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Reliable Sources

Trump Wants to be the Arbiter of Truth; Trump Says Google "Rigged" Against Him (It's Not). Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired September 02, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:09] JOHN AVLON, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm John Avlon, in for Brian Stelter. And it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES, our look at the story behind the story. How the media really works and how the news gets made.

This hour, Trump attacks tech giant Google over alleged bias and threatens to bring in the feds.

Also, how John McCain's legacy will pay it forward to press freedom.

And how one anonymous group took on Breitbart and then was outed. We have the founder here for his first exclusive television interview.

But first, while most people are celebrating the Labor Day weekend, taking time to relax and enjoy the summer, that's not exactly what the president is doing. Instead, he seems to be in a bunker mentality. And I'm not talking golf, obsessed with lashing out at the media.

Just take a look at all the companies and individuals the president berated this past week with terms like fake reporting, fake news, fake books, fake dossier. It seems like everything critical in the media is fake to President Trump these days.

But should we really be surprised, given that Trump said this back in July?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news. What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening.


AVLON: Don't believe your lyin' eyes.

But these reports that Trump feels back into a corner are in part because the news seems, well, nowhere near favorable lately. A new "Washington Post"/ABC poll showing 60 percent of Americans disapprove of the job he's doing. Headlines about "The National Enquirer" having decades of dirt on him, stored in a secret safe, and that he wanted to buy it all back.

And let's not forget Trump's irritation at the tributes given to John McCain all week, whose funeral he was pointedly not invited to as two former presidents eulogized the fallen senator in a symbol of bipartisanship.

Is it more evidence that Trump's war on the media is really just a war on the truth?

Joining me now, Noah Shachtman, editor in chief of "The Daily Beast", Errol Lewis, CNN political commentator and political anchor for Spectrum News, and April Ryan, CNN analyst and Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks and also the author of the new book "Under Fire: Reporting from the Front Lines of the Trump White House."

Welcome, all.

April, let's start with you. One of the targets of Trump's attacks this week was his Lester Holt interview. It was a big interview in the wake of the Comey firing. It caused a lot of problems when he said it was inspired in part by Russia. Now, he's saying the whole thing's been fudged by the network. It's a conspiracy perhaps or perhaps an editing misunderstanding.

Why do you think the president is singling out this prominent omission?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, one, Lester Holt is a solid journalist. He's a solid nightly news man. And he's got credibility. It's one thing -- you have a president of the United States challenging someone with credibility when that president himself has a credibility issue.

You have to remember this, John -- everything that the president says right now is under a microscope. And this president, according to my Republican sources, understands that Republicans could lose the House. So, he is trying to throw or deflect off of himself and throw it on the media.

He is making people realize or feel that this conspiracy theory that the news is fake is something that really reverberates in his base. I mean, the vast majority of his base believe him when he says things and they have to go back and re-explain what he meant to say. But once again, it's about making the press look bad. If he realizes that he could indeed lose the House. The Republicans could lose the House.

AVLON: So you believe it's basically politically inspired play to the base. That's he's got to take them as prominent example.

RYAN: Politically inspired. Politically inspired.

AVLON: All right.

RYAN: Yes.

AVLON: Noah, I want to move to you because another target of the president's attacks this week was an attack on anonymous sources. And there's more than a little bit of irony in this, given that Trump has been a fabricated source himself for decades, going back to posing as "John Baron" in his real estate days, even up to the Oval Office.

It's a problem throughout the administration to be sure. But you run a newsroom. Is this a case of "I learned it from you, dad"?

NOAH SHACHTMAN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: It's more than that, right? There's actually like a handy cheat sheet to the Trump administration, right? The more they complain about anonymous sources, the more they complain about fake news, the more likely they are to be a leaker themselves.

So, when President Trump complains about anonymous sources, he's an anonymous source for people all the time. When Kellyanne Conway and those kind of folks complain about anonymous sources, well, let's just say that they all have a robust relationship with the media.


AVLON: Robust, a lot hanging on that.

