The World Health Organization has named the new COVID variant Omicron. The new COVID variant creates more GOP conspiracy theories. Rep. Lauren Boebert renews here Islamophobic attack on Rep. Ilhan Omar. New York Times Media Columnist Ben Smith`s latest piece examines how academics and journalists are navigating the murkiness of misinformation war.
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: I appreciate you being here. And before we go, just a quick note, because when I referred to Jeffrey Epstein`s alleged clients earlier, I was referring to the numerous high profile names that have been reported who have connections to Epstein. And it`s quite evident that Donald Trump was a friend to both Epstein and Maxwell. I just want to make sure we make that distinction.
That is tonight`s REIDOUT. Happy Hanukkah. ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES starts now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC ANCHOR: Tonight on ALL IN.
ALBERT BOURLA, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, PFIZER: We have made multiple times clear but we will be able to have a vaccine in less than 100 days. In fact, we have already two vaccines built in less than 100 days.
MOHYELDIN: Scientists joined the Biden administration in sharing the truth about omicron.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.
MOHYELDIN: As the pro coveted right gins up conspiracies.
PETE HEGSETH, CONTRIBUTOR, FOX NEWS: It`s always a new variant. And you can always count on a variant about every October, every two years.
MOHYELDIN: Then why Congresswoman Ilhan Omar says that she hung up on Lauren Bobert after an apology gone wrong. Plus, Ben Smith on whether big media should join forces to combat misinformation, and extraordinary measures to stop immigration at all costs.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They`re shooting again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They`re shooting again.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE). Stop shooting in the water.
MOHYELDIN: The unbelievable story of a reporter captured and held at a black site for reporting on immigration when ALL IN starts right now.
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MOHYELDIN: Good evening everyone from New York. I`m Ayman Mohyeldin in for Chris Hayes. There is a new coronavirus variant raising questions and concerns across the globe. And while scientists and public health experts are helping to answer questions and ease those concerns, the pro-COVID right in this country is meeting this challenge with the same old mix of misinformation and conspiracy theories.
The World Health Organization naming the new COVID variant Omicron. Last week, the South African government warned that the world should be aware of this variant. It was first detected there earlier this month. Of course, this is far from the first variant we have seen emerge, and quite honestly it is not unexpected. This is what viruses do. They mutate.
We have already cycled through the Alpha variant that came out of the United Kingdom late last year. Beta first detected in South Africa, gamma emerging from Brazil, and of course, Delta first documented in India which has become the dominant strain worldwide.
Now, we do not know yet how much omicron could be dangerous. The South African doctor who first raised the alarm described the symptoms she`s seen as "extremely mild." But it does seem to be more transmissible than previous strains according to South African scientists.
Now, many countries are instituting new travel bans amid these concerns. Countries like Japan, Israel, Morocco, barring all foreigners from entering their countries. And today, the United States imposed a ban on travelers from eight South African nations. But President Biden urged Americans to remain calm in all of this.
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BIDEN: This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic. We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists, and we`re learning more every single day. And we`ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed, not chaos and confusion.
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MOHYELDIN: But as you can imagine, some on the right are losing their minds not worrying about the variant but claiming that the existence of a variant is a big global conspiracy. They think this is some sort of worldwide coordinated plot to help Democrats win elections.
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HEGSETH: There`s always a new variance. And you can always you`ll count on a variant about every October, every two years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I think it`s -- you know, you`re probably right. However, they could speed up. The variants could come more quickly and the boosters --
HEGSETH: Government: We`re going to need another variant here.
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MOHYELDIN: And then you have this. Disgraced former physician to the President, Ronny Jackson, now a Republican Congressman from Texas, echoed that conspiracy theory in a weekend tweet, saying here comes the MEV, the midterm election variant. They need a reason to push unsolicited nationwide mail-in ballots. Democrats will do anything to cheat during an election but we`re not going to let them.
Another medical doctor, Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming is trying to turn the whole thing back on Democrats. Watch.
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SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R-WY): As a doctor, I am pro-vaccine and I`m anti the mandate. Vaccines work. We have a new variant. There`s going to continue to be new variants in the future. Medicines are better now than they have been. But I think the president was wrong with his mandate. I think it was a monumental overreach and I think it`s actually hardened people against the vaccine and the president has divided the country because of the mandate. Now, you have a couple of governors saying, two shots isn`t enough. Now, you have to have three.
