Four Pieces of COVID News and the Big Lie (with Dan Pfeiffer)
Andy starts the show with some good news about COVID-19, regarding case numbers, child vaccines, and a new study on long COVID and Omicron. Then, Obama’s former political advisor and Pod Save America host Dan Pfeiffer joins to react to the Jan. 6 hearings and explain why Democrats suck at political messaging. Plus he gives Democrats handy tips to level the political playing field, including how to make politics feel like a righteous adventure.
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Check out these resources from today’s episode:
- Order Dan’s new book, “Battling the Big Lie: How Fox, Facebook, and the MAGA Media Are Destroying America”: https://www.twelvebooks.com/titles/dan-pfeiffer/battling-the-big-lie/9781538707975/
- Get your questions about the COVID-19 vaccine for children answered by the American Academy of Pediatrics: https://www.aap.org/en/pages/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-infections/covid-19-vaccine-for-children/about-the-covid-19-vaccine-frequently-asked-questions/
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Andy Slavitt, Dan Pfeiffer
Andy Slavitt 00:18
Welcome to IN THE BUBBLE. This is your host, Andy Slavitt. It’s Wednesday, June 22. In case you don’t have a calendar or case you track these things. Our show today is about the Big Lie on January 6, with an awesome guest, Dan Pfeiffer, who many of you I think, probably know, but I want to begin with some good COVID news, four pieces of good COVID news for you, with maybe the fourth being the best and most surprising. Number one, cases are down around the globe by double digits, week over week, about 13%. Around the globe, some European countries have seen a 40% drop. It’s down in the US now for about 10 days in a row. It’s back to under 100,000 reported cases, which is still a lot the cautionary note, it is still reasonably high in many counties in the country, to finally get into wastewater almost everywhere. So it’s not that it’s not here, it’s just dropping. It’s still high, though. And hospitalizations have ticked up. It’s still relatively low. But it’s inching up by the week, and it probably will for a few more weeks. But that’s not all good news. Second piece of good news is very good news. The death rate from COVID is now about three in 1000 reported cases, in terms of infections, the number of people infected who don’t always report their cases, it’s even lower, you know, one would guess it’s probably lower than one and 1000. So that accounts for about 250 deaths per day. And that really hasn’t budged. Even as we’ve seen more Omicron cases, that’s very impacted, I should say, by your age, and your health status, of course. So be careful still, and be careful around people you love. And if this thing spread, they eventually could find someone who is at risk. But this is very good news. And it’s directly because of science. It’s because of vaccines and therapeutics, as most people are leading normal lives. Now they’re not being overly protective. And we’re still seeing this reduction in death rate. And let me be clear, while 250 deaths a day is more than we want, you know, if this sustained, it’s under 100,000 deaths per year. And that would be a victory and a controllable infectious disease. And it’s a place to build from it’s too early to declare that. But we should be encouraged. Third, today, everyone in this country, over the age of six months, can get a vaccine if they want it.
Andy Slavitt 02:52
Now, should parents with kids under five do it? In my opinion. Yes. How many will? According to polls, it’s about 20%. But 1 in 5 kids? Are those other 4 in 5, families, stupid? No, they’re not. Here’s why. If this interesting, what did three parents of a teen say that their pediatrician did not recommend the vaccine, 40% of parents of kids 5 to 11 say that their pediatrician did not recommend the vaccine. And likely it could be about half of kids under five will have a pediatrician that doesn’t recommend the vaccine. So there is clearly an argument to be had. And there clearly are people who just don’t want to stick something into their kids that they don’t feel has a long, long long track record. Or they’re influenced by misinformation, or the pediatricians don’t rule it out, are influenced by misinformation. But look, these kids have long lives ahead of them. Long, long lives. As a parent of a kid who dealt with long COVID, I will tell you, that is reason enough alone, and the vaccines are safe. Myocarditis is very, very rare, particularly kids pre puberty. And it’s quite frankly, much more likely to happen as a result of the virus in the vaccine. So choose for yourself. But it is available now for everyone. And that’s a very good thing. Now to the fourth point, can I get a drumroll? Can I get a drumroll please? The fourth point of good news is, that a study came out in Lancet conducted I think, by King’s College, which showed that Omicron, as compared to Delta has seen a really significant reduction in long COVID. So the likelihood of getting long COVID from Omicron is really significantly reduced like 20 to 50% lower than it was under delta. And I know for a lot of us this, understanding the odds of getting lung COVID has been a real uncertainty that is very influential. And we’ve always wanted to know, hey, is there a study, which shows how likely it is to happen. And this was a really well conducted study, they defined long COVID as symptoms occurring beyond four weeks. And they’re suggesting that only one in 20 people are showing symptoms after four weeks, with Omicron, and it was as much as twice as high with Delta. And by the way, they only tested vaccinated people. And they control for every other factor everything. Now, if you are older, or if you’ve had the vaccine, in a more distant past, both of them were a bit of a factor, they’re just wide, depending on those factors is between 20%-25% and 50% difference. So it is the case that if you’ve been vaccinated with Omicron now, the dominant variant, you are less likely to get long COVID. pretty significantly. There’s one catch I want to just point out, which is that your relative risk is lower. But your absolute risk is still high. What do I mean by that? That’s kind of kind of like jumbo speak, right? What it means is, if you get COVID, you have a much lower percentage chance of getting long COVID according to this study. But because Omicron is indeed very contagious, and there are more cases, the likelihood that you get COVID is higher. And so there are still a lot of people that are gonna get long COVID So that entirely out of the woods. Anyway, four pieces of very good news I thought you’d want to hear, okay to talk about the hearings that are going on right now, the January 6thhearings and the Big Lie.
