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CDC: Teen Girls Experiencing Record High Sadness, Suicide Risk; Fox News Execs, Anchors Knew Voter Fraud Story Was False; Tesla Recalls Vehicles For Self-Driving Fix; Prosecution Rests In Alex Murdaugh Case. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired February 18, 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: Godspeed John Fetterman. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia.
You might remember that I was critical of Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor during his campaign for the U.S. Senate. I noted here and on my Sirius XM radio program that he was not timely and notifying the public about his stroke when it occurred just before the primary, nor was he forthcoming about his underlying cardiomyopathy and need for a pacemaker. And I said he was refusing to debate his opponent Dr. Mehmet Oz in an effort to run out the clock by not agreeing to a debate until many Pennsylvanians have already voted.
I also defended an NBC reporter who was criticized for noting that Fetterman had trouble understanding her small talk before her interview with him began. Basically, I thought the coverage of Fetterman was being determined by empathy alone, not objectivity when the facts demanded both.
So now comes to the news that the junior senator from Pennsylvania admitted himself to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Wednesday night for treatment of clinical depression. Fetterman's office released a statement saying, "While John has experienced depression off and on throughout his life, it only became severe in recent weeks. He's receiving treatment on a voluntary basis. After examining John the doctors at Walter Reed told us that John is getting the care he needs and will soon be back to himself."
This is Fetterman second hospital stay in his many weeks. He was recently admitted to George Washington University Hospital after feeling lightheaded at a retreat for Democratic senators. Thankfully, tests ruled out a second stroke. The more recent hospitalization is Fetterman first public acknowledgement of a mental health issue. His wife tweeted this, "After what he's been through in the past year, there's probably no one who wanted to talk about his own health less than John. I'm so proud of him for asking for help and getting the care he needs."
"The New York Times" provided this useful insight that after his stroke, Fetterman soon jumped back into campaigning into the tight Senate race. And now quote, "The possibility that he may have missed out on a crucial recovery period has become a source of pain and frustration for Mr. Fetterman and people close to him, who fear that he may suffer long term and potentially permanent repercussions. His schedule as a freshman senator has meant that he's continued to push himself in ways that people close to him worry are detrimental."
A senior aide told NBC News that Fetterman is likely to have a few weeks of inpatient care, and the doctors are trying different medications and dosages. And I say more power to him. We need mental health role models right now. And here's hoping that he fills that bill.
Consider this, Fetterman's hospital admission came the same week as the release of a CDC report documenting a mental health crisis among American adolescents, particularly our girls. They surveyed more than 17,000 teenagers across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In 2021, the percentage of high school students who experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness was 42 percent. That's up from 28 percent a decade earlier. And when you break it down by gender 57 percent female, 29 percent male.
In 2011, the share of high school students who seriously considered attempting suicide was 16 percent. In 2021 22 percent.
Just stop and contemplate that. More than one in five American teens has seriously considered attempting suicide. And among girls, the number is 30 percent. And the numbers of depression and suicidal thoughts are even higher in the LGBTQ plus community. And these issues are not the sort that anyone relishes discussing. Because the fact is society doesn't treat brain and physical health the same. There remains a stigma attached to the former which causes those afflicted too often to remain in the shadows.
Schools, workplaces, health care plans and American society in general still don't treat those with mental illness the same as those with a physical affliction. Think about it. God forbid someone in your orbit gets cancer, people rush to raise GoFundMe money, bake cakes and help take care of their children, but if the affliction is anxiety or depression, many will shun even those they know and that's if the illness is made public at all.
Insurance coverage is not often equitable many mental health providers There's refused the paperwork of participation leaving people in need to scramble for scarce treatment resources, too many go untreated. Maybe John Fetterman can change that. Perhaps he can become the face of a mental health epidemic from which we are all one degree of separation.
