CHRIS: Hey. This is Chris (ph).
RACHEL: And Rachel (ph). We're in Washington, D.C.
CHRIS: And we're about to play trivia with the NPR POLITICS team. This podcast was recorded at...
ASMA KHALID, HOST:
1:10 p.m. Eastern Time on Friday, Sept. 4.
RACHEL: Things may have changed by the time you hear this, but we'll always be Team Sheetz is Greater Than Wawa.
CHRIS: Enjoy the show.
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KHALID: I love that. I unfortunately missed the trivia night last night myself. I was out covering Joe Biden. But thank you all to you all who participated. I heard it was good fun.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Yeah.
KHALID: Well, hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the presidential campaign.
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: I'm Franco Ordoñez. I cover the White House.
LUCAS: And I'm Ryan Lucas. I cover the Justice Department.
KHALID: So we are going to begin today's show with what's really kind of a bombshell story in The Atlantic magazine. A story written by Jeffrey Goldberg alleges that President Trump repeatedly called military service members losers. The story accuses the president of name-calling soldiers killed during World War I and even former President George H.W. Bush. The piece also includes allegations that the president asked for military amputees to be excluded from a military parade because, quote, "nobody wants to see that."
NPR has not independently confirmed the allegations reported in The Atlantic, but I did feel like we needed to address this right off the bat at the top of the show because the White House is responding to these accusations. And, Franco, let's start with you. What is the administration saying?
ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. They are responding, and they are doing so very aggressively. I mean, look. The president took this on directly yesterday on his way back from a campaign trip to Pennsylvania, calling these things lies, asking, what kind of animal would make these kind of statements? And he promised that he'd actually swear on anything - a Bible, anything - and attest to that he did not say these things.
It's obviously gotten the White House's attention. They have been on the attack on multiple fronts. Alyssa Farah, the - a spokeswoman, today sent out a list of things that Trump has done for the military, citing pay raises, rebuilding efforts, promises to bring troops home. So the White House is taking this very, very seriously. There are - you know, there are some political implications here.
KHALID: And those political implications you suggest, you know, Franco, reminds me of back in 2016. When you look at the exit polls, I believe President Trump basically won veterans by, like, a 2-to-1 margin. He was and remains - I remember even after that, leading up into 2018 - fairly popular with veterans. I mean, is there a sense that any of these remarks could have political consequences for him as we head into November?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, I mean, I think it's early to say about these. You know, and they're alleged remarks, not, you know...
ORDOÑEZ: We - as you noted, we don't have independent confirmation of them. But look. these are remarks that he's made - you know, he's talked disparagingly about, you know, certain groups in the military before. He had that battle with Gold Star Families. He's had pushbacks with John McCain. And it's things like this that have actually had an impact on his support from the members of the military. The Military Times just put out a poll of service members right before the two conventions that showed support for Trump is slipping. It actually went as far to say that these military service members would support the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, over Trump by an amount of 41% to 37%.
LUCAS: I wonder - you know, the fact that Biden has a son who had served in the military - you know, he's by definition a military family - then whether that has allowed him to kind of gain support with military families in a way that many other Democrats perhaps would not be able to. Do you think that may factor in here at all?
KHALID: You know, Ryan, that's right. He put out a statement last night referencing the fact that he had a son who served in Iraq and pointing out that if he were president, he feels like he would view the military different than how President Trump has. And here he is talking about that this afternoon.
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JOE BIDEN: When my son volunteered and joined the United States military as the attorney general, he went to Iraq for a year, won the Bronze Star and other commendations. He wasn't a sucker. The servicemen and women he served with, particularly those that did not come home, were not losers.
ORDOÑEZ: I mean, I think it's clear that it's an opening for Vice President Biden. I mean, it's not just language that President Trump is - has used or also been alleged to have used about military families and some of the steps that he's taken that have kind of - you know, kind of raised eyebrows among military families, particularly, for example, you know, encouraging the potential use of active-duty militaries to kind of address some of the protests around the country. I mean, this is something that a lot of military families really, you know, kind of did not sit well with them - or the fact that the National Guard was used during the now-infamous walk across Lafayette Square to the church, where there was kind of a photo-op with the Bible. These are things that, you know, didn't necessarily sit well with a lot of military families.
KHALID: All right. Well, we have got to move on to another very important story, and that is a piece, Ryan, that you have been reporting. You know, lately, it does feel like President Trump has been really prioritizing this message of law and order. He has described cities as being in disarray, under siege from radical leftists. And, Ryan, you have been looking specifically at federal charges stemming from demonstrations in Portland, Ore. And what I thought was fascinating is it seems like your reporting finds that the image the president has tried to create isn't really entirely accurate.
