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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Amanpour and Company.” Here’s what’s coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They told me when it got to Super Tuesday, it would be over. Well, it may be over for the other guy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Joe Biden’s campaign comeback. Can he keep up the momentum? We talk to the man who led Obama to victory, David Plouffe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. W. IAN LIPKIN, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTION AND IMMUNITY, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: I don’t think that this virus is ever going to disappear
completely. I hope I’m wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Infectious disease expert and virus hunter, Dr. W.I. Lipkin, comes out of quantity and talks coronavirus.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our candidate for president, Charles Lindbergh.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Reimagine history with pro-German aviator, Charles Lindbergh, as president of the United States. Producer David Simon joins us on his new
series “The Plot Against America”.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I’m Christiane Amanpour in London.
Joe Biden is having a good day, a very good day, after storming through Super Tuesday. The former vice president now has Michael Bloomberg’s
support and more importantly, Michael Bloomberg’s cash in his arsenal, because the former New York city mayor dropped out of the race today and
has endorsed Biden.
It was a stunning revival for the Biden campaign, which was all but written off just two weeks ago. Biden still has to fend off a formidable opponent
in Bernie Sanders, though, if he wants to win the nomination. But Republicans appear to be gearing up for what could be a tough contest for
the president if indeed Biden end up on top. Here is the president’s close ally, Senator Lindsey Graham.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think it would be tough. I told the president that I think Joe Biden has got, you know, a good reputation and
he would be tough. He would be more moderate than Bernie, but I still think it’s Trump’s to lose.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: David Plouffe knows all about running a winning campaign. He managed Barack Obama’s in 2008 and he later became a senior adviser to the
president. He’s written a book called “A Citizen’s Guide to Beating Donald Trump”. And so, we’re going to talk to him about it. He’s joining me now
from New York.
David Plouffe, welcome to the program.
DAVID PLOUFFE, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, let’s just quickly talk about Joe Biden. Is everybody getting ahead of their skis or is this real now? Is this Joe-mentum a so-
called real thing and can he keep it up?
PLOUFFE: Joe-mentum is a real thing. So, I think, Christiane, this is now his race to lose, so why would we say that? Well, it’s going to get down to
a two-person race, Bloomberg is out and maybe Warren gets out today or tomorrow. But there’s only two candidates that have a realistic chance to
win enough delegates and win enough states, and that’s Biden and Sanders.
And so, if you look at what happened last night and look at the rest of our counter, in America we have a goofy system. So, it’s not just how many
votes you get or how many states you win, it’s the delegates that come out of that. And if you — let’s say somebody gets 52 percent of the vote, the
winner and the loser gets 48 percent of the vote. He basically gets the same amount delegates.
But if somebody is winning a state 60 or 65 and their opponent is getting 35 percent or 40 percent, that’s how you win delegates. And if you look at
the states left in American that are going to vote, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, these are southern states with big African-American
populations that Joe Biden is really dominating. And so, if he can execute and continue to perform better on the stump than he did previously, I think
it is his race to lose.
AMANPOUR: So, let’s just also now get down to the nitty-gritty. I wonder why you think all of a sudden people have sort of broken for Biden, so to
speak. Do you think it is because of this — I guess this narrative that we’ve been talking about ever since the campaign began, you know, last
year, that this is a battle not just to beat Donald Trump, but for the soul of the Democratic Party, that there’s the reformer wing, i.e. the moderate
Joe Biden wing, and the revolutionary wing, i.e. the Sanders, Warren wing?
Just — while you’re thinking about it, I want to play two bits of sound from both Biden and Sanders.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are going to defeat Trump because we are putting together an unprecedented grassroots, multi-
generational, multi-racial movement.
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People are talking about a revolution. We started a movement. We’ve increased turnout. And the turnout
has turned out for us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, let’s talk about it then. A, the battle for the soul of the party and the basic raw electability.
PLOUFFE: Right. I don’t know if I would go so far to say battle for the soul of the party. But I think the clips you said defined it. I mean, Biden
and some of the more centrist candidates, left-center candidates in the race have said the most important thing is to beat Trump. And then I think
Sanders and his campaign have been very clear, actually, it’s not enough. We need to both beat Trump and bring about a revolution.
I think what you’re seeing is a majority of voters in the Democratic Party who want to make sure we beat Trump, even some, by the way, who might think
we want a revolution, the thing we have to do is beat Trump.
And so, I think that’s how things are sorting out. And I think that Biden now has — what’s amazing about this, Christiane, is he won yesterday in
really dominating fashion solely on the wings of momentum. He didn’t have much money. He didn’t have much organization in these states. He used his
big win in South Carolina, the endorsements of some of his former rivals. And I think this is important in America and really all around the globe in
It’s always easier to get back vote and support you had that you’ve temporarily lost. So, Biden was getting — as you know, he was the big
national front-runner for the better part of this race until just a few weeks ago. He started underperforming and some of the people who thought
Biden was the most electable and the strongest candidate either moved to undecided or some of them moved to like soft Bloomberg support. Biden has a
few good days, they come back.
I think that’s super important to understand it’s not like the support materialized out of nowhere for Biden. It’s kind of what people wanted to
do in the first place, but they weren’t sure. He wasn’t debating well. He did poorly in the first two states. And like, well, maybe not. And then he
kind of pulled it together. And I think the question is can he keep it pulled together, you know, over the coming weeks.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Well, you just asked a question everyone wants to know now, at least his supporters, can he stay out of his way enough to keep up this
PLOUFFE: Well, he needs to be Joe Biden. I think authenticity is important. Like I don’t think it’s going to pay a big price for gaffes or,
you know, kind of messing up words. But, you know, he didn’t perform super well in debates and even interviews.
