DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Hello. This is Danielle Kurtzleben. And I am excited to announce our next pick for the NPR POLITICS PODCAST book club, "Fulfillment: Winning And Losing In One-Click America" by Alec MacGillis. It's a deeply reported book about Amazon's huge economic and political impact in America. We'll be interviewing Alec in mid-May. In the run-up to that, he'll be joining our listeners and followers to discuss the book in the NPR POLITICS PODCAST Facebook group at n.pr/politcsgroup. Go buy or borrow your copy of "Fulfillment," and join us there.
FELIX SENERFUCH: Hi. This is Felix Senerfuch (ph), a public school civics teacher, calling from Stockholm, Sweden. This podcast was recorded at...
AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:
It is 11:35 a.m. on Friday, April 16.
SENERFUCH: Things may have changed by the time you hear this, both in Sweden and in the U.S. But let's keep trying to give our children the best education possible, OK?
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RASCOE: This was very nice. I wonder what the weather's like in Stockholm right now.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Oh, I want to be there. I can't wait when it's safe to travel again.
RASCOE: Wow. I've never been to Sweden. But, you know, maybe he'll invite us one day. Maybe we'll do a live POLITICS show.
JOHNSON: Oh, count me in.
RASCOE: Hey, there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Ayesha Rascoe. I cover the White House.
JOHNSON: I'm Carrie Johnson, national justice correspondent.
RASCOE: And Adrian Florido is here with us. Thanks for joining us, Adrian.
ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi. Thanks for having me.
RASCOE: Testimony ended yesterday in Derek Chauvin's trial for the murder of George Floyd. George Floyd's death led to protest all over the world. Adrian, you've been covering this trial of Derek Chauvin for NPR. Let's start with the prosecution. What was their case against him?
FLORIDO: Well, the case that the prosecution said during its opening statements three weeks ago that it was going to set out to prove was that then Officer Derek Chauvin betrayed his badge when he used excessive force to kneel on George Floyd's neck for about nine minutes - that video that we've all seen - asphyxiating him to death.
And the prosecution called 38 witnesses to prove that case - bystanders who watched George Floyd's arrest and death under Chauvin's knee, who pleaded with the officer to get off of him, called the first responders and the doctors who tried to save George Floyd's life, had called police officers and use-of-force experts who've laid out their opinions on how Chauvin violated Minneapolis Police Department policy in his arrest and restraint of George Boyd. They called medical experts who argued that Floyd died of asphyxiation and not, as the defense has suggested, of a heart arrhythmia and his drug use.
So they laid out a very meticulous case. It was clear to me that the prosecution did a lot of preparation and that it really feels the pressure of this incredibly high-profile case to prove its case and to win a conviction here.
RASCOE: It seemed like just, I mean, from, you know, seeing the coverage of this, there were so - as you said, there were so many experts. It seemed like they were really trying to, in a way, just kind of stack the deck because it is so difficult in the U.S. - or it is so rare in the U.S. for police officers to be convicted for, you know, what they do while they're on duty.
FLORIDO: And they were aided in that by the mountains of evidence in this case. At one point, the defense attorney kind of complained in court that he had over 50,000 evidence submissions that had been passed to him by the prosecution. I mean, there was so much video, video that we hadn't even realized existed in this case. There were a lot of experts that actually reached out to the prosecution to volunteer themselves as expert witnesses because of what a high-profile case this was. And so they really had a lot at their disposal to try to make this case.
JOHNSON: Adrian, the defense case didn't last very long at all. What was the heart of the defense argument on behalf of Derek Chauvin here?
FLORIDO: Yeah, you're right. You know, the prosecution case lasted more than two weeks. The defense rested its case after just two days. It called only seven witnesses compared to the 38 that the prosecution called. So remember that, unlike the prosecution, the defense only has to prove a reasonable doubt in the mind of one juror in order to prevent a conviction. So in order to do that, it called really two main witnesses of the seven it called total.
It called its own use-of-force expert and a medical expert, a forensic pathologist, who both worked to contradict the case that the state made, basically arguing that what Derek Chauvin did in arresting George Floyd was totally appropriate and not an excessive use of force, and also to make the case that George Floyd did not die of asphyxiation. There were all kinds of different contributing factors that led to his sort of sudden death - his heart disease, his drug use. There was even the suggestion that Floyd may have been poisoned by carbon monoxide from the exhaust pipe of the police car under which he was being pinned. So really, the goal here is to raise a reasonable doubt in the mind of one juror. And we'll see if they did that.