LUCAS: It's not reflected in the federal charges that we have seen so far. Look; in protest situations like we've seen across the country, a lot of the arrests are going to be made by state and local officials, and the charges will be brought by state and local officials. In some cases, they are made by the federal government. And so I decided to look in particular at the federal prosecutions that we have seen in Portland stemming from the unrest there.
As of late last week, there were 74 cases that have been charged in Portland in federal court in connection with the unrest. That's been going on for more than three months, actually, in Portland - daily protests in favor of racial justice and against police brutality. There have been instances of violence. Some demonstrators have, you know, lit things on fire, thrown projectiles at federal officers. But by and large, people in Portland say that these protests have been nonviolent. But what the cases say is that - in the majority of the cases that have been charged so far, these are minor offenses. Eleven of them are citations, which is something akin to basically a ticket, like a parking ticket. You have around half which are misdemeanors - so fairly minor offenses. And a lot of those are actually what are known as Class C misdemeanors, which - if you are actually charged and convicted with something like this, you're looking at less than 30 days in jail. And what a lot of those charges ended up being would be things like failure to comply with a lawful order. So that could be - you know, federal agents are trying to clear the streets around the federal courthouse, and you don't move quickly enough, and then they arrest you. So this is not something like, you know, setting the courthouse on fire. A lot of these are really sort of minor things. That is not to say that there has not been violence and that there are not serious charges on the federal docket. There are.
ORDOÑEZ: You know, AG Barr has been, you know, making the rounds. He was recently on CNN. He's talking about antifa flying around from city to city. You know, he said he spoke to police in every city where there's been major violence, and they identified antifa.
ORDOÑEZ: What is that?
LUCAS: Well, we have - as you said, we have heard that from the attorney general. We've heard it from the president as well. We have not seen evidence of that in the criminal docket and federal court in these charges. There's been no reference to antifa. There's been no reference to any sort of movement. Interestingly, in some of the felony cases - and there are a number of felony cases here - 20 or more in which you have instances of, say, someone hitting a federal officer with a hammer. In one case, someone hit a federal officer with a baseball bat. You have people setting things on fire. So there is actual violence going on.
But even in the felony cases, there is not an allegation that someone belongs to the antifa movement or ascribes to the antifa movement. Interestingly, though, there are a couple of references in which one of the defendants says, for example, I was in the crowd. Someone walked up to me in a mask and hoodie and handed me something and told me to throw it, and so I did. And so there's kind of, like, a reference to perhaps people who are in the crowd, instigating...
KHALID: Like agitators.
LUCAS: ...Some of the violence. Exactly. But there's nothing more concrete than that at this point.
KHALID: So, Ryan, you've been describing these relatively, you know, nonviolent incidences in Portland. And I'm curious how that squares with some of these, you know, high-profile flashpoints that have made national news. You know, I'm thinking of Kenosha, Wis., where a Trump supporter has been charged with killing a couple of protesters, or this instance where a left-wing protester was shot by police. You know, he was suspected of fatally shooting a right-wing activist in Portland, Ore.
LUCAS: Well, this is where things can get kind of complicated and we enter kind of a gray zone. So the man who you are referring to is Michael Reinoehl, and he was fatally shot as law enforcement attempted to arrest him last night. Interestingly, he had done an interview with Vice News that aired shortly beforehand in which he talked about what had happened last weekend when the right-wing protester was shot. And what Reinoehl says is that he does not describe himself as a member of antifa, but I would say that it's kind of more as someone who agrees with the idea of anti-fascism, as opposing fascism. But he made clear - he said quite bluntly that he is not a member of antifa. And antifa is difficult in the sense that you have people in...
KHALID: Is antifa a membership group, though, Ryan? I mean, it feels like it's an autonomous association.
LUCAS: That's what I was about to say - is that it's not, like, a cohesive organization. It's kind of a movement of people with similar ideas. But the way that members of this administration have talked about it, it is though one can be a card-carrying member of the group.
KHALID: You know, it feels like politics is so polarized. And so my question is whether the perception that the president has created of lawlessness matters more than the reality of what is actually happening on the ground.
ORDOÑEZ: You know, consultants will tell you that campaigns are about messaging and who delivers those messages the best. Republican consultants tell me that Trump's strategy is, you know, clearly to repeat the law and order message over and over again and kind of almost, like, regardless of the big picture, of what specifically things are happening on the ground - but, if they say it enough, that a lot of that will sink in more.