Fifty years ago, Senator Thomas Eagleton was dropped from the Democratic ticket headed by Senator George McGovern after it was revealed that Eagleton had been hospitalized for depression, which included electroshock therapy. That would never have happened if Eagleton had suffered a physical ailment. Fetterman is so high profile in part due to the attention already given to his stroke and his flipping Pennsylvania to give the Dems their slim majority that perhaps he will finally elevate awareness in a watershed way and help our culture rethink the way that we treat brain health.
Dr. Nassir Ghaemi, is a psychiatrist on staff at Tufts University and the Harvard Medical School. He wrote a book that stands out, "A First Rate Madness" is the title. And drawing on medical records of Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill, among others. Dr. Ghaemi makes the case that some of our best leaders have battled mental illness.
In fact, Ghaemi argues that the best crisis leaders are either mentally ill or mentally abnormal. The worst crisis leaders are often those who are mentally healthy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. NASSIR GHAEMI, PROFESSOR, TUFTS UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: People who have mild manic symptoms, mania being the idea is that you're sped up and you're thinking movement and feeling. People with mild manic symptoms are more creative and more resilient to stress than normal, mentally healthy people. And so, these four traits of creativity, resilience, empathy, and realism, which occur in manic depressive illness and depression and bipolar illness, are seen in some of our best crisis leaders, Churchill, Lincoln and others who had these conditions, had these traits as part of their psychological makeup, and also will show those traits as benefits of their crisis -- leadership. In times of crisis, I should say, not always, but in times of crisis, when you need them the most.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: But this isn't just about public figures or whether they can survive politically. Hopefully this will help others who are suffering and need help be in our family, our friends, or our neighbors, we can all benefit. So thank you, John Fetterman.
Now to discuss the troubling new CDC study about American teens own growing mental health issues, I'm joined by Kathleen Ethier, the Director of the CDC is Division of Adolescent and School Health.
Dr. Ethier, this report from the CDC, for which you played such a critical role is really alarming. What data jumped off the page to you?
KATHLEEN ETHIER, DIRECTOR, DIVISION OF ADOLESCENT & SCHOOL HEALTH, CDC: I think there's no question in this data that young people are telling us they are in crisis. And we absolutely have to listen to what they're telling us.
SMERCONISH: Might it be a silver lining of sorts that they're telling us this where perhaps they were reticent to do so in the future, meaning maybe the numbers haven't really spiked, but more an openness to talk about the subject, like I was just offering in my opening commentary.
ETHIER: I hope so. I hope that we're doing a better job and giving young people the language to describe their mental health and to describe what they're feeling. But let's remember that this is an anonymous survey that was conducted in young people's classrooms.
And so, I think part of the astonishment that we're hearing from adults at the level of mental health issues that young people are expressing may actually be an indication that they're feeling things and they're describing their mental health but they're not doing that to adults. They're not describing those things to their -- to their parents, to their schools, to counselors, to people who can help them. And that's really a concern.
And I think speaks to what you're saying, we not only have to give young people the language to describe their mental health, we have to listen to them. We have to create environments that support their mental health, but also provide them with ways to tell an adult when something's not going right.
SMERCONISH: Like I said in the introduction, this is a big sample, 17,000 high school students from all across the country.
SMERCONISH: Twenty-four percent of high school girls say they've gone so far as to make a suicide plan. Speak to that.
ETHIER: It is just devastating to think that such a large proportion of the teenage girls in this country are getting to the point of planning not to be here anymore. I would imagine that any parents, any teachers or any school counselors or just adults thinking about that it is frightening. And so, I think what that spurs us to do is to create those environments that support their mental health and provide opportunities for them to let adults know that something is wrong.
SMERCONISH: I'd like to think that high school boys and girls, young men and young women are watching my program, but more likely it's their parents, and it's their teachers and their family members. What do you want to say to them?
ETHIER: So there are a variety of things that parents can do and things they can look for among -- in their kids. They can look for any changes in behavior, changes in sleep patterns, changes in eating patterns, staying aware of what's happening with their young people.
