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Catastrophic Floods Cripple Southeast; Should Media Withhold Names of Mass Murderers?; Journalists Tally the Numbers on Gun Violence. Aired 11-12:00a ET

Aired October 4, 2015 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:09] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good morning. I'm Brian Stelter.

RELIABLE SOURCES will begin in a moment, but first, breaking news -- it's only getting worse and worse in South Carolina as historic rainfall is causing catastrophic flooding in parts of the Southeast with 15 inches of rain in some spots, possibly more than 20 inches in others. There are dams breaking, bridging buckling, whole buildings collapsing and the local National Weather Service is calling the rain amounts mind-boggling.

These are actually live pictures of the local station WIS in Columbia. They have been doing exemplary work all morning. The anchors practically begging people not to venture out for the exact reasons that you're seeing here right now.

Obviously, people in their apartment buildings unable to leave because the flood waters are so high. And these are the pictures we're able to see. There are other areas we're not able to see yet where evacuations are ongoing, reports even of some evacuations by helicopter.

Citizens in South Carolina, actually, all across the state, are being told by emergency management to, quote, "remain where you are if you're safely able to do so."

The truth is it's too soon to assess the damage or know how many people have been hurt because it's still happening. The flood is a very active situation.

But, let's check in with Nick Valencia, who's in Charleston, South Carolina, right now.

Nick, the priority is keeping people inside, right?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Oh, certainly. The governor has emphasized that since Friday. That is the major concern this weekend, much different tone today, Sunday, Brian. On Saturday, we saw a lot of students out, whether it was a sense of adventure or curiosity or just sheer boredom. They were out in that flood water.

Today, the real big issue is it's affected the sewage system so there's a lot of floods and material, oil, gas and who knows what else in that water.


VALENCIA: But the weather has just been relentless. Overnight, you see flash flood warnings, the catastrophic damage. You see the images there your screen. Dozens of water rescues taking place. Some residents in the neighboring county of Charleston took shelter, the Red Cross. Thirty thousand people throughout the state without power this morning.

And that heavy rain and incoming tide also a concern today. High tide expected to happen on that coastal county of Charleston at 2:00 p.m. So, we could see even more damage in the hours ahead -- Brian.

STELTER: Nick, thank you very much.

Deep concerns for some of local communities we haven't heard from recent hours as we look at these live pictures from the Columbia area of South Carolina. This is a coastal event. It's also an inland event. And we'll be bringing you more on the stories as the hours progress here, and all day on CNN.

Turning now to Thursday when a 26-year-old gunman opened fire at Umpqua community College in Roseburg, Oregon, killing nine people and wounding many more.

There's a numbing sameness to these shootings, almost a formula for coverage at this point. But there was one big difference this time and it involves what we did not see. That's face of the gunman.

Think about it. Can you picture him right now? Maybe not, right? You night not even know his name.

There's been a clear pull back in the amount of coverage given to the gunman when compared to mass shootings in Charleston or Newtown or Aurora or elsewhere. You know, in this case, the local sheriff, John Hanlin, completely refuses to name the killer.


SHERIFF JOHN HANLIN, DOUGLAS COUNTY, OREGON: I will not name the shooter. I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act. You'll never hear me mention his name.


STELTER: This is the issue that's being debated in news rooms all across the country this week. Our job is to report news, all of it.

But the counter argument is getting attention, that's the news coverage makes these killers famous and makes copycats more likely.

So, a media campaign called No Notoriety has challenged all of us in the news business, challenged us to refrain from naming gunmen and showing their pictures over and over again.

I want you to hear all sides of this argument starting with founders of No Notoriety, Tom and Caren Teves. They're son Alex was killed in the Aurora theater shooting in 2012.

We're also joined by Sarah Clements, whose mother is a survivor of the elementary school shooting in Newtown.

Thank you all for talking with me about this.




STELTER: Karen, we spoke on Friday. You were feeling good you weren't seeing this face of this most recent killer. You weren't hearing the name very often. You feel that your nine-month campaign is having an impact, right?

C. TEVES: Of course. This is simple. Rampage mass shooters crave the spotlight and the media is giving it to them. They are giving them a sort of ammunition to use to go on these rampage mass killings and that ammunition is fame.

STELTER: And you believe that we've seen progress in this most recent tragic event.

So, let me give an example -- CNN has been using the name very occasionally and never shown the face of the gunman.

