Return to Transcripts main page
White House's Efforts to Discredit Dr. Fauci; Tim Harford is Interviewed About Pandemics; Interview With American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten; Interview With Hannah Gadsby. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired July 16, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
The cost of doing nothing. Why this pandemic is yet another example of our failure to prepare and to heed the warning signs. The undercover economist,
Tim Harford, joins me to talk COVID and other cautionary tales.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HANNAH GADSBY, COMEDIAN: You know, there's parts of my reality that deserve to be mocked and best mocked by my first.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Redefining comedy by defining trauma. I speak to international standup sensation, Hannah Gadsby.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: How do you grade the federal government response to what's happening in the context of
RANDI WEINGARTEN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS: F. I grade them as an F.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Randi Weingarten, president of one of the biggest teachers' unions in the United States talks to our Hari Sreenivasan about the
national dilemma around reopening schools.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I am Christiane Amanpour from London.
Every day now the United States is setting a grim new record for coronavirus cases. A growing number of states and businesses have finally
come around to mandating face masks, but not before a lot of dispute over their effectiveness. And there have been many attempts to discredit
science, including against the country's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci who has repeatedly warned against reopening the U.S. economy
too soon. And now, America is paying a heavy price. He's called the White House efforts to discredit him bizarre and has this simple plea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Let's stop this nonsense and figure out how can we get our
control over this now and looking forward, how can we make sure that next month we don't have another example of California, Texas, Florida and
Arizona, because those are the hot zones now. And I'm looking at the map saying, we got to make sure it doesn't happen in other states. So, rather
than, you know, these games people are playing, let's focus on that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now, for years scientists have been focusing and they have been warning of a pandemic of this nature. Major nations even had their play
books ready. Now, though, as we know, there are 13 million COVID-19 infections around the world and more than a half million people have died.
So, why weren't we prepared? Why weren't the warnings heeded? That is something bestselling author, economist and podcaster Tim Harford has
worked extensively on. And he joins me from Oxford.
Tim Harford, welcome to the program.
You have, as I said, written a lot about this, including a massive FT magazine front cover, that was about two months ago. I'm just wondering as
an initial question, you know, you're looking at it now, two months later. Are you shocked by how bad it's got?
TIM HARFORD, ECONOMIST AND JOURNALIST: I am surprised at the fact that it seems that each country and even the United States, each individual state
has had to relearn the same lessons. One of the things that shouldn't have surprised me is how difficult we find it to learn from each other. We have
to -- it seems we have to learn the lessons ourselves the hard way rather than just saying, well, what did China do, what did Italy do and how can we
AMANPOUR: So, in your latest column you've written basically that our disparate perceptions of risk are creating a social mine field. It could
have been written for what we're seeing in the various states in the United States. And I just want to ask you because on CNN, the anchor, Brianna
Keilar, spoke to a state representative from Florida who basically told her Florida is doing just great, whereas by all, you know, factual evidence, it
seems to be the latest epicenter. Let's just put a little of what he said and we can discuss the thinking behind that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: You think Florida is doing fine right now?
STATE REP. ANTHONY SABATINI (R-FL): Absolutely. I think the governor's response has been on point and I think the metrics that matter the most,
we're doing very well in. And if you're counting cases, you're going to scare people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, how do you analyze that, and not just as a politician speaking but the effect that that kind of thinking has on the very real
public health piece of this.
HARFORD: Yes. I mean, naturally anybody who's involved in politics is going to want to make their own party out to be doing a great job and the
opposing party to be full of scoundrels. So, it's hard to take any politician too seriously. But what we -- the difficulty with interpreting
the evidence is that there's always a delay. We miss a certain number of cases and then it takes a while for cases to turn into hospitalizations,
then takes a while for hospitalizations to turn into deaths.
And so, we have to be willing to think ahead, two weeks, four weeks, six weeks to figure out how bad things might get. And it turns out that the --
quite apart from the politically motivated reasoning, that the psychological evidence seems to show we're really difficult to gaining -- I
mean, we find it really difficult to gain these things out. And we respond eviscerate what's happening in terms of us right now to the images we're
being shown, to the stories we're being told. Just to follow the maps of an exponential curve, for example, we consistently underestimate just how bad
things will get all too soon.
AMANPOUR: You've written about certain terms, which I'm going to get to. But I want to first take you back to one of the examples that you
highlighted, and obviously about the United States. And you -- you know, the question is why do we ignore the warnings? So, in 2004, we had
Hurricane Ivan, which narrowly missed New Orleans and they had, you know, all of the play book, the readiness, the preparedness, the warning. And 11
months later came Hurricane Katrina, which drowned New Orleans. Just walk us through how they managed to get it so wrong when they were prepared for
one, you know, just 11 months earlier.
