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Classified Documents Discovery Creates Crisis For Biden; Rep. Matt Gaetz, (R-FL), Is Interviewed About Keeping Cameras On Congress, National Debt Battle, George Santo; How Good Is "ChatGPT" And Can It Be Detected?; Seattle Schools Sue Big Tech Over Kids' Mental Health. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired January 14, 2023 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Tell it early, tell it all, tell it yourself. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. Those are the words of Lanny Davis, the Clinton confidant and crisis manager. He wrote a whole book called "Truth to Tell" on how to handle a public crisis.
Davis's advice the exact opposite of the approach of the Biden White House to date around the discovery of the classified documents it is possession. They didn't tell it early, they waited nearly two months. They didn't tell at all, in fact, a statement released on Monday and the President's words on Tuesday were almost dishonest by omission. As for tell it yourself, instead of the President telling the full story, it has fallen to Karine Jean-Pierre to face the press and repeat on a loop that the President takes the matter seriously.
But of course, just saying he takes it seriously doesn't make it so. It seems like a series of unforced errors turning what might be a benign situation into something that will surely be the focus of the subpoena power that Republicans now possess after winning the House. Here's how we got here. On November 2, Biden lawyers discovered classified documents in an office the former vice president used in Washington, D.C. associated with the University of Pennsylvania. The National Archives were notified, the Justice Department alerted, but the public was none the wiser. The midterm elections were on November 8.
On December 20, another discovery was made, this time at Biden's home in Wilmington. Again, the Justice Department was told, but not the public. Monday, CBS broke the story of the documents found on November 2, the White House released a statement acknowledging that discovery, but not the fact that more documents were found on December 20.
On Tuesday, the President said he was surprised to learn of the discovery at the Penn office, making no mention of what was found in Wilmington. As Howard Baker famously asked about Nixon in Watergate, what did the President know and when did he know it? It would be curious if he was told about November 2nd's discovery, but not the one on December 20. If he did know, then why didn't he say so on Tuesday or a lot sooner?
So far, we know that among the documents were a memo from Biden to President Barack Obama, as well as two briefing memos preparing then vice president for phone calls, one with the British prime minister, the other with the president of the European Council. It's unclear how much of this material remains sensitive.
Friday, Judiciary Committee member Jim Jordan announced an investigation into Biden's handling of classified documents. House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer is asking the White House for more documents for his committee's probe. Comer pointed out that the address of President Biden's home where the additional documents were found was the same one listed on Hunter Biden's driver's license in 2018, the same year that he was conducting business deals with foreign countries.
Look, there's no evidence suggesting that Biden's conduct rises to the recklessness exhibited by Trump at Mar-a-Lago. The volume of material, the return, the response to the National Archives and the Justice Department, they're significantly different. But Biden's not helping himself. Maybe he's following bad legal advice. Best for him and for the country is that he get out in front of this immediately, put down those lawyer notes, and explain to the nation what the documents are, why he had them, what led to their discovery, and why two months elapsed before there was public disclosure.
This is what I know for sure. We're going to learn all those things, but best for the president is that it comes from his lips and not the drip, drip, drip of news leaks. Mr. President, tell it early, tell it all, and tell it yourself.
Joining me now is Harvey Eisenberg. He's a former Federal Prosecutor. He worked with Robert Hur, who this week was appointed special counsel looking into Biden's documents by Attorney General Merrick Garland. They successfully prosecuted Harold Martin, a private NSA contractor found guilty of the largest theft of mishandled information in U.S. history from the late '90s through 2016. Martin was convicted in 2019, sentenced to nine years in federal prison.
Counselor, thank you for being here. Big picture question, how does the discovery of the Biden documents impact any charging decision that will be made about Trump?
HARVEY EISENBERG, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, PROSECUTOR IN 2019 DOCUMENTS CASE: Well, they shouldn't impact one or the other. The two cases will rest on their own facts and the decisions will rest on the facts that are uncovered by Robert Hur and by Jack Smith and their teams.
