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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 8/27/21

Guests: Howard Dean, Helene Cooper, Willie Jones, Mark Thompson


The Biden administration sues Facebook, as the tech giant faces allegations of hiding information about its own policies. Matt Gaetz faces new ethics questions. Musician Willie Jones speaks out. Evacuation efforts continue in Afghanistan following yesterday`s terror attack. In Florida, a judge deals a big blow to Governor Ron DeSantis over mask mandate bans.



Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: I can hear what you`re putting down, but I`m not picking it up yet. Maybe at a later date.


Have a good weekend, sir.

JOHNSON: Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: My thanks to Jason.

We also look forward to seeing Nicolle back Monday.

I want to welcome everyone to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And we are continuing the coverage of that deadly attack in Kabul which killed 13 U.S. service members, and now a count that we were tracking at this hour last night. Well, we have a lot more information coming about one day later, 95 Afghans among that count, now, another 180 people wounded.

Tonight, there are new warnings from the president`s national security team that they are getting intelligence and specific and credible information that another attack also in Kabul is likely. So this is what they`re up against.

And we`re sort of getting pretty real-time, fast information about it. Obviously, everyone is on high alert. A lot of lives are on the line.

Now, the Pentagon also stating today that, according to the information they have now, which is different from some of the reporting in basically the chaos of yesterday, the Pentagon states that their finding is there was one explosion, not two, which was widely reported, including in our breaking coverage yesterday.

Meanwhile, 12,000 people now additionally have been evacuated from the Kabul Airport over the last 24 hours. And President Biden speaking again today about the continuing mission.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The mission there being performed is dangerous, and has -- now has come with significant loss of American personnel. And -- but it`s a worthy mission, because they continue to evacuate folks out of that region, out of the airport. We will complete the mission.


MELBER: There also reports that Taliban fighters are part of the problem and blocking people from reaching the airport at all.

The Taliban insists that people with valid documents are able to get in and out of the country, they claim at any time.

Meanwhile, a White House official confirming NBC News today commanders are also actively working on developing these so-called targets, places where they may go after ISIS for retribution for these American deaths, because, as the president stated in that somber address to the nation, he is vowing to hold all the attackers accountable.


BIDEN: To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.


MELBER: We`re joined now by "The New York Times" Pentagon correspondent, Helene Cooper, and NBC News presidential historian and the author of many books touching on war and peace Michael Beschloss.

Helene, from the objective perspective of what we can glean and gather about what is still obviously a chaotic situation, what is your understanding of the state on the ground there? And what were you hearing from the Pentagon today?

HELENE COOPER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, good evening, Ari. Thanks for having me.

They are still evacuating. Flights are still going up. In the middle, for instance, of the day, today in Afghanistan, at 1:00 in the afternoon, one of the flights that went out was the flight carrying the coffins of those Marines and other troops who were killed in that -- in that attack yesterday.

So, the Pentagon insists -- and, in fact, the troop members -- service members who are on the ground in Afghanistan seem determined to continue this mission as long as they can. They say they`re going to continue evacuating people right up until the very end on Tuesday, August 31.

So that is going on. But you do have more of a -- you do have another credible threat being cited. And this is -- this is very similar to what we saw happen on Wednesday, when the State Department sent that notice out that they had a credible threat. And you saw then what happened on Thursday.

So, people are very much on their guard. I think, in relation -- in relation -- related to what President Biden said about we will go after you, I mean, they are already developed target lists. They think they have some information about who may have done this and who may have carried this out.

They have been looking at ISIS and ISIS, the Khorasan group. But it`s hard to imagine that the United States is going to be able to carry out strikes while this evacuation mission is still ongoing.

I mean, I think that`s a hard balance to strike. They may have to -- they may have to wait until after August 31.

MELBER: Michael, we have been tracking this from the formal beginning of the exit to what is now a tragic day for America, one that will be marked and remembered, one of the deadliest body counts of U.S. soldiers in the entire war.

What is on your mind, as we still absorb what is still unfolding history and, as Helene reminds us, history that may carry a future -- future risks in the days ahead?


MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, what Helene just said moved me so much, because this is not only -- just as you`re saying, it`s an unfolding tragedy.

And, at this moment, the lives of Americans and the lives of our allies and many others are in the balance. We have no idea what`s going to happen. And if you look through American history, when that happened with other presidents, Ronald Reagan and the bombing of the Marine barracks, or Gerald Ford and the evacuation of South Vietnam, or John Kennedy with our freedom fighters on the beaches of Cuba in the Bay of Pigs, at least, while the operation was going and people`s lives were in jeopardy, you didn`t have opposition members of Congress, as we have seen in the last 24 hours, saying Biden should be impeached, Biden should be -- resign.

