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Flood Waters Deluge Nashville; Multiple Shootings In Virginia Beach; Members Of Congress Visiting Scenes Of Atlanta Mass Shootings; Michigan Experiencing Third Coronavirus Surge; Head Of Michigan GOP Calls Women Leaders "Witches"; Georgia Republicans Pass Sweeping Law Restricting Voting Access. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired March 28, 2021 - 14:00   ET



BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has already given orders that preparations should be made to start removing some of the containers from the Ever Given in the hopes of lightening the ship to free it.

The problem is that there are 18,300 containers on the ship. To remove them, you have to bring in floating cranes. At the moment there are no floating cranes in Egypt. So the expectation is that perhaps this operation may go on for quite a while longer, Fredricka.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: It sounds long indeed.

All right. Ben Wedeman in Egypt, thank you so much.

All right.

Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We have this breaking news now. Dangerous flooding today in the Nashville area, killing at least four people and leaving dozens more in need of rescue.

And you can see how fast the water was moving in some areas right there. Residents of one apartment building said they had to be rescued as the flood waters were rising.

Nashville's fire department says it has helped to rescue at least 130 people so far. The city's mayor said both fortunately and unfortunately they have past experience.


MAYOR JOHN COOPER (D), NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE: Lessons from the 2010 flood did help us prepare for an improved flood response. Now these include well trained, swift water rescue teams and improved real-time information sharing between metro departments.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WHITFIELD: CNN's Martin Savidge joining me now live from Nashville. Martin, what's the situation?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, I actually covered the 2010 flood. And in fact, there are residents in the Elysium Fields neighborhood where we are here that were impacted by that flood but say this one for them was worse.

A lot of that has to do with the topography and where you happen to be when it rains. This is Seven Mile Creek. The residents here say normally this would be one you could easily walk across. You cannot do that now.

You can see that this creek is really more a waterway that is raging. And that's the point to point out. That was what the water looked like passing through this neighborhood. That's what flash flooding does. It's why it's so potentially dangerous.

Rises in a hurry, goes away in a hurry has a destructive force, almost like you would find, maybe with high winds, say a hurricane, or even a tornado. It leaves that kind of a footprint. Digging up all kinds of debris and depositing it all over the neighborhood.

Now, this happened about last night -- many folks here say maybe around 10:00. 7:00 the weather seemed so good once the storms had cleared that some people went out and were actually planting flowers. Then by 10:00, they heard rain and then about an hour and a half later the water began to rise.

It doesn't rise like a normal flood. It races in, like a kind of tidal surge. It's pitch dark. You can imagine people are in single story homes. And that's when the fear begins to rise with the water because how far will it go? And can you get out?

Manuel Chavez was one of those who was caught.


MANUEL CHAVEZ, NASHVILLE RESIDENT: You can see the level. It was about right here. This is the level of the water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How scary was it last night?

CHAVEZ: Very scary.


CHAVEZ: What happened is started raining so hard -- lightning, thunderstorm. We lose everything. Everything -- mattress, couch. Everything. Everything. Electronics. And this -- everything go.


SAVIDGE: Manuel, his wife and his mother were able to get to a neighbor's house that has two stories and they felt safer there. But then they came back and found that they had very little left of their own home. And it's much like that all up and down the street here.

The incredible power of the water. And it's able to take people, whether you're standing by yourself in your yard or whether, God forbid, you get caught in your car. That's how the deaths occur, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Right. Sometimes people don't realize how swift and powerful that water can be when it rises, and how it moves.

Thank you so much, Martin Savidge. Appreciate that.

Let's check in with meteorologist Tom Sater in the weather center. So Tom, what's next?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, it looks like they're going to get a little bit of a break. Although the larger tributaries, the rivers like the Cumberland that runs through downtown Nashville, that's going to continue to rise. It always takes a while for the larger rivers to rise. And with that, unfortunately, we've even seen it rise a couple of feet in the last few hours.

What a month this has been. Record snowfall in Colorado and Wyoming, all time. We've had tornado fatalities. We've had 100 tornados, higher than usual. And now, of course, this major flash flooding a 100-year event, some are saying.

Take a look at the radar picture and you can see how it's moved through the region. It rained all day yesterday as a surge of warmth coming up with that moisture from the Gulf of Mexico in the south and with that we're waiting for the cold front.

