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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 7/16/21

Guests: Don Calloway, Ken Burns


The CDC warns of "pandemic of the unvaccinated" as all 50 states see rise in COVID cases. And Facebook defends its handling of misinformation after Biden accuses the platform of "killing people." Less than 50 percent of U.S. population is fully vaccinated. White House fights vaccine misinformation on social media.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: All of the Texas Democrats will join. Jonathan Capehart for the special, Battleground Democracy: The Texas Democrats, Monday at 10 p.m. Eastern right here on MSNBC. That is Tonight`s Last Word. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: And good evening, once again, day 178 of the Biden administration and the greatest nation on Earth is back to this again, health experts say about our country and during a new and dangerous phase of the pandemic, that this is the time to be aware. Today the warning from the CDC was directed left little doubt about the risk.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: There is a clear message that is coming through. This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated. We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage, because unvaccinated people are at risk.


WILLIAMS: This Delta variant also fueling the rise in new infections which are now up by 70 percent over the past seven days. Hospital admissions have increased by 36 percent. Deaths are up by 26 percent. Here we are again, while all states are seeing up ticks and new cases, the CDC says just four states, California, Texas, Missouri and Florida now account for more than 40 percent of all cases this past week, one in five new cases in our country is occurring in the state of Florida alone.

This is not where the Biden administration expected to be after an intensive mass vaccine campaign. Right now fewer than 50 percent of the total U.S. population is fully vaccinated. And the numbers of people getting shots continues to fall. White House is now focused on fighting misinformation about the vaccines. And they were calling out the tech companies today. Today President Biden had sharp words in fact, for Facebook.


PETER ALEXANDER: What`s your message to platforms like Facebook?

JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT: They`re killing people. I mean, they`re really, look, the only pandemic we have is unvaccinated. And that`s -- and they`re killing people.


WILLIAMS: As you might have heard earlier, Facebook responded in a statement which reads in part, "more than 2 billion people have viewed authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook, which is more than any other place on the internet. More than 3.3 million Americans have also used our vaccine finder tool to find out where and how to get a vaccine. The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period."

This of course has become instantly political some on the right are accusing the White House of trying to stifle and monitor Facebook and its users. Here is part of an exchange that took place today between Press Secretary Jen Psaki and the Fox News Correspondent.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For how long has the administration been spying on people`s Facebook profiles looking for vaccine misinformation?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, that was quite a loaded and inaccurate question, which I would refute.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Inaccurate, how?

PSAKI: This is publicly open information -- people sharing information online -- just as you are all reporting information on your news stations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do they know that somebody at the Surgeon General`s office is going through their profile?

PSAKI: These are people who are sharing information on public platforms -- on Facebook -- information that is traveling, is inaccurate.

Our biggest concern here -- and I, frankly, think it should be your biggest concern, is the number of people who are dying around the country because they`re getting misinformation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there any concern that the things you`re trying to block or have taken down might someday turn out to be --

PSAKI: We don`t take anything down. We don`t block anything.


WILLIAMS: And that`s about how that went today. Meanwhile, the administration is sending teams out into the field to try to get a handle on these latest outbreaks.


JEFF ZIENTS, WH COVID RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Get the request of the Nevada governor, we are deploying more than 100 people to the state to help enhance vaccine access and support vaccine outreach efforts. We`re providing CDC`s technical expertise, including on genetic sequencing, data analysis and outbreak response to Missouri to help the state in its response.


WILLIAMS: Politico pointing out tonight the challenge for the Biden administration noting that outreach may be less than welcome in some parts of our country where anti-vax and anti-government sentiment run high. One other part of the world experiencing a virus spike is Tokyo. That`s bad news because the Summer Olympics are set to begin a week from today. Authorities there say cases are climbing, the biggest surge in six months. In fact, number of arriving athletes have already tested positive.


