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Courage in Crisis; Haiti in Crisis; Interview With Kaiya McCullough. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired October 19, 2021 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here`s what`s coming up.
KAIYA MCCULLOUGH, FORMER PROFESSIONAL SOCCER PLAYER: I truly feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. And I`m just grateful that my own
story has been able to help others come forward.
GOLODRYGA: Abuse allegations in women`s soccer could be just the tip of the iceberg, as reports of new cases emerge from around the world.
I speak with former player and whistle-blower Kaiya McCullough.
And as the kidnapping of missionaries in Haiti highlights security failures, we take a closer look at multiple crises there, natural and
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any time you have a breakdown society like we have seen, there is a chance to build something better.
GOLODRYGA: Courage in a crisis. "Convergence," a new Netflix documentary looks at COVID-19 through the eyes of front-line workers.
MCKAY COPPINS, "THE ATLANTIC": A community where a local newspaper disappears or is dramatically gutted, voter turnout drops, civic engagement
GOLODRYGA: Hari Sreenivasan speaks to journalist McKay Coppins about what`s killing America`s newspapers.
GOLODRYGA: Welcome to the program, everyone. I`m Bianna Golodryga in New York, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour, who will be back tomorrow.
As reports of abuse in women`s soccer keep surfacing, executives at FIFA, the sport`s governing body, fear that this could be the tip of the iceberg.
In Venezuela, Australia and elsewhere, dozens of players are coming forward with new allegations of psychological and sexual abuse.
This comes after U.S. players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim went public with claims of sexual coercion within the National Women`s Soccer League.
Officials say changes are coming. The NWSL just named a new interim CEO, and the U.S. soccer federation retained Former Deputy Attorney General
Sally Yates to investigate abuse allegations.
But, for now, in soccer, as in so many women`s sports, the players may be the stars, but men still hold positions of power.
This summer, NWSL player Kaiya McCullough came forward with allegations of emotional abuse by Washington spirit coach Richie Burke and set in motion
the reckoning happening all across the world. Burke denies the claims. But McCullough says she quit the team after he made her -- quote -- "hate
And in an op-ed in "The Washington Post," she says it`s time for the players to fix the league. At 23, McCullough is both a veteran player and a
veteran sports activist. When I spoke to her earlier today, I asked her about her decision to speak out.
GOLODRYGA: Kaiya, thank you so much for joining us today. I know this has been a really difficult time for you. But I would imagine perhaps it`s also
a bit liberating to come forward with the stories of your abuse and the allegations against your former coach of the Washington Spirit, Richie
You have accused him of emotional and verbal abuse. And that`s really led others to come forward too.
But, first, let`s talk about how you`re doing now just weeks after coming forward.
MCCULLOUGH: Yes. No, it definitely -- I like that word that you used, liberation.
It was something that I was sitting on for a long time, and I wasn`t sure that I was ever going to talk about. But when the opportunity came up, and
I had the opportunity to speak up, I did. And I`m -- I can`t imagine doing anything different now.
I truly feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. And I`m just grateful that my own story has been able to help others come forward.
GOLODRYGA: What`s really tragic about it, just at the age of 23, you have had to retire from a sport that you have loved and played for so many
In fact, I want to read a line that you wrote in "The Washington Post" in an op-ed recently. And you wrote: "Everyone as a rookie when they first
come into the National Women`s Soccer League. I was still one when the league`s toxic culture pushed me out."
You have accused your coach of making you hate soccer. What ultimately led you to make that career-ending decision?
MCCULLOUGH: I really think it was you know, the fact that I was waking up every day doing this work that I had loved my entire life and that had
gotten me through so many hard times, my parents` divorce, a lot of personal trauma, and had always been a safe space for me.
And I think when I realized that it wasn`t, and I was waking up every day and hoping I would get hurt at practice, so I wouldn`t have to go, or just
dreading having to go on the field, and coming back and then sleeping for like eight hours just because I was so sad all the time, I think, for me,
that was when I realized I needed to put my own happiness first, I needed to put my own mental health first.
GOLODRYGA: Can you give us some specifics as to what a day in the life was like during that year?
I know that the coach, Richie Burke, would yell in your face and would drain any sort of adrenaline that you brought to the game and your
confidence and, in fact, led to even some panic attacks.
MCCULLOUGH: Really, what would happen was, it felt like he would target people at practice, and no matter what they did, good or bad, it just
And he would target them and yell at them and just kind of make it feel very personal. So, I mean, getting into specifics is hard. But it really
was just this environment that was so toxic. And it was fearing that you were going to be next, and knowing that nobody was going to stand up for
you because they were also scared that it was going to be them next.
So it was just this constant kind of cycle.
GOLODRYGA: I`m so sorry to hear that you and your fellow teammates had to endure this. We should note that Richie Burke has denied these allegations,
but he has thus far been banned from the league subsequently.
And, unfortunately, he`s not an outlier. As you know, you have become a whistle-blower of sorts, and that has opened the floodgates of other
horrific allegations. A slew of them followed yours.