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MOHYELDIN: So, today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strengthened their guidance on booster shots. They now say that everyone age 18 and older should receive a booster when they are six months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series or two months after their initial J&J vaccine.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky added that the emergence of the Omicron variant further emphasizes the importance of vaccinations, boosters, and prevention efforts. But the partisan divide in this country and vaccination status just keeps growing and growing. The latest data from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that the unvaccinated population is now disproportionately made up of those who identify as Republican or Republican-leaning with six in ten, that is sixty percent, identifying as Republican or Republican-leaning and just one in six calling themselves Democrats or Democratic leading.
Now, of course, none of the arguments coming from the right about COVID actually make any sense if you pay attention to what they`re alleging. Railing against vaccines has just left their voters far more vulnerable to the virus. And the idea that Democrats would somehow make up a new variant for their own benefit is just flat-out crazy.
We`ve only been hearing about Omicron for a few days now and we`ve already seen negative effects. The Dow dropped 900 points on Friday in response to concerns over this new variant. And when the economy suffers, that is actually bad news for the people in power who happen to be Joe Biden and the Democrats.
And of course, if the new variant turns out to be serious, if it is more dangerous in some way, God forbid, that would obviously be bad news not just for Democrats but for everyone on this planet. It will take a few weeks to get more data about omicron to answer those unknowns and much more, like whether the current vaccines and treatments will actually work well against this variant.
Joining me now is someone who will be watching this data closely and analyzing it as it comes in, Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Collin, thank you so much for joining us this evening. Let`s just start out with the basics here. What do we know so far about Omicron and what do you think are the most critical questions that we need to answer in the next couple of weeks?
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: Well, those are the right questions and I know everybody wants answers, and it`s going to take a little longer. We do know this is a variant that has the largest number of mutations of any of the serious threats that we`ve seen so far, more than 50 different spellings in its instruction book that differentiate it from the original virus.
And that alone wouldn`t be a cause for concern except it also seems to be pretty contagious at least in South Africa where in just a space of two or three weeks it seems to have dominated most of the isolates of the virus, and as you know has now found its way to other countries as well.
We don`t know however whether it is actually more serious, whether it can cause more serious illness than its predecessors. And you heard -- you quoted a minute ago a physician in South Africa saying most of the patients seem to have mild disease. I would be careful not to jump to that conclusion since so far most of them have been younger people and they tend to have mild disease anyway. Let`s just say we`re not sure about that.
The big question though i think for most of us here in the U.S. is will this particular virus evade protection from the vaccines that have already been given out and have been administered to about 70 percent of Americans because it is sufficiently different in terms of its spelling of its spike protein, will that spike protein no longer be recognized by your antibodies.
I brought along my little show and tell here. Remember, this virus and those things sticking out here, those spike proteins are what the vaccine is designed to get your immune system to recognize. And your immune system is pretty good at that especially if you had a booster. The concern would be, are the spikes shape-shifted just enough in Omicron that no longer that would the vaccine antibodies be sufficient to recognize it.
Now, before anybody gets too worried about that, let me say, in every other instance with other variants, alpha, beta, gamma, delta, the vaccines are working really well, and especially people who get a booster. There`s something about that that both boosts the level of antibodies but also the breadth of their protection against other spikes that they haven`t even seen before.
So, one of the big messages tonight is if you`ve been vaccinated, if it`s been six months or more since you got Pfizer or Moderna, or two months since you got J&J and you`re 18 years and older, get your booster. Get it tomorrow. Get your system revved up because Omicron is probably coming here and the best hope we have for being able to fight it off is to have as many of our citizens fully immunized and ready to take it on.
So, those are the questions we`re trying to wrestle with. We will have answers in terms of the immune situation probably in a couple of weeks both in terms of studying what`s happening in the real world in South Africa and doing research in the lab.
MOHYELDIN: So, you`ve given us a very kind of clear-eyed assessment of what to be looking out for and what we can do as individuals. Let`s talk a little bit about what we`re doing right now collectively as a country. And obviously, the question is about the travel ban that has been imposed on eight South African countries.
What is the purpose of that travel ban when we know that there are already cases of Omicron around the world in Europe, in Israel, and other countries which do not have a travel ban? People in those countries could still travel here with the omicron variant.
COLLINS: So, keep in mind that any international travelers coming to the United States have to be vaccinated and they have to undergo a test one to three days before they get on the plane. So, it`s not as if everywhere else is just fine and it`s just these eight countries where we`ve stopped a transfer, everywhere we`re checking and that`s a good thing.
I think the concern was though with this outbreak, in some of these Southern African countries, we need to buy a little time here to try to figure out exactly how serious is this. We joined there for the U.K., the E.U., many countries to say let`s just put at least a temporary pause on this.