[11:05:02] I think one of the reasons for that is because we have seen in one of the blog posts link to the shooter that he said that -- he thinks the more you would kill, the more attention you would get. In other words, we could tell he was seeking attention and thus media outlets denying that attention.

Tom, what do you say to journalists, many of whom have said on twitter that we have to dig into this person's past. We have to know who they are in order to learn lessons from this attack.

T. TEVES: I couldn't agree more. You do have to learn more what they are. The facts come up it's pretty much the same thing. These individuals, and this is what the data is saying, want as one of their motivational triggers fame.

When you put, as you did when my son was murdered, the thing's picture, 24/7 across the screen, you hit start button for all these disturbed people that want to go out and do this to start their planning and in some cases start the executions of their acts.

So, no one is saying don't name them. You can name them once. Just don't be gratuitous. Don't make them into anti-heroes and please don't call them monsters, because that's what they want. Don't give it to them. Our children are dying.

C. TEVES: The studies back this up. There was the latest study at ASU led by Sherry Towers (ph) that concluded that there's a contagion effect in mass shootings and in school shootings.

T. TEVES: All the people that are experts agree, the FBI, the chief of police, the Fraternal Brotherhood of Police. Everybody agrees. Even the people who train to deal with these mass shooters when they are in progress, train our heroes that go out and stop them, don't name them.

So, no one is saying don't name them ever. What we're saying is don't turn them into anti-heroes.

STELTER: You're talking about proportionality. And, Tom, I can't help but notice when we spoke here in the program in January and again here this morning, you always say "thing." You say it to describe a gunman. You don't say he or she. You purposely strip away their humanity in the way they should be treated.

Let me ask Sarah this question.

Sarah, unfortunately, Newtown was in some ways a turning point for this country. There's a perception that if nothing changed after Newtown, nothing will change in future.

That brings up the NRA. The argument that I've seen on Twitter from people who say that we should be naming the gunman, showing the face a lot, is it actually plays into the hands of the NRA or plays into the hands of people that don't want to see any legislation happen because it takes away attention from the horrific act that was committed.

Where do you stand on that?

CLEMENTS: I absolutely agree with that sentiment. I think that it lends itself to this implication we have seen over and over again that these are just isolated events, like presidential candidate Jeb Bush said, stuff happens. It's sort of this idea that the gun lobby hopes to perpetuate, that this is just something that occurs that we can't stop from occurring and that's just something that will happen.

And by focusing in on the shooter, on his motives, on his story, that's something that lends itself to that implication because it takes away from the larger picture which is the fact that on the same day as the UCC shooting, an average of probably about 30 or 32 other Americans were also killed by gun violence. This happens every single day. And this is something we should be talking about every single day. This is not just some random occurrence that occurs every once in a while. This is a pattern and needs to have solutions. STELTER: I want to mention that Jeb Bush has said that he was

taken out of context when he said stuff happens. There's a long sound bite you can watch on YouTube of what he said.

But I want to note from you. You said it personally affects you when you hear mass shooter named. Tell me why.

CLEMENTS: You know, I don't know the whole psychological reasons behind why. But I do know that victim, family members and survivors and whole communities like Newtown pretty much refrain from saying the shooter's name because I think honestly for us, it humanizes the act. It reminds us that a person made the conscious decision to commit something as horrific as what occurred. And I think it's honestly a coping mechanism for survivors to distance ourselves from that humanity and that decision and from that person, and it allows us to focus on our own healing and the positive change that we hope to create out of what happened.

STELTER: We saw on Friday the words: forget Oregon gunman, actually trending on Twitter, very popular on Facebook as well. People directing attention towards the victims and toward the heroes in Roseburg.

Tom and Caren, before I have to go, let me ask you about your campaign going forward from here. You also want news outlets to downplay or very infrequently cover manifestos and statements from gunmen.

[11:10:01] Is that something you're continuing to lobby for?

C. TEVES: We also want to make clear that this is just one part of a complex situation with shootings throughout our country.

This is something that goes across the aisle no matter what your feelings are on the gun issue, on mental health. Stopping notoriety and reducing rampage mass shootings can be accomplished right now. We don't have to wait for an act of Congress. We don't have to wait for more funding.

This is something that the media can do right now, a responsible response to reducing rampage mass shootings.