Andy Slavitt 06:51
I’ve got Dan Pfeiffer on the show. He’s a podcaster podcast is called pod save America, where they built a model for advocacy and information all in a package. By the way, if I’m speaking of podcasts, I have to mention, go listen to new day, it’s on three times a week, it’s on Lemonada. It is focused on your mental health and well-being. I can’t mention the word podcast without reminding you of that. Anyway, Dan wrote a new book about how the political left has gotten outfoxed. By a more brazen, right, in his telling a REIT willing to put forward the big lie, and to co-op social media and Fox News into selling it. His book is called battling the big lie how Fox, Facebook, and MAGA media are destroying America, we’ll talk about the book, as well as some of the other topics. And understanding he’s got a point of view. It’s not a book for Trump’s supporters. But I am going to get his take on all these topics on the hearings. And then I’m going to challenge him a little bit on this point of view. We don’t often use this show to get into brass knuckle politics. That’s not the purpose of the show. I don’t think that’s why people listen to the show. But I will say that the solution. So many of the things we discuss on this show, whether it’s gone, just because with Beto on Monday, or people being disgusted over the Big Lie, they depend on how people show up. And if they show up to the ballot box, and the things that influence them to get there. That right there is politics. And that’s what Dan did for a living before he became a podcaster. It’s just a job like any other job, and we’re gonna talk about that job is about, but he ran the communications for the Obama White House. And he’s good at describing it. And if you listen to the show, you will probably imagine if you’ve listened to the show before, that I am a Democrat. And it’s important to say that I am a Democrat, and not fooling anybody that if you look at the that I served in the Obama White House, that I’m probably a Democrat. But it’s important that I’m transparent when we have these conversations, because I do try to give it to you straight. And I don’t accept everything I hear from Democrats hook line and sinker. And so I want to challenge him because some of the claims he’s making and some of his approaches are important to challenge, understand, how to navigate this, what’s going on with the media, what’s truly at the policy level. It is a very fun conversation. I believe you’ll both enjoy it and learn a lot from it. So let’s get to Dan.
Well, thanks for coming on. I’m excited about.
Thanks for having me.
You are the White House Communications Director, which is very impressive sounding by the way. And you are also the communication director for presidential campaign. Now, like a lot of us have jobs, and then like we have to explain our job. So like our parents over Thanksgiving and so forth. I think people probably assume that they know what a White House communications director does, or campaign director but like if you’re explaining it to them, like a niece or nephew, your parents? What were you accountable for in the White House? And how does that job work?
Dan Pfeiffer 10:06
Ultimately, and the job has changed dramatically from what I had it as media has changed and how you think about it. But primarily most like, broadly speaking, your job is to figure out how to communicate the president or the presidential campaigns message to the public using every available tool. What media are you doing? What are you talking about? How are you communicating that message? How’s it getting from your campaign, from the Oval Office into the eyes and ears of the public and then a campaign that’s a narrowly a more narrowly focused thing where you were thinking about the presidential campaign, these people in the States. And when you president say it’s the entire country? Even the, you know, in Obama’s case, the 46% of Americans who did not vote for him to in the first time around? How do you reach them?
So it’s Between Two Ferns, was basically the answer to that.
You bet. I mean, that is exactly right. It’s everything between 60 minutes to Between Two Ferns to press conferences to the president slipping a little policy in. And as he does his bracket on ESPN during March Madness, all of those things, and the message itself is a collaborative effort, particularly with a president like President Obama, who is a pretty good at it historically great messenger or a storyteller? Yeah, he’s better at it than I am, you know, in the White House.
Which sucks when your boss is better than you.
Yeah and he would tell you that in the nicest way possible. A collaborative effort between, you know, like, David Axelrod or David Pluff, you know, the people in sort of in the senior advisor role, people in the, President outside political advisors saying about, like, what’s the exact message and the communication director plays a big role in that, and then helps develop the plan to communicate that message.
I remember I remember once briefing the guy, and like to try to communicate to him whether something was a good a good policy we recommended, but I was like, hey, but you know, the politics of this may be a little tricky. And he kind of looked at me as like, yeah, I think I can kind of understand how the politics work.
Dan Pfeiffer 12:07
That’s right. I pay other people for that advice.
So, as political attention getting events ago, like, obviously, the January 6 hearings, are kind of this historical thing. And before I want to get into sort of communication elements, how people are perceiving it differently in their camps, and all that, I wanted to say clinical for a second about the facts that are emerging from the hearing, and try to be as dispassionate as possible, and also just see through kind of your lens, who’s really good at watching this stuff. Are there moments that have really stuck out to you as what are the kind of going to be the long term takeaways from what these hearings are showing us?
I mean, ultimately, I think the long term takeaways are gonna have to do with what happens next. If all this information comes out, and people are not held accountable, either legally or politically, then it’s going to be, there’ll be a question of to what end. But as it’s processed, there’s been two things that I think are really important, one is just reminding people of what happened on that day, how scary it was, how violent it was, how close we clean came to so much more tragedy, whether it’s the mob being 40 feet from Mike Pence, as we learned in the hearing recently, whether it’s the fact that they were sort of out hunting, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez or Nancy Pelosi, I think it’s so hard to process as a country that that happened to us in this way that we’ve sort of become uncomfortably numb to it. So it’s reminding us of that. And then the other thing is it has cut through all the noise on both sides ism and provided incredibly compelling testimony from the mouths of Trump’s own aides to say that Donald Trump knew he lost the election. He knew what he was trying to do was illegal. He did it anyway. And that led to a lot of violence and whatever else you happen and you don’t need this is not Adam Schiff saying it it’s not Benny Thompson saying it’s not even Liz Cheney saying, it is Donald Trump communications director, Donald Trump’s daughter, Donald Trump’s son in law, Donald Trump’s deputy counsel, these are people with you know, who are card carrying benighted members of MAGA nation, who are saying these things and that is a very compelling hard thing to shake.