Now, let me say, I know this has been hurtful to the South African leadership. Let me also say the South African public health experts and scientists have been absolutely remarkable in their transparency, their openness. They`re telling the world about what they have found as soon as they knew about it. We all just -- owe them a big debt of gratitude for waking us up to what was coming. That hasn`t always happened before. And in this instance, they were wonderful citizens of the world.
MOHYELDIN: Yes. And absolutely -- and that`s how it should work, right? You do want these countries when they discover a variant to share that with the world so other parts of the country or other parts of the globe in other countries can be prepared for what is coming. Dr. Francis Collins, thank you so much for joining us and giving us that clear-eyed assessment. I greatly appreciate it.
I want to bring in Olivia Troye who formerly served as an aide to Vice President Mike Pence and was his lead staff from the White House Corona Virus Task Force. She`s now the director of the Republican Accountability Project.
Olivia, thank you so much for joining us. So, let`s start with the second part of this equation. We just got the assessment there from one of the leading scientists in this country about what people should be doing. But then you have the other part of this equation and let`s talk about that. What do you think about the damage that the far right is doing by spreading these messages about conspiracy theories around COVID and politicizing it? Is there any way to undo that given what we`re seeing play out?
OLIVIA TROYE, DIRECTOR, REPUBLICAN ACCOUNTABILITY PROJECT: Hi. Thanks for having me. Look, this ongoing grave damage by some of these people that continue to spread misinformation and disinformation on COVID and this ongoing pandemic has been going on for two years now, almost two years, and it`s incredibly dangerous.
The divisiveness that remains in our country stemmed from day one of this pandemic, and it continues today. And these conspiracy theories that especially are spread by people in office right now, elected leaders, elected officials, especially those with doctor before their name, right, that lends extra credibility and it undermines the public health community. It undermines the health care workers right now across the U.S. and these communities that are fighting this virus head-on.
And so, when they do this, their supporters believe them. They take this information. And instead of taking measures to protect themselves from this deadly virus, they listen to them and it puts them at risk. And so, my question is this. How many people have to die in your community for you all to learn the lesson that COVID is here, it`s not going away, and the less people continue to protect themselves or then the less people get vaccinated? And the more you spread conspiracy theories about the vaccine and all these other things about mass mandates, the more you`re hurting the people that elected you to protect them.
MOHYELDIN: Yes. And you`re seeing this play out unfortunately pretty much across party lines because as we showed earlier, you had 60 of Republicans who are unvaccinated. And so, there is a real-life consequence to the information that is being, you know, spread by the right-wing.
I know that you`ve been on the inside of this. You have been at the White house on the COVID task force. Talk to us about the challenges that the current administration has to face right now. They have to try to send a message of calm, they have to make policy decisions based on the science, like what we were just hearing there from Dr. Collins, but at the same time they have to contend with a large part of this country that sees this politicized and are getting their information from people like Fox News where they`re politicizing this.
TROYE: Right. And it comes down to transparency and communication which I think was critical today with President Biden speaking to Americans and saying, you know, remain calm but protect yourselves, take the measures necessary to get vaccinated.
But it is very hard to kind of face this challenge when you have Republican leaders that are constantly working against you. They`re -- you know, they`re basically public enemy number one to protecting the lives and well- being of American citizens. And so, it`s hard. It`s an obstacle that shouldn`t be there. It`s -- they`re politicizing something that is a public health crisis, something that should not be politicized. It was politicized from day one.
And I think you know they`ve decided that this is their platform, that this is what works for them. And putting the lives of people at risk doesn`t matter to them which is their quest to remain in power.
MOHYELDIN: I was going to say it to that -- yes, I was going to say, just to add to that point, the example of Marjory Taylor-Greene to exactly what you were saying. This is a woman, a member of Congress who has racked up at least $63,000 in fines for not wearing a mask on the House floor, more than a third of her yearly salary.
And you have to wonder about the message this is sending out to her constituents. Is this really what Republicans want to see from their representatives? They`re wearing this anti-science, anti-mandate, mask mandate in inside or indoors as a badge of honor.
TROYE: Well, and it`s undermining the public confidence, right? Because statements like Marjorie Taylor-Greene, when she continues to defy an order, she`s saying to her constituents and other Americans who follow her lead that she is -- you know, member of Congress defining I`m not going to abide by the rules, I don`t care about other people who are working in my environment, I don`t care about their well-being. And by de facto, they follow her lead.
