Critical race theory battle spreads to big business, we remember Meat Loaf: 5 Things podcast

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On today's episode of the 5 Things podcast: How the war on critical race theory spread from schools to big business

Senior tech and economic opportunity reporter Jessica Guynn explains. Plus, President Joe Biden has strong words for Russia, breaking news reporter Claire Thornton talks Americans' growing fears on COVID-19, we remember Meat Loaf and the March for Life descends on Washington.

Podcasts: True crime, in-depth interviews and more USA TODAY podcasts right here.

Hit play on the player above to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript below. This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text.

Taylor Wilson:

Good morning, I'm Taylor Wilson and this is 5 Things you need to know Friday, the 21st of January, 2022. Today, critical race theory in business, plus the latest round of talks in Russia-Ukraine tensions, and more.

Here are some of the top headlines:

  1. Four people, including a baby, have been found dead in blizzard conditions near the US-Canada border on the North Dakota/Manitoba line. Authorities in both countries are calling the tragedy a suspected failed border crossing, and a man faces federal human smuggling charges.

  2. President Joe Biden will hold his first talks today with new Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida. They're expected to focus on issues related to North Korea and China.

  3. And an American Airlines flight from Miami to London this week turned around and returned to the US because a woman refused to wear a face mask. She was then escorted by police off the plane and has since been placed on the airline's No Fly List.

Critical race theory. The academic framework examines the role that race and racism in US laws and institutions plays in the unequal treatment of Black people throughout history. It's usually taught in the classroom, often in graduate courses. But, in recent years, activists, media personalities, and strategists are redefining CRT as a conservative talking point, saying the theory alleges that white people are inherently racist. And that battle is increasingly spreading to business as well. Senior Tech and Economic Opportunity Reporter Jessica Guynn has more.

Jessica Guynn:

Technically, it really began in businesses because President Trump issued an executive order in September 2020, basically, banning what he called divisive and un-American anti-racism training by government agencies and corporations who hold government contracts. But after that order was rescinded by Joe Biden when he took office, it then traveled into education more forcefully. And that's what we've seen, a lot of coverage around that. But I've been monitoring efforts to really attack this in the private sector, and I started seeing that in mid-December with Florida governor Ron DeSantis urging lawmakers in the state to pass legislation that would allow employees to sue their employers if they feel like they have had to go through critical race theory training or something that about race that made them feel uncomfortable.

Corporations are not really eager to talk about this subject. As you can imagine, their employees and their customers tend to fall on both sides of this fight. So they gain very little by speaking about it publicly. But they are seeing that this kind of training and building an inclusive and welcoming workplace is good for shareholders, it's good for employees, it's good for having a good company. And they say they're going to continue offering this kind of training.

Taylor Wilson:

For the full story, check out today's episode description.

Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, will meet with Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, in person in Geneva today. That comes after a phone conversation between the two earlier in the week. It also follows Blinken's meeting yesterday in Ukraine with that country's President, Volodymyr Zelensky and other officials in Kiev. All of the meetings are aimed at easing tensions in Eastern Europe as Russia continues to sit troops on Ukraine's border. Earlier in the week, Lavrov told Blinken that Russia expects a written response this week from the US and its allies to Moscow's insistence that NATO not embrace Ukraine or any other former Soviet countries. Though, Blinken countered that any discussion of European security must include NATO allies and other European partners, including Ukraine. For his part, President Joe Biden issued another warning yesterday to Russia and President Vladimir Putin.

President Biden:

I've been absolutely clear with President Putin. He has no misunderstanding. If any, any assembled Russian units move across Ukrainian border, that is an invasion. And it will be met with severe and coordinated economic response that I've discussed in detail with our allies, as well as laid out very clearly for President Putin. But there is no doubt, let there be no doubt at all, that if Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price.

There's also not the only scenario we need to be prepared for. Russia has a long history of using measures other than overt military action to carry out aggression. And paramilitary tactics, so-called gray zone attacks, and actions by Russian soldiers not wearing Russian uniforms. Remember when they were moving the down bus for little green men, they were dealing with those who were Russian sympathizers and said that Russia, nobody in there. Well, that includes little green men in uniforms as well as cyberattack. We have to be ready to respond to these as well in a decisive and united way with a range of tools at our disposal. The Ukrainian foreign minister said this morning that he's confident of our support and resolve, and he has a right to be.

Taylor Wilson:

For all the latest, stay with the world news section on

A new poll shows that Americans' fears about COVID-19 are rising. The data comes after cases skyrocketed last month into this one to their highest levels of the pandemic. Breaking News Reporter Claire Thornton has the latest two years into the health crisis.

Claire Thornton:

This Gallup poll, which was conducted during the first two weeks of January, found that 58% of Americans feel the pandemic is getting worse. As opposed to people who say they think it's getting better or people who say they think it's the same. People are pessimistic because the omicron variant is causing such a sharp increase in COVID cases. So this poll from Gallup, it measures people's attitudes and people's behavior regarding COVID, and it also keeps track of how people are behaving from different political parties. How things are breaking down along party lines. They started doing this poll like the first weekend of shutdowns back in April 2020. And they did it on a weekly basis for about nine months, and then it went to monthly.

The new data from this month showed that there was a bipartisan uptick in worry about the coronavirus. But the trend was about twice as strong for Democrats as it was for Republicans. And masking and vaccination status really diverge sharply along political lines. 94% of Democrats, 65% of independence said that they masked in the past week, but less than half of Republicans said that they've worn a mask in public in the last week. Overall, Americans say they're more worried about catching COVID, but vaccine rates remain really stubborn. Even though omicron is surging right now, the Gallup poll found that the percentage of Americans who said that they will not get vaccinated, which is around 20%, it's not budging this month. Like December and January when omicron has really been surging, it has just been constant, which is different from the delta surge. In August and September, there was a little bit of movement that showed that a little bit more people said they would get vaccinated and experts say that was because more people were concerned about delta.

Taylor Wilson:

You can find a link to all of Claire's recent work in today's episode description.

Meat Loaf has died. The rock star was best known for his Bat Out of Hell album. The record sold 40 million copies around the world, one of the best selling in history. He was also known for theatrical dark hearted anthems like Paradise by the Dashboard Light and I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That). The singer born Michael Lee Aday died yesterday according to his family. No cause was given, but he's had a number of health scares in recent years. Meat Loaf was 74.

Today marks the March for Life in Washington. Anti-abortion activists will hit the National Mall for the 49th annual event. It's been held every year on the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which essentially made abortion legal around the country. This year's event comes amid a new fight on abortion nationwide. Several states have created new restrictive abortion laws with the biggest headline grabber in Texas, where a law has banned the vast majority of abortions. Today's March for Life, anti-abortion activists will likely be met with a slew of pro-choice advocates as well. For more, stay with

And you can find 5 Things seven mornings a week wherever you get your audio. Thanks to PJ Elliott for his great work on the show, and I'm back tomorrow with more of 5 Things from USA TODAY.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Meat Loaf dead at 74, March for Life begins in DC: 5 Things podcast