That is totally out of keeping with the American tradition. After 9/11, 24 hours later, did you hear Democratic members of Congress saying President George W. Bush should resign because he did not protect us?

There will be plenty of time to look at this. Every leader is fallible. Every leader makes mistakes. Congress should always investigate what a leader does in wartime. And so should the press and so should we, the historians, but not while it`s absolutely in the middle of this, and people`s lives are depending on it?

MELBER: Yes, you bring that up. It`s important.

Let`s catch everybody up on some of that. We have been starting each night here with the facts on the ground. But that is also the facts in Washington, a different -- a different ground, to be sure.

I want to show viewers what we know about where the public is, because the White House has been emphasizing this is no time to politicize the tragic deaths and that majorities do agree with the president that this was time to leave.

Now, some Republican senators have been jumping on the latest deaths, claiming that should literally end Biden`s presidency. Let`s take a look. I think we have some sound.



JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is a day where U.S. service members, 12 of them, lost their lives at the hands of terrorists. It`s not a day for politics. And we would expect that any American, whether they`re elected or not, would stand with us and our commitment to going after and fighting and killing those terrorists wherever they live and to honoring the memory of service members.

And that`s what this day is for.


MELBER: That`s how the White House has been handling it.

And so, Michael, to you and then Helene, because it`s -- again, it`s part of what`s happening in Washington, against the backdrop of them literally, some of the senators -- this isn`t just random radio, talk radio -- U.S. senators saying in the middle of this before the burials, before the funerals, that it should end the Biden presidency, Michael.

BESCHLOSS: Yes, the remains of those who have lost their lives have not even come back yet to Dover for a proper ceremony, let alone a funeral.

And look at American history, this is not the way it`s been done, Ari. Both you and Helene know this. Through American history, Congress has been acrimonious. We argue over reasons to go to war or not go to war. We argue over foreign policy. All those things are absolutely correct.

But what we don`t do is, in a situation like this, not only criticize a president in such a scathing way as to say he deserves impeachment for what has happened, but, at some point -- I know this is an antique notion -- there was a feeling that politics stopped at the water`s edge.

And when you`re in the middle of a crisis that involves terrorism, which is exactly what this was, in the last 48 hours, the impulse of the Republican leaders should not immediately be to jump before the cameras and say Biden should be impeached or resign.

MELBER: Helene?

COOPER: Well, it`s kind of interesting, because of many of the same people who are saying this are the same people who were fine with President Trump`s May 1 deadline...

BESCHLOSS: Totally. Totally.

COOPER: ... for withdrawing in Afghanistan.

So that`s -- it`s a little bit -- it`s a little bit rich to pretend now that they were not also, that the GOP was not looking to pull out. This is a war that had become deeply unpopular to the American public. And it`s kind of -- I think a little bit unrealistic to think that there was ever going to not be a messy exit from Afghanistan, because of the nature of the country.

That`s not to excuse President Biden, because I think their execution there -- there are things that the Biden administration could have done once President Biden decided that he was going to withdraw to sort of mitigate kind of the hurt that we`re seeing now.

They -- in particular, the United States, the State Department, and President Biden should have put his own imprimatur on the urgency, the need for urgency from the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security in vetting and getting a lot of these people, Afghan allies who helped American troops, American Embassy, American institutions who would be vulnerable there once we pulled out and getting them out of the country, so that would maybe -- it wouldn`t -- you would still see scenes of thousands of people at Kabul Airport wanting to get out.


But that would have mitigated some of -- a little bit of our obligation.

But, that said, after you remove that, it`s hard for me and I have struggled over the last two weeks since Kabul fell to think, what could we have done differently, and was there a better way to do that?

And there are better -- there are things around the edges. But I have had trouble imagining how this -- given the Afghan government and the dissipation of the Afghan troops that we saw, what we saw took place, how this might have ended in a different way.

MELBER: Well, and that is striking coming from you, Helene, because you spend every day within your reporting and with the Pentagon for "The New York Times" talking to folks and hearing all of the available views, the sources, some of them presumably on background and sometimes off the record.

So that`s interesting coming from you, in what remains, of course, a challenge and a difficult situation for the United States.