They can also know where their kids are, who they're with, who they're spending time with, what they're doing, and staying connected to the parents of their young people's friends because that keeps them involved and engage. Talk to your children about their mental health starting at early ages so that you don't get to have teenagers who you haven't kind of address those issues with.
From a school perspective -- SMERCONISH: Doctor?
ETHIER: Oh, sorry.
SMERCONISH: No, no, please finish. From a school perspective, tell me.
ETHIER: From a school's perspective, we need to train teachers to be able to help manage the mental and behavioral issues that they are telling us that they are seeing in their classrooms. And so, we need to give them the skills not to burden them, but to actually take away the burden that they're already experiencing.
And then there's a whole host of things that schools can do to create environments that support young people's health, both in terms of programs that get them involved and invested, and making sure that they are safe for even the most vulnerable youth in a school.
SMERCONISH: Dr. Ethier a quick final comment, I make the observation that it's hard not to look at the last decade and say, well, what's changed in society, the rise of social media, everybody walking around with a smartphone in their pocket, that has to be an important cause driving these numbers. Can you tell it to me in 30 seconds?
ETHIER: Sure. I think there's a combination of factors. Certainly the isolation from the pandemic has not helped. There are positive and negatives to social media. And so, we have to figure out how to keep the positives and protect young people from the negatives.
And then I think we have to look at the conflict in our society, we would be naive to think that that is not affecting young people and their mental health. And so, we have to learn to create environments that are more supportive and less conflicting.
SMERCONISH: Can I say that the report as you presented it is very approachable? And I reckon I'll put it in my social media again, I did earlier in the week, but I recommend that parents all concerned access this report and read it for themselves.
Thank you, Dr. Ethier.
ETHIER: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: I really appreciate your time and expertise.
SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Hit me up on social media. I'll read some responses throughout the course of the program.
I think this comes from the world of YouTube. With so many young people facing this, I think it is inevitable that this problem will eventually be embraced and addressed when they are the ones in power. Hopefully that will happen sooner.
Eric Swenson, this is such a ripe opportunity for a political leader to own the crisis of mental health among young adults. I had a private word that I'll now make public with Chris Christie recently. Read the "Army Navy Game," and I bumped into him. And I said to him, you know, Governor, you really had a moment in 2016 when you talked about addiction in New Hampshire. Today, it's mental health and our kids. And I hope that he or someone else is going to take the bull by the horns in this issue.
Up ahead, after crashes and other mishaps, more than 360,000 of Elon Musk's Tesla's, including mine, are being recalled to fix the self- driving software. Do any federal agencies test such features before the cars are shipped? You might be surprised by the answer.
And sworn testimony, e-mails, texts show that Fox News executives and hosts new claims that the 2020 election were bogus, even as they aired stories saying otherwise. Guess what, Fox is uncovering the revelations. Would that matter to their viewers? That's the explanation for this week's poll question @smerconish.com. Go vote. Will Fox News lose credibility with its viewers if those viewers learned that the network's hosts and executives knew the 2020 conspiracy theories were BS?
SMERCONISH: This week, sworn testimony, internal e-mails and text messages excerpted in a new court filing lay bare the hypocrisy of Fox News talent and its executives. As seen in the $1.6 billion defamation suit against Fox by Dominion Voting Systems, they knew the 2020 election conspiracy theories airing on their network were bogus.
But despite notification and warning from Dominion, Dominion, a manufacturer of voting machines being blamed in some of those conspiracies, they kept giving the stories oxygen. "Really crazy stuff," wrote the man at the top Rupert Murdoch. Sean Hannity said Rudy Giuliani was quote, "acting like an insane person," to which Laura Ingraham concurred, "such an idiot." Tucker Carlson referred to Donald Trump as "a demonic force." Bret Baier correctly noted, "There is no evidence of fraud."
Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo were perhaps the worst offenders, each gave air to Trump lawyer Sidney Powell whom even Tucker Carlson deemed a liar.
The motion for summary judgment filed by Dominion is chock full of evidence of everything I have said here and on radio for years, namely that certain media are operating as the equivalent of pro wrestling. Only Fox hid from their viewers that they knew it was fake.
When Neil Cavuto cut away from a White House briefing from Kayleigh McEnany, when McEnany began making unsubstantiated allegations of fraud, Cavuto saying, I can't in good countenance continue to show you this. A Fox executive deemed him a brand threat. The Fox motive, it was not ideology, it was not an allegiance to Donald Trump, it was greed, pure and simple. They created an audience they could no longer control, an audience that believed the garbage they were putting on the air and they feared that they might lose that base to a competitor like Newsmax.
In an e-mail to Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott Murdoch wrote that Newsmax needed to be, quote, "watched." Adding that he didn't want to, quote, "antagonize Trump further" and stressing "everything at stake here."
And what might he have meant by everything? Well, despite the doomsdayers, the big three cable news networks earned an estimated 5.7 billion in advertising revenue and license fees. In 2022, up 3 percent from the previous year.
When Fox reporter, Jacqui Heinrich, fact checked a Trump tweet pointing out a lack of evidence of voter fraud, Tucker Carlson texted to Hannity, "Please get her fired. Seriously, what the eff? I'm actually shocked, it needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It's measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke."
By the way, last week, that same Tucker Carlson had the highest rated show on cable news with three and a half million viewers.
As Fox spokesperson has claimed that Dominion mischaracterized the record in its court filing and cherry picked the quotes that were stripped of any context.
Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the defamation action, the evidence is a stunning indictment of the Fox brand. But here's a question, will their audience ever know this? It's a real issue where so many live in media silos and don't listen or watch all sides. These revelations, they were huge news everywhere yesterday, just look at all the headlines, except on Fox, because they're not covering it.
Remember to vote. This week's poll question @smerconish.com right now, I'm asking the following, will Fox News lose credibility with its viewers if those viewers learn that the network's hosts and executives knew the 2020 conspiracy theories were BS?
Joining me now to discuss is Brian Rosenwald. He's a scholar in residence at the University of Pennsylvania. He's the author of "Talk Radio's America, How an Industry Took Over A Political Party That Took Over The United States."
Brian, welcome back. Thanks for being here. Is Fox News an outlier? Or is this the norm in a polarized media world?
BRIAN ROSENWALD, AUTHOR, "TALK RADIO'S AMERICA": Michael, is not an outlier at all. This is the norm for conservative media. As you and I have been telling people for years, this is a business, they care about the bottom line. And the one thing that they are worried about, is losing their audience, alienating their viewers. And so, here was a case where they really were concerned that if they told the truth, their audience was going to go find someone who told them what they wanted to hear.
SMERCONISH: Brian, this is not the 1990s. You know, they don't have the strangled -- Russia is no longer here. I think this was just the two-year anniversary of his passing. Fox doesn't have the stranglehold on conservatives that they did at one time. There's a lot of competition in the marketplace.
ROSENWALD: This is the key point, Michael, you know, in the 1990s, somebody who watched or listened to Rush or watch Fox in its early years, probably was also watching the nightly news or CNN or and consuming media like yourself. So, they were not living in this hermetically sealed world of conservative media. Flash forward to now and they have dozens of options and conservative media.
And so, what happens is, every host is worried about getting out flank, every host is worried about hearing that, you know, what happened to you, you sold out. You know, I can't trust you anymore. Why? Because even if they don't throw out the craziest theories themselves, they know their audience is getting this stuff from somewhere, it could just be video someone posted on Facebook, you know, we also have social media today, or it could be from Breitbart or Newsmax or, you know, any show that you can think up.