Also tonight we`re getting a new look at the relationship between Donald Trump and his last Attorney General Bill Barr. In their new book called, I Alone Can Fix It, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters, Carol Leonnig and Phil Rucker of The Washington Post write about Barr`s realization in spring of 2020 that Trump was squandering his chances for reelection. They write it this way. "I feel you are going to lose the election, Barr said. `I feel you are actually losing touch with your own base. The only reason you won last time, Mr. President is because of the grab them by the, expletive, comment` Barr said, according to an account he shared with others. `It actually scared you enough to listen to Kellyanne and for the last several weeks you behaved yourself and you won by a hair. This time it`s different, you cannot wait until the end. It`s about you and you`re turning off enough people to lose this election. Trump was silent, the authors write, not interrupting or trying to regain the floor as he`s usually did. As Barr spiel came to an end Trump nodded and said he appreciated the advice."

Well, today Trump released a response that reads in part, "Bill Barr never once told me he thought I was going to lose the election. In fact, it was quite the opposite. He told me that I should win.

With that, let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this Friday night. Susan Page, Veteran Journalist, Best Selling Author, USA Today Washington Bureau Chief, Eugene Daniels, White House Correspondent for Politico and co-author of each day`s edition of Politico Playbook, and Dr. Vin Gupta, Critical Care Pulmonologist out in Seattle, specializing in these kinds of illnesses. He`s also on the faculty at the University of Washington Institute for Health metrics and evaluation. Notably, Dr. Gupta just finished moderating a seminar at the Aspen Institute on fighting pandemic misinformation, and securing the public`s trust.

And that`s why I`d like to begin with you tonight, Doc, what did you share with the people there? And what did you tell them was your number one concern right now?

DR. VIN GUPTA, MSNBC MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Brian, good evening, thank you, as always, for having me. You know, the main thesis out here is we can diagnose that the tech companies or that there are bad actors out there putting out bad information, but how do we actually train armies of future healthcare professionals, young public health professionals to actually communicate simply and effectively to the people. So that`s been a big focus here at the Aspen Institute and elsewhere. And I`ll say the reason that I have to be here at a think tank, doing some of this information is because academic medical centers and medical schools are not doing it. We have a fundamental imbalance between what the public is demanding, clear, concise, not confusing public health information, and what our trainees in medicine and public health are actually getting when they`re in training. They`re not getting how to actually talk to the lay public in clear, simple terms. They`re getting told we`ll talk in fancy acronyms sound really complicated, and you will be rewarded. So we`re trying to unlearn that. We`re trying to build that crisis communication capability, it`s going to be really vital.

And lastly, I`ll say, Brian, if I may, we can impugn Facebook as much as we want. But unless we hold accountable the MDs, who wear white coats, to give shelter and enable nonsense information on internet platforms, unless we hold them accountable and say, you know what, just like Rudy Giuliani, you will lose your license if you continue to do this. If there are not consequences, Brian, it`s not going to matter how many times we diagnose a problem. There needs to be consequences.

WILLIAMS: Indeed, we saw some of that this week on cable platforms as well.

Susan, let`s talk about the intersection of public health and politics, talk about the political challenge, A, but be the disappointment for the Biden administration that has been in search of that elusive 70 percent vaccination goal?

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Yeah, the healthcare crisis, certainly with the rise, once again, of COVID a political problem as well. And you could see how frustrated the White House is when the President came over and accused Facebook of killing people by not being more aggressive about taking down misinformation.

Now the problem for the White House, they`re doing a lot of things, right. We have vaccines that work, they are widely available. Anybody who wants to get a vaccine can get one and get it free. And yet we have a significant part of the American population refusing to do that, and a lot of them are in states that were that Biden loss, that Trump won where the suspicion of the government in general and of the Biden administration in particular is pretty high. How do you convince them to take the vaccine and yet that is something President Biden needs to do to succeed as President. This is job -- the pandemic is job won for the Biden administration.


WILLIAMS: Eugene, that brings us to you, your beat at the White House talk about the level of concern over this surge coupled with this campaign, they started fighting this week against misinformation?

EUGENE DANIELS, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, me and my colleague, Natasha Korecki wrote a story earlier this week about this, that the administration was going to start looking at misinformation and disinformation, more importantly, more aggressively talking about it more. They started to do that this week, because last week, I was in the White House talking to officials there. And they were all saying the same thing. They were very concerned about what they were hearing in right wing media, they were very concerned that they felt like right wing media had kind of, you know, hit the clutch on even more disinformation and misinformation on the vaccines, talking about it even more, in a way they were a little bit confused at the door to door, you know, the government`s coming door-to- door to give you a vaccine was a huge deal that the right wing was talking about that is not what`s going on.