So, these people are in their communities and they behave this way. She is an enabler of this situation that can be honestly -- it can be prevented. I mean it is a shame that we are the United States of America and we continue to face this political dynamic on a virus. The virus is the enemy. It shouldn`t be each other. It shouldn`t be Republican legislators who are doing this to undermine a democratic administration just because out of spite and because of the fact that they`ve decided that this is an issue that plays to their benefit by spreading lies about it.
Once again, they do this consistently whether it`s COVID, whether it`s disinformation on elections, you know, whether it`s January 6. But all of that seriously undermines honestly just the safety of Americans across our country on all of these issues.
MOHYELDIN: It`s -- to your point, you`re absolutely right. I mean, it`s incredibly selfish of her to tell constituents the rules of protecting your neighbors and others don`t apply when it comes to her in Congress. Olivia Troye, thank you so much. I greatly appreciate it tonight.
Next, how Colorado Congresswoman Lauren Boebert turned her openly Islamophobic comments into a play for the MAGA base. What happened on today`s so-called apology call between Boebert and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and what the inaction from Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy reveals about the state of the Republican Party, after this.
MOHYELDIN: All right, so last week, over Thanksgiving break, Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert of Colorado held an event where she told a wildly offensive and Islamophobic story about Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. She recounted an interaction with Omar, which by the way didn`t happen, saying it was "not my first jihad squad moment."
Like I said, this is offensive and quite frankly racist. But I`m going to play a little portion of it for you so you get a sense of what actually happened.
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REP. LAUREN BOEBERT (R-CO): I look to my left and there she is, Ilhan Omar, and I said well, she doesn`t have a backpack, we should be fine.
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MOHYELDIN: So, Boebert there essentially suggested that Omar is a terrorist. And you can hear from the crowd, they laughed along with that. Well, today, the fallout from that continues. Boebert called Omar in what was supposed to be an apology but it was actually far from that. Congressman Omar said in his statement that Boebert "refused to publicly acknowledge her hurtful and dangerous comments and doubled down on her rhetoric."
Now, this comes on the heels of another non-apology Boebert issued last week where she apologized to "anyone in the Muslim community she offended." Now, as bad as Lauren Boebert`s words are, she is just one piece of a larger problem in the Republican Party as Congresswoman Omar summed it up perfectly saying today, "To date, the Republican Party leadership has done nothing to condemn and hold their own members accountable for repeated instances of anti-Muslim hate and harassment. This is not about one hateful statement or one politician. It is about a party that has mainstream bigotry and hatred."
Quite frankly, she`s right. The video started making the rounds last Thursday, and so far, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy has done nothing, close to nothing to condemn it. He issued a statement that did not actually condemn Boebert`s remarks.
But it is not just Boebert or McCarthy. The normalization of islamophobia by the Republican Party has been going on for 20 years. Donald Trump may have campaigned on banning Muslims from this country, but did not invent islamophobia. In fact, he just brought it out into the open. Now, it is an actual part of the platform of Republican politicians. They embrace and run on these bigoted positions without any consequences whatsoever.
David Jolly is a former Republican Congressman from Florida. He is now the executive chair of the Serve America Movement that is working to build a new political party. He joins me now. David, it`s good to see you again. So, before we get to Boebert here, let`s talk about Kevin McCarthy. How much should we read into Kevin McCarthy`s lack of a condemnation as a larger indictment of the Republican Party that he wants to lead going forward?
DAVID JOLLY, CHIAR, SERVE AMERICA MOVEMENT: Look, I think it suggests Kevin McCarthy and the Republican Party have foregone any claim to moral clarity, to moral leadership in the United States. Islamic phobia -- Islamophobia is not just anti-Muslim, it`s anti-American. It is antithetical to American values but that does not seem to matter to Kevin McCarthy and leading Republicans.
Look, we know what is informing Kevin McCarthy`s behavior every single day. It is about retaking the House and elevating himself to be Speaker. Ayman, I do believe that Kevin McCarthy`s team probably said to Boebert`s team look, either you issue a statement or we will because leadership typically will do that behind the scenes. But I don`t think we should expect anything more of Kevin McCarthy in this moment. And it reflects more broadly on the failures of the Republican Party at large.
MOHYELDIN: Yes. And it`s not just the leadership and it`s not the people that are still vying for power. We`re not hearing from moderate members. Why don`t we hear more from moderate members of the Republican Party speaking up against this bigotry?
JOLLY: Because that`s not where the heartbeat of today`s Republican Party is. And again, I go back to the fact that failure to call out Islamophobia, failure to condemn this type of discrimination is ultimately anti-American. It is against the very values upon which our nation was founded and at least those upon which we should be embracing in contemporary America.