T. TEVES: Yes, in answer to your question, don't post the manifestos. Certainly don't put them on your television screen. That's what these things want. Don't give it to them or more people will die.

STELTER: Tom and Caren and Sarah, I appreciate you all being here sharing these stories. I know when these incidents happen, it dredges up terrible emotions for all you have. It means a lot to me that you're willing to talk about it and persuade people out there. Thank you very much.

CLEMENTS: Thank you.

C. TEVES: Thank you. T. TEVES: Thank you.

STELTER: I think there has been a lot of persuasion going on. I've been seeing it online and we've been seeing it in news coverage.

But to hear the other side of this, one of the other points of view on this, let me bring in Jim Warren. He's the chief media writer for "Poynter" and the former managing editor of "The Chicago Tribune".

And, Jim, you and I both know this is an incredibly complex question. We've seen different decisions made by different media outlets on this story versus other stories.

What do you believe is the right approach, the right proportionality on this?

JIM WARREN, CHIEF MEDIA WRITER, POYNTER: Well, first of all, a sense of proportionality is I think CNN is exhibiting. But in regard to the folks who just preceded me, incredibly heartfelt. Their pain and frustration is totally understandable and they're basically misguided when it comes to how much information should be out there.

For a bunch of reasons, we've got to have as much as we can out there. It doesn't mean you try to glamorize these folks. But for reasons of research, we need lots of data, for reasons of some sort of context about each of these, are they really all the same? Is one example the same? Is Charleston the same as Oregon?

And, finally, we need this stuff to make sure that we don't pass out a whole lot of grotesque misinformation. The three guys in town named Stelter and we don't want to say much about the real guy, who it was, and then there are two others who are essentially slandered.

I wish these folks would look at a great -- the lines of a great 1978 play by the British playwright Tom Stoppard. It was about a war and war correspondence in some fictional awful African country and some grizzled old camera guy who turns to the newbie journalist and say, people do awful things to each other but it's worse in places where everybody is kept in the dark.

Information is light. Information in and of itself is light. I think as painful as that might be, we've got to get as much as we can.

Anyway, the horse is out of the barn in a digital age. It doesn't mean you plaster the guy's name all over the screen for hours. I think what you guys apparently are doing is absolutely terrific.

But I wish you also went at, as you mentioned, the formulaic nature of a lot of coverage, you're right.

Counter-pose this to the way you guys handle, for instance, air traffic tragedies. You bring in real experts. You try to figure out, was it the engine, was it the wing, was it a drunken pilot? And at the end of all of it, we've got the NTSB or somebody giving us a report on what happened. If only we could do that in similar fashion among all these tragedies. Since yesterday afternoon, Brian, since yesterday afternoon, the

city of Chicago -- six shootings of males in five different incidents in Chicago. Sadly, nobody cares.

STELTER: I think you care. I think people in Chicago care, right?

WARREN: Well, perhaps. On the cover of "The Chicago Sun-Times" this morning, you've got the new archbishop, he apparently had a secret meeting with the mayor and the police chief, I think the headline was something to the effect of, you know, divine intervention.

It may be what we need now to sort of get folks as concern about these matters, because if you live in a nice, quiet neighborhood like I do on the north side of Chicago, you're really not impacted by a lot of stuff happening on the south and west sides. Your interest just isn't galvanized no matter what you may tell pollsters about your interest in gun control.

STELTER: You brought up an important point I think a minute ago, which is that there's misinformation that spreads after these massacres. I've been seeing a lot of misinformation about the religion of the gunman. Some people wrongly claiming that he was a Muslim convert, when, in fact, it seems he was an atheist who was targeting anyone who was religious.

That kind of misinformation is something that can only be countered by accurate information about the gunman. But there must be a balance while we don't make these people famous, make these people famous while covering them.

[11:15:00] And that's difficult when there's wall to wall, 24/7 coverage.

WARREN: And in a world in which -- I'm showing a firm with the obvious. It's something that you, yourself as a terrific journalist who puts a real primacy on speed knows all about it. It's the problem of fact checking in a world in which you want to often be first, not necessarily third or fourth or fifth with perhaps a more nuance take.

So, it's just awfully difficult. I feel for you guys, 24/7 cable channels. At papers it's a little bit easier. You can step back but even now the Internet is pushing us all down that path of getting something out quickly, and that's when errors take place. And it's -- I don't know how we avoid it.

