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Europe and the United States in Grip of a Vicious COVID-19 Second Wave; Interview with Rick Bright, Former Director, BARDA and Alex Gibney, Director, "Totally Under Control"; Rallies in France Commemorating Samuel Paty and the Charlie Hebdo Attack; Interview With Kara Swisher; Interview With Author Caroline Fourest. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired October 19, 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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. TRUMP: We have it totally under control.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Out of control as Europe and the United States are in the grip of a vicious second wave. We look back at what the Trump administration did
with one of America's most important documentary makers, Alex Gibney, and COVID whistleblower, Rick Bright.
Then, thousands marched for freedom in France as they commemorate a slain teacher, echoes of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. I speak to former columnist,
Caroline Fourest, about tolerance and how to fight extremism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KARA SWISHER, CO-HOST, PIVOT PODCAST: There's no such thing as big tech. There is a lot of big tech companies. And each in their own way had
contributed to problems that we have had in our society.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The power of sway, our Walter Isaacson speaks to top tech journalist, Kara Swisher, about her new podcast and taking on everyone from
senators to CEOs.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
And tonight, we start with leadership rewarded. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand has become a bit of a local and global hero for her
approach to governance. And she's celebrating her landslide reelection victory over the weekend. A vote of confidence in her handling of the
coronavirus pandemic. And before that, the massacre of Muslim worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch.
Consider this visual at a rugby match in Oakland. No masks, no social distancing, just a crammed stadium full of people doing what they used to
do. For other country, the nightmare continues. Belgium, the seat of Europe has admitted that it can no longer control the virus. And in the United
States, cases are climbing towards a new peak. One of the nation's leading experts says that the next 6 to 12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the
Over the last five months, the Oscar winning documentary maker, Alex Gibney, has been uncovering a tragic trail of missteps by the Trump
administration, that turn the richest most powerful country in the world into a COVID hot zone with the highest number of deaths and counting. The
film is called "Totally Under Control." Alex Gibney made it with the help of whistleblowers, some even Trump voters. He's joining me now with Rick
Bright who used to be at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Gentlemen, welcome to the program.
Rick Bright, I wasn't referring to you as a Trump voter and I know that you had to leave your job when you complained and you tried to, you know, raise
the inconsistencies over the coronavirus pandemic and it's handling.
Let me ask you right now as a medical professional. You've just heard the experts say the next 6 to 12 months are going to be the worst and the
darkest and you're also hearing President Trump continue to attack, I mean, in ways we haven't heard before, Anthony Fauci, the leading expert and
member of the task force. How is this going to turn out in terms of life and death?
RICK BRIGHT, FORMER DIRECTOR, BARDA: Well, firsts, thanks for having me on this show today. It's a really important question. President Trump still is
in complete denial that we have a problem with the coronavirus sweeping across our country and across the planet. He has refused to accept this and
be honest with the American public from day one.
The actions that we're seeing him do now with the rallies and mixed messaging and the irresponsible behavior that he is not only doing, but
encouraging others to do, is going to lead for not just a really dark next few weeks and months, the darkest winter that we have ever seen probably,
is going to be downright deadly. This is going to translate not only at just in more people being affected, more hospitalizations and the hospitals
are going to be overwhelmed, our health care workers don't have the protective equipment they need. It will translate to deadly outbreaks
across our country and the world.
Our senior citizens, our most vulnerable, we have not protected them yet and there is still no plan from our government to protect the vulnerable,
to test or do anything to get this pandemic under control.
AMANPOUR: Alex, let me ask you because Dr. Fauci also said that seeing those pictures of President Trump at rallies but also at the -- you know,
the famous super spreader event at the White House with no masks and people all jammed together and no social distancing, he said that he wasn't
surprise the president got COVID and contracted it, but he's also, you know, in light of all these attacks and the politicization of the health,
this is what he told CBS last night. Let's just take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: That is sad. The very fact that a public health message to save
lives triggers such venom and animosity to me that it results in real and credible threats to my life and my safety. But it bothers me less than the
hassling of my wife and my children.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have been threatened?
FAUCI: Yes. I mean, like give me a break.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOU: So, Alex, I mean, I put that out there because it leads directly into what you have been uncovering and investigating in your documentary.
And it is essentially a story about what Fauci is saying. In other words, threatening the experts and threatening the science, threatening the masks,
you know, raising the idea of untested drugs and the like. You talk about a lost month at the beginning of the documentary. Tell me what you mean.
ALEX GIBNEY, DIRECTOR, "TOTALLY UNDER CONTROL": The lost month early on when due to a snafu with the Centers for Disease Control, the test wasn't
working, the test wasn't properly working. But there were all sorts of things that the federal government could have done to get control of that
testing procedure and to put in place a national testing program, because that was really the only chance we had of containing the virus. So, now,
we're dealing with mitigation. But to contain it, you needed a vigorous program so you could see where it was to then have those people quarantined
and then also contact trace the people they've been in touch with. So, it's all about identifying the virus. And Trump simply refused -- then the Trump
administration simply refused to put in place that testing program in a way that would have saved so many lives.