Let me bring in you another one because we have a fascinating example of the president of the United States elevating the issue of off-the- record versus on-the-record. Big controversy in the last 36 hours, when "Toronto Star" reporter Daniel Dale used quotes that were off the record in a Bloomberg interview about Canada and trade and NAFTA.

[11:05:03] This raises interesting questions you don't typically get raised from a president of the United States, more journalism professor.

What do you see, as head of a newsroom, in the ethics of using off the record statements given to another source?

SHACHTMAN: Sure. Look, when you as a reporter go into an off the record agreement with someone, that's -- you are honor-bound to stick to that agreement. However, if you're not party to that deal, you know, you can't be bound by it in any way. So, while the Bloomberg folks were very much bound to keep this off the record, Daniel Dale was in no way bound to stick to it.

AVLON: I mean, Errol, does that line up with your understanding here? Because Dale also took great pains today to say his source was not the Bloomberg reporters. It's pretty interesting upon itself.


Yes, very interesting, because you really want to not get too cute with that, right? Reporters know each other. You don't want to get into the habit of saying, well, I have an off-the-record agreement but my buddy across the room was listening in and wasn't part of the agreement is now going to take the information. You don't want to get into those kind of games.

Daniel Dale or any other professional, you have to take them at their word, that if they were sourced, maybe they were tipped off but what direction to go in, but if they can confirm it elsewhere, it stands as a solid piece of reporting.

AVLON: And certainly it's big news in Canada, where they're taking the NAFTA renegotiation very personally and the Trudeau government has weighed in on this pretty significantly.

Let's pull up a tweet from Maggie Haberman, our friend and colleague, because it was pretty interesting. Really raising questions about whether -- the possibility that Trump ordered it put out.

April, does that ring true to you?

RYAN: Yes. This president is keenly aware of what's going on and this president has his hands in the mix at this White House. Anything that they do, he's very much aware of. And he orchestrates, particularly as he is close to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, from what we're hearing.

So this president definitely puts it out. Then they come back and say, oh, oh, I didn't like that. If it doesn't play well, it's all about the optics. If it plays well, they'll embrace it. If it doesn't, they get upset and very mad and they'll retaliate.

AVLON: Yes, somehow things don't usually work that way.

Noah, speaking of things not working that way, AMI and "The National Enquirer" were in the news again this week for an alleged safe full of dirt on Donald Trump, going back decades and that Donald Trump and co. wanted to buy it back.

This is catch-and-kill on a presidential scale.

What are you hearing about this?

SHACHTMAN: Yes, look, I mean, we saw some of this in the tape that was released between Michael Cohen and Donald Trump where they talked about, where what happens if David Pecker is hit by a bus, how do we ensure those secrets stay safe. And so, yes, they looked to do a big buyback campaign. It was never executed on that grand level, but they did try to buy back some smaller stories, and now, a lot of people are in trouble for it.

AVLON: And a lot of people on defense at "The National Enquirer" which had felt, you know, almost inoculated by the fact the president was in office.

SHACHTMAN: Yes, and, look, they tried to -- they tried to defend the president in every turn until it turned on them.


All right. One thing irritating the president reportedly is evident in his attack on fake books. That's kind of a new one. It's Bob Woodward's book "Fear", which is being released on September 11th.

Now, moving on to the other side of the legendary Watergate Woodstein duo, Carl Bernstein found himself in the president's crosshairs for a story he reported on CNN with Jim Sciutto and Marshall Cohen. That Michael Cohen was prepared to testify that Trump knew about the infamous Trump Tower meeting with the Russians despite the president's strenuous denials. Now, the story was called into controversy when Cohen's lawyer Lanny

Davis backtracked on the claims and outed himself as one of the sources of the story.

Why would Lanny Davis backtrack? Well, it could be to save his client from a perjury trap, given previous statements made to Congress. But here's the thing -- in yet another confirmation, we know from statements made by Donny Deutsch on MSNBC that Cohen seems to have been talking openly along these lines.

Here's what Deutsch had to say the day after CNN's reporting on "Morning Joe."


DONNY DEUTSCH, MSNBC: What came out yesterday to me was not a surprise based on conversations that Michael and I had.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did he reference this meeting in particular?

