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Will Democrats Keep The Senate?; "Quiet Quitting" And The Anti- Work Movement; Why Do We Rubberneck?; Inside The Battle To Bring Down The Opioid Industry. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired August 20, 2022 - 09:00   ET




MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: It's WrestleMania in Pennsylvania. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia.

All eyes are on Pennsylvania in the midterm elections with the Senate 50-50 and Senator Pat Toomey retiring at the end of his current term, the commonwealth may well determine control of the entire legislative body. Tens of millions are already being spent here, but the race has been far from substantive.

Presumably, there are major policy differences between the Democratic nominee John Fetterman and the Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz on the economy, climate, crime, reproductive rights, but we really don't know because instead, the race thus far is more defined by Carhartt hoodies, residences and the nomenclature of vegetables.

This week, a video first released by Dr. Oz in April suddenly went viral and features Oz in the aisle of a grocery store that he missed identified, but that wasn't his unforced campaign air, instead, it was the way that he labeled what he was buying, crudity (ph), he said. Fetterman pounds responding via Twitter that, "In Pennsylvania it's called a veggie tray."

A minor story on a slow August day, you wonder hardly, Fetterman raised $500,000 from the flap enough to buy him plenty more television ads showcasing his gym shorts and tats and hoodies, the projection of a persona that Republicans equate to that of a professional wrestler.

Coverage of crudity gate has nearly eclipsed Fetterman's other campaign tactic to dwell on whether Oz is really living in Pennsylvania. Fetterman ads have included Snooki of Jersey Shore fame and Little Steven from the E Street Band tying Dr. Oz to the Garden State of New Jersey.

This week, the social media mudslinging escalated after a Daily Beast report that Oz owns 10 houses, not the two he had previously claimed. Fetterman tweeted this, "I've never spoken to a P.A. resident who doesn't know how many houses they have, let alone be off by eight.

Now Oz struck back, saying he bought them with his own money. This (ph), Fetterman who long relied on financial assistance from his family, quote, "You lived off your parents until you're almost 50. Regular people don't mooch off their parents when they're 50. Get off the couch John."

Fetterman's recent mail solicitation ironically attacks Oz's wealth right on the envelope, GOP rich dude alert. But as "New York Post" columnist Salena Zito reported for the entire 13 years that Fetterman was the part time mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, making $150 a month, his parents paid him a supplemental salary, $54,000 in 2015 until he was sworn in as lieutenant governor in 2019 at the age of 49.

Thursday in the ultimate 2022 media move, Fetterman's campaign launched the TikTok account to help spread his videos further again going after Oz's carpet bagging. You'll remember that in May, three months ago, Fetterman suffered a major stroke. We hope that he's healthy, but we really don't know that either. Where he's spoken publicly only for 10 minutes and has sat for just two interviews.

Salena Zito reported, quote, "During his 11 minute speech at the Bayfront Convention Center, Fetterman, 53, stumbled several times over his words often repeating them as his voice wavered.


LT. GOV. JOHN FETTERMAN (D-PA), SENATE CANDIDATE: Tell me one thing, tell me who wins Erie? They win Pennsylvania, and that is the next president.


SMERCONISH: And why would Fetterman feel compelled to be more public or to debate? When according to a recent survey from the GOP for Public Opinion Strategies for Pittsburgh works together, he holds an 18 point lead over Dr. Oz.

Yes, it's all entertaining, but Pennsylvania is a microcosm for the state of our elections. Like this is how we pick our leaders in 2022, especially in the nine states with closed primaries where there's little need to appeal to moderates in the nomination process.

Remember, Fetterman defeated a field that included Congressman Connor Lamb. Lamb, a former federal prosecutor, marine, two term member of Congress who had twice shown his general election promise by defeating Trump back candidates in the state's heartland. And Oz narrowly defeated Dave McCormick, a West Point graduate who served in a presidential administration and ran one of the largest hedge funds in the world.