Andy Slavitt 14:26
That’s one Deep Throat there’s like nine Deep Throat’s at least.
Yes, and they’re all on the record. Right. It’s as if we knew who Deep Throat was but in the moment, it I guess the equivalent is not Deep Throat. It’s John Dean. Right. It is when John D. Nixon’s counsel came forward and testified. That was the moment and I think now we have a whole bunch of John Dean’s on tape, making it very clear that something very bad that seems very criminal happens, right?
Notice that it took Mike Pence 1446 days to realize that Donald Trump didn’t care if he was alive or not.
He must have had access to Twitter.
There were two weeks, two weeks ago. And he’s like, Hey, wait a minute. So obviously, like, you know, you can compare this to Watergate to Iran-Contra, who very different events, but to varying degrees, what’s different about them? I think he would say kind of in the themes of how you’ve written about this as we consume them more or less as a country. And I guess the question now, is, is this capturing the nation’s attention at all, first of all? And if it is, is it being consumed in two entirely different ecosystems? With two very different takeaways? And if there is such a thing, as an independent unaffiliated person who doesn’t pay much attention to politics, and I believe there is, there are plenty of those people. Yet, what do we think they’re concluding?
So, from the perspective of today’s media environment, this is being consumed by a lot of people. 20 million people watched that first hearing that is more than watched. At 6 million more people than watched any of the NBA Finals games that just went forward. It’s more people than watch the Oscars, there’s more people that watched the Final Four. So that is a big number. But to put it in perspective, nearly 100 million people in 1994 watched the OJ Bronco Chase live. So it’s like the world has changed a lot in that time. And I think we can assume that the majority of that the overwhelming majority of that 20 million people are people who came into it, having already made up their mind about Trump’s role. And I would say, given the fact that Fox News did not air it, the vast majority of those people had already concluded that Trump was guilty, morally, and probably legally for what happened here. But I think the way we analyze these things now, from my perspective is not in Nielsen ratings. It’s in the social media amplification of what happened. And so I look every day at the top performing Facebook posts. That is generally from a Democrat, democratic point of view, I hellscape. But generally, it is like Ben Shapiro Candace Owens, this person for Fox, in the 24 and 48 hours measurements after the hearing, it was all pages, it was primarily the top 10 was pages owned by progressives talking about January 6th, and so it is getting out there. And how we measure success matters a little bit here, because these, these are never going to convince the hardcore MAGA base of something like that’s not what it is. And in a highly polarized country, we’re really operating on the margins, right? If you can get like five to 7% more people believe that what happened was dangerous that Trump and was responsible Republicans are enabling that that has dramatic political consequence. Even in some polling in the ABC poll out this weekend, the number of people who think Trump is responsible should be charged with a crime has gone up. Since these hearings are so they are having some impact whether how long that impact will last is a different question.
Andy Slavitt 18:05
Let’s do a quick break. Let’s come right back and we’re gonna get really into it. In your book, which we’re gonna talk about in a second, you put a lot of weight on the ecosystem or the megaphone of the right, the political right. And it’s only a challenge that for a second in the context of these hearings, because I just think back to the Clinton impeachment hearings, and kind of wondering, even back then, how much the nature of our own political identities is so strong, that it sort of blinds us, you know, in the Clinton impeachment trial, remember, Democrats at the time, including myself, being highly protective of Clinton, you know, focusing more on the prosecutor than on the crime. In retrospect, many people claim that they feel differently about the matter and should have been more critical. But, you know, I wonder how many people really would have going back to that time, because in the end of the day, I think people were Democrats were thinking, you know, and it’s better for us to be in charge than them anyway. And I can justify a whole lot of behavior, knowing that we have this we must hold on to power kind of approach is that just the nature of the beast that if you’re kind of predisposed to liking Trump, you’re gonna forgive a lot of sins. You know, and obviously, you know, if you’re not then you’re gonna see obviously quite differently.
Yeah, motivated reasoning was a huge part of politics and Democrats defended conduct from Bill Clinton, they would never have defended in a Republican and vice versa. Right? Like the all of the moral outrage from the right about Bill Clinton was offered by people who would just a few years later go on to defend Trump as he has caught on tape bragging about sexual assault. So I don’t want to say that like we become a more polarized society, political identity has come to matter, more than almost anything else policy point of view, the structures of our religion or any of those things. And so that’s very, very important. What I do think is different between the Trump impeachments, potentially this impeachment and the Clinton one is there was not a dispute about the facts, in the Clinton one, he even admitted to it on camera to national television. And Democrats made a judgment, which I think has not aged well, based on those facts. And I don’t mean Democrats in Congress, I mean, Democrats of the country made a judgment based on those facts that they would prefer Bill Clinton to be in office having done these things that can be removed from office and replace with Al Gore. What is somewhat different now is the amount of disinformation that’s being pumped into the system that is altering what people think about it.
No question. I just think it’s interesting when people are like, I have this friend who is supports Trump and I can be sent away well, there’s no reason it would there’s something about sort of being attacked by the other side that causes you to defend reflexively it feels like, and so you feel you’ve got to defend your person, because the other person doesn’t see all the other things that you see. I mean, remember, that was a, you call that a white lie, right? That was a cover up in a fair lie. Which by the way, Trump has done itself, right? It’s not like, you know, it’s not like he hasn’t equal check that box, too. But they call it the Big Lie for a reason, right? I mean, it’s not, it’s an audacious lie. Tell us a little bit of the anatomy of the big lie, like, how does it happen? How does it get swallowed the boldness at which someone should just choose to say, I’m gonna say whatever I want, I’m gonna get people to swallow it. Like how does that work? In your context of like, as someone who tried to basically influence people with the truth?