AMANPOUR: So, Rick Bright, you know, you complained about what was going on quite early and you talk about, in the documentary, how you ruffled
feathers, how when you tried to take certain issues to the task force, to the administration, to your department head at Health and Human Services,
you know, it wasn't welcomed, to say the least. Talk to me about what was the main issue. Was -- I mean, Alex has talked about tests, which obviously
were a major first issue, but even masks and hydroxychloroquine.
BRIGHT: The main issue was President Trump and the White House Task Force and secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, had their own
narrative. They wanted to lie to the America population and tell Americans that this virus was not a problem, it was not a threat and they had
everything under control. And anything that went against that narrative, any fact or scientific data that informed them that we did not have it
under control, that we were short of critical supplies to our health care workers, that we didn't have money to start the vaccine development or the
drug development so we could have these medicines and vaccines available as quickly as possible, any alarm that was sounded to them was dismissed and
sometimes ridiculed, and they took steps to push those people, like myself, out of those meetings.
They did not want to hear that this wasn't under control. They didn't want to hear the truth that this virus was spreading. We did not contain it at
all. The containment barrier was breached in January. The virus was spreading person to person across our country. Many people were infected.
And they refused to test those people.
The guidelines were so complicated at the very beginning. We had so many people who had all of the signs and symptoms of being infected with the
coronavirus and they were refused testing because they didn't meet the narrative and guidelines that the administration was putting in place in
those early days. All that did was allow the virus to spread further while they were in denial and refused to invite scientists into their meetings.
AMANPOUR: So, Alex, let me ask you because that's in sharp contrast with South Korea, and you make a pretty compelling, you know, sort of double
screen, split screen of South Korea and the United States, which reported their very first cases on the very same day, and yet, the reaction in South
Korea was completely different to the reaction in the United States. I want to play a little clip that takes place -- you talk about an event on
January, you know, at the beginning this year, where South Korean experts realize they had to get together. Let's take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On January 27th, South Korean health officials summoned representatives from more than 20 medical companies to put in place a
national testing program.
It was such an urgent are request they just met in a conference room at one of the train stations in Seoul. The head of the equivalent of the CDC, he
basically said, manufacture me these tests now and forget about the approval process, you know, you start using them, start testing. We will
come back to make sure it's accurate, but we'll do that while you're already in the field.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Within a matter of days after that, the first diagnostic test kit was approved and it's a process that typically can take
upwards of a year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, it was a completely different set of actions, the politicians got out of the way we hear and experts took over. Let's just
read the stats here. Now, the United States has about 330 million people and we know that 220,000 people have died, 8 million have caught it. South
Korea, 50 million people, about a sixth of the size. Nonetheless, if I'm not mistaken, about 500 or so people have died. Just give us the -- what
accounted for this vast difference of outcome?
GIBNEY: Partially, it was learning from experience. South Korea had a terrible experience with the MERS virus, they hadn't handled it well but
they learned from that experience and recalibrated it and adjusted thinker thinking. Also, a tremendous trust in not only government but also in
scientists and the belief that in an epidemic or a pandemic, you listen to the scientists, not the vague wishes of politicians, who are trying to run
for reelection. So, that was critical.
And then you have, of course, the side off of industry and the ability to approve a system quickly. Because critical to South Korea was knowing what
to anticipate when something like this was going to happen and be able to act on it. The terrible irony though, and it's probably more than an irony,
but the terrible irony about the U.S. response was just prior to the pandemic in late 2019, the United States had just finished putting together
a report on an exercise that gamed out what it would be like to respond to a pandemic.
Dr. Bright was involved in that exercise. It was called crimson contagious. And so, out of that, they developed a very extensive playbook. Put on top
of the playbook left to the Trump administration by the Obama administration, so they had all the tools they need to respond quickly and
effectively to the virus. But shockingly, they left that playbook on the bookshelf. They didn't even crack it open. And when officials like Dr.
Bright came forward to say, we have got to act on what we know, they said - - they simply refused because it was not politically expedient to do so. And that is the gist of the most terrifying thing because they put, what,
the cost, hundreds of thousands of lives, as a result of political opportunism.
AMANPOUR: Dr. Bright, I just want your take on that. You were involved. I mean, how is it possible to have the playbook and not look at it?
BRIGHT: It's interest, when the Trump administration came into office, there was a concerted effort to look at many of the documents and
strategies and plans and policies that were left behind by the Obama administration. And to put some of those on the shelf never to be looked at
again, to change the title and names of some of those and even some of those that were in draft to delay and hold those until after the end of
January so they can put the Trump administration's name or signature on those documents.
So, there is just this overwhelming attitude that anything that was left behind by the Obama administration or prior administrations even wasn't
going to be used. And that the Trump administration would do better or could do better or would come up with their own plan. And in this
situation, the Trump administration failed to do so.
What is interesting, as Alex mentioned, is we actually exercised in the Trump administration a full-fledged state level, local level, federal
level, industry government level, exercise called crimson contagion in October 2019. And even from that plan, even from that report on the after-
action items that we needed to focus on first, whenever we saw such a pandemic emerging, even those ideas were ignored. Those plans were still
left on the shelf. There was no discussion of the after-action items.