You can say what you want about the political views of Lamb and McCormick but both boasted records of real accomplishment. Fetterman is the state's lieutenant governor, which means he technically presided over the State Senate and yet he had the support of literally none of the state's senators in the primary. [09:05:00]

Oz has never held any elective office. He won his GOP primary with President Trump's blessing despite more Republicans holding a negative view of him on primary election day.

It's also sad, we're a state that has sent the likes of Republicans, Hugh Scott, John Heinz and Arlen Specter to Washington. Scott was a Republican minority leader, champion of civil rights who urged Nixon to resign after Watergate. Heinz bucked his party to support making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a holiday. Specter was a noted former prosecutor who worked for the Warren Commission, rose to the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Time Magazine once said that he was one of the Senate's 10 best senators.

We also sent Democrat Harris Wofford to the Senate. He was a friend of JFK, RFK and march from Selma to Montgomery with MLK. At this rate, we're not about to fill any of those shoes. And the stakes couldn't be higher. We're arguably at our most critical crossroads since the Civil War, and yet, this is how we are selecting our leaders.

You might think that a series of debates would showcase the substantive differences between the two Pennsylvania candidates but thus far the campaign's have not agreed on any. And why debate when instead you can win on memes, memes about things best suited for a cold soup. So, will Democrats defy political gravity and hold on to the Senate this November?

Just a few months ago, political strategists were predicting a bloodbath for Democrats in this year's midterms after President Biden struggled to handle a slew of crises, and his approval ratings sank to historic lows, but Biden has recently had a string of victories. Nevertheless, a Politico Morning Console poll from this week shows just 42 percent approve of the job that Biden is doing. Maybe the polls have not yet caught up with the wins.

But while experts are saying Republicans still stand to retake the House, they aren't so sure now about the Senate. And even the Senate's top Republican isn't particularly bullish of the GOP chances.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I think there's probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate. Senate races are just different, there are statewide. Candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.


SMERCONISH: My next guest's crystal ball says Democrats would need to win three or four battleground states, Republican would need to just win two to wrestle back control. Does he agree that Democrats have a shot at holding on to the Senate?

Here with me to discuss is Dr. Larry Sabato. He's the director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. He's also the editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball.

Great to have you back, Dr. Sabato. You seem more optimistic about the Republicans in the Senate midterms than Mitch McConnell. How come?

LARRY SABATO, DIRRECTOR, CENTER FOR POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Well, actually, I think Democrats right now, if the election were today would win a majority in the Senate. The reason I think people are pulling down the curtain too quickly is because so much is yet to unfold and so many things can happen between now and November. Just look at the last several months.

You know, Michael, you're right. In the spring, virtually all the groups that do what my Crystal Ball group does -- suggested that the Republicans would probably end up with a majority in the Senate because they only had to flip one seat. Well, that was before they nominated some very weak candidates who, by the way, are inexperienced, they've never run for anything before. People don't like politicians, but it helps to have been on the ballot for dogcatcher before you run for Senate or governor.

SMERCONISH: It brings to my mind Christine O'Donnell, Todd Akin Richard Mourdock, I mean, there have been -- there's a history here where Republicans nominate extreme candidates. And in a cycle where you'd expect them to win, you know, what are the -- what's the expression? They snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

SABATO: Yes, well, both parties have done that from time to time. But you know what, Mitch McConnell said -- reminded me of something that someone in the Senate once said, if Mitch McConnell was allowed to pick the Republican nominees for Senate, they would win a majority of the Senate every time. I don't know if they would win every time. But there's no question McConnell only has one criterion, who can win? Who's going to add that seat to the Republican minority or majority?

Well, Donald Trump did more picking than Mitch McConnell did this year, and we see the results.

SMERCONISH: When you study the numbers for the President, his approval rating and look at history, there would have to be a significant disconnect for Democrats to retake the Senate. And by that, I mean, presidents underwater, how much so, we don't know. You'd expect therefore that it would be a bad year across the board. Can you to speak to that?