SMERCONISH: OK. But Hur and Smith are going to make determinations as to whether the law was broken and whether it can be proven when they make a recommendation to Merrick Garland. Doesn't Garland also have to consider whether we will put the country through this process? EISENBERG: I would imagine that any attorney general would have to do that in the public interest. These are unprecedented situations, obviously. And the turmoil that prosecution of either of these two cases, should they proceed if they in fact charge the former president and the current president are something that must be considered as a matter of public policy.
SMERCONISH: I mean, I'm asking you this question because my poll question today @smerconish.com asks whether Biden just gave Trump a get out of jail free card, if you remember Monopoly. So, it occurs to me that if Merrick Garland's analysis needs to include and we're going to put the country through this, the fact now that you're going to have half the country say, well, first it was Hillary, she didn't get prosecuted. Now it's Biden, he didn't get prosecuted. But Trump, Trump they're going to prosecute?
EISENBERG: Well, those are obviously public policy and also political considerations, neither of which should influence Robert Hur nor will they -- I'm sure they will not influence Robert Hur or Jack Smith or the investigators assigned to them and their other prosecutors and how they make a decision, how they find out what the evidence actually is, what the facts are, and weigh out the pluses and minuses potential defenses as every prosecutor does in every case. National security cases as well.
SMERCONISH: In general terms, in cases like this, what do you need to show for a successful prosecution?
EISENBERG: Well, as to the assignment to my former boss, Robert Hur, that assignment goes to the unlawful removal and retention of national defense information. That's often lost in the give and take of the discussion. It does not have to mean that classified information was implicated.
Just as the term is defined, national defense information is implicated often, if not almost always. National defense information is also classified, but doesn't have to be. That also implicates the so called Trump investigation.
And after you proven that --
SMERCONISH: If you have simple negligence, if there's simple negligence on the part of the actor, is that enough?
EISENBERG: No, it's not. You have to show willful intent.
SMERCONISH: OK. How about if Donald Trump says, well, I thought I had a right to possess this information. Is that enough if he believed it?
EISENBERG: Well, the reasonable man test would probably apply. Is it reasonable for the person asserting that to have believed that? And then it becomes a jury question. If it was reasonable for him to think that.
One thing I should add, Michael, if I might, we keep talking about these cases as if it's just the principals (ph) involved, former President Trump and President Biden. They may or may not be implicated at all, they have staffs. Somebody else could have done -- committed the crimes if in fact, crimes were committed. And I'm sure the investigators and the prosecutors would be looking at just that. This may wind up indictments of other people, not the president or former president.
And of course, the current president, according to the current standard, cannot be prosecuted anyway while he sits as President of the United States.
SMERCONISH: And Mr. Eisenberg, I'd point out that the guy that you prosecuted who's now midway through his nine years, had the equivalent of 500 million pages in his possession. I point that out because I'm reading a lot and hearing a lot of folks say, well, they lock people up for this stuff. But your case was a pretty extreme case. Just take 30 seconds and tell me about that.
EISENBERG: Well, it was the largest theft and unlawful retention of classified information ever in the country's history. Hard to imagine that anyone could amass more than Mr. Martin did. And that which he pled guilty to. He had it over 20 years, as you stated in your opening. He had it for extended period of time. He had the most highly classified information available to anyone with a clearance stored in his home for all that time.
It's hard -- you cannot compare that case, since it is, as I said, unprecedented in scope compared to anyone else. Nor anyone else's sentence that they may or may not have received.
SMERCONISH: Well, thank you for explaining that, and thank you for being here. We appreciate your expertise.
EISENBERG: Thank you for having me.
SMERCONISH: I just previewed with my guest, today's poll question @smerconish.com. Now, I think you understand the context in which I'm asking it. Go to the website and answer this question today. In fact, right now.
Did Biden just give Trump a get out of jail free card? You know, by his actions, has he created a situation where it makes it impossible for Merrick Garland to prosecute Trump? Can't wait to see the result of that.