So, the end result here is that they're all worried about getting out flank, they're all worried about you not being far enough to the right or not being far enough to hating Democrats. And we -- you know, this explain why conservative media came around on Donald Trump. In 2016, there were plenty of hosts who either ripped him as unfit or were never Trumpers, and gradually they all came around, you know. And the reason they did was because they realized they were going to lose their audience if they didn't. The few hosts who didn't like Charlie Sykes in Milwaukee, they stopped being on conservative media because their audience evaporated.
SMERCONISH: I know that there are some watching, and I'll hear from them in the Twitter verse I'm sure, who say oh, why are you talking about your own network? Why are you talking about MSNBC? And I will be the first to acknowledge that polarization exists at both ends of the ideological spectrum.
In this particular case, democracy was at stake. I mean they were giving oxygen, they were giving oxygen to conspiracy theories that led to an attempted coup. And they knew it was bullshit. That's the difference.
ROSENWALD: I think you're 100 percent right. This is something that is toxic for democracy, that you have this medium that has a huge political impact that, you know, these guys are willing to do or say anything to make money. That's the bottom line from this. That there is no line, they will not cross if they think it's good for the bottom line. And the problem is, they have an enormous political impact with worrying about the wellbeing of the country.
They, you know, they worry about making money. And yet they have a huge influence on the type of person who votes in a Republican primary when 10 percent of people show up, which means that all of the Republican politicians are afraid of these guys, they're afraid of crossing them. And so, as these guys go further and further to the right, they see Democrats as evil, they play out the soap opera, they know it's a business. They know that, you know, as you said, it's pro wrestling. But the politicians have to take them seriously.
And that affects whether they're trying to address problems from the mental health type crisis that you're talking about in your first segment to anything else under the sun. Politicians don't want to do anything that they think is going to anger these hosts.
SMERCONISH: Brian, answer my poll question, what I'm essentially wondering is whether this would matter to the Fox viewer, if the Fox viewer even knew it was the case, because, you know, in half the country, this has been the page one dominant story in the last two days in a very busy news week, but it doesn't get any airing it all in conservative media. Would that base care? Give me the quick answer.
ROSENWALD: Absolutely not. They'll just say, it's media bias. They'll say you and I are bias. We're distorting things. We're twisting things, because we hate Fox.
SMERCONISH: Yes, but I've got the document here. I mean, even if Dominion loses the defamation action, it is an actual malice case. So there's a high standard. But you know, the sworn deposition testimony is what it is. The texts are what they are, the e-mails are what they are, like, there's no getting around the fact that this is what happened. It's just a little frustrating that half the country probably doesn't even know that's the case.
Anyway, thank you for being here as always. I always like to point out that Dr. Brian Rosenwald earned a PhD studying talk radio, like he's the expert.
Katherine (ph), what came in from the world of social media on this subject? What do we got? No. People no longer watch news to be informed they watch for personal.
Yes, you -- Arcar, it is -- it's true. It's like Pavlovian, you know? I want to be -- I want to appear smart with my friends and family.
Give me something that's going to reinforce the views that I already have. You know what I say? Get that clicker out, not at this moment, and change the channel. A mixed media diet is the way to remove us from, you know, a partisan ditch.
I watch Fox and I watch MSN, and of course I watch CNN. I want to see it all. It's the only way to be informed.
All right, before I get fired, let me quickly remind you, go to my website @smerconish.com. Will Fox News lose credibility with its own viewers if those viewers learned that the network's hosts and executives knew that 2020 conspiracy theories were bogus?
Up ahead this week, Tesla had to recall 360,000 cars because of dangers caused by the self-driving software. I'll talk to the former Navy pilot who warned the Highway Safety Administration after she analyzed hundreds of crashes involving that kind of autonomous system. And the prosecution rested in the trial of Alex Murdaugh, the disbarred South Carolina lawyer accused of killing his wife and 22- year-old son. And it's possible that it's 61st and final witness may have been the most damning. I'll talk to a reporter who's been on the case and in that courtroom.
