Live from Music Row, Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti to the newsmaker line to discuss the amicus brief filed against Chinese-owned TikTok and the possibility of litigation that could outlaw its platform in the state.
Leahy: On the newsmaker line right now, our good friend and, I think the very best state attorney general in the country, Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti. Good morning General Skrmetti.
Skrmetti: Good morning. How are you?
Gulbransen: Good morning.
Leahy: We’re glad to have you on, and I know you’re traveling and doing a lot of work around the state. Our lead story at The Tennessee Star. You are leading 46 states to demand that China-based TikTok comply with your multi-state investigation. You’ve asked for records, and they’re not providing them. Tell us about that.
Skrmetti: In any of these big multi-state investigations, we send out investigative requests using some legal tools we have, and in every other case, even when they don’t like it, companies send us the information to send us. In this case, TikTok has sent us almost nothing.
They have taken steps to ensure that evidence is being destroyed as far as we can tell. And what they have given us, they’ve provided it in a format you can’t understand. It looks like it was deliberately made to be unreadable. They have been abstracting in ways that I haven’t seen this from a legitimate business.
Leahy: They’re Chinese owned, and they also have confirmed that TikTok they have not disabled a feature on its internal communication platform that allows the automatic deletion of messages within seven days. According to your own office, why are they such scofflaws toward the duly authorized attorneys general in the United States?
Skrmetti: It’s incredible. When you have all the attorneys general working together as you have here, which is a pretty rare occurrence, that’s a serious signal to a corporation, that they’re under significant scrutiny and that this is a serious investigation.
And every other time that I’ve seen this, even where companies fought tooth and nail and disagreed vigorously with every theory we had about why they were liable, they still produced what they needed to produce, and they still preserved what they needed to preserve.
TikTok is an extreme outlier in my experience, and that’s why we went to the court. Ordinarily, you can resolve these with some conversations, and everybody understands that at the end of the day, they’re going to have to produce what they have to produce, and they grudgingly go along with it.
I think the fact that you have so many states signing onto a brief in a Tennessee state court, which is very unusual, is a strong signal here that this is not an everyday occurrence.
Leahy: Usually, when you see other attorneys general file an amicus brief, it’s usually in cases in federal court. And so you’ve gone to Tennessee state court, they’re joining with the amicus brief to get this information from Chinese-owned TikTok.
The issue here is that they’re collecting data on Americans and may not have the best of intentions for that. A very unusual situation. Where does this whole investigation go now that you’ve asked the court to tell them to produce these documents?
Skrmetti: The court will want them to produce the documents. We’re going to get the documents. Working hard on this for quite some time. Kids have been consulting birds looking at the impact of social media on kids, looking at what exactly it is the company does that’s causing problems.
What we need is transparency with respect to each specific company we’re looking at. And I expect we will likely file a lawsuit. The evidence we get is consistent with what we think we’ll get. And plus the company. Want to resolve this reasonably upfront; we are going to pursue this as far as necessary to protect our kids.
Leahy: This is my personal view, not your view, but my personal view is a TikTok is a tool of the Chinese Communist Party to obtain information about American citizens that they’re going to use in a way that harms our national security.
My personal feeling is that TikTok should be banned from the United States of America. Do you think that is an outcome that might result from some of your investigative work here and your litigation?
Skrmetti: I know we’re not the only ones looking at TikTok. I know that proposals at the federal level of various things. I also know that there’s a provision of Tennessee law that if a company’s behavior is sufficiently egregious, it allows me to ask a court to ban that company from ever doing business in Tennessee again.
And depending on the severity of the conduct in a given case, that may be appropriate. So we’re considering all options. I have a great team working on this nationally. We have a great team working on this from all the different states teaming up. We’re bringing our big guns to this fight.
Leahy: It seems to me then, if we were working towards a path where you as the attorney general of Tennessee could, in essence, bring litigation that would ban TikTok from operating in the state of Tennessee what would happen in the other states? In the United States, if that were the outcome that this ends up having?
Skrmetti: Each state has its own law, its own remedies, and its own lawsuits. And I don’t know whether other states have that capability or not. I suspect many of them do. I’ve never seen that invoked against a significant business interest. Usually, it’s reserved for your little fly-by-night scammers.
So I really don’t know what that world would look like. We’re so early. It’s really hard to predict exactly how that will play out. I just know that we have seen significant harm to kids. It’s all been nationally reported.
If you look at the mental health statistics, we are going to use every tool at our disposal, and I’m gonna use every tool at my disposal to protect our kids. So if that includes pulling out that, that hasn’t really been used we’ll do that. Good thing.
Leahy: Now, personally, this is me talking, not you personally. I’m all in favor of that. You said that this is something in Tennessee that’s been used to stop fly-by-night scammers.
My view on TikTok is that they have used this entertainment angle to become an international, fly-by-night scammer harming the national security of the United States and the welfare of children in America.
Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Live from Music Row Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Michael Patrick Leahy welcomed MNPS District Six School Board Member Fran Bush to the studio to discuss the vicious attacks she received via Facebook for advocating that students return to in-person schooling in Metro Nashville Public Schools.