In fact, the most shocking one came from Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim at their coach at North Carolina Courage. And his name is Paul Riley. They
accused him of sexual coercion and emotional abuse. That has permeated throughout and sent ripple effects throughout the league as well. He was
subsequently fired and denies these allegations.
But what does that feel like for you, on the one hand, knowing that you are not alone, but, on the other hand, knowing just how pervasive this abuse
was throughout the sport?
MCCULLOUGH: I mean, I think that`s part of the reason I left. I didn`t feel like I could go somewhere where I would be safe.
I had a feeling that it was more common than people were letting on. And it was just a gut instinct that, anywhere I went, I might not be safe. So I
just didn`t want to put myself through that again. But it`s disappointing, and it hurts, especially as somebody who deeply cares about others and
deeply cares about this sport.
To know that other people were going through anything similar and at times even worse is heartbreaking and has definitely contributed a lot to the
reason that I came forward in the first place and why I put my name on the article. I wasn`t going to do it at first. I wasn`t going to go on the
But I realized that, in order to combat some of these issues, it takes standing up against them. So, yes, it definitely inspired me. It breaks my
heart, but it definitely inspired me to come forward and to tell my own story. And so I`m glad that we have this ripple effect happening.
But, at the same time, it really shouldn`t be on players to have to give up their career or to have to relive trauma in order to fix some of these more
GOLODRYGA: Of course not. And as with so many instances of abuse, this, as it appears, was not the first time that these coaches were accused of these
type of heinous attacks, and yet the league did nothing in response to previous allegations and claims.
In fact, it takes some more prominent names. We all know Megan Rapinoe. She responded to this with a tweet and said: "Men protecting men who are
abusing women. I will say it again, men protecting men who are abusing women. Burn it all down. Let all of their heads roll."
Is that what it takes?
MCCULLOUGH: Part of me wants to believe that that`s not true, even just seeing the impact that my own story has had. And, again, I was a rookie,
not really super well-known, I guess, and new in the league.
So, on the one hand, I like to believe that every voice can have a huge impact. But, on the other hand, sometimes, it does take those big players
to come out in support and to call things out for things to get done, because they wield more power.
And when you`re talking about these larger power structures and these intricate systems of power, it often takes people who wield some of that
power to be able to impact what`s happening.
In terms of them having accusations against them before, that, to me, was the most -- not the most, but one of the most shocking parts about all of
this, is just knowing that I was put in this position, and I didn`t have to be. I was put in this position by people who wanted to have a good old boys
club and help their friends out. And it doesn`t have to be like that.
So, for me, it`s definitely a complex issue. But I think the more people who are calling it out, the better.
GOLODRYGA: I think, for a lot of our viewers, it may be hard to understand why more women didn`t speak out sooner.
And to give a sense of how brave you were and you and your teammates for coming out the way you did, the National Women`s Soccer League had no
formal harassment policy until this year. I mean, there`s a reason that women feared speaking out. One former Spirit player said: "They can rip
your contract out for nothing. And it doesn`t matter. It could be that if you miss a shot. That`s your job security."
And that`s what it comes down to. We have spent so much time focused on pay inequity between women`s soccer and men`s, but just the fact that you don`t
have job security, much less to have the opportunity to come out and make these allegations, speaks volumes about how vulnerable women are in this
MCCULLOUGH: Yes, definitely.
I think a lot more people don`t come out even still just because of retaliation. And that seems like people don`t want to think that that`s the
truth, but that`s what it is. It`s you fear retaliation. I know, in my case, people didn`t even want to, like, stand up to him in practice because
of fear about retaliation.
So when you have these people who are abusers and who are bullies, and they have a unilateral control over other people`s livelihoods, your contract,
that`s your source of income. That`s your place of living. They have the ability to uproot your entire life and trade you away without a moment`s
So, when somebody has that sort of control of you, of course you`re not going to speak up.
GOLODRYGA: I want to read to you what another player, former Irish soccer player Ciara McCormack, said recently when she blew the whistle against a
Canadian coach last year.
Here`s what she wrote in the U.K.`s "Guardian" newspaper. She wrote: "If I have learned one thing from my experience in this ocean of harm, is that it
is change will never happen if the organizations and individuals perpetrating abuse aren`t held accountable. It`s time we take our game back
and leave a legacy for future players. Sports should be a place for magic and dreams, not a place to spend years after picking up the pieces."
And I think she speaks to not only the women who are enduring the abuse, but all of the women who could perhaps have become even greater champions.
MCCULLOUGH: Exactly. That`s why I came forward. I did not want what happened to keep happening to anybody.
It`s a big issue. And that word accountability is super important in having these conversations, because, without accountability, there is no way
forward. If these organizations and these individuals and these systems are not held responsible for the harm that they cause others, then no change is
actually going to happen.
GOLODRYGA: Well, as we know, actions speak louder than words, but we are hearing from these governing bodies.
Joyce Cook, for example, FIFA`s chief education and social responsibility officer, told our Amanda Davies that FIFA -- she fears that this is just
the tip of the iceberg, and she has encouraged others to come forward. Here`s what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOYCE COOK, CHIEF EDUCATION AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY OFFICER, FIFA: We are incredibly serious about eradicating abuse from sport, from football.
