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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 8/23/21

Guests: Philip Rucker, Rick Stengel, Celine Gounder, Joan Donovan


FDA gives full approval to Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine. All New York City public school teachers and other staffers will have to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. U.S. evacuates 48,000 from Afghanistan as Taliban calls Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline "red line". U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to decide within 24 hours whether to extend the Aug. 31 Afghanistan withdrawal deadline in order to give the Pentagon time to prepare. U.S. House intel panel chair says Afghan evacuation not likely done by Aug. 31. Biden will face pressure from G7 to extend Afghanistan withdrawal deadline. House Democrats, locked in standoff, struggle to move Biden`s $3.5 trillion plan. Pelosi faces democratic division on Biden agenda. Former President Donald Trump was booed at a rally Saturday in Alabama after he told supporters they should get vaccinated. Group of South Florida doctors stage walkout in protest of unvaccinated COVID patients.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: And that word is abomination. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Good evening once again. Day 216 of the Biden administration, which now has a vaccine that has received full FDA approval in its arsenal. This comes as the Biden White House is ramping up the effort to get tens of millions of unvaccinated Americans their first shots.

Pfizer`s two dose vaccine is the first of the three available in this country to win this FDA permanent approval. So far, they`ve all been used under this emergency authorization. Moderna is up next, then J and J. This afternoon, President Biden had a blunt message for the unvaccinated.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: If you`re one of the millions of Americans who said that they will not get the shot, when it`s until has full and final approval of FDA. It has now happened. The moment you`ve been waiting for us here, it`s time for you to go get your vaccination and get it today. If you`re a business leader, a nonprofit leader, a state or local labor, who has been waiting for full FDA approval to require vaccinations, I call on you now to do that requiring.


WILLIAMS: Medical experts are also weighing in as you might imagine, saying this is a critical vote of confidence that points to the vaccine safety.


DR. PETER HOTEZ, BAYLOR COLLEGE NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE: The full approval process means that this vaccine now has checked every box and dotted every I and crossed every t that any other fully approved vaccine has done and the FDA is the gold standard, Food and Drug Administration is the gold standard for the world in terms of regulatory body. There`s no other national regulatory authority that that matches the FDA.


WILLIAMS: Now, according to our NBC News count total COVID cases in the United States have now passed 38 million. One million new cases have been added over just these last six days. CDC data showing over 51 percent of us are now fully vaccinated. Nearly 61 percent have had at least one dose.

And as the President recommended more vaccine mandates are going into effect earlier today. The country`s largest school system announced its own roles all teachers and staff in the New York City public school system must have at least one dose in them by September 27.

Pentagon also preparing to send specific vaccination guidelines to over a million active duty service members.

Meanwhile, speaking of the active duty U.S. military, the White House is speeding up the evacuations out of Afghanistan now with eight days left officially until the August 31. Troop withdrawal deadline.

Administration says in the past 24 hours nearly 11,000 people have been evacuated from Kabul, about 48,000 have been airlifted out since August the 14th. Crowds desperate to leave Afghanistan remain outside the airport gates where it`s Bedlam. Pentagon says U.S. military commanders are in contact with the Taliban. Today we learned about another mission to rescue stranded Americans outside the airport.


JOHN KIRBY, DEFENSE DEPARTMENT PRESS SECRETARY: The commanders on the ground certainly have the authorities they need to pursue opportunities to bring people in. And one of the means that their disposal is of course rotary aircraft helicopters. And we have done that on a couple of occasions. I certainly wouldn`t rule out that we would do it again if it was the best way.


WILLIAMS: So for the record a couple of extractions thus far. Meanwhile, there`s increasing pressure on Biden to extend that Aug. 31 deadline for troop withdrawal. While he`s left the door open for that possibility leaders in the Taliban have declared that a red line of their own. Today the White House was asked about the Taliban resistance and the President`s plans.


JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We are in talks with the Taliban on a daily basis through both political and security channels.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the President decided whether he is going to need more time beyond August 31?

