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Lawmakers Warned Russia Is Working To Reelect Trump; The Fox News Pardon Pipeline; Fighting Fire With Fire: Trump, Bloomberg Trade Insults Online; How Censorship Stifles Essential Journalism During A Crisis; How Times Could Have Better Handled Taliban Op-Ed. Aired 11a- 12p ET

Aired February 23, 2020 - 11:00   ET


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Or we will witness a sharp geopolitical shift in Asia.


Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.

JOHN AVLON, CNN HOST: Hey, I'm John Avlon, in for Brian Stelter. It's time for RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the story behind the story, how the media works, how the news gets made and how all of us can help make it better.

The free press should lead the fight for a free country and free world, but those principles are under attack. It's been another tough week in the war on truth, with authoritarian echoing in domestic and international politics, with dangerous results.

This week, we're going to take a look at how China's crackdown on journalists may have contributed to the outbreak of the coronavirus. While an op-ed in "The New York Times" by a murderous Taliban leader drew criticism for its lack of context even by the paper's own Afghanistan correspondent.

Meanwhile, here at home we're seeing presidential pardons for corrupt politicians and crooked businessmen all petitioned for on Fox News. An upheaval in the intelligence community where experts are being replaced by apparatchiks, prompting retired general, Admiral McRaven, to say, as Americans, we should be frightened, deeply afraid for the future of our nation when good men and women can't speak the truth, when facts are inconvenient.

This is all amid new reports that president of the United States and Democratic frontrunner Bernie Sanders are both having their campaigns boosted by Russia again, and raising the specter of a win/win scenario for Vladimir Putin as he continues to sow the seeds of chaos and division that are at the heart of all disinformation campaigns.

This may seem ripped out of the pages of a spy novel, but it's happening in our time and in our watch, and we cannot become numb to it. With me now is CNN Senior Media Reporter, Oliver Darcy, correspondent

for "GQ" magazine, Julia Ioffe, who's out with a new op-ed titled, "Why exactly does Putin love Bernie?", and anchor and producer for , Marko Suprun. Stop Fake News is a Ukrainian website and show dedicated to fighting Russia disinformation.

It's great to have you all with me.

Julia, I want to start with you because this new information and the pushback it's receiving from both the Trump administration and the Sanders campaign is stunning, but particularly the pushback we're seeing paraded in banners on Fox News and I want to throw up a few examples for folks.

You see, a very steady narrative. Liberal -- Russia hoax 2.0 -- 3.0, the media's new Russian hysteria on full supply -- full display, media clings to Russian collusion hoax.

The point of all of these is that it's not the intelligence community's assessment that should concern us, but it's the media as the messenger. What does that tell you about the state of play right now?

JULIA IOFFE, CORRESPONDENT, GQ MAGAZINE: Well, it really concerns me because I think one of the best ways to fight this kind of disinformation is to be aware that it's happening and to be on the lookout for it. Something, for example, that the German government has achieved in alerting their citizens that this is out there and it has stopped the Russians or at least very much hampered their efforts to meddle in that country's politics.

Here, because you see both the Sanders' campaign and the Trump campaign either denying it or blaming the media for it, it doesn't help but actually -- well, it does -- but helps the Russians, it helps contribute to the air of distrust in institutions and the media, the air of chaos, which is exactly what the Kremlin wants.

AVLON: Exactly.

Oliver Darcy, I want to go to you, this week we finally received a stunning bit of news we had been waiting for, which is "The Hill's" long-awaited internal review of the articles by John Solomon, their former opinion columnist, who testimony shows had been working with a lot of the Trump associates to dig up dirt on the Bidens, publishing articles via "The Hill" to add credibility to those conspiracy theories that ultimately helped lead to the president's impeachment.

What did this show?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Sure. Yes, John Solomon's articles really helped shape public perception of Ukrainian and did trigger events that started Trump wanting to investigate the corruption of the Bidens and what-not. "The Hill" reviewed all these articles and at times this review, it's very critical of John Solomon's work. They note that, for instance, his work had been disputed by officials in both Kyiv and Washington. They note that he relied on sources who he did not identify they were under indictment or investigation, he talked --

AVLON: Seems basic.