SMERCONISH: My car has just been recalled. It's one of more than 360,000 Teslas equipped with full-serve driving, the driver assistance. In response CEO Elon Musk tweeted this. He said, "The word recall for an over-the-air software update is anachronistic and just flat wrong."
The technology in my car it allows the vehicle to steer, to accelerate, to brake and to change lanes on its own. Last fall, my next guest sent a document to colleague at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration noting that when people use such technology and die or are injured in a car crash, they are more likely to have been speeding than people driving cars on their own.
Joining me now is Missy Cummings. She was one of the first female U.S. Navy fighter pilots, a professor now of robotics and autonomy at George Mason University, and most relevant for our purposes she spent more than a year as senior safety adviser to NHTSA. Dr. Cummings, thanks so much for being here. How much government oversight was involved in allowing my car to initially even get on the roadway?
MISSY CUMMINGS, PROFESSOR OF ROBOTICS AND AUTONOMY, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY: None really. I mean, other than --
SMERCONISH: What do you mean?
CUMMINGS: Yes. So, we have a rulebook. It's called the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. And if your car when it's built, if it meets all the rules in that rulebook, the auto manufacturers do not have to ask permission to put a car on the road. So no evaluation was ever done by anyone other than Tesla or any other manufacturer.
SMERCONISH: I mean, I think that's pretty stunning. I for one did not know until reading in on all the Tesla and corresponding issues, but it's a system of self-certification that we have in this country.
Is that the way that it is globally?
CUMMINGS: No, indeed we use self-certification here, but we have in the world there are preapproval processes, most notably in Europe. So in Europe, you can't get full self-driving in many countries because they have said, no, that's not preapproved because it's not safe enough.
SMERCONISH: What do you think accounts for your finding in those crashes that you looked at where there was a likelihood that people were using the self-driving and speeding more so than you would see in people who are operating their own vehicle in a traditional sense?
CUMMINGS: Yes, first I'd like to point out this is under the Standing General Order Data and it's accessible to everyone on the public. You can go to NHTSA's Web site right now, download the data set and see for yourself. And I do think what accounts for it is people are getting injured and/or killed more in ADAS vehicles because they are speeding.
We see, you know, the trend was very clear in the data. People are setting the speed limit to not the speed of the car to nine miles over the speed limit. I do it myself. So, I know that thinking. And -- but the difference between people in an ADAS equipped car and myself is, I'm still paying attention, even though I've set the cruise control to nine miles over the speed limit.
People in ADAS equipped vehicles are relaxing. They are being told they can go hands free. Even if it's just for 30 seconds and they will do other things in the car and they will put their feet somewhere else in the car. And then all of a sudden something goes wrong and you're speeding. You're going too fast for the conditions. People tend to over control the steering wheel and we see lots of crashes as a result.
SMERCONISH: It's not just a Tesla thing, right? I mean, Tesla takes all the oxygen out of the room because of the personality at the top. But we're talking about a much more widespread issue.
CUMMINGS: Absolutely. And this is what I find most concerning is we're advocating for people to go hands free. When car manufacturers are advertising for you, yes, you should buy our car because you can go hands free.
The problem with that is, can you go hands free for a couple seconds to pick up your coffee? Yes. We all know it because we have been there. But when you encourage people to go hands free, people will take extended periods of time and hands free equals mind free.
And people will start paying attention to something else and looking down at their phone, playing with the radio, playing with the telematics on the system, because they feel comfortable. So really kind of what we're seeing is ADAS equipped cars are causing people to be far more over trusting of the technology than is probably safe.
SMERCONISH: Dr. Cummings, thanks so much for your expertise. I really appreciate it.
CUMMINGS: Thank you for having me.
SMERCONISH: Checking in on more social media reaction. What do we have? From the world of YouTube.