All right. From social media, Catherine (ph), what do we have? This just came in. Hit me with your social media during the course of the program.
Why is everything about Trump? Can't we talk about possible wrongdoing of Biden without asking about Trump?
No, we really can't, because there's such a natural comparison here. Look, you know, I got the memo. I understand and I believe that there are significant differences between these cases. But in the end, you've got two American presidents, each the subject of special counsel investigation for their handling of classified material. How do you not say that as well?
Make sure you're voting @smerconish.com on today's poll question, and we'll give you the result at the end of the hour. OK?
Up ahead, Congressman Matt Gaetz was often center stage during the must see live broadcast of the 15 rounds speaker of the House Battle. C-SPAN's independent cameras that we've so enjoyed, well, they've been removed again. So the network and Gaetz are lobbying to get them back. And Matt Gaetz is here to discuss.
Plus, the world is going wild experimenting with the latest artificial intelligence toy known as ChatGPT. You can ask it to do almost anything, write a poem, a term paper, a speech, a song, research a legal case, on and on and. How hard is it to detect? We're going to find out.
SMERCONISH: T.V. ratings were huge for the four day battle for House Speaker that resulted in Kevin McCarthy's election. Part of the attraction was the unfettered access given to C-SPAN cameras to televise the proceedings and provide its feed to outlets, including CNN.
Last week, I argued here that the American people deserve continued unfiltered access to the House Chamber. But as soon as Kevin McCarthy actually took the gavel back went the camera to its standard fixed position aimed at the Lectern. Those rules are set by the party that controls the House, except for special events like the election of a House Speaker.
Well, Tuesday, the co-CEO of C-SPAN sent a letter to McCarthy seeking permission to operate its own independent cameras in the chamber, citing the positive public reaction and the transparency themes in McCarthy's own rules package. Among the congressmen who have voiced their agreement, my next guest, Matt Gaetz.
You'll remember, during the speaker battle, the camera captured Gaetz having private conversations with a frustrated McCarthy, chatting with Democrats, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, we even saw as he was almost physically attacked by fellow Congressman Mike Rogers, who later apologized. So much lies ahead for the 118th Congress. I want these cameras to show it all, be it the looming debt limit standoff, the debates over investigations of the FBI and Hunter Biden, the battles over China and the origin of COVID-19, the blame game of the never ending border crisis.
Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz joins me now.
Congressman, thank you for coming back. Without C-SPAN -- it occurs to me that without C-SPAN cameras, we would not have seen you nearly attacked by Mike Rogers. Do you think that incident is an example of why some of your colleagues, they don't want full camera access?
REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): No, I think that the reason people have opposed our effort to democratize viewing of the House floor is because in many of the debates no one's present, and they want to maintain the fiction that's actual legislating. And whenever there is sharp disagreement or discord or fiery debate on the floor or in committee, the camera always catches those moments. But there are also moments of great interpersonal warmth and collaboration and the forming of alliances that you might not normally see. Whether it's myself talking to Ilhan Omar about war powers or Pramila Jayapal about big tech regulation or discussing floor strategy with AOC. I think the American people would be able to humanize Congress more if they saw more of our human interactions and not just theater that's on display during much of the debate.
SMERCONISH: With regard to Rogers and the incident, which I'm showing now in slowmo, what went on from your perspective? How much did you see of him coming at you?
GAETZ: Well, Mike Rogers and I have worked together for six years on some of the most tense national security issues on the Armed Services Committee. So, it's not the first time we've been frustrated with one another or worked together.
Matter of fact, that wasn't a remarkably unique incident. There are times when the pressure cooker is on when we do yell and get heated, and that's OK among colleagues. What was different about this was just that it was caught on camera. So, you know, Mike and I are fine. We've worked together before, we will again in the future.
But if we had more dynamic camera angles, then I think you'd see these flare ups and then the backslapping afterwards and the agreement, and the American people could see alliances form and dissolve in real time rather than just getting a more curated rendition of what happens.
