Return to Transcripts main page


Teacher Who Attended January 6 Rally Fired; Is America Ruled By A "Geriatric Oligarchy?"; Is America In A Recession?; Is Social Media Undermining American Democracy. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired July 30, 2022 - 09:00   ET




MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Question, should a person's non- violent attendance at the January 6 save America March have any impact on their employment? I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia and that is this week's poll question Many who participated in the storming of the Capitol on January 6 have been charged with crimes and prosecuted, others may still be.

And of course there's the January 6 committee scrutinizing former President Donald Trump. But I want to update a different story about that day. One have a middle school teacher who on Thursday night was just fired by his school board tracing back to his attendance on January the sixth, despite his never being anywhere near the Capitol. Kind of ironic that the Pennsylvania teacher is now out of his job while the current Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania himself chartered buses to transport people to attend.

Jason Moorehead is a former social studies teacher at the Raub Middle School in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He attended the rally and posted about it on social media, but did not participate in anything beyond that. He was suspended with pay and benefits while the district investigated his involvement. When the district told Moorehead that he could return to work last September, he asked that they make a public statement about his being cleared. They refused, he was fired.

Here's more of the backstory. Moorehead's involvement came to light with some screenshots of his social media posts, one with the caption doing my civic duty while he was carrying a revolutionary war flag, Join or Die. And someone else's post saying, don't worry everyone, the Capitol is insured to which Moorehead added, quote, "this."

On January 7, the Allentown School District Superintendent released a statement launching the investigation that read in part, quote, "The school district was made aware of a staff member involved in the Electoral College protests that took place at the United States Capitol building on January 6. We understand that many members of our community are upset by the image. At the same time, the district has an obligation to respect the First Amendment rights of our staff and students."

This past Thursday night, Moorehead appeared at a public school board meeting, and here's some of what he had to say.


JASON MOOREHEAD, TERMINATED TEACHER: I understand the fears of the community when they want to make sure their kids are in a safe place, a safe place to be where they can be nurtured. So I understand the outrage. But those parents have been lied to.

Yes, I went to Washington to Capitol D.C. to hear some speeches, but I was never a part of any violence, period. Yet the district told the Allentown community that I was, that I was an active participant in the riots. That's a lie.

Once the district finally admitted to me privately that I had done nothing wrong and that I could return, they refuse to let the community know that I'm safe to alleviate both their fears and my fears by returning. And they still have not made a statement today. You've made it impossible for me to return. You've destroyed my career, my character, my life, my marriage.

I might lose my house all because some of you did not like my political conservative views. Shame on you. And the rest are too afraid to stand up and do what's right.


SMERCONISH: The law firm for the school district sent CNN a statement which reads in part, "Mr. Moorehead was terminated solely for his failure to return and report to work as directed by the administration. His termination was in no way connected to his activities on January 6."

Joining me now is Jason Moorehead along with his attorney, Francis Malofiy.

So, Jason, January 6, you're in Washington. What exactly were you doing?

MOOREHEAD: Hi, Michael. Thank you for having me back again.

I went down with some people I knew to simply listen to the speeches on that day to try to learn and be a witness, that's why I went down.


SMERCONISH: What were your activities? I mean, where were you physically positioned and what were you doing?

MOOREHEAD: We arrived right by the Washington Monument. We walked around the Washington Monument, we walked towards the White House, tried to get pictures of the White House. We were with people who had never been to D.C. We listened to some speeches or attempted to, it was hard to hear.

Right around 1:30, we walked over to get a hotdog, hung out for about an hour, right by the Washington Monument White House and headed back to the bus, which picked us up right by the Holocaust Museum.

SMERCONISH: How close did you get to the Capitol?

MOOREHEAD: I was more than a mile away at all times. It was a 20- minute walk.

SMERCONISH: In your social media, it occurs to me that but for your own social media posts, Catherine (ph), can you put those back up on the screen? This probably might not have come to light. What were you seeking to convey, quote, "Doing my civic duty?" Somebody else says, "Don't worry everybody, the Capitol is insured." And you say, "This." The message you were seeking to convey was what?