SULLIVAN: He is taking this day by day and we`ll make his determinations as we go. We believe that we have time between now and the 31st to get out any American who wants to get out.


WILLIAMS: And just tonight, members of the House Intelligence Committee received a classified briefing on Afghanistan, their Chairman, Adam Schiff, Democrat of California expressed his doubts that the evacuation mission will indeed be accomplished by the end of August.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I think it`s possible but I think it`s very unlikely. Now I`m certainly of the view that we maintain a military presence as long as it`s necessary to get all U.S. persons out and to meet our moral and ethical obligation to our Afghan partners.

I think the threat to the airport is very real and very substantial and this has been a concern of mine for some days now that this would make a very attractive target for ISIS.


WILLIAMS: Tomorrow the President will speak with this country`s allies in the G7 about the situation in Afghanistan.

With that, let`s bring in our starting line on this Monday night as we start a new week. Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Prize winning senior Washington correspondent at the Washington Post, co-author with Carol Leonnig of The New York Times bestseller, I alone Can Fix It, Donald J. Trump`s Catastrophic Final Year." Rick Stengel, former Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in the Obama administration, former managing editor among other things for Time Magazine, Dr. Celine Gounder, clinical assistant professor of medicine and Infectious Diseases at NYU School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital. She was part of a panel that advise the Biden transition team on the subject of COVID-19. Good evening, and welcome to you all.

And doctor, given the gravity of today`s news in your line of work, I`d like to begin with you and I`d like to begin further with this comment from Dr. Fauci from earlier tonight.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT: There is a survey that says about 30 percent of people who have saying that they wanted to wait for the stamp of approval for the imprimatur before they will get vaccinated. I hope they come through on what their word and what their statement was. For those who are still hesitant, I believe we should have many more mandates. If people want to participate in things that have the safety of other people at stake, they need to get vaccinated.


WILLIAMS: So doctor, for you a two part question, if you would, number one, how big a benchmark is this to you and your colleagues in your profession? But part two, do you really think this will change the minds of anti- vaxxers?

DR. CECILE GOUNDER, EPIDEMIOLOGIST: Brian, I don`t think this is really going to sway people who`ve been reluctant to get vaccinated. If you look at that same Kaiser Family Foundation survey that Dr. Fauci was citing there, many of these people did not understand the difference between an emergency use authorization and a full approval.

This was really a surrogate for people who are just concerned about the safety of the vaccine, and we`re expressing it through that survey with that question, where I think the approval, the FDA approval today will have a big impact is by giving additional legal and social cover to employers to mandate vaccinations.

And even before this, they had the legal authority to do so. But just since today`s full approval, you`ve had a number of employers, the Pentagon, CVS, Chevron, a number of universities and the New York City public schools that have said that they are going to mandate vaccinations. I think we`re going to see a tidal wave of these in the coming days.

They will play out a bit differently by type of employer, type of employee. Geography, I think multinational national corporations will come on board.

However, they may mandate of their corporate and headquarter employees first, their frontline employees later and then I think small and medium sized businesses will really be more geographically dependent. I think some may fear backlash from local communities if they impose mandates.

WILLIAMS: What a complicated world out there. Phil Rucker, I`m curious as to what you`re hearing from the White House tonight. They`re cheerleading the Pfizer development as they must but are they at the same time as realistic as Dr. Gounder?

PHIL RUCKER, THE WASHINGTON POST SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brian, they`re certainly realistic, and that -- they know that the single announcement from the FDA about Pfizer is not going to be some sort of green light and switch that suddenly means everybody who`s been hesitant to get the vaccine will go out tomorrow and get the vaccine.

That said, there buoyed by a number of factors, both the data of the growing number of people who are getting vaccinated. Now as of a few weeks ago, I mean, that number seems to be growing. And the apparent effectiveness of some of the vaccine mandates that we`re seeing in different concert venues or sporting venues or sort of mass gathering sites around the country. There`s been anecdotal evidence that that seems to be working, you know, lines forming outside of sporting venues and other venues have people who are actually getting the shot on site in order to gain attendance to those events. That is expected to continue to grow in the weeks ahead, especially now with this FDA approval for the for the Pfizer vaccine.

