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Tough Time To Soften Content Moderation; Scott Galloway On Musk's Purchase Of Twitter; Parties Make Final Midterm Push; Quarter Of Jury In Trump Organization Trial Openly Don't Like Trump; Neil DeGrasse Tyson On America's Political Climate. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired October 29, 2022 - 09:00   ET




MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: It's a tough time to soften content moderation. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. The world's wealthiest man has officially taken ownership of Twitter, announcing the bird is freed, and promising to loosen speech restrictions.

Even before yesterday's events, many were fearful. According to critics, Elon Musk's takeover actually threatens free speech and could, quote, ruin America. His move risks alienating advertisers and users. In fact, what Twitter needs is more regulation, not less. The, quote, "The robber barons had nothing on Elon Musk," and asking of course, is Donald Trump coming back.

Observing the extreme reactions on Twitter itself, Washington Post Technology Columnist Taylor Lorenz tweeted this. "It's like the gates of hell opened on this site." And then there was former President Trump's own take on Truth Social. He said, "I'm very happy that Twitter now is in sane hands, and will no longer be run by radical left lunatics and maniacs that truly hate our country."

All that reaction was before we knew that an intruder in the wee hours of Friday morning, had broken into the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and attacked her 82-year-old husband Paul. The alleged assailant has now been charged with attempted homicide among other crimes, after reportedly attacking Paul Pelosi with a hammer in his home while exclaiming, "Where is Nancy?"

CNN is reporting that he has posted memes and conspiracy theories on Facebook about COVID vaccines, the 2020 election and the Capitol insurrection, and an acquaintance told CNN that he seemed out of touch with reality. Last year, he posted links on his Facebook page to multiple videos produced by "My Pillow" CEO Mike Lindell, falsely alleging that the 2020 election was stolen.

Other posts included transphobic images and links to websites claiming COVID vaccines were deadly. He also posted links to YouTube videos with titles like, "Democrat farce Commission to investigate January 6th Capitol riot collapses in Congress." And "Global elites plan to take control of your money. Revealed." Two days after a former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of killing George Floyd, he wrote that the trial was a modern lynching and falsely indicated that Floyd died of a drug overdose. In other posts, he used anti-Semitic language posting videos accusing LGBTQ people of grooming children, and declare that any journalist saying there is no evidence of election fraud, quote, should be dragged straight out into the street and shot.

The timing could not be worse for Elon Musk, who himself just released a statement to Twitter advertisers, in which he said this. "The reason I acquired Twitter is because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common, digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner without resorting to violence. There is currently great danger that social media will splinter into far right-wing and far left-wing echo chambers that generate more hate and divide our society.

In the relentless pursuit of clicks, much of traditional media has fueled and catered to these polarized extremes, as they believe that is what brings in the money. But in doing so, the opportunity for dialogue is lost."

Hey, I could have written those words myself. I mean, those are the themes of my broadcasting and public speaking and have been for years. We have been driven into a polarized ditch by the partisan media, and there needs to be a home base for non-extremists.

Musk went on to say this. "That said, Twitter obviously cannot become a free for all hellscape where anything can be said with no consequences." And he promised, quote, "In addition to adhering to the laws of the land, our platform must be warm and welcoming to all where you can choose your desired experience according to your preferences."

Look, Musk was already facing the daunting task of trying to balance his, I think, noble desire to host a digital town square with the need to avoid, as he puts it, the hellscape. But then came the epitome of the ladder with the savage attack of a senior by someone who amplified online, any number of internet fueled falsehoods and conspiracy theories, and it all begs the core question of whether we can have it both ways. Can we replicate the free speech town square in a way that doesn't feel beliefs that threatened democracy?


That brings me to today's poll question at "Is it possible for Elon Musk to host a digital town square that doesn't become a hellscape?" A sure hope so.

Joining me now to discuss is Scott Galloway, the Professor of Marketing at NYU Stern School of Business, a serial entrepreneur, and podcast host. He's the author of multiple books, most recently a best seller, "Adrift," America in 100 charts. So Scott, do you think this heinous attack on Paul Pelosi makes it more difficult for Elon Musk to soften content regulation?