And I would also suggest this. Not to be too smart about this Ayman, but it`s factually incorrect what Boebert said as well, because this year alone, if you look at the events of January 6, I would suggest that the greater threat to the U.S. Capitol, as Boebert wants to describe it, came from suburban white women largely of Christian faith affiliation and from the likes of Boebert herself who declared I`m going to take my Glock to Congress.
The real threat as identified by our domestic intelligence agencies come from those with white national tendencies that embrace a perverted doctrine of the Christian faith, not those who practice Islam like Ilhan Omar does.
MOHYELDIN: Yes. And I appreciate you making that point because it is something that the FBI and others have consistently said in Congressional testimonies. And they peddle -- the Republicans continue to peddle in this Islamophobia, in the anti-Semitism, and the rhetoric has been a mainstay, unfortunately, in Republican politics for 20 years.
Is there any reason to think that its effectiveness is wearing off? And I only bring that point up because you know Ilhan Omar`s original comment was that she thought Boebert`s comments would give her clout or earn her credit with the crowd that she was speaking to.
The truth of the matter is, it does earn her credit because they laughed at it and that`s what they want. And it seems she`s pandering to her crowd with this Islamophobic commentary.
JOLLY: Yes, Ayman. Lauren Boebert is part of what you could call, the troll caucus. Those who have elevated themselves to Congress simply by trolling others. And I think that`s begun to infect the entire Congress.
We also know that today`s Republican Party is largely a party of grievance, culture war issues, and that includes issues embedded deeply in race and discrimination. And I think, Ayman, what has pivoted in the last few years among Republicans and largely through the rise of Donald Trump, and this is very important, where parties used to fight over the fairness or the equity of policies from marginal taxes, to education, to labor, which constituencies won, which ones lost, the two parties represented their owns.
Now, the Republican Party is a party that says something is being taken from you. Your privilege, your way of life, your culture is being ripped from you. And that gives license to people like Boebert to say look, it is all the Muslims` fault, it is all the Black Lives Matter`s fault. It is all about critical race theory.
Because now if you are telling a constituency that your way of life is being taken from you, now you have license to both make jokes that are racially insensitive, but also to stoke violence. Because if something`s being taken from you, now you`re allowed -- there`s a culture of permission to engage in the events of January 6 or other events that ultimately incur violence here domestically.
MOHYELDIN: Yes. I was going to say Stephen King, Paul Gosar, Lauren Boebert, all cut from the same cloth here. David Jolly, it`s a pleasure. Thank you as always. Good to see you, my friend.
Coming up next, the murky waters of America`s information crisis and whether big media is doing enough to combat it or going too far. That`s coming up next.
MOHYELDIN: All right, so we often use the terms misinformation and disinformation interchangeably, but there is a real difference between the two. Misinformation quite frankly has always been around, but it is a challenge that we are now always dealing with as a result of social media and 24-hour information streams where the connected world makes it so easy to circulate incorrect information that gets floated and shared.
Disinformation on the other hand, is when people deliberately put incorrect or false information out there to achieve a political objective or even create a society of ill-informed or disengaged people. And that is what is really troubling about what we are seeing right now where right-wing politicians and others are promoting things that they know are false and inaccurate.
Right now, there is an entire right-wing propaganda network at Fox News that is intentionally spreading disinformation, lies that serve to fundamentally undermine our democracy. And that is fundamentally dangerous. It keeps people on the sidelines and undermines how our democracy works. So, the consequences of disinformation at least i think are much more egregious on the overall functioning of our democracy.
Ben Smith is the New York Times Media Columnist. He joins us now. His latest piece examines how academics and journalists are navigating the murkiness of this misinformation war. And as I mentioned, joins us now.
Ben, you talked to Harvard researchers who study misinformation and disinformation. Tell us a little bit about what they`re advising media companies like ours and others on how to fight the harm of disinformation or if they should even be engaged in that fight directly at all.
BEN SMITH, MEDIA COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. And I think -- I think you`re kind of having me on here as the basically the pro-misinformation perspective just in that I basically think folks like you and me throw that word around way too much.
I mean, you know, you -- and there are a lot of false claims, you know, News Corp whose building you showed there, you know, all around the world says misleading things, some of which presumably the writers think are true, sometimes they think they`re false. But I think journalists sometimes get caught up, very caught up in who is saying this. You know, if the crazy right-wingers in Fox are saying this. It must be false.
