Netanyahu, An Online Platform For Extremists, Purdue Pharma: The News You Need To Start Your Day

Published June 3, 2021 at 7:35 AM EDT
Naftali Bennett, pictured in the center, would serve as prime minister if Israel's parliament approves a coalition government deal.
Naftali Bennett, center, would serve as prime minister as part of a new coalition government in Israel.

Good morning. Rachel Treisman, Emily Alfin Johnson and William Jones are on this morning. Here's what we're watching:

Before You Go...
Tiny Desk Concerts

Fat Joe's Tiny Desk (Home) Concert Is A Medley Of Hits From 3 Decades In The Rap Game

Posted June 3, 2021 at 10:39 AM EDT

Fat Joe Da Gangsta has managed to last nearly 30 years and multiple generations in the rap game without ever giving up his lease on the top of the charts.

That's no easy feat for a rapper who came out of the early '90s, and positively trailblazing for a Puerto Rican emcee without any notable predecessors.

In his Tiny Desk (Home) Concert, it's clear that Joe is amped up rocking with a live outfit that keeps the essence of his hits while infusing some salsa that reps his Latino heritage.

More on his performance here.

Breaking News

New Weekly Unemployment Claims Hit Another Pandemic Low

Posted June 3, 2021 at 10:38 AM EDT

Some encouraging news on the job front: The Department of Labor says the number of people filing new unemployment claims has hit yet another pandemic low, falling by 20,000 to 385,000.

Officials revised the previous week's level down by 1,000, to 405,000.

The latest data comes a day before the release of the May jobs report, which most economists expect to be strong.

Two men, with beach towels draped over their shirts, walk past the bright blue exterior of a building with a marquee sign reading "Help Wanted."
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
As weekly unemployment claims reach a new, some U.S. employers say they are still struggling to recruit new workers -- which experts say is due to a number of factors.

But while the vaccine rollout is accelerating the country's reopening, some employers say they're still struggling to recruit workers.

Some Republicans argue that the extra unemployment benefits included in federal COVID-19 relief packages are dissuading many Americans from getting jobs. Some 15.4 million Americans were receiving some type of unemployment aid as of mid-May.

But analysts cite a slew of reasons why people may not be returning to work, including health concerns and caretaking responsibilities.

Some of those burdens fall disproportionately on women, and may not be resolved quickly. As NPR's labor and workplace correspondent Andrea Hsu reports, about 2 million fewer women are in the workforce now than before the pandemic. Read or listen to the story here.


New Doctors In India Are Starting Off Seeing The Worst And It's Taking A Toll

Posted June 3, 2021 at 10:28 AM EDT
Dr. Noor Dhaliwal, 23, recently finished medical school and last month began interning at Lok Nayak Hospital in New Delhi.
Dr. Noor Dhaliwal
Dr. Noor Dhaliwal, 23, recently finished medical school and last month began interning at Lok Nayak Hospital in New Delhi.

A brand new generation of Indian doctors is just starting out in medicine. They're doing so in the middle of the world's worst coronavirus outbreak. During the month of May, more than 3,500 people on average were dying every single day.

For interns in India, entering their profession during such a heightened crisis is taking an emotional toll.

Dr. Noor Dhaliwal, 23, just finished medical school in New Delhi. She's an intern at Lok Nayak Hospital, which has been treating large caseloads of COVID-19 patients during the pandemic.

I have seen young people, some just a few years older than me, not maintaining oxygen saturation. Each ward and ICU [is] ambushed with COVID positive patients and frantic relatives not being able to find a single bed. And if a bed gets empty it's usually because a patient has died.
Dr. Noor Dhaliwal

Despite entering the medical field at a time when there's no time or resources to get properly trained, Dr. Dhaliwal keeps going to work every day, eager to help even if it means learning on the fly.

In the city of Bangalore, Dr. Prakruthi Harihar, 24, is another medical intern. She was excited to work with patients and deal with different cases, but she wasn't expecting it to be this stressful.

Dr. Prakruthi Harihar started working in the ER at the Vasavi Hospital in Bangladore last week.
Dr. Prakruthi Harihar
Dr. Prakruthi Harihar started working in the ER at the Vasavi Hospital in Bangladore last week.

The pandemic became deeply personal for Dr. Harihar on her very first night of work, when she was posted in the COVID-19 intensive care unit.

"My friend's father was admitted [to] the COVID ICU. A couple of hours into my duty, he went into cardiac arrest," she says. "And we tried a lot of things, but we couldn't save him. It was actually a really bad and disturbing day for me."