RASCOE: Carrie, what are the range of repercussions that Chauvin could face if he is found guilty?
JOHNSON: Yeah, you know, he faces three charges if he's convicted on the most serious charge, which is second-degree unintentional murder. The sentencing guidelines call for something like 10 to 15 years. He also faces a possible charge of third degree murder. That also is a 10 to 15-year sentence. And it's worth noting - a few years ago, when a Black police officer in Minneapolis was convicted of killing a white woman, he was sentenced to about 10 years. There is a third charge against Chauvin, second degree manslaughter, which will be something more like 41 to 57 months. But there could be real time here involved, real prison time.
RASCOE: Whatever happens with this verdict, you know, the issue of police reform is not going away, is not going anywhere. At this point, the Biden administration has pledged that it is going to try to take on these matters. Now, policing is a local issue. So what the federal government can do is somewhat limited. But what is the Biden administration saying that they will try to do within their power?
JOHNSON: You know, I you know, we heard from Attorney General Merrick Garland on this this week. He spoke at the National Action Network, that organization led by the Reverend Al Sharpton. He basically said the DOJ Civil Rights Division is the tip of the spear here. He wants to see Vanita Gupta confirmed as the No. 3 at Justice. She would be responsible for overseeing the civil rights division. He wants to see Kristen Clarke confirmed. She had her Senate confirmation hearing this week to run the civil rights division itself. He also pledged to use the Justice Department's power to investigate wrongdoing, patterns of wrongdoing at police departments around the country. Here's what he had to say.
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MERRICK GARLAND: It is stepping up its efforts to ensure the right to vote. It is combating discrimination in areas from housing to education to employment. And it will work hard to ensure accountability for law enforcement misconduct. It will also prioritize investigating whether government agencies are engaging in patterns or practices that deprive individuals of their federal or constitutional rights. And it is redoubling its effort to investigate and prosecute hate crimes.
JOHNSON: You know, we have some news on that. Just this morning, Merrick Garland scrapped a Trump era memo at the Justice Department that imposed really tough conditions and requirements on settlements with state and local governments over things like policing practices, some of the consent decrees that were reached in the Obama years, for instance. These new practices at justice that Garland just introduced will make it a little bit easier for the Civil Rights Division to reach consent decrees with police departments and try to get courts to impose monitors to examine the practices of these departments that are discriminating against people.
RASCOE: Do we know when there should be a verdict in this case?
FLORIDO: Well, the closing arguments are scheduled for Monday. After that, the jury goes into deliberations almost immediately. So, you know, as the judge told the jury when he excused them for the weekend, it could take an hour, or it could take a week. It could take longer. He told them to pack a bag because they're going to be sequestered in a hotel. I think we'd all like to see an expeditious decision by the jury. But we're kind of hunkering down in case it takes a long time.
RASCOE: You know, regardless of what happens in this case with Chauvin, what has transpired, whether it's the shooting of Daunte Wright, you had another young boy that was shot in Chicago by the police, what happened over the summer after the George Floyd, the video of that - it was a response to the fact that people are tired.
RASCOE: There is a pain and a wound in this country that is not - that's not being dealt with, whatever it is, whatever happens in these cases. There is something that is not being dealt with right now. It has not been. And no one case or anything like that is going to fix it. But there is something in this country that is broken. And that is what I think exploded over the summer. And those are the things that people are responding to.
FLORIDO: You know, one of the things that's so interesting to me is to see all the other ways in which the George Floyd case is explicitly affecting things that are happening in the cases of other - cases of police misconduct or police killings. You know, Kim Potter, the police officer who just outside of Minneapolis a few days ago shot and killed Daunte Wright, was charged almost immediately, within a day, in large part because of the protesters who were already out preparing for a verdict in the George Floyd case. You know, the case of Adam Toledo, that young boy in Chicago, right? The response to his killing by police has been directly influenced by the George Floyd case.
Even in the case of this former police officer who, more than a decade ago, was fired for pulling off one of her colleagues when he was beating up a Black man and sued to get her pay reinstated, that decision came down just a few days ago. And the judge who sided with her granting all of that back pay for more than a decade cited the George Floyd case. So really, the repercussions of this case are rippling far and wide.
RASCOE: Adrian, thank you so much for sharing your reporting with us. And Adrian and Carrie, hopefully we can get you back to talk about a happier - happier things on another Friday.
FLORIDO: I would love that.
RASCOE: Yes, but thank you. Thanks so much for joining us. When we get back, we'll talk about how the Johnson & Johnson pause is playing out on the Internet.