MOOREHEAD: I think it's important -- if you can and to hear from people directly. I have an obligation to make sure I'm learning firsthand for myself and not trusting the media 100 percent to tell me the story. And I thought that that day would be important to hear.

SMERCONISH: So the following day, the superintendent sends out a letter and it says on January 7, the Allentown School District was made aware of a staff member who was involved in the Electoral College protests that took place at the United States Capitol. I guess, Francis Malofiy, part of your beef is that it suggests he was at the Capitol when he wasn't.

FRANCIS MALOFIY, JASON MOOREHEAD'S ATTORNEY: No comments had been made against Jason Moorehead until there was an investigation and it was a violation of collective bargaining agreement. Furthermore, the district knew right off the bat that he did nothing wrong and he was not at the Capitol building protests or part of any violence. Yet they placed -- they knew on two days later, on January 8 after a full investigation and inquisition was taken that he wasn't there, he did nothing wrong, but they spent seven months refusing to correct the record.

And now a year and a half later, they still haven't corrected the record or cleared his name, even though they did a full investigation, even searching his personal devices with the FBI and colluding that fact from him. And what they found out was he smelled like roses, he was a choir boy and a boy scout, he did nothing wrong, but to this day, they poison the community. They poison the students, they poisoned teachers and parents against them to the point where it's impossible for him to return.

And the most decent thing when you make a mistake as a human being is to say I'm sorry, but instead they doubled down --

SMERCONISH: But Jason --

MALOFIY: -- a nine zero voted to terminate him, which was wrong and unlawful.

SMERCONISH: But Jason, after a hearing on the matter, I'm reading the fact finders report, and it says, ultimately, when all the noise is put aside, the facts are simple, they invited Moorehead, you, to return to work, he stated his attention to not work and then failed to show up. Jason, you would say what in response to that?

MOOREHEAD: Four months afterwards, parents, students, and community members were allowed to think and say horrible things about me and my character. And they were allowed to believe it because the school never corrected it. And I can't go back.

I wouldn't want to go back to a place where it was unsafe for anybody. And it's one of those situations where there's so many horrible things said that students feel I'm this way. They don't know the truth and that needs to be corrected.

SMERCONISH: So, the fact finder also says, Francis Malofiy, that you didn't put forth any evidence of threats against your client. I'm going to play a voicemail and then I'm going to ask you to respond to it. Roll that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, idiot, I saw you on the news. I think you're a piece of (bleep) and you got conned by Donald Trump into participating in a coup. Call me back. If you want to talk about it, address it like a man. But you're a Trump supporter, so you're scared little (bleep).


SMERCONISH: Francis, did you put forth evidence of him being threatened.

MALOFIY: This shows the bias of the hearing officer. This shows the bias of the administration and the board. We asked for subpoenas to be served upon law enforcement in the state police, which had to the death threats documented. But the hearing officer, the administration and the board refused to allow those subpoenas to be issued so testimony can be heard.

So when we talk about, you know, a far left leaning board that's lost their balance and a hearing officer who was unfair and biased who represented the board and the administration who is the current solicitor, you know, there -- that statement is absolutely false, it's a lie and needs to be corrected.


And this is the type of thing --

SMERCONISH: Jason, here's something else that I think is important. You -- they've asked you to come back to work. You haven't gone back to work. You've just made it clear to a CNN audience because you want your name cleared.

Importantly, were there any strings attached to your coming back to the workplace?

MOOREHEAD: Yes, one of the requirements was that I attend some classes on African American and Hispanic studies. And if I took those courses, it would be admitting that I needed some racial training when all I did was go to a political conservative rally. And I can't admit that I am racist, because I have a different political viewpoint.

SMERCONISH: In other words, they wanted you to engage in -- wait, this is important that I want to understand, they wanted you --


SMERCONISH: -- to take some level of training that other teachers didn't have to take. And that too, was a condition for your coming back to the workplace?