I`m going to fit in a break. This was our first and top story. So I want to thank Helene and Michael for walking us through some of this.

We have a lot more news, including a breakthrough on COVID in Florida, where a judge has shut down and dealt a big blow and loss to MAGA Governor DeSantis.

Also tonight, new details on how the Biden DOJ is trying to break up Facebook and take on Mark Zuckerberg. We have an update on that important story.

And, later, Congressman Matt Gaetz has a new problem. We will explain. Stay with us.



MELBER: Major COVID news, and it`s bad for Florida`s MAGA Governor Ron DeSantis.

He`s been dealt a massive legal blow, late-breaking news today. He had tried -- and we have reported on this, you may recall -- to basically outright ban mask mandates in schools.

Meanwhile, Florida is facing record COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Here`s what`s brand-new, a Florida judge rebuking DeSantis, finding that he does not have the authority and he overstepped it.


JUDGE JOHN COOPER, FLORIDA`S SECOND CIRCUIT: The defendants do not have authority under this law to a blanket mandatory ban against a face mask policy.

The evidence clearly demonstrates that the recommendation of the CDC for universal masking of students, teachers and staff represents the overwhelming consensus of scientists, medical doctors and medical organizations.


MELBER: That is what it looks like, albeit in the Zoom era, because we are still in a pandemic, when a judge tells you don`t have the power.

Now, this is a clear safety development for Florida because students are dealing with a deadly surge. DeSantis has been, according to many different people, playing politics with it. Here`s a judge saying, beyond the politics, he doesn`t have the power, the laws.

More people are dying daily in Florida right now that at any time during this entire pandemic. Think about that; 2020 was tough. Earlier, 2021 was bad. But, right now, this week is the worst for Florida. You can see the average here tragically surging, 240 COVID deaths, on average, a day now from what they can quantify, 68 hospitals running out of oxygen now in two days.

Funeral homes, tragically, cannot keep up with the deaths.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are at capacity to where we have never been before.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At West Side Crematory in Winter Garden, they`re also overwhelmed. The area where bodies are stored prior to being cremated is stacked to the ceiling. We were there when a funeral home brought a body to be cremated. Sometimes, they tell us there`s a line four vans` deep, and there seems to be no end in sight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We`re at the point where we`re hoping that the state will step in and supply some refrigeration.


MELBER: This may remind you of tragic stories we heard in the beginning of this pandemic in early 2020, in mid-2020, and periods of time where, as bad as it was, there was no obvious way out because there was no available vaccine.

Now we`re in a place where it`s worse in some areas, despite the available vaccine, despite the available safety measures, ones that DeSantis had fought and, as I have told you now, breaking news, lost in court, as he tried to keep schools from using safety measures.

So what does he say about all this? Again, we`re not here to make him look one way or the other. We are showing you how he sounds and what he`s doing. If it looks bad, well, that`s because of him.

So, does the governor take any responsibility? Or does he deflect? Take a look.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): You know, he said he was going to end COVID. He hasn`t done that.

We are the first state to start the treatment centers for monoclonal antibodies. Having great success with that. That should have been a bigger plan, bigger part of this whole response throughout the country from the beginning.

Look, we are absolutely going to stand in Biden`s way if he`s trying to bring his destructive policies to Florida.


MELBER: Yes, you heard that right. That is the sound of the governor blaming the president.

As for destructive policies, well, it`s the CDC on a nonpartisan basis that disagreed with DeSantis on masks and many other issues.

But it`s broader and more obvious than that. This is someone who is literally selling "Don`t Fauci My Florida" merchandise, and has said the following without irony:


DESANTIS: So don`t be that guy that lets your partisan agenda overcome providing good, accurate information.


MELBER: Yes, don`t be that guy. This is serious. People are dying.

And we will get into the facts and what matters and, if you`re watching in Florida, what you need to know.

Physician and former Governor Dean is here.

We`re back in just 60 seconds.




BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This vaccine means hope. It will protect you and those who love from this dangerous and deadly disease.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I recommend take the vaccines. I did it. It`s good. Take the vaccines.

DESANTIS: If we had followed Fauci. Instead, we followed freedom. And that`s the reason why Florida is doing better.



MELBER: There you have Obama and Trump agreeing on at least one thing, take the vaccine, according to the scientific evidence, while DeSantis is increasingly isolated, breaking with Dr. Fauci, who also says take the vaccine.

I`m joined now by Howard Dean. He is a physician. He is a former governor. He is someone who`s dealt with these exact policy intersections.