DARCY: Yes. His reliance on Giuliani and Parnas who had obviously a conflict of interest here. So, it was at times very critical of John Solomon.

I think the most astonishing thing that we saw from this report is really nothing that's actually in it. It took not one, not two, not three, more than four months to conclude these things, these things that were clear as day to anyone else.

It's nuts. You know, the impeachment trial and inquiry came and went. The Senate trial came and went. And only after the fact when it's not as relevant, do we have "The Hill" coming out and basically saying, again, what everyone else knew that these articles lacked context and that he relied on characters who had conflicts of interest.


And that to me is the most shocking thing about this all.

AVLON: So, not only a slow roll but a bit of a whitewash. There's a lot of he said/he said in here.

Marko, I want to go to you, because you are reporting out of the Ukraine, confronting Russian disinformation every day and this playbook of using a partisan journalist to put forward a narrative that then justifies government actions, is that something that is strikingly reminiscent to you? Is that a play you've seen before?

MARKO SUPRUN, ANCHOR/PRODUCER, STOPFAKE.ORG: Oh, yes. We've seen that numerous occasions. We were just talking earlier about that that this is a good example of when reporting becomes opinion, blurs the lines between reporting facts and someone's opinion.

In fact, Ukraine kind of went through that last year where the Russian disinformation machine developed stories that the former President Poroshenko had killed his brother and it was picked up by journalist in Ukraine and it would be tenuous to say it was part of his losing the election because there were a lot of reasons for him to lose the election, but it did have an effect.

So, when we see something like that, it's part of an infrastructure problem I think and a lot of news agencies in the United States or the West have their offices in Moscow rather than in Kyiv, for example, and having people on the ground, which I would fully endorse CNN and other agencies as well to open up offices in Kyiv to see on the ground and get the Ukrainian perspective rather than reporting from Moscow.

AVLON: Sure. But let me ask you about the content of what Solomon was reporting to say was true, from a Ukrainian perspective, did it seem credible to you at all or was this always sort of it seemed like a manipulation of the fact to achieve political ends to a domestic audience? SUPRUN: More like political to achieve the domestic results. That's

part of the issue with Russian disinformation because the general thought is that it's there to get the left to hit the right, so it's left versus right, but the reality is that Russian disinformation uses the left and the right against the center because that's the center's where liberal democracy lives. That's where instead of getting the Joe Bidens and the John McCains of the world to shake hands and Congress and get the job done, they would rather have them yelling at each other and that's a win for the Kremlin.

AVLON: That's a pro-profound point and you said that earlier, Russian disinformation is not about positioning left versus right, but using the left and right against the center.

Julia, is that something you're seeing as well in this new information about, you know, disinformation efforts, again, designed to boost both campaigns of currently the frontrunner and the incumbent president of the United States?

IOFFE: Yes. I think Marko makes a really good point. I mean, this is just part of an effort to discredit democracy everywhere, including domestically for Russians who would like to see democracy take root in Russia. So, for example, one of the most potent images that the Kremlin used was actual fistfights in the Ukrainian parliament saying is this what you want because this is what democracy looks like.

So, to kind of mimic that or reproduce that in the U.S., really helps them.

AVLON: That's right. It's part of an overall effort to degrade democracy itself making it look inefficient and ineffective.

Oliver, I want to go back to you because the question of John Solomon is really striking. History books will be written that a partisan journalist worked with presidential cronies to dig up dirt that led to his impeachment, but where is the accountability, not just in the delay of the report, but we don't know why Solomon was fired or left "The Hill", we don't know, other than saying the problem was he should have been classified as an opinion columnist, that seems to be one of their big takeaways.

Normal columnists don't collude with political actors looking to achieve nefarious ends.

DARCY: Right, there really is going to be no accountability it seems for John. He's left "The Hill", too. So, there's not much they can do to punish him.

And, you know, they stopped short of apologizing to the people, the readers, for employing someone and failing to check their work which misled people and triggered the impeachment trial.

So, "The Hill's" -- you know, the review it's great they came out and said a lot of things we knew, but they weren't sharp in some ways where they could have been and doesn't seem like there's going to be much accountability for John Solomon. AVLON: And they were used, I think it's important, they were used.

