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Oklahoma Teachers Walk Out Despite Pay Raise; Pelosi Stops Short of Calling on Esty To Resign; TV Anchors Forced to Read Script Bashing Fake News. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired April 2, 2018 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: But just a little bit about your lives. What time are you up in the morning, how many jobs do you have to work to make ends meet?

JESSICA LIGHTLE, OKLAHOMA SCHOOL TEACHER ON STRIKE: We both work two jobs. We're up at 7 -- well, we're at work at 7:45 and we're there till 3:15 and then we do work after school on work and we have another job. I work 20 hours a week at my other job and it's with online work, so I am able to be here to protest. And he works 15 hours a week extra. So, we're lucky that we can be here.

BALDWIN: OK. So, you're there and despite all of these hours and all the noise, if you guys can hear me --

LIGHTLE: I don't know if you can hear us, but we're losing signal.

BALDWIN: It's OK. Let's try. I'll keep talking. Can you hear me? You're live on CNN, is that better? Shall we go back to them? You guys let me know. All right, we'll move on, maybe we can get Jason and Jessica Lightle back because it's important to hear what they're asking. They're back. Are they back? Jason and Jessica?


BALDWIN: Here we go. This is what I want to know. Tell me why you're striking today.

JESSICA LIGHTLE: I'm striking because of the conditions of our school. If you go to my Facebook page, Jessica Lightle, you'll see videos of the condition of our schools and the experience of our students. We have 1999 published technology books. How can we be viable in the global community? We need infrastructure help from our legislature because our communities are too low income to pass enough bonds to help with the structure that's crumbling underneath or to pay our aides enough to be able to afford their lives.

JASON LIGHTLE: Yes. I didn't get involved in this until after they passed the bill out of the house. When I took a look at it, the teaching salary raise looked decent. It was close to the full ask for the first year. There's some funding issues that I don't really want to go into because they're really complicated, and you need a pen and paper to go through them. The part that really struck me was that the support staff, I work in special ed, and we depend on our support staff at every level to get that job done. And it was hard enough to walk into the school with what the teachers were making and look at the support staff and be able to feel like you were -- they were being treated fairly.


JASON LIGHTLE: Some of these people take home -- they take home less than the average rent is for the area. We're talking about under $1,000. One lady, she takes home $500. And when I first saw her and met her, I thought that she was either a district or a state employee that was coming to visit the school because she is so professional. For them to only get the raise that they received is just -- a buddy of mine at school said, you know, that really equates to being about a pizza night a month for them when you really get to it.

BALDWIN: I'm listening so carefully. I cannot imagine the burden, the difficulty to do so much with so little. At the same time, I'm sure parents are saluting you for what you're asking for, but they're not able to take their kids, many of whom are juggling multiple jobs just like you all are. And now they don't have a place to take their kids because, you know, the teachers are striking. So, what's your message to those moms and dads?

JESSICA LIGHTLE: We appreciate them. Our community is wholly supportive and they're giving as much as they can. We have donations of hundreds of bags of food a week. We have donations of clothes and everything that they can do. They paint our hallways. They give us everything they have, but they're running out of resources. Our superintendent, our administrators, they work around the clock for us and they advocate for us on every level and they use all of the money that they are given to make repairs. They dig and dig and dig trenches around our school to stop flooding. They can't stop it.

JASON LIGHTLE: If I may, this didn't start today. It didn't start -- this walkout did not start on April 2nd. This walkout started a long time ago, but it was silent people walking out to other states for better opportunities. This walkout that we're doing today is bringing it to the attention, almost like a hail Mary pass to say, look, man, this entire educational system has been neglected too long. This is only my second year teaching. When I got in and saw what was going on, I was like, man, I don't know. She's taught for 14 years. I didn't know the stories that she was telling me were as bad as they are, and I don't think the public understands it's as bad as it is. We want people to go online and look at all the stuff --

BALDWIN: Jason and Jessica, I appreciate you. I know it's really loud. We'll continue obviously covering the voices of these teachers both in Oklahoma and Kentucky over how many days it takes. Thank you both so much. We're going to move on.

Stunning remarks being likened to state media. One media company forcing local news anchors across the country to read scripts that echo President Trump's messaging on fake news. As tensions rise, critics are calling this chilling propaganda.