And so they`re really concerned about it. And the only thing that they can do, the thing that they are able to do is from the bully pulpit forward with Jen Psaki saying that they are working on these things. And you even heard there, the Fox News report is still asking questions that lead you to believe and if you`re someone, if they`re already people who are believing some of these things, you see that they think there`s a more of a problem, the way that questions are asked. So they`re very concerned about it. There`s only so much they can do. And so right now, the concentration is continuing to use. Doctors continue to use health experts to try to dispel some of this, and working with some of these with Facebook and Twitter, on pulling things down.

And just on Facebook, the statement that they gave saying that, you know, people are able to use the Facebook tools to find a vaccine. That doesn`t change the fact that historically, misinformation lives on Facebook quite a bit in this shared, I don`t want to give you, if you have Facebook, you can look yourself and see how much it`s shared, right? It is not something that you need a scientific degree to figure out it happens often, it happened in all of all of our elections in 2016. And it`s happening around the vaccine, so both of those things can be true. And the administration is going to have to figure out what they can do working with these social media companies and also using the bully pulpit to move some of these things along because it does and will and has, they say, cost lives.

WILLIAMS: Eugene, you`re so right. The Facebook statement notably leaves out the number of people who have found their misinformation on the pages of Facebook.

Dr. Gupta headlines tonight from Susan`s publication USA Today, the fourth wave of COVID-19 cases is here. Will we escape the U.K. his fate? It`s too soon to know. So tell me, Doc, what kinds of patients are walking into your ER in Seattle these days and I hesitate to ask your prediction for fall?

GUPTA: Well, Brian, they`re primarily young, 20s, 30s unvaccinated that are coming in, seeking medical care whether they come and see a doc like me and an ICU doc. Well, that depends. Usually though I`ve been hearing right before Memorial Day well into parts of June, in both Seattle and Tucson, young people requiring 100 percent oxygen with something we call a high flow nasal cannula. I probably tired out your audience showing x-rays but I`m going to bring it the next time you have me on. X-rays of these patients otherwise healthy are filled with pus from COVID. They`re not clear with air. That`s so that`s number one.

I would say just to beat off of what Eugene and Susan have said, we`re talking about disinformation, Brian, and misinformation but there`s also just confusing information that exists. And I look at LA County, for example, that decided to do an indoor masking mandate. And but with all due respect, I understand wanting to err on the side of caution. But when you make a move like that, that`s counterweights to what CDC is put out there. You have to -- you have to have science to back it up. And what did they have, they have a 60 percent plus one dose vaccination rate, test positivity 3 percent or less such about 2.5 percent. Their hospitals are not stressed right now from COVID. The reason I say this is when it comes the fall winter, we`re going to have regional surges, assuredly in places that are not vaccinated. The public needs to feel like public health officials are making moves based on the science. I just don`t feel like that exists in LA County. So there`s a lot of people out there saying, well, why are they doing that, instead of reflex? It`s not based on science, why? It`s confusing, and I think that`s leading into all the hesitancy that exists.

WILLIAMS: Susan, back over to you. And two questions, especially in your role as an author of political nonfiction, how on guard should we continue to be four episodes of how hagiography, people who are looking to burnish recently stained reputations during the Trump years? The quotes for example, that make Barr look good. The accounts that make Ivanka look good spending hours trying to get her dad to react to 1/6. Even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, give people a reader`s guide as to how this works and why we shouldn`t blame the authors who are straight up interviewing these folks.


PAGE: Right. Well, you do want to put everything in context, right? And you want to put into the context of what people say now. They were doing behind the scenes with what we`re doing in public. And if they were doing things in public that advanced and enabled attacks on our democracy, that should not be forgotten, even if there`s a credible account of them trying to do something helpful behind the scenes. What surprised -- one thing that surprised me though, I`ve got to say, Brian, is some people are clearly trying to burnish their reputations. They`re awful lot of people who have just doubled down on what they did during the Trump administration and their support for former President Trump. Now in ways that I that I found surprising since the January 6 attacks, the fact that we haven`t seen more of these efforts is more surprising to me than the fact that we`ve seen some of them.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, it`s a good bet those, burnishing their Trump reputation of face, a potential primary challenger in 2022. Susan, final question about the book business, the three books that are out, there is a fourth, on the way, are any of these details more striking to you than any else that we`ve read excerpted this week?