SABATO: Sure. And that's one reason why we haven't tilted to either side yet. We have to -- we don't leave any toss up, we call all the races. But you have to recognize that what's happening is actually unprecedented, a word that's used too frequently.

You've got a president who has gained a few points because of his recent legislative victories. He got out of the 30s, he's now in the low 40s, and that helps, but it's nowhere near where president has to be to help his party stay in office. So right now you've got a disconnect between presidential approval and how well many of the Democratic candidates for Senate and even House are doing when they're asked separately.

But my question, Michael, is, will those two lines converge by November? Will Biden go up? If he does, there won't be a problem for Democrats, the candidates can win. But if he doesn't go up further than he is right now, he could easily be a weight around their necks. So I think that's a critical factor that people aren't really looking at right now, in part because, again, unprecedented for the first time in American history, a former president dominates the headlines day after day after day.

If the incumbent President Joe Biden is in the news at all, he's the second or third story on most days. Believe it or not, that's helping Democrats and it's hurting Republicans. If they could, you know, send Trump on a world tour, it would probably help.

SMERCONISH: Final question. So, you've identified four Senate battleground states. If I gave Dr. Larry Sabato a real crystal ball, not the Sabot Crystal Ball, but one where you really could see into the future, which of those four states do you most want to know the answer to as being indicative of the outcome of the midterms?

SABATO: Nevada. I think Nevada is --


SABATO: -- is the state -- well, it's extremely close. And even though it leans democratic normally, that's because of the demographics, a large percentage of Latinos, Hispanics in Nevada, and you have the first Latina in the U.S. Senate running for reelection, Catherine Cortez Masto. But here's the problem. Republicans have been draining away Hispanic votes in several regions of the country. And that could happen in Nevada, too, and make all the difference in the Senate race.

So we see that, one is a total toss-up. Not that the others aren't close, but you can at least lean the others to one side or the other. But Nevada, I don't think you can do that.

SMERCONISH: You couldn't make up this cycle. Dr. Sabato, thank you as always, we really appreciate your expertise.

SABATO: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish. Hit me up on social media, YouTube, Facebook, I'll read some responses throughout the course of the program.

What do we have? From the world of YouTube. This is what Trump has brought to us. He lowered all of us to his level.

I don't know, Franklin, if I can lay on Donald Trump's shoulders the way in which this Pennsylvania race is being argued. I mean, frankly, I blame the voters in large measure for being so responsive to, you know, these sort of tactics, GOP rich dude, notwithstanding that the guy was on the dole with his family until he was 49 years old. But yes, I'm for him in shorts.

What else came in in social media?

I don't see a scenario where Democrats win. They hate middle America.

I mean, come on, you kind of like lose me right there with the broad strokes, but I'll read on. The more they politicize the FBI and the DOJ, the worse the ass beating will be. I don't see a scenario where Democrats win.

This should be, historically speaking and where inflation has been, a momentous year for the GOP. Right? Twenty-six, I think, is the average. You know, ask Ron Brownstein, he tracks this sort of thing. I think 26 is the average of the party outside the White House would typically pick up Republicans only need, what, three or four. So, it would look like they'll retake the House.

But the thing about the Senate is, voters in states because of all the money that gets spent, they really do get to know the personalities and make much more individual decisions. And what remains to be seen is whether Republicans have nominated candidates, and I agree with Larry, it's happened on the Democratic side of the aisle previously, but this time, it's the Republicans. You know, is this another Christine O'Donnell, Richard Mourdock, Todd Akin cycle where they could have won Georgia but they put up Herschel Walker, they could have won Pennsylvania, but Dr. Oz instead was the nominee. You get the point.

Well, still to come. Listen to this. JP Morgan CEO raised hackles when he said that there was some truth to China's accusation that America has been incompetent and lazy. Well, maybe he felt validated reading the "Wall Street Journal" story that was number one most of this past week about Gen Z workers who are quiet quitting, remaining on the payroll but not exerting much effort. I'm going to talk to one next.


But here's what I want to know, go to and answer this week's poll question. Are we incompetent and lazy?


