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Roseanne Barr Blames Ambien for Racist Tweet. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired May 30, 2018 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Red-state America could not be better represented than Roseanne Barr.

[05:59:21] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tone does start at the top. It's up to all of us to push back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was a joke. It was a miscalculated joke.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ABC knew what they were getting into when they signed up Roseanne.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you don't condemn things like this, than you're complicit.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They had people infiltrating our campaign. Can you imagine?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The FBI did exactly what citizens would want them to do.

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It has nothing to do with Donald Trump.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, "NEW YORK TIMES" CORRESPONDENT/CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (via phone): The president directly asked the attorney general to unrecuse in the Russia investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It may be that this is an appropriate use of his authority.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president has tried to do everything he can to either dismiss the investigation or just to get it to stop.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY, Wednesday, May 30, 6 a.m. here in New York. The starting line is this.

Hurricane Roseanne still pounding the political and social landscape. And by that, I mean, right now it is still going on. She's been up all night, defending herself after she was fired from one of the most popular shows on television for flat-out racist comments about former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett.

Dozens and dozens and dozens of tweets and retweets. I think we're up over 100 at this point. She's blaming Ambien for what happened. She's saying she thought Jarrett was Saudi or Iranian, as if that helps, and not black. And what's most interesting, she's suggesting she was not fired because of the repugnant comments she made but perhaps because of her support for President Trump.

As for President Trump, who initially wrapped himself in "Roseanne's" ratings, he has been silent. The White House says he's got no time to talk about this because of North Korea, even though he has found time to comment on everything from the Russia investigation to his hand size in the last 12 hours.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, a key Republican coming to the defense of the FBI in shooting down President Trump's conspiracy theory about the FBI planting a spy in his campaign.

Congressman Trey Gowdy, who was part of that classified intel briefing, said the FBI did exactly what it was supposed to do while investigating Russian interference in the election. Let that one sink in for a minute.

And "The New York Times" reporting the president tried to pressure Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse his recusal from the Russia probe, to unrecuse himself. Sessions refused to do so. That could play into Robert Mueller's investigation of obstruction of justice. So we have all of this covered for you.

Let's begin with our senior media correspondent, Brian Stelter.

Brian, what a 24 hours it has been for Roseanne and her cast and everyone who's worked on that show.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's been head- spinning for Hollywood and for Barr and for her fans and for her detractors.

Look, ABC knew it was playing with fire when it hired Roseanne, when it brought her show back in the first place. It thought they could control the fire. The executives thought they'd be able to manage the fire, have her tone down her tweets, drop the conspiracy theories. But they were wrong.

Now Roseanne is trying to have it both ways. She's deeply apologizing but also promoting new conspiracy theories.


STELTER (voice-over): Roseanne Barr making excuses for her racist tweet comparing one of President Obama's top advisors, Valerie Jarrett, to an ape. Barr now blames the sleeping pill Ambien and claims she didn't know Jarrett is black. The star repeatedly apologizing after ABC pulled the plug on a hit reboot of her sit-com, "Roseanne."

ROSEANNE BARR, COMEDIAN: Thank you for making America great again.

STELTER: But Barr undermining her own apology with a torrent of retweets from fans, portraying her as a victim of a liberal double standard. The comedian also retweeting a number of fake and offensive posts, including this fake yearbook quote, claiming Jarrett wanted to change America to be a more Islamic country, also later deleted.

Jarrett is taking the high road, responding to Barr's initial tweet on Tuesday night.

VALERIE JARRETT, FORMER AIDE TO PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think we have to turn it into a teaching moment. I'm fine. I'm worried about all the people out there who don't have a circle of friends and followers who come right to their defense.

Those ordinary examples of racism that happen every single day.

STELTER: Executives at ABC and Disney decided within hours to end the show, first speaking with Roseanne by phone, then publicly announcing the cancellation, writing, "Roseanne's Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values."

Disney CEO Bob Iger adding, "There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing."

Roseanne's talent agency, ICM Partners, also dropping her as a client.

Behind the scenes some of Roseanne's co-stars were already planning to quit, including actress Emma Kenney, who plays Roseanne's granddaughter, and Wanda Sykes, one of the show's consulting producers.

But Barr has spent years posting derogatory material online and peddling right-wing conspiracy theories. Recently, she falsely accused a survivor of the Parkland massacre of giving a Nazi salute at a protest. That was based on a doctored photo.

She also promoted the Pizzagate conspiracy, falsely claiming that Democrats were running a child-sex trafficking ring out of this Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant.

This time, though, ABC said she had gone too far.

President Trump, meantime, keeping silent about the controversy Tuesday night, despite praising "Roseanne" when the show premiered in March.