STELTER: Awfully complex. Jim, thank you for joining us this morning and being here.

WARREN: Pleasure, Brian.

STELTER: We want to stay on this topic after the break. The president assigned the press homework on gun violence. We'll take a look at how news outlets responded and whether it was appropriate.

And also later in the hour, Hillary Clinton singing on "Saturday Night Live" but will it change the tenor of her political coverage.


STELTER: When it comes to gun violence there's so many known unknowns. Journalists who spend their lives covering this topic say there's some data available but not enough. For example, news organizations who try to get gun license records are often stymied.

[11:20:00] But this week, as President Obama reacted to Oregon college shooting, he did something pretty extraordinary. He basically handed reporters a data-driven assignment.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would ask news organizations -- because I won't put these facts forward -- have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who have been killed through terrorist attacks over the last decade and the number of Americans who have been killed by gun violence. And post those side by side on your news reports. This won't be information coming from me. It will be coming from you.


STELTER: Using the data that is available, journalists like "Vox's" Zach Beauchamp were quick to respond. He created this chart highlighting what is really is huge disparity between American deaths from terrorism, that's the yellow line on the bottom, and deaths from gun homicide, that's the red line on the top between 2001 and 2011. The president's Twitter account shared that story and said "Thanks Zach."

And "Vox" was not the only news outlet. CNN also made a chart comparing 400,000 gun deaths versus 3,380 terrorism deaths.

And here's "The Washington Post" comparing 44 years of terrorism death versus just this year's deaths from guns.

And here is a bar graph from the "International Business Times" showing terrorism deaths since 9/11 versus gun deaths last year and this year.

Some conservative media outlets were quick to push back and criticized these charts as form of Obama propaganda.

So, let's hear from Zach. He's the world correspondent for "Vox".

And, also, James Burnett, the editorial director of "The Trace", it's a new website backed by Michael Bloomberg, that covers gun issues every day.

Zach, you made this pretty quickly. You put it up online, the same day as the president's comments.

How do you respond to people saying you were just doing Obama's bidding?

ZACH BEAUCHAMP, WORLD CORRESPONDENT, VOX.COM: Look, the president raise an important issue of national concern. I actually knew this data so I thought it was important to get the accurate facts out quickly and our readers would be interested in seeing it. It's essentially a form of fact-checking. It turned out the data supported the president's argument.

But if the data didn't, I would have posted the chart any way. The point isn't to make the president look good. It's to weigh in on an issue that really matters.

STELTER: He's been using this device for some time, terrorism versus gun deaths. This is first time he's challenged journalists to make it a story to go ahead and make the graphics. It did seem to be quite effective. I do wonder if this starts conversation about whether the mass shootings should be labeled a form of terrorism.

BEAUCHAMP: Yes, I think that's interesting. The definition of terrorism is fraught and complicated. Academics like fighting about this a lot. And I think mass shootings are on their own terms. Lots of people die and it's not necessarily political my motivated in the way we ordinarily understand terrorism to be. The policy solutions are often quite different.

STELTER: James, let me bring you in here. You run "The Trace". It covers gun issues every single day. That's the only thing they exist to do. You've started this site partly to create and make available more data because you say there's too much that's just unknown about this problem.

JAMES BURNETT, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, THERACE.COM: Well, part of the president's -- the other part of the president's statement that I refer to, the fact that federal research is not happening.

STELTER: That's because it's been restricted by Congress, is that right?

BURNETT: That's right. The last time was 20 years ago that the CDC did meaningful research into that. There's an appropriations writer that's been continued on effort for 20 years. And so, that's just one place where you can point to the lack of data there. When federal dollars aren't spent, it can be a disincentive for academic researchers --

STELTER: So, are journalists filling in the gaps? Are you trying to literally construct the same date sets that the Congress is not allowing to have created?

BURNETT: You know, what's required to create those kind of data sets is often the kind of things that academics are better suited to do.

But one of the things we can do is facilitate the circulation of that research when it does come out. We can provide some of the fact checking that Zach was talking about and we can do some original reporting.

But, you know, as you mentioned in the intro, that is difficult. I think there's 27 states that bar access to concealed carry records. There's some reasons for that. There are reasons about not wanting that data shared. There's a valid argument to a certain extent on the gun owner side. You can't see how many of those concealed permit holders commit crimes.