But we had what's called training. You've heard this term before, one heavy downpour after another, running over the same area, like boxcars of a train. And you can see what's left is slowly dwindling.


SATER: But our flash flood emergency that we had last night in Nashville, of course, it's long been canceled, but still some watches in eastern Tennessee into North Carolina. The amount of rainfall was something else.

Fredricka, there are not many cities in the U.S. or even the world that can handle this kind of rainfall in a 24-hour period. But wide spread, four to six, some isolated 8 inches. But here it is. This is the rainiest day ever for Nashville in the month of March. For a two day total it is the second highest ever.

Notice the 13.5 inches, that was 2010 and many last night had fears of the same scenes and memories of that just catastrophic flooding, of course, in 2010.

Now, the rivers, most of the smaller tributaries are starting to recede. They've reached their peak at moderate levels. See this one here, Mill Creek, this is in Woodbine, just about 21 feet. But now you've got those larger tributaries and the rivers. This is Cumberland River, again, running through Metro Nashville. It's going to continue to rise. It's going to get up into that moderate flood zone at 42 feet and stay there for a while before it starts to recede.

So again, any adjacent areas to that river, obviously, will continue to have some flooding and problems in the days ahead. Now, storm damage was not just from the flooding, although that is just miserable and sad with the lives that it's taken but winds caused some problems.

I mean again, another day with 15 tornado reports. This on top of the two dozen we had Thursday and eight days before that. We had about 64.

So this has been a tremendous month with a surge of what we've seen as far as severe weather. And you can see right here, averages for march, you know, 78. And that's for the country. And we've had 159.

The threat now continues to move across Georgia into the Carolinas, but the instability we found more toward Del Marva, southeast areas of Virginia, extreme north and northeastern areas of North Carolina, and toward, of course, the Chesapeake.

But again, once this moves through the area, the threat for severe weather will come to an end, but hey, this is March, transition season. You can see some snowfall up in areas of upstate New York and areas of western Pennsylvania.

But what a harrowing night for them. Unfortunately, with the ground saturated, Fredricka, and rain again for this week, the fear will be there that, again, these streams and rivers will rise. It will not take much for them to cause more problems.

Construction's going to be happening for a while. It closed down a lot of streets because of the buckling. Really it was along I-40 from Nashville eastward of Mount Juliet, and southward in areas such as Brentwood and beautiful Franklin.

It's just so unfortunate but that's what spring is about. You don't expect to have record rainfall like this, and no city can handle that.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Well, this is the time of year for that kind of combination of weather. Wow. That is quite the spike indeed that you just laid out for us.

All right. Tom Sater, thank you so much.

And Martin Savidge out of Nashville.

All right. Now, to the deadly police-involved shooting in Virginia that is sparking new questions about what exactly happened. The community is demanding answers after a police officer fatally shot a 25-year-old black man Friday night. The officer's body cam, not activated at the time.

The incident was one of three shooting scenes in that same Virginia Beach area, which left an additional person dead, and eight others injured. So two dead, eight injured.

CNN's Brian Todd is in Virginia Beach. So Brian, what do we know about these shootings? Were they at all related -- we're talking three separate incidents?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Three separate incidents, Fredricka. They're piecing together whether these are related or not. Right now they appear to be treating them as unrelated.

But it was a chaotic night on Friday night. And more than 36 hours after those shootings occurred there are still so many questions that have not been answered by police. Whether they don't know them and they're piecing that together, or whether they're choosing not to release that information at this time. That's what we're trying to determine right now.

The key question as you mentioned in the introduction was Donovan Lynch, the 25-year-old black man who was shot and killed by a police officer on Friday night, was Mr. Lynch armed or not armed during that confrontation?

There were reports that he was unarmed but the police chief Paul Neudigate addressed that in a news conference last night. Here's what he had to say.


PAUL NEUDIGATE, VIRGINIA BEACH POLICE CHIEF: I've seen some of the community concerns about Mr. Donovan -- or Mr. Lynch being unarmed. What I can tell you is that there was a firearm recovered in the vicinity of where this incident occurred.