And that is good news for the White House, which has been very concerned, obviously, with the large number of Americans who have not been vaccinated and sort of at a loss for how to communicate, how to message to those people to convince them to get on board with the program.


WILLIAMS: And Rick Stengel over to your line of work the unique intersection of diplomacy and communications, specifically about this August 31 deadline, end of this month, we will be wheels up and out of Kabul or so say the Taliban. We keep mentioning we`re communicating with the Taliban, if we choose to stay if we feel compelled to stay, are we asking or telling?

RICK STENGEL, FMR. UNDER SECRETARY FOR PUBLIC DIPLOMACY AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS: It`s a good question, Brian, I think we`re telling. We are apparently in communication with the Taliban. The Taliban do not want us to hang around there. They are afraid of American power. They`re afraid that we now have whatever it is five or 6,000 troops there. That`s not the plan that they want.

But I think the President was smart to socialize the idea as they say that we might stay beyond the 31st deadline. So you won`t have people in the press, like us saying, waving a finger at him saying what you said the 31st. And now you`re staying longer, though. He said, Look, we might have to stay longer. And he said for a very good reason. We want to get every last American out of there, and as many of the Afghans who helped us out of there.

So I think he`s already put the idea in the water. And I think people will feel fine if we have to stay longer. I don`t think anyone wants us to stay much longer than that, however.

WILLIAMS: Dr. Gounder, back to you. And back to our lead story, the pandemic of the unvaccinated? Are we still headed numbers wise, as you survey the country in the wrong direction? And what`s going to really pull us out of that palpably.

GOUNDER: Brian, I think we are still looking at a fairly challenging fall. We are still in this delta surge. We are about to see a lot of kids go back to school, at least some people go back to the office, some will do so with mask and improve ventilation, some will not.

And so I think that will lead to a bump in transmission in cases over the course of September. We`ll probably see this, I think peak around October. And then we`ll probably have a lull, a bit of a lull hopefully, before the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year`s holidays where we saw a triple hump of a surge, because that`s when people travel they spend time, less guarded less masked around family and friends.

And I think the main thing that we can do to curb that is get vaccinated, wear masks, and try to improve indoor ventilation and air filtration. And that`s been a challenging ask throughout this pandemic.

WILLIAMS: Phil Rucker, all of this happens, of course, against a political backdrop that basically rules our lives in this modern era. In your reporting, have you detected any real signs that among his fellow Democrats, this President is now viewed at all differently in his standing, in his viability, even his potential vulnerability.

RUCKER: I think he is viewed differently today, Brian, than a few weeks ago, in part because of the -- what`s been playing out in Afghanistan. And we`ve seen that register in some of the early public opinion polls that have come back these past couple of days. His approval rating has dipped. It had been of course at a peak as it is for many new presidents through the spring. He was getting some bipartisan support, especially on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

And this has been a difficult summer and his fellow Democrats, Biden`s fellow Democrats are looking ahead to the midterm elections. And they`re very concerned. There`s a lot of quiet chatter within the Democratic Party among the top operatives and lawmakers and officials here in Washington, that the Democrats are destined to lose their House majority, they may lose the Senate Majority as well. They`re looking to a troubling midterm election. And it`s not a good sign to see their president`s approval rating slip the way they have these last couple of weeks.

But that`s not to say all is lost. I mean, I think Democrats are buoyed by this infrastructure deal. If that deal ever becomes law, that could be a big win for Biden and something that he can carry to voters in the fall and into next year. But it`s been a very difficult and challenging couple of weeks for the Biden presidency when you just look at the raw politics.

WILLIAMS: Rick Stengel, let`s talk about the big agenda item on the president scheduled tomorrow and that`s the G7. Between the two of us we`ve covered a fair amount of them G7, G8. The numbers often change but the job doesn`t. Among the two of us, you`re the only one who have been on the other side of the velvet rope caucusing with the home team prior to one, what kind of G7 do you think the President is going to encounter tomorrow?