We did a quick peace in Ohio. The rule there was that journalists could go county by county, look at the records but couldn't take notes. You had to memorize what was happening which made I useless. Now the law is you can't see the records at all. There seems to be where public access information is this issue, it's a lot of stuff is kept behind closed doors.

STELTER: It's helpful to shed some sunlight on these. It's funded by Mike Bloomberg, Every Town, they wouldn't call it a gun control group but I would.

[11:25:00] The NRA has called your site another thing to mislead America to strict gun rights.

How are you all trying to counter that? I presume you don't agree with that statement. So, how are you going to counter that?

BURNETT: No, I wouldn't agree with that statement. And there's a couple of ways.

I mean, first of all, I should point out, this is a seed philanthropy model and we have a couple other individual donors and on other smaller foundations of supporters --

STELTER: Which means he's provided some of the initial money. Let's just qualify. He provided some of the initial money for the site.


That's absolutely true. We're in the process of raising some more as we go. So, you know, so one of the things that we do is we engage with the point of view on the other side, that one of our columnists is himself a gun owner and conceal carry permit holder, and he can -- and he does pieces that I think have a lot of balance to them. There was one where he talked about being an ammo hoarder and is using that lightly. So, the idea of how does this ammunition market work, how does that drive behavior. He's able to engage with that and lay that out there.

So, I think that's part of it. We have talked to gun owners throughout our coverage.

STELTER: You're saying doing the work, right? Doing the work every day --

BURNETT: That's right.

STELTER: -- is the way that show that you all are trying to be balance.

BURNETT: Yes. Well, we have a point of view, and it's in our mission statement, and we feel that the totals that are reflective in the chart that Zach and others made are too high. That is a belief we bring to this coverage that the rate of gun violence is too high.

But, you know, we're transparent about that, but then we're journalists. And we go and we seek out stories and report them out. That's what we do.

STELTER: On one of most polarizing topics in America.

Zach, James, thank you both for being here.

BEAUCHAMP: Thank you.

BURNETT: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: Up next on the program, Hillary Clinton does her best Donald Trump impersonation on "SNL". We'll look at why late night jokes are pretty serious business for these candidates, right after the break.


STELTER: The new season of late-night TV is in full effect.

This week marked the debut of both "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" and "Saturday Night Live." Politicians continue to compete for the late-night spotlight. Think about Hillary Clinton last night sharing the stage on "SNL" with the very woman who mocks her. Look.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: I'm so darn bummed. All anyone wants to talk about is Donald Trump.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump? Isn't he the one that's like, ugh, you're all losers?


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Did somebody say vacation?


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Oh, my God. They're multiplying.



STELTER: With a cameo there in that cameo.

So, just how influential are these programs becoming when we talk about a candidate's success or failure? Let's go out to Hollywood, West Hollywood, to be specific.

Christina Bellantoni, the assistant managing editor of politics for "The Los Angeles Times."

Good morning.


STELTER: Do you think Clinton accomplished something last night on "SNL"?

BELLANTONI: Sure, of course.

This is where voters are a lot of these days, particularly young voters. Keep in mind that first-time voters next year were born at the end of the Clinton presidency. So, in some ways, she's introducing herself to them for the first time, which is astounding to think about since she's the best-known politician in America right now.

It was effective. She's allowing them to sort of make fun of her. She's going along with the game. But this is an important medium for all candidates. They are spending time in places like this to find the voters.

STELTER: I thought the fact that she actually appeared with the woman that mocks her was notable. That performance by Kate McKinnon is very effective. I think it's got a lot of teeth to it and could actually hurt Clinton over time.

So, the fact that she was going on with her at the beginning of the season, I wonder if it was an attempt to sort of defang "SNL."

BELLANTONI: Well, Tina Fey talked a lot about this in her book, and the sort of how she felt about portraying Sarah Palin.

And she did have a lot of intense emotions about it once she actually got to spend time with Palin. It made her very nervous. And this is definitely an issue once you have had a human-to-human contact with somebody. Do you approach it differently? I think "SNL"'s writers have been very, very smart in the way that they go after politics.

The entire show really, the jokes about the guys who are sort of at the bottom of the presidential pack and that they should get out because they have dementia, and even the open with Trump and the way that they handled it on "Weekend Update' with talking about the Democratic debate you guys are hosting in just a couple of days here.

They understand the news and are using that to have just a little bit of humor and it's funny because it's true in a lot of cases.