LUCAS: And it's funny hearing that having just talked to a number of people in Portland and about the perception of Portland and what we see on the news and the way people talk about it as being, you know, overrun by anarchists and just engulfed in violence. And some of the people that I talked to there said, you know, it's not like that at all. You have an area where the protests are going on where daily life is kind of interrupted. But everywhere else, people are out walking dogs, you know, going to outdoor cafes. They're wearing their masks. But it's not a city under siege as it has been portrayed.
KHALID: All right. Well, let's take a quick break. And, Ryan, we will catch you again in a bit for Can't Let It Go.
LUCAS: Sounds good.
KHALID: But, Franco, we'll let you go for now. So take care. Enjoy the weekend.
ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.
KHALID: And we're back. Facebook has been taking action on political ads in posts that it says could undermine the integrity of the presidential election. You know, obviously, this is something that the company has a mixed track record on. So we have brought in two expert friends to help us understand this story. We've got Miles Parks, who covers voting and security. Hey, Miles.
MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hi there.
KHALID: And for the first time on the show, we've got Shannon Bond, who covers tech for NPR. Welcome, Shannon.
SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.
KHALID: So, Shannon, I want to start with you because it feels like this has been a big week for disinformation news on the platform and how the platform is allegedly addressing this all.
BOND: That's right. So lots of things going on this week - so first of all, Facebook and Twitter took down some accounts this week that were pushing false stories about the Biden campaign and about racial justice to a left-wing audience. They got a tip from the FBI about this. And they say this campaign was the work of the Internet Research Agency, which you'll probably remember is that Russian group that meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
So Facebook says they caught these efforts pretty early. It didn't gain a lot of traction. These agents set up what looks like an independent news site and recruited real freelance journalists to write stories. But, you know, really, this is evidence that Russian actors are again trying to interfere in U.S. politics as the intelligence community has been warning.
KHALID: So, Shannon, that's what the company is doing to deal with, you know, potential foreign actor intervention, say, coming from Russia. But my understanding is the company is also taking some steps to deal with misinformation happening, you know, from American, domestic political actors.
BOND: Yeah, that's right. So we got news from Facebook on Thursday that it's going to tighten up its rules around the election specifically. It's trying to stop the spread of bad information about voting and about election results. A couple of the notable things that were announced - Facebook won't accept any new political ads in the week before Election Day. It'll label or in some cases take down posts that are trying to suppress voting or cast any doubt on the process. And it's also trying to prepare for what happens after Election Day. You know, what if it takes days or weeks to get a result? So if candidates try to claim victory before the votes are counted, Facebook's going to flag those posts and point users to verified results. So there's a lot to dig into that's happened.
KHALID: Miles, you know, you stay in touch pretty regularly with election security advocates and folks looking at a lot of this. Is this - or are the measures that Shannon is describing what they had been anticipating that they would need to be paying attention to this cycle?
PARKS: The short answer is no. I mean, it's kind of hard to find somebody on either side of the aisle at this point, either on the left or on the right, who's happy about these developments and think this is basically, like, fixing the problem of election interference on social media. You know, a good example, Ellen Pao, who's the former CEO of Reddit, she tweeted after the announcement saying, Facebook is making superficial changes instead of addressing the core problem - an engagement engine that amplifies misinformation and hate for profit. So you kind of hear that. There's so many aspects of the things that Shannon listed that people who follow election misinformation look at and just say, this is not really going to help - even just the timeline of, you know, stopping political ads, which in and of itself, people think is kind of a small move. But even just to do it the week before the election - people are starting to vote in the next few weeks...
PARKS: ...You know? I mean, there's no - Election Day is no longer really a thing. People are going to be voting for six weeks leading up to the election. And so the idea that the week before the election will somehow make some huge difference - the other thing is when you talk about labeling misinformation as opposed to taking it down, there's just mixed evidence at this point whether that does anything helpful. You know, people on a whole do not really trust the social media platforms. Polls show that all the time. You know, more than 80% in a recent Knight Foundation poll do not trust social media companies to kind of police themselves. So you think about it, and if you're on Facebook scrolling, and Facebook tells you, hey, you should really think about, you know, what the politician you support is saying and whether it's true, are you going to listen to the politician, or are you going to listen to the social media company who you already inherently, you know, distrust? It's just unclear whether any of these policy changes are going to have real effects on the landscape.