You know, I know joe Biden. I’ve helped him prepare for debates. I believe that he is going to perform well because he sees the finish line and he
really wants to face off against Trump. But also, I think he’s going to feel a sense of deep responsibility, both our voters and a lot of elected
officials are throwing all of their chips Joe Biden’s way and he is not going to want to let them down.
So, hopefully, he doesn’t play too tight. But I think — you see even last night. I mean, you know, maybe not quite as sterling as South Carolina, but
a very good speech, consistent. And that’s what we have to see. Short speeches, crisp speeches.
And then the big challenge for him on march 15th is the next debate. And it could end up being a one-on-one debate with Bernie Sanders. And Bernie
Sanders has been a super strong performer and a very strong debater. So, that’s going to really test Joe Biden.
AMANPOUR: I’m going to ask you a little bit more about the primary season. But first, I want to ask you about your book. You know, you’ve written a
book “A Citizen’s Guide to Defeating Donald Trump.” And you just heard Lindsey Graham, who is one of Trump’s biggest backers in the Senate.
Obviously, he was a colleague of Biden’s in the Senate, respects him, likes him as he said. But they believe, I guess, that this would be the toughest
So, do you agree that they need to worry about facing Biden in the general, and how do you prescribe beating Donald Trump?
PLOUFFE: I think it’s been clear from the get-go that Biden was the candidate Trump and his campaign feared most. I mean, you could make the
argument that Trump got impeached because he was so concerned about Biden and trying to derail his candidacy with his, you know, actions around
Ukraine. So, I think so.
So, by the way, for your international viewers, I think there’s things in this book that, you know, are applicable to any election in any country.
But I wrote this book because Trump has such enormous advantages. In this country, he’s got Fox News, he’s got Breitbart, he’s got local televisions
that have been bought by a company called Sinclair. He’s probably going to benefit from interference outside of the U.S. And clearly, Trump will say
anything or do anything to get elected and he’s got a tremendous amount of money and a digital savvy campaign.
So, we don’t have any of that, really, on scale. What we have is people. And so, my book is about you as an average citizen, make sure you’ve done
everything you can do. Registering yourself, registering your friends, going to a battleground state, being a precinct leader. If you’ve deleted
your Facebook account, you need to reactivate it because you got to be creating content and sharing content. It’s going to take all of that.
Because as weak as Trump is in his approval rating, we saw what happened in 2016. In the battleground states, he’s got an advantage and he and his
campaign, I think, are going to do a tremendous job of finding new supporters, registering them and turning them out.
And Trump understands communication in March 2020. It is memes, it is gifs, it is images, it is blunt force communication. He just gets it and his
campaign gets it.
And so, we’ve — my argument in the book is, we will lose if the average American doesn’t pick up their phone, pick up their clipboard, pick up
their phone and get in the fight. More so than I saw in the Obama campaigns. I think we need that kind of citizen activism to reach the kind
of vote numbers we’re going to need to beat Donald Trump.
AMANPOUR: And yet, you have said that — you said it this morning, maybe you were riding on a wave of energy and excitement, but you said it’s ours
to lose. I mean, you’ve just listed all the advantages of an incumbent president, and obviously, if the economy turns around again and starts
performing as it did before the coronavirus, you’ve got that for the president as well.
So — and you heard Lindsey Graham say he still thinks it’s Trump’s to lose. Do you think it’s the Democrats to lose, ours to lose, as you said?
PLOUFFE: With all of those advantages, I still would rather be the Democratic nominee. Here’s why. You just look at the numbers. I think
there’s more than enough people, even if you just look at the currently registered in America, who would vote against Trump. And we need to
register millions more.
So, the challenge for us is executing on that potential. And this is where people come in. What’s the most likely reason a 19-year-old votes who
wasn’t planning to vote? It’s probably nothing our nominee says. It’s, you know, their cousin or sister says, you need to vote.
There’s going to be people all across the country in battleground states wrestling with their vote and it would be great if somebody who has a
neighbor who voted for Trump last time but now decided to vote for a nominee whips out their phone and say, can you speak to me about why you’re
doing that, and you share that on social media.
So, I think raw number-wise I would rather be us. But Republicans get more reliable turnout. Trump is the incumbent, which means he’s better prepared
for this battle than our nominee would be who has just been trying to get the nomination. And I think he’s going to get assistance again, both inside
and outside of this country. So, numbers, rather be us but there’s some realities about the campaign that make our execution more challenging.
AMANPOUR: And you said turnout and voting is more organized on the Republican side. We heard a lot of complaints from people like in Texas
trying to vote that they had to wait hours and hours, like, I don’t know, like seven hours to actually cast their vote and there’s a lot of worry in
the Democratic Party about potential suppression of votes.
But be that as it may, what do you think or do you think that an effective counter to all of these advantages that the incumbent has is the amount of
money that Bloomberg has said he’ll now devote to Biden. As he said, three months ago I entered the race to defeat Donald Trump. Today, I’m leaving
for the same reason. Defeating Trump starts with uniting behind the candidate with the best shot to do it. It is clear that is my friend and a
great American, Joe Biden.
PLOUFFE: Well, let me start on lines and I’m going talk about Bloomberg. So, I think, you know, our claim to be the beacon of democracy is seriously
threatened by Trump. But, you know, we still go all over the world and tell people about the wonders of democracy and people being able to pick their
leaders. And then people around the world see these lines. It’s crazy.