Dan Pfeiffer 22:05
Yeah. So there’s sort of an history of this throughout the course of 2020 election, which is the 2020 election, as you know, better than anyone was conducted the most unique environment of any election in modern American history, because it happened the pandemic, which led to changes for some people and how they vote and certainly the prominence of voting methods that have been used for a very long time like vote by mail, early vote became more readily available. This scared the Republicans to death because those there had been a conventional wisdom, which is not an entirely borne out by history, but that these methods benefited Democrats. So the Republicans tried to as a way to win the election. So distrust in those methods, in some ways to keep people from thinking their vote was going to count from exploiting, long standing, well founded, mistrust of vote by mail from Black voters who have had their signatures, to the signature matching toss outside like in some states, it exponentially what white voters have had to try to create this mirage and the right wing media, particularly Fox News jumped at this right there was constantly taking out of context or even sort of fabricated stories and using it to just sow distrust, sow distrust, sow distrust. So the ground was softened for when Trump went out there and said the election was stolen.
And they wanted to believe it, right?
Yeah, they absolutely wanted to believe it because rump had never, there is this hermetically sealed, for the Republican base, this hermetically sealed information bubble, where it was not ever really communicated that Trump could lose or was going to lose. Right? They was like he’s pushing out the Rasmussen poll, which shows him winning. This actually was this is not unique to Trump in 2012, within the Fox News bubble, which was a smaller and more simplistic thing back then, within the Fox News bubble, it was widely assumed that Obama was going to lose that election, despite all the contrary evidence out there with him leading and all the polling averages, all the models from the various nate’s and all of those things. So when Obama one anyone big anyone early, there are a lot of Republicans who were like, where did that come from? This can’t be right. He won by so many votes in so many places that you couldn’t exploit it the way Trump was able to in 2020.
Andy Slavitt 24:31
When Hillary lost the Democrats through the same thing?
Certainly there were Democrats who believed that and even some in Congress who challenged those elections in 2000, as well, that believe that you know, Jill Stein was a Russian operative who had gotten the votes out and there was obviously this overhang of true documented proven Russian interference in the election. Proven documented. Contact between Trump and the Trump campaign and somebody’s Russia […] Here are two things that didn’t happen, the vast majority of Democrats, both in Congress and in the country, angrily accepted the result, engaged in orderly transition. There was no violence, Hillary Clinton as the nominee, the day after the election, accepted the results. Right? And even though she had supported some audits going forward, did nothing to say that Donald Trump was not the next president of the united states.
Okay, so I was doing some biblical research. And ever since Adam and Eve, it’s been rumored that in the Garden of Eden, that Adam said to Eve, that Republicans are just better at this stuff than we are like, people have been saying this. And the Democratic side, people have been saying, Gosh, Republicans are better at messaging, they’re better at campaigning, they’re better voter suppression, all the other externalities, the policies, and it’s sort of to me, it’s, to some extent, it’s his justification. Well, our policies are better our policies are popular. So they must be winning for other reasons. Therefore, by the elimination theory, they are better at this stuff than we are, to what extent to you kind of go yeah, it’s true. And to what extent do you say, is this just another version of an excuse that Democrats throw up?
Dan Pfeiffer 26:19
Well, I think it’s complicated, right? Because they’re over the course of my years in politics. For most of the 90s, people thought Clinton was great at politics and Newt Gingrich his guys were terrible politics, and he kicked their butts every time they couldn’t, you know. And then Bush won, and people thought the Republicans were great. And the Republicans had built this, like a bush, the Bush 2004 campaign was seen as a model of how use technology and data, and organizing and they had built this whole thing. And like the ending, a bunch of reporters wrote this book that was like the emerging Republican majority, they came out like three months before the Democrats took the house in the Senate. And then Obama, even with that midterms was seen as someone who just beat them every time, right? Just, you know, weight crushes them, changes the map. And 2012 we’ve been with 7% unemployment, beat some, leaves office with this 50 some, you know, nearly 60% approval rating. And Democrats have won the popular vote in every election since except one since 1988. Like that’s a pretty, you know, impressive thing.
If only that mattered then.
If only that mattered, right. And you know, it did in most of those elections, except for two pretty critical ones that alter history. But let’s talk about the book is where Democrats are losing the battle, I think we are losing the communications battle now worse than we have at any point in my career. And I think that is not because Democrats are not saying the right words, we don’t have our version of MAGA. It’s not that like, and sometimes through the course of talking about this book, some people have taken that me saying that is me then therefore endorsing every single thing that every Democrat has ever said it’s the perfect message. And I do not believe that, like our message could be sharper, could be tighter. But our bigger problem is structural, because Republicans have been investing in building up their own channels for decades, and have done so in largely in reaction to what Obama did to them in 2012, doubled and tripled down since that election to build up this digital army of messaging that is currently drowning out progressive messaging and sort of dictating the four corners of the political conversation. And that is why it’s why I wrote the book, it’s what I think we have to address. Because if we figure out the exact right message, it would be a real achievement, but no one’s going to hear it under the current world in which we’re operating.