SMERCONISH: Does anybody want to work anymore? This week, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon criticized for -- he was criticized for agreeing there was some truth to China's accusation that the United States is quote, "incompetent and lazy." Well, there's been a spate of stories about a shift in the post COVID workplace that suggests he might be right.

I keep hearing anecdotal least stories of small businesses having trouble hiring people who show up for a second week of work. In other words, they'll be there day one but the following week maybe not.


And companies that are trying to compel people to get back to the office are getting a lot of resistance. After Apple employees were asked to be back to a minimum of three in person days, Fortune Magazine reports, 76 percent of Apple's employees were unhappy about it, with 56 percent saying they were quote, "looking to quit."

And then there's that recent book, "Streets of Gold" by two economic historians, one from Stanford, one from Princeton, whose data show that the children of immigrants coming to America have a better income trajectory than those of people whose parents were born in the United States. In other words, the children of immigrants seem to possess a certain grit that those born here lack.

And then there's a rising get paid to don't work movement, getting millions of hits on TikTok and Instagram calling itself quiet quitting. The idea being, keep the job but don't work very hard at it and focus on getting fulfillment outside of work.

A story about "Quiet Quitting" has been the number one most read story all week long at the Wall Street Journal's website. The Journal also recently reported that summer exploiting remote work to hold multiple jobs getting paid to be mediocre at two jobs, instead of being good at one. Axios has labeled all of this the new anti-work movement or rebellion against rise and grind. A recent Gallup survey found that employee engagement in the United States is falling across all generations, but especially among younger Americans.

Among those born after 1989, 54 percent call themselves not engaged, meaning, they'll show up to do the minimum required, but not much else.

Joining me now is Paige West, a digital creator who graduated from college in 2020 has been offering advice on quiet quitting on YouTube.

Paige, thanks so much for being here. So, you have an engineering degree, you left the corporate consulting world for the gig economy. How come?

PAIGE WEST, DIGITAL CREATOR/OFFERS "QUIET QUITTING" ADVICE ON YOUTUBE: Yes, so I initially left because I wasn't finding fulfillment from my nine to five job. And I saw that there was so much opportunity outside of the basic nine to five corporate world that I really wanted to get into.

SMERCONISH: But were you mailing it in while someone was paying you? And if so, do you feel guilty about that?

WEST: No. So while I was in my nine to five job, I still was working my 40 hours a week, I was still fulfilling my job duties. I was just taking away that feeling of stress I had after work by feeling like I needed to put in 1,000 percent needed to join trainings and do as much as I possibly could to go up the corporate ladder, that just wasn't my end goal.

SMERCONISH: Do you worry that maybe a future employer, if the entrepreneurial activities that you're engaged in now don't pan out and later you need to be in someone's employ, they're going to take a look back at this chapter, and they're going to say, wait a minute, Paige West, she was part of that whole Quiet Quitting trend. We don't want her. WEST: I wouldn't think so. Because at the end of the day, when I was still in my job, I was still doing what I needed to do. I'm certain if they call back my employer that I had when I was still in the corporate world that they would happily say that I still did a great job and everything I've done thus far. And any references I could gain from my time building up my business and doing freelance opportunities would prove that as well.

SMERCONISH: OK. So, I get what you're saying. You're saying, hey, I gave them 100 percent. I was trying to plan my next move and I wanted to make sure that I was fulfilled outside the workforce.

What I'm reading online, and I have watched a lot of your videos, I'm suspicious that you're typical, if that's the case, I think a lot of the others, I'll go old school and say are loafing on somebody else's dime, am I wrong?

WEST: I think that there's two groups in that case. And I think some are -- they're not trying to loathe, everyone is trying to do the work that's required of them. I think they're just trying to figure out what that fulfillment looks like outside of work, as well as they're not at the point where they're realizing that their burnout might not even be because they're overworked. It might be because they're misaligned in the job that they're in. And I think a lot of people will realize that.

