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Prince Harry And Meghan Allege "Near Catastrophic" Paparazzi Chase; Beijing Police Launch Probe After Comedian Tells Army-Themed Joke; Companies Finding The Return To Offices Has Stalled. Aired 5:30- 6a ET

Aired May 18, 2023 - 05:30   ET




CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex say they were involved in a nearly catastrophic car chase due to an aggressive cluster of paparazzi. Prince Harry and Meghan were leaving an event in New York City when the relentless pursuit began lasting, they say, more than two hours and involving multiple near-collisions. Their security team says the couple were shaken by the incident but thankfully, no one was hurt.

CNN's Scott McLean live in London with more. I mean -- and at one point, this couple were basically hiding out in a police precinct trying to get away from the paparazzi. Has the royal family responded to this incident?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Christine. So, yes, no response -- no comment from Buckingham Palace and no comment from Kensington Palace, which represents Prince William. And the Sussexes say that no one from the royal family has reached out to them either.

We have, though, gotten a statement from one of the celebrity photography agencies that said it had four photographers there. It's called Backgrid USA. It said that its freelancers had a professional responsibility to be there. It denied that there were any near- collisions as the Sussexes have claimed. And they even accuse one of the Sussexes drivers as part of their four-car convoy of driving in a way that some may perceive as reckless.

Now, no one has claimed that this was ever a high-speed chase but the reason that this dragged on for so long Christine is because the Sussexes were intent on making sure that the photographers didn't follow them back to the place that they were actually staying at.

So after about an hour and a half of trying to lose this pack of paparazzi with no luck they ended up, as you said, going back to the police station to try to regroup. They ended up getting in a taxi to try to escape that way. That didn't work. That taxi driver, by the way, said that he never felt like he was in any danger. He also said that he saw no aggressive driving while the Sussexes were in his vehicle.

Police have also described the situation in more benign terms saying that the paparazzi made the journey more challenging.

And what's interesting here Christine is that none of the major British tabloids have actually, at least in print, published the photos that were taken by these paparazzi. The Daily Mail, one of the main tabloids, did originally publish them on the website -- on their website, but once the Sussexes came out with their version of events they were taken down.

From the Sussex's viewpoint, they think that publishing or distributing these photos essentially only encourages this kind of dangerous behavior that they're alleging here, though at least one American gossip outlet still has those photos up on -- up online, Christine.

ROMANS: But here's the -- here's the thing. This clearly was called a step and repeat or a red carpet there where photographers were invited to take pictures of the couple and Meghan's mom. So there was availability for the photographers to get their pictures, which leads you to wonder why do they have to be chasing around outside if there was a photo op availability inside.


MCLEAN: And that seems to be the view taken by the vast majority of the press. There was only a handful that actually followed them out afterward.

This photo agency, Christine, they are defending themselves saying look, they expected them to maybe go out for dinner afterwards and they would have gotten photos of them in public that way. That's their line of defense. But as you say, the pictures that are running in the newspapers today are the ones that they obviously stood for -- that they obviously posed for, and the ones that were readily --

ROMANS: Consented to -- consented to, right.

MCLEAN: Yes, exactly. The ones that were readily available.

ROMANS: All right, Scott McLean. Certainly, a lot of people talking about it all over the world. Thank you so much for that.

Quick hits around the globe right now.

Ecuador's President Guillermo Lasso, who was facing a looming impeachment vote, has dissolved the National Assembly. Lasso invoked a procedure known as mutual death whereby the opposition-led Assembly is dissolved and snap elections are scheduled.

Two bodies have been found after a Chinese fishing vessel capsized in the Indian Ocean. Thirty-seven people remain missing.

Four children in Colombia were found alive more than two weeks after a plane crash in the jungle. Three adults died in the crash. The children were 13, nine, four, and 11 months old. Rescuers also found trash and discarded fruit the children ate to survive, as well as improvised shelters -- amazing.

All right, the Treasury secretary about to meet with the biggest bank bosses in America as the threat of debt default looms. And the Chinese comedian who joked about the government. What happened next left no one laughing.



ROMANS: Here is today's fast-forward lookahead.

Right now, President Biden is in Japan meeting the country's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Biden is there for the G7 summit.

Later today, Treasury Sec. Janet Yellen plans to meet with bank CEOs in Washington. They'll talk about the debt ceiling and the regional banking stability.

The man accused of killing the co-founder of Cash App is expected to appear in court today. Mimi Momeni is accused of stabbing Bob Lee to death in San Francisco last month.