HARFORD: Well, it's astonishing. If you read the media reports at the time, people were predicting an utter catastrophe. All of the things that
went wrong when Hurricane Katrina hit a year later were said as Hurricane Ivan was coming in. In fact, at the beginning of my cautionary tales
podcast, I was able to tell the story and people listening to the story would think I was talking Hurricane Katrina. But no, it's this near miss
It took a turn off to (INAUDIBLE) instead and missed it. And the question at that point is, well, what lesson do you draw from the near miss? Because
you would think the logical lesson is, we're in trouble, all our lack of preparation has been laid bare, but very often people will draw the
conclusion, well, you see it was fine in the end. And people who evacuated when Hurricane Ivan was coming in, they really felt they have wasted a lot
of time and effort, they've been stuck in traffic for 10, 12 hours, and it had all been pointless.
So, do we register it as a near miss or register it as a false alarm? And when you think about the pandemic, SARS hit Southeast Asia. But most of us,
we've got all the fuss about SARS as a false alarm, but Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, they didn't think of it as a false alarm at all. It was a real
hit to them and so they were much better prepared.
AMANPOUR: They were much better prepared for COVID, of course. And also, though, you know, we've had names as illustrious as Bill Gates and others
warning that this kind of pandemic could happen. You know, he warned in 2015 which was after SARS, and still these warnings weren't taken
seriously. I mean, the play books were written, we know that. And yet, they weren't acted on. Talk about that.
HARFORD: Yes. I mean, part of the program is it is not sure exactly -- it's not entirely clear what we should do because the preparation needs to
be on a very broad base. In my own country, the U.K., we had a pretty good pandemic plan in place for flu, and it possibly made things worse because
we -- flu doesn't behave that way coronaviruses do. And so, some of the preparation that we had in mind actually led us to the wrong conclusions
and to focus on questions of herd immunity. That's part of the problem.
Part of the problem is, Bill Gates has been saying this for a long time, experts in the W.H.O. have been saying this for a long time and most
politicians, of course, don't move in those circles. They're worried about all kinds of other things. They're worried about tourism, they're worried
about the deficit, they're worried about unemployment. And we voters, we're not that worried either. It's only when the threat becomes absolutely
apparent in front of our faces, that's the point at which we say, well, wasn't somebody paying attention to this. And the answer is, well, the
decisionmakers, they really weren't.
AMANPOUR: I mean, to be fair, we have talked a lot about the play book that was written for the White House during the Obama administration, and
because of Ebola, and that had a lot of relevant information, but the Trump administration essentially tossed it out. I mean, that's a famous
cautionary tale about this pandemic.
But I want to ask you because it leads into these biases that you've talked about, this sort of thinking, whether it is group think or individual
think, you've written about terms such as normalcy bias or negative panic. You've talked about optimism bias and you also draw on the ostrich paradox.
I mean, all of those are really interesting. Can you just describe what they mean in relation to this?
HARFORD: Well, negative panic is the opposite of what we think of as panic. And we tell ourselves stories that in a disaster, everybody panics
and everybody behaves disgracefully, they run around, they're hysterical. And actually, what real disaster experts worry about is the opposite, they
worry that people are too calm and they don't see the danger for what it is because it is so unusual. Normalcy bias is our tendency to try to interpret
what we're seeing as just a sign that nothing really has changed.
And so, one of the stories I tell in cautionary tales is a story of a terrible fire at the Beverly Hills Supper Club in 1975 which killed
hundreds of people. And they did have time to get out, they were all in a huge cabaret room watching, you know, a standup comedy act and they were
warned, there's a fire coming. But of course, the instinctive reaction is what I do whenever I hear a fire alarm, you don't immediately get up and
leave and looked around, what's everybody else doing. You look left, you look right. And the people next to me, well, they're hesitating as well.
Everyone pauses for a moment.
And the exact same thing happened in the early stages of the pandemic. We're getting this very worrying reports from China and then from Italy.
You look around and no one is really doing anything different. People are still shaking hands. And so, you think well, it is probably nothing. It's
only at the moment the crisis hits suddenly the stores are closing, everyone is rushing for toilet paper, and it is too late because we were
taking our queues from the calm reaction of everybody else.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, let's say that was before, you know, the actual thing hit with full force. But what about now in the midst of what everybody has
learned over the last four months, in the United States specifically. A key doctor, a scholar at Johns Hopkins, which, as you know, is a huge public
health director in this pandemic, what he's saying is, I'm continually seeing in certain states they keep making the same mistake in not being
able doing the core elements of public health.