When I was in Quiet Quitting, it was not for a very long time. I only did it for three months, although my plan was to do it for nine. But over time, I started realizing that, I couldn't stick it out any longer because it wasn't just that I was overworked and burnt out and, you know, all the mental health struggles I was dealing with. It was actually because the job I was in was just not the right one for me. And I think many are going to realize that as well.

SMERCONISH: Do you think this is a real trend? Or is this a tale as old as time? We've just now given a label Quiet Quitting?

WEST: I think it's something that's been going on for a long time. I think it's now just something that has a name. So, I think many have been doing it for a long time. I've heard that on my channel, many have commented saying I've done this for years, I did this, you know, back in my '20s or '30s, or I'm still doing this today.

SMERCONISH: OK, final question. I want to know and I hope you'll vote on today's poll question at my website. You've heard the setup, Jamie Diamond says, maybe there's something to the Chinese when they say that Americans are now soft, that we're, quote, "lazy and incompetent" are we lazy and incompetent?


WEST: My vote would be no, I think it's more of a story that we are than anything else.

SMERCONISH: I'm sorry, I missed the last part. It's more of a story a storyline? WEST: Yes, I think it's more of a storyline that we're lazy and incompetent. Everyone I've seen in my life, even those who have partaken in Quiet Quitting, they're not doing it because they're lazy and incompetent. They're doing it because they see value in other things in their life besides just going up the corporate ladder.

SMERCONISH: Well, thank you so much for being here, Paige West. We'll see how the vote turns out today. I hope you really will go and vote.

WEST: I will. Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Thanks. Here's some of the social media reaction that has come in while I've been on air, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, find me.

Quiet Quitting is where self-discipline and loyalty go to die.

Well, Joe Z, she said, Hey, you know, in her case, I was giving them 100 percent. You know, I was there. I was doing my responsibilities. I was an excellent employee, but I was allowing exploration of where I'm going next. And my response is to say, I don't know if she's typical because much of what I've read on the subject, and in particular, that Wall Street Journal piece that is still number one, when I read it at 4:30 this morning, suggests that many are going through the motions on somebody else's dime.

Well, it's a great poll question this week Please go to my website and answer this, is JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon right in saying there's some truth to China's claim that the U.S. is incompetent and lazy? Results at the end of the hour. Cannot wait to see how that turns out.

Up ahead, Kobe Bryant's widow Vanessa testified in Federal Court yesterday against Los Angeles County having brought suit because of first responders who circulated grisly photos of the helicopter crash scene that killed her husband and daughter. The sharing of those pictures we can all agree gross and indefensible. Here's the harder question. Why do people look?



SMERCONISH: Question. Why do we rubberneck? Why is it that we can't look away from a crash whether it's literal or metaphorical, even more so when celebrities are involved?

The question keeps arising in recent weeks and months whether it's the fiery tragic car crash death of actress Anne Heche or now the down and dirty he said, she said trial of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard or now the court battle of Kobe Bryant's widow over the release of grisly photos of the fog-bound helicopter crash that killed her husband and daughter Gianna in January of 2020.

Friday, Vanessa Bryant was the final plaintiff's witness in the Federal lawsuit that she and Christopher Chester, whose wife and daughter were also among the nine killed in the crash, filed against Los Angeles County. They're seeking damages alleging that cell phone photos of human remains that first responders took and disseminated, photos which Bryant and Chester have never seen were taken as souvenirs. The claim is for negligence and invasion of privacy. Included in testimony were accusations of one deputy using the photos of the victims to -- quote -- "try to impress a woman at a bar," bragging about how he had been at the crash site, and the photos being shared with firefighters at a gala event at the Universal City Hilton Hotel.

The county contends there were legitimate reasons for first responders to take and receive the photos, including to help determine the size of the crash site and decide what resources were needed. It claims that all images were deleted upon orders of superior officers. They no longer exist in any form and were never intended to enter the public domain or appear on the internet.