We have spoken to a lot of other international sports federations about this topic over the last year. And what`s clear is that part of ensuring
that we have a safe sport means that we also have to provide remedy for those that have been abused, that are being abused, and to make sure that
any perpetrators are not only not welcome, but banned from sports.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: FIFA also told CNN in a statement that: "Anyone found guilty of misconduct and abuse shall be brought to justice, sanctioned and removed
from the game."
The U.S. Soccer Federation has recently appointed former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates to conduct an independent investigation, and they say
that she will be given full autonomy, access and the necessary resources.
That is a lot that they are investing right now, At least putting words out there as to what they will do. Are you confident that their actions will
support these words?
MCCULLOUGH: I don`t know.
I would love to believe that people are going to follow through with their words with robust action. But the other part of me has seen how the systems
have failed me.
So, I`m optimistic. I`m hopeful. But I`m still hesitant.
GOLODRYGA: Listen, you have retired at the age of 23. That`s not something you typically hear. I know that you are looking towards the positive now
and the future. And law school I hear is in your future as well.
But what is your message to young girls out there who are aspiring to achieve perhaps what you have and to turn into a professional player? I
have a 5-year-old who loves soccer, and she plays every weekend, plays her heart out. And your message to all these little girls around the world who
look up to people like you and want a future in the sport?
MCCULLOUGH: I think it`s important to realize that, while soccer is an incredible game, it`s not everything.
So work hard to get to where you want to be. But also always remember to stand firmly in your power and to always stand firm in your beliefs,
because those are what`s going to change the world. And whether that`s through soccer or something else, stand firmly in your power and don`t
allow others to ever take it from you, because that is when you`re not going to find success.
Stand firmly in your power. And always believe in yourself and stand true to your beliefs.
GOLODRYGA: Kaiya, I have no doubt that you are going to be helpful to so many young girls and women in the field right now. And I`m glad that you
have seen this as a liberating moment for you.
Thank you so much for being a voice for so many that are fearful of coming out. We appreciate your time.
MCCULLOUGH: Thank you. Of course. Thanks for having me.
GOLODRYGA: We turn to Haiti now, where the FBI has joined the investigation into the abduction of American and Canadian missionaries.
The kidnappers are now demanding $17 million ransom, a million for each victim. Haiti`s justice minister says the kidnappers have been warned about
harming the hostages, but they are not swayed by those warnings.
Kidnappings are a daily occurrence in Haiti, where food and fuel shortages are common and basic government services are practically nonexistent.
Yvens Rumbold works with Policite, a nonpartisan think tank in Haiti, and he joins me now from Port-au-Prince.
Yvens, thank you so much for joining us.
Let me first just get your reaction to this news about the 17 hostages. Given all of the uncertainty and disarray and terror on the ground there,
what is the response to this headline that`s making international news?
YVENS RUMBOLD, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, POLICITE: Thank you for having me, Bianna.
Of course, the kidnappings of the Americans is a shock to all of us, the same way busloads of Haitians have been kidnapped and Haitians have been
massacred, tortured, our rights have been validated. And it`s always a shock for all of us, because no one, absolutely no one should be put in the
inhuman situation, and certainly not in the land of Dessalines and Christophe, what -- fought for individual liberties for everyone on this
So yes, we were surprised, but also we think it may be political. There may be political motives behind that, too. So, there have been a lot of people
saying, well, of course, they don`t know why they`re being kidnapped, the Americans and the Canadians have been kidnapped. But there are people will
think that such act, striking act, is maybe a force -- waiting for the hands of the Americans to intervene.
But they think the act...
RUMBOLD: Yes, you were saying?
GOLODRYGA: Yes, I was just going to say we know that it is U.S. policy to not pay these ransoms, just because obviously the impact that could have
for further kidnappings and future kidnappings.
But I think this is an important moment to highlight, while there may be these 17 American and Westerners who were kidnapped, this is happening on a
daily basis throughout Haiti. The kidnappings spiked 300 percent since just July.
What is the sense for everyday Haitians there who are just trying to go about their lives, schoolchildren trying to go to school, family members
trying to go to work?
RUMBOLD: People are afraid.
Like, myself, my friends -- I have one of my close friends, he has been kidnapped two weeks ago, and he was kidnapped in my car while I was in the
neighborhood where we together used to go to just have a beer.
Yes, people are afraid of going out. Like, my friends and my colleagues, my family, they don`t want me to go outside. And I was in the States last
month. And people didn`t want me to come back.
They -- when I came back, they were surprised. Like, why did you come? I mean, of course, there is this understanding that if you are outside of
Haiti, you should stay outside of it, because things are really messy here.
But at the same time, you cannot leave the country and leave it in this mess situation, because you need to take care of your own. We are 12
million people on the ground, but we need to gather, and try to come up with solutions to the situation.
So, right now, I mean, I think the people are afraid, but, also, they don`t have trust in the police. We don`t have a huge number of police officers,
Bianna. The average police-to-civilian ratio is worldwide one to 450 people, maybe 2.25 police officers for every 1,000 people.