He is talking about lack of preparedness, even in the midst of this, even when it comes to contact tracing and various -- whether PPE or the mask
debate or whatever it is. I mean, even -- they were meant to try prepare for the second wave during the first wave, and it looks like they haven't
even done that. How do you explain that sort of pig headedness?
HARFORD: You know, I mean, it looks as though the first wave isn't over yet. I mean, people talk about the second wave, we're still in the first
wave in the United States. That's the problem. And we have had time to prepare and we haven't taken it.
I think part of the problem is straightforward politics, that the politicians are always hoping that things will pass, they don't want to
make the tough decisions, they don't want to look bad and they don't want to shut the economy down and be blamed for people losing their jobs. So, I
think there's this very powerful wishful thinking tendency that takes over in some places. And it is harmful because, in the end, the way we deal with
the pandemic, sure. Hopefully, there's a vaccine one day, but the way we deal with this pandemic right now is ordinary people being considerate and
looking out for each other, keeping their distance, wearing masks, washing hands. It -- and that comes if you get the right leadership from the
president and from other government officials. If those at the top are setting the right examples. That's the thing that enables the rest of us to
behave in the right way.
Even in Sweden, which I think most people would say Sweden's made -- Sweden basically got its strategy wrong, it didn't really lockdown, it kept a lot
of freedom. Nevertheless, the Swedish citizens have done a great job in containing the virus because they have been sensible and considerate and
look out for each other. So, we can do it. We don't need the harshest lock lockdown if we're willing to be sensible.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, that's really interesting because now, the question is and you've written about this too, what is the value of a life in society?
As you see this huge dilemma and debate in the United States about whether or not to reopen schools and all of these things. Obviously, you've talked
about the economy as well. What lives then get prioritized? I mean, are we going to get to that point?
HARFORD: Well, we're already at that point. And in fact, governments are always at the point of trying to weigh up the value of life. This is
another one of the cautionary tales. What happens if you make decisions without thinking seriously about that, because -- whether we're talking
about traffic regulations or pollution or the funding of health systems, all of the decisions that we're making implicitly they're weighing up
people's lives and they're saying that people's lives have a certain value.
And my argument is actually the effective costs of lockdown, although it is severe, and the cost of all of the other social distancing, although that's
also economically severe, I think it plausibly still justify -- it's justified by the number of -- sheer number of lives you were saying. Even
if you start being very utilitarian about it and stop putting all these lives in the spread sheet, which people hate, the conclusion you come up
with is, if you're not willing to make sacrifices now to save people, then when are we? Because the potential gains and the number of lives we could
save are enormous.
AMANPOUR: It's really fascinating. What did you think? I mean, we've got about 30 seconds left. Children, this whole debate, and we're going to
explore it later in the program about children going back to school. I mean, their risk seems to be less, of course.
HARFORD: Yes. I mean, the cautionary tale that really (INAUDIBLE) was about the side effects of the evacuation when Fukushima, when the power
station melted down, and everybody was focused on the nuclear power station but they didn't think enough about the knock-on effects. And the knock-on
effect really worries me more than anything else, the effects on our children of keeping schools closed. I think we should be reopening schools
long before we're reopening the rest of the economy. And I think that the risk to children is pretty low.
AMANPOUR: That's really fascinating. Tim Harford, thank you very much indeed. And of course, so much of this creates so much trauma. And much has
been written about the residual and long-lasting impact left by this pandemic.
Someone who is certainly known a lot about pain is the Australian comedian, Hannah Gadsby. She is redefining what is acceptable for standup comedy by
mining the depths of her own past. Gadsby's 2018 show, "Nanette," was a seeringly honest comedy horror that confronts the trauma that she
experienced of sexual and homophobic violence. Here's a clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HANNAH GADSBY, COMEDIAN: Do you know why I'm such a funny [bleep]? It's because I have, you know, been learning the art of tension diffusion since
I was a children. But back then it wasn't a job, wasn't even a hobby, it was a survival tactic. I didn't have to invent the tension. I was the
tension. And I'm tired of tension. Tension is making me sick.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now, "Nanette," that performance, propelled her to international fame. Many thought it was an impossible act to follow, and yet, she's done
it again with her latest standup show, "Douglas." And Hannah Gadsby joined me from home in Australia to talk about how she does it.
Hannah Gadsby, welcome to the program.
I am talking to you, you're in Melbourne, Australia, which after doing well, it seems the entire state there is in lockdown again. Just what is it
like for you going back into lockdown?