Autonomous driving is coming. It's just a matter of time. By the way, George Jetson was born in 2022. Hey, Antiquexray, I love my car. I want Tesla to succeed and to thrive. I'm surprised. The reason that I asked Dr. Cummings the first question that I did is because -- and I should know better as a trial lawyer, I'm surprised that a vehicle gets on the roadway without government inspection and oversight. It's self-certification. And we leave it to the auto manufacturers.
I think, the world will be a safer place when we're all using this technology. But the issue of human factors is away we're talking about. And, you know, that's still a part of the dynamic.
All right. Still to come, the latest from the trial of lawyer Alex Murdaugh. I have been playing close attention to this. He's on trial for the murder of his wife and son. So, the prosecution is now rested after somewhat controversially being allowed to introduce information about Murdaugh's financial crimes. What's going to happen next? I will talk to Valerie Bauerlein. She has been in the courtroom every day.
And remember to answer this week's poll question at Smerconish.com. Will Fox News lose credibility with its own viewers if they learn that the network's hosts and executives knew 2020 conspiracy theories were BS?
SMERCONISH: After four weeks, the prosecution has rested in its case against disbarred South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh for the June 2021 killings of his wife Maggie and 22-year-old son Paul. They presented 61 witnesses, more than 500 pieces of evidence, trying to explain the murders as Murdaugh's desperation move to generate sympathy because his extensive financial fraud was about to be exposed.
Witnesses this week included Maggie's older sister Marian Proctor, Murdaugh's law school roommate Chris Wilson. The prosecution's final witness was, to me, the most damaging, Peter Rudofski. He coordinated SUV and phone data to track Murdaugh's movements on the night of murder. And now it's the defense's turn before the case gets turned over to the jury. Two of the jurors were disqualified on Monday after testing positive for COVID narrowing the poll of alternatives to just three.
Joining me now is Valerie Bauerlein, national reporter for the "Wall Street Journal." She's long been covering this case and has been in the courtroom every day. Thank you so much for coming back. You know, often unless a defendant takes the stand, jurors never get to hear his or her version. But, Valerie, in this case, they have heard a hell of a lot from Alex.
VALERIE BAUERLEIN, REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: They have. They have heard at point, you know, three -- four recorded interviews with Alex in his own voice explaining what happened the night of the murders and then what happened later on and (INAUDIBLE) bizarre roadside shooting. So, they have heard hours of testimony from Alex himself effectively. SMERCONISH: Do you agree with me that witness 61 with the triangulation of the phone records and the OnStar data from General Motors was probably the most compelling of the prosecution, maybe that's why they saved it for last?
BAUERLEIN: I thought -- I tend to agree with you. It was a very effective testimony just to walk us through, you know, minute by minute, many times second by second, every moment of Alex's whereabouts that night and Maggie's and Paul's. And it was really revealing because I think we know intuitively, I think we all have them, that our phone knows everything about him. It knows our every move. And that was what was so compelling.
SMERCONISH: Valerie, he's definitely a liar. It doesn't make him a murderer. I still am questioning whether all of the evidence of the financial crimes should have come in.
BAUERLEIN: There is a -- there is a significant question about that. And the defense has said they will -- if he is convicted they will appeal on what we have effectively had trials within trials. All this financial evidence about this long running fraud that he's accused of, the insurance fraud he's accused of. We have essentially had three trials within one trial. And it has been dizzying at time I'm sure for the jurors. But the lead prosecutor Creighton Waters said, you know, this week, judge, they just got to know this is a -- this is a case of unprecedented complexity. They have got to understand that. They have got to see how complex it is.
SMERCONISH: Here's the thing. If he didn't do it, someone else had a very narrow window to get on that property, take possession of the two different family guns, kill both the wife and son and then get off the property without leaving a trace.