Leahy: We have a treat today. We are in the studio with our very good friend Metro Nashville Public School Board member Fran Bush. Good morning Fran.
Bush: Good morning. Good morning, everybody.
Leahy: You know and we’re so nice here Fran. We’re always nice in our dialogue. You have had a very interesting time since last you were in here in studio. You have the temerity to simply express your view in a social media exchange with a member of the Metro Nashville Public School teachers union. And as I recall it the Metro Nashville Public School teacher person whose name I forget right now had put a little post on Facebook and said, you know, we’re not going back until we’re all vaccinated. It was saying if something like that, right?
Bush: Yes. First and foremost I don’t fight on Facebook. That’s almost vicious right? It’s almost like death. Her name is Amanda Kail.
Leahy: Hello Amanda. You are welcome to come in and chat with us, Amanda.
Bush: Yes. Absolutely.
Leahy: Metro Nashville Education Association president.
Bush: Yes. MNEA.
Leahy: The teachers union.
Bush: So she made this post just complaining, always complaining about going back to school and all the fear that she would put into teachers. And it was working. Not for all teachers. The union I think makes up only 30 percent here in Nashville. So the majority of our teachers are not a part of the union but it was very interesting to see her post because that’s what her mission has been all along is to keep these students at home.
Leahy: At home. The idea is it’s not 105 percent safe for teachers and therefore until it’s 105 percent safe the teachers shouldn’t go in. I guess that’s her argument.
Bush: Her argument was that we were going to use teachers as lab rats or experiments. It was a constant opportunity to keep that type of tension going.
Leahy: That negative attack. I’ve looked at all the reports and the science. I’m not a scientist. I don’t play one on the radio. But of all of the evidence that I’ve seen says that children don’t really spread the coronavirus.
Bush: Yes, absolutely. And that’s where the misconception comes because we were not following the science. Doctors and epidemiologists have said kids are safer in school and that schools are not super spreaders. And that is proven science. The AP and the CDC and everyone have come to say that. But Nashville, being in a position that we’re in with a city that’s open for business as usual but yet our schools were closed.
Leahy: We have some clips here from some parents talking about all of the negative psychological effects of this on the students. Suicides up across the country. The developmental problems. So it’s not really serving the students to be out of class. You’ve made that argument here back in October when you were in the studio here. So tell us us what happened after you responded? What did you exactly respond on Facebook? And when did you respond of what was the result of all that?
Bush: Because of all the complaining I just at that point. I just said, if you don’t like your day job then find another job.
Leahy: Let me just stop for a moment. This is something that we’ve set here on this program many time. All of our listeners are thinking, yeah, if you don’t like your day job, quit. That’s not an insult. That is not insulting. It’s just a statement of okay, here are your options. What happened? What happened next Fran Bush?
Bush: After that, I did end it by saying, girl by because I was tired of going back and forth with her. And what I noticed through the whole thread is that as I was being attacked…
Leahy: So you immediately got attacked.
Bush: Oh, yeah. It just went viral.
Leahy: Were they nice argumentative attacks? Were they mean and vicious?
Bush: They were offending parents saying we’re not babysitters. You need to do your jobs. And it was just so offensive to parents. Children have equal opportunity access to education, right? I mean you say those types of words and then I on the other hand am thinking, do we really want these teachers in front of our students if they feel this way? And so it started becoming really concerning to me thinking, I wouldn’t want my child in front of that teacher because you’re really despising what you do every day that you went to school for. This is education, you know exactly what it pays. I was shocked. I was totally shocked about it.
Leahy: So how many Facebook comments of a negative nature did the teachers union folks send your way?
Bush: Well, it was a combination of I would say over 700 comments or even more. I stopped listening. (Leahy chuckles) I stopped reading them because they were so vicious. It was almost like I stepped in a wasp nest and they were coming after me.
Leahy: And the arguments were based on facts and science of course.
Bush: They were just personal attacks. They said I was bullying.
Leahy: You are just so mean Fran. You are just so mean. (Chuckles)
Bush: Of course I am the most compassionate yet firm on my beliefs. This is about the children. And at this point children are suffering. And every time I would put it out there and say what about this? We have 25,000 truant kids and kids with mental health risks. Anything that I put out there that was a risk they didn’t like.
Leahy: Any fact they didn’t like. They just wanted to attack you because you had a different point of view and you just happen to be a member of the Metro Nashville Public School Board. But they don’t care about that.
(Virginia Mom clip plays)
Leahy: A story by Fox 17 by Dennis Ferrier. I’ll read this for you Fran. The fight to get Metro Nashville Public School students back to in-person learning has been led by an Antioch mother of five. School Board member Fran Bush has gone head-to-head with the teachers union, other board members, and Metro Nashville Public School Director. Dr. Adrian Battle doesn’t believe that virtual school is destroying children’s lives. Well, that mom in Virginia Fran says that virtual school is destroying kids’ lives. What have you heard from parents in your District here in Nashville?