GADSBY: It's not terribly different for me. I kind of went into hibernating the first time and forgot to come out of it. Yes. I have been
doing all sorts of puttering business as well as writing and I'm learning the piano. I'm gardening. I'm teaching my dogs to talk. It's not working.
AMANPOUR: Well, you mention your dog, and of course, "Douglas," your most recent show, is named after your dog. So, just describe to me what it was
like to do "Nanette", to get all that attention and then have to come out again and do something different with all of the expectations?
GADSBY: Yes. I've been on quite the right. I won't lie. Like creating "Nanette", it wasn't the vehicle I sort of thought I would drive into sort
of success. I thought I was driving it over a metaphorical cliff. You know, I honestly though it would alienate more people, you know, out of my
existing audience that I had built up over a decade or so around the tracks.
But what it ended up doing is introducing me to, you know, an enormous and new audience. So, that mean -- when creating a new show, I didn't really
understand who my new audience was. So, in a way, "Douglas" was a more creative process. You know, I was constantly tinkering it as I toured it
around the world and like it was much more fun.
AMANPOUR: Well, yes, I was going to say, it is a lot more fun because what you did with "Nanette", I mean, which is riveting, obviously, was you mind
your own trauma and tensions that you've lived with all your life. It was really angry, plus hilarious.
GADSBY: Thank you. Look, it was a very organic beginning for "Nanette". It was a show sort of created in the heat of the equal married equality debate
in Australia, which was incredibly toxic. And I sort of felt like the leadership in Australia just wasn't listening to the broader community and
was introducing an incredibly toxic debate that I just didn't think needed to happen and then A lot of people didn't think it needed to happen. And it
felt, it just doesn't seem like a fair process, and it never did.
So, it was borne in that sort of climate. And then in my own sort of personal career, was sort of -- I felt like it was stagnating. I didn't
understand, you know, what I was trying to say and who I was trying to say it to. And in that process also I was diagnosed with autism, which
explained a lot of the confusion. So, there's a lot going on. And I just sort of wrangled "Nanette" out of all that sort of hot mess.
AMANPOUR: And you've come now to do "Douglas," which is not as traumatic, but you do talk about the reveal is your diagnosis with autism. Can you
just describe how your autism manifests, I don't know, in a personal relationship, in a business relationship? What was confining for you or
specific for you?
GADSBY: Well, the biggest confining thing for me I think in retrospect is not understanding that I had autism. You know, once I understood that, it
cleared a lot of things up. And, you know, once you understand you, you know, were called on limitations, for one of the better word, you can work
Generally, like, is shorthand, autism is -- you struggle with social constructs. And so, basically, it's everything that involves other people
I've struggled with to varying degrees. Sometimes, you know, I get there in the end and I have been able to build rewarding relationships, but I mess
up a lot. And knowing why I do that has helped and it's helped me navigate interpersonal relationships.
You know, I have a tendency to be blunt. I call the [bleep] when I see it because it is [bleep]. So, you know, there's a to and fro but I -- you
know, I find I'm able to better strike a balance, you know, between being careful how other people feel but also careful how I feel because the world
causes me a great deal of distress. And my whole life, I have sort of sidelined that and, you know, tried to be "normal", you know, and doing
normal things. And, you know, I had no idea people actually enjoyed socializing.
They do. That's what -- people are really sad at the moment because they can't socialize. And I don't feel sad about that. I'm sad that other people
can't socialize, but I just didn't understand that a lot of people really loved hanging out in large groups and I'm like, I don't.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Well, I have to confess, you know, I am an inveterate socializer, but do not want to hang out in large groups under this current
But look, you talk about calling out the BS, and certainly -- obviously "Nanette" was that and so is "Douglas," and you do devote a lot of
hilarious time to calling out the patriarchy.
GADSBY: Well, the trick is ultimately somebody on the spectrum, you sort of are less inclined to think of yourself as part of groups, and you tend -
- well, you know, I tend to focus on, you know, rational thought. And patriarchy, by and large, is something that's been made up. And like all
things that are made up, there's plenty of holes in it, but it is striking to me just how much, how emotional men get about their patriarchy, that
really -- like they're really invested in it. You know, it is like --
AMANPOUR: Yes. And you do go to some lengths saying, it's not all men, it's not all men, but it's some men. I mean, you're quite careful as well,
GADSBY: It's quite a lot of them. It's quite a lot of them.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Indeed. I hear you. You have a very compelling and convincing element in "Douglas" because you are also an art history major,
you have a degree in art history. So, we're going to play a sound bite which is taken from your PowerPoint projection lecture part of "Douglas"
where you talk about, you know, the women in the art.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GADSBY: Now, what were the women doing while all the men were doing the very important naming of all the things? Well, from my research what I can
gather, women were generally standing around in groups of three, naked, just waiting for men to name all of the things. You could see it happening
with this central figure here, she's saying, what have you got in your hand there, Karen? Oh, just a couple of bits of bobs.