It's interesting that those are some of the very first action items I took into the meetings with Secretary Azar when I was invited in mid-January, I
went to that after-action report and our previous playbooks and I made a list of things that I knew that we needed in BARDA to start working on
vaccines and drugs and diagnostics quickly. And I laid those things out in very short notes. I was given three minutes to lay out the highest
priorities that we needed, were medical countermeasures. I laid those out clearly. I assume everyone would recall them from just a few months
earlier, and I was met with indifference, surprise and actually not invited back to the meeting. I upset a lot of people by bringing those facts
AMANPOUR: Right. It is extraordinary. And I have to say, I want to play one more clip that we have because it is also very telling. This is Max
Kennedy Jr., the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, who decided to join an effort out of civic duty that was to try to get with FEMA masks and other
PPE. This is what he recounts of some of his experience.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAX KENNEDY JR.: We thought we would be axillary support for an existing procurement team that just needed to be expanded as quickly as possible and
we would, you know, do data entry for contracts. And instead, we were the team. I think when people imagined the federal government response and the
war room, they thought it would be this big, you know, energized group of experts, not 10, 20-year-old volunteers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Alex, you know, Max, you describe also as a bit of a whistleblower. He has talked also in the documentary about how the White
House is working largely outside of government to try to, at least at that time, to try to do procurement. And he actually broke a nondisclosure
agreement. You describe a real (INAUDIBLE) issue there at FEMA.
GIBNEY: Yes, (INAUDIBLE) is right because there was supposed to be this ogust (ph), you know, task force led by Jared Kushner who's going to bring
the principles of government -- I mean, sorry, the principles of big business into government and he would show how government worked, but the
reality was that there was no there there. There were 10, 20-something volunteers who were charged with using their own personal cellphones and
personal computers and Google where they might find PPE all over the world. And they weren't given any budgets, they weren't given any guidance on how
to acquire these things. That was the sum total of the Jared Kushner task force for getting PPE.
And when they failed and failed utterly because there was no plan, they then blamed the states. Not only that, but it got even worse than that,
they blamed the states when they allowed companies to profiteer on the acquisition of PPE. So, in states desperately needed masks and 95 masks and
other things, they had to pay outsized prices to companies who were permitted to charge whatever they want to.
AMANPOUR: It is an extraordinary tale and I have to it's very alarming that the politicizing of masks still is running rampant across the country.
It's very alarming. Thank you both very much, indeed, Alex Gibney, Dr. Rick Bright, thank you. And the documentary "Totally Under Control" is streaming
now on HBO Max, part of Warner Media, which is CNN's parent company.
Now, tens of thousands of people have rallied in towns and cities across France in tribute to teacher, Samuel Paty, after he was beheaded on Friday
at his school near Paris. The killer, an 18-year-old Chechecn refugee was later shot dead by police.
Now, France is a nation still shaken from the Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan attacks in Paris almost five years ago. And Sunday's marchers
carried signs, "I am Samuel. I am a teacher." In a deep irony, Samuel Paty was teaching a class introduced in public school after those atrocities and
he was geared to help kids understand the cartoons that led to the Charlie Hebdo attack that killed 12 people. Now, that trial got underway last
Journalist, Caroline Fourest, is a former columnist for Charlie Hebdo. Her latest book is about freedom of expression. It's a warning against
extremism in the heart of Europe's most enlightened city. She joins me from Paris to talk about it.
Caroline Fourest, welcome to the program.
CAROLINE FOUREST, JOURNALIST AND COLUMNIST: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: You must have been quite emotional, but also gratified to see so many marchers and protesters, individuals across the nation over the
weekend. People carrying signs that said "I am a teacher." People really in solidarity with what happened. Tell me just, you know, your reaction to
what happened over the weekend.
FOUREST: Oh, we need this solidarity. Of course, it's really good to see, good to watch all of the places in the world. But I really do think that
after all of this terrorist attack, we need more now. We need more than gatherings, we need more understandings, we need to explain the context of
all of this and we need to resist together to the propaganda, to the extremist who try to divide us on those subjects.
AMANPOUR: So, that's really interesting. You say you need to explain, you need more solidarity. I guess I want to ask you first because a lot of
people, certainly in the West anyway, are asking why France? Why is this happening in France and particularly in Paris, you know, this attack on
this teacher, Samuel Paty? With, obviously, Bataclan and before that on your former headquarters at Charlie Hebdo. People now are beginning to ask
why is this happening in France, which has a culture, you know, of tolerance and a constitution that the talks about everybody being part of
the same republic.
FOUREST: First, it's not technically in France. Of course, those attacks have targeted almost all countries in the world. But you're right,
Christiane, we had a lot of those. We faced almost a terrorist attack every two months since almost eight years now. It's a lot. Jews have been
attacked on the street. Teachers now, before it was policemen, cartoonists, journalists, the priests, businessman has been beheaded a few years ago.
First, because we have a lot of radicals, that's a reality. We have almost 8,000 Islamist radicals in France. So, every time there is a campaign of
hatred social network as someone is accused, for example, of islamophobia, it can get him killed, because one of those radical can take the target,
take the bit and kill this person.