SCOTT GALLOWAY, PROFESSOR OF MARKETING, NYU STERN SCHOOL OF BUSINESS: Hi, Michael, good to be with you. Yes, I do. I think it does. He's already appointed essentially a mirror image of Facebook's governance council, so he can sort of attempt to outsource those types of decisions. I think what it does make it easier, though, what probably this facilitates is calls for carve outs of Section 230, around election misinformation, misinformation around medicine.

But it's time -- the thing that most of these attacks have in common is that they were either catalyzed, discussed or organized online. So I think you're going to see Congress finally move on carve outs from 230 such that if individuals were clearly signaling this type of offline violence, and then it might jump from online to offline, that the platform's incur some liability. So I do think it's very difficult for him to start softening moderation.

And also to -- you're going to see Section 230 carve outs. Also Michael, just from a shareholder standpoint, if you go from least moderated to most moderated, least moderated would be 4chan, most moderated would be TikTok. There's a direct correlation and shareholder value and growth between additional moderation. Twitter is successful because of moderation, not despite it.

SMERCONISH: Can he make this deal work? I mean, to me, the neophyte from the outside looking in, it seems like he made his offer, then didn't want to pay that number then was about to be held accountable in front of the Chancery court in Delaware and had no choice but to go forward with the deal. But, you know, 44 bil with a B, that's a big nut to cover.

GALLOWAY: Michael, the day the moment is closed yesterday, it became the second worst acquisition in history. If you look at its peer group, Twitter's peer group, Meta, and Snap, they're down between 40 and 70 percent. And when Musk began acquiring shares, the stock was at $33, meaning its natural level, is somewhere between 10 and 14 bucks.

So you have a company that is now worth about $10, maybe $12 billion, generously, that he paid $45 billion for. And he said to advertisers, I bought Twitter because I wanted to play for free discourse. He bought Twitter because the Delaware Chancery court was about to make him.

This is, as of yesterday $33 billion has been essentially torched. It's the second worst acquisition in history already just behind. And you'll like this, AOL's acquisition of Time Warner, but this is $33 billion went up in smoke yesterday.

SMERCONISH: In the end, a decision has to be made about Donald Trump. Is it a pure business calculation? Are we going to sell more widgets with him or without him? I mean, what is the approach to that question?

GALLOWAY: I think what we forget sometimes in business is the people making these decisions are human. I would take the under here that he doesn't put Trump back on the platform because of human reasons. Simply put, one narcissist doesn't want to let another narcissist have more sunlight. I think Elon Musk and Donald Trump, both relish being in the headlines. I don't think Musk is in any hurry to share the stage. Think about it. Musk manages to be in the news to be the headline every day. I don't think he's in a hurry to start being in the headline every odd day. I don't think he'd let him back on the platform.

SMERCONISH: But if he doesn't let him back on, you're going to have a whole host of conservatives who are going to feel let down and maybe they'll, you know, they'll try to go to truth social or parlor or some other place that has rolled out the red carpet, by the same token if he welcomes them back. You know, Twitter to me is a very progressive liberal place. I base it on, well, the complaints that I get here each and every Saturday, but it seems like he's going to either alienate one or alienate the other.

GALLOWAY: Yes, but it's Twitter as a liberal place based on the complaints you get, not based on the data or the science. The most popular tweets, the most popular handles tend to over index conservative. I know like, Michael, I know these people and they don't lean left. They don't lean right. They lean green, they lean down. They will publish whatever content gets the most engagement such that they can sell more news on ads.


And what is it exactly that people want to do on Twitter that they haven't been allowed to do? I mean that basically the line, has been election misinformation and blatant anti-Semitic speech or hate speech. And again, from a shareholder standpoint, from a consumer standpoint, if you want a free for all, go to 4chan. It gets about 1 percent of the engagement and monthly active users that Twitter gets and it has no value.

The company that is sucking the oxygen out of the room, the company that is now worth more than Meta right now is Tik Tok. And it has the strictest moderation. Consumers and advertisers have voted, Michael, they want more moderation. So you're hearing from a very vocal minority that somehow their voices are being squelched. And it's always the people who say the voices are being squelched, so you could never get to shut up. So it's just not the data doesn't prove out that there censorship here that is blocking discourse.

SMERCONISH: To your point from Pew Research, fewer than 1 percent of Americans, fewer than 1 percent of Americans are frequently weighing in about politics, on the Twitter platform. So it is a very small but vocal group. One, nonetheless that I want to hear from in terms of social media.