Now, there’s no doubt in states that are controlled by Republicans, they’re trying to make it harder to vote. What really enrages me is there’s places
where Democrats control the machinery and we still have lines of four hours. Like of all of the public policy challenges we have, this is pretty
simple. How many people do you expect to vote, how many machines do you need, how many poll workers do you need, how many locations to minimize
that. It drives me crazy.
Bloomberg, I think, will be a huge help. Now, Bloomberg can’t just give Biden $200 or $$300 million. But he can set up an outside effort that’s
engaged in advertising and registration. I hope that he does. That would be enormously helpful. The other thing Bloomberg has is he hired thousands and
thousands of people. Many of them incredibly talented.
And so, as Biden looks to refurbish his campaign, both for the primary but also to get ready for the general, I think a lot of those really talented
Bloomberg staffers would be the first place I would look. So, Michael Bloomberg can be a really, really important — when we look back on
November 4th and if we have beaten Trump, I think Michael Bloomberg is going to play an important role in that and I hope that he does.
AMANPOUR: Look, I need you, you led me right into asking you, because you talked about even in democratically controlled states why should people be
waiting. Well, look, one of the big ones obviously was Iowa, the caucus. They couldn’t get the counting right and you are, in fact, associated with,
you know, ACRONYM, which is behind shadow, which is the tech company responsible for that app and the debacle there.
I mean, you know, this is not a gotcha question, this is a legitimate question about — because it didn’t — that stuff wasn’t used in Nevada
because of the catastrophe in Iowa. But if you’re trying to compete on every level including technology and digital and all of that, you really do
have to get your act together, right? I mean, what happened to that software?
PLOUFFE: Yes. So, I’m on the board of ACRONYM. I’m a volunteer. I’m volunteering my time. I spend my time helping them to raise money to really
run digital ads and boost local news to reach target swing voters, and that’s where my passion lies because I think we need to do a better job of
that each and every day, making the case for Democrats and against Trump.
ACRONYM invested in a company called Shadow that was contracted by Iowa Democratic Party. So, there was a technology failure. But the failure on
caucuses was much more broad than that. We saw in Nevada it took days to count. And I think what’s happening here is there was a technology problem
in Iowa, so that’s not forgivable. But there was a lot of new data streams that were required, the DNC changed the rules. That overloaded the system.
For folks outside of the U.S., you have to understand a caucus is not run by our state election officials. They’re run by the Democratic Party and
almost all of those caucuses are run by volunteers who have jobs and family obligations. So, you’re requiring them to process huge amounts of new data.
We did see in Iowa that the phone reporting system was jammed up by Trump voters, really trying to screw with the election and that hurt.
So, my suspicion is we had a lot fewer caucuses in our process this time than last time. I would be really surprised if the next time we do this we
have any caucuses at all. So, I think we’re going to — the other thing you’d see last night is in the states that had caucuses in 2016 that moved
to primaries, last night we had states like Minnesota, Colorado, hugely improved turnout.
So, I think what we’ve learned is I think we’ve probably outlived caucuses and, you know, I think we need to run primaries in as many states as we
AMANPOUR: OK. Very quickly, I want to talk now about Democratic unity going forward. Let’s just play this from Bernie Sanders, essentially taking
on Biden. Just have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of us in this race led the opposition to the war in Iraq. You’re looking at him. Another
candidate voted for the war in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: OK. So, that was a refrain that he continued over all sorts of other issues, but the boos are what’s important and it’s what gives people
worry and pause. If Bernie Sanders is not the nominee, will his supporters, whatever he says, will they vote for Biden? We’re also waiting to see what
Elizabeth Warren does. Will she drop out? Will — and when — and if she drops out now, where will she endorse? Will she endorse? These are
important questions going forward now.
PLOUFFE: Right. So, I went through a very tough primary in 2008, the Obama/Clinton primary was much more vicious than this primary. And there
were story after story saying the party wouldn’t come together and Barack Obama got the highest percentage of Democratic vote any president has
gotten in modern history.
So, I am concerned about it. I write about this in my book. Unity just doesn’t happen magically. Now, if Joe Biden is the nominee, let’s say, and
Bernie Sanders is not, I think a healthy majority of the people who voted for Bernie Sanders will decide they’re going to vote for Joe Biden. But you
need all of them or as close as that as you get and you also want their passion and their activism.
So, the winner in this — now, I — or if Sanders is the nominee, like I think Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders will do the right thing. They will
immediately support their opponent and say — urge all their supporters to get involved for the person who beat them because we have to beat Trump.
But you’ve got to work at it, you know, you can’t assume it’s going to happen.
I write in the book that if you’re a local volunteer for the winner of our primary in Michigan, you’ve got to reach out to all the people who work for
other candidates and listen to them and hear them complain and just don’t assume they’re going to get on board. So, I think if we lose to Donald
Trump, that the number one reason I don’t think will be unity, but we better not take it for granted.
PLOUFFE: And we better work super hard. But this primary is probably going to get more tough in the near term than not, because Bernie Sanders knows
now, he’s got to stop Joe Biden’s momentum. Joe Biden wants to, if not seal the win, get close to that. So, it will be tough.
But — and everyone is like, well, Obama will unify the party. Well, Barack Obama I’m sure will do what can be required, but it’s on all of us. And to
understand that it takes time to get over. If you pour your heart and soul into something and the person you believe in loses, you don’t just wake up
the next day and say, you what, I’m good.