All right. I want to thank you all. We have to leave it there for now. Oliver Darcy, Marko Suprun, and Julia Ioffe, thank you very much for

joining us.

SUPRUN: Thanks for having me.

AVLON: Coming up, if you want to get pardoned, you plead your case on Fox News. We're going to discuss how the network's pardon pipeline resulted in this week's spree and a Fox personalities working to save next.



AVLON: The Fox News pardon pipeline is operating at full speed. With Donald Trump pardoning 11 convicts this week, many of them corrupt politicians and crooked businessmen. All of whom, according to the "New York Times," had an inside connection or were promoted on Fox News.

For example, Blagojevich's wife made seven appearances on Fox News over the last two years, speaking with opinion host like Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Pirro, often directly asking for a pardon from her audience of one in the White House.


MARTHA MACCALLUM, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Do you think that you're getting anywhere with your request to have him pardoned by the president?

PATTI BLAGOJEVICH, WIFE OF ROD BLAGOJEVICH: Well, I know the president has a lot on his hands that's for sure, but when he mentioned my husband last May, it did give us tremendous amount of hope.


And, you know, when President Obama had the opportunity to right this wrong that's been done to my family he actually wimped out. So --


AVLON: Now, Kerik and Stanton had Fox connections pushing behind the scenes as well, but also countless appearances as commentators on the network

And now, we got Tucker Carlson lobbying to get Roger Stone a presidential pardon.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: President Trump could end this travesty in an instant with a pardon and there are indications tonight he will do that. What has happened to Roger Stone should never happen to anyone in this country of any political party.


AVLON: But what Judge Amy Berman Jackson said during Stone's sentencing still stands. She said, quote: The truth still exists, the truth still matters. Roger Stone's insistence that it doesn't, his belligerence, his pride and his own lies, are a threat to our most fundamental institutions, to the very foundations of our democracy.

With me now is a reporter from "The New York Times," Taylor Lorenz, CNN political commentator and host for "The You Decide" podcast and New York 1, Errol Louis, and "The Atlantic's" David Frum, author of the upcoming book, "Trumpocalypse: The Story of American Democracy".

David, let me start with you. What -- what strikes you with this FOX News Trump pardon pipeline circumventing the normal process at the Justice Department?

DAVID FRUM, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Well, your point about the normal process is so important. Let's remember how this is supposed to work. The pardon power is not something that presidents normally use as a win. There is a process. You apply. There is a pardon attorney within the White House who reviews. And presidents review these cases and judge them on the merits.

President Obama granted about 5 percent of the pardon applications to him. Donald Trump has granted only half of 1 percent, one tenth as many of the normal pardons. George W. Bush was so concerned about any perception of political influence that Peter Baker reminds us he had granted a pardon to someone his father had given money to the Republican Party, Bush rescinded that pardon before it went out.

AVLON: That's right, and he refused to give a pardon to Scooter Libby, which was later pushed through, despite the pressure from his own vice president.

Errol, what strikes you about this? Because these are pardons being given via Fox News, not official channels, and also there's some campaign contribution elements to some of these as well?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Some to say the least. We have in at least one case, somebody whose family gave close to half a million dollars to the Trump campaign and various Republican political action committees. It makes it seem as if they simply purchased their pardon.

And to do that in a political campaign season, is appalling. By the Bush standard, of course, this would be unthinkable. But this is a new standard we got here.

AVLON: But they're also pushing a criminal message. It's a legitimate bipartisan achievement the Trump administration can point to. During the Super Bowl, they took out an ad highlighting an example as an attempt to reach, perhaps, the African-American community, perhaps white supporters who want to feel like Donald Trump isn't tainted by racism. But does this undercut that good effort in terms of the result achieved?

LOUIS: Well, sure, of course. I mean, it muddies the idea about criminal justice, because criminal justice reform is about really trying to achieve justice, not favors, not trades, not sort of political currency being whipped back and forth through the White House and, you know, sort of circumventing the pardon attorney in the Justice Department, it's supposed to be about a much higher kind of conversation which this president does not want to have.