Women just holding things, just waiting, hoping (INAUDIBLE). Waiting for men to name the things. This was painted before beds were named. You can
see women are desperately trying to make the beds, just flinging linen into the trees, willy-nilly, just going, oh, I don't know. Oh, let's just build
a fort. We'll make it a fancy fort. Yay. We finished the fort. Dancing naked in groups of three in the forest is the number one hobby of women of
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Hannah, I'm sure a lot of women, certainly in your audiences and around, identify with you pointing that out.
GADSBY: One of the things that, you know, over the years of sort of studying art history is that, you know, you learn about, you know, the male
gaze and making -- you know, objectifying women, turning women into objects, and it's well and good in terms of art history, but, you know,
there's this idea that that's being undone and we're no longer doing that in art. You know, feminism fixed that. And I just don't see that feminism
And in the world, I just saw these old ideas sort of reverberate. And, you know, that bit was inspired really because I really honestly see that the
patriarchy in that way of objectifying people and turning, you know, making people's external appearances reflecting who they are, you know, has -- I
think has damaged us, you know. Humans, I don't think we're biologically equipped to assess ourselves from outside in.
AMANPOUR: I mean, going back to "Nanette" which was about your trauma, which is about your isolation, which is about living on the fringes as a
lesbian in a very homophobic community, you talked about same-sex marriage in that debate. Let's go back to "Nanette" and just situate your trauma for
those who don't remember.
GADSBY: Well, I guess, you know, Tasmania, there was a very long and drawn out debate about legalizing homosexuality, and that's the only way
homosexuality was spoken about during my childhood, which was that it was a crime and homosexuality was, you know, a criminal act. I mean, lesbians
didn't even get a look in.
So, not even part of the conversation. Pretty much lesbians were just -- you know, if so spoken about at all, it was in terms of, you know, they're
just ugly women that can't get men.
So that's what I was sort of raised in.
And I grew up homophobic. You know, I remember having -- not -- just knowing homophobic thoughts before I knew my own sexuality. And that's an
incredibly difficult thing to undo, when you're steeped in ideas. And the same can be true with any marginalized identity.
I think you grow up steeped in sort of language and ideas and hostility to the very core of who you are. And that traumatizes people. And it certainly
traumatized me. To hate yourself before you even know who you are is an incredibly difficult tangle to rid yourself of, and it's impossible to do
on your own.
I think that is a misnomer about trauma. They say the way out of trauma is to have a cohesive narrative. And to this day, I maintain that you need the
world to also acknowledge your narrative.
There's little to no point having your own story, if the world and your community around you refuses to hear it. In fact, when people say, no, I
don't believe you, no, your pain is not valid, that retraumatizes people.
AMANPOUR: You use -- obviously, many comedians do, but you use it in an amazing way -- the self-deprecating humor to sort of survive the trauma
that you have experienced.
Let me play this sound bite.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GADSBY: I built a career out of self-deprecating humor. That's what I have built my career on, and I don't want to do that anymore, because do you
GADSBY: Do you understand what self-deprecation means when it comes from somebody who already exists in the margins? It is not humility. It is
I put myself down in order to speak, in order to seek permission to speak. And I simply will not do that anymore, not to myself or anybody who
identifies with me.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: How does it feel? And what reaction are you getting? Because you talk in your routines about the haters.
GADSBY: Look, I'm finding myself in a very interesting place, given that, because, on the one hand, yes, I am a marginalized situation, and I have
come from a fairly underprivileged background.
But I have all of a sudden found myself in an incredibly privileged place. During the pandemic, I am one of the lucky ones who I can afford not to
work. I have space to not feel too confined. , I'm OK.
And that's not -- like, if this had happened 10, 15 years ago, no, that's not where I would be. But I am privileged now. But I'm so new to privilege,
I don't quite know how to handle that.
And I think self-deprecation is a skill set that will come in handy for my humanity now. Like, I actually think it is important that I'm able to take
the mickey out of myself now. But I have to be careful not to take -- make fun of parts of me that still are grouped in those marginalized -- I'm not
going to make fun of, oh, I'm being so autistic.
No. But there's parts of my reality that deserve to be mocked and best mocked by me first.
AMANPOUR: So, I guess I want to know, what makes Hannah Gadsby happy? And what's next?