SMERCONISH: As much as I want those cameras, the camera work in that instance was a little shoddy because it followed Kevin McCarthy back into the well of the House, and we never saw you, did you get on your feet? Did you get ready for blows? I mean, how close did it come?
GAETZ: Oh, no, I think that it was overblown a bit. I mean, Mike was expressing his frustration with me, and I totally understand different people had different perspectives in that moment.
And you know, the argument against these cameras was actually made on your network by Paul Ryan this last week when he said, well, we already have enough performance in Congress. We don't want people playing to the cameras in these moments. I think that the public value of being able to see the human interactions in frustration and warmth and all of those things far outweighs the risk that people will play to the cameras. I mean, we have that during debate one way or the other.
I think some of the old guard in Congress opposes this because they want to continue to maintain the fiction that when four or five people are on the floor spending millions of dollars, that is actually the action of the whole legislative body when the reality is far different. And if we had cameras on the floor, my suspicion is we would have far better attendance during the debates that impact a lot lives of our fellow Americans.
SMERCONISH: Every Saturday I have a poll question as I think you know during the course of the program. Last Saturday, we set a record, more than 46,000 people voted on this issue, and it could not have been more decisive. Put up the result of that. I think it was 90 percent of people who said, yes, 93.91 percent they want the camera access.
Today, Congressman, "The Washington Post" lead editorial is on this issue and agrees with your perspective. Quick final question on this. What's the likelihood that you CNN sway Kevin McCarthy?
GAETZ: Well, I'm encouraged that there's actually a lot of bipartisan support for this measure. Some Democrats have put forth their own proposal. And so, I hope that if we got 218 people to agree, whether they were Republicans or Democrats, that Speaker McCarthy would be very persuaded by that.
And so, we're working right now to build that bipartisan coalition to go to the speaker. And it is in line with a lot of the goals the speaker laid out in the Rules Committee to have more transparency, to have more open votes, to have more open rules. So if we're going to have open votes and open rules, let's have an open chamber for all the American people to observe.
SMERCONISH: On another matter that pertains to video, you apparently were able to earn a concession from him that all of the security video from Capitol Hill on January 6 is going to enter the public domain. First of all, correct me if I'm wrong, I believe that was something that you were able to get him to agree to.
Secondly, what is it you want to see? What do you expect to see in that video?
GAETZ: Well, I think that you likely will see a lot of exculpatory evidence where people may have been in some technical violation of federal criminal law, but never intended to harm anyone, and never intended to breach any type of security barrier. A lot of those barriers may have been taken down. I'm a believer that transparency answers a lot of questions, and whether there's higher criminal acuity for some, lower criminal acuity for others, releasing that video will be important.
Also, we already know from whistleblower interviews we've done that there were federal assets and agents that were on the ground that day to be able to observe their conduct, their potential coordination with one another, would be of great interest to many of us on the Judiciary Committee and I think many people throughout the country.
SMERCONISH: So, prosecutors have said, and I'm thinking in the context of the case of Eric Torrence, he from Tennessee, it shouldn't be released because it's going to jeopardize security, that too much will enter the public domain about the nooks and crannies, my words not theirs, of the capital. Are you worried that you're going to jeopardize the security of yourself and your colleagues if all of this video comes into the public space?
GAETZ: No. Almost every inch of the capital is subject to video surveillance. If you don't believe that, go into any casino in America and you see the extent to which the zooms and pans and tilts inform on how people see these things.
So, if the security of members of Congress is dependent on shielding the perspectives of these cameras, then it's not a very good security regime. And I think that's a red herring, and I think it's an argument made by the Department of Justice because they don't want to expose the extent to which there might have been federal assets or agents enhancing criminal acuity. We don't know that, that's why we want to see the footage. But I think we'll all be safe and sound even following the release of that information.
SMERCONISH: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that on, I think, Thursday we're going to hit the debt ceiling limit of $31 trillion. Are we headed for a standoff where you and your colleagues are demanding of cuts, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid?