I mean, he -- when asked about it, his inevitable response is I have the power to do this and I can do whatever I want. It's this childish reduction to the personal whims and favors of the president. And so, you see people doing something that's really quite unseemly. I mean, Fox News can program whatever they want, but to have people personally begging the president on camera night after night over a course of months, to sort of run a kind of campaign to get his personal favor is the opposite of a true justice conversation.

AVLON: That's exactly right.

Taylor, I want to shift to you, because you've had a series of fascinating columns and articles now at "The New York Times" about the meme wars and this for folks who don't know is the new thing that's going to be really driving a lot of narratives and conversation and voter suppression efforts to some extent in this upcoming election.

For folks who don't know, explain to them what a meme is.

TAYLOR LORENZ, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Sure. A meme is essentially just a short piece of content, you know, aimed at communicating a simple message. You can make -- it could be a short video, often a short piece of text and image, like a political cartoon.

AVLON: And -- how is it weaponized to achieve a political end and what are those political ends that we've seen in the recent months?

LORENZ: Yes. Well, memes use humor to introduce new ideas and often these ideas can be very insidious and problematic. Memes in 2016 were used about Facebook and Instagram to spread misinformation. So, you know, basically Russian interference, memes are also usually hyper partisan.

So, what gets shared the most on Facebook and Instagram are very far left and right memes promoting this information.

AVLON: David, one of the things that's so interesting and sinister about this stuff is that it really does have the impact of trying to increase cynicism and apathy.


That that's part of its goal, to sort of muddy the waters.

Tell us about your insights into that? FRUM: Well, it has -- it has an affect on people's affirmative ideas.

One of the things that Donald Trump tried to spread in 2016 was the idea that Hillary Clinton was somehow physically incapable of managing the presidency. I mean, it's odious.

Donald Trump was the oldest president ever, one of the fattest presidents ever. The least physically capable president since Roosevelt was in a wheelchair. I mean, he can't pick up a ball, never mind throw it.

But he was able to put into the minds of tens of millions of people, the idea that Hillary Clinton who is a vigorous woman in good health, was somehow too sick to be president.

AVLON: Right, one of many examples, we've certainly seen a lot around impeachment as well and this, folks, is just the beginning.

Now, in other news I want to get to this, "The Washington Post" is revealing the partisan power struggle that play inside Facebook's attempt to monitor disinformation. Quote, a company led mainly by Democrats and the liberal bastion in northern California repeatedly is tilted rightward to deliver policies, hiring decisions and public gestures sought by Republicans.

So this is a fascinating story. I want to Taylor, to you on this, because it shows the debate inside. They've confronted fake news, but made decisions at critical moments not to try to take it off line for fear of alienating conservatives and appearing bias. Even though what they're trying to remove is biased disinformation.

LORENZ: Yes. They're in this tricky situation, essentially walking a tightrope because they don't want to alienate the president and Congress and people that could potentially regulate them, but at the same time, by, you know, leaning to far that way, you have people like Elizabeth Warren calling for Facebook to be broken up and things like that. So, they're just trying not to anger each side and ended up angering everyone.

AVLON: Errol, final word?

LOUIS: This is what happens when you don't have some basic journalistic values about truth, about willingness to tell people even though it's not going to be our financial advantage, you will yell and scream and accuse us of bias, we are going to do the right thing.

They could learn a lesson from a lot of newspapers, some very small, not nearly as powerful in their day as Facebook is now, who stood up to the local county courthouse or the folks in the statehouse and said, we're going to say what's true because that's how we find out that there's poisoned water in Flint, Michigan, or important issues that really have to be surfaced.

It's not a profile in courage. And the fact that they get richer by avoiding these tough questions is something that we should really sort of push to the forefront. It's very convenient to sit in a nice conference room and say, oh, we don't want to be seen as biased and by the way our stock will go up if we make this decision.

AVLON: Do the right thing. What a concept.

All right. Errol Louis, Taylor Lorenz and David Frum, thank you very much for joining us.

Up next, Bloomberg campaign adviser Tim O'Brien, the man who literally wrote the book on Trump, joins me to discuss how he's using his unique insights into Trump's personality to get under his skin.



AVLON: Welcome back. I'm John Avlon, in for Brian Stelter.