Hey, stick around, Scott. Let's do this together. Catherine (ph), what do we have in terms of social media? I'll read it out loud and see what Scott thinks. "You are acting as if Twitter wasn't a hellscape before he took over," says Austin Conley. Is it already a hellscape? You seem to be saying Scott Galloway, that it's better policed than so many other locations? What's your response to that?

GALLOWAY: Hellscape is a pretty accurate description. I mean, Elon Musk has dug a pit in the middle of the forest, filled with grenades and pythons and jumped in. Keep in mind, he's going into these very difficult questions as we come up for a midterm election. He has about a quarter of his revenue coming out of China. And there have already been efforts on mass by the PRC to weaponize the platform, create bots, to influence midterm elections.

He's already been seen, kind of according favor with Bolsonaro in Brazil in order to secure supply lines for rare earth minerals for his batteries. And Bolsonaro said he's not going to accept the elections. What happens when bots start talking about election, misinformation, or the fact that our elections are not supporting the peaceful transfer of power. So congratulations, boss, the the water's fine. You are the dog that caught the car.

He has bought this thing at exactly a terrible time. He's going to be hugely compromised. And he's going to face some of the very difficult problems that Twitter's tried to -- try to solve for the last decade. But this is a hellscape. I wouldn't describe it as a hellscape, but he has bought himself, he has lost $33 billion, such that he can come across as a Lindbergh and fit figure that is not going to be able to figure this out.

What you find -- what he's going to find with this product company, Michael, is that he's not as smart as he thought and they weren't as dumb as he'd hoped.

SMERCONISH: You know the respect that I have for your views. That's why I want you here every week if I can get you here, but I'm rooting for him. I just have to tell you, the statement that he released to advertisers talking about a polarized landscape and a need for something in between, he's speaking my language.

Thank you for being here as always, Scott.

GALLOWAY: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: I want to know what you think. Go to my website Answer this week's poll question, "Is it possible for Elon Musk to host a digital town square that doesn't become a hellscape?"

Up ahead, can anyone be neutral about Donald Trump? The tax fraud trial of the Trump Organization began this week and every potential juror was asked if they had prejudices about the former president that would impact their ability to serve as a juror. Many did not hold back. I will talk to two of the defense lawyers about the challenge of finding 12 impartial citizens.

And with more than 17 million midterm ballots already cast across 46 states, President Biden and Vice President Harris and President Obama all hitting the campaign trail trying to rally the Ds. Is that going to work?


[09:18:27] SMERCONISH: With just 10 days left until the midterm election day, both parties now doing final pushes. And with the polling headwinds lately against the Democrats last night, the President and Vice President made a rare joint appearance on the campaign trail here in Philadelphia at the state party's annual independence dinner to bolster Senate hopeful John Fetterman and gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro.

Former President Barack Obama attended a rally in Georgia aiming to boost Senator Raphael Warnock, gubernatorial candidate, Stacey Abrams and others. And next week, former President Trump do to appear at rallies in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio. But how much can this kind of last-minute push really change any minds?

Joining me now to discuss is David Beiler, Political Columnist and Data Analyst for the Washington Post. We're 10 days out, David, where are we big picture?

DAVID BYLER, POLITICAL COLUMNIST & DATA ANALYST FOR THE WASHINGTON POST: Big picture? This is an extremely close midterm election. If you look at the National house polling, what you see is Republicans have a slight edge. They've made up a lot of ground since Dobbs versus Jackson, the decision that overturned Roe v. Wade happened. You're seeing sort of independents break towards Republicans, you're seeing both sides really trying to turn out their base.

So you're in a situation where it's not surprising that Obama and Biden and these other people are going out and trying to increase turnout and trying to get those last swing voters because it's really anybody's game, especially in the Senate.

SMERCONISH: Do you take issue with the consensus among what Mark Halperin would say is The Gang of 500 -- I don't know if they exist or not but I always love using that line -- that all of the momentum has now shifted toward the Republicans?


BYLER: I don't take too much issue with that. I think that oftentimes what you see in midterm elections, is the wave sort of breaks late. And I don't know that we have a wave necessarily this year, but the undecided voters tend to go in one direction. And when you have a Democrat who's president, somebody who's been governing, who's been, you know, passing laws that, you know, some swing voters might think go too far, who's been sort of bypassing those laws, taking issues off the table for Democrats, when you have that situation, you would expect those swing voters to sort of go right. And that's really what we've seen in the last couple of weeks heading into the 2020 election.