But, in Haiti, this ratio is 1.3, 1.3 to 1,000 inhabitants, so far less than what it is supposed to be. So, in March 2020, the institution, the
national police, reports that the number is around 15,000 in Haiti.
So, of course, there are more today, but less than what the number is supposed to be. And, last year, they also reported that they could not
reach the goal of hiring 4,000 new agents from 2017 to 2021 because of lack of funding.
So you have that situation where the police is overwhelmed by the events because they don`t have the sufficient number, but also because they don`t
have the funding to have well-trained people.
And for the societies, you have...
GOLODRYGA: So, what happens?
GOLODRYGA: So, how do you then continue as a society, when, A, three months out of the assassination of your prime minister that is yet to be solved,
there has been a terrible hurricane and then earthquake following that, and, as you mentioned, there`s a lack of trust amongst the police?
And we`re seeing a spike in kidnappings. There`s actually a protest that`s been going on this week from fellow citizens there in Haiti who are just
fed up and fearful for their lives. I mean, are we at a point where we`re going to start using the phrase failed state?
RUMBOLD: Well, I mean, this situation -- I don`t think this situation has been better in Haiti for the last two decades.
I mean, of course, I`m in my 30s, early 30s. And as long as I can remember, we have been living a cycle of violence and disaster for the last two
decades. And I have been living in Port-au-Prince for the last 13 years.
So I have never been so precautious and careful about where to go or not. But I don`t think the failed state would be appropriate to describe what`s
going on in Haiti, because it`s not in Haiti all over. It`s Port-au-Prince.
Port-au-Prince, of course, it`s the largest metropolitan area, but we also have other groups of gangs in other cities, but they are not as active as
the gangs in Port-au-Prince. But what you need to understand also the ones in Port-au-Prince, they are not just come from out of nothing, out of thin
They have been held by political leaders, by wealthy entrepreneurs, who also give them guns to protect their own personal interests. So you have
those people right now who turn against the political leaders, against these work entrepreneurs.
Now they are targeting the population. So there is -- we know the sources of the problem. We know what the problem is. So, we need the help necessary
to fight the gangsterism in Port-au-Prince, because the solutions out there, but the political will is absent.
GOLODRYGA: Right. This...
RUMBOLD: That`s what we need.
GOLODRYGA: This gang is called the 400 Mawozo gang. And they have really started large-scale kidnappings, like the one that we have seen and
reported on of the 17 Westerners.
This comes at a time when, obviously, those in America and around the world have seen the U.S. send back Haitians who have fled the country precisely
because of many of these reasons that you have just laid out.
I think, if anything, the world now gets a sense of what they were fleeing. What is it going to take to turn things around?
RUMBOLD: It`s going to take a lot of courage and a lot of political will and sincerity, because, right now, I think there is none.
There -- we have the actors that are playing in the field right now. And most of the civilian society members, most of Haitians that we -- they
don`t trust them, because they have been engaged in the government for the last three to four years. They are incapable of solving the situation. And
we don`t think suddenly, by having them organize elections, they`re going to be the messiah that will solve all Haiti`s problems.
So, of course, we need more new leaders, new Haitian leaders and Haitian civilian society members that would put their foot into play, so to be able
to organize elections, to reinforce our institutions, because we have weakest institutions for so long.
And without strong institutions, you`re not going to be able to solve the problem. So, we need people that are courageous, that are sincere, that
want to -- that have a vision for collective project for Haiti. And we need them to stay in Haiti, to be engaged, but not fleeing the situation.
So, of course, I understand when people cannot stay in Haiti because of the insecurity, they want to leave, but also we want those that want to fight
to stay and fight for the right goals. And, right now, if we don`t have those people, if you don`t have the people who understand the complexity of
Haiti, it`s not going to be -- we`re going to...
GOLODRYGA: Different context, but it sounds eerily similar to what those in Afghanistan have been saying too, that they need those Afghan people to
stay there to help rebuild the country.
Quickly, before we go, you mentioned that your friend had been kidnapped. Is he safe? Is he OK now?
RUMBOLD: Yes. I mean, so far, he is OK. He`s been talking to a psychologist.
And we say that the psychologist has really helped him. And I would really encourage people in Haiti to check out mental health help when they face
this type of situation.
GOLODRYGA: Yvens Rumbold, I`m happy to hear that your friend is OK.
And thank you so much for your time and your courage to stay in your home country. We appreciate it.
RUMBOLD: Thank you for having me.
GOLODRYGA: We turn now to a sobering look at the pandemic and those on the front lines.
A new Netflix documentary focuses on the everyday heroes who gave their all. Here`s a clip from "Convergence: Courage in a Crisis."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just applied to be a cleaner at a hospital. I want to help because I feel like I can do this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The medical staff in Wuhan urgently need volunteers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At night, I am a doctor.
Hello? How are you?
During the day, I`m a community activist and organizer.
Here, you got to change this mask on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Water.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let`s go. Let`s go.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to fight this virus.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a global community.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In unison.