A Chinese stand-up comedian under a police investigation after making a joke that loosely referenced a slogan to describe the country's military. Li Haoshi, whose stage name is House, has been fired and forced to apologize for that joke. A subsidiary of the firm that represented him has also been fined nearly $2 million.

CNN's Steven Jiang live in Beijing with more. You know, from the American perspective or the Western perspective joking about your government -- this is standard fare. Not so in China. What has been the public reaction?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Christine, the latest on this front is a woman in northeastern China has now been detained by police for appearing to defend this joke in a social media post. And to the mostly young fans of stand-up comedy, of course, they are rightfully fearful that this episode could spell the premature death of the entire industry, which had just gone from underground to mainstream.

And to many, this is a rather tragic reminder of the extremely sensitive line that not just comedians but other artists and public figures have to strike in this highly-censored environment where everything could become taboo almost overnight.

Now, this offending punchline really sounds innocuous to most people outside of China because this comedian simply used this phrase "fine style of work" and "capable of winning battles." But the problem here is this was first uttered in 2013 by none other than Chinese leader Xi Jinping to describe the Chinese military.

So that loose reference has now cost him everything, effectively shutting down the company he once worked for and even potentially, the industry. And he's now potentially going to jail because of that police investigation you mentioned. Because in 2021, the country enacted a law banning any insults to military personnel and the authorities have been prosecuting people for that crime and in previous cases sending them to jail for at least seven months.

So that's why a lot of artists (PH) think this whole saga is the latest reflection of Xi Jinping's philosophy of reasserting the party's absolute control in every aspect of Chinese society -- and that is really no joke, Christine.

ROMANS: Yes, no joke, indeed.

All right, Steven Jiang. Thank you for that.

All right, to sports now.

Jimmy Butler willed the Miami Heat to a huge win against the Celtics in Boston in game one of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy.


So we have to remember the Miami Heat are the eight seed. They had to win that final game in the play-in tournament just to make it to the playoffs. But when you have Jimmy Butler -- Playoff Jimmy -- anything is possible.

And the Celtics -- they actually had a nine-point lead at the half last night. But then, Butler and Miami had an incredible third quarter. The Heat scoring 46 in the third -- most ever for them in a quarter in the playoffs and second-most ever given up by Boston.

Now, the Celtics got back to within four late in the fourth but Butler coming through again. This three right here is really going to put the game away.

The Heat win game one 123-116.

Butler, 35 points, seven assists, five rebounds, and six steals. And after the game he talked about the privilege of being the leader of the Heat.


JIMMY BUTLER, MIAMI HEAT FORWARD: I really feel as though with anything in life, if you get the opportunity and you have the belief that my teammates, my coaches -- you know, Coach Pat -- and ownership have in me to kind of lead the charge along with Bam right now, anything is possible. And they are trusting me with the ball on the defensive end, and I think that's what any basketball player wants. That's what anybody wants out of life is just to be wanted, be appreciated, and just let you go out there and rock.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCHOLES: And the Western Conference Finals continues tonight. LeBron and the Lakers trying to even their series at a game apiece with the Nuggets. That one tips off at 8:30 Eastern.

The NHL is also back in action with game one of the Eastern Conference Final between the Panthers and Hurricanes. The puck drops at 8:00 Eastern on TNT.


Meanwhile, the Mets with a comeback for the ages against the Rays last night. Down to their last out, down by three, two runners on, rookie Francisco Alvarez launching a no-doubter three-run home run to force extra innings.

Then after giving up two runs in the top of the 10th, Pete Alonso steps up with two runners on and the polar bear plunging another one deep into the New York night. Three-run walk-off home run.

It's just the second time since 1961 a team had a game-tying home run in the ninth and a walk-off home run in extras when trailing by multiple runs each time.

All right, and finally, the PGA Championship teeing off today from Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York. Reigning PGA champ Scottie Scheffler and last month's Masters' champ Jon Rahm entering as the betting favorites in golf's second major of the year.

But there isn't a better story this week than Braden Shattuck. Shattuck hurt his back in a car accident four years ago and didn't swing a golf club for two years after that. But he never gave up and this morning the 28-year-old from Glen Mills, Pennsylvania is one of 20 club pros going up against the best in the world.


BRADEN SHATTUCK, MAKING PGA CHAMPIONSHIP DEBUT: I feel lucky to be playing, so I just -- I'm a lot more relaxed than I used to be when I'm out here playing golf. And it's probably -- I probably -- I probably play better because of that because I'm just more laid back. I'm not putting so much pressure on myself. So I think it's actually been kind of a blessing in disguise more than anything.