We would like to be more forthcoming but unfortunately we do not have body cam footage of this incident. The officer was wearing a body cam, but for unknown reasons at this point in time it was not activated.


TODD: And as of last night, Chief Neudigate said that they had still not actually spoken to that police officer. We have pressed the police all day today for answers on whether that's changed, whether they've had a chance to speak to the officer, whether the officer's hired an attorney.

They have not given us those answers. We're continuing to press police on this. We do know that they've executed search warrants this morning to try to get more evidence on the series of shootings that actually began in this area right behind me unfolded in three separate incidents, all around where I'm standing.


TODD: Donovan Lynch shot and killed, just down the block there, on 20th Street and Pacific Avenue. And just a chaotic series of events. Police seemed to be still trying to piece a lot of this together, Fredricka. WHITFIELD: All right. thank you so much, Brian Todd, Virginia Beach.

All right. Right now, members of Congress are in Atlanta visiting the sites of the mass shooting at three Asian spas. A gunman killed eight people including six Asian women.

Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus are retracing the shooter's steps in an effort to show their belief that the killings were an anti-Asian hate crime.

CNN's Natasha Chen is outside one of those targeted spas. Natasha, what are these members of congress saying?


They just left here a few minutes ago, after giving a press conference. They had started out their day in Acworth at Young's Asian Massage in Cherokee County then drove the 27 miles south to this location to pay respects here and to the spa across the street.

Their point in retracing the steps was to indicate that this suspect, they said, you don't just drive from Cherokee County down to Atlanta for no reason. That 27-mile journey, they feel, was an indicator of how this was a targeted attack.

And several of them spoke about the issue of a hate crime, saying that if this was not a hate crime, then what more does one need to do for something to be a hate crime? They also spoke to the rhetoric that's been heard in national discourse over the past year, and talked about how the former president plays into this.

Here's representative Mark Takano speaking on that.


REP. MARK TAKANO (D-CA): They see it with their own eyes, and they feel what they feel and they have been gritting their teeth for an entire year, shaped by the words of a former president who I think brought about much of the anguish that the community feels today. And they do not want to be gaslighted into thinking that this was not what it was, which was a hate crime.


CHEN: I also spoke to Congressman Andy Kim afterward. He told me about how hard this has been for his own family. He is of Korean descent, talking about the fear and anxiety with his mother and sister and the fact that he has yet to find the words to explain what happened here to his three and five-year-old sons, his boys who saw him and his wife crying when this happened but don't really understand why their father is in Atlanta today to pay respects to these places, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Natasha Chen, thank you so much.

All right, startling news from the top health official in Michigan. She says her state is in the middle of a third COVID surge. What the chief medical officer told CNN just moments ago, next.



WHITFIELD: All right. This just in, Michigan officials tell CNN that the state is now in its third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state's health department says they are seeing community spread, cases are rising in younger people, especially between the ages of 10 and 19.

Let's turn to Dr. Richina Bicette. She is a medical director at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Bicette, good to see you. So what do you make of that increase for the state of Michigan? What does that tell you?

DR. RICHINA BICETTE, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Well Fred, cases are actually rising nationwide across the United States and Michigan is no exception. Their daily case number right now is about four times what it was one month ago.


DR. BICETTE: So they definitely are in the midst of a surge.

As students are returning to in-person learning they're seeing a lot of student to student transmission in schools and also are seeing outbreaks that are related to school sports. So it seems as if that's where the majority of the increased cases are coming from.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my goodness. And then how does the state go about trying to suppress the numbers, answer to it, what can it do?

DR. BICETTE: Well, I do know that right now they are having students who play school sports get testing every week and that's definitely going to be an important aspect. Making sure that they ramp up their testing and also doing source control so that once a positive case is identified, you backtrack to -- in order to figure out everyone that person could have been exposed to, in order to appropriately have those individuals quarantined, or isolated if they are found to be positive.

We also know that the U.K. variant and the South African variant are both (AUDIO GAP) right now, and those variants are highly transmissible and likely also causing the surge.

WHITFIELD: And then let's talk about how vaccine makers are starting these clinical trials or are in the midst of clinical trials, involving certain young age groups. Do you believe the results will come in time for fall, you know, fall school to begin?