AMANPOUR: I was really quite struck by the fact that it looked like this teacher, Samuel Paty's class was kind what came out of some reflection
after the attack on Charlie Hebdo trying to explain to students the idea of religion, politics, extremism, versus tolerance and all that. Why was
Samuel Paty showing the pictures and talking about it in any event in his class?
FOUREST: Because it's part of the program actually. It's the official program. It's part of the mission of the public school to debate in
classrooms about critical thinking, context, secularism, blasphemy, especially since the terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo, we reenforced
those programs to help the students to resist to some extremist propaganda that radicalize them, of course, that they can have on their smartphone,
that they can find on the internet. So, those propagandas are really destroying citizenship, radicalizing some youngs who join in the past ISIS,
and this is why we reenforce in public schools those programs, the fact that we are supposed to have debate to explain to the young generation what
is the context of those drawings, why they have been published because there is too much propaganda about that.
And Mr. Paty was only doing this, explaining and even -- the took the time to say to his students, if you don't want to be part of the debate, you
warm them, you can leave the room. But we are going to discuss about maybe some drawings which can offend you, which can be shocking to you. But we
are going to speak about the context and why they have been made.
And this is why the students actually were assisted to this, also in shock, because they understood very well that those (INAUDIBLE) were not made to
attack Islam at all or mug the Muslims at all, it was really a different context defending free speech. That's it.
AMANPOUR: I just want to air a little bit of what President Macros said when he visited the execution site, I mean, I guess we can call it that, on
Friday after it happened. This is when he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): It is no coincidence if tonight a teacher was slaughtered because that terrorist
wanted to attack the values of the republic, the enlightenment, the possibility to make our children free citizens no matter where they come
from, no matter what they believe in or don't believe in, no matter what their religion is. This is our fight and it is an existential one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, it's really dramatic and it's really dark. Do you believe that it is an existential crisis, an existential fight for France? And,
again, people around the world are going to be looking at this and they're going to be saying, yes, it happens elsewhere, but it seems like it's
particularly vicious and particularly concentrated certainly recently in France.
FOUREST: Again, we can be killed Jihadist because you are just Jew, gay, women anywhere in the world. But it's right, it's true that you are also
killed for your ideas in France. Because we have this belief that it's important to not let them speak. The last, do not let them intimidate us.
And we really, really think that we cannot be ruled by fear.
So, the defense of this teaching, yes, the French president is right, it's part of the history of public schools in France. The figure of the teacher
has a long, long tradition, it's the figure of the teacher that resisted to fanaticism in France against Catholic fanaticism centuries ago, is the
figure of the teacher that help unify the countries and we have this belief that it is in public schools that you can become who you want regardless
your origin, your religion, no matter where you're coming from, you can become who you want thanks to the public school because this is where
you're learning the common language. You're learning a minimal common value with the other citizens. This is why this symbol is so important and this
is why public schools is teaching critical thinking and (INAUDIBLE) to let the social networks or the extremists explaining to the young generation
what they should think.
AMANPOUR: Can you talk perhaps the profile of this terrorist and others? Because, you know, you call them radicals, yes, obviously, they are
radicals. They are violent, they are extremists, in this case terrorists. Who are they? I mean, are they the marginalized? Are they people -- who are
FOUREST: Actually, there is a shift that there is a difference between the previous terrorist attacks. Many terrorist attacks we face were organized
in France by French from Arab origin, radicalized through the internet by sometimes ISIS, sometimes al-Qaeda. The last two terrorist attack we had,
recently, the one in front of the former office of Charlie Hebdo and the one against this teacher is different. It's two young terrorists who didn't
grow up in France.
The previous one was a Pakistani young boy, freshly arrived in France. Actually, probably has been radicalized through international network from
Pakistan. And the last one is from Chechnya, is a refugee. So, you know, France, of course, protects the Muslims who were prosecuted by Russia. And
this is probably at this -- this is probably the reason why his family has been welcome in France, to be protected. And this is also the irony of this
You have a country welcome a young Muslim to protect Muslim from persecution by an authoritarian regime, and this young Muslim started to
think that a teacher, (INAUDIBLE) freedom of speech, is oppressing Muslims the same way the Chechen had been oppressed or the (INAUDIBLE) has been
This is where -- I'm telling you, this is where propaganda play such an important role. This is where we need absolutely altogether to fight
against those propaganda. And it was exactly what was trying to do, this teacher.
AMANPOUR: This teacher, Samuel Paty, was trying to sensitize people to what was happening around the trial that has only just started in France of
the Charlie Hebdo massacre that took place in January 2015. You were a journalist at Charlie Hebdo. What was it like for you there? I mean, you
were there and you had -- you told the story and you reported, you know, what happened. Because this goes all the way back to 2005 with the Danish
cartoons. Did you have to get protection? Were you and your colleagues, did you always know you were in danger? What was it like being a journalist?
FOUREST: It's becoming more and more difficult to be a journalist those days. Back in 2006 when the cartoons first started, I was already a
specialist on religious extremism.