Dr. Prakruthi Harihar and Dr. Noor Dhaliwal spoke to NPR's Steve Inskeep on today's Morning Edition. Here's their conversation.


Why The Media's Initial Dismissal Of The COVID-19 Lab Leak Theory Matters Now

Posted June 3, 2021 at 10:19 AM EDT

President Biden has tasked U.S. intelligence agencies with investigating the origins of COVID-19, in an effort to confirm where it came from.

He's said there are two likely theories: The virus either originated from human contact with a sick animal, or escaped from China's Wuhan Institute of Virology in some sort of accident.

The "lab leak" theory was initially dismissed by most pandemic researchers and media organizations — including NPR — but is now getting a second look. Here's why that matters:

Why did so many news organizations dismiss the lab leak theory at first?

One reason is its source: Former President Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed the theory, citing intelligence that they would not publicly release.

Many journalists believed Trump to be an unreliable narrator on the pandemic and were hesitant to spread these claims without evidence.

Why is this theory getting more credibility in mainstream media now?

As the science shifts over time, coverage will evolve too. And more credible voices are now calling for the theory to be investigated, even if they acknowledge it may not be the likely explanation.

A small group of respected scientists published a letter earlier this year calling for a closer look, and Biden has now characterized the search for the pandemic's origins as a matter of national security.

What mistakes did the media make?

Let's look at two examples. For one, news organizations could have done more to elevate the story of how China limited access to international researchers trying to investigate the pandemic's origins.

And many outlets interviewed Dr. Peter Daszak, a respected authority on pandemics and president of the organization EcoHealth Alliance, who has pushed to get the lab leak theory dismissed. His group actually helped fund the Wuhan lab — but the media did not always make this conflict of interest clear to readers.

Why does the media's early coverage matter now?

The media's job is to be an honest broker of facts, and give audiences enough information and context to evaluate the news they are getting.

When news organizations fall short of that goal, they may be empowering those who seek to undermine the credibility of the press — and, by extension, scientists and public health experts.

NPR Enterprise

Disinformation About Black Lives Matter Is Spreading Online

Posted June 3, 2021 at 10:08 AM EDT
A woman holds a Black Lives Matter flag during the funeral service of Daunte Wright in Minneapolis, April 22, 2021.
KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images
A woman holds a Black Lives Matter flag during the funeral service of Daunte Wright in Minneapolis, April 22, 2021.

Black Lives Matter activists say they're are seeing a rise in the number of disparaging online posts, riddled with disinformation about the movement.

Jordan Geiger is an organizer with Black Lives Matter in Indiana and he sees the posts as a way of creating distrust. For example:

"[R]eports circulating that BLM is going to vandalize businesses in downtown area; that we are targeting specific white communities," he says. "It makes our supporters say, 'okay, I don't want to get involved in that.' So when those kinds of lies and disinformation just goes unchecked, folks will believe it."
There are also false claims online that that the U.S. government has identified Black Lives Matter as a terrorist group. They have not.

Another widely circulated post that was debunked claimed that activists had badly beaten a group of elderly white people.

Ashley Bryant is the co-leader of WinBlack/Palante. It's a non-partisan group that monitors disinformation aimed at people of color. She's been tracking automated bots that send out scripted disinformation and spread conspiracy theories.

That went from George Floyd not being dead to George Soros funding protests and the the full out attacks on BLM where there’s foreign actors, there’s fake accounts pretending to be Antifa, all to actually just build this violent narrative around BLM.
Ashley Bryant, Co-leader of WinBlack/Palante

While a large majority of Black Americans continue to back the movement, overall support has dropped from the record level that occurred after George Floyd’s death.

How much of that loss is due to disinformation is difficult to measure but what's certain is the battle over controlling what people believe about Black Lives Matter is ongoing.

More on this story, here.


Welcome To Froggyland. A Museum Full Of Stuffed Frogs

Posted June 3, 2021 at 9:56 AM EDT
Frogs dance, drink, smoke and play cards in a scene created at the Froggyland museum
Rob Schmitz
Frogs dance, drink, smoke and play cards in a scene created at the Froggyland museum

Stuffed frogs, 507 of them. And they’ve been dead for more than a century. They’re all arranged in imaginative exhibitions where they’re acting out human situations.

There’s one scene where a froggy teacher is trying to restore order in a classroom. Then there’s a ballroom scene, with frogs dancing, drinking, smoking and playing cards.