DR. BICETTE: So Pfizer actually had already started doing clinical trials in children from the ages of 12 to 15. We're thinking that those results are likely positive, because they have now since broadened those trials and are testing in children as young as six months. The results from the trials from children ages 12 to 15 should likely be released soon. And that way those who are in middle school and high school can possibly be able to get vaccinated by the time classes start in the fall. Then younger age children, elementary school age children may be able to get vaccinated as early as December or January of next year.

This is a very big turning point in terms of the pandemic. I think, Fred, sometimes we forget how important of a role children play. But there are 74 million children in the United States. So when we talk about getting the population vaccinated so that we can reach herd immunity we can't do that without vaccinating our children.


WHITFIELD: And then how encouraged are you about these studies indicating it is safe for pregnant women and those who are breast- feeding, that you know, there's safety in the use of vaccines for many of them?

Well, I think that data is great because we previously didn't really have any data looking at pregnant women because they were purposefully excluded from those clinical trials. Now, since the vaccines have been released the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has always said that they supported pregnant women getting vaccinated, especially if they were high risk for COVID. We just didn't have the data to support it.

Now, with these latest trials coming out of Boston, it looks like the immune response that are garnered from pregnant women who have been vaccinated are much higher than those who confer natural immunity from having been infected and they're passing those antibodies on to their children.

We're not sure how long the antibody protection in infants will last but that's still a positive sign and shows a robust immune response.

WHITFIELD: All right. Dr. Richina Bicette, always good to see you. Thank you so much.

DR. BICETTE: Thank you for having me, Fred. Have a great day.


All right. The top doctors who were working to fight the pandemic from the start have been sitting down with our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, his conversation with Dr. Deborah Birx was particularly revealing.

Let's turn now to Sanjay on what we can expect from this interview.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, I think you're going to hear some tough, but fair conversations, illuminating, showing us some of the lessons of the past year.

I think you're also going to hear some of what was going on behind the scenes. you know some -- we saw what was happening on television, but there was a whole another thing that was happening behind the scenes.

In fact, Dr. Birx talked specifically about an interview that she had done on "STATE OF THE UNION" and what happened in the aftermath.

Take a listen.


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, FORMER COORDINATOR, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: I knew I was being watched. Everybody inside was waiting for me to make a misstep so that they could -- I guess, remove me from the task force.

It is extraordinarily widespread. The CNN report in August that got horrible pushback.

Everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune or protected from this virus.

That was a very difficult time because everybody in the White House was upset with that interview and the clarity that I brought about the epidemic.

DR. GUPTA: I can tell just by reading your face, that was a really tough time. What happened?

DR. BIRX: Well, I got called by the president.

DR. GUPTA: What did he say?

DR. BIRX: Well, I think you've heard other conversations that people have posted with the president. I would say it was even more direct than what people had heard. It was very uncomfortable, very direct, and very difficult to hear.

DR. GUPTA: Were you threatened?

DR. BIRX: I would say it was a very uncomfortable conversation.


DR. GUPTA: Fred, I have to say that I think Dr. Birx was perhaps the most introspective out of everyone that we interviewed out of the six doctors, very reflective. I think very self-aware of the damage that has been done to her reputation.

She was honest about the mistakes that she made. I think as honest as she was comfortable being, at least. And her hope for the future, where she thinks this is all going to go in the future.

But again, this was much more, Fred, about -- about the lessons learned. There was clearly mistakes, and mishaps that happened throughout the pandemic. What were they? What can we prevent from happening next time. So I hope you get a chance to watch it. Thanks.

WHITFIELD: All right. Looking forward to it. Thank you so much, Sanjay Gupta.

Be sure to tune in tonight, 9:00 Eastern, for the full special "COVID WAR: THE PANDEMIC DOCTORS SPEAK OUT" only on CNN.

All right. Up next, a political firestorm in Michigan after the state's Republican leader called the top Democratic women witches, and that's not all. One of the women that he targeted joins me live in a moment.



WHITFIELD: All right. More pushback against a controversial new law in Georgia restricting voter access. President Biden says the Justice Department is taking a closer look at the measure.

And civil rights groups have filed multiple lawsuits challenging the bill. Critics argue the controversial bill written and passed by Republicans disproportionately targets Democrats and black voters in what is now a critical battleground state after Georgia flipped blue for the first time in nearly 30 years.