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RASCOE: And we're back with Miles Parks and Danielle Kurtzleben.
MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hello.
RASCOE: Happy Friday.
PARKS: Happy Friday to you.
KURTZLEBEN: Happy Friday to you.
RASCOE: So this week, we had news break that the federal government was going to pause the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over concerns about what seems to be a 1 in a million risk of blood clotting. That review by the Food and Drug Administration is still ongoing. But obviously, this is something that people really zeroed in on because of the pandemic, because of, you know, how vaccines have become such a flashpoint for people. Miles, while a lot of those articles that were pushed on on this topic were from credible sources, there were some others that were pushed by people that were not as credible, right?
PARKS: Yeah, that's right. And I mean, going back to your first point just about the scale of just how much this blew up online, I think it's important to realize Johnson & Johnson was being mentioned online every hour on Tuesday as much as it was being mentioned in entire weeks prior to that according to tracking data from this firm Zignal Labs, so people were talking about it. And whenever there's a topic like that that people are talking about, the misinformation actors are going to jump in there and try to take advantage of that. And so what we saw with this story was, you know, people who have built their brand - online brand on vaccine skepticism really jumped on this news to kind of push this false premise that vaccines are unsafe or unreliable in some way. You know, the top shared link on Facebook in terms of engagement was by a prominent conspiracy theorist on Tuesday, so, you know, we're just seeing a lot of people jumping on this news to push this false premise.
RASCOE: But the tricky thing with this is that some of the social networks have clamped down on false information being pushed about vaccines, but there's a way that you can put out information that is true but frame it in a way that is misleading.
PARKS: Totally. And I mean, this - that's exactly the problem here. The companies themselves - Facebook is like, no, these are from mainstream news outlets. There's nothing we can do when people are sharing true information. But the problem - what experts I talk to say is that this is kind of what's called gray area misinformation, where the information nugget might be true. You know, the government is recommending a pause in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But the people who are sharing it have built this idea - they've built their audience because people are coming to them for information about whether it's the vaccines being unsafe or the pandemic being a cover for government control or something like that.
And so then when these people are able to jump on news like that, those people who are receiving that information take it as kind of a furthering of those belief systems instead of what the CDC is hoping people take this as, which is, hey, we're investigation. This is a really, really, really rare side effect. It's, you know, more likely that you'll get struck by lightning than get a blood clot from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But that's not how these people are going to receive that information is what experts say.
KURTZLEBEN: Right. Well, and there's also sort of a double-edged issue here, right? If you are the type of person to distrust the government, for example, or to distrust politicians, then if you hear politicians or the government saying, hey, get the vaccine, that can backfire. And there is a recent focus group from pollster Frank Luntz that has been written about, reported on where various especially Trump supporters, many of them Republican men, said, look; I don't want to be indoctrinated. That was their big pushback on some of the messaging about, hey, go get the vaccine. Their immediate response was, well, hey, you can't tell me what to do, and also, especially the government can't tell me what to do. So getting the messaging right on this on a vaccine that can very much save lives is very difficult and might be a bit of a tightrope walk.
RASCOE: So for both of you, how do you do that? How do you convince people that these conspiracy theories are not true? And how do you help them get over these fears and misperceptions?
PARKS: Well, I think that the biggest thing, going back to Danielle's point, is trying to build back some of this confidence in scientific institutions. And I think what's kind of ironic around the Johnson & Johnson news is that federal health officials are actually probably looking long term and not short term when they made this decision to pause this because obviously, we're probably going to see a dip in confidence in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine specifically from this news. But, you know, this is a situation where the government is being unbelievably transparent and, you know, taking action as - in response to some of these very, very rare side effects. And so long term, it potentially, you know, could cut into this idea that, oh, the government is trying to sweep these issues under the rug or something like that. This is very much science at work. And it's transparent. So I think long term, the hope is that this sort of pause actually leads to people being more confident in the government response.
KURTZLEBEN: Right. And I think the thing that I would add here is jumping back to that focus group that I mentioned, like, look, if it's true that a lot of the people who aren't getting the vaccine are saying, I am not going to listen to messages, I'm not going to blindly follow you when you tell me what to do, the flip side of that is that in the same focus group, Frank Luntz asked - presented them with information on the vaccines. They had Public health officials say not, hey, go get it, but instead, OK, here are some basic facts about it. The vaccine side effects are not as bad as COVID's effects on your body. And that message got through to people much better. That made people trust the vaccine more.