PAGE: You know, I find them shocking, but not surprising, because they are consistent with the reporting that was being done day to day during the Trump administration. I do think the actions of a few individuals kept us from a worse consequences than we had as a country on January 6, and since the election, and that is of some concern, because if we`re counting on the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to try to take some planning against a military coup, and he decides to do that can`t -- is that the kind of robust check and balance that we learned about in civics class in the seventh grade? And is that something we can rely on if something like this should happen again?

WILLIAMS: Food for thought there, Eugene, quick, final question to you. Fast forward a week from tonight, what does Joe Biden hopes to emerge from the following week with?

DANIELS: Yeah, he hopes to have some infrastructure bills kind of written and done with and making sure that he keeps that caucus together of his, they are working on this $3.5 trillion. Basically catch all of human infrastructure they`ve been calling it. And they are working to figure out who agrees with who and if this President is able to won, pass this massive historic bill that would kind of reshape the care economy, reshape how people live and no child poverty and pre-K and call -- and free community college, if he`s able to do that, that`s huge.

But we will also be really interesting over the next week, and people should be watching is if he`s able to keep everyone from Bernie Sanders to Joe Manchin in line on $3.5 trillion. And whether or not that`s going to happen, because the political machinations behind the scenes are so fascinating, because of the 50/50 split in the Senate. And in the House, they don`t have much, a lot to work with either. So there`s a lot of art on hand wringing and carrot and sticks that this President`s going to have to do to make these things work out. So next Friday, I think he`s hoping to say that he has his bipartisan deals ready to go and $3.5 trillion bill, at least written at the very least.

WILLIAMS: To our viewers, you`ve been warned great appreciation to our starting frontline tonight, Susan Page, Eugene Daniels, Dr. Vin Gupta out in Aspen. Thanks to the three of you for starting us off.

Coming up, a week of stunning revelations about these final days of the Trump presidency, two of our sharpest political mind standing by to talk about what we`ve actually learned the takeaways. And later, the virus tearing at the fabric of our country, no, not that virus, award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns is here to share his fears. What he calls the human virus of lying and misinformation. That one, the 11th Hour is just getting underway on this final week night of the week.



WILLIAMS: This week, we have heard stunning accounts of the final days of the Trump White House from three new books among the many shocking reports. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Phil Rucker and Carol Leonnig write, the Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley worried about a coup attempt in real time, once Trump refused to concede the election.

Back with us tonight, Don Calloway, Democratic Strategist, Founder of the National Voter Protection Action Fund, and Bill Kristol, author, writer, thinker, political veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations, editor at large at the Bulwark. Gentlemen, good evening to you both.

Bill, let`s talk about dissonance. Given your experience in Washington, where you have come to know all the players very well do upstanding members of the Republican caucus in the Senate, let`s pick three names, Thune, Barrasso, Cornyn, do they quietly read these books all or part and does it just go in the cognitive dissonance pile? Will anyone read them the way you read them, looking for warnings about where we are now and where we might be tomorrow?

BILL KRISTOL, THE BULWARK EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, I mean, they`ve -- these books have been well publicized this week. And I don`t think we`ve heard much from them. They haven`t publicly thanked General Milley for standing up for the rule of law and the Constitution and arranging things to make it harder for Donald Trump and his minions to get away with really terrible actions in late December, early January. And I would say if you polled Republican electorate right now, which is getting no guidance, of course, from their senior elected officials on this, they probably think -- they`re probably with Trump not Milley, you know. I mean, think of the contrast. Someone said earlier to me, well, what about Richard Nixon, we recovered from that, for whatever sincerity that the Republican Party did not go around in 75, 76 or 79, 80, saying Nixon was right, visiting Nixon and paying obeisance to him, saying all those people who resisted Nixon or testified against Nixon they were wrong. They were traitors. Anyone who stood up to Nixon had to be primary and so forth.