But as the "L.A. Times" reports, "An expert witness who testified last week for Bryant and Chester said the behavior of the deputies and Jordan were examples of a macabre, long-standing practice in law enforcement of taking and sharing gruesome photos from crime or accident scenes, especially when celebrities are involved."

Pretty horrible stuff, right? But why do people want to see such images? Joining me now is Coltan Scrivner. He's got a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in behavioral psychology. He wrote this piece in "Psychology Today," "What Is Morbid Curiosity?" He's now writing a book on this subject. OK, Dr. Scrivner, why do we look?

COLTAN SCRIVNER, PH.D. FROM UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO IN BEHAVIORAL BIOLOGY/STUDIES MORBID CURIOSITY: Well, I think people are always trying to learn about the world around them. And one of the most important things we can learn about are potential accidents that can befall us or potential dangers or threats in our environment. And so when we see something dangerous or threatening or if we see an accident, for example, a car on the side of the road that's been in a car wreck, our instinct is to kind of turn and look and gather information about that.

SMERCONISH: Do we want to see pain?

SCRIVNER: I don't think most people want to see pain. In fact, many people their first instinct would be to empathize with the victims. So when you're driving down the freeway and you see a car wreck on the side of the road, you're not looking to see if someone is in pain or if you are, you are typically looking to help them. But I think that rather what we're looking for is sort of the consequences of dangerous actions. The consequences of driving dangerously or another person driving dangerously.

And, I think, in the example of the helicopter crash, you know, most people have no idea what happens if you're in a helicopter crash. And so it's a really new kind of information for people to absorb.

SMERCONISH: I imagine there's nothing new about this. It's just living in a connected world means that someone with the touch of a send key can disseminate information much more easily than would have been the case before the rise of the internet.

SCRIVNER: Right. Yes. I think, you know, for most of human history we sort of had to experience something firsthand or maybe hear it in a story. But now it's very easy to basically see any kind of accident or injury or any kind of threat you would like online, like you said, with the click of a button.


SMERCONISH: Is there any unique to humans when we're talking about, as you describe it, morbid curiosity?

SCRIVNER: Well, certainly there's behaviors in other animals that look like morbid curiosity. So chimps, for example, might investigate a dead chimp if they come across it. So they don't ignore it, right? They in some ways engage in behaviors that are similar to what humans would do.

I think what's unique about humans is that we tell stories about them, right? And we can create fictional worlds. I mean, this is sort of the core of horror movies and true crime and even many thriller and action movies is this idea of a central threat, a villain or a monster. And we can tell fictional stories about them. I think that's what's unique about humans.

SMERCONISH: I guess what I'm asking in a broad sense is whether there's something wrong with us? Of course, you know, I condemn anyone who would have taken for an illicit purpose and then disseminated the photographs that bring this to the news today, the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash.

But I'm more fixated, as you can tell on, OK, the people who then want to take a peek. And I'm not holier than thou. If I'm on the Schuylkill Expressway in the morning, as I often am, and you know I'm taking a look as well. I wish that I didn't but I do. Is there something wrong with us if we are rubbernecking?

SCRIVNER: Certainly not. Certainly not. At least in my research I found that what I've called morbid curiosity is really normal human behavior. And it's, you know, pretty distributed across the population. Some people have a lot of it. Some people have a little bit of it. But most people have some of it, right?

And so, you know, feeling the urge to sort of slow down and look or feeling the urge to click the link to see the photo doesn't indicate any kind of psychopathology or any kind of -- there's nothing wrong with someone for doing that. It's human nature, I think.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Dr. Scrivner, appreciate your time.

SCRIVNER: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Checking in on social media reaction. Tweets and YouTube and Facebook comments. What do we have?

Because we are always in many different ways trying to come to terms with our own mortality. Do you think that's what it is, Dean? I mean, look, I'm interested in exploring the morbid curiosity that many of us have. I don't want to be misunderstood on this.

I'm following that trial in California and I realize, you know, the defense is yet to present its case. But if it went down the way that the plaintiffs maintain that it went down, it's disgusting and inexcusable. And I wonder how prevalent it is. You know, I wonder just how many who are put in that position of public trust to be a first responder likewise are sharing with a buddy some morbid curiosity. That's disgusting.