TRUMP: And look at Roseanne. I called her yesterday. Look at her ratings.

They were unbelievable. Over 18 million people. And it was about us.

STELTER: Trump's son, however, did weigh in, retweeting two of Roseanne's outlandish tweets, calling billionaire Democratic donor George Soros "a Nazi who turned in his fellow Jews to be murdered." Trump Jr. insisting that Barr's tweet was not anti-Semitic.


[06:05:11] STELTER: Now, even as we're speaking, Roseanne is still retweeting her fans, talking to her fans on Twitter. It's interesting, because this time yesterday she said she would quit Twitter. She would leave the platform that's gotten her in so much trouble.

Right now, John, Alison, she says she's being censored. She's retweeting friends of hers, fans of hers who are saying she's being punished for her pro-Trump views. She's basically grabbing at whatever she can grab at, among what her fans are saying, to promote herself and make her -- make her fans feel better about the situation.

I think this surge of retweets -- you called it a hurricane, John -- it's just giving ABC more confidence in the decision to let her go.

CAMEROTA: All right, Brian, stay with us, if you would. We have a lot more to ask you about.

We also want to bring in national reporter for "The Washington Post," Wes Lowery. Wes, thank you so much for being here.

About that issue, about her saying she's been fired for her political views because she supports Trump. In fact, it's exactly the opposite, Wes. ABC hired her right after the election because of her political views when they realized that they were going to have to appeal to Trump country and to all of the, you know, millions of people who voted for Donald Trump and loved Donald Trump.

And they thought that Roseanne was the vehicle to do that, because she is a Trump supporter and because her, you know, show sort of had such -- I mean, her show was great. Her -- she had a great show. It was about sort of this blue-collar ethos. And now in the reboot, it's about sort of multiculturalism invading the Midwestern blue-collar ethos. And it's just a shame that it blew up like this.

WES LOWERY, NATIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Sure. As someone who as a child watched the original "Roseanne" and today didn't spend too much time watching the current "Roseanne," you know, I will say, while she's claiming that she has lost her job because of her Trump support, the reality is she only received this job because of that support largely, right? The masses were not crying out for a reboot of a '90s sitcom. We've actually seen many of those.

And even though the show did see some early success, you know, ABC, one -- this was kind of a long time coming. It was, in many ways, a question of when something like this would happen and how ABC would handle it. And while ABC did very quickly handle this, put out statements firing them. And Brian and others have done really good reporting, kind of beginning to suss out the tick tock of what exactly happened here, there is -- you know, one of my main questions remains had ABC drawn a red line previously, right?

This is something that was very predictable. Roseanne has spent years sending out tweets that really are excerpts of comments sections from the Internet, right? Right-wing conspiracy theorists, all types of, at times, racism, anti-Semitism. What we wonder -- what I wondered, at least, is had ABC initially -- said something to her initially that, "Look, if you cross this type of line, we're pulling the plug"? Is this something she knew was possible or could come if she did something like this? And then last night, or a night ago, in what was clearly a late-night set of tweets, finally, she walked up or crossed that line.

BERMAN: Brian, what's the answer?

STELTER: My sense back in March when the show premiered with record ratings, was that ABC executives felt they couldn't control Roseanne Barr. That one of the reasons why she's such a famous and successful comedian is because you can't tame her, you can't control her.

However, there have been conversations with her manager, her publicist, her producers about toning down the tweets, about taking it down a notch or two. About trying to bring the fire down. And time after time, that didn't happen. There were three or four skirmishes like this, not nearly as bad as this, but there were a few other skirmishes where she would post something inappropriate. Then she would apologize. She'd promise to get off Twitter, and then she would end up back on Twitter a week or two later.

Look, I love Twitter. I understand the desire to be back on there chatting with your fans. But this was hurting Barr again and again and again. And Tuesday was ABC being fed up and saying enough is enough. One of the sources there said to me, "Look, this is the third or fourth flare-up. We had talked to her time and time again about this, and we'd had enough."

BERMAN: ABC has clearly tried to ride lightning here. They were joking about her tweets at the upfronts two weeks ago. They knew this was an issue. They were going with it as long as they possibly could.

Wes, to your point, which is so interesting, your point, Alisyn, that you know, she wasn't fired because of the racist stuff or Trump support. She was hired because of Trump support.

There's actually a tweet which she retweeted, Wes, which I just have to read because it's fascinating. "The Roseanne thing was always a proxy for President Trump. There are people suggesting that" -- Roseanne retweeting this -- "they brought the show back so they could inevitably cancel the show when she said something they didn't like."