GOLODRYGA: The film is co-directed by my next two guests, Oscar-winning Orlando von Einsiedel, who was behind the films "White Helmets" and
"Virunga," and Hassan Akkad, who`s featuring in -- who`s featured in the documentary.
Hassan is a Syrian refugee who found himself working on the front lines of Britain`s COVID wards.
Welcome to the program, both of you.
I have to tell you, this is such a moving documentary. And, obviously, we have been covering COVID for nearly two years now and how it has spanned
But what you have been able to do, Orlando, is really give a sense of what is happening and how it`s impacted so many different countries, so many
different cultures, yet in many similar ways, and in a way that I haven`t seen connected quite yet.
What made you approach the documentary that way?
ORLANDO VON EINSIEDEL, DIRECTOR, "CONVERGENCE: COURAGE IN A CRISIS": Well, thank you.
I mean, this began, if you cast -- your audience cast their mind back to April 2020, this was a period where the virus was spreading around the
world. It was a very upsetting moment. And at the same time as the viral spread, there were lots of other political things that were happening that
were very negative and sad.
There was government failures. There was greed. There was intercountry disputes and people using the pandemic as a way to crack down on freedoms.
And yet, at the same time, if I looked out my window in my neighborhood in London, my neighbors were helping each other. There was community. There
And that was the same with social media. And so this project really began as a way to try and capture the good people across the world responding to
the virus and helping one another, a kind of global a love letter to humanity.
And we began with that principle.
GOLODRYGA: Yes, the movie does span the globe. You`re in Iran, the U.K., Brazil, China, Peru, the U.S., and India.
And, Hassan, what you bring to the film is your background in Syria. You, unfortunately, have seen violence and danger and crises firsthand. How did
your background help you as you not only worked on this documentary, but in fact decided to become one of those front-line workers as well?
HASSAN AKKAD, CO-DIRECTOR, "CONVERGENCE: COURAGE IN A CRISIS": Well, my background definitely shaped my perspective.
And the pandemic isn`t my first crisis. I have gone through crisis before. So, when it happened and when it hit England, I was in a very bad state,
but I was also driven by my desire to do something, because I have been living here for six years. And I wanted to help in any way possible.
So, the hospital which was 10 minutes away back from where I lived was desperate for cleaners, for people to disinfect COVID wards.
So, I didn`t hesitate because, again, like I -- as Orlando was saying, people were -- despite all the negativity that was happening, there were
people out there doing amazing things and I wanted to be part of that, you know, movement who is trying to help in any way possible. So, I took the
job. And the next day, I was in the ward with like full PPE, trying to combat this virus but was also struck by my colleagues. I worked in a ward
where people have come from over 10 or 11 different countries, which was kind of a reflection of this global movement to combat COVID. So, that`s
why I had this urge to film with them, to document them and also, to shed light on the people that we don`t normally hear about, hospital cleaners
and porters who do amazing things in their work. And yes, that`s how it happened.
GOLODRYGA: And other immigrants. I loved your colleagues and getting to know them. The woman who made all the meals for the patients, right? I
mean, there was a camaraderie and you brought a sense of light and humor into an otherwise really dark moment.
Orlando, on that note, it`s almost as if COVID played a supporting role in this. And in fact, what you were highlighting but societal weaknesses, and
you saw that throughout so many of these cases. I was really moved by the doctor there in Lima who said that this pandemic exposed failures in public
education and health. The same could be said with the Miami doctor who talked about social injustice and inequities of those homeless affected by
COVID and not getting the treatment and the response and the humanity that they should be receiving, especially during a pandemic.
EINSIEDEL: Yes, I mean, this project began with all the different storylines that we are following and the individuals around the world, that
they were fighting COVID effectively. And as these -- as the pandemic continued, what we started to see was what people were really fighting, in
a lot of cases, wasn`t COVID at all. It was government failure and this sort of social flaws, which have already been there but the COVID really
exposed and magnified, and that pattern happened everywhere.
You know, Hassan`s story in London very much touch on that. Like you said, Dr. Armen Henderson`s story in Miami, you know, really drilled into that.
So, I think that`s one of the things. COVID`s been this magnifier magnifying the problems which already exist and has just made them so much
GOLODRYGA: And, Hassan, I was really moved by the exchange that you had with your parents back at home and it reminds us that on the one hand,
we`re very fortunate in this modern era where we have the technology that you can communicate with loved ones across the world, right, but you can`t
see them. And I can just sense that while you saw them via telephone and you could hear their voice, you were really saddened not to be able to be
with them in person. And I think that reflects what so many people experience that were lucky enough to actually be healthy, but emotionally
just wounded, not being with loved ones.
AKKAD: Absolutely. And in the case of the pandemic, people have experienced the inability to travel and see loved ones for the past 18 months. But in
the case of so many migrants and refugees, this has been a reality for years and years and years. Unfair visa systems and borders have played a
massive role in getting people not to reunite. And this was the case for me and my family. Like, you know, having weddings and parties on Facetime or
having meals on Skype. This has been a norm for us the past 10 years.