Still to come, this week came a $650 million judgment against pharmacy chains Walmart, CVS and Walgreens for their role in fostering America's deadly opioid crisis. And they're just part of this huge infrastructure finally be held accountable. I'll talk to a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter about her findings on this subject.

And have you voted yet at on today's poll question? When you get there, register for the daily newsletter. Here is the question. Is J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon right in saying there's some truth to China's claim that the U.S. is incompetent and lazy? Are we?



SMERCONISH: How widespread is the blame for America's opioid epidemic that has led to so much addiction and death? In 2021 an estimated 107,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses, that's up nearly from 92,000 from the year before. And now courts are making the drug industry pay to the tune of millions, billions of dollars actually.

This week an Ohio judge ruled that pharmacy chains Walmart, CVS and Walgreens must pay a combined $650 million for damaged related to opioid crisis. The complaint alleges the pharmacies -- quote -- "abused their position of special trust and responsibility" and that they fostered a black market for prescription opioids.

This follows other recent rulings against pharmaceutical manufacturers and the nation's big three opioid distributors. If you thought like I did that the problem simply began and ended with big pharma companies like Purdue, a new book exposes the whole infrastructure. In "American Cartel: Inside the Battle to Bring Down the Opioid Industry," Pulitzer Prize winning "Washington Post" reporters Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz kicked off with this flowchart of all the opioid supply chain, not just the pharmacies, manufacturers and distributors but also trade associations, lobbyists and doctors. And frankly, they could have put Congress in there too.

Joining me now is co-author Sari Horwitz. She has won, count them, four Pulitzer Prizes, covers criminal justice issues for the "Washington Post." Sari, so why did Purdue Pharma get all the attention when there are so many responsible for the opioid crisis?

SARI HORWITZ, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Good morning, Michael. That's a great question. And our book really exposes and reveals exactly what you said that the entire opioid industry supply chain was behind this, the worst epidemic -- drug epidemic in American history.

You know, you mentioned at the beginning of this segment the $650 million settlement -- I mean, sorry, judgment. And it was a landmark judgment that came against these pharmacies, three of the nation's largest, after a first of its kind trial against the pharmacies last year.

And I think -- as you pointed out, I think, people were surprised by this. Why the pharmacies? We all heard about Sacklers, Purdue Pharma, but in fact what the drug enforcement administration told us, Scott Higham and I in our book, is that the entire supply chain the drug makers, the drug distributors, the pharmacies and, in fact, the doctors were all behind this situation that where they were flooding the country with prescription pain pills, 100 billion pain pills.


And what's really stunning is this judgment that came down didn't come down in a vacuum. What's happened is that 4,000 cities, towns, counties, Native American nations have sort of risen up and they have sued 24 drug companies. These companies we've mentioned. But some people don't know about. AmerisourceBergen, McKesson, Cardinal Health and the pharmacies to try to bring accountability to this problem that has taken the lives of 600,000 Americans.

SMERCONISH: There's a vignette in the book. I think the agent's name is Ruth Carter but it's a -- you'll know. It's a DEA agent who goes down to Florida just to see like what's going on. If you remember what I'm talking about, tell that story quickly.

HORWITZ: Yes. Ruth Carter went to see what was happening in Florida. And she saw the CVS stores with people lined up around the block to get prescription pain pills. And in the parking lot -- it was like an open air drug market. People snorting the pills, crushing the pills. This is oxycodone, hydrocodone, OxyContin.

And so she went in and talked to the pharmacist and said, what's going on here? I mean, can't you see that these are drug users? These are drug abusers? And the pharmacist said to Ruth Carter, oh, don't worry because at 2:00 we shut off the supply to these people and we save the rest for our legitimate pain patients.

And what this vignette shows, Michael, is that the pharmacists and actually everybody involved in these companies, knew exactly what was going on. This was the height of opioid epidemic. And they knew that these dangerous, addictive painkillers were being diverted to the black market and being abused.