Plus, a Connecticut congresswoman in damage control today and all weekend. Elizabeth Esty writing a letter to her colleagues explaining why she kept her former chief of staff on for months after he was accused of threatening one of her female staffers. So, I'll talk live to a state lawmaker from the same party. Also, a Democrat who says this congresswoman needs to go.


BALDWIN: Connecticut Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty is digging in her heels, refusing these calls for her to resign. This amid reports that she kept her chief of staff on her payroll for three months after allegations he threatened and harassed a female staffer. The congresswoman spent the weekend in what one person described as damage control mode. She has been working the phones, calling Democratic leaders to get their thoughts.

She reached out to her congressional colleagues in a letter in which she writes in part, how did I not know? How did I not see it? What I do know is that wasn't an isolated incident on Capitol Hill and that we can, and I must do better to ensure a safe environment for our employees. As members of Congress, we are all responsible for ensuring that we provide a safe and supportive environment for our staff.

[15:40:00] I can't rewrite the past, but I can help rewrite the future. Adding to that, Nancy Pelosi just issued a statement moments ago. Saying this, as Congresswoman Esty has acknowledged, her actions did not protect Ms. Kain and should have, although she stopped short of calling for Esty's resignation. With me now Esty's Democratic colleague from the state of Connecticut, State Senator Mae Flexer. Welcome.

MAE FLEXER, (D) State Senator, Connecticut: Thank you, good afternoon. Thanks for having me.

BALDWIN: I read that you were the first congresswoman -- you were the first in her own party at the state level to say that Esty should resign. I want you to tell me the number one reason that you think she has to go.

FLEXER: Well, I think the number one reason is that in totality, Congresswoman Esty handled this situation very poorly. She didn't protect the safety of the victim, she didn't respect the horrible ordeal that the victim had endured, and she didn't respect the rest of her staff by allowing her chief of staff to continue to be her chief of staff for three months after she learned of the allegations is completely unacceptable.

BALDWIN: You heard me read part of her letter where she said she can't rewrite the past but wants to help right the future. Do you buy that?

FLEXER: I know the congresswoman has been a champion on a lot of issues important to women and I know she wants to do better. I just believe this mistake is too egregious for her to get past and it's time to step aside.

BALDWIN: I read the entire letter and I know you did as well. Never did I see an explanation as to why she kept this man on staff for three months after she found out about the abuse and number two, why she wrote a reference letter for him to get another job.

FLEXER: Right. I can't understand all of that either. I think at the very least it's a reasonable expectation that congresswoman Esty should have suspended her chief of staff immediately. Instead, we know that this situation was known to other members of her staff. And so, when her staff found out that the congresswoman finally knew, they must have had an expectation that Congresswoman Esty would act swiftly. It was probably their worst nightmare that not only did the congresswoman not act but that he continued to lead that staff for three months after the fact. And she took him to the Democratic National Convention with her, which any other member of her staff would have died to accompany her to the national convention. So just so many mistakes, unfortunately.

BALDWIN: What would you say to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who doesn't go quite as far as you do, senator?

FLEXER: Well, you know, I can only speak for myself when I know what's in my heart. When I read these reports on Thursday night and on Friday and I thought about the totality of the situation and, frankly, what it been like for Ms. Kain and to be the other members of the congresswoman's staff, I just knew that I couldn't be silent and I needed to step forward regardless of party to say that these actions are unforgivable and this is not what we should expect from our elected leaders. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard. All work places should be free from harassment and violence. That's what I'm working on here in the state of Connecticut and I think we should expect the same from our members of congress.

BALDWIN: State Senator Mae Flexer, thank you so much.

FLEXER: You got it.

BALDWIN: Sinclair Broadcasting has just responded to outrage that it required it's local tv anchors from 200 tv stations to read these scripts bashing so-called fake news. I can tell you they are definitely not apologizing. We'll be right back.