MOOREHEAD: That was the condition that they had given me, yes.

MALOFIY: And I think it's important --




MALOFIY: Go ahead.

SMERCONISH: I was going to say, what are the aspect of this? The board -- Francis, I got to get this in the record, too. The fact finder say, hey, you, Francis Malofiy, wanted a million dollars, and then up to that very soon thereafter. Is this a money play is my question.

MALOFIY: From day one, it was about correcting the record, it was about them clearing his name and putting him back in the classroom. They refuse to do that. They refuse to do that today, because they're too bent on their ideology and not respecting the First Amendment, which values difference of opinion, which values freedom of speech.

If the board could appreciate BLM protests, then so too, can they appreciate conservative protests or conservative gatherings. You know, what we have here as a left leaning board that's lost their balance. You know, the school district, and the school is a government entity, it cannot adopt one political view to the exclusion of another. And just because you're a white Christian, conservative male does not mean that you get to be politically assassinated by the school or the government. It's unlawful, it's illegal.

SMERCONISH: I got to wrap it up.

MALOFIY: It should have never happen.

SMERCONISH: I got to wrap it up.

Francis Malofiy, Jason Moorehead, thanks so much for being here and telling your story. I appreciate it.

MALOFIY: Thank you.

MOOREHEAD: Thank you, Michael.

MALOFIY: Appreciate it, Michael, SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @smerconish. Go to my Facebook page, YouTube, I'll read some responses throughout the course of the program.

From Twitter, depends on the profession. A social studies teacher must have better judgment than to indulge a far out conspiracy. They are supposed to teach critical thinking to our kids.

Matt, hang on a second. Are you saying that there's going to be a different standard that applies for those who attended the events? And let's give him the benefit of the doubt because the school district doesn't say otherwise that he was at the ellipse. He was not anywhere near the Capitol.

And for showing up at that event, which is billed as a save America march then he's fundamentally unfit to hold his job. I'm not comfortable with that.

And where does that logic extend? What if I'm a cop? What am a firefighter? I mean, where exactly are we going to carry that school of thought?

If he was not involved in any of that which transpired at the Capitol, but was exercising his first amendment right, showing up to hear President Trump and others speak, my personal view, that is not a fireable offense? To me, that's frightening. If that's all it consists of.

Well, this will be interesting, right now has this week's poll question. Go there and answer this, should a person's -- I tried to make it generic and not just about him, should a person's non violent attendance at the January 6 save America march have any impact on their employment?

Still to come. Is America in a recession? While politicians argue about the definition, what can we learn from certain bellwether small businesses?

And what do many summer concerts have in common with our political leaders? I'll talk to one candidate who thinks we're being ruled by a geriatric oligarchy. Is he right?


JOE CUNNINGHAM (D), SOUTH CAROLINA GOV. CANDIDATE: The same people running our country and our state are the same people who asked you to come over and reset the router,

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Joe, routers out again.



[09:18:40] SMERCONISH: In a moment, you're going to meet a gubernatorial candidate who thinks that we're being ruled by a geriatric oligarchy. And many agree. And yet we don't seem to mind during the summer concert season.

Right now there are a huge number of 70 and 80 something rock stars on the road proving you are never too old to rock and roll. Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, The Who, and Donald Trump. I mean, that was the first reaction that I had seen his speech this week when he returned to Washington, D.C., which by the way I had to seek out online because no conventional outlets aired it.

Maybe it was the music playing in the house before he took the stage. It was Elton John himself, 75 And still on tour. Or maybe that I myself had just seen concerts by 77-year-old John Anderson of Yes. Dead and Company led by 74-year-0old Bob Weir and I'm about to see Roger Waters of Pink Floyd age 78.

As the recent piece put it, this summer marks the twilight of classic rock. Few of the aging rockers have new material. There's rarely a new album, and still they tour, which is why I would add to that list Donald Trump at age 76 currently on his own greatest hits tour.