GAETZ: We did include in our negotiations a reversion to 2022 spending levels. That would require changes in some of the mandatory spending, which of course, is driven by Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. I think work requirements are something we could get a lot of bipartisan agreement on, particularly in states that had Medicaid expansion under Obamacare.
But remember, just as I teamed up with Democrats for the floor action last week, you also may see some Republicans in the middle team up with Democrats to discharge a clean debt limit. There's something called a discharge petition where if you get 218 signatures on something, it comes right to the floor. So, some of my conservative colleagues and I may be disappointed if you see moderate Republicans working with Democrats to get a clean vote on the debt limit. We would probably like to use that as an opportunity to analyze some of the mandatory spending that's given us a $32 trillion debt.
SMERCONISH: You know that economists say if we get close to default, then what's going to happen? Interest rates are going to rise. People are going to feel it in their mortgages, in their auto loans, in their credit card bills.
GAETZ: Yes. That's why we need to start now. We should not engage in brinksmanship. We're already having the discussions with Jodey Arrington, the new chairman of the Budget Committee about how to create a budget resolution to inform on policy choices. We have an obligation as the Republicans in the majority to sell to the American people work requirements or other spending reductions to get buy in on that. I don't believe we should push this to the very end. I think we need to be laying out a plan now to get our fiscal House in order. But as you know, Michael, with interest rates rising, that changes the debt service obligations of the country. And it's one of the major drivers of our spending now, is servicing that debt so we have to be able to get it under control. And the math is undeniable that as more baby boomers continue to utilize more of the programs that drive mandatory spending, we are going to have that take a greater and greater share of the federal budget.
SMERCONISH: I share your concern about the level of spending. By the way, that debt went up 40 percent on Donald Trump's watch. That needs to be called out as well. It's just at what stage of the process should we attack this issue? Probably before the money has been committed.
I have to get to one other thing with you, Representative Santos. You were playing the role of talk show host this week, I guess, in lieu of Bannon. You asked him about the $700,000 that he gave his campaign or donated or loaned his campaign. He didn't give you answer.
Should he be able to get away with that level of nondisclosure? What is his future?
GAETZ: Well, George Santos represents over 700,000 people in New York. And whether people like that or not, those people deserve to have members of Congress collaborating with the person who serves them, whether that's on financial issues or on public safety issues. And so, George Santos will have to go through the congressional ethics process. I don't want to prejudge that process, but I think he deserves the chance to at least make his case.
There are requirements members of Congress have to meet when it comes to the money that they donate to their own campaigns. I had to publicly disclose the real property I sold to contribute to my own campaign when I was first elected in 2016, and we'll see how that process bears out. But until then, I don't think that George Santos should be subject to shunning, because the Americans he serves deserve representation and they have real challenges, and we ought to work together to solve their challenges and meet their needs.
SMERCONISH: I mean, I watched. I listened and I watched, and I get your point that there's a lot of embellishment by those who run for office, particularly the Congress. But in this guy's case, more on that bio, more in that C.V. was unfounded than was founded. And those voters went to the polls because the media didn't shine an appropriate spotlight on it, and nor did his opponent without knowing for whom they were voting. Isn't that a fair statement?
GAETZ: You know what's crazy to me is that that happened in New York, of all places. Like, this wasn't --
GAETZ: -- rural Mississippi. It was the center of the media. And I think there actually were some local outlets that reported on the concerns about Santos as a candidate.
SMERCONISH: One weekly.
GAETZ: So, that was --
SMERCONISH: One weekly. Yes.
GAETZ: That was in the public sphere. It's up to the political process to resolve those things. He is a congressman. He was seated. And so, I'm going to treat him as a colleague, and he's going to have to endure the process that goes through managing the conduct of members.
SMERCONISH: My hunch is that if your margin in the House were not so thin that you and or Kevin McCarthy would have a different opinion on that issue. You know, I'm going to do social media. Stick around for this because to the extent it's the why is Matt Gaetz on this program? I'll let you respond to it instead of me.