BERMAN: A circular conspiracy theory right there. ABC only put the show on so they could cancel it and stick it to President Trump right there. And this is --

CAMEROTA: Because networks love losing millions of dollars in advertising. They love that business model.

BERMAN: It's bonkers. And you know, just undermines -- STELTER: It plays into this idea of conservative victimhood. It's a very powerful feeling among some of Trump's fans.

BERMAN: Does it undermine, Wes, the entire attempted apology from Roseanne?

[06:10:02] LOWERY: Well, I think a lot of her behavior has. You know, I think we have to remember one of the first things she said when this initially became a firestorm yesterday, to Andrew Kaczynski, a CNN reporter, was this was all a joke. Right?

And then she later on said, "Oh, no, you're right. I crossed the line. And this was uncalled for and wrong."

Well, it's one or the other. Either this was an intended joke that did not land or you said something racist you're apologizing for. It can't be -- can't be both things.

And so I do think that she has -- in many ways, her public statements, her retweeting, her behavior online has shown that perhaps there is not sincere contrition here. Again, obviously, I don't know what's deep inside Roseanne Barr's heart, but again, her behavior publicly doesn't seem to suggest that this is someone who realizes that this is out of line.

But that said, it would be quite -- quite an impressive bank shot if ABC had, in fact, spent millions of dollars to hire someone, only to fire them later. I mean, that -- there are some smart folks at ABC and Disney, but that's -- that would be pretty remarkable.

BERMAN: We work in TV. We know people in TV aren't capable of being that smart. Right?

CAMEROTA: Not a lot of strategery happening here.

But Brian, when I first read her tweets before she was fired --


CAMEROTA: -- I thought something is awry here. And I thought, "This is somebody who is mentally not well. I mean it was so -- they were so strange, so hateful, so racist, and so public for a big star. And I thought something is wrong that somebody can act like this by night and be a high-functioning big star by day.

And then she explained -- I mean, this is part of her explanation about the Ambien, that she was hopped up on Ambien. I mean, this is now what she says happened. Let me read it: "Guys, I did something unforgivable, so do not defend me," she's saying to her supporters this morning. "It was 2 in the morning, and I was Ambien tweeting. It was Memorial Day, too. I went too far and do not want it defended. It was egregious, indefensible. I made a mistake. I wish I hadn't, but don't defend me."

Then she goes down and she says, "I'm not giving excuses for what I did tweeted. But I've done weird stuff while on Ambien. I've cracked eggs on the wall at 2 a.m., et cetera."

BERMAN: Ambien makes people racist. I don't know that was a side effect.

CAMEROTA: Well, listen, I mean, I heard you, but Ambien has been known for people sleep driving, sleep eating, doing strange things. Who knows?

But truly, I thought there was a substance involved when I first read her tweets.

STELTER: Which of course, anything is possible. There could be any number of chemicals or substances involved in this. In that case, take away the Twitter account. Take away the smart phone. She's got friends and family and staffers around her. Take away the phone.

I think Disney here, you know, one of the biggest companies in the world, is drawing a line. They're saying there are certain things that are not acceptable, not acceptable to mainstream America. It's -- you cannot be racist on Twitter and then have a TV show. You cannot promote crazy conspiracy theories to your millions of fans and have a TV show.

CAMEROTA: Well, you could --

STELTER: What she's doing now --

CAMEROTA: She was doing Pizzagate and the craziest conspiracy theories.


CAMEROTA: And had a TV show. It was when she crossed the line, Brian, as you're saying with the racist tweet.

STELTER: And maybe there's some regret now about letting it go on this now.

BERMAN: With the Ambien, if your racism lasts longer than four hours, call a doctor. You know, it's a hard excuse to have when there's the history there.

And Wes, to the racism point, among the things that she was tweeting overnight -- and Brian alluded to this in the piece -- is this explanation, she didn't think Valerie Jarrett was black? Let me just put this up here, this stream of tweets and retweets. "I thought she was Saudi. I honestly thought she was Jewish and Persian. Ignorant of me, for sure. But I did. Yes, I mistakenly thought she was white."

I just don't see how this helps the "not really racist" argument.

LOWERY: Sure. And there's also some -- those tweets actually, in fact, kind of contradict each other. She named multiple ethnicities that she believes, allegedly, that Valerie Jarrett was, which doesn't make this completely believable. Beyond that, even if this was a specific joke, it wouldn't even really

make sense if you thought Valerie Jarrett was white. Right, again, Roseanne's initial defense was that this was a joke that did not land. That joke doesn't make sense if you think Valerie Jarrett is white. It just functionally doesn't work.