GADSBY: Well, I do like creating. I do like shaping a show. I love performing.
But I -- like, can we have crowds? Probably not in the near future. I like learning. Look, I love -- my favorite thing to do in the world is to
rearrange things, just move things about. Like, I am constantly rearranging.
That -- like, honestly, I have not felt bored, because I just go, you know what? I'm going to rearrange this cupboard.
And I was trained as a curator, essentially, and I was never going to be able to get a job in that area. It takes an enormous amount of executive
function that I just simply do not have.
But I tell you what. I curate my shelves.
How about curating your pet? Can we see Douglas, do you think?
GADSBY: Sure. Doug?
GADSBY: He made a noise. Can you see him?
AMANPOUR: There he is. Yes, I can sort of see the top. Oh, sweet. What is he?
GADSBY: He is a -- I was going to say a dog. A Lagotto.
AMANPOUR: A Lagotto.
GADSBY: They're Italian truffle hunters.
AMANPOUR: Oh, it's beautiful. He is a beautiful dog.
GADSBY: He is.
AMANPOUR: Hannah Gadsby and Douglas, thank you so much.
GADSBY: Oh, thank you.
AMANPOUR: Hannah Gadsby saying it like it is.
And now, in America, with COVID surging again, major school districts like Los Angeles and San Diego say they will stay closed in the fall, despite
pressure from the White House to reopen, with President Trump even threatening to cut funding.
Our next guest is Randi Weingarten. She is president of the union the American Federation of Teachers.
And here's our Hari Sreenivasan talking to her about this polarizing dilemma which affects teachers, parents, and, of course, the children.
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Christiane.
Randi Weingarten, thanks so much for joining us.
You represent 1.7 million teachers out there. What are they telling you right now?
RANDI WEINGARTEN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS: Well, we represent teachers. We're the second largest nurse union.
And what they're saying is, they're pretty anxious at this moment, particularly given the surge in cases in the South and the Southwest, and
the -- I would say the recklessness and dangerousness of Trump and DeVos last week. And they're stamping their feet, and saying -- and trying to pit
safety vs. education.
Before that, and let me -- you know, I don't normally do props, Hari, but, in April we put out this plan that said how you open schools safely,
because we wanted to make sure that schools open better than they closed, in that kind of haphazard, closing within three to four days, everybody on
And so we really spent the time in March and April studying everything we could study to figure out how to marry the public health tools with the
instructional and well-being strategies we knew that kids would need in the aftermath of having schools closed that quickly in the middle of a pandemic
and now in the middle of a recession, and now in the middle of a racial justice crisis.
So, before Trump and DeVos' antics last week, we had done a poll in late June. And 76 percent of my members said that, if we got the safeguards that
the AFT had been promoting since April, they were comfortable going back to in-person learning, 76 percent.
But since that point, what you're starting to see is an unraveling, because no one trusted DeVos beforehand, but now you see both parents and teachers
saying, don't pit our safety and our children's safety against their education. We need both.
SREENIVASAN: Recently, there was a "New York Times" analysis that found only two of the largest 10 school districts in the country are ready to go
back into anything close to normal because their infection rates are getting lower.
I'm in Florida, where -- that has five of the top 10 largest school districts, and there are lots of school districts here that are at this
point, in mid-July, when we are having this conversation, trying to plan on getting kids back into classrooms.
How do you do that when the infection rates aren't even on the downslope yet?
WEINGARTEN: So, I thought "The Times"' analysis was spot on.
But let me unpack it a second. What they said, and I think something that unlocked for them when Governor Cuomo released his plan on Monday -- and,
full disclosure, I was on Governor Cuomo's reopening commission.
But you need to do three huge things. You need to have the infection rate go down, you need to really focus on spacing and masks, and you need to
have the resources to reopen.
And what those districts did -- or what "The Times" did and what the districts are doing is that they're looking at themselves against those
And the first, which is foundational, which all of the European countries that have reopened their schools have done, is that the virus has to be
tackled, meaning, you can't be plateauing at a high -- you can't be on the up and you can't be plateauing. You have got to be going down.
And that is either expressed as 14 days of reduced cases, which was, frankly, in Trump's first guidance that came out of his mouth as well, or
you have to have lower than a 5 percent infection rate, which is what Cuomo said in his reopening document.
Even measuring that, it is right now, of those 10 districts, only New York and Chicago that meet that first goalpost, in terms of lowest infection
rates in the community.