BALDWIN: Fake news, biased media, unfair coverage. It is the kind of thing we routinely hear from President Trump. But tune into one of nearly 200 local TV stations across the country owned by broadcast giant Sinclair and you will hear echoes of Trump sentiments coming from your local Sinclair news anchors. It is a mandate from the company that they read the Sinclair script. Deadspin took bits of dozens of Sinclair anchors from these stations and you can hear from yourself from different parts of the country these men and women are saying virtually the exact same thing.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The sharing of biased -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, some of these outlets publish these things as true without checking facts first. Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda and control exactly what people think. This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.


BALDWIN: Robert Thompson is with me. He is the director of the Center for Media Studies at Syracuse University. Nice to have you on, sir. You know, when you watch that, and that was just a blip, right, of all the nearly word-for-word scripting, did that make you a little queasy?

ROBERT THOMPSON, DIRECTOR OF THE CENTER FOR MEDIA STUDIES, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY: Every time I hear it, and it's been a number of times, I suddenly feel like one of the children of the corn. I want to go and join a Sinclair station.

[15:50:00] Yes, it's very creepy. It's got this -- remember that super bowl commercial back in 1984 for Apple where the authoritarian character was on the big screen in front of all suddenly feel like one of the children of the corn. I want to go and join a Sinclair station. Yes, it's very creepy. It's got this -- remember that super bowl commercial back in 1984 for Apple where the authoritarian character was on the big screen in front of all of these people? When you hear that many people who are supposed to be local voices speaking the exact same word, it becomes almost mantra like and it is very creepy.

Especially given the history of regulation in this country of broadcasting. Forget FCC. This goes back to the FRC, the Federal Radio Commission. One of its basic principles in the beginning was to protect local voices over big national conglomerated voices and this certainly doesn't give us that impression.

BALDWIN: OK, so here is how Sinclair sees it. They've just responded to all this criticism that has come in the wake of that video. The Senior Vice President of News Scott Livingston who is defending the promos quote, as a well researched journalistic initiative focused on fair and objective reporting. Care to comment?

THOMPSON: Maybe it was. That comment itself sounds it came out of same robot that was saying all these things. And I don't know exactly what that means. I'm sure they did some research. What I find most fascinating about this story is that it shows the power of a good mash-up. This story has been being reported for quite some time. You guys, CNN Money has been promoting on this since last month.

And John Oliver has been talking about the issues with Sinclair since July. Everybody has been talking because of the desire to acquire all these new stations with Tribune. But Deadspin puts this mash-up together all of a sudden that completely catapults this story to a whole new audience. John Oliver picks it up again last night after the weekend, having gone viral. It makes one rethink how to cover stories like this. Deadspin thing didn't last very long and it was very effective.

BALDWIN: It is very effective. I think about these local TV anchors. I worked in local for all of my 20s. You work for the big companies and you don't always know who the big boss is. I thank goodness wasn't told to do certain things but some of these anchors, do you think some of these anchors were actually quite young actually were aware of what they were reading?

THOMPSON: I think many were told, that you have to do this. This is sent down from above. I think probably older more experienced ones had more -- they were more predisposed to getting upset and angry about it. I don't know about the others. It depends on what journalist professors they had.

Needless to say, a lot of this isn't new. Affiliated stations with networks run network packages all the time. And Sinclair has all these must-run editorials and packages. This was different in that wasn't just running a package that the mother ship gave them. It was making the local people read the same exact script. And I think even if you were fresh out of college doing that, if that didn't make you feel a little queasy, I think you maybe are in the wrong business. It should have made them feel queasy.

BALDWIN: A good lecture lesson from Syracuse. Thank you so much. Appreciate you. We are just a couple minutes away from the closing bell. The Dow down massively on this afternoon, in part partially because of President Trump's attacks, very public attacks on Amazon. We are live in the New York Stock Exchange in minutes.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the win! She takes the national championship! For Notre Dame!

BALDWIN: Swish! That was a dramatic ending. Can you imagine? For the Women's College Basketball Championship game. Arike Ogunbowale hit the buzzer as time ran out, Notre Dame knocking off Mississippi State. The second time in a tournament Ogunbowale hit a shot in the final seconds of the semi final to carry the Irish to victory. Tonight is the guys' turn. That's at 9:00 Eastern on TBS. We'll hand things off early to Washington with my colleague, Jake Tapper. Thanks for being with me. "THE LEAD" starts now.