Is It -- do you think it`ll be tense? Or do you think it may be less so? Because they`re all kind of professionals and realists on a lot of them have skin in this game during the evacuation?

STENGEL: Yes, Brian, I mean, I think it`ll be less tense, then when the other guy went over there, and who never expressed much support for the transatlantic alliance or NATO. I think, you know, people understand that Biden is a supporter of these global alliances, they understand where he`s coming from. He`s been doing this for 40 years.

I think, you know, we`ve always been less grateful, I think, than we should have been for the help we`ve had from our allies in Afghanistan. As you know, Brian, the only time Article 5 of the NATO agreement was ever invoked, was after 9/11, when our NATO brethren said, you know, we`re going to come to the aid of the United States and the number of casualties that our allies have had the British, the Australians, the Canadians, you know, they`ve had a lot of sacrifice, too.

And I think we need to thank them. We need to be grateful to them. We need to have them be involved in this exit in as graceful away as possible. And I think our allies understand that. I mean, they want everything to go as well as possible. You know, they want to heal the breach and, and move on.

WILLIAMS: You`re absolutely right. We fought side by sides in the trenches in Europe, on the beaches of Normandy, all the way through the present day. Our thanks to our starting line for this first week night, Phil Rucker, Rick Stengel, Dr. Celine Gounder, thanks for starting the week off with us.

Coming up, what`s the chance moderate Democrats would want to sink their own president`s congressional agenda? And why should you care? Well, we`ll put that question to our political experts.

And later, she warned that the internet is a petri dish for conspiracy theories and utter nonsense about the virus dressed up as news and information. She was right about that. And now people are dying from it. I`ll ask the Harvard expert who`s got a plan to battle mask burning that`s going on out there. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting underway on this Monday night.




REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY) CAUCUS CHAIRMAN: As Democrats, we`re all on the same page in terms of substance. We just need to figure out what the highest common denominator is going to be as it relates to process so we can get both of these things done. And we will.


WILLIAMS: So this isn`t some meeting room where two parties sit down and try to hash out their differences. He was talking right there about negotiations between Democrats. Tonight, they`ve gone late into the night. In fact, as they try to reach a deal on infrastructure, at least nine centrist House Democrats have signaled they`re going to vote against the Democrats three and a half trillion dollar budget and less $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill is voted on first.

The group released a column in the Washington Post writing this in part quote, you don`t hold up a major priority of the country and millions of jobs as some form of leverage. The infrastructure bill is not a political football.

Back with us tonight Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The Washington Post. Also joining us A.B. Stoddard, veteran Washington journalist, Associate Editor and columnist over Real Clear Politics.

And indeed A.B., because you are fluent in Congress, for the members of our audience, and maybe your host, can you please explain what is going on?

A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS ASSOC. EDITOR AND COLUMNIST: OK, without getting too much into confusing process detail, they are having a process fight, just as Congressman Jeffries was talking about, which is a battle over whether or not to consider what is already a real bill that has broad bipartisan support, meaning enough Republicans in the Senate, enough Republicans in the House to pass and be signed into law quickly, it is a pretty much a done deal.

Whether or not to pass that first, or to sort of hold it hostage to this reconciliation package which is the word that the viewers have heard for so long, a special process to wrap around something so that it can pass to the Senate with 51 votes instead of 60.

In that bill are the social welfare programs that Democrats are calling human infrastructure, the eldercare, the child care that triggers a community college, the climate provisions, the expansion of Medicare, the changes to the tax code, it is a total of 3.5 trillion, but actually with all its bells and whistles, and funny federal math ends up being much more.

So the idea is to hold this super popular 70 percent of the country agrees with it and wants it, transportation project bill hostage to wait until we figure out the social welfare program bill and do them together so that the second one gets out the door. It is bigger, more expensive. And the House moderates who are the majority makers did not campaign on it.

That is why the centrists are saying if you don`t, let us get this win this bill that 70 percent of the country wants to the president says now why should we sign on to this other thing when time in Washington only kills bills. So the nine are standing off against the leader. The 100 in the Progressive Caucus are standing against them saying, Oh yes, if you hold this hostage, we won`t support your transportation bill.