SMERCONISH: Each side has something strong in their arsenal to motivate their base for the Democrats, it's abortion to a more limited extent, it's January 6. I don't know if the Pelosi attack now sort of re-energizes the base on that issue, like, hey, democracy is at risk. The Republicans, of course, have the economy generally, including inflation, they've got crime, they've got borders. Which of those hands would you rather be holding? BYLER: Right now the Republican hand, and I'll tell you why. If you look at the polling data, you see that Americans are getting more and more focused on the economy, and a little bit less focused on issues like abortion or crime or some of the other sort of social issues. Those issues are good for turning out the base.

But as election day gets closer, people refocus in on things like inflation, things like gas prices, unemployment. And right now, I think Republicans hold a very, very slightly stronger hand. But this is going to go down to the wire, I think.

SMERCONISH: A final question. The polling in the last couple of cycles has been off to the detriment of Republicans, meaning their vote has been undervalued. Why is it always in that direction? Why is it not -- and maybe this election will change it -- why is the Democratic vote not undervalued in these polls?

BYLER: Well, there's sort of two things there. One is that there are past elections where the Democratic vote has been undervalued. We have to reach back in our memory to 2012 and some of the other elections before that to get there. But it has happened. And in very recent elections, what we've seen is that there is a segment of Trump voters who when they say CNN, or MSNBC, or whoever, you know, calling to pull them, they don't pick up the phone, they hang up immediately, and the pollsters can't reach them.

So that is a problem for polling. And the real question is, are those same voters who can't be reached by polls? Are they going to turn out and swing the election in November? Or are they going to stay home because Trump isn't on the ballot? And that's sort of the $64,000 question of this election.

SMERCONISH: David Byler, thanks for the analysis. I appreciate it.

BYLER: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: I want to bring in Deval Patrick, former Democratic Governor of the great state of Massachusetts, professor and co- director now of Harvard Kennedy School Center for Public Leadership. Governor, nice to have you back. Do you take issue with what you just heard from David Byler, about the conventional wisdom, saying, it's a building red wave?

DEVAL PATRICK (D), FORMER GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS: Well, I -- you know, conventional wisdom is, you might be exaggerating, to call it wisdom. It's fun to listen to all the predictions and so forth, and what the electorate is going to do at any given moment, but it's also to some extent, sort of irresponsible, because it diminishes the role of the voter. I mean, we've been treating the outcome of these midterms for months as if we already knew what was going to happen in the voting didn't matter. And imagine what kind of impact that has on voters, on campaign teams, on candidates, and to the rest of it.

So I feel, you know, we are in this constant chatter, and it's fun to listen to the analysts tell us who's up, who's down at any given time. The folks who win this race are the ones who are out doing the work. And I can tell you that Democratic candidates and their teams and their organizations on the ground are out doing the work making the case and is a very, very strong case to be made.

SMERCONISH: I will not ask you therefore to prognosticate as to who wins or loses the House of the Senate, but according to Governor Deval Patrick, what's the number one issue? Is it not the economy, including inflation?

PATRICK: I think the economy is enormously important. It is real life for many, many people, right? The fact that groceries are more expensive gas prices are coming down, but it's still expensive and there is for many people, a sense of economic uncertainty. At the same time, we have one of the lowest if not, the lowest unemployment rate in our history.


10 million plus jobs created in the last year or so and so many measures that go right at that issue of the daily affordability of life. That's what the student loan initiatives by the President have been about, the reductions in drug prices and health care premiums, it's what the investment in infrastructure. And the jobs that are created in the course of that, the reshoring of manufacturing. Our manufacturing sector is really roaring back to life.

These are present time and long-term benefits for people all around. Inflation is a concern, but it's a global concern. And simply raising it as a concern as Republicans do doesn't mean that they have an answer. They haven't actually offered any solution to that. Whereas, the Biden team and Democrats have been working together and with those Republicans willing to work with the Democrats to really get at that as a long-term issue, particularly around the issue of energy.

SMERCONISH: If that horrific attack on Paul Pelosi had been random, a street crime, and he had been the victim, it would have fed a Republican narrative about unsafe streets and Democratic leadership. But instead, it was someone intent on a plan because apparently, he had been whipped up by internet falsehoods. Does that now cause more attention to January 6, and democracy being under attack? Or is this of no significance 10 days from now?