DEUTSCH: Yes, he did. Yes, he did.


AVLON: Errol, this is a big story. How do you see it?

LOUIS: Yes. Well, look, the most important part of all this is the underlying idea that somebody who is in a position to know, namely Michael Cohen, told his lawyer, Lanny Davis, and Lanny Davis sort of repeated this to the press, that the guy was talking openly about the president knowing in advance about this very important meeting. It has tremendous political implications, tremendous legal implications for a lot of people, not just the president. It's really, really important.

So, for Lanny Davis to then sort of backtrack later and say, you know what, I'm not 100 percent sure, maybe he didn't hear what he thought he heard, maybe he realized the legal interests of his client were different from what he was portraying it as. And maybe he was just deciding he wanted to get out of the story, in part because his client was sort of being pushed into a corner that may be at odds with what he has told the Justice Department.

[11:10:08] So, this kind of stuff happens all the time, there's a certain amount of ambiguity.

Now, for the president, he can just dismiss all of it and says, look, it's fake, and that's another way I think of energizing his base, repeating this narrative that the press is unreliable, and taking any kind of ambiguity or complexity of a story and telling his people, look, if you think it's complicated, that means it's false.

AVLON: Right, which is the great danger. It's a fascinating and important point.

Now, I want to turn to the very real effects of Trump's anti-media rhetoric. I want you to take a listen to this voicemail send to "New York Times" reporter Ken Vogel.


VOICEMAIL SENT TO KEN VOGEL: You are the enemy of the people. And although the pen might be mightier than the sword, the pen is not mightier than the AK-47.


AVLON: And unfortunately, that's not the only one. This past week, a California man named Robert Chain was arrested and charged for making at least 14 threatening phone calls to "The Boston Globe," allegedly saying things like, we're going to shoot you f-ers in the head, shot f-ing last one of you. And you're the enemy of the people and we're going to kill every f-ing one of you.

And, as long as you keep attacking the president, the duly elected president of the United States, in the continuation of your treasonous and seditious acts, I will continue to threaten, harass, and annoy "The Boston Globe".

Now, up to 20 firearms and ammunition were removed from Chain's home, and this comes just two months after a crazed gunman killed five reporters and editors at "The Capitol Gazette" in Annapolis, Maryland.

When questioned by reporters outside a court house about a free press, this is how Chain responded.


REPORTER: Do you have a problem with the free press in America?

ROBERT CHAIN, SUSPECT: There is no free press in America.


AVLON: April, I want to come to you on this one, because it's the subject of part of your book -- the escalating threats against journalists. And what people don't understand how real the threats against reporters can be and whether it's getting worse in your estimation.

RYAN: It is getting worse, John. It is getting worse. There is collateral damage. You know, it affects not only the reporter but the people around the reporter.

You know, I'm going to say this, and I'm just going to put it as simply as I can. I blame the president for this.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders had a chance to pull back, saying we're not the enemy of the people. She didn't. She just talked about things personally that affected her and the president to include the fact that a comedian came there and said some things about her. We didn't do that, the comedian did that.

And the president -- he's had a chance. I mean, "The New York Times" leaders or bosses came and talked to the president about this. So many people talked to him, even his own daughter has said that the press is not the enemy.

This president has got to stop it. He's realized and he's keenly aware of what's going on and what's happening. You know, the death threats have got to stop. We are a part of the Constitution, free and fair, independent press. The First Amendment. Not the second, not the third. The First.

And a lot of people want to listen to this president who they say is a patriot but he's not standing by the oath of office to follow the Constitution, the First Amendment. Not only that, some of these people making threats must have been asleep during government class or civics class, because we are a part of this country, the pillars of this country.

And the problem is, if you don't like the reports, call the bosses. If you don't like the reports, make a noise on Twitter. Do what you have to do. But to try to kill someone for writing a story that you don't like because there is fact in the story, there's a problem.

And yes, I do write about it, and I write about the attacks on me and trying to disparage me and attack my credibility because they were fearful of some of the things that I knew that they were doing. And when I report, I speak the truth. And I have Republican sources who are in the inner circle, who give up the information.