So maybe the sort of upshot of this is that it's possible that making people feel as if they have the choice, not, hey, go get it, but here, let me present you with the information. Now you choose. That is possibly a winning message. However, that also raises other questions like, OK, how are people going to get this information? If Fox News isn't presenting it, if your friends aren't presenting it, if the people around you aren't presenting it, then how is it going to get to you?
PARKS: Right, or if your social media feed isn't necessarily showing it to you, right?
KURTZLEBEN: Exactly. Exactly, yes. So for every answer, there's a new question.
RASCOE: There is a new question. And I have heard that when people hear that most doctors have gotten the vaccine, that that is one factoid that helps to convince them that it's probably safe. But as you said, it's very hard. It's a very difficult situation. And we'll have to see what happens. Let's take a quick break. And when we get back, it's time for Can't Let It Go.
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RASCOE: And we're back. There was definitely really heavy news this week, but we're going to try to, you know, lighten the moment, as we always do, and end the show with Can't Let It Go. But before we do that, Danielle, you've been the ringleader of our NPR POLITICS Book Club, reading books with our listeners and putting their questions to the authors in an interview for the podcast. What is the new pick?
KURTZLEBEN: The new pick - we announced it today in the Facebook group, and now we're announcing it here - it is "Fullfillment" by Alec MacGillis. It is - thus far, I am not finished with it yet, but thus far - an excellent, really well-reported book about Amazon, about it being an economic and political behemoth. So I'm absolutely excited to talk to him about all things Amazon.
RASCOE: OK. I love my same day and two-day delivery, so this sounds like that might - this might mess with that.
PARKS: I just watched "Nomadland" with Frances McDormand, and I will say that, yeah, my picture of Amazon - not exactly bolstered by that movie. So I'm really interested to...
KURTZLEBEN: I'm afraid to watch it. I don't know if my...
PARKS: Beautiful film, but really sad.
RASCOE: OK. Well, Danielle, on a brighter note, what can't you let go of this week?
KURTZLEBEN: It's going to be a brighter note for you two than me. This is a poll by YouGov. And I cannot recite all of the results here for reasons that will become clear in a moment. But our listeners can find this poll by just going to Google and typing in YouGov 50 state poll. Because the polling organization YouGov did a poll on which states are best and which states are worst.
KURTZLEBEN: And let me tell you something, Iowa did not fare well.
PARKS: Oh, no.
KURTZLEBEN: (Laughter) All right. But hold on. So they basically - what they did was they matched up, you know, X state and Y state, Ohio versus Minnesota, and then said, all right, so and so, which is better? And, well, let me give you guys some good news. North Carolina, which is where you're from, Ayesha...
KURTZLEBEN: ...Is No. 5.
KURTZLEBEN: Tied with that is Florida.
PARKS: Let's go. Nice.
KURTZLEBEN: Yeah. Congratulations, you two.
PARKS: Thank you.
KURTZLEBEN: Iowa - 46th.
RASCOE: Oh, wow. What's wrong with Iowa?
PARKS: What was below you?
KURTZLEBEN: Arkansas, New Jersey, Mississippi and Alabama. District of Columbia - 51. And I'm wondering if maybe District of Columbia people were just like, well, that's not a state. I don't know.
PARKS: So can I ask you, Danielle, real quick, where do you think Iowa should have been ranked?
KURTZLEBEN: You know, I'm not going to say No. 1 because...
PARKS: Please, please do not say No. 1 because - (unintelligible) Hawaii? Come on. Come on.
KURTZLEBEN: No. 1 is Hawaii. No. 1 is, of course, Hawaii. Yeah. But like, look. I feel like the most Iowan response possible is to say, you know, we may be slightly above middle, maybe like 23.
KURTZLEBEN: You know, look. We're great. We know we're great. But there are more important things. We don't have to get full of ourselves, you know?
RASCOE: You know.
KURTZLEBEN: I feel fine right there. You know, we don't need all the attention. It's OK. You know, we have other things to do.
RASCOE: I love the accent that comes out.
KURTZLEBEN: Thank you.
RASCOE: (Laughter) Miles, what can't you let go of?
PARKS: What I can't let go of is this TikTok video that I've watched like 25 times. And it makes me laugh every single time. Basically, the premise is like a guy gets back to - I think what seems like his, like, group house or with his roommates. And he told them that, like, he had his vaccine appointment that day. And he gets back, and they realize he did not get the Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. And chaos ensues.
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BEN MARSHALL: I got vaccinated.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yes, dude. What did you get, the Moderna or Pfizer or?