Catherine, put up on the screen. What do we have from the world of social media?
How does it help the American people to have Congress people performing for the cameras? They're already accomplishing nothing and this will only get worse as they mug for publicity. What do you want to say to David who submitted that?
GAETZ: Well, we mugged for publicity plenty. Don't you think the American people ought to see when the actual sausage is being made? The conversations we have on the floor result in votes and bills and cosponsorships, and I think that more transparency is better. Oftentimes on the floor, you're lobbying for the legislation or the appropriations that you care about, and people then will be able to lash what they observe with the legislative outcomes and then be able to make better judgments on the people who are there to represent them. Nothing wrong with that any more.
SMERCONISH: Anymore Catherine, that I have time for or do I have to move on? Tell me quickly.
OK. Congressman, thanks for coming back. Do appreciate it.
GAETZ: Thank you, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Coming up, well, I'm just going to tell you what's coming up because I don't have a teleprompter. What's coming up? I want to get into something called ChatGPT.
And I also want to talk about a lawsuit that was filed by the Seattle Public Schools. This is really an interesting story where they're trying to hold accountable big tech for the mental health crisis playing itself out among American youth. Both of those social media.
More of your voting at Smerconish.com. Did Biden give Trump a get out of jail free card -- when we come back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SMERCONISH: Because of the overwhelming popularity of a new AI program, it's called ChatGPT, educators are now wrestling with how to respond to students with new ways to harness artificial intelligence in doing their work. There are three reasons why the use of this technology should be permitted in a school setting.
Number one, personalized instruction. AI can help to personalize the learning experience for students. AI-powered systems can analyze student performance data and provide tailored instruction and feedback which can help students to learn more effectively and achieve better outcomes.
The second reason, accessibility. AI can help to improve the accessibility of education for students with disabilities. Assistive technology such as text to speech and speech recognition can help students with visual or auditory impairments to better access, engage with educational materials.
And a third reason is this, job readiness. Because as AI becomes increasingly important in today's job market, learning about AI can help students to develop skills that will be in high demand in the future. For example, learning to code and work with AI systems, that can help students to develop problem solving skills, data analysis, and critical thinking skills which are valuable in so many different fields.
OK. Time-out. What you just heard may sound like one of my commentaries. But I didn't write it and nor did any other human. It was written by the latest version of artificial intelligence. This chatbot called ChatGPT.
I simply typed into my laptop, give me three paragraphs on why students should be permitted to use artificial intelligence in school, and you heard the outcome. There it is. I typed it last night.
It's computer technology designed to stimulate conversation. The GPT stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer. ChatGPT was released on November 30th by the artificial intelligence lab known as OpenAI and within a week the company estimated that it already had more than a million users. It's free for now but in the future, there will be a version that costs money.
The way it works is by integrating massive amounts of data, immense computing power, and novel processing techniques. You ask it to do a function and it responds lightning fast answering a question, maybe playing a game, writing a computer program, composing a poem, a song, a speech, a school assignment, or a commentary for CNN.
And unlike most chatbots while you're using it, it remembers your conversation. Well, you can imagine all sorts of uses for it including, of course, cheating in school. Los Angeles, Seattle, Baltimore, New York City schools they have already restricted access to ChatGPT. Max Chafkin joins me now. He's a columnist for "Bloomberg Businessweek" where he wrote the piece, What Are the New AI Chatbots Good For? Nothing. He's also the author of the book "The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley's Pursuit of Power."
It's pretty stunning, isn't it, Max, that I can make that cogent argument, maybe a little more stilted, I hope, than I would normally be on CNN? But if I hadn't told the audience, I don't know if the audience would have recognized it.
MAX CHAFKIN, COLUMNIST, "BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK": Yes. Absolutely. It's pretty convincing.
I do think if we spent time going back through it we would see little problems with that argument. And I think, you know, just broadly speaking the school districts that are responding to this, you know, with skepticism are making a reasonable decision.