PLOUFFE: It takes a little bit of time.
AMANPOUR: Yes. They’ve got to decide what’s the most important goal. David Plouffe, thank you so much indeed for joining us.
PLOUFFE: Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: And now, our next guest is known as a master virus hunter. Dr. W. Ian Lipkin is an infectious disease expert a Columbia University and
he’s fresh out of quarantine after traveling to China where he was studying the coronavirus outbreak. This virus has now infected nearly 94,000 people
around the world with more than 3,000 deaths, and it is far deadlier than the regular flu, so say, World Health officials. And now, Italy has closed
all schools as its death toll reaches 107.
In 2003, Dr. Lipkin helped Chinese authorities combat SARS. He was also an advisor on the film “Contagion,” which was a thriller inspired by
epidemics. And Dr. Lipkin has been speaking to our Walter Isaacson about all of this.
WALTER ISAACSON: Dr. Lipkin, thank you for joining us. You’ve just come back from China. You’re a great virus hunter, famous. You’ve been
over there ever since 2003 where you were working with the epidemic then. What did you see on this last trip to China?
W. IAN LIPKIN, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTION AND IMMUNITY, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: It’s quite similar to what I saw in 2003. You have deserted
streets, stores are vacant, restaurants are vacant, a lot of concern about transmission in the streets. People wearing masks everywhere. So, that was
really quite similar.
Of course, China is different in 2020 than it was in 2003. It’s far better developed. So, you know, the streets that used to be bicycles and so on are
now filled with — you know, they’re all filled with cars. Except in this case, since the last time I was there, there were no cars at all.
ISAACSON: The SARS virus you were looking at in 2003, how similar is that to the coronavirus?
LIPKIN: So, they’re both coronaviruses. There have actually been three major coronaviruses that we’ve encountered as humans. The first, of course,
was SARS in 2003 and then we had MERS in Saudi Arabia. I was involved in that outbreak as well and spent a lot of time in the kingdom. And then more
recently now, this new SARS-CoV-2. So, they’re very similar, particularly the two SARS coronaviruses.
ISAACSON: And what is a coronavirus exactly? Does that mean it just has low crowns on the protein shell?
LIPKIN: Yes. So, most people don’t know what viruses are. So, it’s probably good to start with that. So, people talk about microbes or bugs or
what have you, and that they lump everything together. So, we’ve got — we have fungi, we have bacteria and we have viruses.
So, fungi are multi-cellular organisms and they have complex structures. Bacteria have the ability to grow on surfaces. They have everything they
need in the way of collection of nutrients, ways to metabolize nutrients. Viruses, in contrast, are just pieces of genetic materials. They are
obligate intracellular parasites. So, they have to get inside of a cell. They have to subvert the cell’s own machinery so they can reproduce
themselves and go through their life cycle.
ISAACSON: So, in other words, it’s just simply a piece of DNA or RNA encoded in a little sort of case of protein?
LIPKIN: A little protein shell, yes.
ISAACSON: And they’re not really living organisms?
LIPKIN: They’re not living organisms, although many people think of them in those terms, and they have morphology. So, you know, we take typically
Greek terms, but sometimes not to give them names. So, there are viruses called arenavirus. Arena mean Sam, like the arena in the coliseum, and they
have a sort sandy appearance under electron microscopy.
And coronaviruses have a shell of protein and there are little spikes of sugar that stick out that look like a crown.
ISAACSON: Why do they have the spikes of sugar?
LIPKIN: Those spikes of sugar are important for attaching to the cells that they subsequently infect.
ISAACSON: You just came back from China where you were studying this and you quarantined yourself for 14 days and Columbia University encouraged you
to do so. Why did you do that? Where did you do it? What was it like?
ISAACSON: So, this is the second time that I’ve been isolated after returning from China. The first time was in 2003. When I came back in May
and I was participating in a meeting. That there wasn’t any requirement, at that point, that I immediately go into isolation, but I was leading this
meeting over the phone, because I knew I wasn’t feeling quite well. I started coughing.
And I got a call from New York City Department of Health who said, we know you’re homing in but we’re just reinforcing the fact that you are not, you
know, going back to work for at least another seven days.
So, that was a 10-day isolation period. So, when I was planning to come back from China, I heard from my university, I spoke with various other
people about what the current thoughts were and the guidelines were that the maximum incubation period at that point was thought to be 14 days. So,
the idea, therefore, is if you get exposed to the virus and you wait 14 days and you don’t develop signs of disease, then you’re not going to
develop disease and you’re not going to be capable of transmitting the virus.
Now, this is probably strictly speaking not true, because we now know that there are people who can shed virus without developing signs of disease.
But because I have a lab that does diagnostics, we took it one step further. So, for the last three days and at the beginning of my time in
isolation, we checked nasal pharyngeal swabs using a very sensitive molecular test to see whether or not I had any virus infection, and I
ISAACSON: Walk me through what happens when a coronavirus infects a person. It gets into a cell, It starts replicating itself. Tell me how that
LIPKIN: It gets into a cell, it releases its payload, it reproduces the genetic material. That genetic material is assembled inside of a protein
code using the machinery of the cell. It exits the cell, acquires an envelope, which is a cloak. It gets that characteristic appearance that we
were talking about that looks, you know, crown like. That then attaches to another cell. The whole process repeats.
In addition, this virus has the capacity to fuse cells. So, it can actually move from one cell to another without going through this extra cellular
ISAACSON: So, that makes it a little bit faster?