Sound bizarre? This is Froggyland. It’s a museum in the coastal city of Split, in Croatia.

Over the years, it’s gotten a lot of attention from tourists. The museum has more than 600 reviews on the travel website TripAdvisor. Most are five stars:

“Froggytastic! Probably the best stuffed frog museum I have ever visited.”
Martin, Froggyland Visitor

Putting Martin’s stellar tongue-in-cheek review to the side, the museum also has its critics:

“Yes, let’s kill thousands of frogs for art and ask people ‘did you have fun at the end of it. Go if you have no soul.”
Poker G, Froggyland Visitor

NPR’s Rob Schmitz had a chance to visit Froggyland and meet the museum’s owner Ivan Medvesek, known to his employees as “Boss Itzo”.

Froggyland's owner Ivan Medvesek stands in front of a circus scene
Rob Schmitz
Froggyland's owner Ivan Medvesek stands in front of a circus scene

Boss Itzo talks about the positive and negative buzz behind Froggyland and how the pandemic’s impact on Croatia’s tourism industry has forced him to sell the museum to American investors.

He says he’s hopeful that a museum that began with his parents finding these frogs in an abandoned attic in Serbia 50 years ago might be headed to the United States.


The Owners Of The Company Behind OxyContin Are Closer To Getting Immunity From Opioid Lawsuits

Posted June 3, 2021 at 9:43 AM EDT

A federal judge in New York ruled yesterday that a bankruptcy plan for Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin, can move toward final approval later this summer.

More than $4 billion dollars that could go to communities hit hard by the opioid epidemic is at stake.

But there's a bit of a wrinkle. If the deal goes through, the owners of Purdue Pharma, the Sackler family (more on them here) would be immune to any lawsuits linked to Oxycotin or the opioid epidemic, including hundreds of civil suits already filed against them.

NPR's addiction correspondent Brian Mann is leading the reporting on this story.

Check out Brian's latest on what this development means for the Sacklers and communities hit hardest by the opioid epidemic.

Behind The Scenes

How The Doctor Who First Reported On The AIDS Epidemic Views The Legacy Of Denialism

Posted June 3, 2021 at 9:27 AM EDT
Left: Dr. Lawrence Mass (left) and gay activist and author Vito Russo (right) at a joint 40th birthday party for the two in 1986. Right: Mass (left) with his life partner Arnie Kantrowitz who is an author, activist and co-founder of GLAAD, and Vito Russo (right) early '80s.
Dr. Lawrence D. Mass
Left: Dr. Lawrence Mass (left) and gay activist and author Vito Russo (right) at a joint 40th birthday party for the two in 1986. Right: Mass (left) with his life partner Arnie Kantrowitz who is an author, activist and co-founder of GLAAD, and Vito Russo (right) early '80s.

Forty years ago Dr. Lawrence Mass published an article in a gay paper called the New York Native.

At the time gay men were just starting to show up in hospitals with a mysterious illness that seemed to be a result of compromised immune systems. A friend of Dr. Mass' who worked in an emergency room gave him the lead on the story.

The article Mass wrote was a landmark: It was the first story about AIDS in a U.S. publication.

Dr. Mass' article intrigued NPR's Ryan Benk. He wanted to find out more about the doctor who first broke the news. You can click below to read Ryan's essay and hear the piece he produced with Noel King.

A few months ago, I was working on an story about It's A Sin, an HBO Max miniseries about a group of gay men living in London during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s. (You can listen to that piece here, if you're curious.)

After the story aired, I still found myself thinking about what it must’ve been like to be a newly-out gay man as such a devastating disease took hold. That’s when I first came across Dr. Mass.

In 1981, Mass was a young, gay doctor living in New York City who wrote stories for the gay press.

When we connected with Dr. Mass recently, he shared getting a call in the early '80s from a friend who worked in an emergency room. She told him how concerned she was that gay men were showing up in intensive care units in New York City.

Dr. Mass' piece was published well before anyone knew what was causing the disease. It took three years from then for the origins of AIDS to be discovered, the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV.

During that time, denialism of its origins mushroomed among some in the medical field. That denialism not only affected the global response to HIV/AIDS, but it carried over to all kinds of other aspects of medicine and science, and is particularly relevant today.

Dr. Mass points to South Africa when he reflects on the legacy of AIDS denialism. The legacy, he says, is "the death — the preventable unnecessary deaths — of more of 330,000 people" there.