Now, despite a rough debate debut, Michael Bloomberg's campaign has gained praise for going toe to toe with Donald Trump through Twitter.

And the secret weapon behind that strategy must -- might -- just might be his senior adviser Tim O'Brien. The former editor at "Bloomberg View" often takes Trump to task on Twitter and bashes the president on TV whenever he can.



Inside of himself, Donald Trump knows that he's not competent. He knows that he is not informed. He's aware that he's an ignorant person.

When you get inside Donald Trump's head, all you're going to discover is that you find there is a putter, a cheeseburger, porn video and somebody else's credit card.


AVLON: But one thing separates O'Brien from everyone else attacking Trump, he weaponizes his insight to get under Trump's skin because he wrote an entire book about Donald Trump and got sued by him for, among other things, asserting that Trump was not, in fact, a billionaire.

Now, Trump is pretty transparent about his desire to kneecap O'Brien with a lawsuit, saying: go sue him. It will cost him a lot of money.

So, Tim joins me now.

Tim, here's what I'm interested in --

O'BRIEN: Yes. I like to point out, he lost that lawsuit.

AVLON: Yes. And I think your lawyers got him. He lied 30 times under oath.

O'BRIEN: Yes, yes.

AVLON: But what I want to talk about today is, this is a fairly unprecedented situation. A former journalist who's written a book about a man who becomes president. Now, helping run communications for an opposing campaign and using that insight. And I think one of the challenging things about challenging Donald Trump, a lot of times he just likes the attention.

What did you learn in writing that book and in your fights with him after the fact that taught you how to sort of surgically, strategically get under his skin?

O'BRIEN: You know, Donald Trump is a deeply insecure man, despite the bluster, despite the bravado. He is insecure about his wealth. He is insecure about his intellect. He's insecure about these foundational stories he tells about himself.

He lives in the shadow of his father still. And it's very easy to keep him off balance. In a political campaign as opposed to journalistically, keeping him off balance allows us to have Mike Bloomberg out in front solving the problems voters care about, health care, education, addressing those issues, while Trump is running, spinning his wheels and, you know, shooting his sling shot and saying Mini Mike.

AVLON: I think it's fair to say, though, that, you know, Mike Bloomberg's natural mode of communicating is not what has been surfacing on the Twitter feeds --

O'BRIEN: No, no.

AVLON: -- and in your campaign comments.

And -- so I want to understand how much is your insight been influencing this communication strategy, which is a lot more fiery than anything folks might have expected from Mike Bloomberg?

O'BRIEN: Well, I think first and foremost, I think you have to be fiery with Donald Trump. I think the Republicans who went up against him learned that.


I think Hillary Clinton's campaign learned that too late.

And I think we weren't going to be the Democrats that didn't understand you needed to fight with him in that world. We've got an incredible group of people under a guy Kevin Frankenfeld, who really has is sort of the maestro of our -- of our Twitter and social strategy.

But I talked to them frequently about ammunition, tactics, thoughts about how to get at Trump and so definitely informs that stuff.

AVLON: And when did you start covering Donald Trump? Because I think folks might not appreciate not only the length of the battles you've had, but incredibly personal they've been.

O'BRIEN: Well, so you know, I'm a kid from the Midwest who did not know who Donald Trump was when I first moved to New York. And I ended up being a research assistant for an investigative journalist named Wayne Barrett, who wrote the first sort of foundational biography of Donald Trump in 1992. And I worked closely with Wayne on that book.

That's how I first got exposed to him. I wrote a book about gambling in the mid-90s that I interviewed Trump for. And then when I was at the New York Times in the early 2000s, I was a reporter, and then an editor there, Donald started courting me very closely over a number of years, and then he worked closely with me on a book Trump Nation that you mentioned that he didn't like and he sued me for. Yes.

AVLON: And he tried to personally bankrupt you almost to make you feel pain.

O'BRIEN: Yes. He says that repeatedly. You know, I cost O'Brien a lot of money. He's such a loser. Here's the reality of it. I had my book publishers paid for my -- all of the litigation costs. It didn't cost me a dime. It costs Trump several million dollars to litigate and he lost.