The state's first black Democratic senator calls the new law voter suppression and vows to fight it.


SENATOR RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): Unfortunately, Georgia has a long history of voter suppression. And when I say a long history, I mean in recent -- in recent years. And certainly it has ramped up with this bill that he signed into law.

This is really about preserving the voices of the people and their democracy. And I honestly think, Dana, that politicians focused on their own political ambition -- it's what's gotten us here in the first place.


WARNOCK: You have legislators who are running scared, and so rather than having the people select their politicians, and politicians are trying to cherry pick their voters. This is an assault on the covenant that we have with one another as an American people and it's my job to protect it.



WHITFIELD: Georgia's Republican governor continues to defend the new law, arguing that it expands voter access in the state, despite the fact that the measure adds restrictions.

In Michigan, the chairman of the Michigan Republican Party is facing backlash for comments he called the three top Democratic women in the state "witches".

Ron Weiser, the Michigan GOP leader, also used the word assassination as an alternative to voting out leadership. All the comments came during a meeting with a local Republican club and his comments were met with cheers and laughter.


RON WEISER, CHAIRMAN, MICHIGAN REPUBLICAN PARTY: I made a decision to continue to serve, to make sure we have an opportunity to take out these three witches in two years from now.



WHITFIELD: Jocelyn Benson is the Michigan secretary of state.

And as one of the top female Democratic leaders in the state, is it your view that Mr. Weiser was talking about you being a witch?

JOCELYN BENSON (D), MICHIGAN SECRETARY OF STATE: I think that was very clear and, you know, I think that even more so that, you know, what he was suggesting violence over democracy is not just horrific, but it goes against what the people of Michigan want and, of course, though, is also part of a pattern you've mentioned we're seeing all across the country, Republican leaders seeming to dismiss or disregard democracy at a time when we really need to be protecting every voice.

WHITFIELD: Right, and, Secretary Benson, I mean, there was cheering and laughter that we heard on that tape. What does this tell you about the support that that sentiment has?

BENSON: Well, it shows that what we've been saying really in Michigan for almost a year now as we've seen violent threats and hateful rhetoric percolate throughout our state and through the voices of political leaders, which is that those threats, that can lead to violent acts and it's no -- you know, no secret and no surprise that as a result of this kind of ongoing violent rhetoric that we're seeing violent threats as well targeting not just me, but of course the governor, the attorney general, and many others.

And there's just no place for that in a democracy, and it really is a time for all leaders to step up and acknowledge that and acknowledge that civil discourse, that agreeing to disagree without being disagreeable is what we need right now.

WHITFIELD: Did out make you fearful, I mean, especially after people were arrested, a plot was broken up, a plot to kill, assassinate the governor, Governor Whitmer?

BENSON: You know, that doesn't -- I mean, sure, it's -- it's been a challenging year, you know, and people showed up outside my home in a dark Saturday night in December when I'm trying to put my kid to bed. You just never know and you always worry that with intense rhetoric like this someone can get hurt. But the bottom line as well, we were elected by the people of Michigan

to do a job and serve the state and that's exactly what we're doing. And if people disagree with it, there's a way to handle that at the ballot box.

But what we also need to see, moving forward, is accountability for this hateful rhetoric and that's what's been missing, really, and why it hasn't really diminished over the past year, and it keeps escalating, of course. And we all saw the escalation on January 6th at the U.S. Capitol.

That's why again, it's important that we have accountability for this rhetoric, and for these attacks on democracy and political leaders. And until we have accountability, we can't expect it to stop.

WHITFIELD: Weiser has since tweeted out, saying this, you know, he should have chosen his words more carefully, but this is very serious business, particularly after the plot that I just mentioned that was, you know, broken up.

And just looking at the whole climate of the country, does a message need to be sent to him that these words, you know, are serious and nothing should be taken lightly, can he potentially even be facing any charges, you know, for using such rhetoric? Dangerous language?

BENSON: Yeah, I think quite clearly, an apology, without accountability, is meaningless, and, you know, the people of Michigan deserve more than a leader of any political party who would suggest violence over democracy and this is, again, an ongoing pattern we're seeing in Michigan and across the country.