But beyond that, I do think it's important that Roseanne, for better or for worse, has created a great opportunity to talk about some of this. And I do think that something can be racist, something can be insensitive, something can be anti-Semitic, even if the speaker does not realize the ways in which they are.

At the end of the day, if you have a platform of millions of people, and you're comparing whether you agree with her politics or not, Valerie Jarrett is one of the most prominent, successful black women in our politics. Comparing that person to the -- you know, to the child of apes or to a terrorist organization is, based on the history of our nation, something that is racist.

And I do think that this is a unique opportunity to talk about sometimes how, yes, just -- even if you do not understand that something is racist or you do not understand the history of it, that statement itself is racist.

And Roseanne, again, the most good-faith explanation might be that she just doesn't completely understand or grasp the history. But even if that is the case, that doesn't make the statement any less racist.

[06:15:02] BERMAN: She's been around for a while, though, in comedy for a while, on TV for a while. The "Planet of the Apes" thing is hard to believe that she didn't know the connotations there.

LOWERY: Certainly.

BERMAN: All right. Wes, Brian, thank you very much.

What does Roseanne's firing say about Donald Trump's America? Again, "The Roseanne Show" so clearly trying to tap into something there. The president, is he setting the tone for normalizing racism? We'll discuss next.


BERMAN: So President Trump could not talk about Roseanne Barr enough after her show was reintroduced and the ratings were good. He was on Twitter, during his speeches, every chance he got.

Last night, though --

CAMEROTA: He said a lot. A lot of stuff about "Roseanne."

BERMAN: -- zero.


BERMAN: Zero things. All of a sudden silent. Completely silent about "Roseanne."

However, the person that Roseanne insulted, more than insulted, the person that was then made racist comments about, Valerie Jarrett, is speaking out by pointing to the example set by our nation's leadership.


JARRETT: The tone does start at the top. We like to look up at our president and feel as though he reflects the values of our country. But I also think every individual citizen has a responsibility, too. It is up to all of us to push back. Our government is only going to be as good as we make it be.


BERMAN: All right. Let's bring in John Avlon and April Ryan.

April, on the way back from this event last night, Sarah Sanders said President Trump just doesn't have the time to weigh in on Roseanne and the racist comments she made. Is that a reasonable excuse?

[06:20:04] APRIL RYAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, yes and no. Sarah Huckabee Sanders was very smart with this to pull him away from this. I believe his was strategic that he did not speak about Roseanne in Nashville.

And one of the reasons why is because this president is not known to be sensitive when it comes to matters of race. So either way, he could have put his foot in this situation.

I mean, we've seen what happened in Charlottesville. Six or seven times. This president could not get it right.

You know, we saw his own chief of staff, John Kelly, go after Fredricka Wilson on what happened in Niger and Sergeant La David Johnson. I mean, there's things that over and over -- and "s-hole" comments.

This president is trying to recreate his image.

And then with the NFL, taking the knee issue, which is not about disrespecting the flag. It's about bringing attention to bad policing in this nation, something that the president has changed the narrative on for those who support him versus those in the black community who are trying to bring attention to it. Not only this.

And John, this is really, really key. This White House is now working quietly behind the scenes with black leaders. I don't want to say who they are right now. But they are working behind the scenes with Hill lawmakers and black leaders, working on the so-called urban agenda. And also working on issues of criminal justice reform, particularly dealing with prison reform, where it does not include sentencing reform.

And many in the black community are hoping that this president will liken to -- or like the Grassley bill that calls for a reduction in sentencing. But at this point, the White House isn't doing it. There's a lot on the table when it comes to black America, so he did the right thing by stepping away, and so so did Sarah.

CAMEROTA: OK. Well, that would be progress, obviously, for the White House to begin focusing on some of these issues in a way that isn't filled with conspiracy theories.

I mean, look, as you know, the President, one of the ones that he peddled was that Muslims were celebrating on 9/11, which he's not ever apologized for.

The point is, John, is that some people, mostly the president's critics, feel that the president has opened a Pandora's box. That the president's language and the president's just general tenor about race has opened Pandora's box, where it's made it easier for people to believe in crackpot conspiracy theories. Where it's made it easier for people like Roseanne to tweet this stuff.

His son, Don Jr. retweeted some of her most vile stuff.

And by the way, we don't have to just have a hunch about this. There are actual numbers. The Anti-Defamation League says there's been a 60 percent rise in anti-Semitic -- reported anti-Semitic incidents in the year after the president was elected, and the Southern Poverty Law Center says there's a 45 percent percent in anti-Muslim violence after -- and rhetoric after the president was elected.