LIPKIN: Makes it — it can make it even faster. And what it does then, in addition to damaging the airways directly, it induces immune responses.
Those immune responses can be toxic. So, the one, which is basically a very thin layer of cells for gas exchange, so oxygen comes in and CO2 goes out,
accumulates fluid, gets thicker, gets less pliable. The gas exchange becomes a problem.
In addition, because you’ve got this infection, your body mounts an immune response and there are all sorts of proteins called cytokines that begin to
circulate that cause damage in their own right.
ISAACSON: And when do I begin feeling something in this process?
LIPKIN: Well, people vary. Some people don’t feel anything. People have localized infection in the upper airways, they never progress to have
pneumonia. It really is a question of how strong your immune system is, whether or not you have underlying lung disease or some other problem like
cancer or diabetes that might impede the ability of the immune system to have an impact.
And in other viral infections, not this one because we haven’t seen this one in the past, although SARS, interestingly, if you saw SARS you might
have some protection. It’s not clear yet how people are protected, if they’ve seen a previous coronavirus infection. But in some of these
infections, you just have a very, very mild disease.
ISAACSON: Now that the coronavirus is here in the United States, what should we be doing?
LIPKIN: So, because we don’t have a vaccine, the only thing we really have is those kinds of things which are practical and, frankly, should be
obvious. You’re inside of a public conveyance, do you really want to hold on with your bear hand onto a strap in a subway or bus, whatever, probably
not. I wear a glove when I use the subway. Things that people don’t think about as being contaminated like the, you know, remote control when you go
to a hotel. These things are never cleaned up. When I fly, I wipe down all surfaces.
ISAACSON: Do you wipe it with alcohol or does alcohol kill viruses?
LIPKIN: I do. I wipe it down with alcohol.
ISAACSON: What about a chlorine product?
LIPKIN: Well, a chlorine product would work too but it’s quite smelly and it would also bleach out whatever you touch.
ISAACSON: Let’s say a Purell or a hand san that’s alcohol based —
LIPKIN: Any one of those —
ISAACSON: — tends to work against coronavirus?
LIPKIN: 60 percent to 70 percent alcohol works. And, you know, is it 100 percent? No, nothing is 100 percent. So, what we’re talking about here is
mitigation. That’s what it’s all about. It’s all about mitigation until such time as we have some sort of definitive approach to deal with this.
ISAACSON: You’re also an adviser to the movie “Contagion,” which is — people should watch. It’s somewhat relevant to today. Tell me your thought.
Should we be shaking hands these days? What should we be doing?
LIPKIN: Right now, all we really have is social distancing. It’s not full isolation, but we find ways in which we minimize certain types of contact.
In that film, there’s a scene where the son of a CDC, you know, maintenance worker gets his vaccine. And Laurence Fishburne is having a conversation
with this youngster and they go to shake hands and he says, you ever know where this came from? And the idea was, you know, in the Middle Ages, this
is the way you showed that your sword arm was encumbered, and you didn’t have to worry, right?
So this, unfortunately, means now that we — this is a potential threat. Why? Because people are continually touching their face. They’re putting
their hands in their nose, their mouth, other mucus membranes.
So, not only do I carry what’s down here to myself, and inoculate myself, but I then inoculate you. So, some of these things we do, which are part of
our social mores, I think we’re going to have to forego for a while.
ISAACSON: So, in other words, you’re saying, in an age of pandemics, and especially viral ones, we should just quit shaking hands?
LIPKIN: We quit — well, here’s the thing I do. So, I do this.
ISAACSON: All right.
LIPKIN: That works fine.
ISAACSON: OK, cool.
LIPKIN: You know, if you want to shake hands. Otherwise, I think a fist bump or an elbow bump or simply, “Namaste,” whatever you want to do,
probably a safer approach.
ISAACSON: How does this movie end?
LIPKIN: In “Contagion,” as you know, it ended with a vaccine.
Now, I don’t think that this virus is ever going to disappear completely. I hope I’m wrong. I think it’s with us to stay. It would not surprise me if a
substantial proportion of the world’s population ultimately became infected with this virus.
And, as new children come into the world, they’re going to be susceptible. We have seen this with MERS coronavirus and camels. frankly, they’re not
that different than humans. I mean, we’re all animals.
As new populations come in and can be infected, this is a challenge, just like with measles. Do I think we’re going to lose the equivalent of the
number of people we lost during the 1918 flu pandemic? No. That was a very different era.
It’s true that more people may become exposed more rapidly with this virus. But we have antibiotics to treat secondary infections. We understand more
about how viruses are transmitted, and we will have a vaccine.
And I’m confident that, working together, pulling the world together in this fashion, and sharing information and sharing technologies, we will get
to a vaccine in less than a year. We must get to a vaccine less than a year.
ISAACSON: Do you think, in some ways, there’s a good to come out of this, which is the sharing of information, in some ways making information go
viral for a good cause, and that this will bring the world or our country together in these troubled times?
LIPKIN: There are number of silver linings to this cloud.
One, I think you have already alluded to. I think it’s an opportunity for us to rally together behind science and politicians and others who need to
work together for a common purpose.
The other thing is that, internationally, we have an opportunity to realize the original goals of the international health regulations that were signed
by every single nation-state in the United Nations back in 2005.
And the precepts there were, every nation should be able to diagnose disease within its own borders, and everyone should be transparent in
sharing those data.