And I guess my own view is that journalists should mostly stick to trying to figure out whether things are in fact true or false rather than getting distracted by what is sometimes the very interesting questions of who are saying it, how is it being said, and how is it traveling around social media which is what folks at Harvard study which is a great story and an interesting and complicated bit of academic research.
But I think there`s also -- it`s worth trying to figure out what`s true and what`s false. And I think that sometimes gets lost.
MOHYELDIN: So, I`m genuinely asking here, when you have -- and we showed this earlier in the show -- when you have a big segment of the society that identifies as Republicans and consumes you know right-wing media channel like Fox and other sources of information, they are not getting vaccinated because they believe that the vaccine is harmful or that the vaccine, as Fox was saying there, is part of a global conspiracy to help Democrats and as Ronny Jackson said as part of, you know, midterm election variant to stoke those fears.
What are you saying the role the media should be in that situation? Should they call out that misinformation? Should they not call it out? And even as I was saying, impacting our democracy, when you have a right-wing echo chamber that is saying the election was stolen, that is pretty serious. That`s not just simply saying, there`s a -- you know, it`s not just about - - again, it`s not just misinformation. I would argue it`s disinformation they`re deliberately putting out there so that their viewers can consume it and become more angry and more mobilized towards that information.
SMITH: I mean, I think those are great examples of things that are obviously not true and that are kind of political propaganda that are lies, that are very old kinds of falsehoods. I think there`s a big spectrum of stuff that is not that clear and that we like to apply this kind of simple framework of misinformation to.
I mean, you know what, like, through the Trump years, progressives believed a lot of things that were not that turned out not to have been true about Trump and Russia for instance. Was that misinformation? Was it -- you know, was it deliberate misinformation? You know, I don`t -- I`m not trying to look inside people`s hearts. But I think it`s easy to believe things that are not true and have them amplified on social media.
And I think the job of journalism when we -- when we can is not -- is maybe spent a little less time analyzing tweets and more reporting at the details of stories. Public health is a great example of a place where often you can say this is not true, take the vaccine.
MOHYELDIN: Yes. And I`m not -- I`m not in disagreement with you. I mean, I think you bring up a really good point because I immediately think of 2003 when the government, certainly the administration, the Bush administration manipulated the media by leaking claims that there were weapons of mass destruction which we knew to be false, only then to turn around and cite the actual media reports as evidence of that there are other sources out there saying they had -- that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.
So, I agree that there has been always this kind of symbiotic relationship unfortunately where government tries to manipulate the media, but is it different this time when you have the added layer of social media and the 24-hour information streams as opposed to what has happened for decades where government tries to leak information to shape the public discourse on information.
SMITH: Yes. And I think the best academics sort of -- right, there is both this incredible new machine for amplifying all sorts of things. Social movements you think are really important, social movements you think are horrible, true information, false information, and this new ecosystem which things can travel at light speed and get amplified massively really is new and interesting.
At this -- you know, at the same time, there`s a lot that`s not new. And I think that`s -- and it`s -- and it`s I think sometimes easy to blame everything you don`t like on this crazy new technical context of misinformation being spread in social media when for instance a lot of Trump supporters, it`s not that -- you know, it`s -- the further he goes, the more outrageous the thing he said.
It was -- you know, who knows if they believed it or they didn`t believed it, but they liked he was -- that he was saying it. And it did not turn out that a journalist could go say hey, by the way, you know this isn`t true and it would change their minds. I think there`s a big political, social, racial context that is happening that sometimes gets kind of collapsed into these ideas about well, if only people were getting kind of a better factual stream.
MOHYELDIN: Yes. All right, Ben, I have to say another very thought- provoking article. I encourage everyone to read it. Ben Smith -- Ben Smith, always a pleasure. Good to see you, my friend.
SMITH: Good to see you.
MOHYELDIN: All right, don`t go anywhere. Harrowing new reporting that reveals the deadly length the E.U. will go to stop migrants from reaching its shores, with the reporter who was kidnapped and beaten while investigating and reporting on this story. You do not want to miss that, coming up next.
MOHYELDIN: In Southwest Tripoli, the Capital of Libya, there is an enormous secret prison. It sits next to an abandoned tobacco factory and it houses migrants trying to get to Europe. For more than half a decade, Europe has been grappling with a refugee crisis. Hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa fleeing violence and repression, looking for safe harbor in the European Union.
But in recent years, facing political pressure, many European countries have cracked down on this migration. And thanks to an excellent pair of articles by journalist Ian Urbina, we now know the links the E.U. has gone to make sure refugees do not reach its shores.