AVLON: So let me ask you this though. There's a danger of going toe to toe. The argument that other campaigns would make is that look, you don't want to drag the debate into the gutter. If you fight fire with fire, the whole house burns down. And you guys have come up come under some criticism.

L.A. Times reporting that Twitter took 70 associated accounts offline, and that most recently did a debate video which was doctored. It took a fair point. Bloomberg saying I've started business as anybody else, but then he extended the responses to make it look like simply crickets. Are those fair criticisms and what is the danger of going to?

O'BRIEN: Those are fair criticisms. I think all of us have to do the right thing on social. If you're going to battle with Donald Trump, you still have to go to battle with him honorably. We don't want to lie. We don't want to misrepresent. I don't think we want to use the kind of hateful tactics he uses. And a couple of times, I think we've gotten out over our skis, but we pull that back internally.

I think for people to be creative and aggressive; they need some breathing room. But we don't want them to go too far. And in cases where we have, we pulled it back.

AVLON: All right, Tim O'Brien --

O'BRIEN: Thank you, John.

AVLON: -- thank you very much for joining us. Still the common RELIABLE SOURCES, the Drive-By Truckers on the heels of their most political album today. And after the break, how fighting the coronavirus has escalated China's battle against Western journalists.



AVLON: Welcome back. Three Wall Street Journal reporters have been ordered to leave China by Monday because of this column headline. Now, here's the thing. Those three news reporters had no bearing on this opinion piece. The departmental distinction of the Chinese government said it found irrelevant. All of which has prompted questions about Whether government crackdowns on press freedoms in China may have contributed to the expansion of the virus.

Wall Street Journal editorial board responded to the expulsions writing, "What Chinese officials don't understand is that a free press would have helped them better cope with the virus fallout." And don't forget that last year at least 48 journalists were arrested and detained by the Chinese government earning them the title of the world's most repressive regime for press freedom. That's from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

In the wake of this crisis, at least two Chinese bloggers, Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin who were dedicated to covering the outbreak in Wuhan has since disappeared. And according to the Financial Times, VPN services allowing locals to circumvent internet censorship have been attacked by the Chinese government.

Joining me now to discuss is BuzzFeed News Correspondent Megha Rajagopalan who along with three expelled Wall Street journalist has been covering Uyghur surveillance and defense -- detention in China. She was forced out of the country in 2018 when her visa was not renewed. Megha, thank you so much for joining us. You have on the ground experience in this.

First of all, were you struck that three Wall Street Journal reporters from the Beijing bureau were so summarily removed over this headline? Is there any merit at all -- certainly, I will disclose, it does not seem that way to me -- or is it simply an attempt to distract from the coronavirus?

MEGHA RAJAGOPALAN, CORRESPONDENT, BUZZFEED NEWS: Yes. I mean, I think that it's pretty clear that the retaliation by the Chinese government was just proportionate relative to the headline. The headline clearly was problematic and offended a lot of people both inside and outside of China. You know, many of whom have no allegiance to the government.

But as you said, the three reporters had nothing to do with the writing of the headline. And because the Chinese government has retaliated so frequently against journalists who, you know, refuse to toe the party line, and write critically about the government in the past, it's really hard to accept this explanation at face value.

AVLON: I will say that no one in China could have seen the headline because the Wall Street Journal, as they point out in their editorial, has been taken offline by the Chinese government since 2014. And also they say that Beijing is trying to exploit quote America's identity politics to trove racism in service of its censorship around the headline, simply a reference to the Ottoman Empire, you know, back in World War One.

But there's a deeper connection between you and the three Wall Street Journal reporters I want to highlight because it's some ways bigger than the coronavirus cover-up. You all have covered the Uyghur concentration camps. Do you think that's a coincidence or do you think that's an underlying reason the Chinese have taken this to action?

RAJAGOPALAN: So I was, incidentally the first reporter to find in visit one of the camps. And when we put a story out on BuzzFeed News in 2017, like a lot of people read it. And the Chinese government has never said to me that me being forced out was in retaliation for that particular story, but in private conversations, they've criticized my reporting on human rights on many, many occasions as they do for lots of journalists that are based in China.