See it this way. Trump walked out on stage, he nodded and pointed at a crowd whose hands and cell phones were raised high. What does that look like? Like classic rock fans.


These audience, they came from the Trump experience, they're ready for, in his case, not the songs, but the one liners and the excitement. It was billed as a policy speech, something that is not his forte on the topic of crying. But you can see him read the room and feed off the crowd. And when the crowd is bored, he gets bored.

So, what does he do? He throws something else into the mix. He goes off script to keep them enthused. And he did so with a rant on transgender athletes that had nothing to do with crime. The crowd went wild.

Say what you will about him. He knows how to read a room. But also like the rock stars, he's got no new material, no new policy, no new album, just the hits, which in this case, are those same old grievances and targets. His critics scoffed at the set list, if you will, the reviews called it a dark presentation. But like his contemporaries, he's nevertheless selling out.

Still, among many other issues, is he actually too old for the job? If he runs in 2024, he'd be 78. At 79, Joe Biden is the oldest president in U.S. history.

As for Congress, the Senate is the oldest in American history, the average age of senators in the Congress is almost 64 years old, the average age of a House members a little over 58. The number is even higher for House Democratic leadership where the average age is 71. Here's something interesting, consider that the average age of the signers of the Declaration of Independence was 44. Some of our founding fathers were only in their 20s and teens. Madison 25, Alexander Hamilton 21, Aaron Burr 20, John Marshall 20, James Monroe just 18. They were the millennials and Gen Z years of their time.

My next guest made waves when he released a campaign video calling for term limits and age limits for politicians in his State of South Carolina.


CUNNINGHAM: Our country in our state are being run by geriatric oligarchy. People who stay in office way past their prime.

The folks who are making a career out of politics are making a mess of our country. That's why it's time to put term limits and age limits on politicians. It'll bring new blood and new ideas to the table.


SMERCONISH: Here with me to discuss is former Democratic Congressman Joe Cunningham, who's running for governor in South Carolina.

You know, Congressman, people look at this and they say, well, we already have age limits, we already have term limits. They come every two, four or six years. If the voters want to vote you out, they can vote you out.

CUNNINGHAM: Well, we all know, that's a fallacy though, Michael. I mean, look what politicians have done across the country, they've drawn their lines to pick their voters. So they've engaged in gerrymandering where, I think, there's like 435, you know, congressional seats, and what, only about two to three dozen of those are actually competitive. And everyone knows how difficult it is to beat an incumbent. And they have the power of then come see (ph).

So, whenever you pick your own voters and you have the power, then come see, there are actual real competitive races. So, I think everyone knows that that's simply just not true.

SMERCONISH: I thought what was compelling in your commercial was when you made reference to other professions. Catherine, roll that video and we'll respond.


CUNNINGHAM: Airline Pilots are forced to retire at age 65. Federal law enforcement officers 57. Judges here in South Carolina 72.


CUNNINGHAM: Have you ever noticed that politicians hardly ever retire?

(END VIDEO CLIP) SMERCONISH: I mean, it makes a good point that at this point, I'm three years beyond being a federal investigator by your definition of this. So what has been the reaction? Because I think this was politically risky for you to take on.

CUNNINGHAM: Look, I'm saying the quiet parts out loud, Michael, I'm seeing what others are thinking. And the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

I mean, take for instance, here in South Carolina, where I mentioned that 72 is retirement age for judges, you know, if 72 is too old to interpret the law, why is it not too old to make the law?

And the fact is in South Carolina, we have the oldest governor in our state's history, Governor McMaster, who's 75 years old, and he's been in politics. He's been a politician, get this, longer than I've been alive, literally. And you look at where it's gotten us, you know, we're dead last and roads, we're near the bottom with teacher pay, with health care, every metric of the quality of life were at or near the bottom. And he's been in politics for over four decades. So that -- I mean, he teach a master class --

SMERCONISH: I don't deny that it's --

CUNNINGHAM: -- and age limits.