Thanks for being here, sir.


MELBER: Governor DeSantis last big and bad in court today. But the people of Florida are obviously losing even worse, with no time to spare.

Walk us through what`s happening here.

DEAN: Well, I`m actually just shocked by DeSantis. I never thought I`d say this, but I think he may be more of a lunatic than Trump ever was.

I mean, Trump has finally come around to understanding that the best thing he can do for his own supporters is get them to be vaccinated. DeSantis is just completely out of touch with reality. Monoclonal antibodies has nothing to do with this. You have got to stop people from getting this disease. And he`s not willing to do it.

And I`m not sure what possible thinking he could be undergoing now. When you get more than half the population that`s in school districts refusing to comply -- long before the court said it was OK...


DEAN: ... more than half of the people in Florida`s school district said, no, we don`t care, DeSantis. Shut up and go away.

That`s a -- this guy is not competent to serve in any capacity. You can`t - - if you`re the governor, you can`t do that. Once in a while, you have to understand that the public pays your salary and that you owe them your best, not some political hobgoblin nonsense and a bunch of lies.

That`s just -- I`m shocked. I have never seen a governor like this before.

MELBER: Right.

And you have you have been a governor. Reports that the whole state is actually turning on him. And this is a state that -- what ever one thinks of Florida`s politics, which are notoriously wacky, this is a state that was initially more supportive and inclined towards him.

The reports are that people have had it.

DEAN: Well, I would think they would. This guy`s putting their children`s lives at risk.

We`re going to have dead kids all over Florida in these districts that are following DeSantis. It is outrageous. I have never seen any governor of either party ever behave like this. It`s almost as if he doesn`t give a damn who has to die as long as he gets reelected.

And I think he`s making a big mistake. I don`t know who the Democrats are planning on running for governor, but if it`s a half-a-decent person, DeSantis is going to be gone after four years. And thank God. It`s not a moment too soon.

MELBER: I want to look at where we`re headed here. The AP says 100,000 more COVID deaths could come unless there`s a significant change in U.S. policy at the state level, because of Delta, projected to see 100,000 more COVID deaths between now and December 1, according to a forecasting model.

Now, I will add the caveat that you know and I think viewers know, which is, these models, they vary, and they range based on a lot of factors, and some are uncontrollable.

But what I have tried to emphasize here, as a reporter -- I`m not a physician like yourself -- but as a objective observer, I have tried to emphasize to viewers and folks there were a lot of kind of cautiously optimistic assumptions previously about returning to normalcy and what we could do and where we would go.

But all of them involved some level of cohesion around vaccination and other safety measures until we got through. If people want evidence that it works, we have shown the charts, that things did dip for a while.


What do you think it`s important that people understand and that public health messaging has to convey, without being, I guess, overly alarmist, that, when we talk about returning to normal, that requires our participation? And these models are not showing any return to normal anytime soon. Instead, they`re showing a lot more avoidable death, Governor, Doctor.

DEAN: We had a conversation about this the last time I was on the show with Dr. Patel, who is very smart and well-informed.

And I am not a public health expert. But I am pretty close to the conclusion that we should start vaccinating 2-to-12-year-olds now. We can get -- now that it`s fully -- the vaccine, at least Pfizer`s, fully authorized for those over I think it`s 18, we really need to start.

This is an emergency. This is going to get worse in the schools. Even if everybody does mask up, it`s going to be bad, but it`s going to be much worse, because there`s so many states, like Texas and Alabama and, of course, the great -- worst mess of all is Florida. And their kids are going to get sick.

And there are already older people dying who`ve been vaccinated twice. Delta is much more serious than I ever thought. And I think it`s more serious than the public health people thought at first. So I -- I know I`m an outlier on this, and there will be public health people who I respect that don`t agree with me.

But I think, if I were Joe Biden, I would push FDA and CDC as hard as I could to take an emergency action and allow vaccines to go to the schoolkids. Otherwise, we`re going to get stuck in another year of closing down the schools.

And that is, A, bad for the economy. It`s bad for kids. And it`s not so great for the parents who are just getting back to work now.


DEAN: We are really facing a major public emergency because Delta is so much more serious than we thought it was going to be.

MELBER: Right.

And you say that. And that bumps up against the public mood of exhaustion and infighting...

DEAN: Right.

MELBER: ... and even sometimes recriminations between the different groups.