So, I mean, we have a terrible situation. We know what happened now in December, January. It`s terrible. And we have a party that is not willing to repudiate it. And indeed, that is -- Kevin McCarthy visited Donald Trump this week, and most elected officials are on the Trump train. And then the others are just quiet. So I think it`s not just alarming about -- what we`ve learned, it`s not just alarming about December and January. It`s alarming about today and about the future.

WILLIAMS: Don, Bill raises as usual, a great point. In the post Nixon years, the party was intent on rebuilding and those who were still alive to tell the tale rallied around Gerald Ford and the larger effort. What do you think in all of these books, all of the excerpts that have been out this week, will any of it impact Republicans remembering, of course, this was hardly a president in sync with his party?

DON CALLOWAY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Right, right. Bill is spot on and I see where you`re going here, but I think it`s time that we, you know, spoke some sad truth. I`ve known you for a couple of weeks now, Brian, and I`ll talk to you as I would anyone Condon barbershop. The reality is that today`s Republican Party is not that, Bill Kristol or William F. Buckley or really any type of ideological intellectual underpinning, the defining aspect of today`s Republican Party is, its members` willingness to uphold white patriarchal supremacy. That`s what this is about. And Donald Trump is the avatar for that. It`s not about Christianity, if it was Ted Cruz or Rick Santorum would be their nominee.

It`s not about small government. If it were, you know, Grover Norquist perhaps would be their guide. It`s not about taxation or economic theory or anything like that. This is about, you know, a couple of people`s willingness to hold on to white male patriarchal supremacy. And I really have a hard time finding about what is the common connective tissue? What is the unifying thread other than that? I mean, look at the policy happening on the state and local level. And even at the national level, the only discernible policy is a united push to keep other folks from voting so that we can maintain these patriarchal policies. So, you know, it`s really time that we stop looking for, you know, the thing that will make them finally break from Trump. There is nothing that will make them break from Trump because Trump is the leader in maintaining the one unifying theology right now.

WILLIAMS: So Bill after that injection of reality from Don, how important is it to you to find out what was going on, on the inside, for example, on 1/6, knowing that the answer to that will fall into two buckets, red and blue?

KRISTOL: So important for some people, I think, who were wavering, there were some people who change their mind after January things after all, Liz Cheney would like to leave but it`s supported Trump, voted for him twice, apparently and elections and certainly wasn`t where some of us were in saying you can`t tolerate Trump, that`s not our position now, 3, 5, 7 percent of the electorate moved over because of more clarity about what Trump didn`t do on January 6, that`s one of the things that come out of these books that hasn`t gotten quite as much attention because the Milley stuff is so unbelievable.

Trump was president United States, Capitol was stormed, Trump did nothing, nothing. Any President having what, you know, and this kind of magnitude of something was happening. What does he do? He goes to the Situation Room, he calls the Secretary of Defense, he calls his Homeland Security, Justice Department, and they puts everyone on the job and this has to stop. He stopped immediately. Trump it`s not just his own personal statements. He just didn`t act as President. Why not? Because he was, as he now basically says, on this side of those rioting in the capital of those attacking the Capitol, not on the side of those defending the Capitol. So maybe as that becomes clear, that affects a few voters and a few Republican elect, few more Republican elected officials break but I wouldn`t hold one`s breath expecting too many.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Don, unfair as it is, I need about 60 seconds of brilliance, have the Texas Democrats taught anything to the Senate Democrats in your view this week?

CALLOWAY: No, Texas Democrats had a wonderful week, but unfortunately, I don`t -- well, TBD, I hope that Senate Democrats have learned something from Texas Democrat, but we won`t know until the following weekend proceeding through that. But the Texas Democrats have certainly shown the nation that, one, we have a duty to disrupt in the face of injustice. And number two, you have a duty to tell people about it. I`m glad that our colleague Jonathan Capehart, is helping them carry their message on this network tomorrow whenever that airs. I`m glad to see all of the individual members, including the dean, representatives (inaudible) talk about their story. You have a duty to tell people why you`re doing what you`re doing, why you`re standing up. And why the Texas Republican Party and the National Republican Party`s activities and voter suppression and election malfeasance is wrong.