STELTER: I'm sure we will see Donald Trump make his own cameo on "SNL" soon. Also, I thought he might show up on the season opener, but now I'm thinking later in the month we will have his turn at it.

I actually thought Hillary's impersonation of Trump was better than Taran Killam's. But he was debuting his new impersonation last night, so we will see how he does as the weeks go on.

BELLANTONI: Yes. It was great. And it was actually something that people think about.

STELTER: What do you mean?

BELLANTONI: The fact that he calls people losers. Right? If you interview somebody on the street, if they don't like him, that's usually the thing they cite. In some ways, it's an effective political dig as much as it is a joke.

STELTER: In interviews this morning, Trump said he liked the impersonation, but didn't like the wig. He thought the hair was totally off and that they have to work on the wig and make that better in future segments.

I do think it was notable that Clinton sort of acknowledged two substantive issues, her delay in expressing the point of view about the Keystone pipeline and her slow evolution on the subject of gay marriage. These were issues she was able to address and basically poke fun at herself about within the confines of a safe, comedic place.


You know what I mean?

BELLANTONI: Yes. And I had hoped maybe you would have some reporting intel on this, because I don't really know how these take shape.

Like, how much time did she have to review this ahead of time? Did she know exactly what those lines back to her would be? If you watch her expression, she is playing it very straight. But then she sort of seems like she's begrudgingly acknowledging, yes, I could come have sooner to it.

It's clever in a sense from "Saturday Night Live" perspective because they allowed her to just come in and be herself, but didn't just let her off the hook and have a fun routine where she's singing. They really did get a policy issue in there.

STELTER: I thought so. And This is again another example of how television, old-fashioned television still driving this election, whether it's Trump being interviewed on every network or Hillary coming on the first "SNL" of the season.

Christina, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

BELLANTONI: Thank you. Have a good day.

STELTER: Coming up here, a Democratic candidate for president many of you might not even be aware is running. The question is, are we in the news business to blame for that? Hear what he has to say in just a moment.



STELTER: Welcome back.

He's a non-traditional candidate with a big pot of campaign money who threatens to turn the system on its ear. I'm not talking about Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. I'm talking about Larry Lessig, the Harvard Law professor and free speech activist who jumped into the race in September after raising $1 million in small donor contributions.

But Lessig's campaign has hit some serious roadblocks, though. The Democratic National Committee won't formally welcome him into the race and many pollsters are not including him in their national polls, which means Lessig is effectively locked out of presidential debates and of campaign coverage in many ways as well.

I want to welcome him here for his first Sunday show interview since officially entering the race.

Thanks for being here this morning.


STELTER: In September, you raised this million dollars and then you started campaigning. We have seen CNN, for example, mention your name in local polls, New Hampshire and Iowa.

NBC this morning put out New Hampshire and Iowa polls, didn't mention you at all, and some national polls haven't either. What are you doing to try to guarantee that at least you're tried by these pollsters?

LESSIG: Right.

Well, this is a system that's pretty good for billionaires and pretty good for politicians. If I were a billionaire, I could spend two years running for president. People would then who I am, or I could buy the ads.

If I were a senator, I could collect my paycheck running for president while still being a senator. But as a Harvard professor, I have got to give up my paycheck the moment I start politicking for president. I can't collect any money from the campaign until two months before the primary. So, it's a very difficult race for an outsider who is not a billionaire.

STELTER: What are you doing to try to get attention and get onto these polls? LESSIG: Everything we can to get people to say, look, I have

been the most active person fighting on this issue for the last eight years.

STELTER: Let's talk about the issue. You're basically running a one-issue campaign, running about campaign finance. Tell us in a couple of seconds what the point is.

LESSIG: It's not one issue. It's the fundamental issue. Right?


LESSIG: All these Democrats are out there talking about all the things they're going to do. Those things are incredibly important, dealing with climate change, dealing with income inequality, getting a minimum wage that's a living wage.

But they're not credible until we get a democracy first. We don't have a democracy right now.

STELTER: What you want is the Citizens Equality Act. This would promise what?

LESSIG: This would change this corrupted, unequal system by producing a representative democracy, by making it so it's not a system which depends on 400 families funding half the election money so far.

We would make it possible to actually have a representative democracy, because the Democrats need a representative democracy if they are going to get any of the things that they're trying to get passed passed.