PATRICK: It's impossible for me to say really, Michael, it's deeply concerning. First of all, I wish Paul Pelosi a speedy and complete recovery. I think it is. It isn't surprising that so much violence, political, violence has been stirred up on the right and we've seen real examples of that. You mentioned January 6, that's not the only one.

And it should concern us because, you know, it is possible to have valid and vigorous differences of opinion without treating the other side as the enemy. And I think to the extent that Republicans and those on the right, and I will say the few examples on the left, I hear of --

SMERCONISH: Sure, Supreme Court of the United States. I'm glad you said that, right. But I mean, I'm not arguing for and you're not arguing for parity, but there have been bad actors on both ends of the spectrum and that needs to be acknowledged.

Governor Deval Patrick, thank you for coming back.

PATRICK: Good to be with you. Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Up ahead, how do you pick a jury of New Yorkers who don't have strong opinions about former President Donald Trump? That was the challenge faced this week by my next guests. I'll ask two of the lawyers representing the Trump Payroll Corporation, how it went down? Did they assemble an impartial jury?

And I want to remind you to go to my website at By the way, register for the newsletter while you're there, you'll love it. It's free. The poll question today, "Is it possible for Elon Musk to host a digital town square that doesn't become a hellscape?"



SMERCONISH: How on earth in 2022 did they find a panel of jurors who are truly impartial when it comes to Donald Trump? That's what I was wondering during this week's jury selection for the Trump Organization tax fraud trial in Manhattan Supreme Court which took three days, 12 jurors were chosen.

Two of the Trump payroll corporation defense lawyers will join me in just a moment to answer that question. Trump, himself, isn't personally charged in this case against his company, isn't expected to show up at the courthouse unlike his former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg who pleaded guilty and is expected to be the state's star witness. But just as he looms over the midterms, despite not being on the ballot, he can't help but be a specter in the courtroom.

Question 29 on the juror questionnaire form got to the crux of it. Do you have any strong opinions or firmly held beliefs about former President Donald J. Trump either positive or negative that would interfere with your ability to be a fair and impartial juror? As lead prosecutor Susan Hoffinger told the court, "If we were to strike every juror who had a negative opinion about Donald Trump, we wouldn't be able to get a jury at all."

And you have to believe other prosecutors who may be considering prosecuting Trump himself, are closely watching this trial, this process. When Judge Juan Merchan first informed 130 potential jurors about details of this case, many waved their hands in the air to request private screening by the judge and lawyers about reasons they could not serve. More than half were then dismissed.

One man was excused after saying Trump made him -- quote -- "sick" to his guts. Another was gone after calling Trump a demonstrative liar. One woman said, "He's guilty until my mind whatever the case is -- anything he does, anything his corporation does."

Of the 12 selected on Thursday, three, or a quarter, openly said they are not fans of the former president, but nevertheless they could be fair and impartial as jurors. The man who would become juror Number 8 said, "Honestly, I used to think he was funny before he was president. Then he started acting a little crazy and narcissistic. That's the only reason I didn't like him as president -- not so much policy."

Joining me now are two veteran Philadelphia lawyers working for the Trump Payroll Corporation defense team, William Brennan and Michael van der Veen, both of whom also represented Trump during his second impeachment with van der Veen taking the lead role, you'll remember him.


MICHAEL VAN DER VEEN, ATTORNEY FOR TRUMP PAYROLL CORPORATION: -- putting in the evidence so I started to be able to get looking at it. You need to stop.


There was nothing fun here, Mr. Raskin. We aren't having fun here. This is about the most miserable --


SMERCONISH: Michael van deer Veen, you're starting this trial with a quarter of the jurors saying they don't like -- and I get it, you represent a corporate entity, but come on, they don't like Donald Trump. How can you win that?

VAN DER VEEN: Well, the first -- you win it by putting the facts into the case and putting your defenses on. But what we did in the jury selection is we tried to separate Donald Trump from the company.

He's not a defendant in this case. They have investigated his companies thoroughly. They didn't charge him with any criminal conduct. And the running of the company and the folks that were doing the acting for the company are the focus of the trial. And I think will be what carries day for us.