I don't go in an office and go through a file cabinet. I'm given the information. Why? Because they're whistle-blowers and this administration does not like it.

AVLON: April, Noah, thank you very much. Errol, stick around.

Coming up, President Trump attacks Google for bias.


TRUMP: Yes, I think Google is really taking advantage of a lot of people. And I think that's a very serious thing and it's a very serious charge.


AVLON: This comes right before they're set to be in the hot seat before Congress. That's if their CEO shows up.


[11:18:13] AVLON: Welcome back.

Now, Congress had invited executives from major tech companies to appear this Wednesday to discuss their role in protecting the integrity of the midterm elections. Facebook is sending CEO Sheryl Sandberg. Twitter is sending CEO Jack Dorsey. Google doesn't want to send any of its top executives. So senators are threatening to display an empty chair instead. This all comes on the heels of a week when President Trump lashed out

at tech giants, accusing them of bias against conservatives.


TRUMP: You look at Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media giants, and I've made it clear that we as a country cannot tolerate political censorship, blacklisting, and rigged search results.


AVLON: Now, all these companies deny that their platforms are biased against any political viewpoint.

I'm joined by CNN senior media reporter Oliver Darcy and politics, media and business reporter Hadas Gold live from London.

Hadas, let me start with you. President Trump tweeting early in the morning about biased search results, and it might appear he doesn't know how search works, many folks don't. But on the other hand, does he have a point that these platforms are so powerful, and they really are a black box?

HADAS GOLD, CNN POLITICS, MEDIA & BUSINESS REPORTER: It really goes to show, John, how much power these services like Google and Facebook have over our lives, that people almost see them as public utilities and forget that they are private companies that are really free to do what they wish with their search.

But there is a point because Google does sort of keep its algorithm quite secretive. It's not quite clear how it works. They describe it in sort of broader terms.

And when they're referencing people who claim that conservative news sites are somehow pushed down in the search results, they talk about how they push up search results that are highly cited, that have been around for a long time.

[11:20:02] And these tend to be more well-known news organizations like CNN or NBC, "Wall Street Journal" or "New York Times" or something like that. And if you define those outlets as left-leaning or liberal, then that's how you come to the conclusion there's some sort of anti-conservative bias.

But I mean, there is a conversation about how these companies are such a big impact on our lives and at what point does the government get involved? You can look at the history of telephone companies, look at the history of the railroad companies. And you can see sort of a future possibly for some of these tech companies.

AVLON: Trust-busting. I pulled that chapter out of our history books. But fascinating points also about the authority working against some fringe outlets that the president may cite.

Oliver, I want to bring this to you now. So, the president keeps warning social media giants he will take action over what he sees as their biased behavior. This administration has no details, though, about what the consequences could be. Let's take a listen.


TRUMP: We have literally thousands and thousands of complaints coming in. And you just can't do that. So, I think Google and Twitter and Facebook, they're really treading on very, very troubled territory. And they have to be careful. It's not fair to large portions of the population.

REPORTER: The president said this morning he's unhappy, separate topic, with Google and search results, and he said there could be consequences coming Google's way. Does the president believe or does the administration feel there needs to be some form of regulation for Google? What exactly was the president referring to?

LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISER: We'll let you know. We're taking a look at it.


AVLON: There was perhaps a hint there that Larry Kudlow was humoring the president. But, Oliver, what could the federal government actually do along these lines?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Well, there's been a lot of talk obviously this week about regulating these tech platforms. It's really unclear exactly what they could do. I mean, there's a wide variety of tools at their disposal. I, for instance, talked to Steve Bannon earlier this week, and he was suggesting he wanted the government to seize the private data of Facebook, Google and YouTube and Twitter and put it in a public trust, where the people would opt in of whether or not to allow these governments to use their data.

AVLON: Seize the private data?

DARCY: Right.


DARCY: It's extremely striking, right, for Republicans now to be advocating seizing data or regulating private companies is certainly not something I think anyone really anticipated, but this administration obviously and this White House and the times we live in are really quite crazy. I said earlier this week, it's like we're living in the upside-down, I think we can agree on that.