And then you have to have the spacing, which, in these kind of big urban districts, means that, if you're trying to figure out six feet of physical
distance, you're basically having schools that are a third to half capacity, and then you have to have a whole mess of resources, not just for
buying the PPE, which we need, the masks that we need, and the cleaning supplies, but also nurses that we need, the guidance counselors that we
need, and ensuring that we have the instructional wherewithal to actually meet needs of all kids, including those that didn't have computers or
connectivity at home in the last few months.
SREENIVASAN: Let's talk a little bit about the government response. How do you grade the federal government's response to what's happening in the
context of education?
WEINGARTEN: F. I grade them as an F.
And I do it for a few reasons. Dr. Fauci and Dr. Adams have tried their best to be out there and trying to be truth-tellers. I even think Dr. Birx
in so many ways is trying to be a truth-teller.
I -- but what we have learned, whether you're in the health profession, public health, or in education, in a crisis, trust is paramount, and
consistency and transparency are part of what creates trust.
What has happened here is that Donald Trump has downplayed this virus since the beginning. Our union actually had our first press conference on the
virus in the beginning of February. And no one is -- we have social media. We know what's going on. We have heard the stories out of Wuhan.
And so you knew it was more than wash your hands and don't let people come in from China, that we needed to actually contain, control, deal with a
health pandemic. And the fact that they kept downplaying it and pretending it would go away, we all lost valuable time in the preparation for kids and
for educators and for nurses and for hospitals.
We need a plan and guidance from the federal government, not bluster and recklessness. We need resources, not threats. And so, on all of these
issues, on downplaying the virus, on creating distrust, on not wearing a mask, on not giving a plan, on not providing resources, they have made
every schoolteacher and every parent's life far more difficult.
That's not what a president should be doing.
SREENIVASAN: I want to play you a clip from a conversation that Betsy DeVos recently had with Dana Bash. She had been doing a bunch of different
interviews. This is one excerpt. You can find the whole 20 minutes online.
But let's listen in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANA BASH, CNN HOST: But you're the secretary of education. You're asking students to go back.
So, why do you not have guidance on what a school should do, just weeks before you want those schools to reopen, on what happens if it faces an
BETSY DEVOS, U.S. EDUCATION SECRETARY: You know, there's really good examples that have been utilized in the private sector and in -- and
elsewhere, also with front-line workers in hospitals.
And all of that data and all of that information and all of those examples can be referenced by school leaders who have -- who have the opportunity...
BASH: I -- I'm not -- OK, but I'm not hearing a plan from the Department of Education.
Do you have a plan for -- for what students and what schools should do?
DEVOS: But the -- you -- the plan -- so, schools should do what's right on the ground at that time for their students and for their situation.
There is no one uniform approach that we can take nat -- or should take nationwide...
BASH: But can I just ask you? I want to...
DEVOS: ... because the needs of a school in the city of Detroit are very...
DEVOS: ... in my home state, in the city of Detroit, would be very different than that of a school in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
BASH: But that's -- exactly. And that's the point. That's completely understandable.
But you are arguing over and over that they should handle this on a local level. But, at the same time, as the secretary of education, you are trying
to push them to do a one-size-fits-all approach, which is, go back and reopen schools.
You can't have it both ways.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: So, to Betsy DeVos' point, how do we square that circle, that there are 13,500 some school districts? How should the Department of
Education be rolling out anything like a national plan that can help all these School districts?
WEINGARTEN: Look, no one wants Betsy DeVos to be the school board for 98,000 schools or 16,000 school districts. Nobody wants any Department of
Education to do that.
They are about civil rights and about ensuring that we have the resources to do what we need to do to help all students achieve. Having said that, in
every crisis that I have been around for, 9/11, Ebola, Zika, SARS, school shootings, before Trump became president, Democratic and Republican
secretaries of education would pull in the stakeholders, would have real input, and would issue some guidance, so that everybody wasn't making it up
on their own.
And so, frankly, governors like Governor Cuomo put guidance out. It's a pretty complicated state. The guidance said, what do we need to do in terms
of community spread? If we have community spread that is greater than 5 percent, schools are not going to reopen. That's pretty good guidance for
around the country.
CDC has guidance that basically says, in order to assure that there is not virus transmission in a school, we need to have physical distancing of six
feet, and we need to make sure that kids and teachers are wearing face coverings whenever possible, particularly if they cannot be six-foot
physically distanced. That's pretty good guidance.
Guidance about what to do in terms of digitalization and how to get computers to everyone, that would be pretty good guidance. Guidance in
terms of making sure we have nurses in schools and well-being -- and guidance counselors, guidance to make sure, how do you make up
instructional time? A clearinghouse on the best practices in terms of remote.