And until we do see some accountability, some lines drawn to say this is the line and you can't cross it, in a democracy, we can't -- you know, we're going to continue to see people try to stoke the fears of the -- of voters, of citizens through this type of rhetoric.

And so it's really time, long past time, for leaders of both political parties to consistently in words and in action condemn this hateful rhetoric, not repeat it, certainly, not propagate it, and when they do so, and apologize like in this case, you know, that they're held accountable by others who say this is just not appropriate in this day and age.


WHITFIELD: Uh-huh. Speaking of voters, as you know, of course, Georgia has just passed a law that many critics are calling a voter suppression law and then in Michigan you have more than 30 bills that may have the same intent.

What's your view on what can or should or is going to happen to make sure that Michigan does not follow suit in passing legislation that people would call suppression, a suppression of the vote?

BENSON: Well, again, this is a continuation of the war on democracy that we saw subsequently following the November election that has escalated and really has taken on a new battle front in state legislatures across the country. So in Michigan, there's been proposals for legislation that would essentially create so many hurdles to voting by mail or voting absentee as to make it completely impossible.

Now, in Michigan there's a state constitutional right that voters have instilled in our state constitution to protect their right to vote absentee. So, a debate about the extent any proposals that infringe that state constitutional right.

But the bottom line, the fact is that last year's election, a record number of Michigan citizens on both sides chose to vote absentee and demonstrated that they believe in that right. They believe in democracy and it's really important for every leader in Michigan to recognize that, to listen to the voters on both sides of the aisle, who clearly want to be able to have access to vote, and really took advantage of that access last year in one of our most successful elections in recent history.

WHITFIELD: All right. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, thank you so much for your time, appreciate it.

BENSON: Thanks for having me.

WHITFIELD: All right. Coming up, an elected official in Ohio condemns anti-Asian hate by taking off his shirt during a board meeting. The emotional moment all caught on camera. He joins me live in just a moment.

Today, members of Congress are in Atlanta --



WHITFIELD: Today, members of Congress are in Atlanta visiting the site of a mass shooting where a gunman killed eight people, including sixth Asian women. Members of the Asian-Pacific American Caucus are retracing the shooter's steps to show, in their view, the killings were an anti-Asian hate crime. The group Stop Asian-American and Pacific Islander Hate said between March of this year and December of 2020, more than 2,800 complaints have been filed to this group.

Earlier this week, Lee Wong, the chairman of Ohio's West Chester Township Board of Trustees stood up at a council meeting and addressed his own frustrations, answering to anyone questioning his patriotism as an Asian-American.


LEE WONG, CHAIRMAN, WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP BOARD OF TRUSTEES: I'm 69 years old, and I'm going to show you what patriotism, the questions about patriotism looks like. Here is my proof. This is a stain from my service in the U.S. military. Now is this patriot enough?

I'm not ashamed to walk around anymore. Before I was -- felt inhibited. People looked at me strange. And they questioned my loyalty to this country. I don't look American enough.

Now last I read the U.S. Constitution's We the People, we are all the same, we are equal, not this you are more superior, you are not.


WHITFIELD: Lee Wong joining me right now.

Mr. Wong, I mean, what compelled you to do that?

WONG: I thought it was necessary to speak up. I felt that the wave of violence is -- first it was just talk and a few punches here and there then this Atlanta shooting, that gun -- that violence, that really bothers me. I sat in a restaurant, and I looked out and I say, what happened right now is someone walk in there and do the same thing and target Asian-Americans, who are just law-abiding citizens, sitting there, have lunch and got attacked? We feel unsafe. First time I feel very, very insecure.

WHITFIELD: And before that moment of standing up, taking off your shirt, showing people the scars of your military service, and when you had heard offensive remarks to you, when people have dismissed you or questioned our patriotism before that moment, what did you steel yourself in doing, how did you handle it contrary to what you just did here?

WONG: Well, in the past -- for too long I just kept taking it in silence for a long time. I just pass it on. Maybe he has a -- just brush it off, maybe it was sometimes passed on as a joke, or sometimes it's serious, or making fun of my features, you know, the father and son, all this.

But then it's getting worse and worse. That more of this come to tell me that I don't look American enough. I'm not patriot, whatever, all that.

WHITFIELD: There was silence in that room, when you made that statement, visually and verbally. What did people say afterwards to you?