SMERCONISH: I might misstate it, but I also remember seeing the stories and you explain this in West Virginia over a six-year time period, I think there were, what, 600 pills prescribed for every resident of the state?

HORWITZ: Yes. And it's incredible in this recent case that you brought up, $650 million judgment, it was only involving two counties in Ohio. In one of those counties, lawyers for the plaintiffs, the towns, in this place the two counties, lawyers found and said in the trial that 61 million pain pills flowed into one county between 2012, 2016. That's like 265 pain pills for every man, woman, child in one county.

SMERCONISH: Scary stuff and you lay it all out. And that flowchart is really remarkable for people to take a look at and appreciate. I'm not excusing Purdue and the Sacklers -- yes, there it is. I never heard of Mallinckrodt, Sari. I never heard of Mallinckrodt. Of course, I heard of Purdue and yet exponentially more of this stuff was put out by Mallinckrodt than Purdue. I have got just 10 second. Speak to that.

HORWITZ: Exactly, Michael. We have not really heard about Mallinckrodt either. St. Louis-based company, the largest manufacturer of generic oxycodone. For every one pill of Purdue, Mallinckrodt made 30. Thirty times what Purdue made. And most people haven't heard of Mallinckrodt. And the Drug Enforcement Administration called Mallinckrodt, the drug maker, the kingpin of the American cartel.

SMERCONISH: Sari Horwitz, thank you so much. I read the book and learned a lot. I appreciate your being here.

HORWITZ: Thank you for having me, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Checking in on social media, what do we got? From the world of Twitter.

Anyone who took the word of a pharmaceutical company sales rep that an opioid is not addictive and prescribed to the unsuspecting patients is nothing less than a dope dealer. We all knew narcotics are addictive in school.

I'm not sure who you're directing that to, a consumer or a physician. Because here is what I learned from the book that Scott and Sari wrote. There's a lot of blame to go around. And frankly, there's a congressional role here that was deserving of the microscope that they put them under. Lots of people were in the loop and knew the deal and just didn't act.

Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets, YouTube, Facebook comments and I'm looking forward to this. I just said to Catherine, my producer, I have no idea how this is going to turn out. The poll question at right now is this. Is J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon right in saying there's truth to China's claim that the U.S. is both incompetent and lazy?

Results in a moment. Go vote.



SMERCONISH: All right. Let's see how you voted at This week's poll question, is J.P. Morgan Jamie Dimon right in saying there's truth to China's claim that the U.S. is incompetent and lazy? Hit me with it. I have no idea on this. Well, pretty decisive. Sixty- three percent agree with more than 21,000 -- I think the reason that I'm surprised by that margin is that you have to both agree with Jamie Dimon from J.P. Morgan and with the Chinese and come to the conclusion that, you know, Americans are incompetent and lazy. Wow. Sixty-three percent, would not have anticipated that.

Here is some of the social media reaction that came in during the course of the program. Smerconish, I felt you framed Fetterman as a loafer who was supported by family.

Well, let me just stop right there. I think Salena Zito's reporting in the "New York Post" establishes that he was getting paid up until age 49.


He was getting paid like 54 or $55,000 a year by his family. I'm not saying it wasn't working but I'm saying -- here is what I'm saying. Because this came to my house this week. I'm saying if you're going to -- and I'm not carrying water for Fetterman or Oz. Did you not hear the thesis? The thesis was, is this the best we can do? Holy crap.

But, anyway, back to your point. The point I was making is if you're going to say in a solicitation, you know, uh-oh, GOP rich dude alert, I'm running against the GOP rich dude. Well, I don't know, I think it's a little incriminating -- incriminating is the wrong word. I think it weighs against your case that you're not a GOP rich dude or a Democratic rich dude if your parents were writing you a $55,000 check, right? So that, you know, you didn't have to work and earn that kind of a living. That was my point.

Did I eat up all my time? Yes, dammit. OK. I get carried away. What can I tell you?

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