Morning News Brief: Brett Kavanaugh, Alex Jones It's Day 4 of Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings. Twitter bans conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. New York and New Jersey launch probes into Catholic Church sex abuse allegations.
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Morning News Brief: Brett Kavanaugh, Alex Jones

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Morning News Brief: Brett Kavanaugh, Alex Jones

Morning News Brief: Brett Kavanaugh, Alex Jones

Morning News Brief: Brett Kavanaugh, Alex Jones

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It's Day 4 of Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings. Twitter bans conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. New York and New Jersey launch probes into Catholic Church sex abuse allegations.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

OK. Imagine you're applying for a job. You have already been through two very long days of intense questions. And today's the day you get to sit back, listen to some of your friends say nice things about you. That is where Brett Kavanaugh basically is today - at least he hopes so because some unexpected things have happened in this hearing.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Absolutely. But the plan, anyway, is for legal experts and others to testify now that Kavanaugh's questioning is done. Democrats have taken this occasion to express fury. In their view, the Supreme Court's ideology is shifting after Republicans blocked one of President Obama's nominees and then won an election while supported by Russia. Democrats have also objected to a Senate committee decision to keep some documents private. And Senator Cory Booker put himself at the center of a battle over them yesterday, releasing some of them. Republicans, though, are moving closer to one of their cherished goals. And amid all of this spectacle, Kavanaugh's job was not to say too much.

MARTIN: Right. So NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro has been monitoring the hearings and is with us this morning.

Hey, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey. And I'll try not to say too much.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Right. OK. So Steve talked a little bit about this. But yesterday - I mean, we have seen through this hearing Democrats trying - because they don't have the votes - trying to come up with ways to put some roadblocks to this confirmation path. Can you explain what the upshot of yesterday was?

MONTANARO: Well, Democrats really understand that they don't have the votes to stop Brett Kavanaugh. So they had to do something or try to do something kind of explosive, something either to lay a sort of long fuse for Kavanaugh to sort of be on a trip wire and eventually trip him up. They weren't really able to do that. And they raised more kind of red flags over this controversy over documents, where they feel like they don't have enough documents and percentage of documents from Brett Kavanaugh's time as - in the Bush White House...

MARTIN: But...

MONTANARO: ...And raised that. And politically, you saw Cory Booker, Kamala Harris - both as people who might run for president in 2020...

MARTIN: Right.

MONTANARO: ...Really raise that.

MARTIN: But what - so Cory Booker actually then released emails that he was not...

MARTIN: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Supposed to be - that were not supposed to have come out. These were things that the committee was privy to, but they weren't supposed to be for public consumption. What did they say?

MONTANARO: So these were committee confidential emails. And Booker - it was a little bit of controversy as to whether or not Booker actually knew about those emails being released and approved the night before. He got in some hot water with the committee because he started reading from them. They had to do with racial profiling in the Bush White House. One of the emails basically noted Kavanaugh saying there should be a race-neutral evaluation of people who are coming through airport security, saying that he didn't think that racial profiling actually would be a good thing for the country.

MARTIN: But these were emails that - it's my understanding Republicans already said they could be released. So there was some drama and controversy over whether or not Cory Booker was actually breaking a Senate rule, which he was claiming a lot of credit for doing.

MONTANARO: Yeah, he - maybe a 2020 slogan for him is "Bring It" because that's what he said to Republican Senator John Cornyn. But apparently, these emails were approved the night before.

MARTIN: Any of this change the fact that Brett Kavanaugh's headed to the Supreme Court?

MONTANARO: You know, probably not. Today you've got a day of people basically saying good things about him. The long line of questioning is done. And they probably have at least 51 votes.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

SOUNDBITE OF BAD GYAL SONG, “TRUST (FEAT. FABEROA AND FAKEGUIDO”)

MARTIN: Twitter is trying to clean up its act by taking down hate speech and accounts that spread conspiracy theories. And in that camp, there is one name that stands apart from the others, Alex Jones.

INSKEEP: Jones and his site InfoWars famously promoted the fraudulent idea that the Sandy Hook shooting was faked. Yesterday, Twitter said no more. They are permanently suspending Jones from the platform, as Twitter puts it. The company joins the likes of Apple and Facebook and YouTube and Pinterest, all of which banned Jones and his channel last month. So are tech companies changing their thinking about what they allow?

MARTIN: All right. We've got Washington Post Technology Policy Reporter Tony Romm in the studio with us.

Tony, explain what exactly was the tipping point here? - because Alex Jones has been banned from Twitter before.

TONY ROMM: Yeah. This is - enough is enough is basically what Twitter said here. And you're right. Alex Jones and InfoWars had been briefly suspended by Twitter just a few weeks ago. It was a seven-day timeout, in the words of Twitter, for things that he said calling his supporters to take up, quote, "battle rifles" against his critics, including reporters.

Now, this time around when Twitter announced the permanent suspension targeting Jones...

MARTIN: Yeah.

ROMM: ...And InfoWars, they didn't point to a specific tweet or a specific video that he had shared. But when I talked to folks at the company, they said that one of the things that weighed on them was something that Jones did outside of a congressional hearing earlier this week. Remember that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testified on Capitol Hill about the company's policies to moderate content.