AVLON: Yes, that's really through the looking glass. But thinking through the looking glass, I want to bring this to another Google story that deserves a little more attention, Hadas. There are questions about a Google search app project for China, which is known internally as Dragonfly, which would restrict content banned by Beijing, essentially working with Chinese censors.

Now, China was drawn -- rather, you know, Google left China eight years ago, citing, you know, totalitarian instincts on the part of the government. And now "The Times" reports 1,400 people have signed a letter protesting the development of Dragonfly.

Hadas, does this present a violation of their idealistic motto, "don't be evil"? And what does it mean for the prospect of press freedom around the world?

GOLD: Well, this is the intrinsic tension in a lot of these companies, is they want to be as big as possible. They're private companies. They're there to make a profit. But at the same time, a lot of them have this sort of liberal progressive values when it comes to freedom of speech, when it comes to sort of spreading democracy, getting people out to vote.

But then when they come up to really the business reality, if you want to enter China, which is obviously a huge market, and there's a lot of money to be made there, then you're going to have to play by their rules. But on the other end of the spectrum, Google and other tech platforms are dealing with this sort of thing in other countries as well. I mean, here, in Europe, in Germany, there are some incredibly strict hate speech laws which call on platforms to remove what they have deemed hate speech within just a few hours or be fined quite a substantial amount.

Now, we would never see such a thing necessarily in the United States because we have the First Amendment and free speech, but this is something that these tech companies that are more and more showing that we don't necessarily have borders anymore when it comes to the internet, when it comes to -- you know, everything from online shopping to discussion, realizing there are borders when it comes to some of these new regulations, because a lot of countries are hungry to regulate these countries. They're hungry to show their power, to at least rein them in a little bit, because they've been free-going now for decades.

And you're seeing some of that reaction from governments saying, you can't go on like this anymore, we have to put some controls on you. But now these companies have to contend with they're different in the United States, they're different in China. Does that go against exactly as you said, their mantra, for example, of Google's "don't be evil"? And depending on how you see the Chinese government, that might be going against that.

[11:25:00] AVLON: That's a fascinating concept to mix corporate metaphors, it's whether status update is complicated outweighs "don't be evil."

Oliver, before we go, there was a lot of buzz late this week when Ronan Farrow's one-time producer at NBC resigned and lobbed new charges that the network tried to kill the Harvey Weinstein story. The producer, Rich McHugh, called the network's behavior unethical. The network has called the accusation an outright lie.

How do you see this playing out?

DARCY: I can't imagine the morale is good at NBC. And I think over the next few weeks and many months, we'll see some more reports. We haven't really heard from Ronan Farrow, for instance, on what happened at NBC. He has a book called "Catch and Kill" that's coming out that promises to detail a lot of what happened. But in the meantime, we're not really seeing any media changes. I just checked in with a NBC spokesperson and they basically said they're standing by their statement from Thursday night where they said it was an outright lie, the idea that they ever tried to kill this Harvey Weinstein story.

So, a lot to see, but nothing really new at the moment.

AVLON: The truth will out.

Oliver and Hadas, thank you.

And coming up, the man behind the formerly anonymous movement to take down "Breitbart" joins us for his first television, Sleeping Giants.


[11:30:00] JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, I'm John Avlon in for Brian Stelter. 4,000 and counting, that's the number of advertisers that Sleeping Giants a small internet-based activist community claims they've gotten to take their ads off since late 2016. Now that is quite a feat since up until this July the group remained anonymous. That's when their founder was unmasked by The Daily Caller. Adding insult to injury, the fascination with also is apparently fading. They've seen a steady decline of visitors and views since December of 2017.

Joining me now is the man behind the community that went after Breitbart, Matt Rivitz the Founder of Sleeping Giants who joins me for his first television interview. Matt, it's great to have you. Tell me what the catalyst was to make you go after Breitbart and why you targeted programmatic advertising?

MATT RIVITZ, FOUNDER, SLEEPING GIANTS: Well, it's just right before the -- right after the 2016 election I was pretty disgusted with the tenor of the rhetoric coming out you know just everywhere in the news and it seemed very racist to me and bigoted and just everything was seeming really inflammatory. And so obviously Steve Bannon was a was very much on the scene and Breitbart was in the news a lot and I actually hadn't heard of Breitbart before so I went to the site and was pretty shocked to find a black crime section --

AVLON: And you're -- and you're looking at some of those headlines right now on the screen.

