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News brief: U.S.-Russia meeting, Roe v. Wade, Joe Rogan podcast criticized

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is making another diplomatic push today to stave off a Russian invasion of Ukraine. He'll be meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Geneva.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Blinken was in Berlin yesterday to shore up allied solidarity for sanctions that President Biden has threatened if Russia attacks its neighbor. Blinken says Russia's leader has a choice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONY BLINKEN: Dialogue and diplomacy on the one hand, conflict and consequences on the other hand, to hopefully deter and dissuade him from renewing his aggression against Ukraine.

ELLIOTT: NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen has been traveling with the secretary of state all week and joins us now. Good morning, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Good morning, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: There was the whole series of meetings in Europe on the Ukraine crisis that ended seemingly without any progress. Is there room for compromise?

KELEMEN: Well, on the big questions, I'd say probably not. You know, Russia wants written guarantees that Ukraine is never going to be allowed to join NATO. It also wants other concessions from the military alliance. And what Secretary Blinken says is that Russia is creating this crisis, and what it does in Ukraine has real international implications. Russia is undermining some basic principles, he argues, that countries have a right to choose what alliances they join and have their own sovereign foreign policy and choices to make. But Blinken is hoping that there can be some room for diplomacy on how to make sure all countries in Europe, including Russia, feel secure. That could mean talks on missile deployments and military exercises. But that's, you know, far short of what the Russians have been demanding.

ELLIOTT: Now, what about the U.S. and Europeans? Are they on the same page, or is that going to take some time as well?

KELEMEN: Yeah, it's a great question, a million-dollar question right now. You know, Secretary Blinken was in Berlin yesterday talking to several European allies with the goal of presenting Russia with a united front today. But President Biden kind of muddled the message this week when he talked about how not everyone sees eye to eye on how to respond if Russia does things that are short of a big invasion of Ukraine. And what Biden said is true, of course, but the White House and the State Department are still trying to clean it up to make sure that Russia gets the message that there will be consequences, whatever Russia does. And that's the message that Blinken is bringing to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

ELLIOTT: Now, do the Ukrainians feel like the West has their back, so to speak, that they'll - that these - we'll come to their defense after this week of diplomacy on their behalf?

KELEMEN: Well, you know, Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, was really not happy with Biden's comments this week. Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter that he wants to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions. Secretary Blinken says that the U.S. and its partners in Europe are ready to impose big costs on Russia if any of those Russian troops that are massed on Ukraine's border cross into Ukraine. And he says they are talking about other contingencies on how to respond if Russia takes other steps to destabilize the country.

ELLIOTT: Michele, how important is this meeting today between Blinken and Lavrov? And what are you going to be listening for?

KELEMEN: Well, Blinken is not raising any big expectations, but the goal is to give Putin a choice. You know, he has a diplomatic path if he wants to take it. But judging from the situation on the ground, he doesn't seem to be deterred so far and seems to be interested in keeping countries on edge.

ELLIOTT: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen in Geneva. Thanks, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ELLIOTT: The Supreme Court has delivered another setback to abortion rights advocates by refusing to speed up an ongoing legal fight over a Texas ban on most abortions.

MARTINEZ: The Texas case and a challenge to Mississippi's ban on abortion at 15 weeks also before the high court are energizing activists who have long sought to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. Many of those activists are in Washington today for the March for Life, an event held every year to mark the 1973 ruling that women had the right to an abortion.

ELLIOTT: With us on the line now is Washington Post national political reporter Caroline Kitchener. Thanks for joining us.

CAROLINE KITCHENER: Good morning, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: Will you set the stage for us? How significant is this year's March for Life in Washington?

KITCHENER: Absolutely. I mean, the march just feels different this year. Everybody is so much more energized. This march has been happening every year since 1974. Its original mission was to overturn Roe v. Wade. Well, this year, it feels like that could actually happen - is even likely to happen. And anti-abortion activists that I've spoken to are coming from all over the country. They really want to make a point to be here this year.

ELLIOTT: So there's some anticipation there. I want to ask you also about this Supreme Court ruling yesterday. The court denied a request from Texas abortion providers to move an abortion law from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals back to district court. What does this mean in practice?

KITCHENER: Well, there's been so much back and forth in the courts, but essentially what it means is that there is no end in sight for this Texas - and Texas has been living with this law with no abortions happening or very, very few abortions happening after six weeks for almost five months now. It's also a signal about where the justices' heads are at on this issue. The Supreme Court has now, on multiple occasions, explicitly declined to block the Texas law. I've been talking to a lot of Texas abortion providers who are - they're just feeling desperate. They're extremely frustrated. Everybody, the media, we're all talking about this potential for Roe to fall in June with the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women's Health Organization case. Well, for them, Roe is already gone. It's already fallen. The vast majority of people in Texas can't access abortion, and they really feel like the country's attention has moved on.

ELLIOTT: You've been speaking with activists on both sides of the abortion debate. What are they saying about where the things stand right now?