SMERCONISH: Bill Brennan, you've been quoted in the media saying this is a garden variety tax fraud case. But still won't it become a referendum on Trump?

WILLIAM J. BRENNAN, ATTORNEY FOR TRUMP PAYROLL CORPORATION: Michael, that's out of my control. I've been doing this for 35 years. This is a garden variety tax fraud criminal case. And that's how I'm going to try it. And we spent a long time this week trying to select 12 jurors who gave their word that they'll give us a fair shot.

And I believe in the jury system. And I believe that when people get into that jury box in that jury room, their best instincts take over. And I take them at their word that they'll give us a fair shake. You know, we're presumed innocent. And I think that, you know, we'll have a fair jury.

SMERCONISH: Michael van der Veen, so if I'm a prospective juror and I'm asked, "What do you think of Donald Trump," and I disparage it, in fact, maybe I even use the word despise how does it work? Am I then asked a question by the court, "Well, you know, Mr. Smerconish, could you nevertheless put aside those feelings," and if I say, "Yes, I can put aside all of that," then I'm in?

VAN DER VEEN: That's basically it and a little bit more expansive too, Mike. What we -- what we do is we really start asking probing questions about the specifics of their feelings or emotions and talk to them about weighing the balance. But what's really most critical and what we rely on and what all lawyers rely on is once that jury is picked, seated and sworn in, and they go back and they listen to the evidence and deliberate, that door closes.

And, boy, people try to do the best they can. They put aside their prejudices. They put -- for the most part, put aside their biases and try to be the best jurors they can. They follow -- we find that they follow the judge's instructions closely. And they try to be the best part of our system that they can be.

SMERCONISH: Counselor Brennan, in the end, it's a self-certification, right? You have to -- the court has to take the word of a prospective juror that they have the ability to be fair and impartial, whatever their personal feelings might be. So, do you worry about a sleeper cell? Do you worry about somebody who is just going to say whatever the hell they have to say so that they can get on that jury?

BRENNAN: Well, Michael, there's always that possibility. You're a lawyer, you pick juries. You know that.

The process comes -- the phrase comes from the French voir dire, it means to speak the truth. And the court and the prosecution team, and the defense team, gets to individually question each prospective juror and we do the best we can. You know, it may not be the best system ever, but it's the best we've got.

So, I believe, that after a week of questioning hundreds of prospective jurors -- you know, it's sets and subsets, Michael. From the set of jurors, the venire panel that we started with, I believe we had the best subset we could have gotten. Now, if somebody has a hidden agenda, it's hidden. We can't figure that out, we won't know that.

But I agree with Michael van der Veen, I believe that when 12 American citizens get into that jury room, they really do try to do the right thing. I'm a great believer in the American jury system and I believe that we will get a fair shake.

SMERCONISH: And I was thinking as I'm speaking to the two of you, you know, maybe a change of venue. But where are you going to go in the country? I mean, the same issues would present themselves pertaining to Donald Trump, no matter, you know, if you're in Maine or if you're in New Mexico.

Gentlemen, thank you for being here. I really appreciate it. It's a fascinating case and we're all going to be watching.

VAN DER VEEN: Thanks for having us. Go, Phillies. SMERCONISH: On that, we can agree. Checking in now on your tweets and YouTube and Facebook comments.


What do we have, Catherine? Trump should ask for a bench trial and hope one of his judges is next up. There is zero chance 12 unbiased people can be seated for a jury.

Well, you would think so, Jim, right? I mean, the passions run so deep. A quarter, three of those, we know that at least three of those who are going to be on have negative views of Donald Trump. But said to the court, no, no, I can put it aside and I can be fair and impartial.

I have to say, the lawyers said it has been their experience that you really can put faith in the hands of jurors to do that. You know, maybe they can believe that a client, not even this one, is a bad seed. But in this particular case there was no wrongdoing. We'll find out.

I want to remind you answer this week's poll question at Is it possible -- man, I hope so -- is it possible for Elon Musk to host a digital town square that doesn't become a hellscape?

Still to come, when is an astrophysicist also a great political commentator? Well, when the astrophysicist is Neil deGrasse Tyson with whom I recently had the privilege of being a co-panelist on Bill Maher's show. I have invited him to join me. He's here next to talk about his brand new book.