RIVITZ: Yes so I -- so those headlines really got to me and I'm in advertising. I'm in the advertising business so I was just really curious as to who was supporting this from an ad perspective. And just going on the site I saw you know, one there's a progressive loan company from San Francisco that was on there and that felt pretty weird to me.

So I just started this anonymous Twitter handle and I just set it up and just tweeted at the company because I knew that companies generally have someone on the Twitter handle and they got back to me within half an -- half an hour saying they had no idea they were there. So that obviously went from you know being just a few advertisers to being who knows how many because it was being placed programmatically.

AVLON: And I think that's the key thing folks might not understand is that there's a profit motive to hyper-partisan news and even fake news and hate news which is the programmatic ad dollars that flow through. The advertisers don't know they're actually floating these sites in effect.

RIVITZ: Right.

AVLON: So that's where I think you in a decentralized way centralize the beginning started calling this out which is fascinating. Say over 4,000 have taken down their ads, how many of you had to alert again that their ads are back up and who specifically said no we're good with that, we want to stay where we are, we knew it or are happy with it?

RIVITZ: There really haven't been that many of those. I mean, I can't count them on one hand. I think most of them get back right away and they're actually really happy that we let them know. Unfortunately a lot of the ad serving companies primarily Google and Facebook are not letting them know they're going to end up there so Breitbart despite breaking their terms of service for ads they continue to get their clients serve their customers serve their every day and so we've had to let them know but they're still on the ad network and so that that's problematic for a lot of advertisers.

AVLON: So -- I mean, you have awakened the Sleeping Giant. Obviously, that was your intention but how do you stop a slippery slope of soft power that ends up being a form of censorship where activist communities on the right and left simply harass sites they don't like?

RIVITZ: Yes, I mean we've tried to keep things really polite and we let the advertisers know in a polite way. We don't -- we don't feel like we're forcing them to do anything they react and again they thank us for letting them know. It is a slippery slope. I think social media is a little bit of a slippery slope. They need to really determine what their terms of service are and then they need to -- they need to enforce them equally across the board.

And so that's been you know our biggest beef lately is that they're not being consistent and I think everyone is having a problem with that. So you know, that would go a long way is for us all to know what the rules are and how to follow them.

AVLON: Right now you're playing basically a game of whack-a-mole, right? I mean, you see an ad, you alert folks and action is taken. What do you envision is a more sustainable solution? Is it whitelisting quality news sites, it's as blacklisting outliers that mainstream advertisers might not want to support? What do you think is a more sustainable solution for this problem that you're trying to fix?

[11:35:17] RIVITZ: Yes, I think -- I think that the ad -- the ad companies, the ad networks really need to be responsive about -- responsible about where they're placing their ads because a lot of these customers or theirs don't know that they're going to end up where they end up. And so if you're in a big company like a P&G, you've got an entire staff dedicated to this and the media company but a lot of ads that are ending up the on there now are smaller companies that can't afford that and so they're really the ones that end up you know paying a reputational price.

So they need to lean on these ad companies to be responsible about where they're placing their ads. If it's -- if they're going to end up on a racist article, that's not good for anybody and they need to take responsibility for that.

AVLON: You know, waiting into the arena today brings its costs. And since you've been outed -- I understand your family has received threats. Tell me about sort of the price of this work you're doing right now on a personal level.

RIVITZ: Yes. Well, I mean, after my name was exposed, we you know, we did get a lot of harassment and it was -- it was unfortunate that it happened and you know, they published our address and my kids names and all that stuff and that's obviously terrible but at the same time it's really growing the movement. People really feel like they've got ownership of this thing and they really see that there's an issue.

It's not good for the country when we're and when we're denigrating whole groups of people and I think people understand that and they want to be a part of that. So we've grown 30 percent since all that happened so while it's kind of you know, it was unfortunate that my name has been plastered all of -- all of everything, we've got a big group of people that are participating this and there -- and they're into it. It's a crowd-sourced initiative and so it's not just really about me at all but it's about the whole effort.