So, I wanted to bring that into the subject too. I wanted to bring that element of our story into conversation that this social distancing, it`s
been -- it`s a reality for millions and millions of other refugees around the world.
GOLODRYGA: Orlando, what was the most surprising aspect of this project for you, having met and encountered so many people who were there and in the
midst of life and death, literally?
EINSIEDEL: I think, you know, one of the things -- one of the real privileges of making this is, I guess, it seems like the world is divided
in lots of ways. I mean, working on this in some ways, it really brought together the things that unite us. All of our commonalities. And I came --
I left this project, this real sense of our shared humanity and how small this world is and how we`re all connected.
And I say that because, you know, this COVID, the pandemic has been this extraordinary thing which has touched everybody, and it`s showing that to
solve of these problems, these global problems, we all have to work together and I hope one of the learnings of the pandemic is that that`s the
same sort of approach we need to apply to fight the even bigger existential crisis of climate change.
GOLODRYGA: Hassan, you know, we are not through the pandemic yet. Obviously, we`ve turned a big corner. And through the miracles of science
and technology, we have very effective vaccines, but there are still people dying every single day around the world and I`m just curious, having
experienced and seen what you have, when you hear experts say, guess what? We`re not ready for the next pandemic. When you hear that and we`re not
through this one, what goes through your mind?
AKKAD: What goes through my mind is I wonder how our leaders are thinking about this. Because moving forward, how are we going to invest? You know,
when we were struck with COVID, it wasn`t nuclear weapons that helped us. It was science. It was ventilators. It was PPE. So, moving forward, I mean,
are we -- how are we getting ready to -- we`re not done with this pandemic. And this is -- it won`t be the last one. So, where are we going to invest?
In which communities? Are we going to invest in people who kept our cities running during -- when we were all on lockdown?
I mean, the working class, our frontline workers, they were delivering our parcels, they were stacking our shelves, they were, you know, cleaning our
hospitals, they were driving our buses. So, I hope, I hope people who watch our film also figure out how -- I hope that our film works as a manifesto
on how we can actually fight and keep on -- keep fighting this pandemic and how we can fight future pandemics as well.
GOLODRYGA: And, Orlando, despite all of these grim headlines and warnings, you end on somewhat of a positive note. You call this a love letter to
humans and I couldn`t help but think of the letter that the Indian mother wrote her child, her son who was born in the midst of the pandemic into a
world of such uncertainty. Where does your optimism come from having seen everything you did?
EINSIEDEL: You know, it`s really interesting. You turn on the news. It`s very easy to become numb to the world. I have a three-year-old child. I
have to believe in people. I have to believe in humanity. And I really hope the stories in this film, Hassan`s, (INAUDIBLE) from India, Robert and
Ronaldo Alvarez (ph) from Sao Paulo, I really hope that people can also take hope from that.
And more than hope, they can see that these individuals are fighting for social change. They`re driving, they`re working hard to change things for
the better. I found working on that really galvanizing and, you know, this is an overused word, inspiring, but I really did and I hope people can take
that in the film too.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. Every character in this documentary is inspiring. And I want to thank you both, Hassan and Orlando, for shedding light on what`s
been going on around the world and putting it altogether so succinctly and beautifully. I appreciate it. Thank you.
EINSIEDEL: Thank you for having us.
AKKAD: Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: Well, we turn to the secretive inner workings of America`s newspapers. Our next guest, journalist, McKay Coppins, investigated hedge
fund, Alden Global Capital, and their years long work gutting newspapers. His latest piece with "The Atlantic" is titled "The Men Who are Killing
America`s Newspapers." Here he is talking with Hari Sreenivasan about how this all ends up hitting our communities the hardest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Bianna, Thanks. McKay Coppins, thanks for joining us.
Your story took a look at a side of journalism that most people don`t think about and that is, who owns the papers and why? And when you look overall
across the country, you`ll say, well, there`s hundreds of newspapers out there. What made you want to look at this particular story on these hours
MCKAY COPPINS, Staff Writer, The Atlantic: Well, you know, part of it was having covered politics for about a decade. I`d become increasingly
convinced a lot of the problems in our politics right now were rooted in the declining local news industry, right?
When you look at the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories, when you look at the erosion of civic trust, when you look at polarization, you
can actually track a lot of those issues back to the lack of good information being supplied by trusted news sources that are based in
communities where people live. And so, you know, this is a story a lot of people feel like they already know pretty well, right? You know that
newspapers are dying. You know that it`s because Craigslist killed the classified section and Facebook and google swallowed up the ad market and
local newspapers have failed to adapt to the internet essentially.
And all of that is true to a certain extent. But what I found so interesting about these owners, Alden Capital, is that they are doing
something kind of apart from those issues, right? They`re not trying to turn their newspapers into long-term sustainable businesses, at least
according to my reporting. What they`re trying to do is buy up newspapers at bargain prices because many of them have been struggling for so long and
then, milk them for cash in a way that maximizes profits for their investors in the short-term, almost indifferent to the long-term viability
of these newspapers as businesses.
SREENIVASAN: Who are the investors? Who has their money?