When it started, we decided to show the drawings only to inform, to do our job, being journalists, especially in a context where some other
colleagues, the Danish cartoonists and a Danish newspaper was under death threats.
And you know what follows. You are publishing cartoons to inform and to support other journalists who are under death threats, and, 10 years after,
your colleagues are killed for that. And five years after, a teacher trying to explain why some journalists in France had to publish some cartoons to
support other journalists in Denmark is killed, is beheaded.
We need solidarity. We need the help of all the journalists in the world to explain the context of that story. We didn't start that war. Nobody wanted
to start a war. Actually, it was contrary. Those drawings were made to avoid, to answer to death threats and violence and attack and terrorism by
This is why we tried, actually, to draw Mohammed laughing about the fanatics to help people to not confuse the Muslims, all the Muslims, with
FOUREST: It's the extremists who are doing this confusion by killing in the name of Mohammed people who will just try to defend free speech. And
it's more and more difficult today, honestly. It's really more and more difficult.
Half of my friends are under police protection. Teachers are really intimidated now. They don't know if they can continue to do their job just
to have debate with their students, just to explain facts. And we know we are living in a world where there is so many propaganda, so many politician
instrumentalization, so many polarization.
We just cannot be ruled by them. We have to resist. And the only way to resist is to draw, is to love, is to think. So we continue at any cost,
AMANPOUR: You're throwing down the gauntlet there.
I want to ask you, though, in this context, obviously, President Macron has sort of -- this happened just as he's trying to introduce new methodology
to try to stop this kind of separatism, this kind of incitement.
But, on the other hand, you have got your right-wing politicians, Marine Le Pen of the former National Front. I don't know what they call it now. But
you have been a target, and you have had public spats with her.
This is going to play in to this political division, particularly over immigration and religion and extremism.
FOUREST: I understand that people can see that way.
And, honestly, I do believe it's the exact opposite. We actually have two options to resist to those terrorist attacks. Again, they're going to
continue. Islamism is going to continue to attack us, even if we stop to love, think and draw, because they are attacking Jew, they are attacking
gay, they are attacking women.
They are attacking everyone in the streets, no matter if they are cartoonists, journalists, or teachers. So, it's going to continue. But we
have two option.
Or we let the extreme right, that means hate, resisting to it, being the answer to it. And that's my worst fear. I don't want to elect the
equivalent of Donald Trump in France. We all want to avoid that. We don't want to live what the Americans have been through these past four years.
We don't want Marine Le Pen being elected in France. So, the other option is to show that there is a secularist, alternative left, a "Charlie Hebdo"
left, that is resisting our way. And our way is to say, hate is not the answer. Racism is not the answer. But being brave, continue to think
continue to defend freedom of speech is the answer.
AMANPOUR: On that note, very powerful note, Caroline Fourest, thank you so much, indeed, for joining us.
FOUREST: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Now, she talked about social media. Well, of course, in the United States, many, many of the various and sometimes nefarious forces at
play in the upcoming election and beyond are under the microscope.
Kara Swisher is a fearless and highly respected business technology reporter working tirelessly to shed light on the inner workings of big
Swisher brings her expertise to the podcast world as the co-host of "Pivot" for Vox and the host of "Sway" for New York Times Opinion.
In a Zoom call from Washington, D.C., Swisher talked to our Walter Isaacson about tech giants and how Facebook is now trying to step up and stamp out
the spread of conspiracy theories.
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Christiane.
And, Kara Swisher, welcome to the show.
KARA SWISHER, HOST, "PIVOT": Thanks a lot, Walter. How you doing?
ISAACSON: Pretty good. Pretty good.
Your new amazing podcast, "Sway," you have just done a two-part series on election security and whether Facebook is making those systemic changes.
ISAACSON: Are they?
SWISHER: Well, it was interesting.
I interviewed Alex Stamos, who is from Facebook, who was the chief information security officer there for many years, and ran into a little
trouble because he wanted more transparency. And so he now has a new thing at Stanford called the Stanford Internet Observatory, where they're looking
at these issues, really, with a bunch of graduate students, a whole bunch of data specialists, and trying to figure out from an election -- from a
technology point of view, what can be done.
And then I talked to TREVOR POTTER, who's a well known Republican lawyer, who has been working with a nonprofit group he started that he -- that --
trying to do cases all across the country.
And so we talked about the various cases that he has been involved in.
ISAACSON: Yes, but Facebook keeps doing things, it seems to me, like whack-a-troll, where they're saying, OK, we're going to stop this, we're
going to stop that.
ISAACSON: Isn't there some systemic problem that should be taken on?
SWISHER: Well, I think the difficulty is that they had never envisioned they had this kind of role.
And they're not editorial by nature, as you know. I mean, you have dealt with them for many years. And so they don't think of themselves as
editorial, when, in fact, they have become one of the largest publishers on the planet.
And the word they sometimes use is a weird one called platisher. Have you - - you have heard that. It's a publisher and a platform, and you really can't be both.