AVLON: Matt, thank you for coming on for your first televised interview on RELIABLE SOURCES.

RIVITZ: Thanks for having me.

AVLON: Next up, three Pulitzer Prizes and a stream of famous alumni wasn't enough to save the Village Voice. When we come back we'll discuss how the disappearance of local news is distorting our democracy.


[11:40:00] AVLON: Welcome back I'm John Avlon. More sad news for supporters of local news. The Village Voice announced Friday it is shutting down. The award-winning alternative weekly was America's first founded by Norman Mailer back in 1955. It launched the careers of numerous journalists, writers, cartoonists, legendary bylines from Nat Hentoff, Jules Feiffer, Robert Christgau, Wayne Barrett, Tom Robbins, and many, many others.

But the paper had suffered in recent years due to declining revenue from classifieds and adds, a revolving door of editors and owners that cut key talent finally going online only last year and now its legendary run is done. The Voice is just the latest news outlet to stop publication. It's a trend that's leaving more and more communities without a local voice. In these news deserts, local issues go uncovered and often local politicians go unchallenged.

The Pew Research Center says the daily newspaper circulation in this country fell 39 percent between 2007 and 2017 and the number of newspaper journalists was cut nearly in half. In fact -- and this is a sobering stat -- there are now five public relation jobs in the United States for every one journalist.

Joining me now Errol Louis back and Mike Daly Senior Columnist at The Daily Beast. Gentlemen, the voice had been promised a renewal. New owners came in presumably with the best of intentions but this process we've seen with other all tweaks and local papers a commoditization, a cutting of key editorial staff that removes differentiation, that spelled its doom. Mike, you worked at The Voice back in the heyday --


AVLON: -- when it really was a local and national gem in some ways.

DALY: It was. I mean, it was -- if you're a young person you go in there and then there's you know, there's Jack Newfield, there's Wayne Barrett, Jules Feiffer, I mean there's people who they really are who they are. And by being around people who really are who they are you learn how to be who you are.

No, I mean that. I mean, if you -- if you see and you say well what makes Wayne Barrett Wayne Barrett? And you see it's hard work, it's faith, it's being a bit of a pain in the -- and you learn all these elements and then you start recognizing things in yourself. And the great thing about a place like The Voice is you don't try to copy people, you learn how to be yourself.

AVLON: And it really was a countercultural mecca if you will. When it came out on Wednesdays it was an event.


AVLON: I got my first apartment from the classified --

LOUIS: Everybody -- the city basically stopped on Tuesday night waiting to see what was going to break in the news and you could learn this just stuff from a distance. I mean, I sat in college and I waited every Wednesday to see the latest edition and I wanted to be a part of it and it was a great honor. Later on after getting out of college to be able to work with a Barrett and Newfield and Tom Robbins and so they really get into it.

[11:45:07] DALY: It was really the village voices. I mean is what it was. And you hear these voices and it was great. It wasn't for it, not to be here. For the city of New York, for the center of civilized world not to be able to support that is just insane.

AVLON: It was a unique countercultural place that really did politics and pop culture like none other and it will be missed. But here's the thing, you mentioned New York. You know, a city of -- that would be the 11th largest state. Well, the Daily News has cut its staff in half, The Voice is shut down, if New York City can't support local papers, what does it say about the rest of the country? Is there a model that could work?

LOUIS: There are models that are out there. There are a lot of non- profit models out there. Some of them are specialty Web sites, The Marshall project which specializes in criminal justice, ProPublica which is doing a great job, even nationally now doing big investigative stories. There's the Texas Tribune, I can't say enough about it. They're having a big -- festival, Texas Tribune Festival later this month. As a matter of everybody should get to Austin if they've got a little bit of time.

AVLON: Always a good time to go Austin.

LOUIS: But you know, what it takes though is a clear recognition that you can't on a for-profit business model sustain the kind of deep investigative reporting as well as the beat reporting, the pretty unexceptional stuff where you're sitting there watching a City Council meeting, watching the county commission meet and making sure you are telling a consistent story and keeping eyes on people in power.