MARSHALL: Oh, I think it was the dumbreka (ph). Yeah, man. It's dope. This summer's going to be sick.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: What did you say, the dumbreka?
MARSHALL: The dumbreka. Yeah, it was like the cheapest one. It was like 300 or something. can tell it's working already. My eyes are super blurry.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Dumbreka? That sounds evil.
MARSHALL: No. Come on. I really hope it's not. I just feel healthy, man. I've been expelling a ton of black bile.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: That's not healthy, man.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Why are you saying it like that?
PARKS: Ben Marshall is the guy's name. He's like a comedian, I think, actor in New York. So shoutout to you, Ben Marshall. You have made me laugh like 30 times over and over and over again this week.
RASCOE: But you're into the - you're into combating misinformation. And this is a way to kind of do that or poke fun of that. So it's like - it's kind of like your job, too.
PARKS: I mean, yeah. It's like poking fun at like vaccine doubts, I guess. But, I mean, yeah, I was unclear. I was like, if he's playing this somehow, some way, somebody's going to hear this and be like more hesitant to get vaccinated, but I don't think - hope not.
KURTZLEBEN: That's what I'm thinking.
PARKS: I hope not.
RASCOE: I thought he was going to, like, turn into a zombie, which is what I always, you know, when people, you know, talk about this is like, look, I mean, we'll know if people are like running around like, you know, chomping at the bit or something? Like, we'll know. Like, you'll know it.
KURTZLEBEN: Craving brains.
RASCOE: Yeah. You'll see them running, and then we'll know what happened, right? (Laughter).
PARKS: Yeah, I would hope so. What's your Can't Let It Go, Ayesha?
RASCOE: On a happier note, oh, my goodness - but actually, it's not very happy. This is a mystery that I'm really unsettled by. And I really want to get to the bottom of this. But I'm - there is a giant bunny that is missing. It's missing. It's a giant 4-foot-long rabbit,
PARKS: Like a real rabbit?
RASCOE: A real rabbit. And it is - you have to look it up. So look up this rabbit. This rabbit is 4 feet long. It is massive. Like, you have to see the picture of it.
PARKS: Do I just Google giant bunny?
RASCOE: Giant rabbit.
PARKS: Oh, yeah - world's longest bunny. Wow.
KURTZLEBEN: Yeah. Let's not bury the lede here.
RASCOE: Four feet long.
PARKS: That's a donkey. That's not a rabbit. That's a donkey.
KURTZLEBEN: Also, like, it sounds like a caterpillar. He needs extra legs.
RASCOE: It is massive, and someone stole it. And now there is a professional pet detective - I'm serious - who is saying that you need to lock down the borders because this, you know, so that this animal cannot be moved. The pet detective is Robert Kenny. And he said that if the animal remains in the U.K. I have no doubt whatsoever that it can be recovered. But you can't - you have to contact all the ports and make sure that they don't try to get this big rabbit outside of the U.K. to do God knows what with it (laughter).
KURTZLEBEN: Are we sure the rabbit was stolen or did he make a break for freedom?
PARKS: That's a good point.
KURTZLEBEN: He's big enough.
PARKS: That thing could probably run like 40 miles an hour.
RASCOE: They said it was in an enclosure and that someone was probably scoping out the place. And they got - like - they got - they had to have, like, a truck. You can't just grab this thing. Like, and what if it starts fighting you?
PARKS: I'm kind of scared for the bunny, too. I don't know what...
RASCOE: My husband, who I love, actually looked at this bunny and started talking about rabbit legs. And I said, you know what? You wrong for that (laughter). Don't you do that. And we don't eat rabbit. To be clear, he was joking. We don't eat rabbit. But how do you look at this cute little bunny and start talking about rabbit legs? It's not right.
PARKS: Yeah, I'll be keeping the bunny in my thoughts.
KURTZLEBEN: His name is Darius, by the way. Darius, I hope you're OK. Go home, Darius.
RASCOE: Well, I think that's it for this week. I got to find the end of this script because I was too busy looking at the bunny. I was too mesmerized. I was mesmerized. But anyway, our executive producer is Shirley Henry. Our editors are Muthoni Muturi and Eric McDaniel. Our producers are Barton Girdwood and Chloee Weiner. Thanks to Lexie Schapitl and Brandon Carter. Our intern is Claire Obi (ph).
I'm Ayesha Rascoe. I cover the White House.
KURTZLEBEN: I'm Danielle Kurtzleben. I cover demographics and culture.
PARKS: I'm Miles Parks. I cover voting and misinformation.
RASCOE: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.
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