So I hope that Senate Democrats have learned that lesson, but we will see in the next month proceeding up to this August recess.

WILLIAMS: Thank you for that mentioned that Jonathan Capehart interview and broadcast is right before us Monday night, 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 West Coast. Don Calloway, by the way, go Tougaloo Bulldogs, Bill Kristol. Gentlemen, we`ll keep doing this. Thank you both very much for coming by.

Coming up for us, he warns efforts to revise or rewrite our history, or the greatest threat to our republic ever. The Award-winning Documentarian, Ken Burns standing by to talk with us next.


WILLIAMS: An alarming headline involving the award winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns caught our attention not too long ago. During an interview with The Washington Post, he said he`s very worried about our country and what he calls a hypersensitivity to our nation`s history and its connections to the president. He sums it up this way, quote, this moment of all these intersecting viruses of novel coronavirus isn`t of racial injustice, a 402-year-old virus and it`s an old and age old human virus of lying and misinformation and paranoia and conspiracy. This is the pill that will kill us unless we do something.


So back with us tonight is my friend Ken Burns, perhaps the closest thing we have to a national storyteller, chronicler of the American story for over 40 years as producer, director documentarian. He`s handed us down the story of our civil war, our Vietnam War, our national parks, our national pastime.

My friend, let`s start here with two men who you`ve chronicled along the way. I see the desire to shun people`s legacies. And I see the desire to shame, people`s legacies. But when does that risk covering up our history? And as an example, should Robert E. Lee and Woodrow Wilson face the same modern day cancellation?

KEN BURNS, PEAOBDY AND EMMY-WINNING DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: Well, I think the Robert E. Lee is a really complicated one. I like to see his statues at the places where they should be interpreted in battlefields. He himself was very clear on it, and I might hide behind his academic robes as president of Washington College, which became Washington and Lee after his death. And he said, make no monuments to the Confederacy will only breed bitterness. And I think his nightmare has come true in that regard.

I think I`ve always said most of my professional life that the most overrated president was Woodrow Wilson. And we deserve to hear a much more complicated and I think, more interesting if at times dark story about a person who resegregated a civil service that had steadily after the Civil War been integrated. And so there`s lots to discuss.

The problem is, is that this is the most fraught time I think, in the history of our republic. I`m just finishing a film on Benjamin Franklin for next year. And at the end of the Constitutional Convention, you know, the story, Brian, the doors are flung open, and Elizabeth Willing Powel, leading lady of Philadelphia, who of course, has no rights in this new constitutions, zero none. Zip says well, Mr. Franklin, Dr. Franklin, what have you created a monarchy or a republic, and he says, a republic, if you can keep it.

And I think this is where the rubber is meeting the road. We`re at this desperate place, the convergence of all those viruses, the side effects of the misinformation and the paranoia and the lying, voter suppression. And then the rewriting of our history are saying that we`re not interested in facts. We`re not interested in the truth. We`re not interested in the many varied voices that make us up.

I loved your emphasis on our national parks, our this -- I`ve been making films for 45 years about the U.S. but I`ve also been making films about us. That two letter lowercase plural pronoun, all the intimacy of us and we and your our, and also the majesty, the complexity, the contradiction and the controversy of the U.S.

There`s nothing wrong with including the big picture of looking at us. Words and all. I mean, you think so much of this Soviet style disinformation and changing policies is issuing from Texas whose religion is, as we know, football on a Friday night or a Saturday night after a trouncing the coach comes out and says, you know, we didn`t do anything, right. We`re terrible on defense, on offensive special teams. You`re telling it like it was, and somehow we`re now certain that our children can`t stand anything but a sanitized Madison Avenue version of our history, when in fact, we`re enriched by the variety and that complexity and the undertow.

We understand the nuances of who we are in a much better way, when we pursue what we`ve tried to do stories and facts and voices, however varied they might be.

WILLIAMS: Stay with me friend through this break to our audience after this quick break with the Tokyo opening ceremonies just a week away. Ken Burns will help us look back at a stunner at that same ceremony only in this country 25 years ago.



