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"This Is Not Going Away" - Ronan Farrow On How Conspiracies Fueled An Insurrection

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Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author, Ronan Farrow, talks about his extensive coverage of the January 6th insurrection and how conservative media has played a large part in radicalizing American citizens. #Colbert #TheNewYorker #RonanFarrow

Video Transcript


- Hey there, and welcome back, folks. My first guest tonight is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and authors of the books War On Peace and Catch And Kill. Please welcome to A Late Show, Ronan Farrow. Ronan, good to see you again.

- Great to be here, Steven. Good to see you again.

- We have not talked during COVID, right? This is the first time we're talking actually under these Zoom conditions, correct.

- Yeah, it's been a while. This is weird, it's weird but good.

- Now you have been very busy during lockdown reporting for the New Yorker on the Capitol attack, and also the allegations against Governor Cuomo. Let's talk about Cuomo first. How legal is weed going to get in New York just to distract us from what's going on in Albany?

- It will be mandatory. It's, you know, who can say what future stories bring? Clearly this is a political team that's very embattled right now. There's a lot of reporters that are continuing to circle, I don't think we've seen the end of that story.

- We've made, actually, the day before we found out that you were actually doing an article about the governor, I made a joke about the number of accusations against him. It was something like seven at that point, and I said, one more and you get a free article by Ronan Farrow.


- So while your career, your career runs the gamut of subjects, you have achieved some notoriety for your writing on the abusive behavior of men in the workplace, mostly. What's that like when you call someone to investigate anything? How do people react, especially powerful men, when someone says Ronan Farrow's on the phone for you?

- You know, it's a double edged sword. Mostly I'm very grateful because whatever name recognition I have for hopefully doing a thorough job at these kinds of investigative stories makes people want to talk more. You are correct in surmising that occasionally I will call someone, particularly a prominent person in a position of power, and get a swift hang up or hear from intermediaries that they absolutely under no circumstances will talk to me. So that does happen too. And then and then there have been a few times where I think, huh, I wonder why? And then a few weeks later, it's very clear why.

- Well the last time we spoke, you talked about being tailed by literal spies, like professional spies who had been hired by Weinstein to trail around and try to get some sort of dirt on you or to intimidate you in some way. You've talked to some pretty sketchy characters in your day. And recently people who actually were part of the assault on Capitol Hill on January 6th-- what has that been like? Has there been any fallout from those people? Is that a threatening situation to be in, to talk face to face with these people who have violence as part of their vocabulary?

- This is always a tough thing to talk about, because I am not a reporter in Pakistan reporting on the secrets of the Pakistani intelligence service, you know. I'm not going to get killed tomorrow in the street, probably. We're very lucky to live in a country with the First Amendment, and with great law enforcement. So you know this is on the lesser end of the global scale of what journalists go up against.

That said, you know, it's worth talking about, I think, that reporters in this country get all sorts of threats. Sometimes they're legal threats, they're threats of smears in the press, there's all sorts of mechanisms that I've reported on and talked about. In this case, the story you're mentioning, the capital riots, I did talk to a number of quite volatile people. I think you're probably alluding to one gentleman who made some threats to my physical safety, which happens. It's an occupational hazard.

- Well I agree with you that we're lucky we live in the United States where there is generally order, and that there is law and order. But we saw the limitations of that on January 6th. I'm wondering whether any of the people that you spoke to have had a, for lack of a better word and pardon the expression, a come to Jesus on this. Have the people we've spoken to in your reporting on the aftermath of January 6th come to a realization that they did the wrong thing? Or have they come to a realization that they were misled? Have they retooled their anger in a new direction?

- Far from it. There was a poll that came out just a couple of days ago Stephen, from Reuters, saying that more than half of Republicans across the country-- not just people involved in this event but half of Republicans-- believe that this was a fake setup, that left wing activists constructed this riot to make Trump look bad. The FBI says very clearly that's not the truth. I have not in my reporting seen any evidence that there's any truth to that.