SCHOLES: Yes, Shattuck one of the first guys to tee off this morning, Christine. And he still teaches golf 50 to 60 hours a week in Pennsylvania. He doesn't have really much time to work on his own game. But he's someone definitely to root for this weekend.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

All right, Andy Scholes. Thank you so much.

SCHOLES: All right. ROMANS: All right. Coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING" exclusive new evidence in the special counsel probe of former President Trump's mishandling of classified documents.

And next, right here, bosses giving in and return-to-office stalling out.



ROMANS: All right, your Romans' Numeral this morning, $1.3 billion -- the cost of debt ceiling brinksmanship. U.S. borrowing costs spiked $1.3 billion in 2011, the last time the U.S. was on the brink of a debt default. Congress raised the debt ceiling two days before the money ran out but it still cost taxpayers.

Net interest on the debt already accrued, of course, is a big driver of growth in the national death, along with health care costs, payments for an aging population, and insufficient tax revenues.

Now, debating tax hikes and reforms to popular programs like Medicare and Social Security -- that's not what's happening in Washington right now. That seems to be a non-starter. It will take serious, hard, bipartisan work to prevent the national debt from choking in the country in the decades ahead. Debt ceiling brinksmanship is anything but that.

All right. Looking at markets around the world right now, you can see Asian shares closed higher. Europe has opened higher. And on Wall Street, stock index futures -- if we pull that up -- also leaning up here.

After gains on Wall Street yesterday, the news of negotiations underway to raise that debt ceiling inspiring confidence around the world here.

Treasury Sec. Janet Yellen and bank CEOs meet today. The two-year Treasury yield rose to 4.15 percent, up from Tuesday's close of 4.07 percent. Bank stocks yesterday popped after Western Alliance said its deposits grew by more than $2 billion from the end of March to mid- May.

Data out today for investors to chew on -- existing home sales for April, mortgage rates, and weekly jobless claims.

All right, the return to offices stalled across the country. The Wall Street Journal reporting average city office occupancy rates topped 50 percent at the start of the year but now that number has stalled as companies embrace hybrid work models.

I want to bring in Rob Sadow. He is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Scoop. It's a company that builds software for hybrid teams. Good morning.

ROB SADOW, CO-FOUNDER AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, SCOOP (via Webex by Cisco): Good morning. Thanks for having me.

ROMANS: So what are you seeing? Are you starting to see sort of like a loss of momentum in the return to employees to the office?

SADOW: What we're really seeing is companies start to coalesce around hybrid work. And at the Flex Index we track office requirements for 4,500 companies across 30,000-plus offices. They employ 100 million people globally.

And we looked at the data three months ago versus today and probably the most interesting things we found are full-time in-office dropped from 49 percent of companies three months ago to 42 percent now.

While hybrid is picking up -- structured hybrid, in particular, where companies set specific expectations on when employees are in the office or how much they're supposed to be there, grew from 20 percent of companies to 30 percent over the last three months.

ROMANS: What are companies doing to incentivize employees to come back to the office?

SADOW: I think companies are doing a number of different things. I think they're trying to find a balance and they recognize that for most companies, at least, that asking people to come in five days a week for a lot of employees is a non-starter. Employees know that there are competitive options out there. It's still a tight labor market and have been pushing back really hard on that.

I think companies, at the same time, are recognizing -- or a lot of executives feel that if employees are not in the office at all maybe something gets lost in terms of onboarding or mentorship, or ability to collaborate.

And so, I think what's really happening is we're finding a balance -- two to three days a week, on average. Employees are happier with that than five days but maybe not thrilled. Executives are happier with that than no time in the office. But it's maybe not exactly what they want but it's a bit of a middle ground that folks seem to be able to align on.

ROMANS: Is there any industry that's five days? I mean, it's back to normal -- or the old normal?


SADOW: I haven't seen any that's purely five days. I would say the closest are industries that maybe are more dependent on foot traffic to be successful. So, retail, manufacturing, and other industries like that which seem to have higher full-time in-officer rates as compared to financial services, professional services, tech, in particular, that have much higher levels of flexibility.

ROMANS: All right, Rob Sadow of Scoop. Thank you so much. Nice to see you this morning.

SADOW: Thanks, Christine. I appreciate it. ROMANS: All right, "CNN THIS MORNING" is next with President Biden in Japan sitting down with Japan's prime minister right now.



ROMANS: All right, our top of the morning, the top U.S. cities to live in.

Number one, Green Bay, Wisconsin. Big-city amenities with a small-town feel. Number two, Huntsville, Alabama for its low cost of living. And number three, Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina where the people are young, friendly diverse, and educated.

Thanks for joining me. I'm Christine Romans. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.