House Republicans would join the Democrats to support the transportation bill if it stood alone. But they will hold off on any support as long as it`s coupled with the human infrastructure package.

So as tempting as it would be for President Biden to leave the progressive flank hanging and get as bipartisan when he`s backing the speaker and saying they have to be combined. And the nine centrists are saying no deal. They`re in her office now. Dinner has been ordered. And there`s no resolution.


WILLIAMS: Eugene and I join our audience and quiet clapping, God love you for that answer and for taking on that question. Eugene, true or false, only Democrats are capable of adding a mess for the president of their own party already dealing with a still out of control pandemic. And oh, by the way, Dunkirk by air half a world away?

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: Well, I do recall times when the Freedom Caucus on the Republican side for example, a big trouble for Republican president. So Democrats perhaps are uniquely talented at this.

And look with a majority is slim as Nancy Pelosi`s, everybody`s a majority maker, right? The moderates are, but you need the progressive, you`re not going anywhere without them. There`s a 100 of them.

So this is very delicate and very difficult for her and she`s got him in the office and she`ll feed them and she`ll cajole them and she`ll do what she does. I`m on record saying I believe Nancy Pelosi is quite good at this. And it wouldn`t be the first time that people have written legislation as doomed that she has managed to resurrect to find a way around. She said she`s very clever at getting her caucus writ large to do what she needs to do. This is a tough one, but she does know what she`s doing.

WILLIAMS: Both of our guests thankfully are going to stick around while I get to a commercial break. And coming up after that, when we resume our conversation, we`ll tell you why some rally attendees in Alabama were not happy with what they heard from a certain twice impeached now retired former president. We`ll also read you a quote from what Eugene has written on the topic when we come back.




DONALD TRUMP, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: I believe totally in your freedoms, I do. You got to do what you have to do. But I recommend taking the vaccines. I did it. It`s good. Take the vaccines but you got -- no that`s OK. That`s all right. You got your freedoms. But I happen to take the vaccine. If it doesn`t work, you`ll be the first to know.


WILLIAMS: Those were what we used to call jeers and cat calls that happened in Alabama, a state was one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

Aaron Blake of The Washington Post put it this way, quote, Saturday night demonstrated how difficult it will be to combat the conspiracy theories that have inflicted, infected rather, the Republican Party`s base, particularly if Trump who minds his base relentlessly responds to the rebuke by backing away from vaccines.

Still here with us tonight, Eugene Robinson, A.B. Stoddard. Eugene, I promised a quote from you. Here it is, you are already familiar with it for our listeners and viewers. If reason patriotism and clear self-interest won`t convince reluctant Americans to protect themselves in their communities against COVID-19, maybe the threat of not being able to work, go to school or lead anything like a normal life will do the trick.

Eugene, first off, that`s an optimistic view. Second have the vaccinated Americans been tiptoeing to great extent around the unvaccinated? Is it time to play a little rougher?

ROBINSON: Well, look, I think I know a lot of vaccinated people who have been tiptoeing at all who have been very quite angry that so many people have chosen not to be vaccinated because that makes this a more dangerous country and more dangerous world for all of us, especially with the Delta variant running rampant.

However, now that that the Pfizer vaccine has full FDA approval, there`s no sort of excuse. It`s just, you know, temporary emergency use. You know, who knows? Well, now we know it`s fully approved.

And so I support, especially employers like my employer, The Washington Post, which has made vaccination condition of continued employment, full stop. Universities, like my alma mater, the University of Michigan, like the University of Virginia, like many other universities around the country, who said to students returning in the fall be vaccinated. So a number of students, small numbers of students of University of Virginia who did that, get vaccinated, were disenrolled and will not be invited back to campus.

I mean, and I think these mandates do work for people who are on the fence, maybe not for the hardest hardcore, but for people who are reluctant or maybe they buy some of the conspiracy theories or whatever. You know, if you can`t work, you can`t go to school, you can`t go out anywhere. Heck, get the shot. And that`s what we need in the end. Get the shot.