That's what the Texas Tribune does and they do it on a non-profit model to take a lot of contributions and it seems to be working. They're doing excellent, excellent work out there.

AVLON: And Mike, that kind of local reporting it's the heart of a democracy. That's what keeps the wheels running.

DALY: Yes. I mean, in -- one of the interests you see a big story break like down the kids being separated from their families on the border or the and then you go and you look at the Brownsville Herald. Wait, they've been doing this and this and this and you see all these important things have been covered all along by them. Or you look at the McAllen Monitor, those are both great papers and they're struggling along. I mean, if you happen to live down there support them.

AVLON: You got to support your local papers because when those local papers die too, it increases I think the polarization of our country. It becomes easier to treat journalist as something other rather than part of the community.

DALY: And you say you know, that old thing support your local sheriff, support your local paper.

AVLON: Yes. Now more than ever while the economics catch up with the eyeballs.

LOUIS: And we've got some models out there as far as public radio. People are in the habit of sort of giving money in order to support it. I'd recommend everybody to take a look again at Texas Tribune. We've been taking a look at whether or not some of that could apply in New York City. They're not ready to announce anything just yet but there is some good news I think on the horizon about what can be done.

AVLON: We'll take all the good news we can get. There are a lot of people waiting in it right now, but it's an important time. Mike, Errol, thank you. All right, up next Senator John McCain's relationship the press. Well, it is part of his enduring legacy and how it played forward.


[11:50:00] AVLON: Before we go, Senator John McCain is being laid to rest today on the grounds of the US Naval Academy at 2:00 p.m. Now, one theme from yesterday's memorial service was that McCain loved to spar but he also believed in the right of a free press. Here's President Obama.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: John believed in hones argument and hearing other views. He understood that if we get in a habit of bending the truth to suit political expediency or party orthodoxy our democracy will not work that's why he championed a free and independent press as vital to our democratic debate. And the fact that it earned him some good coverage it didn't hurt either.


AVLON: Many of the tributes to McCain recalled that he would say the name of jailed dissidents around the world on the Senate floor and it sent a message that they were not forgotten, that the free world was still watching. And so we'd like to carry that spirit forward as we end our show today by acknowledging just a few of the journalists around the world who still languish in prison like the two Reuters reporters jailed in Myanmar Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

They are accused of possessing secret government papers and the verdict in their trial comes down tomorrow. Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also another shocking, is an Egyptian photojournalist who's been detained since 2013. He is accused of a broad range of crimes and is facing the death penalty as part of a mass trial, a verdict is due on his case on September 8th. Oleg Sentsov a Ukrainian writer and filmmaker who is on a more than 100-day hunger strike while being held in Siberia on charges of terrorism.

Huang Qi, Founder of the award-winning 64 Tianwang Web site which chronicles human rights abuses in China, whose arrest on charges of "illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities" has inspired protest marches in Hong Kong. And in Turkey Gultekin Avci has been in jail for almost three years because of ties alleged to the Gulen movement. The government is using his published articles as evidence against him.

These journalists are not forgotten and as John McCain always reminded us freedom is worth the fighting for. That's all for us today. I'm John Avlon. Bryan will be back next week. Before we go a quick programming note, discover the inspiring life and career of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, RBG. A CNN film premieres tomorrow night at 9:00 on CNN. Here's a quick peek.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: : I am proud to nominate this path-breaking attorney, advocate, and judge to be the 107th Justice to the United States Supreme Court.

RUTH BADER GINSBURG, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES: Maybe in trying times but think how it was. In those days the judges didn't think sex discrimination existed.

[11:55:05] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ruth knew what she was doing in laying the foundation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put women on the same plain as man.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The goal was equality and civil rights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ruth Bader Ginsburg quite literally change the way the world is for American women.

GINSBURG: What has become of me could happen only in America.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's become such a rock star. She is really the closest thing to a superhero.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She is known to (INAUDIBLE) the world over as the Notorious RBG.

GINSBURG: All I ask of our brethren is that they take (INAUDIBLE)