In 2003, China was incapable of doing what they did recently. They couldn’t have solved these problems. They solved them. And they have shared us data
in as close to real time as possible. It’s been challenging to really follow the outbreak because the diagnostic methods have changed.
So you want to know that you’re comparing comparable data from day to day. But if they were not being transparent, they would have told us the numbers
were going down long before they did. Everyone knows that there’s no way to contain this kind of information anymore.
You have to be transparent. So, that also is good. And we have a program which we’re trying to build that includes various developing nations
globally called GIDEON. The idea there is that we’re going to share data. We do this in peacetime. We do this in wartime, so that, when there’s a
challenge, everybody has the infrastructure and the trust to be able to move forward collaboratively.
This is absolutely critical. And the last thing I would say on that topic has to do with the wild animal markets. The — this virus came from
wildlife. It was not a biological weapon. It was not something that was inadvertently released by somebody who was developing biological weapons.
This thing came from nature. And how did it come from nature? Because a wide range of things. And I will mention climate change here, because it’s
With climate change, we’re seeing more and more people who are having food insecurity who are eating wildlife. You’re finding more mosquito-borne
diseases. With the changes in temperature, certain types of mosquitoes, which were formerly restricted to the Tropics, are now moving up into
So you’re seeing malaria moving further north. You’re seeing Zika. So it’s been one thing after another. We have to address these things. The easiest
thing to do that I have been pushing since 2003, and the Chinese government is now pushing this forward, is, they’re going to be eliminating these wild
animal markets, no more pangolins, no more civets.
We’re not — no more bats. And it’s not just China. This is all over Asia. It’s all over Africa. And, frankly, we have done some work at JFK, where we
have found people bringing in wild animals. And it’s — so, finger-pointing is not productive.
We all need to stop this.
ISAACSON: And what can you and others in the scientific community do to make sure that, if there’s a vaccine, it’ll be affordable for people in the
United States, but also for people around the world?
LIPKIN: So, I try to speak as loudly on this point as I can. And I come on programs like this one. And I stress the point.
I say, look, there are two reasons to do this. Number one, it’s the right thing to do. But even if you don’t believe it’s the right thing to do, even
if you view it from a selfish motive, you want to keep it contained.
You don’t want it to come to threaten you in your backyard. And I had a conversation last night with a very, very wealthy individual. And we were
talking about the fact that some of the people I know who have resources are building bunkers.
And this guy said to me, I don’t believe in bunkers. And I said, good for you, because there is no bunker. There’s no way you can build a wall around
the United States and keep this virus out.
ISAACSON: Dr. Lipkin, thank you for being with us.
AMANPOUR: We will get it somehow, this, this, this, but not this for the moment, and not that.
Now we go back in history, but is — this case, to a history that never was. “The Plot Against America,” a new HBO series based on a novel by
Philip Roth, reimagines the past and what it would have looked like if President Roosevelt didn’t win the election in 1940, but aviator Charles
Lindbergh is famous for his transatlantic flight. But what’s lesser known are his views on politics. Before Trump’s America first, Charles Lindbergh
represented America First, the powerful isolationist organization.
Lindbergh was pro-Germany and was denounced by many as anti-Semitic. Take a look at this clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA”)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Lindbergh is not an anti-Semitic.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Like hell he’s not.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: What is a fascist?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: The fascists don’t like Jews.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Why?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Because we’re Jews.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: What is our luggage doing here?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: There are no vacancies. Take your bags and your family and leave.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Do you have any idea what’s at stake in this coming election?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: David Simon, famous for “The Wire,” is also the creator of “The Plot Against America.”
And he joined me to talk about this new series and his take on the 2020 election.
AMANPOUR: David Simon, welcome to the program.
DAVID SIMON, CREATOR, “THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA”: Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: This “Plot Against America,” your adaptation for HBO, is obviously from the Philip Roth book of the same title.
It’s sort of a warning tale. And I don’t know how much of what you have committed your creativity to here sort of collides with real-life politics
in the United States right now.
I mean, you imagine the year 1940, presidential election. The then aviator hero Charles Lindbergh, anti-Semitic white nationalist, wins the presidency
SIMON: Yes, I would like to take credit for having some perception on the novel and that it’s this vehicle, this prescient vehicle to explain our
current political moment.
But, strangely, in 2004, Philip Roth, one of our great novelists, he wrote this alternate history through the eyes of his family in New Jersey. And it
just sings as an allegory for our time. With every page, if you turn it and just read, it’s sort of astonishing how close he captured this political
moment in America.
AMANPOUR: And, of course, when he did, it was the political movement that came after 9/11, when that just overwhelmed the creative, the journalists,
the political. I mean, just every sphere, it just overwhelmed it.
What was Philip Roth saying? Because he chose anti-Semitism as, you know, his vehicle. Do you still see it as an anti-Semitic warning, or is it about
the, I guess, post-9/11, you know, others, minorities who have been targeted?
SIMON: That’s exactly right.
He was looking at it in the context of his political moment, which was 2004. But it still applies, because these themes in America, our
susceptibility to the demagoguery of nationalism, to the idea of the immigrant horde as the dangerous other, the populist — the cohort that
will not become Americans, as we need them to become Americans, they can’t be trusted, whose loyalty can be questioned.
Roth was using the vulnerable group in 1940, which was Jewish Americans, whose loyalty was being challenged by the America Firsters and the German
American Bund and Lindbergh. He was using that group to tell the tale.