WILLIAMS: A B, you`ve written a lot about Ron DeSantis, the situation in Florida. They are peaking today a number of doctors staged a walkout. Figuring correctly that it would be very much a visual, the people we need and depend on right now, especially in Florida, more than any other. They are so sick and tired of being sick and tired because they are seeing unvaccinated Floridian stream into their ERs and ICUs that this is the way they decided to get attention.

A.B., do you ever allow yourself the luxury of the thought experiment? Think about how we got to this level of vaccine denial and is this the kind of ultimate going away gift of Trump and Trumpism?

STODDARD: Well, Brian darkly to give the anti-vaxx movement credit.


They were flourishing long before Donald Trump became a candidate or became president. But his flirtation with questioning the connection between vaccines and autism certainly helped fuel their movement. And so did the explosion, this information on social media.

And Trump`s this refusal to brand market and lobby and campaign for the COVID vaccines in the time he had left in office. And the fact that he got the vaccine in secret, and then sort of begrudgingly since then said, yes, I`ve got the vaccine. Saturday night was the most he`s really ever talked about it. It`s usually just three words, and he moves on.

So it really is interesting, his imprimatur, his enthusiasm about this would have changed things it really would have moved more of the numbers in Trump country, but he didn`t do it. And it is, we are in a dark place because people who are traumatized in our health care system, who are supposed to save us, and taking every person who is sick and cure all of their ills are being treated as if ICU beds are for COVID patients only who did not receive a vaccine. So they wouldn`t take the shot and protect themselves or us.

But then when they get there, they get the beds, and everyone else has to fend for themselves. So the health care workers are in a rage. People who are sick -- who are not sick with COVID have other problems need medical care or vaccinator and on rage. Just like Eugene said, this is really becoming a very visceral and that`s why you saw the Biden administration step in recently where they had been avoiding this and really start pushing on mandates.

They really tried to stay out of this debate. And now they`re all in because the polling on mask mandates and vaccine mandates is quite heartening. It`s very -- they`re very, very popular. And it really shows is a real movement in this country against the unvaccinated who are making -- who really just breaking our healthcare system.

WILLIAMS: Two friends of this broadcast, who really came to play tonight, we appreciate it. Eugene Robinson, A.B. Stoddard, thank you so much for your comments and your thoughts.

And coming up for us, a Harvard expert who was one of the first to warn us about COVID disinformation is here with us tonight to talk about how social media companies indeed can stop the spread of these non-stop lies that are costing people`s lives after this.




DR VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SERGEON GENERAL: We`ve been seeing that health misinformation is a problem for years. But the speed, scale and sophistication with which it is spreading and impacting our health is really unprecedented and it`s happening largely in part heated and abetted by social media platforms.


WILLIAMS: Our next guest was able to correctly predict much of the misinformation surrounding COVID and Joan Donovan has a warning as reported by the Boston Globe and we quote, If Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media companies don`t change their algorithms, any number of recent lies spreading online could take hold in the next few months and threaten the national discourse around the pandemic recovery, climate change and racial inequality.

For more, we`re happy to welcome to the broadcast the aforementioned Joan Donovan. She`s Research Director of the Shorenstein Center on Media Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. She is an expert in online extremism, media manipulation, this information.

And Joan, you know, Dr. Fauci famously said, it`s a good thing this much anti-vaxx sentiment wasn`t in the water, when we were trying to cure smallpox and polio, or we would still today be dealing with rampant smallpox and polio. And I think he`s probably right, sadly. What did you see that the rest of us didn`t? What were the early signs that were predictors to you of exactly what we`re living now?

JOAN DONOVAN, HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL SHORENSTEIN CENTER : I try as a research director to keep an eye on as many possible things as we can see online. And there are certain elements here that we look at, we look at actors behavior content, and the design of social media systems.

But we really do keep a very close eye on politicians in particular, as well as journalists, because there`s no communication without misinformation online. So there`s always going to be misinformation. But we look at when certain tropes get picked up by influential individuals, which then leads to much more amplification, much more attention to key wedge issues.