SMERCONISH: I don't deny that it's on people's mind, but on the question of whether it's smart politics, the whole country recalls the role that Jim Clyburn played for Joe Biden in the last presidential nomination process when Congressman Clyburn was asked about you and this issue, this is a very short clip, but here was his response.



REP. JAMES E. CLYBURN (D-SC): Joe needs to grow up.


SMERCONISH: He says, you need to grow up. You say what?

CUNNINGHAM: Look, I don't expect those who would be impacted by this policy to come running towards it with open arms. You know, the question is not --


CUNNINGHAM: -- can these people -- yes, yes. And the question is not -- I have a lot of respect for the Whip and, you know, I worked well with him in Congress. And the question is not, can these people do the job, but it's should they do the job? And right now, you know, we have a decline in voter turnout, specifically among younger people.

And you think about who could blame these kids for not showing up at the polls when they have to choose between two 70, 80-year-old -- two 70 year olds or 80 year olds for the president United States? What do they have in common with these people in their 70s and 80s? They breathe air --

SMERCONISH: So, from Hara (ph), I think that's the pronunciation, writing in the courier says she hopes you win, quote, "but playing the age card is simply not great politics." For starters, there are a lot of 72 year old voters, have you just written off a part of the electorate? Or do you think that a certain number of seniors themselves recognize what you're saying?

CUNNINGHAM: I see to the greatest support from seniors. And you know, what they tell me, Michael, they tell me like, you know, we've had our opportunity in government and it's time for a new generation.

And this is what it's all about. This is not about disparaging, or saying that these people in their, you know, in their older years cannot do the job. This is about making room for a new generation of leadership. Because when you look at Washington, D.C. or you look at Columbia, South Carolina, you see people in their 70s and 80s.

This is about having people make the decisions who are going to be around long enough to live with the actual consequences, all right, because I'm looking at four-year-old son. We're lucky (ph).

SMERCONISH: I would be derelict --

CUNNINGHAM: Go ahead, Michael.

SMERCONISH: -- in my duty if I didn't point out that this whole subject applies to the current president of the United States, as well as the past president of the United States, as I just noted. But what you're saying has direct relevance to Joe Biden, your thought?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. Well, look, I think, you know, what people hate about politics is the hypocrisy. And that's why weeks ago, I said that President Biden should not run for another term. And I won't to support his run for another term, because I think it's time for a new generation of leadership.

And this is nothing personal against the President, but this is about being consistent. And people hate politics, because they'll call out something another party, but won't have the guts to call it out within their own party.

I'm over here calling balls and strikes. And that's what I'm doing. I think that's new for politics. I think it's refreshing for voters to hear.

SMERCONISH: The only part of the commercial I didn't like was the fixing of the router, because I'm constantly doing that for my mother and my kids are still doing it for me.

Joe Cunningham, thank you for being here. Appreciate it.

CUNNINGHAM: Thanks, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're saying on my Smerconish Twitter and YouTube and Facebook pages, however, you reach me.

I think he's right, but experience really counts in politics. Maybe age 75, agree that many are just too old," says mother of chickens. Makes me wonder how old is the mother of chickens, does it not?

Yes, I mean, age is a relative thing. You know, 75 doesn't look the same on one person as it does on another. But when you look at the data, the most compelling thing to me was to think of the ages of our Founding Fathers when this country was taking shape. That is really remarkable.

But you make a point, mother of all chickens, that when you say OK, you've now aged out, with that does go a lot of experience. So, my solution is more civics training and education earlier on so we've got a generation ready to step right in.

I want to remind you to go to my website and answer this week's survey question, "Should a person's non-violent attendance at the January 6, save America march have any impact on their employment?"

Up ahead, is America in a recession? The "New York Post" put this helpful definition on yesterday's front page. Going by the GDP, the answer is yes. Larry Summers in the White House they say no. But what are Americans experiencing when it comes to everyday indicators, like a breakfast sandwich or a haircut or a strip club?