But, right now, the people who are vulnerable, who are most vulnerable in America right now, are people of black and brown skins and Muslims. And
while there is an increase in anti-Semitism — that train is never late whenever intolerance gets going — the fundamental human rights affronts
right now are to others.
And that was true after 9/11. And I think, in a basic way, Roth was using his own childhood and his own memories of anti-Semitism in the pre-war
years to drive the lesson home.
AMANPOUR: So, let’s play the clip that we have.
And, again, it’s discussing the idea of whether Lindbergh could be president, could run against FDR. Let’s just play this clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA”)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: This with Lindbergh, he’s giving permission. He’s a goddamn hero. So, if he says it, every anti-Semite has permission. The Lone
Eagle, he flew across the ocean. He wouldn’t lie. He’s a great American.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: These papers and the radio guys, they all lap it up.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Well, they lap it up because it’s Lindbergh.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: .. says it or even Henry Ford, they argue back.
No one will go after lucky Lindbergh.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Is he going to run for president?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Against Roosevelt? He would be a putz.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: He’s a hero, as you said.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: A hero.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: There’s no way.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: A hero now, but if the Republicans run him against Roosevelt, after all he did to get us out of this Depression–
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Who says we’re out of it?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Worst is over.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Says you. A lot of people still aren’t earning what they once did.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I know plenty still out of work. People aren’t patient, not with Roosevelt, now with anybody.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: And no one wants another war.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: That’s for sure.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Roosevelt is a professional politician, a leader. Lindy is an airplane pilot with opinions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: There’s a lot to unpack there, but, boy, it says it all.
So, let’s just take the — on the first level. Here is Lindy, as they call him, this bona fide hero, also anti-Semitic, also American Firster. Does
this come straight out of the book, or do you have some creative license when you’re writing?
SIMON: A little of both.
But this is the genuine premise of the book, is that Lindbergh’s heroism was in 1940 unrivaled in America. He was probably our greatest standing
In my own family, my father, who was 7 years old and growing up in Jersey City, New Jersey, one of his earliest memories was of his father, my
grandfather, taking him across the river in the tube train to Lower Manhattan see Lindy come down Broadway in the ticker tape parade after his
That’s my father’s earliest memory, and Lindbergh was established in his child’s mind as the greatest hero ever.
Nineteen years later, he was a student at NYU, and Lindbergh had become a great villain in the lives of anybody who is Jewish and American because of
very overt questioning of the loyalty of Jewish citizens and the marginalization of people who didn’t think as he did and were not his co-
religionists or were just a little less American than what he perceived.
And the thing that is probably distinctive about that historical moment is that he was that hero.
When I met with Philip Roth, he was very careful to notice the difference between Lindbergh and Mr. Trump, which is to say, Lindbergh had done these
things. He had flown the Atlantic. He had been a hero. He was boyish and charming and self-effacing and he had a cowlick. There was a lot of charm
He — Roth was astonished, to be blunt, with the fact that Donald Trump had managed to metastasize the same fears of the other, the same xenophobia,
the same implications of race and racism without the heroism, without the magnetism, just on the provocation alone, just on the language alone.
He was even more distressed than in the scenario that he wrote about in the book.
AMANPOUR: So, I just want to quote precisely that, because, you know, you’re talking about it, and it’s important to hear what Philip Roth said
Again, he wrote the book, which came out in ’04. And in 2017, a full year after — well, shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration, he said: “It is
easier to comprehend the election of an imaginary president than Charles Lindbergh than an actual president like Donald Trump. Lindbergh, despite
his Nazi sympathies and racist proclivities, was a great aviation hero, who had displayed tremendous physical courage and aeronautical genius in
crossing the Atlantic in 1927. Trump is just a con artist.”
So, I understand what you’re saying and what he said.
But, for me, I’m like, seriously? Really? Wasn’t Lindbergh, because of his times, because of the enormous stakes, so much more dangerous than Donald
Trump, I mean, you know, threatening the Jews, threatening, I guess, Americans who wanted to join the fight against Nazism?
SIMON: I mean, I think this is a recurrent theme in American life, and it’s easily metastasized by any political demagogue, going back to the
1840s and the Know Nothings, or even from the left. I mean, it’s not a right-left thing. Huey Long on the left, that was a dry run at fascism in
its own way.
The idea of championing a more pure form of Americanism and demonizing whatever the current immigrant wave is, that train is never late, and it
works as effective political fodder to gain power.
I don’t think — I don’t think Lindbergh was at all anyone you could consider anything other than a great threat in his moment. The Republicans
in 1940 very much tried to solicit him to take the nomination, and Roosevelt was very worried about that premise.
Obviously, in retrospect, after Pearl Harbor and going forward, Lindbergh had effectively impaled himself on isolationism and xenophobia and anti-
But, at the moment, yes, he was incredibly dangerous. But that’s not to deny that, in this current administration, power has been maintained and
consolidated through the othering of immigrants and people who are different than some sort of normative white version of American citizenry.
AMANPOUR: So, let’s just — because you say that, let us just put it into actual facts and figures.
Because the book is set in New Jersey, we found this latest study from the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. Their 2020
terrorism threat assessment says: “Highest is home-grown violent extremists and white supremacist extremists.”
So, again, it’s almost like your, I guess, fiction, your alternative reality, is colliding with reality.
SIMON: There are so many moments in Roth’s book where I read a page, and I would think about what happened at the airports, the mayhem at the airports
in the aftermath of the inauguration, when even American citizens were having their passports regarded as insufficient to guarantee their civil
liberties, or what’s happening at the southern border right now in terms of family separation.