Urbina reports that Frontex, that is the EU`s border patrol agency, coordinates directly with the so-called Libyan coast guard which is actually an unofficial decentralized group of local patrols which the United Nations says has ties to militia groups, human trafficking, even murder.
And according to reports and documents, the E.U. spends hundreds of millions of dollars to fund this so-called Libyan coast guard which in turn captures migrant boats in the Mediterranean Sea far from Libya`s shores, often openly shooting at those boats or even trying to knock them over into the water.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Libyan coast guard, please keep more distance. Don`t shoot at the people. They`re shooting again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They`re shooting again.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Libyan coast guard, stop shooting in the water.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOHYELDIN: Now, if the migrants survive those initial encounters with the Libyan coast guard, many are brought to brutal prisons where survivors describing horrible living conditions abuse and torture. The worst of these is the secret prison in Tripoli called Al Mabani.
As Urbina reports, "Migrants in Al Mabani were beaten for whispering to one another, speaking in their native tongues, or even laughing. Troublemakers were held for days in the isolation room, an abandoned gas station. The isolation room had no bathroom so prisoners had to defecate in a corner. The smell was so bad that guards wore masks when they visited. And guards tied the hands of detainees to a rope suspended from a steel ceiling beam and beat them."
Now, these detention centers operate without any oversight or accountability because Libya has largely been a failed state governed by warring militias since President Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed during the Arab spring uprisings a decade ago.
And while the European Union decries the conditions in these camps and denies funding them, critics argue they would not be able to operate without the support from the European Union. The E.U. funds, sometimes funneled through aid groups, pay for the boats and trucks that capture migrants, the buses that bring them to the detention centers, and the showers and blankets that are waiting for them when they arrive.
As Urbina puts it, "Some of those efforts make the prisons more humane. But they also help sustain a brutal system which exists largely because of E.U. policies that send migrants back to Libya."
Ian Urbina traveled to Libya to report on that brutal system. He was captured and beaten for trying to expose it. And his incredible story is next. Don`t go anywhere.
MOHYELDIN: All right, so, after spending a little over a week in Libya investigating prisons funded by the European Union where migrants have been reportedly held, tortured, and even killed, the reporter working on this story, a man named Ian Urbina was himself captured by armed men claiming to be from the Libyan intelligence service. He was detained for six days during which he was beaten, interrogated, and placed in an isolation cell.
In a New Yorker piece, he writes that when armed men burst into his hotel room, "They placed a hood over my head, kicked and punched me and stepped on my face, leaving me with two broken ribs, blood in my urine, and damage to my kidneys. Then they dragged me from the room."
After lobbying from the State Department and the Dutch Foreign Service, he and his reporting team were ultimately and thankfully released. That reporter joins me now.
Ian Urbina is investigative journalist and the director of the Outlaw Ocean Project, the non-profit journalism organization based in Washington D.C. that focuses on environmental and human rights concerns at sea globally. He has just published that groundbreaking new piece I was telling you about with the New Yorker and NBC News.
Ian, it`s good to see you. I`m glad that you made it out of there safely, you and your team. What a harrowing experience that must have been. Just tell us a little bit about that. What was your experience being captured by these armed guards. Describe what you went through doing your -- during your detention and were you told what crimes you were being detained for.
IAN URBINA, DIRECTOR, THE OUTLAW OCEAN PROJECT: Yes, I mean, as you say, it was a harrowing experience, not one we expected to occur. In some ways, it gave us a distinct insight to what migrants experience in a much more intense level. The crime that we were charged with was essentially practicing journalism in Libya. The Libyan intelligence service said that they thought we were spies for the CIA and also, even if we were reporters, we shouldn`t be trying to embarrass Libya by focusing on how the country is dealing with migrants.
MOHYELDIN: I know that you in this story tell the account of Aliou Cande, a migrant who unfortunately was killed in that Al Mabani prison. Tell us about him and the conditions he suffered under in this facility. How did you uncover what happened to him?
URBINA: Yes, so Aliou Cande was in some ways a traditional typical you know climate migrant, 28-year-old farmer from Guinea-Bissau, West African country, who wanted to try to provide for his family by making his way to Europe. He began a long arduous trip through the Saharan Desert, ends up getting in a migrant raft trying to cross the Mediterranean, sent back to shore, captured by the Libyan coast guard and put in this prison where ultimately after two months there`s a fight between migrants and the guards at the prison opened fire on the migrants through a window and Aliou Cande was shot in the neck and killed.