BOND: We actually saw this play out just hours after Facebook's announcement, right? So President Trump had made a statement about, you know, encouraging supporters in North Carolina to try voting twice. And then he posted, you know, a similar idea on Facebook. Facebook put a label on that. But it was, you know, kind of voting is trustworthy. Here's more information. It's not a true fact-check, the label that they're putting on there. So I think it's not even necessarily clear to the user who sees it, you know, what the problem is. And they're labeling many posts about - most posts right now about voting. So there's a bit of a flattening. You know, it doesn't necessarily calling out a piece of information explicitly as, this is not true.
PARKS: I feel like it's a sign, Shannon. Like, you and I are very online. And the fact that if we're confused when a platform gives us a piece of information that - like, what am I supposed to be gathering from this thing, and what am I supposed to be taking away - if we're confused by that, then, you know, normal users who are maybe less engaged with the minutia of all this stuff, they're going to be really - I just find it hard to believe that they're going to come away with some substantive understanding of our election process from this.
KHALID: You know, I'm also struck, Miles, by the fact that, you know, at the beginning of this cycle, it felt like the federal government would be having a greater role in intervening to deal with some of the risks of misinformation. But it feels like what I'm hearing from both of you now is that much of this job has been outsourced directly to the platforms, to the social media platforms, to handle themselves.
PARKS: Yeah. I mean, I think the role of the government at this point is to kind of try to attack it from educating voters as opposed to - they can't really do anything about taking down bad information off of these platforms at this point based on, you know, the current laws that are in place. But what they can do, especially at the state and local level, is do their best to educate voters so that way when they come into contact with bad information, they may be more prepared for it and less likely to fall for it.
KHALID: Is that happening, though?
PARKS: It's happening at the state level. We saw it, you know, this week with some bad information that came out about potential - a potential hack in Michigan. Immediately, the secretary of state of Michigan, the Department of Homeland Security put out statements that kind of dispelled this misunderstanding. You know, all the voter rolls that were supposedly hacked and released were actually public records that anyone could acquire, and so there was no actual issue.
And so it does seem like there is a bigger focus on public education around voting, and especially around mail voting right now because there's so many changes happening. Drastically, what officials say is this could be a really big vector for misinformation because people are so confused, and things are changing so quickly. Department of Homeland Security actually put out a bulletin about it this week. According to ABC News, they got ahold of it and basically said, we're worried that Russia specifically is pushing false narratives. The problem, of course, is that, as Shannon mentioned, there's a bunch of domestic actors pushing these false narratives, too. So I think the officials are looking at this, basically saying, if we can't take down the bad piece of information, the best thing we can do is hopefully educate voters so they don't fall for it.
BOND: And, Asma, I think your point about it - we are really leaving this up to the companies to police. I mean, you see that in the way Facebook is framing this announcement. I mean, they are talking about what this company - and frankly, really, Mark Zuckerberg as the CEO and controlling shareholder of this company - you know, can do to help ensure the integrity of the political process. I mean, it's kind of mind-boggling that it is, frankly, these platforms that are in this position and not - you know, not society more generally.
PARKS: And it's really stark difference to how, you know, Zuckerberg was talking about his role four years ago when it was like - there were all these quotes of him kind of trying to argue that Facebook didn't have some huge role in the election. I don't think anyone is kind of letting that idea slide anymore.
KHALID: All right. Well, we are going to leave it there. Shannon, thank you so much for joining the show.
BOND: Thanks for having me.
KHALID: And we're going to take a quick break. And when we get back, it will be time for Can't Let It Go.
And we're back. And, Ryan, you've rejoined us. Hey there.
KHALID: And it is time now to end the show like we do every week, with our favorite part of the show, Can't Let It Go. That's the part where we talk about the things from the week that we just cannot stop thinking about, politics or otherwise. And I'm going to go first. And I should give credit where credit is due because this is an image that went viral, but I candidly didn't know about it until one of our producers, Lexi, brought it to our attention. There's this image that has gone all through the Internet of this masked mom holding her crying infant on the legislative floor at the California state Capitol that, to me, kind of just epitomized what a lot of motherhood lately feels like (laughter).
So apparently, she needed to address some issues on the floor of the state Capitol. But she's also the mom of this new 1-month-old. And so she had to head down to the Capitol, and, you know, there's this - to me, I think why maybe it went so viral for a lot of people is that, you know, a lot of us, because of the pandemic, are juggling taking care of kids or also trying to juggle work. And it's hard to do all of this at one time. I mean, I will say kudos to her. I cannot imagine doing any of this all with a brand-new 1-month-old while you're also trying to, like, placate that child at the same time as actually physically doing your job.