All these things have been done by previous secretaries of education. I don't understand why she is so -- I don't know what it is. I don't know if
it is cruel. I don't know if it's callous. I don't know if it's incompetent, but it is certainly a dereliction of duty.
SREENIVASAN: One of the things that Betsy DeVos, education secretary, says is, look, there was in the CARES Act $31 billion allocated for education.
I think it broke down as almost $13 billion to school districts, $3 billion to governors, $14 billion to higher ed. She said, much of that is still
Are school districts taking advantage of money that they received, and is it enough?
WEINGARTEN: First off, she has to actually release that money to states. And some states have asked for that money, like New York state, and it was
used already, and some states haven't asked for the money yet.
But what we see is that -- so, what we see is that you actually need about $120 billion, not $31 billion or $13 billion. And let me explain where it
is needed and how it is needed.
Number one, unless you have been sleeping under a rock for the last several months, you know that state after state after state is basically down 20
percent in revenues because of the COVID-induced lockdowns and recessions.
And at the same exact time, they have been spending a lot of money on maintaining essential services, like transportation services, like health
care services, ambulances, all of this.
And so a lot of that money has already been spent or accounted for in a lot of different states. What we're seeing is that states are coming to us and
saying, there's going to be less teachers, there's going to be less paraprofessionals, there's no money for masks, there's no money for
cleaning, there's no money for nurses, there's no money for guidance counselors, there's no money for connectivity, there's no money for new
So, how are we actually going to do what we need to do for kids? We need about $2,300 per student to actually have the cleaning supplies, the PPE,
the well-being work, including nurses and guidance counselors, in order to start the school year, whether we're starting remotely, or whether we're
starting in a hybrid, or, if schools have space, whether they are starting full-time.
You can't do it without having the funding for this, when you're facing 20 percent cuts, and you need 20 percent more.
SREENIVASAN: Almost everyone agrees that having children not in school is not a great idea. Having them even going through remote learning is still
costly in other ways, their peer support, their socialization.
Lots of important things happen in school that don't happen exactly in the classroom, right? So, we want kids back in school. How do we get from where
we are to where that is?
WEINGARTEN: Our first obligation is the well-being and the safety of our kids, as well as members that we serve. And there's a way to do this.
There's a way to do it if you marry the public health tools with the instructional needs. What would normally happen is that people would roll
up their sleeves, be together, and figure this out, and have a plan that changes sometimes by the day, and have the resources to do it.
This is the first administration that's failed to do any of that. The fear and agita that they have created, on top of the three crisis that we
already have, has led a lot of teachers to say, well, maybe I just check out, maybe I just don't go back to school. What happens to my family? What
happens to the parent that I'm taking care of, or the child that I'm taking care of who may be immunocompromised?
And I fear, at this moment, when our kids need the best teachers, that we're going to have a brain drain if this recklessness continues to happen
in places like Florida.
SREENIVASAN: One silver lining here is that people have grown to appreciate what a teacher does in a classroom, seeing how hard it has been.
What do you think the long-term consequence of that is?
WEINGARTEN: It's hard to say there's a silver lining, when 135,000-plus people have died, and when you have so many people who have been sickened
Having said that, science is now cool again. Public education is now cool again. Knowing full well that we need to have in-school learning, wrapping
mental health and other services around, an appreciation of what teachers do, an appreciation of school as the center of community, all that is
really important and gives me great hope.
This, I hope, is a temporary situation. I hope we know that next year is going to have to be a bridge year. We know teachers really care about their
kids, did Herculean work to move from in school to remote, and they're going to be there for our kids.
And parents know it, communities know it, the public knows it. But let's do one step in front of another and make sure that things are safe for kids
and teachers and communities right now, so we don't further jeopardize the health and safety of America.
SREENIVASAN: Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, thanks so much for joining us.
WEINGARTEN: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And, finally, a little more on education, as in rewriting the narrative, an update on a story that we brought you yesterday.
When this sculpture of Black Lives Matter protester Jen Reid was secretly erected in Bristol, it stood on the plinth that was once occupied by the
British slave trader Edward Colston's statue, before protesters tore it down and tossed it into the harbor last month.
Well, today, authorities in Bristol have removed the replacement figure and have taken it to a museum. The city's mayor says it is up to people of
Bristol to decide what should be there.
And from the streets to the front pages. Dario Calmese is the first black photographer to shoot a "Vanity Fair" cover, and it features the actress
Viola Davis. Now, you may recognize the pose that he has chosen. It's an ode to this infamous 16th century portrait of an escaped slave whose back
was whipped to shreds.
Calmese calls the cover his protest by rewriting the narrative and taking ownership of it.
That is it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media.
Thank you for watching, and goodbye from London.