STELTER: But you have said that you will resign once you get this act passed. A lot of news executives would then say you're not a serious candidate because you're not actually planning on staying in office if you're elected.

LESSIG: That's what is so funny about politics. If you don't say you want to be the most powerful man in the world, they say you can't be serious, you're not serious. It's incredible.

Look, what I want is what soldiers go to war to fight for. I want to get us a democracy back. And what I have described is a plan to get us a democracy back. Now, if you gave me more than five minutes to talk about this, I would be happy to talk about the resigning part.

But let's focus on the change that we would get, because the critical fact is, we cannot get what the Democrats are asking for until we get this democracy back. They won't say that. And you guys won't ask about it. You guys don't -- you let them go on.

STELTER: You're saying the press doesn't ask enough about money in politics?

LESSIG: Yes. We have spent the last eight weeks liming the depths of Donald Trump's brain.

Look, as a teacher, I can tell you, it didn't take an eight-week course to understand Donald Trump. But this fundamental issue, the fact that we don't have a democracy in America, this is what we should be talking about.

STELTER: Trump actually has brought up money in politics quite a lot, hasn't he, accusing his rivals of corruption.

LESSIG: Thank God that he did.

But, look, the Democrats are the party of yes. The Republicans are the party of no. It's easy to be no in American today, no to climate change, no to immigrants, no to gay rights, no to all of these issues. But if you're going to start talking about how we're going to take on Wall Street, you can't take on Wall Street until you change the way elections are funded, because they're the biggest funders of campaigns.

STELTER: So, you're saying you're a serious candidate, you're saying this is not some sort of stunt, as some have accused you of having?

LESSIG: Yes, how can it be a stunt to be fighting for a democracy?

Look, we don't have a democracy. And what I'm trying to describe is a way to get us a mandate powerful enough to get us a democracy back. Everybody out there who is fighting because they believe we need a living wage as a minimum wage, because they believe we need to have health care we can afford, because they believe it's finally time America had climate change, the 89 percent of America who wants minimal regulations on guns who look at yet another massacre happen, yet we can't even get that, those people who care about those issues have got to step back and say, wait a minute.

We can't get what we want until we get this democracy back. And that's what I'm trying to fight campaign for. So, yes, this is a serious campaign. I have got incredibly senior managers in this campaign. Steve Jarding, who has for 37 years been in this business, he started Jim Webb. He was with Tom Daschle. He's done an incredible amount here.


I have got to Democrat guru Drew Westen, the messaging Guru, Paul Wellstone's ad man, Bill Hillsman is in my campaign. This is a serious campaign.


STELTER: What do news executives say to you about that? I ask because CNN's first Democratic debate is coming up in a few days. The threshold for entry is 1 percent. It's purposely a very low threshold in order to be inclusive. And yet in the polls we have seen of your campaign recently, you're below that 1 percent threshold. LESSIG: Yes.

Well, I think the measure should be viability. I raised a million dollars in a shorter time than anybody else except for the top two candidates.

STELTER: Should the networks use fund-raising as a threshold measure, instead of polls?

LESSIG: They should look at campaign viability.


STELTER: But how do you measure viability?

LESSIG: There are a lot of easy ways to look at the viability.

But there's no doubt that this campaign is more viable than Lincoln Chafee or Jim Webb or even Martin O'Malley, right? They have been in this business for four, five, six months and they haven't even come up to the level of fund-raising in the speed that I came up to that level.

The point is, don't shut out an outsider merely because he's not a politician, merely because he's not a billionaire. I have earned the right to address this issue. I have talked about this issue more than anybody else.

More people have seen me talking about this issue than anybody else in the nation right now. This is the critical issue. And what I'm trying to argue for is this fundamental idea. Look, I get nobody knows my name, but everybody knows this principle, this principle of democracy.

Barack Obama used to joke a black man with a name like Hussein can't get elected in America. Right? I'll take his odds. Look, I'm a Harvard professor with funny glasses, a white middle-class, a middle-class middle-aged man. Those odds are pretty long.

But the fight for this principle shouldn't be that hard. The idea that we have a representative democracy should be the core idea that the Democrats are fighting for. And none of those candidates are making this their first issue. They're all some day we will get around to reform.

But it can't be some day. It's got be day one. If it's not day one, it will never happen. If it doesn't happen, nothing they're talking about is going to happen either.