So kudos to her. Her name is Buffy Wicks. You'll have probably seen her picture at this point. But if you are late to the interweb's (ph) viral news this week like I was, take a look. It's just, to me, an amazing portrait of stamina and motherhood in this moment.
PARKS: Oh, wow. I'm - I just searched it right now. That's super powerful.
KHALID: Yeah. So, Ryan, why don't you go next?
LUCAS: So mine ties into a number of topics that are kind of in the news but with kind of a throwback 50 years. So I was recently at my parents' place, and they have been cleaning out the basement as parents are wont to do. And they discovered a pile of Life magazines from 1969, 1970. And one of them has a picture of a postman and a giant pile of mail, and the headline is The U.S. Mail Mess. That's the cover of one from November of 1969.
LUCAS: Another one is Women Arise: The Revolution That Will Affect Everybody. Fifty Years Ago, Women Got The Vote, which, of course, was 50 - you know, 100 years ago this year...
LUCAS: ...Because this is from 1970. And then the last one is from May 16, 1969. This edition of Life magazine costs 40 cents.
LUCAS: But the cover story is Collision Course In The High Schools. And it's a long story that they have with polls. And they talked to students and teachers and parents, but there are a number of questions on the cover that, in light of the conversation, the discussion that this country is having right now, I found particularly stunning. And one of the questions on the cover is, would more Blacks be harmful to your school? And the fact that in 1969, unsurprisingly - I mean, the '60s, you know, was the decade of the civil rights movement. But, you know, just 50 years ago, you were having that sort of question being posed.
KHALID: Also, the way that question is posed, Ryan, presumes that Black people aren't reading this magazine and that this magazine is made for white people.
PARKS: That's a great point.
LUCAS: You know, 50 years on, this country is still very much wrestling with its history and its racism.
PARKS: I have actually a framed Life magazine from, I think, in the '40s behind me in my office as we're talking right now of Ty Cobb, the baseball player, asking, is baseball dead? And this was like, you know, almost 100 years ago. And so I feel like it's so weird when you look through stuff like that and there are, like, some questions that are still being asked every decade since then, and then there's some questions like the one you mentioned that I feel like we have come so far. It's very odd.
KHALID: So, Miles, do you want to go next?
PARKS: Yeah, sure. So I want to give a shoutout to our congressional reporter, Kelsey Snell, who has been going through some sort of work-from-home nightmare...
PARKS: ...Over this week that I have just been honestly refreshing her Twitter feed daily to see the newest part of the saga. Basically, Tuesday, she's in her office at home - I don't know what room this is but - and she just starts hearing this light beeping.
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PARKS: And she posted it on Twitter. And I think in the beginning, it was kind of like, oh, man, somebody must have thrown away a smoke alarm. This is so silly. It's beeping. I can hear it. And then over the coming days, it just doesn't stop. And it, like - I feel like I can sense within her tweets, like, her growing. I can, like, feel her - almost like a horror movie where, like, the tension is building. And then, like, earlier today, she posted a photo where she actually finally went and investigated. And, like, she's, like, clearly holding a broomstick.
PARKS: The photo shows this broomstick where she's, like, prodding it in what looks like a shipwrecked scene. It's like - there's stuff overflowing out of a garbage bag, and you can see the smoke detector. And she seems to have stopped it. And then, like, a few hours later, it starts beeping again. And so I just want to say, thoughts and prayers with our NPR's Kelsey Snell.
KHALID: Yes. I know.
PARKS: I hope it stops beeping at some point.
KHALID: Or hopefully trash collection day is around the corner, and it will be removed from your alleyway so you don't have to listen to it anymore.
PARKS: Yeah. Well, then it's, like, apologies to the trash collection people who then have the...
PARKS: ...Haunted smoke detector on, you know, following their spirits.
KHALID: All right. Well, that is a wrap for today. Our executive producer is Shirley Henry. Our editors are Muthoni Muturi and Eric McDaniel. Our producers are Barton Girdwood and Chloee Weiner. Thanks to Lexi Schapitl, Elena Moore, Dana Farrington and Brandon Carter. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the presidential campaign.
PARKS: I'm Miles Parks. I cover voting.
LUCAS: And I'm Ryan Lucas. I cover the Justice Department.
KHALID: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.
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