And if you look across the globe, there are different ways in which disinformation forms and travels and in the US issues to do with race and then also with the pandemic are at the forefront of where we see most disinformation.

WILLIAMS: Our enemies have always said, according to the Intel experts, that it`s better to be at war, even if it`s a war of intelligence and words and social media against an opponent that is battling illness, battling strife and anxiety (ph) and indeed, for a minor investment. They can get all they want because we`re a trusting society. And social media has no barrier to entry.

What have been your greatest emphasize worst but Greatest Hits list lately of what you`ve been seeing in the misinformation disinformation campaigns? What`s the worst of it out there?

DONOVAN: I think the you know, in the U.S. the fact that we`re still dealing with anti-masked sentiment is, is pretty astounding based on the fact that we know what the sciences now, we have a very densely networked set of doctors globally, that are trading information and are keeping each other abreast of any developments with the pandemic.

But in the United States, there still seems to be this debate and we see it actually playing out in school boards as well, that the children can`t get sick from COVID, that the mask don`t work, that the vaccines are something that should be a personal choice. Of course, we saw that with the Trump`s speech last night and the booing.

And so for me, it`s still forced. First and foremost, we got to understand that science is something that evolves and that we need to keep up with it and we need to keep track of it. But disinformation evolves as well alongside these new discoveries and we have to be very attuned to the fact that we`re seeing more and more scientific looking papers that are just trying to trade on attention, and so political discord rather than give people the information they need to stay safe.


WILLIAMS: Well think about it, the FDA just today felt compelled to tweet out to Americans not to take a deworming agent meant for horses and cows. And if you look, there is a ton of alleged scholarship on this medication that you can find at your country vet, but shouldn`t be able to put in your body during a pandemic.

Would you concede that social media companies are getting a bit better from their early stance? Look, we`re just publishers. We`re not going to meddle with content. We`re just publishers, are they getting better? And how can they get much better at this?

DONOVAN: Well, we`re starting to see the different companies take different tracks, which has been very interesting in this field to see some of the researchers get some have ended up at Facebook that were previously nonprofits. We`re seeing Twitter add in curators to their trending algorithm to ensure that the things that are trending have more context. I have called for adding more librarians into the tech stack so that people do have more information when they`re searching for things.

And to your point about the deworming medication, we are seeing an uptick, we can look for signs off of social media as well, that disinformation or medical misinformation is having an impact. And poison control centers are being tasked with now, answering people`s questions about well, I just took this thing that was, you know, dose for a horse. And I don`t feel so well. Right.

And so we have to look outside of the social media companies as well. But by and large, I think we`re starting to see some positive momentum across several of the social media companies to deal with these problems. But we`re very much still in the phase where we`re still learning what the patterns are. We`re still learning to the actors are and the biggest shift from 2016 to 2020. And political disinformation was the fact that we didn`t see a lot of anonymous actors. We actually saw many more people who are political pundits or far right provocateurs, you know, entering into the frame here and burnishing their accounts in the process.

WILLIAMS: Again, the medication is popular in barn yards. It`s popular among horses and cows with worms, not so much for people with COVID-19. For that, we have masks, and we have very efficacious vaccines. See all of the conversation that preceded this segment. Our great thanks to Dr. Joan Donovan for joining us tonight. Thank you very much for your time and taking our questions.

Coming up for us. While a hurricane took up our attention this weekend, something else was taking lives. Our report on the latest when we come back.



WILLIAMS: I mentioned this before the break, much of our weather coverage attention span this past weekend was devoted to tracking the hurricane which in the end for unforeseeable reasons, meandered and thankfully did not do the damage that was feared though it did quite enough.

The real toll though was taking place in Tennessee where devastating flooding destroyed entire communities this same weekend. Death toll stands at 22 souls tonight with many still missing so much work yet to do. Our reports tonight from NBC News correspondent Sam Brock.