BAUERLEIN: That's true. Someone would have had a very narrow window to accomplish all that but it cuts both ways, right? I mean, if Alex did do it there's a (INAUDIBLE) to kill two people, clean up all the evidence and leave. That's, you know, 16 (ph) minute (INAUDIBLE) is what the prosecution is alleging. So either way, it's not clear how all this was done in such a short amount of time, whoever the guilty party is.
SMERCONISH: Final thought, prosecution not obligated to prove motive. But, of course, the jurors and the public, you know, we want to know. Like, why? How? You know, why would he have done this?
I don't see the consistency in the motive issue. I think they put on a very compelling case, but does it necessarily follow that you kill your wife and your young son because the financial walls are closing in?
BAUERLEIN: And that's where the defense has made that argument and said, look, we concede. And the jury has heard from his own mouth in one of his interviews he acknowledges a lot of financial wrong doing. The defense has said, yes, OK, set that aside. Why does it follow that because he was getting ready to -- potentially was getting to, you know, have -- be revealed as a fraud, but why would he kill his wife and son who he loved and demonstrably so.
SMERCONISH: We'll see what happens this week with the defense presentation. Valerie Bauerlein, thank you so much. I appreciate it.
BAUERLEIN: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Watch the three-part docuseries "LOW COUNTRY, THE MURDAUGH DYNASTY." It starts tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. eastern time on CNN. Where, by the way, Randi Kaye, I think, has turned in some great reporting on the trial.
All right. Still to come, the final result of this week's poll question. Will you please go to Smerconish.com right now? Consider subscribing to the daily newsletter while you're there. It's free and it's worthy.
This is the poll question. Will Fox News lose credibility with its own viewers if those viewers find out, hey, the network hosts and executives, they knew all that 2020 stuff was BS.
SMERCONISH: All right. There it is, the result of this week's poll question. Wow. Look at that voting, 36,000 and change. Will Fox News lose credibility with its viewers if they learn, meaning the viewers, that the network has knew all that conspiracy talk was BS? And two- thirds of you are saying, no, they won't lose credibility with their viewers.
Interesting because that was Brian Rosenwald's answer when I talked to him earlier in the program about exactly this. It's like, oh, all a left wing conspiracy. Like even -- I have posted on my Web site today the Dominion Motion for Summary Judgment. To look at the texts, to look at the deposition testimony, to look at the emails is pretty damn compelling, right? I mean, maybe it's been taken out of context, but this is what they were saying to one another.
How do you get around that? How is that not a turnoff to the base? Well, the base doesn't know about it.
What do we have, Catherine, from the world of social media? They probably won't even know it happened. They aren't going to talk about it.
No, they haven't at all, right. And they're not talking about it in conservative media. Right. And, you know, there's an outlet called Ground News which shows you what's missing from the left and what's missing from the right in line with me saying you've got to read it all if you want to be on top of the news.
What else came in? No, unfortunately it appears the majority of Fox viewers are happy in their echo chamber. I find it hard to believe that many people didn't know they were being lied to.
Well, OK. So, Meral Palmer, maybe they did know. Maybe they did know. I mean, maybe this is another manifestation of tribalism when we look past the deficiencies of candidates who are running under our party's label because after all, as bad as they might be, they're not as bad as the opponent. I think there's a lot of that at play here as well. One more if I have got time for it, and I think I do.
Smerconish, social media is the biggest scourge -- it is. Absolutely. Unless it is reined in, youth suicide will continue to grow.
Carmella, I agree with that. To look at the CDC report and see the alarming data about boys and girls, but particularly our girls, what has changed? You know, what has changed in the last decade to bring about a spike like this? It is the fact that in about 2012, you know, more than half the country had a smartphone. It was the advent of the selfie era and all that competition that we weren't subject to back in the day but they are, you know, in home room, et cetera, has got to be a driving factor on all of this. Read the CDC report.
Follow me please on social media. If you don't, you're missing things like this, which is a video that we tweeted out -- I almost said treated out. Yes, look at that. Who knew I was so nimble? Gang, thank you for watching. See you next week.