WILLIAMS: A week from tonight COVID permitting the Tokyo Olympics will officially open and next week is the 25th anniversary of one of the iconic moments in modern Olympic history. It was July 19, 1996, boxing legend Muhammad Ali emerged in front of an unknowing crowd in Atlanta. While already in the grips of Parkinson`s, he was the champ and remained a singular figure in our world. That moment in Atlanta, one of the many that Ken Burns will explore in a series of virtual events celebrating his upcoming documentary, Muhammad Ali.

Ken Burns remains with us and Ken talk about the decision to make Muhammad Ali, a Ken Burns subject.

BURNS: Well, you know, he is just one of the most, I mean, people throw the word iconic around. He`s mythical. He`s larger than life. He is as American, as Walt Whitman wanted us to be filled with contradictions and undertow. And all of the things that you look for, and, you know, obviously is -- as he was proclaimed the greatest athlete of the 20th century, he`s seen -- his life seem to touch on all the major issues in the second half of the of the 20th century issues that are still with us, some of which we were talking about before, but certainly race and civil rights and religion and politics and war. And now Me Too, and other things. He just seems to be at an intersection of that.

It says, as interesting a person as I`ve ever come across. I now want to have that dinner party with Lincoln and Louis Armstrong and Muhammad Ali and this moment that you`re talking about, Brian, is really just so special. Dick Ebersol, you know, kept it a secret from everybody, the president of NBC Sports and pushed it through against some folks that were still a little bit raw about him.

And it was all presumed that Janet Emmons, the Olympian would like the torch and she takes it up there and then out emerges this now surprising to us, frail and shaking beset by Parkinson`s, greatest of all, most beautiful of all athletes and doing and something was released to the writer David Remnick in our film says, you know, that it may be possible that human beings can change and get better.

You know, we began -- we sort of let go of our, whatever we had built up. And all it was an outpouring of love, which match the love he had had for us all along. And he had been right about so many of the things all along. It`s one of the great moments in all of sports, as difficult as it was to watch. It permitted him to be kind of liberated in the mists of this encasing disease. And that helped us liberate ourselves from the kind of binariness (ph) of everything we do good, bad, oh, he`s against the word, you know, then he`s my enemy, or he`s for this thing. And I`m against it. It changes his religion to the nation of Islam.

It`s a wonderful and utterly American story. And, you know, there are lots of really great documentaries, I should say, off the bat. And Sarah Burns, my daughter and David McMahon, my son in law and I, we`ve made a few films like The Central Park 5 and Jackie Robinson. We`ve been wanting to tell a story that was soup to nuts from boyhood birth in Jim Crow, Louisville, Kentucky, to death by Parkinson`s not that many years ago. And all that he represented. All that he did, and all that he came to me.

I mean, it`s the film I just finished, Brian, as you know, is on Ernest Hemingway. And that didn`t end too well. This guy dies, the most beloved person on this planet, which is something maybe all of us should think about tilting towards.

WILLIAMS: Final question, Ken, we`ve talked about how troubled you are about our nation and our world right now. We`ve talked about Mr. Franklin. We`ve talked about Mr. Ali. Just a quick final question about your process. How many future topics do you walk around with every day on that list we all keep in our head? How many topics ahead are you normally watching, asking for a friend who`s still stuck on country music?

BURNS: I can get you there. I`ll sing -- I`ll sing if you want me to, Brian. We have so many projects already underway. You know, if I were given 1,000 years, I wouldn`t run out of projects in American history. I`m not going to give a 1,000 years. So I`m kind of loading up and we`re working on Ali and Benjamin Franklin. Some of those scary conversations you were having with Don and Bill a second ago are echoed in our film, that we`re editing starting tomorrow on the you`re, not starting the editing, but continuing it on the US and the Holocaust, what we did and what we didn`t do what we knew and what we, you know, didn`t know what we should have done all of those horrible questions, history of the American Revolution, that`ll be a real big thing in time for the 250th.

The first non-American topic on Leonardo da Vinci. We`re doing a history of emancipation to Exodus sort of African American life reconstruction, but what preceded it and what followed it, LBJ and the Great Society, as we watch voting rights and other aspects of that extraordinary legislative accomplishments become undone.

And it`s not enough time to do them all. And they`re all rhyming in the present, as Twain would say, you know, there`s history doesn`t repeat itself, but it rhymes. And it`s scary. And it`s fascinating.