We have done a lot here. You mentioned last time you were on with Dr. Patel. We have also done a lot in our coverage to make sure people understand that those who are vaccine-hesitant or have fears or have questions, let`s engage in a civic dialogue. People make their own decisions.

But I don`t think it certainly is a public health or evidentiary process that works to attack people who are still working their way through it. Or if people are thinking, hey, I`m waiting for full authorization, OK, we just had full authorization from the FDA for one of these vaccines. If you were waiting on that, here you go.

I say that as an introduction to something that`s in a little bit of a different vein, which is some of this viral sound of another person in another place really freaking out against masks. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This B.S. that you guys are putting down, and there`s hell coming. There`s hell coming! And I`m not doing it to threaten anybody, but there`s a lot of good guys out there ready to do bad things soon!

Are you a Nazi? What is it? They send my dad off to Vietnam and fight for the country, but you`re going to tell him to wear a mask?


MELBER: Governor, because you`re experienced in politics, I mean, this is out there. This is that kind of angry energy. That was in Michigan, which is a state that has, of course, a whole political diversity.

What do you think is the best way to deal with this stuff, because it`s out there?

DEAN: I think you just have to face up to it. People are really overwrought.

This started with the election of Trump, who exploited our divisions and our disagreements with each other. That`s how we got elected, was to make - - turn -- turn people into -- cause people to hate each other.

And when somebody like that goes off like that, you just have to be calm. It`s very, very hard. There are a lot of public officials who are getting out now. And there have been public health officials, because people like this call them up and scream and yell at them.

But you can`t back down. The truth is the truth. I think that people like that have a lot of other issues that they`re expressing through this one. And you just have to work through that.

But you have to be firm. There are children`s lives to be protected. They`re all old people`s lives to be protected. We have a vaccine that`s good, but against Delta, it`s not as good as we had hoped.

My guess is, in the long run, we`re going to have to have vaccines maybe every year or every other year. Coronavirus is probably here to stay. And there`s a lot of literature in the public health area that says I think this is going to end up being endemic like the flu, not just a pandemic, and we`re going to have to live with it.

And I think we can. I trust science. I think we will have -- we have a vaccine that`s good now, and it`s much better, it`ll definitely save lives as it is. And with mRNA technology, it would be perfectly simple next year to have a different protein on the mRNA which will more easily target Delta.

But the fewer people that get vaccinated, the more Deltas there are going to be in the future. and we have just got to confront that, calmly, respectfully, but we can`t back down, because the truth is on the side of the people who believe in science.


MELBER: Yes, well put. I hope folks are listening.

Dr. Dean, thank you.

DEAN: Thank you.

MELBER: Appreciate it.

Coming up, we have an update on Matt Gaetz. He`s had a lot of problems, the MAGA favorite. Well, now they`re following the money, and it intersects with some of his legal questions.

But coming up, we have an update on a big, important story that you may not have heard about this week, obviously a lot going on, Joe Biden cracking down.

He wants to break up Facebook -- when we come back.


MELBER: Joe Biden suing Facebook right now, as the tech giant faces allegations of hiding information about its own policies.

Biden`s legal argument is that Facebook has become a monopoly that`s dangerous. It fuels misinformation. It has very few checks. It`s gobbled up other similar social media. Mark Zuckerberg, its famous founder, has denied most of these kinds of concerns and claims in the past.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Is Twitter the same as what you do?

MARK ZUCKERBERG, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, FACEBOOK: It overlaps with a portion of what we do.

GRAHAM: You don`t think you have a monopoly?

ZUCKERBERG: It certainly doesn`t feel like that to me.




MELBER: This new lawsuit argues that Facebook`s acquiring of Instagram and WhatsApp has made a kind of a moat around the social networking monopoly. That means it has fewer competitors and fewer checks on its power.


So this is an official thing. This is the government or the Biden administration, seeking to break up Facebook.

Now, in our democracy, under our rules, that`s not just an overnight decision. They have to win in court. Facebook indeed gets until October 4 to respond.

It`s also under scrutiny by Congress right now with this January 6 committee investigating the riot and demanding records on Facebook`s approach to propaganda and how it dealt with law enforcement in that incoming insurrection.

The pressure from Washington comes as Facebook also contends with this investigation I mentioned. We reported on this when "The New York Times" first broke the story. It exposed Facebook for hiding a report that it had promised in its so-called claims of transparency, where it was going to tell everyone what its most popular content was.