SMERCONISH: Is America in a recession? Based on one popular rule of thumb, which is two consecutive quarters of decline in gross domestic product, the answer is yes. And in the first quarter of 2022, the GDP decreased at an annual rate of 1.6 percent. In the second just ended another 0.9 percent.

You think that data would settle the matter with the conclusion that we're in a recession but it's not so simple. The GDP says yes. The White House and economist Larry Summers say no.

"Fortune" magazine reports that the recession debate is so intense that Wikipedia has blocked new users from editing its recession page because people keep changing the definition. Don't worry we're about to settle the debate.

Historically people have tried to find everyday indicators such as the hemline index. Developed in the 1920s it theorizes that when the economy does well dress hemlines creep up to match good feelings but then fall back down when bank accounts are depleted.

And then there's former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan's theory of men's underwear that in good times men don't think twice about replacing worn out boxers and briefs but in recessions they prefer to wear underwear with holes in it than buy a new pair.


"USA Today" reports that Greenspan's theory actually held up during the most recent great recession -- quote -- "At the height of the economic downturn in 2009, sales plummeted and eventually started to recover in 2011."

What about that old standby breakfast sandwich, bacon egg and cheese? One Bronx bodega owner told the "A.P." that he have been forced to raise the price from 2.50 to 4.50. I asked my SiriusXM radio audience to call in with their current experience of downturn. One memorable was E.J. from Michigan who's a D.J. at a strip club.


E.J. FROM MICHIGAN: The economic downturn has really hit us. People have less discretionary income. They're more apt to be paying on their house or their car or for food and what not than coming and buying dances and buying drinks.


SMERCONISH: And then there are haircuts. It's something economists follow as a good shorthand because it's something that basically never changes. So what's happening with haircuts? In May the price rose another half a percent for a total of 6.2 percent from a year ago. So what's that doing to business?

Well, joining me now to discuss is Randell Vaughn who for 30 years has been a barber and owner of Atlanta's Classic Intown Barbershop and Men's Spa. Thank you so much for being here. By the way, I had a hot straight razor cut this week. Do you perform those? Do you do the straight razor shaves? Because I love it.

RANDELL VAUGHN, BARBER AND OWNER, CLASSIC INTOWN BARBERSHOP AND MEN'S SPA: Absolutely. I mean, that's one of our specialties and that's why we get to hang around.

SMERCONISH: Yes. And I must say it's a dying craft. And those who know how to do it well it's a special skill set. So I'm going to hook up with you when I am next in Atlanta.

What do you make of this? Do you think that you have some special insight into what's going on with the economy? And if so, what is it?

VAUGHN: Well, things are a bit off still because of the pandemic. And, you know, it's very difficult to gauge really what's going on because there are a lot of conventions coming back into the downtown area as well as people in the hotels. So, you know, we're seeing a bit of traffic. But we have a very abbreviated schedule as well.

SMERCONISH: Have you had to raise prices?

VAUGHN: Yes, we did in May we raised the prices $10.00 from $35.00 to $45.00 a cut, for basic cut.

SMERCONISH: You know, the logic -- the logic is that you look at a barbershop because a haircut is a haircut. And you've been doing this for a while. A haircut today is the same as a haircut five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago. So the logic is that you can just look at the price of a haircut and if it's ticking up beyond the inflationary rate that ought to tell you something. Make sense?

VAUGHN: That's absolutely right. I mean, we're on the front lines. And, you know, most people in the service industry like we are, you know, we're on the very front lines. So, any time there's uptick or downtick in the economy we are -- we're the first to feel it because a lot of people will go without. You know, they'll do it at home or, you know, they sit down with their families and they look at the overall expenses of the household. And, you know, this is one of the things that can be sliced right out.

SMERCONISH: OK, Randell Vaughn, then settle it because you know all the -- I call them eggheads, all the economists out there crunching numbers are telling us different things. What does Randell Vaughn say from the Classic Intown Barbershop and Men's Spa in Atlanta?

