You really did write the book on the subject and we appreciate your expertise.

KOSSEFF: Thanks so much.

SMERCONISH: Let's check in on your tweets and other social media comments including from Facebook, by the way.

People who have been damaged need to sue social media companies for knowingly allowing harmful content to air. Just like Dominion Voting.

That will take me to a different direction so I'm going to ignore the dominion part and simply say -- the issue is this, very simplified. OK. Congress enabled Facebook and other social media platforms to be treated like Verizon or, you know, Ma Bell in the old day. In other words, we don't sue a telephone provider for the content that goes across their transom or in the old days across their wire. Unlike a newspaper or a TV outlet where if you disburse defamatory comment, you're going to be on the hook for it.

And therein lies the question, how should we be treating Facebook? How should we be treating these other social media platforms like the phone company or like the local newspaper? Tough decision.

I want to remind you answer this week's survey question at OK? Go to my Web site. Why aren't people working? Is it the pay or is it the pandemic's impact on people's psychology?

Still to come, a patient in dire need of a kidney transplant got a letter from the hospital warning her that if she and her donor refuse the COVID vaccine she'll be denied the procedure. Is this medically justifiable? Who better to ask than CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, author, by the way, of a great new book about the pandemic called "World War C." (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


SMERCONISH: An increasing number of Americans in need of organ transplants are now facing a new requirement before they can get the procedure, being vaccinated against COVID-19. Several hospitals are bumping patients who refuse the vaccine either down or off crowded organ wait-lists.

In Colorado, one such patient, Leilani Lutali, has been taking her case to the public. The 56-year-old is in stage 5 of chronic kidney disease. Both she and her donor refusing the vaccine citing religious objections and uncertainty about safety are effectiveness. Colorado State Representative Tim Geitner made public the letter she was sent by UC Health and said this on Facebook live.


STATE REP. TIM GEITNER (R-CO): This is life-saving care. And that's incredibly frustrating, incredibly sad, incredibly disgusting that UC Health would make this type of a decision and impact an individual in such a dramatic and profound way.


SMERCONISH: Lutali has antibodies from having had COVID and says -- quote -- "I feel like I'm being coerced into not being able to wait and see and that I have to take the shot if I want this lifesaving transplant."

Joining me now, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent and author of the new book "World War C: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic and How to Prepare for the Next One." Dr. Gupta, I was reading the book as this case was unfolding. And in the book -- you've got a whole chapter where you go through the myths about COVID and one of them is this. "I've already had COVID so why bother with the vaccine?" Here's this transplant controversy where the patient says exactly that. How do you see it?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, I don't think that people should frame this as being a punishment to the unvaccinated which, I think, is sometimes how this is interpreted.


There's lots of -- you know, even pre-pandemic there were vaccination requirements because when someone gets a transplant, they then get immunosuppressive drugs and a vaccine treatable illness can be worsened causing severe illness or even death in those situations. So, I think, that's an important point to make.

Also, the religious exemptions. You know, it's interesting there's no major religion, Michael, that actually prohibits vaccinations. I think, what's an issue there specifically is the use of fetal cell lines in the development of the vaccines. And that does happen with some of these COVID-19 vaccines. The Vatican weighed in on this specifically. I don't know what religion this patient is specifically, but Pope Francis weighed in and said these vaccines are acceptable even if fetal cell lines are used in this manner.

But this last issue you raised, natural immunity. It's interesting. I mean, there has been data that has came out that says, if you have natural immunity, you've had COVID in the past, you have natural immunity, you have probably pretty good protection at least for a period of time.

What seems to be at issue, though, Michael, is that we still don't know how long that protection lasts, nor do we know the breadth of that protection. Meaning how good does it protect against the variants, Delta variant, for example. If you had an exposure to Alpha or one of the earlier variants. We just don't have the data yet and, I think, that's what transplant centers are sort of grappling with.

We have a known entity with the vaccine that is known to be safe and effective. Some 6 billion shots have now been given out around the world. And I think it's why, ultimately, the American Society of Transplant Medicine, they say everyone should be vaccinated. They can just make a recommendation. They have no mandate power. But they just recommend everyone should be vaccinated for all those reasons.

It's thorny, for sure. But that's how at least these major scientific organizations land on it.

SMERCONISH: Something else from the book, if I may. You quote Dr. Robert Redfield explaining to you that it makes no sense for a pathogen to go from a wild animal to a human which such efficiency. And this, of course, you know, Dr. Gupta, is in your conversation about the Wuhan lab. What's the short version of where you come out on the origin as of what you know now?

GUPTA: Well, I think if I had to place a bet, Michael, I would still say this likely spilled over from animals to humans. Why? Naturally occurring -- why? Because that's how most pathogens have emerged in the past. That's just, you know, the odds, playing the odds.

The summary of it is that there is a real lab leak theory out there that this may have been studied in a lab and then leaked. One way that that could be sort of dispensed with if the Chinese government wanted that would be to open the labs, provide all the data, put up this database that went down in September of 2019, put it back up. Was there any evidence of this particular virus in that database?

The problem is they haven't done it. There's just a huge amount of opacity around this issue. And, you know, I think, that's fuelling a lot of suspicion, frankly, understandably.

And also, you know, I covered SARS back in 2003, Michael, the original SARS. And there was a lot of opaqueness at that point as well. It took months for the Chinese government to actually disclose that this pathogen was circulating. There's evidence of that here as well. They took -- they took time before they actually alerted the world. That's just going to raise people's suspicions. So bottom line, I still think this likely spilled from animals to humans because of -- historically that's the case. But why this what seems like a cover up in terms of this of Wuhan Institute of Virology?

SMERCONISH: I learned a lot from your book. We all have our own COVID stories except ours don't involve Francis Ford Coppola. I'll leave that as a tease so that people read the story themselves. Thanks so much for being here.

GUPTA: You got it. Thank you.

SMERCONISH: From the world of Twitter. What do we have, Catherine?

This goes against the first Hippocratic Oath of do no harm. This is insanity. How is this even a topic with you, Smerconish? I used to think so highly of you. How come? But it's clear that you've been swung in a direction towards mandates and control. So disappointing.

What? JS -- JS, the issue here is that someone wants an organ, right? There are conditions imposed on them in any scenario, right? You know, to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Hey, we'll give you this organ. They're in short supply, but there are requirements that come with it. And in this case, the requirement is you're going to now decrease your likelihood of survival because you won't get vaccinated. Go get vaccinated and here's the organ.

And what about me if I'm the organ donor? I've got that on my driver's license. I have the expectation that you're going to take my organs and you're going to give them to somebody who has got a shot of survival not someone who's so foolish that they won't get vaccinated.

Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments, if we have time. Please make sure you are voting at my Web site at


Why aren't more people working? Is it pay or people's psychology?


SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to the survey question this week at Why aren't people working? We gave you two choices. Pay or the pandemic's impact on the people's psychology, as per my guest earlier in the show.

Sixty -- OK, 2/3 say, no, it's all about the pay issue. A full 1/3 of 14,000 and change say it's the psychology. As usual, you know, my view is that the answer -- the real answer is somewhere in between both of those. Quick social media reaction if I've got time for it.


What do we have? Smerconish -- no, Michael, people want to work but employers are trying to get people to work for the same or even less money when we all know full well that the cost of living went up 35 percent since the pandemic.

Anthony, I think it's the fact that government has made it through enhanced unemployment benefits and the forbearance for those who are late on rent. They've made it easy not to take a job. But if you had a choice you wouldn't go do which is why I say, "It's both pay and the psychology of it." We'll find out and hope people get back to work soon.

See you next week.