Now, this was from the beginning of 2021, a tumultuous time, to be sure. And it turns out the top most viewed posts at that time, as COVID raged and the vaccine push began, was a piece darkly suggesting without evidence that maybe the vaccine itself killed a doctor.

And this didn`t just go to 100,000 or a million people. It was seen by over 50 million Facebook accounts. So, if you wonder why people are hearing so many things that seem to be off-base about the vaccine and how that affects everything we`re talking about, including the stories coming out of Florida earlier in our broadcast, well, Facebook is part of this.

They`re amplifying it at the very time that the government says they have too much power. Leaders at Facebook, though, have long defended what they`re up to.


ZUCKERBERG: I think it`s shaping the -- it`s shaping the broader Web.

Personally. I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, of which it`s a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way, I think, is a pretty crazy idea.

My position is not that there should be no regulation. But I also think that you have to be careful about what regulation you put in place. I don`t know the answer to that off the top of my head.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): So you won`t take down lies or you will take down lies? I think that`s just a pretty simple yes or no.


MELBER: With all this pressure, Facebook is reacting, as it often does.

Right now, it`s discussing its election coverage plans. The company has taken heat for many of these issues. People remember Russian influence on the ads in 2016, how it dealt with fake news, disinformation, political ads in 2020.

Now Facebook is saying it might roll out a new election commission, which could advise it at least by the midterms.

OK, but a lot of critics say this is another example of the company`s endless corporate bureaucratic spin, from disinformation on elections to dangerous vaccine propaganda. If it sounds familiar, it`s because they have developed a way that they do this as long as there`s no further laws or regulation.

The company, first, they go with usually whatever`s viral and profitable. Then they hide the ball on that, like that report I just told you about that "The Times" found they just weren`t going to give out. Then, when they do get caught, they apologize and they discuss new processes, commissions, or other nonbinding projects.

Now, when it comes to being a monopoly, the Biden administration is arguing it`s past time to let Facebook police itself. They`re demanding something that is a huge story, even if it`s been understandably pushed to the side by a lot of other huge stories.

President Biden is asking the courts to break up what he argues has become one of the most influential and unchecked corporations across American life.

Let`s get into it.

I`m joined by Nick Confessore, a "New York Times" reporter who has tracked many different issues at Facebook for years.

Thanks for being here.


MELBER: I`m good.

I get into this because it`s important, even though it doesn`t have the same obvious sizzle as other kinds of political stories. In your reporting, what have you found about what Facebook`s up to? And how new and different is it to have an administration that`s actually trying to get it broken up?

CONFESSORE: It`s fascinating, Ari.

For years, the Trump people would bellyache about Facebook and complain and threaten, and yet it is under buying that we finally see a hardcore move to do a breakup.

And, partly, it`s because, I think, for Biden, for the Democrats, that all roads lead back to Facebook in the end. It`s the big promulgator of COVID conspiracy theories. It was the place where Stop the Steal was born. It is the place where the successor movement to Stop the Steal still flourishes.

And it is uniquely powerful. So what we see here is an attack on the size of Facebook primarily. It`s a breakup attempt. And the reason that matters is, it is the size of Facebook that gives it the power to have these impacts on our country, on our elections, the scale of it.

MELBER: You make a great point with the scale, Nick, because, sometimes, what gets attention is what`s fiery or what crackles.


The president before he was banned used Twitter for a lot of that purpose. And yet it`s easy to forget that the majority of people don`t use Twitter regularly, full stop. And the majority of people do use Facebook regularly. And people who have no interest in, say, what "The Times" or MSNBC reports are still on there looking at photos and living their life, and then something pops up, and they go, oh, I haven`t thought about it a lot, but I heard X.

Maybe they heard that the pope endorsed Trump. False. That was big on Facebook. I heard the vaccine is dangerous. False. That was big on Facebook.

Andy Slavitt, who viewers may recognize from being on MSNBC, not unlike yourself, was speaking out about this on THE BEAT. And he was inside the Biden administration with his Facebook tension. Take a listen.


ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER FOR COVID RESPONSE: When people are asked, where did they learn this from, their number one response is social media, and their number one response is Facebook.

And what Facebook`s especially good at doing is, it`s very good at taking an algorithm and finding the person who has a little bit of doubt and a little bit of question -- maybe they`re -- let`s say they`re needle-phobic -- and say, gee, is the needle big?

And what you get presented with is a giant needle. The people that are most susceptible, Facebook is very good at delivering that target.



MELBER: Nick, number one, your response.

Number two, does the administration`s plan to break it up directly deal with that or not automatically?