Andy Slavitt 28:52
Yeah, there’s one statement you make in the book, which is gonna be so frustrating for people trying to fight against it, which is the insurrection, and the subsequent rewriting of history are proof that the Republicans have mastered a form of politics, that depends on disinformation and propaganda. And it’s almost like we were fighting the fight on one battlefield. And then all of a sudden, the rules have completely changed and they’ve changed in a way that are unattractive to follow. I mean, sometimes the other side does something like Oh, that’s good. I’m gonna we’re gonna do that and get better at it. And we’re gonna be clearly potentially as you said, leapfrog election to election. This feels like a kind of a wholesale like, okay, we’re gonna cross this line.
I mean, the world, we are still live, we Democrats particularly, and not all Democrats, but a lot of the party still exists, and makes their decisions on how they built their campaigns, how they communicate. In a world that stopped existing nearly a decade ago, and it’s been slow, that change has been sort of slow, slow then so hadn’t, but it has come at great consequence, in my view and the Biden folks ran an incredible campaign in 2020, under the most difficult circumstances possible, but absent the pandemic, there was a very good chance we are two years into Trump’s second term, right? Because even in the pandemic, like disinformation and propaganda are powerful weapons, they can’t bend all reality, right. And the pandemic was such a world changing dominant number one issue that they couldn’t, they could change it on the margins. They can sow distrust here, they can attack Fauci, they can talk about China, all of that, but at the end of the day, you can’t make the pandemic disappear for that many people, the consequences of inaction in Trump’s response would not cost him dearly, politically, and yet, he’s still almost one, right? 40,000 votes in four states and Donald Trump has won despite what happened in the pandemic.
Andy Slavitt 30:59
Yeah. So I really, as I told you earlier, I really enjoyed reading the book. One of the things, one of things he really liked about it is you just seem to be cracking yourself up as you’re writing it. You write these little asides along the way, and you’re talking to someone who believes they’re way funnier than they are. I totally relate. The other thing I liked about the book is that you are unsparing. You name names, you are super critical. And not a lot of people do that. You’re there. And there are a few villains in the book, and the biggest villain in the book is actually not Donald Trump. The biggest villain of the book is Mark Zuckerberg. Tell us why he’s the biggest villain.
Well, Facebook is the most powerful media platform in the world by far, 7 and 10 American adults are on Facebook, half of those adults visit the site more than once a day. 40% of those adults view Facebook as a major source of news. And it’s fair to say like you look at Tucker Carlson, it’s, you know, 4 million people watch Tucker Carlson on a nightly basis. And like, that doesn’t seem great for the world, given he’s sprouting great replacement theory and all those things, but people that are generally opting in to that right wing media ecosystem, right? They have made a decision that for whatever reason, this is how they want to get their news, their opinion, much like people, and I am not drawing a parallel between Rachel Maddow and Tucker Carlson. But just people who want to hear liberal thought will tune into Rachel Maddow, it’s there for him. What’s dangerous about Facebook is you’re not opting in to right wing media, you’re going on Facebook, you are trying to get some news. From there, you’re trying to see pictures, your friends, kids, you want to see what happened to your friend from high school, whatever else, and you’re scrolling through, and you’re seeing headline after headline being pushed primarily through an algorithm that overwhelmingly promotes right wing content. And you don’t know like, you’re just an average person, you’re not clicking the link, you’re not you don’t know that the Daily Caller is something started by Tucker Carlson, or that the daily wire is the daily wire, it could be your local newspaper, as far as you know, right? When you see that source, and it is spreading this disinformation, this propaganda at scale, all across the country and across the world, frankly, to people who are not choosing to consume it, and it is dramatically influencing people’s worldview, and very, very dangerous ways.
And you’re right that they decided before the election, despite what happened in 2016, that they were not going to fact check anything going into 2020 elections, is that right?
Yeah, so Mark Zuckerberg running at the 2020 election gave a speech at Georgetown University, where he, it was, um, it’s very surreal thing he like, recreated the history of Facebook and claim that he started it because in part because of his opposition to the Iraq War, which is an amazing the boldface thing to say since he’d never said it previously, there have been like 100 books in one Aaron Sorkin movie made about Facebook, and no one had ever shared this piece of information before. And in it, he argued that he didn’t think it was a good thing for a private tech company to be fact checking politicians to determine themselves to be the arbiter of the truth. But the distinction that he alighted is there’s two types of content on Facebook. There is what Donald Trump or Barack Obama or Joe Biden posts on their page, right? What they just post on Facebook, and then there is what they put in ADS. And the and the ads part was very important because Facebook ads are they’re not like television ads, where they were just gonna.
Andy Slavitt 34:44
You know, you’re watching an ad.
You know, you’re watching an ad and you’re, it’s, it’s not targeted beyond what TV show it’s odd, right? Where it’s like, we’re trying to reach people over 65, so we’re gonna put ads on 60 minutes, right or we’re trying to reach this demograph, we’re gonna put ads here. Facebook allows you to base on the data that they have hoovered up from you over however many years you’ve been on Facebook, precisely target ads at you. So think about this way. What Mark Zuckerberg is efficient and really saying is, we think it’s okay for politicians to use disinformation and lies in ads, and then use our data and our AI to target those ads. And the people they think most likely to believe, said disinformation lies that is deeply dangerous. And if you just it’s also, like you’re putting your thumb on a scale where it’s like, there’s a campaign coming up between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. We’re going to allow a line like which one of those two people.. I mean, it’s just a clearly obvious way to put the thumb on the scale Trump in part like, and there’s, I don’t know whether believe him there are, you know, reports, you know, a guy who wrote a book and Max Chafkin wrote a book about Peter Thiel said in his book that this was part of a quid pro quo deal between Facebook and Trump about regulation. You know, Max Chafkin, as far as I know, was very serious journalist that’s hard to prove. But it’s very clearly a decision that kept them in line with the right and they have an economic incentive to do that one, afford regulation. But also, Facebook’s base is the most Republican of all the social media platforms by far. And so they have a trickier dance than all these other ones about whether what kind of content gets what the dangers of being on Trump’s bad side are much greater for Facebook than anyone else.