SAM BROCK, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight the city of Waverly is in a state of shock.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, there`s people that their whole lives are gone.


BROCK: Floodwaters carried away homes up ended businesses and stole precious human life, including infant twins Riley and Ryan, two of the 21 confirmed deaths with dozens of loved ones still missing.

SHERIFF CHRIS DAVIS, HUMPHREYS COUNTRY TENNESSEE: We`re going to be overwhelmed for the next probably 30 days at least overwhelmed.

BROCK: Caleb McCore (ph) chased after his family in a boat but couldn`t reach his two-year old stepson who was clinging to his mom.

CALEB MCCORE (ph), TENNESSEE RESIDENT: She had him in her arms whenever he got swept away. That couldn`t get back to him, but she managed to save our other four children. And if it wasn`t for her, I wouldn`t have it right now.

BROCK: Some survivors shaken to their core.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was in the house by myself. He was stuck up there. And I -- I`ve never seen anything like it. All I can think is, how am I going to get out of here?

BROCK: Others seeking refuge on top of Janet Rice`s rooftop rescued by helicopter as conditions deteriorated.

(on camera): You hear the term buckled roads all the time. But what does it actually look like in practice something like this. Asphalt ripped up, concave holes here near this bridge indescribable physical damage to match the emotional toll.

(voice-over): Even with the broken hearts a gift from seemingly out of nowhere.



BROCK: Family pictures recovered miles away, a reminder of love in the middle of disaster.


WILLIAMS: Our thanks to correspondent Sam Brock for that emotional report. Another break for us, coming up. Why someone said today the rats are eating each other can you guess who he`s even talking about?



WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, as someone put it on Twitter today, the rats are eating each other. Let`s explain and here`s what we mean Alex Jones, who sits at the very top of the conspiracy theory aristocracy in the United States, Alex Jones of info wars, a platinum status anti-vaxxer appears to have turned on Donald Trump, who this weekend as we showed you in Alabama, gave the most cursory endorsement of the vaccine.


ALEX JONES, CONSPIRACY THEORIST: They didn`t create a vaccine, they create a Frankenstein. Now they`ve got us signed up to it. Now the left saying you better get out there and push it and you are. CNN comes out says we need to see Trump cannot double hit the shots. And within weeks of them saying over and over again, CNN snaps their fingers. Jeff Zucker snaps his fingers and Trump clicks his heels and hops up there and attention and says how do you want me to jump boss?

Shame on you, Trump. Seriously, hey, if you don`t have a good sense to save yourself, your political career, that`s OK, at least you`re going to get some good Republicans elected. And you know, we like you, but my God, maybe you`re not that bright. Maybe Trump`s actually a dumb ass.


WILLIAMS: So when you`ve lost Alex Jones, you`ve lost a man who said the parents of the dead children at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut were crisis actors, and that the whole thing was staged by the federal government.

And quote the late Ron Popeil here but wait, there`s more. Roger Stone has turned on Steve Bannon, you might want to pull up a chair for this one. Roger Stone wrote this on Friday, complete with some typos that you`ll see and we quote, Robert Muller informed and perjurer Steve Bannon doesn`t know his ass from his elbow. Steve didn`t make money on Wall Street. Nor did he make money in Hollywood. He is a grafter -- a fat, ugly, inarticulate, poorly groomed alcoholic was delusions of grandeur. He has never elected anybody to any public office in his life. Most particularly not Donald Trump, who is his own man in implemented his own strategy. Despite being an informant for Robert Mueller, they indicted him anyway and he will soon be recharged in New York on New charges. You`ll see me as his trial in the front row, and I will not leave until he is convicted and jailed.

Now remember the backstory here it`s not just about two grown men proving who loves Trump more. This was an old school takedown by Roger Stone who wrote the book on that and while Bannon may not be big on personal grooming habits, he has been grooming a fleet of acolytes at Breitbart and in the Trump world, and they are now likely girding for a fight with Mr. Stone so it might get even more interesting in short order.

That for us is our broadcast for this Monday night with our thanks for being with us as we started new week. On behalf of all our colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night