KITCHENER: Pretty much everybody that I talked to is convinced that Roe is either going to fall in June or is going to be seriously weakened. On the abortion rights side, the clinics, the abortion funds, everybody is making preparations for a reality where abortion is illegal across huge swaths of the country. There are 12 states where it would be immediately illegal the moment that Roe falls. And anti-abortion activists are also planning for, you know, whatever happens next in the post-Roe world. Crisis pregnancy centers, they are gathering more donations with, you know, the fact that Roe is about to fall. A few anti-abortion legislators have even been talking to me about a national abortion ban that would make abortion illegal across the entire country, not just in the conservative states.

ELLIOTT: Well, thanks for speaking with us.

KITCHENER: Thank you, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: That's Caroline Kitchener of The Washington Post.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ELLIOTT: More than a thousand scientists and health care experts are calling out Spotify over false COVID claims made by the most popular podcaster on the streaming service, Joe Rogan.

MARTINEZ: Although Spotify doesn't publicly report the numbers, the comedian and MMA commentator is believed to reach many millions of people with each episode. And his podcast is now a target for the same kind of criticism directed at misinformation on other platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

ELLIOTT: NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond has been looking into this and joins us now. Good morning, Shannon.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Hi, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: Joe Rogan is known as a provocateur on his podcast. What is it that he did that galvanized so many health experts to start to lobby Spotify?

BOND: Well, this was a particular episode of "The Joe Rogan Experience" where he interviewed Dr. Robert Malone, who's a scientist who worked on early research into the technology behind COVID vaccines but who's now a skeptic of those vaccines. And, you know, in this podcast, Malone made several false claims with, you know, no pushback from Rogan, including that getting vaccinated puts people who have already had COVID at higher risk. I spoke with Dr. Katrine Wallace, who's an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, and she debunks medical misinformation on social media. And she says she was flooded by messages from her followers about this interview.

KATRINE WALLACE: Because their friends and family were sending it to them as evidence that the vaccines are dangerous and that they shouldn't get it.

BOND: And so Wallace and the other scientists and professionals who signed this open letter to Spotify say this company is enabling Rogan and his guests.

ELLIOTT: Some of the biggest social media platforms say they've put into place policies that would limit the spread of COVID misinformation. They may not always work, but at least they talk publicly about these policies. What about Spotify?

BOND: Yeah. Spotify has declined to comment on the record about Rogan. You know, it's previously said it bans content about COVID that it deems dangerous or false. It's taken down 20,000 podcast episodes since the pandemic started for breaking that policy. But this Malone interview is still available, and Rogan has made other false claims in other episodes. And, look, you know, Rogan is hugely important to Spotify. He has this exclusive licensing deal with the company reportedly worth $100 million. So the scientists and health experts who signed this letter, they are not asking Spotify to kick off Rogan, but they want the company to be more transparent about its rules and to make it easier to, you know, alert them to these kinds of baseless claims about COVID.

ELLIOTT: Shannon, should we be thinking about misinformation in podcasts in the same way as, say, misinformation shared on Facebook or Twitter? Or is it somehow different?

BOND: Yeah, I mean, it is and it isn't right? It's, you know - anything can, you know, rapidly spread online. But we do seem to see text and images tend to go viral more quickly than audio. But it's also hard to catch false information in the spoken word compared to text. And misinformation experts say audio can be even more powerful as a way of sharing information. We know that here at NPR. Here's how Valerie Wirtschafter at the Brookings Institution described it to me.

VALERIE WIRTSCHAFTER: The podcaster's in your ear. You're probably alone listening to this podcast. It's a really unique relationship in that respect. And so the podcaster gains a level of authority and a level of credibility among listeners.

BOND: And that can be dangerous when it comes to misinformation.

ELLIOTT: That's NPR's Shannon Bond. Thanks so much.

BOND: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEAT LOAF SONG, "BAT OUT OF HELL")

ELLIOTT: And we have one more story for you this morning. The singer and actor Meat Loaf has died. He was 74.

MARTINEZ: Meat Loaf's 1977 debut album "Bat Out Of Hell" is still one of the bestselling albums of all time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAT OUT OF HELL")

MEAT LOAF: (Singing) Like a bat out of hell, I'll be gone when the morning comes. Oh, when the night is over, like a bat out of hell, I'll be gone, gone, gone.

MARTINEZ: Meat Loaf talked to Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon back in 2010.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SCOTT SIMON: Do I call you Mr. Loaf?

MEAT LOAF: Meat.

SIMON: (Laughter) Meat, Mr. Meat.

ELLIOTT: Meat Loaf, real name Michael Lee Aday, was known for sweeping operatic rock albums with songs like "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" and "Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through" - all big productions brought to the stage with characters that he said he built for himself for every tour.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MEAT LOAF: Rob Cavallo, he basically summed me up. Meat Loaf is an actor who acts like he can sing. And that's basically what I am.

MARTINEZ: Meat Loaf took home a Grammy for his song "I'd Do Anything For Love" and he also appeared in more than 65 movies, including "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and "Fight Club." You can hear more about Meat Loaf's career and other stories from today's podcast on NPR. Find us through your local member station or visit npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.