COPPINS: That`s a great question and one I wish I had an answer to. All -- hedge funds in general are known for their opacity. They tend not to
disclose much about their investors if they can help it, but Alden Capital is especially known for its secrecy. Almost no information is known about
Alden, or I`ll say it this way, Alden puts out very little information about itself. Its website contains no information beyond its name. Its
founder, Randall Smith, hasn`t given an interview to the press since the mid-1980s.
Alden operates with this preoccupation with secrecy, which a lot of people find ironic given that it`s one of the biggest employers of journalists in
America. But we don`t know who the investors are. We do know that the co- founders of Alden Capital have done pretty well for themselves based on their spending over the last few years. Randall Smith, one of the co-
founders, as of a few years ago, owned 16 mansions in Palm Beach alone.
SREENIVASAN: Give us a sense of scale. How many newspapers do they own?
COPPINS: Yes. As of now, Alden owns more than 200 newspapers. And that number includes a lot of smaller papers and places like Allentown,
Pennsylvania, but it also includes the "Chicago Tribune," `The Baltimore Sun," " New York "Daily News." These are some of the most storied kind of
iconic publications in the American news business. And they`ve been able to acquire them with remarkable ease, frankly.
You know, in most cases, they don`t have any meaningful competition when they`re trying to buy these newspapers. In some cases, they`re able to buy
them out of bankruptcy. The fact that the sector has been struggling for so long and the fact that the perception of this sector is means that they are
able to swoop in when a newspaper chain is kind of down and out and immediately grab them at fairly low prices without really any friction or
objection from most people beyond the reporters who work in the newsrooms.
SREENIVASAN: Now, you were able to catch up with one of the co-founders and kind of a rare interview when you confronted him with some of these
critiques. What was his response?
COPPINS: Yes. So, I spoke to Heath Freeman who is the president of Alden Capital. And, you know, he made an argument that you would expect him to
make, which is that a lot of these newspapers were either bankrupt or on the brink of bankruptcy when I bought them. They would have been liquidated
if not for me. And so, you know, all of these complaints are kind of, you know, nonsense, right?
But, you know, first of all, that`s debatable. Some of the newspapers certainly were troubled but that doesn`t mean they would be liquidated. And
more recently, the newspapers they`ve bought have actually been profitable. The Tribune company was turning a profit before Alden bought it. So -- and
Alden still pursued an aggressive strategy of cost-cutting and profit maximization.
But beyond that, I have to say in my interview with Heath Freeman, I didn`t get the sense he cared that much about his reputation for ruthlessness. In
fact, he almost seems to wear it as a badge of honor. He made a point of distinguishing himself from the past generation of newspaper owners whom he
believes were kind of saps and cowards, people who weren`t willing to make the tough decisions. What matters is the bottom line, right? They`re trying
to make money for their investors and that`s all they care about.
And so, you know, in my conversations with him, he made a kind of -- he made a soft attempt at a defense but really, I did not get the sense he
cares about Alden`s journalistic reputation.
SREENIVASAN: So, is there any specific animus towards this industry by the owners or, I mean, do they not like journalism? Why they don`t care about
it or is there a reason that they got into this when you look back at the history of the ownership?
COPPINS: This is a point of debate among people who know the co-founders of Alden Capital. Some people say that they`re essentially indifferent to
journalism and journalists and that they`re just pursuing their investment strategy. Others believe that they might actually have a kind of hostility
toward the press, that if nothing else, is kind of a perk for them as they`re dismantling these local newspapers.
Now, of course, they would deny that. But if you look at, for example, Randall Smith, he, you know, made a lot of money as an investor, but he,
for a long time, had this kind of personal interest in the media sector. In the `90s, he used his own money to help his brother start an alt weekly
newspaper in New York City called "The New York Press" whose defining kind of ethos was that it railed against the journalistic establishment. It was
almost conceived of as a middle finger to the journalistic establishment.
More recently, he`s moved to Palm Beach and become a major donor to Donald Trump`s presidential campaign. And so, there is a sense among some who have
watched him over the years that he may actually see the dismantling of these newspapers as a perk to his investment strategy.
As for Heath Freeman, he doesn`t visit his newspapers very often, even though he`s the president of this firm. But on the rare occasions that he
does, he`s left somewhat the impression that he has kind of a casual contempt for the journalists who work there. He has said things like, what
do all these people do? Once in a meeting, somebody told me that he suggested that all of Alden`s newspapers could get rid of their full-time
reporters and rely on freelancing.
There`s one story that circulated among Alden employees that maybe apocryphal but nobody could say for sure when the "Denver Post" won a
Pulitzer Prize, Heath Freeman`s first response was, does that come with any money? And this just kind of gets at the perception, at least, within the
newsrooms owned by Alden that Heath Freeman and Randall Smith, at -- in the very best case, don`t care about journalism that much and in the worst
case, actively have a certain amount of disdain for it.
SREENIVASAN: There was almost a movement a couple of years ago when the "Baltimore Sun" was up on the block. The reporters there didn`t want the
sale to go through. They had seen what was happening to other newspapers owned by Alden. But what happened after that protest?