SMERCONISH: The midterm election is just 10 days away now, so what could the nation's foremost astrophysicist possibly have to contribute about our current political climate? Plenty it turns out. In his brand-new book, "Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization," Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History says, we need to step back and think about how we look from space. Quote -- "Views of Earth from space transform global perspectives for the better."

Neil deGrasse Tyson joins me now. Neil, you say that everything that divides us, the borders, the politics, the language, the skin color, who we worship is invisible from that perspective. Explain.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON, ASTROPHYSICIST/AUTHOR, "STARRY MESSENGER": Yes. I mean, if you ascend from Earth, then everything that sort of we created in civilization that we have used and invoked to decide who our enemies are and who our friends are, all of that just evaporates as you ascend. And I'm reminded of what the school room globe looks like in elementary school, color-coded countries. Why did they do that? We think that's the natural way to look at the Earth but, of course, it isn't.

Those color-coded countries remind you of who your enemies are and who your friends are and who's on which side of the line in the sand. And from space, you see Earth, especially from distances such as the moon, you see Earth not as the school room globe would you have see it but as nature had intended with just oceans, land and clouds. And that can change you permanently in a whole other kind of way. You'll see other humans as fellow participants in an attempt to just be better shepherds of the Earth. I mean, it all changes.

SMERCONISH: There's a great quote that begins your book, Edgar Mitchell, an Apollo 14 astronaut. I'll put it up on the screen as I read. "From out there on the Moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, look at that, you son of a bitch." Expand on that.

TYSON: That's right. So basically, that's the whole book. You don't have to read the book, just that quote. The whole book issues forth from that.

And -- but another dimension of this is just simply, are you formulating your opinions from any kind of sort of rational foundation? And, by the way, the diversity of opinions in our culture is part of what enriches what it is to be American.

I mean, if everyone -- here's what happened recently, I think -- I'm old enough to remember, if you'd express an opinion and then someone else would have an opinion. And say, oh, that's interesting, let's compare. And then you'd still go out for a beer after, right?


TYSON: And now, if you have an opinion that anyone else disagrees with, they're angry with you and they want your opinion to match theirs. And in the limit, that is like a -- like a totalitarian, authoritative dictatorship. Do you really want to carry that through to those limits?

SMERCONISH: Bill Clinton had a moon rock in the Oval Office. I didn't know this until I read "Starry Messenger." What was the purpose? When would it be referenced?

TYSON: Yes. You know, the couches that face each other, the little coffee table there, he had a moon rock. And so, if he had sort of warring factions in Congress or even heads of state that might be visiting, if things got a little tense, what he told me -- I had them on my podcast, that's why I know this. If things got a little tense, he would say, that rock is from the moon. And they'd be, oh.

It has a way of just sort of rebalancing and recalibrating. But your starting point for how -- whatever it was that made you disagree in the first place. And this book is just a celebration of ways to rethink all the forces that are dividing us. The tribalism that -- I mean, it feels like it's worse than ever before. Probably not, but it just feels that way. And what I want is everybody to read this before Thanksgiving dinner. Because that's when all the crazy aunts and uncles come in with all kinds of weird, wacky ideas about how the world works. And you just come in calmly and say, well, no, you hadn't thought about it this way and here's why. So, that's the goal.

SMERCONISH: It's a great perspective from up above, if you will, on a problem we all know exists.


Neil deGrasse Tyson, "Starry Messenger," really enjoyed it. Thank you.

TYSON: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets, YouTube, Facebook, social media comments, and the final result. I think I know which way it's going to go. But it's still -- it's the question of the day. Is it possible for Elon Musk to host a digital town square that doesn't become a hellscape? I'm rooting for him.


SMERCONISH: Well, there it is. There is the result of this week's poll question at Probably poorly worded on my part.


Is it possible -- I know a lot of you are rooting against him. I'm not rooting against him. Wouldn't you like to see a digital town square that's tolerant of different opinions on the issues but keeps out antisemitism and keeps out proponents of violence? I think we can do it. I think if anybody can do it, he'll get it done.

Quickly, one social media, if we have time for it. What do we got?

Why are you so keen to have Trump back on Twitter? Because he has not destroyed democracy completely yet? You want him to finish the job?

Did you hear me say that I want him back on Twitter? By the way, if you push me, my answer probably is yes. And if he misbehaves then he's out.

I would rather us having dialogue than driving it underground. That's what foments that guy in San Francisco. I'll see you next week.