CONFESSORE: Well, two first, Ari.

In a sense, it does, right? So Facebook did not invent conspiracy theories. It did not invent lying. But it invented the most powerful platform in history for spreading those things, for giving them velocity and movement. And it is the biggest platform for this kind of stuff.

So, if you take a crack at their size, if you break them up into smaller pieces, have competitors who perhaps have different business models or are trying to compete on quality of content, instead of just reach, the argument goes, you can then attack with disinformation problem by essentially making it smaller. It can`t travel as far, the disinformation.

We will see if it works. This is a novel theory in antitrust, to some extent, as you know, because Facebook is free for all of us, right? And so you can`t necessarily accuse Facebook of undercutting rivals on prices.

But what it has done is gobble up all of the others. It`s gobbled up its competitors. It doesn`t really innovate the same way it used to. It buys competitors, it buys competition, it buys upstarts, and builds a moat around itself.

MELBER: I think you just made a subtle antitrust point, which is the old laws and jurisprudence deal with that question of, what does it cost the consumer as a measured price, but, as you said, as everyone`s kids know, TikTok is free, but if they leak all your personal contacts or gobble up your data, there is a price.

It may not be monetary. And the question with Facebook is how we`re all paying that price.

Before I let you go, I -- it`s been a long week. Everyone can use a rest or a Sabbath after a long week. I see the candles behind you. I don`t know how you`re going to use them. That`s your business, but I wish you -- I wish it was Shabbat shalom, Nick.


CONFESSORE: Shabbat shalom, Ari.

MELBER: Shabbat shalom, Nick Confessore from "The New York Times."

We wish everyone a restful weekend, whatever way you`re getting to it.

I will tell you, when we come back, we have an update on a story that won`t go away because Matt Gaetz`s problems don`t go away. He`s got a federal sex crimes probe and new ethics questions.

We will explain next.



MELBER: MAGA Congressman Matt Gaetz is under federal investigation for sex trafficking and sex with a minor. These are claims he has denied, as we have reported.

And paying the legal fees may be harder for him than he realized, because we`re learning more about his efforts to raise revenue. He failed to disclose profits from a book that he published last September. Now, that`s technically a federal violation.

The new disclosure reveals that Gaetz made about $59,000, suggesting the memoir brought in a total -- I should say $59,000 -- $25,000 in sales last year. And the question is whether many people wanted the book in the first place.

The MAGA congressmen had suggested it would sell far more than that.

Now, we`re going to fit in a break.

When we come back, we`re going to get into politics and why many people say it is time to end Mitch McConnell`s obstruction once and for all.

Stay with us.



MELBER: It`s Friday on THE BEAT. It`s been a long week, and now it`s time to fall back.

We have two fantastic guests tonight, country singer Willie Jones out with his debut album right now, already topping 25 million streams. He`s got the attention of "Rolling Stone," which likens him to Randy Travis, with a crossover appeal, showing that -- quote -- "Country and the club can coexist." How about that?

And we have a friend of THE BEAT, Mark Thompson, a radio host and TV analyst who`s interviewed everyone from Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Hillary Clinton and now Vice President Harris.

Willie and Mark, thanks to both of you. How you guys doing?


WILLIE JONES, MUSICIAN: What`s going on, man? Well, I`m blessed, man. How you all doing?

THOMPSON: Fine. I`m good too, brother.

MELBER: We`re good.

THOMPSON: Congratulations, Willie.

JONES: Yes, sir. Thank you.


I don`t know who has a better accoutrement, the cowboy hat, which we always love, or the blue shades. But everybody`s bringing the style. I feel downright square.

We got plenty to get into.

Mark -- Mark has done this before, so I will toss it to you first, sir.

What`s on your "Fallback" list tonight?

THOMPSON: The Texas GOP, of course.

They have passed this new voter suppression bill, which is quite egregious. And, obviously, they were able to do it because the Senate can`t get itself together to stop it. But this would end 24-hour voting, end drive-in voting, create new requirements to get mail-in ballots as well.

So it`s a problem. Texas is purple on its way to being blue. And that`s obviously a problem for those Republicans. And that`s why we`re marching. Tomorrow`s the anniversary of the March on Washington. And we will be in the sacred space at the Lincoln Memorial to lift that up, amongst a host of other issues.

But the Texas GOP should fall back. Thankful for the Texas Democrats who walked out. The Senate Democrats and the Senate Republicans need to get themselves together to stop this type of legislation that`s happening in the states and pass the For the People Act.