STELTER: I don't think you have that funny glasses.

LESSIG: Oh, well, thank you.

STELTER: I think they're perfectly fine. And the issue of money in politics, such a massive story, hopefully, your entrance into the race, whether people think you're serious or not, require more stories, force more stories about the topic.

LESSIG: Hopefully...


STELTER: It is one of these foundational stories.

LESSIG: Absolutely.

STELTER: Whether you agree with your position or not.

Thank you for being here.

LESSIG: Brian, thank you very much.

STELTER: Good to see you.

Coming up next here, a journalist freed after more than a year in an Egyptian jail launching a campaign to win the release of colleagues that are still imprisoned around the world. You have to hear his story right after the break.



STELTER: The battle for freedom is finally over for journalist Mohamed Fahmy.

After nearly two years behind bars, he and his colleague Baher Mohamed were freed from a prison after a pardon from the Egyptian president late last month. But Fahmy's fight for justice is far from over.

He says he's going to continue to fight for the freedom of other imprisoned journalists and he's going to pursue a civil lawsuit against his employer, Al-Jazeera, for $127 million, citing negligence on their part.

I want to hear his story.

Joining me now from Cairo is Mr. Fahmy.

I want to point out you used to work for CNN before joining Al- Jazeera.

I'm curious first about why you're going forward with the lawsuit. Tell us why Al-Jazeera was negligent in your case when you were behind bars.

MOHAMED FAHMY, FREED JOURNALIST: Well, Brian, thank you very much for supporting us during this horrific crisis.

I am suing the network after I have raised so many concerns constructively and they did not respond to my complaints. When I first took this job as bureau chief of Al-Jazeera English, I asked them, the first question, are we legal in Egypt, is our broadcast license in place? And the answer was, yes, it is. Concentrate on the editorial side of your work.

Apparently, we found in court that the broadcast license had been revoked days before I started the job. That made our situation much worse in court. Of course it doesn't justify a terrorism case, but it gave our captors more firepower. And it made our situation much worse.

And then it gets even worse for me. The network sued Egypt while we were in the cage and their own lawyer who was representing Peter and Baher warned them. And then they rejected his warning, so he quit in court, confirmed the accusations to the prosecutor.

And I had written the network as well from prison telling them, don't sue Egypt while we're in the cage. They didn't listen to us. It made our situation worse. And that is one example of how this is also a political score-settling between Egypt and Qatar. It's not just an issue of freedom of speech here. There's another aspect to it.

STELTER: People increasingly -- many people have said that these instances are increasing where journalists are being treated as geopolitical pawns.

In your case, Al-Jazeera, funded by Qatar, has a number of geopolitical issues with Egypt.

Let me ask you about your time behind bars. We talk about it on this program, journalists who are jailed for doing their jobs. But it's hard to understand what it actually feels like. How would you describe what it felt like to be behind bars now that you're going to be advocating for other journalists who are still in the same position?

FAHMY: You don't go through an experience like this without being a changed man, honestly.

And I was being inspired really by the support we got from journalists across the world. And it -- that's what kept me going and my team behind bars in solitary confinement for one month without sun or light or way of telling time. We knew that we were fighting now for a bigger cause, and you guys protected us.

I felt that this is what I want to do. And I also paid for my legal fees in prison. Now I founded this organization, NGO in Vancouver to help journalists across the globe. Until now, we have 65 journalists in this year who died and more than 200 who are behind bars. That's what I want to do right now. I feel that's my way of giving back.


And I have a lot of experience myself now from what we have been through. And I'm in contact with families of Jason Rezaian in Iran from "The Washington Post" who is in prison, Shawkan, photographer in Egypt who I'm fighting for, Mohamed al-Ajami, a Qatari poet who is serving 15 years for a poem in Qatar, and Atena, a cartoonist in Iran who is serving 15 years also -- or 12 years -- sorry -- for a cartoon.


FAHMY: So, yes, that's part of what I'm going to be doing for the next phase, yes.

STELTER: I'm glad you mentioned them. We have talked about Jason Rezaian and other cases here, and those cases continue, even though you are, thankfully, free.

Thank you for being here this morning. Appreciate your Time.

FAHMY: Thank you very much, sir.

STELTER: And we will be right back in just a moment.


STELTER: We're out of time here on RELIABLE SOURCES, but our coverage continues all week long,