You know, I`d heard about this killing which happened a couple of weeks prior to my arrival and just thought it would be worth investigating how he killed and in what ways, if any, he was typical of many of the migrants that end up in this prison.
MOHYELDIN: I know that a friend of Aliou Cande described to you the isolation room which was punishment for prisoners where "Guards tied the hands of detainees to a rope suspended from a steel ceiling beam and beat them. It`s not so bad seeing a friend or a man yelling as he`s being tortured, Soumahoro said, but seeing a six-foot tall man beating a woman with a whip."
Your piece documents reports of beatings, sexual assaults, killings. Has there been any kind of formal investigation particularly on the part of the E.U.?
URBINA: You know, yes, I mean, in the last five years alone, there have been a half dozen reports, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the U.N. about the brutalities in this gulag, you know, this sort of E.U.- funded prison system that exists in Libya.
So, it`s not new to point out just the extent of violence and extortion and rape and occasionally murder, you know, but the E.U. hasn`t done a whole lot to actually reckon with their role in funding the very mechanisms that send so many migrants to the prisons and you know often complain -- the E.U. complains about, you know, this is really the Libyan government`s responsibility to clean up behavior in the prison and sort of shrug, but the E.U. is the one sending most of the migrants to these prisons.
MOHYELDIN: Yes. And I know that in your piece you also describe this cemetery where Cande is now buried. And you have this incredible drone footage of the cemetery where many of Libya`s dead migrants are unfortunately buried in unmarked graves. And yet, as these images go around the world, as your reporting is shared, migrants will continue to make this journey.
Has this brutal system of imprisonment had any impact on the number of migrants attempting this dangerous crossing?
URBINA: Yes. I mean, in some ways it`s the sort of system that the E.U. has imposed has been effective at the goal of stopping migrants from arriving to Europe. So, it`s a success in that way. It`s a dire failure from a human rights perspective. You know, the death rate of migrants attempting to cross has gone up. And what happens, the migrants that are returned to Libya has only gotten worse.
So, if you measure it by those metrics, it`s a you know, abject failure. And on a larger level, if you think about the fact that, you know, 150 million climate migrants are expected to sort of shift position over the next two decades, you know, the notion that the E.U. is going to outsource its migration problem to a failed state namely Libya, and that that is something that can survive the tests of law and ethics over the next decade is a really foolish one.
MOHYELDIN: Yes. And I also wanted to note that you write about Europe`s commitment to anti-migrant programs in Libya remains unshaken. Last year, Italy renewed its memorandum of understanding with Libya since this past May with support from the E.U. It has spent at least $3.9 million on the Libyan coast guard.
What kind of pressure would it take for the E.U. to scale back this operation of theirs? Does that seem likely to you in the future? Is there a concerted international effort by human rights organizations or perhaps elsewhere at the United Nations to try and get the E.U. to reverse course than what it`s doing now?
URBINA: I mean, there is. You know, there`s a lot of pressure from within the E.U., even from parliamentarians, as well as only two weeks ago, there was a coalition of lawyers in Europe that filed papers to the International Criminal Court seeking to get the ICC to investigate the detention system which the U.N. itself has described as a, you know, sort of engaged in crimes against humanity.
So, there are strong voices from within Europe and elsewhere trying to pressure the E.U. to rethink its role in this sort of abusive system. At the same time, you know, they`re strong forces xenophobic forces, largely that are attempting to sort of continue with this path and sort of build this invisible wall across the Mediterranean to block you know migrants from arriving to Europe. So, you know the jury is out as to what will happen, but there is real resistance.
MOHYELDIN: So, let me ask you about just since you were on the ground there in Libya, and as we mentioned it is a failed state with a lot of challenges, do you get any sense whatsoever that with elections coming up, that there`s any desire within Libya itself to try and address this situation in a more humane way?
URBINA: I don`t -- I don`t get the sense that there`s a lot of pressure within Libya to reform the system. I mean I think there are several reasons. It`s a chaotic place, a divided place, a poor place. And so, the amount of money flowing into Libya simply to prop up this proxy role as sort of immigration enforcement for Europe, sort of the last stage of that wall, you know, has entrenched interests.
And so a lot of -- a lot of government militias um are eager for the migration system to remain the same.
MOHYELDIN: All right, you can find Ian Urbina`s latest and incredible reporting in the New Yorker. And you can find a companion piece and further video on nbcnews.com. Ian Urbina, it`s great to see you and thank you for that incredible piece of journalism.
That is ALL IN for this evening. You can catch me again on the weekend, Saturdays at 8 00 p.m. Eastern, Sundays at 9:00. "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.