AVLON: Yes. There's an impact. I mean, words matter from the bully pulpit of the presidency. And the past presidents have seen the office as one of moral authority. That is not how Donald Trump approaches it.

Instead, you know, the hallmark of his rhetoric since he began running for president is "us against them." It's playing these culture war cards, with an idea to divide. It's appealing to white identity politics, in opposition to an idea that demographic trends are going to overwhelm the traditional culture of this country. And that's racially loaded intentionally.

So you have him celebrating Roseanne Barr and Roseanne Barr celebrating the president. But when this happened, he was MIA. Why? Well, you know, it may stem from a basic discomfort that we saw after Charlottesville, where he's afraid that condemning racism might alienate a part of his base. Whether that's Roseanne Barr or something larger.

CAMEROTA: Maybe. Maybe it's just that he hates losers. I mean, he doesn't like losers.

AVLON: It may just be that he hates losers.

CAMEROTA: When you get canceled, he's not going to talk about it.

(CROSSTALK) AVLON: And look -- look, the president -- presidents today shouldn't weigh in on every cultural, you know, topic in the country. This president has. It's progress to see them talking about, you know, prison reform. It's great to see Jack Johnson getting pardoned posthumously. But that does not absolve the president from the larger problem he has helped create and the conservative movement has incubated too much on the extremes.

BERMAN: Let's play -- President Trump obviously -- and Candidate Trump has had a lot to say. This was more than a year ago, maybe two years ago. Listen to this.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Are you racist?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am the least racist person that you have ever met. I am the least racist person.

LEMON: Are you bigoted in any way?

TRUMP: I don't think so, no. I don't think so.


AVLON: You were shaking your head when you were hearing the president say that.

RYAN: Yes. You sound like Sean Spicer, "Stop shaking your head."

Anyway, you know, for the president to say that, back it up with something. That's what a lot of people are saying. And I go to that question that I asked on the Martin Luther King holiday around that time, "Mr. President, are you a racist?"

You know, the NAACP, so many black leaders, you know, came out and said they didn't want to -- they didn't want to classify it, but if you continue to do what you're doing and not trying to make amends, something is wrong.

[06:25:05] And when you use the term "racist," and this is what the NAACP defines it as. Power and prejudice. When the intersection of power and prejudice meet, that's racism. What has the president done to change the dynamic?

I mean, before he came into office, we heard about, you know, what he did with putting "C's" on the applications of -- of those who tried to get houses in his -- through his father's company. "C" is for color. OK? Who were minority people.

You know the Central Park Five. This is -- it just continues to crescendo. And there were dog whistles during the campaign. This president has to make big and bold statements to change the dynamic. I mean, not just pardoning Jack Johnson, which was a great thing. Even Senator John McCain was supporting that many years ago.


RYAN: But it has to be more tangible. It has to be -- this is all America. This is not just one segment of America, Roseanne's America. This is all America.

AVLON: Yes, I think that's the point. And it's a mistake to call, in our political debates, people we agree with racist reflexively. But the president has not tried to heal these divides. He has not used the power of the bully pulpit in this way. And the national motto is "E pluribus unum." That's part of the obligation of a president, to make many out of one. This president has seemed uniquely disinterested in that aspect of the job.

CAMEROTA: After eight hours of tweeting, Roseanne has just officially, "Good nighted" Twitter.

AVLON: Good night, Roseanne.

CAMEROTA: But it sounded like event mode (ph).

RYAN: Bye.

BERMAN: I do wonder, though. I mean, remember the president has said and the president saying that back in 2015, I mean, he didn't make didn't make Roseanne say what she said.

AVLON: No, of courses not.

BERMAN: Roseanne has said stuff like this over the years, as you pointed out.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but and here's what she said before signing off.

RYAN: the atmosphere was --

BERMAN: Go ahead.

RYAN: The atmosphere was there for her. She felt comfortable to do it. And that's the problem. It came from the head. The president of the United States, who supported her in her unethical behavior.

CAMEROTA: I mean, if you believe tone is set from the top, as Valerie Jarrett was saying, that is what some people think is at the root of this.

Here's what she said before she signed up at 5:45 a.m. our time. "I feel bad for the president of the United States. He goes through this every single day."

So, you know, so does Valerie Jarrett, and so do African-Americans.

AVLON: The victim card, you know, has become some kind of moral bath for people in political trouble is -- is bonkers.

CAMEROTA: All right. Thank you, April. Thank you, John. Thank you for the conversation.

All right. Meanwhile, listen to this resolution or next chapter in a scandal.

BERMAN: Speaking of needing a bath.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

Missouri governor Eric Greitens has resigned amid scandal, but he insists he did nothing legally wrong. So why, then, is he leaving office? That story's next.