I mean, this -- as I wrote in my piece, this is not good for a lot of sort of business cases. It is incredibly good if you want to, say, cheat on your schoolwork or if you're a spammer or, say, a Russian disinformation farm or whatever. It's really good for people who are trying to generate huge amounts of text that doesn't have to be especially convincing very quickly.
SMERCONISH: Right. As someone said whom you cited, superb BS-ing. That's what it allows to you do.
CHAFKIN: Yes, and the other thing about this, and really the reason why people are banning it, why people are treating it skeptically not just in schools but we're seeing these, kind of, knowledge communities as well as academic groups keep it out because it makes stuff up.
AI experts call this hallucination. It's a funny term but essentially the AI will just invent things, names, places, points in history, and just state it with, you know, supreme conviction which can be really funny. It can get, you know, math problems wrong. And because it's so convincing and because it moves so quickly, it can be pretty hard for people to separate the truth from the falsehood.
SMERCONISH: Max, as you said, I want to put on the screen a quote from Scott Rosenberg who wrote this at "Axios" to a point you made. The applications of this extend far beyond just schools.
Education, it says, is where ChatGPT's disruptions will land first, but any discipline or business built on foundations of text is in the blast radius. Think law, think entertainment, think science, history, media.
What other application, Max, do you think this could impact?
CHAFKIN: Well, so the main investor in OpenAI is Microsoft. And this is -- I mean, first of all I should say this is like the hottest company in Silicon Valley right now and the company behind this is Microsoft. And I think what they want to do is put it in Microsoft Word essentially so that -- you know, this isn't how 3,000, this isn't going to take over the world.
But it might be a feature that could go in your word processor, you have to write a thank you letter, and it could kind of, you know, write some place holder text that you could then punch up later or even -- you know, you could even imagine taking that CNN monologue that you did which wasn't very good but using that kind of as a starting point perhaps. But I think that's what this is going to be, a starting point, a better word processor.
SMERCONISH: Max, thank you for that. I appreciate your expertise.
Still to come, the Seattle public schools are suing social media for damaging the mental health of its students by purposefully exploiting -- quote -- "the vulnerable brains of youth."
Well, the author of "iGen," Jean Twenge, whose work on these very issues is cited in the suit joins me next. And remember to vote on the poll question at Smerconish.com. In the context of the discovery of these classified documents I am asking this -- did Biden just give Trump a get out of jail free card? Go vote at Smerconish.com.
SMERCONISH: Is big tech to blame for America's youth mental health crisis? The Seattle public school district has just filed a 92-page lawsuit against the parent companies of TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat. The suit alleges the social media giants -- quote -- "intentionally" contributed to the youth mental health crisis in the United States and has impeded the ability of its schools to -- quote -- "fulfill their educational mission."
The school district is the largest in the state of Washington. They have got nearly 50,000 students. They're seeking unspecified monetary damages. And the lawsuit cites a lot of data.
For example, from 2009 to 2019 the rate of high school students who reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by 40 percent to one out of every three kids. The share of kids seriously considering attempted suicide that increased by 36 percent.
The share creating a suicide plan increased by 44 percent. From 2007 to 2019, suicide rates among youth aged 10 to 24 in the United States increased by 57 percent. By 2018 suicide, the second, the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 24 from 2007 to 2016, emergency room visits for youth age five to 17, they rose 117 percent for anxiety disorders, 44 percent for mood disorders, 40 percent for attention disorders.
Several citations in this lawsuit are of data analysis by my next guest, Jean Twenge, the author of the influential book "iGen." In response to the lawsuit the global head of safety for Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, released this statement -- quote -- "We want teens to be safe online. We automatically set teens' accounts to private when they join Instagram, and we send notifications encouraging them to take regular breaks. We don't allow content that promotes suicide, self-harm or eating disorders."
A spokesperson for Goggle which owns YouTube responded as follows. "We have invested heavily in creating safe experiences for children. We provide parents with the ability to set reminders, limit screen time and block specific types of content on supervised devices."