Andy Slavitt 36:33
When we come back, we’re gonna talk about 2022 and 2024. With Dan Pfeiffer, hang on. You give it a good perspective on how the playing field of these races has changed. How would you describe the landscape for the midterms right now?
Bad. I mean, like, here’s I think the right way to say it is the political environment as we sit here in the summer of 2022 is terrible. It all the polling is clear; you have three quarters of Americans who say that we’re a country is on the wrong track. Inflation is at a historic high. And it’s inflation centered on the two most politically explosive categories, gas and groceries. You have people deal I think, dealing with this lingering pandemic, that is, you know, people don’t really there’s an uncertainty about how we’re supposed to live our lives and just you know, if you have like kids in school, even if your school is open you just everything, you know, just any day you are, you know, one extra blue line on a task from having to cancel everything have to do or have your kids home from school. It’s all like things are really really hard. The environment is bad, no question about it. And it could change like a lot can change. You have some pretty spectacular political events of impact looming between now and the election. The other thing that if you’re looking for like what are the several lines for Democrats, it’s a relatively friendly playing field that such an election is happening on, Democrats could keep in even expand this entity without winning a single seat that Donald Trump won or persuading a single person who voted for Donald Trump, the country has a growing majority. That is anti-Trump, pro-democracy, pro truth, pro science, all of the above, that majority is getting bigger by the day. It’s not obviously distributed in the most ideal fashion across our states, but it does exist. And the same thing is true, the governor’s races, the house math is not great, but it’s a lot better than it could have been, or at least a lot of people were predicting before redistricting started. And so there is an opportunity like I’m not here to blow smoke, you know, give people false hope or blow smoke up their asses, because we should be like everything is going against us right now. But we have, there are some ways in which we can certainly rescue the Senate. We could keep house losses to vote and we could win the like there, if we win some of these governor’s races in these battleground states. It does really make it nearly impossible for Republicans to overturn the election if we hold the levers of the electoral apparatus and the Michigan’s Pennsylvanians, George’s etc, of the world.
Yeah, I heard over McCarthy said at a private dinner recently that he thinks we’re going to pick up 50 seats, which is sounds crazy, but it’s probably not out of the realm. The big question we’re also trying to intuit from 2020 to raise in addition to whatever happens in the polls, is what it all says about Trump’s influence, and it’s probably a mixed bit of a mixed picture, but how would you interpret what we’re learning about Trump’s influence in the party?
I think, Donald Trump, the symbol is in charge of the party, everyone There is no room for an anti-Trumpism candidate. Even these, you know whether it’s Nancy Mason, South Carolina or somebody’s or Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger. In Georgia, their candidates that Trump is opposed that are winning, but they are winning, running on everything about Trump other than they, they’re just sort of kissing up to him anyway, and he’s attacking them. So as long as you are, you can show that you believe in the MAGA message or the MAGA movement, you can still win. And so Trump has won the war within the party, he’s still losing a few battles. What it means for Donald Trump as the front runner for the 2024 nomination is really an open question. And like there’s sort of two ways to look at it. One is he in all the polls, he’s getting about 50% of the vote again. And then there’s like the eight other candidates that are polling DeSantis Cruz, Nikki Haley, whoever else, you know, kind of split up the rest of that 50%, But DeSantis, getting the largest chunk of like 20%, or something like that, alone we’re looking at is, wow, every other Republican voter wants someone other than Trump to be the nominee. And that’s no, that’s not a great place for someone who was just president and the vast majority of voters think the election was stolen from him. But in a multi candidate field, that’s a pretty insurmountable number, like he doesn’t need to get the 50, he really only needs to get the 30. The question will be if you end up in a one on one battle from the beginning, essentially a one on one battle, kind of the Clinton Sanders model where it’s really two primary people, and then he could if someone really was willing to go after him, and that’s an open question. He is somewhat vulnerable. But his message is one it is the dominant ideology in the party.
So, we had Beto O’Rourke on the show on Monday. And he was fairly honest about one thing, that Democrats have not been doing well with Hispanic voters. And he says it’s for reasons of the party’s own making, you know, have Democrats fallen out of touch, how important is that particular electorate? Obviously, there was a special election in Texas, which did not go the Democrats way, in a largely Hispanic community that is, you know, are becoming more and more red.
Dan Pfeiffer 42:24
Yeah, I mean, all of the sort of view that we were on an inexorable path towards a rock solid Democratic majority, particularly Electoral College was dependent on the assumption that the country, the Latino population, that country was getting much larger, and Democrats will continue to win 70% of Latinos, and that the first part is happening, the country, we are on that demographic path. But we are losing ground with some Latinos in some parts of the country. It’s not a complete picture everywhere. Florida was always unique, because the Cuban population there which I think we thought when Obama won a lot of primarily Cuban precincts in 2012, that that was something that was predictive of the future for Democratic Party writ large. It turns out that it was more about that moment in time and Barack Obama himself than it has been subsequent where we are losing ground is primarily with working class, Latino voters seems to be in the States, the parts of the country, where are the parts of various states where it’s a primarily working class, Latino electorate, you know, folks who maybe did not go to college, we’re losing those, just as we’ve been losing them, losing white voters at a very high rate over the last decade. And so if this week, if the Republicans are able to build go from an almost entirely White working class base to a mostly White working class base, there is not a there is no math there where Democrats will ever have a Senate Majority and we will struggle mightily in the Electoral College. And we’re gonna see a lot of test cases for that, in 2022, whether it’s what you know, how Beto does in Texas, what happens in the Rio Grande Valley, is that about Trump, or is it about someone else? And part of it is, you know, we have to have a broadly appealing, multiracial working class message. And I think we have tried in the past too much of the party and has isolated specific issues as being issues for Latinos. And, you know, it’s particularly around immigration. And in 2020, the number one issue, according to the polls, at least for Latinos across the country was the economy in 2012. And Obama did so. Well. It was health care, and the idea that, that Mitt Romney Republicans were going to repeal the Affordable Care Act was the number one issue in our polling about that. And so, we there’s a lot of work to do here. We have to watch this carefully. And be very careful not to, we have to listen to the organizers who work with these communities to listen to the voters. We have to recognize that this is an incredibly diverse population. You know, there’s differences between whether you are Cuban-American in Florida or someone who moved from Puerto Rico to Florida or New York, or Chicago or you are you are you are you are a Mexican-American whose family lived in this land just and then the border moves over you, right? So it’s very, you know, so this monolithic analysis and strategy for it is not going to get we’re not going to get to the root of what’s happening or find a solution for it.