You look at the programming and the raw manipulation of civil liberties that Roth depicts in the book, and they are — they compare almost
precisely. It’s really an astonishing thing that he did, because he’s not known as a political essayist.
I mean, he is — he was one of our great novelists, but he — the interior, character and dialogue, there are things that Roth was brilliant at. The
idea that he would have written one of the great American dystopian warning tracks is pretty remarkable.
AMANPOUR: And let’s just go back to your own life.
Obviously, you have had a remarkable success and a remarkable career, which started in journalism, but also your work has become seminal for our times,
“The Wire,” “The Deuce,” and many of the other series.
But I want to read this little thing.
SIMON: You sound as if — it sounds as if I actually have an audience. I like it.
AMANPOUR: Do you not?
SIMON: Nobody actually watches the shows, but thank you.
AMANPOUR: Are you kidding me?
SIMON: No, they get to them years later. It’s very funny.
AMANPOUR: So, should I not have you on this program, David Simon? Now, now.
SIMON: You’re only trying to help. You’re only trying to help.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me say, because I like the journalism bit, of course.
You were a journalist in Baltimore and — at “The Sun.”
And you basically say about your current work: “Journalism gave me a kind of exoskeleton for maneuvering through the world. Even when you didn’t know
the answer to questions, people opened up and you acquired their lives. So, everything I learned, including servicing my ear about how people talk and
how they behave and how they rationalize, came out of the newspaper.”
So I think that’s really an interesting way to describe it. We have talked about the current work, “The Plot Against America,” but “The Wire,” which
was a forensic exploration of your own city, Baltimore, just tell us how it applied there.
SIMON: I think what I was trying to say, in maybe a little too many words, was that journalism helped me get out of myself and out of my own sense of
the integrity of any own narrative.
I got dropped into a city, not my own, not where I grew up. I was a white police reporter working night shift in a city that was majority black. And
I was acquiring a different America than the one that I had been raised in.
And it was a great gift. And it applies in sort of every moment that ever came after, which is that, everywhere you go — I mean, I have done a piece
on war, “Generation Kill,” with Recon Marines. Or I have done stuff on culture and the multipluralism of the city in “Treme.”
I’m not — I don’t move in these worlds normally of musicians or Recon Marines or politicians, housing officials in Yonkers.
But I always get to approach them with the same idea of, there’s an interior dialectic, there’s an interior wit, there’s an interior ethos to
these people that do live there. Now let’s go get it.
And that’s the scavenger hunt of journalism that I think applies anywhere. It applies to this new place where I make a living, which is the
entertainment industry. If I want to do this kind of storytelling, I sort of approach the beginning of it like the reporter who doesn’t know what he
doesn’t know, and let’s go talk to people.
AMANPOUR: Which is probably why it resonates so much.
And just to say, Wendell Pierce, who played one of the main characters in “The Wire,” the main cop characters, has just been nominated for an Olivier
theatrical award here. It’s the highest award you can get, because–
SIMON: Yes, for “Death of a Salesman.”
AMANPOUR: Exactly, yes, Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.”
That must warm your heart as well.
SIMON: Oh, yes.
Well, Wendell is — he is a brother in arms at this point. And I feel like — you know, I used to joke that I would cast him in anything, you know?
And I used to joke about like, I’m working on a restoration comedy, and Wendell is going to take the lead.
But it wasn’t much of a joke. His range is that much, and it’s a delight to see him honored that way.
AMANPOUR: Yes. No, it’s great. We had the pleasure of interviewing him as well when he started the play.
You have talked about “The Plot Against America ” somewhat being, like Philip Roth said, sort of about a fork in the road.
So, we’re kind of at a fork in the road now in 2020 with this election, within the Democratic Party, and between the Democrats and the Republican
candidate, who is the sitting president.
What’s the fork in the road for you at the moment?
SIMON: I’m looking at the affront to democratic norms — or, I should say, the norms of the republic, the standards by which we govern ourselves,
because, to quote a conservative politician with whom I don’t agree on every score, but who can certainly be clever with a quote, Churchill, a
Tory, said: “Democracy was the worst form of government, until you have considered all the alternatives.”
And that’s fairly precise.
My father had something he used to say every year at Passover, at our family gathering on Passover. He would say that — and I’m sure he stole
the quote well from someone. He said that democracy can never be and freedom can never be completely won.
It’s a quotidian struggle. Every day, you have to skill some snakes. You have to go out the next day, kill some more snakes. It’s never perfected.
It’s never completely achieved. It’s exhausting. It is the most aggressively ornate way of doing business in terms of self-governance or
governance as a whole that you could ever endeavor to attempt.
And at the same time, freedom and democracy can be lost, and definitively so. And I do think we’re in one of those moments where I don’t — I really
don’t care where you are on the political spectrum. If you’re no longer committed to the norms of self-governance and the idea of a pluralistic
society, that says it all.
And the fact that there are so many people who have embraced the short-term gains of this administration, and are willing to look the other way at
these incredible affronts to our institutions and our governing standards for behavior, that’s the part that scares the hell out of me. And it does.
AMANPOUR: Well, this work is pretty scary as well, “The Plot Against America.” It’s a great time for it to be hitting our screens.
David Simon, thank you so much indeed.
SIMON: Thank you. I really appreciate the attention.
AMANPOUR: And, indeed, it does hit our screens on March 16. It’s a special six-part series. That is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can follow me and the show on Twitter. Thanks for watching “Amanpour and Company” on PBS and join us again tomorrow night.