Joining me now is Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, the author of the book that I mentioned "iGen." Her latest book will come out in April and it will be called "Generations."
Dr. Twenge, this is really important. The data that I cited that comes from the lawsuit speaks of this period from the mid-2000s to about 2020 as a comparison. Why is that timeline so significant?
JEAN TWENGE, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, SAN DIEGO STATE UNIVERSITY: Well, you know, there is a lot attention now to this adolescent mental health crisis, but so much of it focuses, oh, it's because of the pandemic. This did not start with the pandemic. It started more than 10 years ago around 2011 or 2012 which happens to be right at the time that Snapchat was founded, Facebook bought Instagram, and social media moved from being fairly optional among teens to being virtually mandatory and extremely popular.
SMERCONISH: So there can be no dispute as to the fact that the data says we've got this mental health crisis, that it happened at a time of the explosion of the uses of this technology. When your book first came out, you would often speak to me about correlation and not causation. Where are you today?
TWENGE: We have a lot more experimental evidence now suggesting it's not just correlation, that it is causation. So my colleague Jon Haidt and I have a Google doc with all of the evidence in this area, and it includes studies that can show causation. And the majority of those studies show that, say, cutting back on social media can lead to better mental health, and there's other studies showing that you increase your use of social media, then depression often follows.
SMERCONISH: So what should the tech giants who are on the receiving end of this litigation from the Seattle public schools, what is it they ought to be doing?
TWENGE: Oh, there are so many other things that they could be doing. As just one, they could enforce their own age minimums. You're supposed to be 13 to have a social media account. That's not enforced.
You don't have to show an I.D. You don't even need parental permission. You can just check a box or lie about your birthday and, boom, you have an Instagram account or a TikTok account.
So that's a place to start because we have eight, nine, 10-year-old kids on these platforms that were not designed for children. They weren't even designed for teens. They were designed for adults. And because of brain development and anybody who has kids knows this, you know, there's a reason why we don't let eight-year-olds drive. There's a reason why you have to be 18 or 21 to buy cigarettes. Yet social media is almost completely unregulated.
So parental permission would be another great step. Not being able to use social media during the nighttime hours would be another. We also have an epidemic of sleep deprivation among teens which very well might be one of the reasons why we have a mental health crisis because not sleeping enough is very, very strongly linked to depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, all of these issues we're seeing.
SMERCONISH: Can I say that I think that 92-page complaint, albeit very dense, publicly available?
You can pull the PDF. I'll put it if my social media, as a matter of fact, again, is worthy of every parent's attention.
Dr. Twenge, I'm looking forward to the release of your next book in April. Thank you for coming back.
TWENGE: Thanks so much.
SMERCONISH: Still to come, more of your best and worst social media reaction to today's program and we will give you the final result of the poll question. Again, in the context of the discovery of the now Biden documents, I want to know this, did the current president just give the former president a get out of jail free card? Go to Smerconish.com and cast a ballot.
SMERCONISH: All right. There it is, the result of this week's poll question at Smerconish.com. I get suspicious with round numbers, but OK. Let's say 30,000 voted, 60/40 say, no, Biden did not give Trump a get out of jail free card.
Social media, Catherine, what do we have? What came in during the course of the program today? There is this. I see nothing.
I bet we won't get any of these tweets on air today. Gaetz is a terrible person and should resign.
Well, Clarkbar, you did get it on air. He was the most influential, for better or worse, person in Washington all last week and I am happy he was willing to come here and speak.
One more if I have got time for it. What do we have? More social media.
Smerconish, quit attacking POTUS for not telling the press everything. The DOJ was notified. At that point no matter who you are just keep your mouth shut.
Well, Anthony, I think you are on to something. I wonder if the Biden White House thought that by quick revelation to the archives and then Justice Department, surrendering the material at the Biden center, if that would be the end of it. But when it wasn't the end of it, and when there was another discovery and the president then addressed it he had an obligation to tell us everything.
Tell it early. Tell it all. Tell it yourself. See you next week.