In part, and I’m admittedly paraphrasing here, you get on the Democrats, the Democratic leadership for just being frankly too old, too old and thinking too old chronologically. And by the way, when you’re criticizing Democrats, you’re doing it in a very different way than you are we talking about the Republican Dude, this is a hot desire to do better kind of criticism. But maybe think, should Biden run in 2024?
Dan Pfeiffer 46:06
Like, this is a conversation that is very quiet premature. He said, he’s running, I take him at his word, I was just talking to him the other day about some of the plans that they are thinking about for when they’re gonna get started. And so if he runs, he’s the older, there’s only one man walking the planet, only one person walking the planet who is defeated Donald Trump. And if that person wants to run again, I think that is he is, unless you can show me someone with a better chance to do it than Joe Biden, he’s our best bet. My critique of party leadership is that it’s simply I have this sort of theory that politicians are their communication sensibilities are frozen in Amber from the day they international politics. And so if you came of age in the era of can you mask it? Because normally, what gets you into national politics is you have, you’re better at communicating in that time than others. Right? And Joe Biden was a master of the cable TV, early days in the 80s and 90s. Right, he was an incredible television politician, the world has changed dramatically since then. My argument is not that we should dump all these people, I don’t think we should necessarily do that it is we have to, as a party, lift up people in strategies, who are think you know, who have a more modern thinking of and it is like, and I make this point in the book, it’s not entirely age, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, experimented with a lot of really interesting ways to get their message out, messages on those campaigns. And they are much older than people to judge right? It’s not just a people to judge who was a great messenger was because he was young that helped him but Sanders did it anyway. And he was, you know, twice his age, or whatever it is. And so it’s just we, I think we, as a people work in the party, people who are pushing the party have to think about how do we get politicians, political operatives, thinkers, into positions where they can impose it. And there a lot of people, frankly, in this White House, who I’ve worked with, for many years, who are pushing aggressively to do things and have done a lot of really interesting things recently, to try to change it. But there is an aircraft carrier turning speed to this sometimes.
Andy Slavitt 48:18
Let’s want to conclude by focusing on kind of some of the answers to making stuff better. Your book title ends with the phrase, are destroying America. Because before it is Facebook, The Big Lie, Fox News, etc. That’s pretty serious stuff, destroying America. I mean, you’ve got little kids. I got kids that are little older, 24 and 20. I don’t love the idea of America being destroyed, like as these guys grow up. So I want to just get some of your advice on kind of what two levels I guess, the personal level and then the national level, how to edit a personal level, how do you combat people, you know, in the world that kind of believe the big lie, or they’re ignoring the hearing? It’s a common scenario is, hey, you’re watching the hearings? There’s hearings going on. But the bigger threat to democracy is fill in the blank. Hunter Biden, Antifa in Portland, defunding the police, whatever it is, there’s some reflexive response. So at a personal level, if you know, people in your life are like that, and you’re listening to this, like how do you guide them?
I think you have to make an analysis and in with each individual person, whether you think they’re actually persuadable or not, because look, we have three political parties that were pretty polarized country. They’re gonna be a bunch of people who, whether they believe disinformation and propaganda or just Republican, they love Republicans or hate Democrats who love Trump or hate Joe Biden minerals, who are not available to us right and you’re just sort of just playing it you’re just dance on the head of opinion. If you’re trying to convince so that it no Hunter, Biden’s laptop is not a real thing, or Antifa is actually not a thing. And there’s gonna find another reason to do it, right? So the folks that I really sort of want to engage with, and I try to encourage people to engage with our people who are not consuming right wing media by choice, they’re sort of getting it by osmosis. And it is causing confusion about what is actually happening. And so that if it’s confusion, you have an opportunity to try to clear it up. And one of the ways to do that, and it’s important recognize is that we have power, we all have power in this right? There’s a study I cite in the book, which is the trust that people put in an individual news item is based not on which news outlet produced it based on who shared it with them. So if it is someone who trusts you, right, then you have the ability if you think they are someone who wants to be persuaded, or somebody persuaded to explain why it was not FBI agents who incited January 6, or it is not true, you know, whatever, pick your conspiracy theory does your or about whether it’s the Big Lie, or vaccines or anything else? One way to do it that I think is valid. And it’s really one of the lessons they’re doing in these hearings, which is use voices from the other side. Which is you now like using Eric Hirshman, the attorney for the Trump White House attorney, or Jason Miller has other people use those voices to try, like figure out like, what sources are true, like there will be some people who automatically believe incorrectly, in my opinion, that anything that New York Times writes about Trump is wrong. And so if you’re just sending them a bunch of like Maggie Haberman stories, even if her journalism is top notch, that’s not really going to have an impact, right? There are some studies which show that like, because of Rupert Murdoch, Wall Street Journal news stories are very, very persuasive with conservative, not hard, right people, but conservative leaning, folks, because it will Rupert Murdoch wouldn’t lie about Donald Trump sort of situation. So, identify who’s persuadable and then try to understand what it is there, you know, where they’re getting their information, and then finding sources that they’re open to is a very important thing. I think.