So, what they what they have done is just suddenly started to take responsibility in kind of a nonsystemic way. And I think that's why they
got in trouble last week over "The New York Post" article, which has now been called into question by a lot of people, but, nonetheless, probably
shouldn't have been handled the way it was by both Facebook and Twitter.
ISAACSON: Tell me what -- "The New York Post" article, why it was handled badly?
SWISHER: Well, it's this article of dubious sourcing with Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon. Couldn't have two more dubious sources, I think, on any
story, but, nonetheless, they wrote this story about Hunter Biden, which is an issue that the Trump campaign is trying to push rather hard.
Now, it's been disproved by lots and lots of reputable news organizations. The story is suspect. And so they put up this story about this hard drive,
and it had a really wacky story about how it got to the -- anyway, I'm not going to go into the details of it, because I found it hard to believe
And so did some "New York Post" people. In any case, they put it up. And what they did is, they put some personal information in the stuff they put
up. And so that's a big ding at Twitter, for sure. And I think Facebook might have taken it down for the same reason.
And then there was also -- they had a policy that was very unclear on hacked materials, which I think is problematic, because a lot of big
newspapers use materials that they get, such as Trump's tax returns.
And so conservatives seized on it, and the Trump campaign seized on it, that it was being censored and this and that, when they were trying to sort
of be very strict in following their very confusing rules that they had -- have had in place. So the whole thing blew up.
And it was used -- it took sort of a pretty shoddy story, and then made it into this cause celebre for the right wing about censorship, which has been
one of their things they talk about without a whole lot of proof. And here, to them, was proof, even though it kind of wasn't, but it looked bad, for
ISAACSON: What about taking QAnon? Is that the right thing to do?
SWISHER: Well, it's an interesting question. And Alex talked about that a lot, because, unlike white supremacists, who always tend towards saying
racist or violent things, which is sort of a commonality for them, according to Alex, or ISIS, which is about violence and -- so it's
different things, those are very easy for Facebook to remove or for Twitter to remove. It was Facebook in this case.
It's really difficult when it comes to QAnon, because it's a very nebulous, menacing group of people, but, nonetheless, not particularly violent
necessarily. It could lead to violence. It's very -- it's a nebulous situation, and they can shade different things they're doing, such as
something the president mentioned, which is to pretend what they're really about is trying to combat pedophilia.
That is not what this group is about. It's just one of the many crazy conspiracy theories that they have -- that they sort of traffic in. And so
the question is, how do you link it to violence or the current rules that Facebook has?
The same thing happened with Holocaust deniers. As you know, two years ago, I did an interview, a very famous interview, with Mark Zuckerberg, where he
said that Holocaust deniers don't mean to lie, and, therefore, would not take them off, which was sort of a lie in itself.
Nonetheless, he didn't take them down, and then, suddenly, they changed their mind on it, because they saw rising levels of anti-Semitic violence.
So, it's just a -- it's a -- I think the lack of systemic rules that are transparent and where everybody could see what they're doing in a much more
cogent way is the problem.
And that's been a problem for years.
ISAACSON: Facebook's a private company. Why would anybody try to force them, why should the government try to force him to do anything?
SWISHER: They shouldn't. They aren't. The government hasn't been forcing them.
They are making threats now. What what's interesting is that now the conservatives are making all kinds of threats of subpoenas, and we're going
to do and going to do that to Section 230, which is a law that gives these platforms broad immunity. It's very complex. It's not just that, but it's a
complex law that was passed decades ago.
And I think they just say it, and they pull it out, but they never do anything about it. And same thing with the Democrats. They say it and they
never do anything about it.
And so the question is, what do -- how do we want to regulate tech? And how different is each tech company from each other? And I think that's one of
the big issues is that they're not -- Apple is not, Facebook is not, Microsoft is not Google.
And so each of them requires a different discussion. And then there are some overall ones that we have to do together for all of them, like privacy
bills. A national privacy bill would impact the ones at least that have advertising businesses, and all of them really.
ISAACSON: You mentioned Section 230, which gives a pretty qualified immunity to any of these platforms like Facebook, so they can't be sued for
what gets put on them.
There is going to be a strong push to pull back Section 230.
ISAACSON: Shouldn't Facebook be responsible for what gets amplified on it?
SWISHER: It's very -- it's a very complex issue.
In some parts, yes. In some parts, no. And that's why it needs legislators who are actually cooperating and talking with industry and talking with
citizens and talking with citizens groups, talking to the people affected, to understand what's the best way to move forward -- I think it's 30 years'
old this last; 30 years hence, things have changed.
These are the richest and most powerful companies on the planet owned by the richest and most powerful people on the planet. They used to be start-
ups in garages, literally garages. And so what do you do when you were to help an industry, and now it's -- they're monsters? They're monster large,
or however you want to describe them.
And so we have to sit down and have a cogent discussion, instead of eliminating it, or it'll have massive repercussions on small companies, if
they just eliminate it, and probably ensconce the large companies in place, because they have got lawyers coming out their eyeballs. Like, they have
got so many lawyers.
And so that's -- it's a complex issue, which requires complex legislation, which is not something that's happening in Washington right now, I think.