MELBER: Yes, I appreciate you putting a spotlight on that, Mark. There`s a lot of different things going on. But that`s important, including that work tomorrow.

Reverend Sharpton joined us earlier this week and is involved as well, of course, as you know. And you have to keep up pressure -- we know that -- when it comes to really scrutinizing what`s going on out there.


I`m not someone who gets into telling people how to vote. Not part of my job. But we certainly have to stand up for everyone`s equal right to vote, especially with an eye on the racist history of this nation.

Willie, welcome. What`s on your mind? What`s on your list this week, sir.

JONES: Man, what I think needs to fall back -- and, obviously, I do country music -- is just the lack of representation, you know what I`m saying, of black artists in country music.

I mean, so many have been coming up and doing their thing. And that really matters. Representation matters. And just doing it, doing country music is so much roots, you know what I`m saying, of black country artists. So I just think that lack of representation just needs to fall back, because we are here.

We got Mickey, Kane, Jimmie. And we are all just making good music, man. And it`s cool to just hear different stories through country music, you know?

MELBER: I appreciate that. There`s so much we can learn from music. We are here on THE BEAT. And we think about American art forms.

Of course, you have jazz and swing. But I would say, at this juncture, hip- hop and country are two of the biggest American art forms. You seem to be - - from what I was listening to, you seem to be kind of traversing both. Tell us about that.

JONES: Yes, man.

I mean, growing up, I just listened to all different kinds of music, and woke up one day, voice changed, it just dropped. And I just got into country music, man. I just really was feeling the stories. And I was like, yo, I`m going to just add my swag to it.

And, yes, man, here I am.

MELBER: And do you see -- I will ask you this and then I will have Mark chime in.

But do you see, Willie, anything in the crowds that you`re getting? You`re a young up-and-coming artist. It`s been pandemic, obviously. So I mentioned the streaming. But do you have any way of getting a sense of, oh, are you tapping into this or that, diverse crowds, diverse age? Country -- a lot of country fans all over the place. But what are you finding in who`s listening to you?

JONES: Yes, man, it`s really universal, man. It`s really, like, all different ages, all different skin types. Man, people just come out just to have a good time to the music.

And it`s really cool to see just, like, I mean, music and sports just bring people together. So, that`s like the start of conversation. You know what I`m saying?



THOMPSON: Well, I want to -- I congratulated Willie for a reason.

I grew up in Nashville, Willie. And when I was growing up, you could live in Nashville and not be connected to country music at all. There was one country artist for years. That was Charley Pride, speaking of sports, also a Negro League baseball player.

So, it`s good. It`s high time that we have more country music, black country music artists than the fingers on our hand. I commend you for that. It makes a big difference. We just didn`t know that. We weren`t -- we were divorced from it. There was no connection whatsoever.

But you are bringing that back. I think country music is really just another version of blue, which our people created. So, I`m very proud of you, brother. And keep on representing us in the way that you are, man.

JONES: Will do, man. I appreciate that.

MELBER: And, Willie, my -- the final question.

I was listening to your stuff. What`s the most important animation, do you think, for a good country song? Is it heartbreak? Is it being down on your luck, to the point about the blues, or is it a good old drink after a long workweek?


JONES: I think what it is just being real. Whatever you are saying, you just feel it, and you just connect to it and you`re just authentic to it.

You just tell the truth, whatever it is.

MELBER: We could -- that`s something that the politicians could learn from country as well.

Just tell -- just tell us the truth.

Willie Jones and Mark Thompson, appreciate both you, the dialogue between you. And we`d love to have you both back.

JONES: Yes, sir.

THOMPSON: Thanks, Ari.


JONES: Mark, take it easy.

THOMPSON: All right, brother, you too. Take care, man.

MELBER: Absolutely. Have a good weekend.

Thanks to everyone.

I want to remind folks here, after a long week, you can always find THE BEAT online @AriMelber on social media. That`s @AriMelber or at

We have been talking country. So I will say this. If you have a favorite country song or artist, tell me about it. If it`s an artist that`s with us, and you think we should book them on THE BEAT, you know, Joy Reid said it. Some parts of THE BEAT are democracy. Tell us who you want to see from the world of country on THE BEAT @AriMelber,

And that does it for us.


JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: I love democracy.

MELBER: Hi, Joy.

REID: I love democracy.

I`m going to tweet what my favorite country song is later, because I do have one, but I`m not telling you right now.