And when you use the word process, I realized that in some ways, I carry still, despite these fraught times of kind of fundamental optimism, because the process, the telling of these stories, helps take a little bit --

WILLIAMS: That`s clear.

BURNS: These are unprecedented times and yet you can find aspects of precedents in the places that we`ve been before, particularly the difficult places before, and we`ve gotten out and I have a kind of faith and confidence in us, the US.

WILLIAMS: Thanks for the work. Thanks for the preview. Ken Burns as a certain network likes to say all of his work so much of his work made possible by viewers like you. Ken Burns has been our guest tonight. Always a pleasure. We`ll do it again. Thank you, sir.

Coming up for us. It is Germany`s deadliest national disaster in nearly six decades time. An update on the desperate situation there tonight when we come back.



WILLIAMS: After days of torrential rain Europe is now dealing with its worst and deadliest flooding in many years. Some places received two months of rain in two days. The search for those still missing continues tonight as the death toll surpasses 125, thousands of people homeless homes and livelihoods have been ruined. Our report tonight from NBC News correspondent Raf Sanchez in Germany.


RAF SANCHEZ, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Watch these floodwaters break through the walls of this building. minutes later people managed to crawl out. From the air the destruction left by these deadly floods almost unimaginable, hundreds are still missing. Emergency workers found at least 50 survivors in Erftstadt, Germany after rushing waters submerged neighborhoods.

Nearby, rescuers and helicopters plucking survivors off their rooms. Entire towns devastated, homes collapsed, cars washed away.

This man describing his family`s desperate escape from the rising water. He was a matter of two minutes we made it out the window, he says. The massive flooding hit Belgium and the Netherlands as well as Germany where many areas received a month`s worth of rain in just a few hours.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are so many people dead.

SANCHEZ: But one Mayor tonight fearing the death toll will still rise.

CHRISTINE DEGRAIGNE, LIEGE, BELGIUM ACTING MAYOR: So many families that I`ve lost relative and families that have lost everything.

SANCHEZ (on camera): Rescue crews are stretched over hundreds of locations across Western Germany racing to find those people unaccounted for before more rain comes.


WILLIAMS: Our thanks to foreign correspondent Raf Sanchez for getting there so quickly and providing that report tonight. Coming up for us one last break, when we come back, trying to have fun while trying to save lives during these particularly insane times across our country.



WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight. Bear with us here for a moment as we merely float an idea, it`s about the vaccine hesitant and those who are straight up anti-vaxxers what or who could make them change their minds What if the vaccine was perhaps a branded product marketed directly to them in their language by a master marketer like the guy who sells those pillows that are made out of chopped up foam rubber. Leave it to our friends at The Daily Show to hatch an idea this big, this is borderline marketing genius right here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey America, it`s me, the MyVaccine guy with exciting news. MyVaccine is now available in all 50 states of the greatest nation on Earth. MyVaccine is the vaccine for conservatives, you stormed the capital that my vaccines storm your capillaries. Just go to any vaccination site and say Hey, can I get my vaccine? They`ll know what you`re talking about.

We`ll give you one dose of MyVaccine and throw in another dose 21 to 28 days later for free. For free.

Patriots, I guarantee that MyVaccine does not contain a Bill Gates tracking device. Heck, you know my vaccines conservative because it`s Tucker Carlson`s only remaining advertiser. Think of it this way, every My vaccine that you get is one that Rachel Maddow viewer doesn`t get. What do you think about that, Libs? Suck it. Come on. Look, I`m not going to give you the science. Let`s be honest, you don`t like to science. I don`t like to science, whatever. Just stick it in your arm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My Vaccine is just the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine under a different name. Promo code IH8AOC does nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do not wait patriots, get the MyVaccine. Please just get the vaccine. I want to go to the movies.


WILLIAMS: Our friends at The Daily Show with Trevor Noah to take us off the air tonight and that is our broadcast for this Friday evening and for this week. Our thanks for being here with us.


My thanks to Stephanie Ruhle for filling in here last night. Have a good weekend unless you have other plans. On behalf of all our colleagues here at the networks of NBC News, good night.