Andy Slavitt 52:11
That’s great advice. Okay, so then let’s just find, let’s finish up with taking this question to the national level. You know, again, you’ve got two little kids. You know, we all care deeply about the future of this country, and one that’s driven by people’s ability to lie, it’s just not a good way for us to imagine our politics going forward. You know, you’ve got some advice for Democrats, which is to get better at fighting the current battle, or even where the battle is going. And that was, by the way, as you tell them not to live. It’s kind of disappointed me. I was hoping you would say, like, they just go lie back.
I might have to sell more books, if I did that. Yes.
Exactly. But it also makes me wonder, like, how do you counter the big lie with by being really, really good at the truth? It’s sort of like you’re saying, hey, that other team has a great pitcher. And we got to get our fastball to work just as fast as theirs. But we can’t throw a curve. And by the way, the curve is a deadly pitch. So how does it work?
Well, I think what we’re trying to get to, and I offer some institutional solutions, some ways in which the media can play a different role, the things that all of us can individually do, is to at least get to equal playing ground, where people are hearing as much truth as they are […]. And we are not going to get everyone. There is a long history of people even before the internet, Mark Zuckerberg, Donald Trump, long history of people in this country who believe conspiracy theory. Facebook was like a dot on the internet, when large swaths of Republicans believe that Donald that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. And so that is going to continue, we’re not going to solve all those problems. My goal is a democratic political operative, who wants to get Democrats elected, because I believe that’s what’s good for the country, is to build up a megaphone that allows us to compete on equal ground where we can push back with equal force, and every lie. And if we do that, we’re not going to win every election. But there it’s going to be a more balanced effort. And I think our politics will better reflect the progress than what the majority of this country wants.
Andy Slavitt 54:16
Yeah. And by the way, you talk about some of the kind of failed copycat approaches you know, era America, which I know we all love and really miss. That was a joke. See, I told you I was funny, you know, the kind of acquisition of like, places like WaPo by Bezos, like there’s a lot here and MSNBC is a foil and you talk about how that’s really not the answer. And in part, you talk about this. It’s really interesting because you say Republicans can win. If they get the base and turn their base out. Democrats, you to appeal to independence. They need to be able to do this more broadly in some sense, oddly enough, a more challenging approach. I will say that like, not surprisingly, what you guys did a crooked media is you point to as one example of kind of how engagement, advocacy information and the truth, that straight works. And you guys have done an incredible job if you just look at the numbers objectively, it really not just reaching people but getting people involved. I don’t think you presented as the entire answer. But to some degree, at least it’s a model that looks a bit different from any of the Republican models. It doesn’t mean, but it’s not a copycat of a conservative model. It’s its own unique approach. Is it? Have you learned through that process of what you guys have done? And I have to tell you, yeah, we found kind of a really core part of the answer.
Yeah, I think there’s a couple elements that and everyone’s gonna be different. There are lots of different like, their stuff we have to do that’s entirely digital. There’s a lot of local stuff that the folks that good information, courier news are doing. So there’s different elements of it. But there’s some broader lessons that I take from our experience. We have to make this, make politics seem like something worth doing. And you have to make it seem like an adventure, a fun, joyous, righteous fight. It is something you want to be a part of it because you’re pushing against every part of American life, which says that politics sucks, politicians are crooked. You know, it is cynical, and there have been politicians who’ve come around. Barack Obama, […] Trump that aside, who kind of create a movement Bernie Sanders in his campaign, you create a movement of people who get very, very engaged in it, and we have to think about this as building a movement.
Andy Slavitt 56:52
Well, then, I really appreciate you being in the bubble. And coming on to discussing these very tough issues. It was fun.
Absolutely. Thanks for having me. Andy, good to see you.
Let me tell you what’s coming up on the show. Look, if Beto O’Rourke and Dan Pfeiffer earn enough for you? How about Michael Mina and Patrice Harris, talking about what’s new in testing? How about a great conversation around this new long COVID study which is telling us that lung COVID is getting less prevalent now more which is pretty good news. How about Jason Kander talking about this country and PTSD and what life is like for him? How about Nicholas Kristof, the great columnist, how about Ken Burns again? Around the Fourth of July. How about Adam Conover, the comedian and kind of satirist talking about the government and gee work and his new show. You can get all those things, you get all those things on in the bubble, all you got to do, is what you’re already doing. Just listen in and we’re here for you. Okay. I hope you enjoyed today’s show. I got nothing to say to you until Friday. Take care.
Thanks for listening to IN THE BUBBLE. We’re a production of Lemonada Media. Kathryn Barnes, Jackie Harris and Kyle Shiely produced our show, and they’re great. Our mix is by Noah Smith and James Barber, and they’re great, too. Steve Nelson is the vice president of the weekly content, and he’s okay, too. And of course, the ultimate bosses, Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs, they executive produced the show, we love them dearly. Our theme was composed by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill, with additional music by Ivan Kuraev. You can find out more about our show on social media at @LemonadaMedia where you’ll also get the transcript of the show. And you can find me at @ASlavitt on Twitter. If you like what you heard today, why don’t you tell your friends to listen as well, and get them to write a review. Thanks so much, talk to you next time.