So when you look at a number like that and see how wide the gulf is between different understandings of these events, you see how this is not a problem and a division that's going to go away. And the sources that I've stayed in touch with have not backed down. We talked about some of those threats from that one gentleman, Donovan Crowl, who's been significant in the ongoing prosecutions because he's a member of the group the Oath Keepers.

So he's part of the faction that was there that day that was very organized and seemingly had some pretty intensive intentions in terms of what they were going to do that day. And he's someone who has deeply held beliefs, there's no indication in his legal filings that he's backing down from those thus far.

And he's also someone who said, I studied the shape of your head before I gave an interview to you, and I'm going to eat a family member of yours face. So you know, there's a whole spectrum of different types of individuals, very, very charming individual. He's out on home release, by the way. So that's lovely.

- Did he have any opinion about the shape of your skull?

- Well you know I didn't press as to whether his conclusion was my skull was so misshapen that he felt like he could really have a conversation on the level with me, or whether he felt like it was a great skull. I didn't really go there. But you know it's not always a totally rational set of beliefs rooted in facts, let's say. And then you know, I think that there are subtler factions that were represented that day. And that in some ways, Stephen, is going to be a harder thing to address and root out.

- What do you mean a subtler faction?

- Well you know, I think there are people who don't believe in phrenology, and who are subtler in their rendering of misinformation. You know, they say well, who can say there was some Antifa and left wing agitation in the crowd. That's a significant part of it even though again, there's no evidence that that's the case. You know, there are actors who were involved that day who are able to sugarcoat this for a broader audience. And what academic researchers on extremism have told me again and again is during administrations that are liberal, anti-liberal anti-government groups of the type we saw on January 6 at the Capitol actually have a groundswell of support and activity, that we've seen that a lot historically.

- So the Trump, during the Trump administration, that was not the groundswell, is what you're implying.

- You know, I think it's both. I think that there are extremist groups that were operating under the surface in this country and not getting enough notice within the mainstream press, by the way, that found purchase and legitimacy because of things Trump was saying. And then also, unfortunately, those groups are going to have something to rebel against right now.

- Do you think that the ability for a new lie on top of the big lie, the idea that the attack was actually was actuated or motivated by people from Antifa, or BLM, or anarchists of some kind on the left, do you think that would exist without things like Fox News existing?

- Fox News is a hugely significant echo chamber. And I tell you, I talked to so many individuals and the family members and friends of those individuals who were there on the Hill that day who said, this is someone who went down a rabbit hole of either constantly listening to and watching Fox News or conservative radio, you know, Rush Limbaugh and his ilk.

Or you know, the most extreme wing of misinformation in this country, you know, Alex Jones and so forth. There is a thriving market for misinformation and it shares a lot of elements with cult psychology. There are people who are being radicalized, much in the same way we saw with ISIS recruits. And it's happening right under our noses in a really ongoing way.

- Speaking of under our noses, a lot of these people have been deplatformed, certainly the ring leader, the former president has been deplatformed. Have you dipped your toe into Parler or any of the other social media platforms that have become the refuge of these people?

- Some of that reporting was informed by data dumps from Parler. I have a strange new set of apps on my phone that are constantly pinging with conservative voices that have in some cases been either deplatformed or limited in some way on other platforms, and are now firing off missives on Telegram or Clubhouse, is a new one. Ali Alexander, who's alleged to have been one of the masterminds of the Stop the Steal rally and the ensuing riot on the Hill is someone who has started delivering essentially Ted Talks on Clubhouse. So that's another new fun place that I got to be, I think I should get hazard pay or something for Clubhouse.

- You stay safe, and don't spend too much time on social media. You can read Ronan's latest reporting on the New Yorker or on its website, newyorker.com. Ronan Farrow, everybody. We'll be right back with Grammy award winner, Brandi Carlile.