VAUGHN: Yes. You know, we have to hang on. You know, we're kind of in a difficult environment to gauge things because we're downtown. And like I said, there's so much traffic from the universities.

We have Georgia State University. We have Georgia Tech in our vicinity. So we get a lot of students from there.

So, you know, we're not in a neighborhood per se, so we're not able to really gauge what's really going on yet. But things seem OK. We just have to extend our hours eventually.

SMERCONISH: I hope I see you soon. Thank you for being here.

VAUGHN: Absolutely. Give me a call any time. Thank you.

SMERCONISH: OK. Thank you. Checking in on your tweets and your YouTube and Facebook comments. What do we have?

Absolutely we are in a recession. We just don't know how deep it is yet. Investors are pulling back in nearly every sector. Fed rates are going up. Prices in every industry are too high.

J.L., I don't know what the answer is. I mean, I don't like the shifting goal posts. If the standard is going to be two consecutive quarters of negative growth then we ought to apply it to the Trump administration and we ought to apply it to the Biden administration and whatever is to follow. So I'll say that.

But, just from my experience, I get confused because on one hand it looks like the market is starting to come back. On the other hand, I know so many employers who just can't hold a workforce because we're at full employment.


And the question they say is, well, I'll hire somebody and I expect them to come on Monday. I don't know if they're going to be there the second week. So, you know, therein lies the dispute that I see.

I want to remind you to answer this week's survey question at Here it is. Should a person's non-violent attendance at the January 6th "Save America March" have any impact on their employment?

You met my guest in the first segment of the program and I'm asking you to weigh in on that and the bigger picture.

Still to come, social media is undermining democracy. That's what my next guest Jonathan Haidt has found. He has ideas about how to combat it.


SMERCONISH: Is social media harmful? That's the question being raised and debated. My next guest published an essay in "The Atlantic" this spring that went viral. It was titled "Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid."


And in the essay, Jonathan Haidt argued that American society today is akin to the citizens of Babel in the days after God rendered them unable to understand one another. He got pushback from Meta, Facebook's parent company, and others contending that academic researchers haven't yet reached a clear consensus on the issue.

Well, in a new "Atlantic" piece Haidt compares that response to the tobacco companies who kept claiming that science about smoking and lung cancer wasn't settled either. In "Yes, social media is really undermining democracy" he lists many troubling instances of how social media has polarized and inflamed America and why we need to address it now instead of passively waiting for researchers to reach a consensus.

Jonathan Haidt joins me now. He's a social psychologist at the NYU Stern School of Business. He's also the coauthor with Greg Lukianoff of "The Coddling of the American Mind." Jonathan, welcome back. Causation or correlation, how can you so easily weigh in on one side not the other?

JONATHAN HAIDT, PROFESSOR OF ETHICAL LEADERSHIP, NYU STERN SCHOOL OF BUSINESS: Well, every social scientist knows that correlation doesn't prove causation. So first you have to look for correlation and there's plenty of that. Teenagers began to go -- get incredibly depressed and anxious basically in 2013, the year after they got on Instagram. Democracies began to get more unstable and more polarized around 2016, basically, as political life was moving on to social media platforms.

It's very hard to do experiments. We can't manipulate societies here. But we can look at the pattern of findings.

There are also experiments on bringing people into the lab and exposing them to news. If you look at the pattern of findings, you actually can tease out alternative hypotheses to what's happening. SMERCONISH: I know you're at work on a book on this very subject that I look forward to reading it. You kind of gave us a sneak peek back in the spring with the initial "Atlantic" essay.

I thought it was great. But it was deficient in one way. I thought that you had underplayed the role of cable television news and media, polarized media, in bringing all of this about.

HAIDT: You're absolutely right and that is Facebook. Their director of research made three arguments against me. That was one of them and she's right about that. I did underplay it.

Now, if we're talking about the degree to which left and right hate each other, that's affective polarization. That begins rising in the late '90s and it just kept going up and up and up. So if we're talking about that, then you're right and she is right. I did mention it in the original article but it should have emphasized it. But here is the thing --

SMERCONISH: So can -- go ahead.