What kind of reception did you receive? What did you read out of people after that?

WONG: Well, at that time I think everybody was shocked, even -- I didn't know I was going to do that, take my shirt off. I was just in the heat of the moment. I ripped my shirt off, lift, show my scar. I thought, I need to show them what Americans look like. It takes all kinds of people, all shapes and sizes.

WHITFIELD: I'm sure you opened the eyes of many, even if many didn't say anything verbally to you.

Lee Wong, thank you so much for sharing your story. Thank you for your service. Thank you for your courage. WONG: Thank you so much.

WHITFIELD: We'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: All right. Just in the last week the big lie is having real consequences for many Americans, that lie that the 2020 election was somehow stolen from Donald Trump is still being pushed by many of his supporters and, of course, the former president himself.

In Georgia, the unfounded accusations of widespread voter fraud led the governor to sign a sweeping and controversial bill into law that puts new limits on the way people in Georgia vote. It's one of at least 45 states where Republicans have put forth 250 bills aimed at restricting voter access in some way.

But the misinformation is pervasive across American media and platforms. Last week, voting technology company Dominion filed a defamation lawsuit against Fox News for $1.6 billion, and leaders of the U.S. tech industry, Google, Twitter, Facebook, testifying before Congress to defend their roles as misinformation spreads across those platforms.

Joining me right now to talk about all of this, media professor from George Washington University and CNN alum, Frank Sesno.

Frank, good to see you.


WHITFIELD: All right. How did it come to be? You had the big lie. You had the president who pressed the secretary of state on conversations trying to overturn the election, Georgia stood its ground saying, no, there was no fraud. One person, one vote, everything was good and then the next thing you know, the president, whether it be his wounded ego, or what, is now translated, turns into a -- the very kind of law that he has been advocating. How did that happen?

SESNO: Well, it follows the pattern of the big lie. You know, continual assertion, assertion from the top, from a dynamic, charismatic leader, ignoring the truth, demonizing those who stand in the way and this is really important, amplified by media which can paint a broader narrative that supports the contention.

Now, of course, we have the media amplification, not just by traditional media companies or non-traditional for that matter, but by social media, which is driven by people, by followers, by real neighbors and friends. And so, this has taken root. And it has taken its root in a completely polarized environment and there really is a straight line from the lie to the law here.

WHITFIELD: Because there are a lot of Americans who can't discern the difference between mainstream media, things that are checked, double checked, triple checked versus just information they find on the Internet or via social media platforms. So what's the responsibility that, say, these social media platforms have?

SESNO: Well, they have a responsibility. They very slowly and reluctantly come to accept that. Not too long ago I was at a -- I took part in testimony where the media platforms and social media platforms were there saying we do not want to be arbiters of the truth. We don't want to get involved with this. We're just the pipeline. We have no skin in this game. We're not really.

That's changed and now, Mark Zuckerberg himself says, well, there needs to be some kind of regulation, the question is what. We're not going to have a ministry of truth in the United States of America. We have a First Amendment and we feel very strongly about that. It's very broad and it recollect protects a lot, but it doesn't protect everything.

You can't shout fire in a crowded theater. You can't impersonate a federal officer. You can't lie to the FBI. In fact, you cannot, without some threat of penalty, sell medicine and claim that it can cure a disease when you know it cannot.

I think the Fox lawsuit here is really interesting because we may be on the verge of establishing new levels of accountability and legal exposure when it comes not only to --


WHITFIELD: This is Dominion suing Fox News $1.6 billion because Fox News never stood in the way, or, you know, collectively challenged people when they were blaming Dominion voting machines as being porous, a reason why the vote should not be believed.

SESNO: Right, and you say not only did you harm us as a company but you've charmed the country and we saw January 6th. So if that harm, like shouting fire in a crowded theater can be seen to be applied broadly or mis- and disinformation, there could be greater liability around that and serious consequence.


If Fox has to shell out $1.6 billion or anywhere near it, they'll feel it.

WHITFIELD: Frank Sesno, thanks so much, always good to see you.

SESNO: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right, still to come, Music City flooded out. Wild weather carves a path of destruction through Nashville, littering streets with dirt and debris. We'll go there live, straight ahead.