Bush: So not just in my district. My district is a very large district, but across this county I have heard multiple multiple concerns from parents that are over virtual learning. They know that it is not a good space and place for their kids. And just like the mother said it’s isolation. Mental illness has gone up so much.
The hotlines don’t stop ringing now. And we have social, emotional, and learning loss. We have isolation like she mentioned. Social skills have gone down so much. I mean kids are not even being able to socialize with their friends or be in a space and place that you and I are. You know we get out and we do what we do every day. And just imagine these children that are in their rooms all day and on the computer. And of course, the amount of screen time has destroyed these children. Virtual learning only should have been in place or should be in place temporarily. Not long term.
Leahy: Yeah, very very temporary. Our top story at The Tennessee Star today by Corrine Murdock. Around 25K Truant and 6K Transferred Students, Metro Nashville Public Schools Announces, It Will Resume In-Person Learning. And it’s a phased program, isn’t it? All kids won’t be back until March the 4th. What do you think of the progress or lack thereof from Metro Public Schools on this?
Bush: There’s been a lot of concerns in the lack of planning. We should have been planning last summer. We have had experts that have served on the task force committee to get our students back in the classroom. And unfortunately, they were all ignored by top epidemic epidemiologists.
Leahy: They were ignored by whom? By Dr. Adrian Battle and by the other school board members? Who ignored them?
Bush: Dr. Battle. She was on the task force along with Alex Jahangir, Mayor Cooper, and others. We did have an epidemiologist expert Kathryn Edwards who is a Vanderbilt Medical Center top epidemiologist. She’s not only recognized in this city, but across this country and she highly recommended that protocols be put in place to have these students back in the classroom.
Leahy: Sooner. Like immediately. Yes, and she was completely ignored.
Leahy: By Dr. Battle. What is Dr. Battle’s problem with ignoring the science? Why is she ignoring the science?
Bush: She surrounded herself with people that were less likely to have the expertise but felt I guess confident that the relationship that she built that she felt that she could believe or support was going to be valid. And unfortunately, it just wasn’t. We knew that if we didn’t get the kids back in August and September we knew that we were going to have a spike in COVID because of the winter months just like the flu.
And so we should have had the students back and let them have an opportunity to see their teachers, meet their teachers, and be able to trust this process if we were good to go virtual because when we started virtual no one knew what to do. So it was really hard the first nine weeks of school. Kids were failing and parents gave up. Metro was failing their students. So we had such an uptick of students leaving our district, which I’ve never seen that happen before. And of course, our truancy rate went way up. We were at about 20,000 maybe in November and now we’re up to 25,000.
Leahy: 25,000 truant kids? What are they doing?
Bush: So when you have a child that’s truant they either are not logging in for five days or they are just giving up. So we have called them virtual dropouts. So, unfortunately, we have a lot of seniors, of course during this time that we needed those seniors to get as much time in the classroom as possible. And now we cannot even find over half our seniors. So they either got a job or they just really just don’t do anything.
Leahy: Now in this phased-in return to in-person schooling that will continue until March fourth, how many teachers will show up? How many won’t? Do you have any idea about that?
Bush: So there’s been a survey for our teachers of those who can go back into the classroom. Most teachers want to go back in person.
Leahy: Most of them? The majority?
Bush: Yes. We do have teachers who want to stay virtual because of underlying health conditions or they’re caring for a parent that’s ill. So they have taken those measures.
Leahy: Some percentage will say that those maybe over 65 or those that have underlying health conditions.
Bush: Absolutely. And so those teachers we definitely want to make sure we support. But teachers are ready to get back into the classroom. And yes, we are definitely in the ring of trying to get the vaccinations from the federal government. And that is just a process and it is a priority of the governor. We had an opportunity to have a conversation about that and I was very thankful that he did make that phone call to me.
Leahy: So what’s your guess in terms of what percentage of teachers will be showing up in Metro Nashville Public Schools as we go back to in-person over the next month or so?
Bush: We have about 55 percent of surveyed parents who want their kids back in person. And then we have like a 43-45 percent that want to stay virtual. So of our teachers, it seems like we have already kind of split where it’s going to be able to accommodate both virtual and in-person.
Leahy: Do you have confidence that this will work over the next month?
Bush: I do. I have a lot of confidence. We have extraordinary teachers. They want to do the best for our students and in the virtual space, it is it’s challenging. It’s very challenging because you are through a screen trying to teach. But still just not that hands-on experience for a lot of our students. A lot of our students have a massive amount of learning loss meaning that they cannot read or write in those K-3 and K-4.
So we have a lot of catching up to do. and it is going to take at least a couple of years to get these kids on grade level. And so it’s been very very concerning. That’s the reason why I advocated so hard because I saw what was going to be such a detriment to our students. And it’s just it’s harmful. It’s been very harmful.
Listen to the full second hour here:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Fran Bush” by Fran Bush Facebook. Background Photo “MNPS” by Metro Nashville Public Schools.