You can listen to Dr. Mass' story and learn more about how skepticism of science helped fuel the AIDS crisis.


Rapper Harry Mack Freestyles For 10 Hours Straight

Posted June 3, 2021 at 9:14 AM EDT

Freestyle rapper Harry Mack spent a lot of the pandemic video chatting with strangers. They'd suggest words, and he'd come up with verses on the spot — often leaving them speechless, and building up his fanbase in the process.

In fact, his YouTube channel recently hit 1 million subscribers. So to celebrate, he took things to the next level ... by live-streaming ten full hours of improvised rap. You can watch it all here.

"It's a pretty insane thing to do," Mack admitted earlier in the week.

But performing is in his nature: He's been freestyle rapping since age 12, studied jazz in college and is also a drummer. He says the energy he gets from peoples' reactions lifts him up, and makes him feel like he's living out his purpose.

Mack even dropped a few verses during his interview with Morning Edition. If you've ever wanted to hear a rap about NPR, now's your chance:

Harry Mack Freestyle


This Online Hub For Paramilitary Groups Keeps Growing, Despite Calls For Removal

Posted June 3, 2021 at 8:13 AM EDT
The top of the MyMilitia website homepage displays an ad for the National Rifle Association, a row of images and political cartoons related to Memorial Day.
Screenshot by NPR
The website MyMilitia helps users find and join far-right paramilitary groups, which have been the subject of renewed scrutiny since the Jan. 6 riot.

Some of the digital spaces where far-right extremists gather went dark after rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol in January. Others keep attracting new members, even as they are criticized by activists and dropped by advertisers.

One of those growing spaces is MyMilitia, a site that helps users browse, join and form unlawful paramilitary groups. It's been compared to the dating app Tinder, and currently counts some 30,000 users.

"It used to be that if you wanted to join a militia, it was a difficult process ... You had to actually really work for it. And now, with a matter of a few clicks, you can be linked up with people in your area who share the same mentality. And MyMilitia's really led that explosion."
Alex Friedfeld, investigative researcher for the Anti-Defamation League

Disclaimer: While some of these groups call themselves "militia," constitutional experts argue that the only legal militia in the U.S. is the National Guard.

Most of the people who attacked the Capitol were not part of such groups, but some are associated with far-right organizations like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.

An NPR investigation found that 16% of the more than 450 individuals facing criminal charges have ties to "extremist or fringe groups or ideas."

Joshua Ellis, who owns MyMilitia, characterizes the site as a forum for free speech and says no one charged over the insurrection has any connection to it.

It's faced some consequences: Google stopped placing ads on the site, and it's been dropped by payment services like Venmo and PayPal.

But activists on the left say those steps don't go far enough, especially since falsehoods about the 2020 election keep circulating on the site.

Read the full story, or take a listen:


Israel's Parliament Will Vote On A New Government To Oust Netanyahu

Posted June 3, 2021 at 8:13 AM EDT

In Israel’s history over the past quarter-century, no political figure has loomed larger than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s endured election after election. But Israeli opposition partners say they have now formed a government with the power to unseat the country’s longest-serving leader.

This deal involves a coalition of eight parties. If it holds, Naftali Bennett would be installed as prime minister for two years. He’s seen as more right wing than Netanyahu. Bennett is a hardline conservative who opposes a Palestinian state.

After two years, centrist politician Yair Lapid would become prime minister. But that’s a long way into the future, especially for Israeli politics.

Naftali Bennett (L) and Yair Lapid (R) would both serve terms as prime minister under this coalition agreement.
Naftali Bennett (L) and Yair Lapid (R) would both serve terms as prime minister under this coalition agreement.

The challenge with this coalition is that it’s wildly diverse. They’ve been haggling for days about how this new government would work. There are ultra-right wing political groups involved and centrist groups. The deal also includes a small Islamist party, the United Arab List, which would make it the first Arab party ever to be part of a governing coalition. So it really takes in the whole political spectrum and there are vast ideological differences. The key thing they have in common is that they want Netanyahu out.

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, has to approve the deal. A vote is expected to take place early next week. If it goes through, the coalition will end the record-setting 12-year rule of Netanyahu.

Netanyahu isn’t conceding defeat. He tweeted this morning that all right-wing members of parliament must oppose what he calls "this dangerous left-wing government."

NPR has a team of journalists in Israel covering this story and have this in-depth piece on who’s part of the coalition and what it could mean for Israel’s future.