COPPINS: Yes. So, those reporters mounted a pretty impressive and aggressive campaign to block Alden from buying not just them but all the
Tribune company papers. And, you know, they launched a PR campaign. They held rallies. They ran editorials. They tried to basically rally their
communities against this hedge fund. And, you know, they got -- they had some success. They found some people who wanted to look into buying the
paper instead of Alden. They had local celebrities and politicians speak out. But at the end of the day, they struggled to marshal the kind of
movement they would need to block a sale.
And when push came to shove, the Tribune company board saw Alden`s bid as the best bid and they sold. And so, you know, I talked to a lot of the
reporters who were involved this that effort and they were really discouraged. And, you know, some of them said, it felt like we were up
against not just Alden Capital but capitalism itself. And as one reporter put it to me, am I going to win in a battle against capitalism in America?
SREENIVASAN: You point out as well as other people that you spoke with in your piece that there is a reason to look at newspaper businesses or
journalism companies differently than we think of, say, a donut chain or something else. That there is a public good and a consequence, if that
local media watchdog is not present. Go over what is lost in community if a newspaper is bled dry and closes up.
COPPINS: Yes. I mean, there`s a huge body of research at this point that looks at what happens when a local newspaper vanishes. So, in a community
where a local newspaper disappears or is dramatically gutted, voter turnout drops. Civic engagement is eroded. Polarization increases. Misinformation
spreads more easily.
There`s even some research that shows that city budgets balloon with the theory being that dysfunction and manipulation of public funds is able to
happen more easily because there is no newsroom full of meddling reporters kind of looking into alleged corruption. And so, when you put these things
together, you see that there are clear downstream effects to what Alden is doing to these local newspapers.
SREENIVASAN: You took us to, well, I guess, technically a newsroom in Vallejo, California, and you kind of showed us the story. What happened in
that market? And as an example, what is the change that a reader would see? What are the stories they`re not seeing?
COPPINS: I spoke to a reporter at the "Vallejo Times Herald" who worked there from 2014 to about 2020. And he said when he first started, there was
a staff of about a dozen reporters, editors and photographers covering this community of 120,000 people. He started out as a general assignment
reporter and after a little while, one of his colleagues left and he was asked to start covering schools in addition to his other responsibilities.
A few months after that, another colleague left and he had to pick up the city hall beat. After years of cuts by Alden, he was left as the only hard
news reporter in town covering schools, city hall, businesses, hospitals, police, crime. This entire large city virtually by himself. You know, for
this reporter, he told me that it was a really difficult time in his life because he wanted to get to everything. You know, he gained weight, started
grinding his teeth, never took a vacation. He started spending his own money to pull court records. He was really trying to stay on top of
everything, but he said it was impossible.
He told me that he kept a notebook at his desk where he would write down tips that he got from sources, that he knew he would never have time to get
to. And what that meant, essentially, was that there were stories that needed to be investigated, stories that mattered to taxpayers, mattered to
locals, that he just never was able to look into.
So, what happens is that, for a reader, for, you know, the average newspaper subscriber, it`s not just that your newspaper is getting slimmer.
It`s not just that they`re running more stories from the "Associated Press." It`s not just that you`re getting a worse product. It also means
that the public officials that you elect and that you pay with your tax dollars are not being held to account the way that they once were when
there were more robust local newspapers functioning.
SREENIVASAN: I also wonder, how much of this is our collective responsibility, that we have changed our behaviors in such a way, perhaps
we consider news should be free or that we`re not supporting these local papers with our subscriptions. I mean, it seems like if there was enough
interest in changing the course of this, that when it came time for some of these papers to go on sale that other benefactors would step up and fill
that void, but it seems like these guys have deep pockets and they`re the only game in town sometimes to make the purchase.
COPPINS: Yes, I think that`s right. I mean, look, when I talk to the reporters at this kind of hollowed out newsrooms owned by this hedge fund,
a lot of them would express dismay that the readers in the community didn`t think it was worth putting up more of a fuss when the prospect of Alden
buying their newspaper was first reported, right?
You know, there is this sense, I think, among the reporters that what they do is underappreciated, undervalued, that maybe, you know, if their readers
understood the dynamics of media ownership, they would have tried to, you know, direct some of their energy towards stopping Alden from buying these
newspapers. But I think what you`re getting at is a broader issue, which is that consumer behavior in the media world is just changed over the last
decade or so, right? We`re much more used to getting our news from social media. We`re much more tuned in to national news and less tuned in to local
The idea that we should have to pay for a local newspaper, I think, for a lot of people under the age of 40 or so, that seems kind of crazy to them,
you know. And so, you combined all of these factors and the outcome is that there`s this sort of general apathy that Alden is able to take advantage of
and gobble up these newspapers without anybody really noticing or caring.
SREENIVASAN: McKay Coppins of "The Atlantic," thank you so much.
COPPINS: Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: Some stark revelations there about the realities of print journalism today.
Well, that is it for now. You can always catch us online, our podcast and across social media. Thank you so much for watching and good-bye from New