MARTIN: Yeah.

ROMM: And as he did so, Jones was outside the hearing. He berated a reporter for CNN. He then put that video - it was a livestreamed video - on Periscope, which is a company that Twitter owns. And that was one of a series of things that Twitter said simply violated its rules against abuse.

MARTIN: So amazing that this is all happening as Jack Dorsey is testifying in front of the Senate hearing, as you allude to. In that testimony - I mean, he at least seemed to understand that his role, that Twitter's role in this society is bigger than just a platform. I want to play a clip. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JACK DORSEY: We're extremely proud of helping to increase the accessibility and velocity of a simple, free and open exchange. We aren't proud of how that free and open exchange has been weaponized and used to distract and divide people and our nation.

MARTIN: That acknowledgement that the platform can be abused - that's a change, isn't it? It's an evolution.

ROMM: It's certainly a change. Dorsey said as much to us when he spoke with us at The Washington Post just a few weeks ago, that they recognize that Twitter, at times, can be used for harassment and for spreading hate speech and even for spreading disinformation, like we saw from Russian agents during the 2016 election. So Twitter is now rethinking the very core of that platform, Dorsey said - everything from the way that it displays the like button and one's follower counts to the incentives that they create for folks to amass huge audiences on this site.

But really, the issue here is more philosophical. These tech companies, whether it's Twitter or Facebook or Google, now have to face the question, do they want to take a more heavy-handed approach to moderating content online? It's an uncomfortable place for tech companies to be because they say they don't want to be arbiters of free speech. They generally think that facts and better conversation will win out.

INSKEEP: Uncomfortable place for the public, as well, because people in the public have to ask, do we want these companies that many people don't actually trust to be the people who are determining what content we see?

MARTIN: Right. So - and I imagine they feel an onus to make some change because, if not, then Congress is going to do something. Right?

ROMM: Yeah, potentially. And if they don't actually pass a law, they'll certainly continue to harass these companies, to beat them up, for the way that they moderate content online. That's why you're beginning to see some conservatives use this as a rallying cry, essentially alleging that tech companies are biased against Republicans. President Trump has taken this on as well, and he's even used it as a fundraising pitch to some of his supporters. So this is certainly something that's not going away.

MARTIN: Tony Romm of The Washington Post.

Tony, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

ROMM: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARLY RAE JEPSEN SONG, "THE ONE")

MARTIN: All right. There are more developments in the crisis that appears without end within the Catholic Church.

INSKEEP: Here's the latest. The attorneys general of New York and New Jersey have launched investigations into sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in their states. Both of these states point toward the recent actions of Pennsylvania as a model for them. Last month, the grand jury report in Pennsylvania documented more than 1,000 accounts of sexual abuse by more than 300 Catholic priests. In the weeks since that report, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico and now New York and New Jersey have all said they're going to investigate sex abuse by Catholic priests in their states.

MARTIN: Corinne Ramey of The Wall Street Journal is here with us.

Corinne, good morning.

CORINNE RAMEY: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: You've been covering this. What do these new investigations entail?

RAMEY: So yesterday, the New York attorney general's office issued subpoenas to all eight Catholic dioceses in the state, essentially asking for documents and records. And New York is sort of a special case because the attorney general's office doesn't have the authority to convene a grand jury - sort of like we saw in Pennsylvania. But in New York, it'll be a similar investigation, meaning that they're essentially looking at whether the dioceses covered up sort of allegations of sexual abuse.

MARTIN: So they have allegations that are prompting this investigation? They suspect a cover-up?

RAMEY: Well, they - this was, I mean, sort of as you said before, inspired by the Pennsylvania grand jury report. They are sort of looking into whether there was a cover-up. And they also asked district attorneys in the state to work with them on any possible criminal charges.

MARTIN: Sounds like states are trying to get ahead of this in their own jurisdictions. How's the Catholic Church responding in those states?

RAMEY: So at least in New York - and New Jersey, too - the dioceses have issued statements saying, they got the subpoenas; they'll hand over documents; they're cooperating and are at last signaling that, you know, they want to find out what happened, too.

MARTIN: I guess that's the only way they can respond. It is amazing to me to think back, though. It was 2002 when The Boston Globe broke the story about the sex abuse crisis in the beginning within the American church. And we are here 16 years later, and these revelations are still coming out.

RAMEY: Yeah. I mean, it is kind of crazy. And it's also just sort of interesting how impactful that Pennsylvania report has been. I think it's really created this sort of reckoning not only within the church but outside it, which is why you're seeing all these attorneys general launch these investigations. In the New Jersey case, when the attorney general released a statement about that investigation, it specifically mentioned the Pennsylvania report and said that it had mentioned four priests who had spent part of their time in New Jersey.

MARTIN: And have you heard any rumblings? Do we expect other states to launch other investigations to follow suit here?

RAMEY: We've seen so many just in the past few weeks that I would not be surprised.

MARTIN: All right. Corinne Ramey of The Wall Street Journal, she has been covering the Catholic sex abuse crisis and the new investigations launched by the attorneys general in the states of New York and New Jersey. This follows the grand jury report that came out of Pennsylvania recently.

Corinne, thanks so much for sharing your reporting on this. We appreciate it.

RAMEY: Thanks so much.

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