ISAACSON: You saw that congressional hearing on antitrust, which turned also into anti-Section 230. It seemed more like a clown show than serious
SWISHER: Well, actually, that was -- that's actually a year-long investigation, which was cooperative until recently, until it got -- we
moved into this election season.
And that was a really interesting, actually -- which one? The one you're talking about with Mark Zuckerberg last year was a clown show. The one
recently was actually pretty interesting, without them there, when they were talking about -- some of them -- they had various people come and
testify, including some of the heads of these companies.
Actually, the report was really interesting. It was -- it definitely surfaced a lot of e-mails that were problematic for some of these
companies. It definitely had Jeff Bezos admitting that maybe some of the information leaked from one side of the marketplace over to the platform.
There were all kinds of interesting avenues for each of these companies to explore. And so that's the beginning of it, an investigation of their
behavior. Same thing is happening over at the Justice Department, although, again, tainted by politics, because Bill Barr wants to move forward quicker
with the Google investigation. Some of the lawyers do not.
Facebook is nowhere to be seen in any of these investigations, because it's close to the administration. And so all of this has been so hopelessly
politicized in every angle. And I'm not naive. I understand politics, but, at the same time, there needs to be, as there are for other industries that
we value in this country, cogent legislation.
We will see if that will happen sometime. I don't know. I have no idea if that will happen.
ISAACSON: It seems that the problem is not so much that Facebook and other social media publish certain things, but that they amplify things and, that
they have a systemic bias towards enraging people and engaging people.
And that has led us to where we are today. Is that something that can be fixed?
SWISHER: I'm not sure.
I actually think the architecture is problematic. And Alex Stamos and I talked about this quite a bit, this idea of how it's done and how things
move in -- within the system.
And so, no, actually, the way it's architected, it's for virality and speed and not context. But it's -- I think it's probably virality, speed and an
engagement, essentially. And then when it's engagement, it's engagement.
So that's -- it just leads to it. If they architected it for speed and context and accuracy, that would be Google. The search engine actually does
that pretty well. You don't ever get on Google, the search engine, and get angry about QAnon or be pulled into QAnon.
But it does over on YouTube, which is also owned by Google. They have those problems. And they also recently started to ban QAnon on that platform,
too. So it just depends on the platform.
ISAACSON: You say that these companies say that they're neither a pure platform, like, say the phone company is, or a pure publisher, like "The
New York Times," that can decide and then re-decide whether or not it should do a Tom Cotton op-ed piece.
ISAACSON: But that seems in some ways true. Neither category fits for them.
Should we try to create another category?
SWISHER: Perhaps. Maybe there is.
It's just -- the issue is they benefit from the confusion, and their business benefits from it. And so they don't have any of the costs that
regular media have to be very careful. Every media, when they screw up, as both you and I know, pay a high price when that happens.
Even though libel is difficult to prove in this country, these companies get into a lot of trouble. And so they're they understand there are laws
there designed to protect people.
In this case, nobody's protected but these giant companies. And so the question is what -- they have been trying to do this themselves. And that's
another difficult thing, because Facebook, as you know, is controlled by one person, who keeps saying, interestingly -- and I find this the most
interesting -- that he doesn't want to be an arbiter of truth.
But he built a platform that requires an arbiter of truth. And, therefore, what do we do? Do we want Mark Zuckerberg being our arbiter of truth? He
doesn't want to do it. I don't want him to do it. Who should do it?
And that's really the problem. It's architected in such a way that it's impossible for him to do a good job. And it's -- he's not capable of doing
a good job. And the job is almost impossible.
ISAACSON: Well, one safeguard we have when a company starts, say, centering things we don't like or incenting or amplifying things we don't
like is, we can move to another company.
But a company like Facebook is so dominant, it really takes up all the oxygen of that ecosystem.
Your partner Scott Galloway on your wonderful "Pivot" podcast has been pushing for things like Facebook, I think, to be broken up or more
antitrust. How do you feel about that?
SWISHER: Well, I think that Scott has talked about that. We both have talked about it.
I think the issue is, each company is different. They're their own delicate flower, right? So we have to deal with them in a different way. And so --
none of them are delicate, by the way.
But a Google solution about search is a very -- which controls -- which has a dominant search position, is very different than a social media question.
It's very different than Apple and the App Store, which is, as you have seen, they have gotten into big fights with the App Store developers.
And then you have an Amazon, with its marketplace and its platform. And so each of them requires, whether it's antitrust action -- in some cases, that
might be the right thing. Whether it's suggesting they spin things off. That's another answer. Fees that they pay, for example, or fines is another
answer. Another answer is regulation. Another answer is legislation that is really -- that is really fresh and new vs. just regulation that we then
And so that's the problem is that this is a very -- there's no such thing as big tech. There is a lot of big tech companies. And each in their own
way have contributed to problems that we have had in our society. And just like the car companies, which are much easier to regulate, because they do
the same exact thing, or the airline companies, same thing, we have to figure out a way through to deal with them, because one rule is certainly
not going to work for all of them.
ISAACSON: You have interviewed both Nancy Pelosi and then the people who run Facebook, and your podcast is about power.