HAIDT: It's very hard for us to do anything about cable TV, but social media we can do a lot about. And Facebook itself has done it.

And actually here is one of the experiments. Facebook itself has tweaked the algorithm to reduce polarization before one of the elections and then they put it back up. Why can't they keep it down?

SMERCONISH: Yes. Frances Haugen, the whistleblower in Facebook, I think illuminated on that very issue. What can we do? Instead of waiting around for Facebook to fix it what's the message to those of us who consume social media?

HAIDT: So, everybody has to realize we're all being invited in to talk to each other in the middle of the Roman coliseum. This is not normal conversation. These platforms are not connecting us. They're bringing us into the coliseum so we can fight and broadcast and preen and dance around so that the people in the audience have something to look at.

It's a sick game. It's sucked so many people in. We have got to stop it. Refuse to fight. Refuse to go in.

It's useful for some things. For example, you yourself, you know, you use it on the program. You can get quick feedback on Twitter. So it does have uses. But we need to use it in ways that advance our goals not their goals.

So, be compassionate, be moderate, don't give quick takes, don't -- never attack people. It doesn't do what you think. All it does is generate engagement and content for the platforms.

SMERCONISH: Can I just take the final word and say that I speak all over the country, knock on wood, I've never had an unpleasant, personal encounter with someone who disagrees with me and there have been many? I compare that to -- you know, people in social media, they get beer muscles. The anonymity of social media somehow empowers people to be nasty. And maybe, you know, going old school the way you had to sign your name if you were going to publish a letter to the editor in the local newspaper, maybe there's a lesson in that. Food for thought.

Jonathan, can't wait to read the book. Thanks for coming back.

HAIDT: My pleasure, Michael.

SMERCONISH: So with that preamble, let us see what we have from social media. Will it be naughty or nice? That's really just an assessment.

Social media is dumbing down America. Yes, I think when you have to express yourself in 140 word, you know, character statement that is the net impact.


But it's not just social media. I think all of our attention spans are short. But, I may be wrong, I've been consistent.

You know what I think. I think that as I have watched the country go into this partisan ditch over the span of the three decades that I've been involved in the media number one on my list are media influences for polarization.

Remember, 60 percent of the House and Senate were comprised of moderates on Ronald Reagan's watch in the 1980s. And all of the sudden the media shifted and Congress and leadership shifted with it, and that definition of media now includes social media. That's my two cents.

Still to come, more of your best and worst social media comments. And cannot wait to see the result of this week's poll question. Go to my Web site at By the way, register for the daily newsletter when you're there. But tell me this, should a person's non- violent, stressing that, attendance at the January 6 "Save America March" have any impact on their employment?



SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to the poll question at this week asking, should a person's non-violent attendance at the January 6 "Save America March" have any impact on their employment?

Survey says. Here are the results. Wow, I must say I'm pleasantly surprised. I actually am in the majority for a change.

Sixty-nine percent, I'll say of us, say, no, it shouldn't. One-third, 31 percent, a little less say yes.

Social media response, Catherine, what do we have?

If you voted yes, you are what's wrong with America -- interesting -- says Timothy Gumm. What else came in? I don't know that I would say you're what's wrong with America but I happen to agree with the sentiment.

I'm disgusted how you never condemn traitor Trump and his enablers. You're such a wimp. Are you running for a Republican office?

Not unless you nominate me, John Lewinski. How much more clear could I make it? I was here on a commentary two weeks ago where I said, he's unfit. The January 6th committee hearings, if you needed any confirmation, were so illuminating in terms of his unfitness to hold office. And maybe you don't like that in the same breath and not through establishing parity I said, but the other guy is going to be too old to run for reelection so let's find some other choices out there.

But people hear and see from me what they want to hear and see. I think you're so conditioned to hearing only one side or the other depending on your outlet that I come along and you don't know what to make of me. I'll see you next week.