So it certainly feels like retaliation. And I think if you look at all of the journalists that have been forced out since 2012, up until you know, these three Wall Street Journal's that have just been expelled, a lot of them have reported on human rights and particularly on the crisis in Xinjiang.


AVLON: And let's go also with the questions in Wuhan because that's what's happening right now. You have journalists who are isolated people who are isolated and these three -- these Chinese bloggers who've been disappeared. And the pattern that I think is so troubling and sinister for folks, is that even the Chinese people recognize that the doctor who initially reported the virus, who was suppressed and then subsequently died from the virus that he was the first to try to identify, that there's a pattern here.

But we know these works, that this impulse to censor bad news only compounds the underlying problem. Is this going to be more pervasive or do you think it could even be a tipping point for the Chinese people who recognize that this pandemic has been made worse by an attempt to cover it up?

RAJAGOPALAN: Well, it's interesting because you know, press freedom is in kind of a dire situation in China, but in the wake of the death of this doctor, we've seen sort of a tentative opening up in some sense because people are so upset about what happened and sort of rightly so.

You know, when the SARS crisis happened in China, it was a lot of the same problems. There were cover-ups and it really compounded the issue. And I think in the aftermath of that, there was a lot of recognition that we can't keep the lid on these things so tight because if there's no information that's leaking out, and if people are sort of incentivized to self-censor, then you end up with a situation where there's not enough public knowledge of, you know, the intensity of the crisis.

AVLON: But we haven't really seen that learning curve taking effect this time around.

RAJAGOPALAN: It certainly seems, yes, like that there are real attempts to cover up important information about it.

AVLON: And do you think that foreign -- more foreign reporters will continue getting kicked out, particularly ones who speak Chinese fluently?

RAJAGOPALAN: Probably yes. I mean, we've seen since the current President Xi Jinping took power in 2013. There's certainly been an uptick in the number of foreign reporters that are being thrown out. This is particularly important in China because the local press is so heavily censored.

So, people really, really depend on international reporters who aren't censored prior to publication to get information about the country. So the more foreign reporters get thrown out, the less people have the ability to know about what's really happening inside China.

AVLON: Megha, I want to thank you for all your reporting and thank you for joining us on Reliable Sources.

RAJAGOPALAN: Thank you very much.

AVLON: All right, up next, America -- right now, as America is in peace talks with the Taliban to potentially end our longest war, while the story is not getting a great deal of attention, the coverage of the story is getting caught in the crossfire of controversy. The New York Times publishing this unedited op-ed from Sirajuddin Haqqani, the deputy leader of the Taliban. An op-ed that was widely criticized for questionable ethics and lack of context.

Joining me now is award-winning Time Magazine Contributor and CNN Global Affairs Analyst Kim Dozier. She has spent years covering the Iraq and Afghan wars and survived a car bombing in Baghdad in 2006. Kim, thank you so much for joining us. This is in some ways, a tough one. The blowback is very clear where it came from, but there's news value to it as well. Do you think they made a mistake and more to the point, how should they have handled it differently at the New York Times editorial board?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I do know that they have reached out to Afghan officials to get an opinion piece from the other point of view. But there's been a bit of a boycott, giving the New York Times coverage after it looked like they were part of a choreographed release to introduce the Taliban as statesman by giving this kind of this platform just a day before first the Taliban and then Secretary of State Pompeo announced a reduction in violence that's going to lead to a U.S.-Taliban peace signing in about a week if this pseudo ceasefire holds.

AVLON: But you don't reroll out terrorists like a new brand of margarine. But I mean, from an -- from an editorial standpoint, there are a couple of choices, right? One you say look, we're not going to publish your op-ed unedited, but we will do an extended interview, two is we're going to place a counterpoint right next to it or an editorial that provides additional context.

Because as our Peter Bergen pointed out, this op-ed and the New York Times did not acknowledge simultaneously that Haqqani is not a, you know, a peace -- a peace advocate in any way, shape or form. He's been directly responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of Afghanis and U.S. servicemen.

DOZIER: And you can absolutely say that for an American audience, and to give them this kind of a platform, that the audience doesn't know the Haqqani Network so well. They don't know that Sirajuddin Haqqani has been behind the killing of American soldiers, hundreds if not thousands of Afghan civilians in cold-blooded terrorist attacks that have hit civilians.