Who has more power these days, the people run the tech companies or the people run Congress?
SWISHER: The people who run tech companies, but the only people that can stop those companies or to pull them in is government.
As Scott has talked a lot about on "Pivot," the only people with the power to deal with these companies is the government. And our government,
compared to governments across the world, they have tried different things, but the fact of the matter is, the U.S. government has never tried to rein
in these tech companies.
And that is the only countervailing force to the power that these companies have, as it has been throughout history, whether it's trains, or planes, or
automobiles, or AT&Ts and IBMs or Microsofts. And you were around for that.
So that's the only force, is the federal government, to deal with these companies, and hopefully in a way that will not quash innovation and not
quash what has been one of our greatest industries of the past 30 years, essentially.
ISAACSON: But government regulation in a serious way will require some bipartisanship and nonpartisanship. And it used to be that way, even from
the Microsoft, even from the Sherman Antitrust days.
ISAACSON: But now, suddenly, it seems in the past year, it's become wackily partisan.
Is that simply because of the election?
SWISHER: No, I don't think so.
I think there's some -- I think conservatives -- I have had a lot of these discussions, I'm trying to get a couple of them to come on the show to talk
about it. But they tend to think there's conservative bias against conservatives on these platforms, when I make the point is, they're the
highest-ranking things on Facebook.
If you look at Facebook's own list of the most popular posts, they are almost all conservative, which is really interesting. They can podcast.
They can get on Twitter. They can mouth anything they want anywhere. And they still persist in the idea that their thoughts are being quashed.
And so that hearing on the Hill was really interesting, because the Democrats were, I have to say, correctly focused on power, which is I think
this is what it's all about, which is what the "Sway" podcast is about. It was about the power of these companies and the power to rein them in, and
the conservatives were quite focused on conservative bias.
And, again, President Trump is using it as a cudgel in this election. It's not working particularly well, but he uses it. And at the very same time,
Twitter is the savior of him, that he's allowed to -- he's allowed to say whatever he wants, until recently, when Twitter decided perhaps he
shouldn't be able to break the rules quite as extravagantly as he does.
And then, of course, he started to squeal. And so here we are. Here we are. He finally has to live the rules the rest of us live, and he's angry about
it and considers that bias, when, in fact, it's just, you're not telling the truth, such as about COVID, which is incredibly important to tell the
truth about. And we're going to -- we're going to either cover you up or point people to correct information or remove you altogether.
And so that sets in. Then it becomes political, and then it's hopeless.
ISAACSON: Kara Swisher, it's always a delight talking to you.
SWISHER: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Kara Swisher setting them straight.
And, finally, we started the program talking about New Zealand and how the people there have given an overwhelming vote of confidence to Prime
Minister Jacinda Ardern's leadership when it comes to coronavirus. She hugged supporters after her win.
Look at this. It's a surreal sight these days. She's received kudos worldwide for her air of calm competence, a no-nonsense style, and a deep
sense of empathy, which I discovered when I interviewed her first at the United Nations shortly after she became prime minister and later in Paris
after a white supremacist stormed two mosques in Christchurch, killing 51 Muslim worshipers.
We thought we'd end with a few of her observations on governing and gender.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACINDA ARDERN, PRIME MINISTER OF NEW ZEALAND: I never, ever grew up as a young woman believing that my gender would stand in the way of me being
able to do anything that I wanted.
And I credit that for -- I credit New Zealand for that. I credit the environment. I credit those women who went before me, and to credit New
Zealanders as well for the fact that they did welcome the fact that I had a child in office. The positivity far outweighed any negativity.
And so I'm deeply proud of where we are as a nation.
AMANPOUR: Are you trying to sort of open up the leadership rule book? And, if so, how?
ARDERN: I do think it's time for us to reconsider whether or not we are meeting the expectations of the public and the expectation particularly of
that new generation of voters.
They're least hierarchical. They're collaborative. They're wanting us to be constructive. And yet probably the old playbook when it comes to politics
is that you succeed if you're seen as pretty ruthless.
There's a lot of ego and politics. Measures of success are pretty basic. They're mostly aligned with economic markers. I am determined to do things
I do think you can be both strong and compassionate.
AMANPOUR: You have suddenly become the poster prime minister for, dare I say, enlightened and most definitely compassionate leadership. That's what
everybody's saying about you.
I wonder how that feels. And I wonder what your instinct was when you went into hospitals, when you went into the mosques, when you went to their
community in the immediate aftermath?
ARDERN: I'd like to think that actually any words I uttered or actions, even decisions to be amongst those who were grieving at any given time, was
actually just the exact same response that you were seeing from New Zealanders.
And many people have seen the images in the aftermath, in the days after New Zealanders just instinctively, even if they'd never visited before,
went to their local mosque, even if it was just to stand outside and make sure that our New Zealand Muslim community felt safe to return for the call
AMANPOUR: Of course, there are steep challenges ahead now, not least the economic recession at home, like all around our COVID-battered world, child
poverty and housing and the climate, all major issues for Ardern's second term, which she won by following the facts and the experts.
That's it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media.
Thank you for watching, and goodbye from London.