So yes, the New York Times editorial page did fail to give that context. Perhaps they could have even put it in the bio at the end. But that really begs the question, why didn't they work harder to at least have a simultaneous rollout as opposed to basically playing into what many critics of this deal say, are a whitewashing, an attempt to make the Taliban look like they haven't waged a pretty horrific war against the Afghan people over the past couple decades.


AVLON: That's the final point I want to hit with you because coverage of the negotiations to end America's longest war have been anemic at best. I don't think exhaustion is sufficient to explain it. We are trying to negotiate and make peace with the Taliban who harbored Bin Laden after 9/11. Where are we in this long process of trying to push back the Taliban? Do you think they will at the end -- the end of the day, get the upper hand, and how do you account for the lack of coverage comparatively?

DOZIER: The American public is exhausted with pictures of war, and they're exhausted with hearing about this conflict that even many U.S. soldiers will tell you seems to be just throwing good money after bad. The Afghan Government has been conscious of this and tried to present to President Trump an alternative where they take over more of the warfighting.

But in the end, peace comes through uncomfortable compromises with the enemy. And it seems like there is no constituency in the United States to keep fighting this war. So, President Trump is doing what also many Democrats have said they would do, seek an imperfect deal even at the expense of U.S. alliances on the ground.

AVLON: But as someone who's covered this for decades now, what do you believe that imperfect deal will look like? Will it put the Taliban in a pole position over time?

DOZIER: I think it's going to work in the short term but as talk stretch out at the next phase, the inter Afghan talks between probably President Ghani's government which has claimed victory in the last contested elections and representatives from the Taliban side, I'm afraid that that is where it's going to break down, and that the rank and file on the ground are going to get impatient and fighting is going to reemerge.

But that might happen well after the 2020 elections, and get President Trump, the election campaign signed he needed of being able to say that he struck a deal nobody else could strike, and he reduced the number of U.S. forces on the ground.

AVLON: 18 years later, it's stunning we're here. But I recall a quote by a Taliban fighter early in the conflict. He said, you have the watches, but we have the time. Kim Dozier, thank you very much for joining us.

DOZIER: One more story before the break. Trump raised eyebrows after slamming the critically beloved Oscar-winning film Parasite during a rally in Colorado this week.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the winner is a movie from South Korea. What the hell was that all about? We got enough problems with South Korea with trade. On top of it, they give him the best movie of the year. Was it good? I don't know. You know, I'm looking for like -- let's get Gone with the Wind. Can we get like Gone with the Wind back please? Sunset Boulevard.


AVLON: Beyond attacking the first non-English film to win Best Picture, Trump's comments make this nostalgia for a bygone era even more apparent. Because not only is the 80-year-old film Gone with the Wind profoundly racist by today's standards, let's not forget that Sunset Boulevard is a film about an agent washed-up movie star who loses touch with reality. Too close up, perhaps.

Up next, one of Trump's biggest weapons is capitalizing on white identity politics, tapping into nostalgia for time that no longer exists. We're going to talk some folks playing Southern rock and revising it for the Trump era next.



AVLON: We talk a lot on RELIABLE SOURCES about the intersection of politics and the media. That means more than the latest ratings from Box Office finances, it's music as well. And American music has always responded to the politics of the day left and right. For example, in the 1970s the southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd famously saying Watergate does not bother me, does your conscious bother you? That's in their song Sweet Home Alabama.

But in the Trump era, Southern rock has been taken to decided small step to the left on the back of bands like Alabama born Drive-By Truckers, who've been called by the Boston Globe, the house band for the resistance. I spoke with their two primary songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley earlier about the state of Southern rock in the Trump era and the unraveling.


AVLON: All right, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, welcome to CNN's RELIABLE SOURCES.

MIKE COOLEY, MUSICIAN: Good to be here.

AVLON: The new album, The Unraveling, you got a song called Thoughts and Prayers. Tell us about that.

PATTERSON HOOD, MUSICIAN: You know, it was I mean, obviously inspired by you know, the rash of horrific violence and shootings that have happened in particularly, you know, in schools, in you know, in places worship and places of -- and places of music.

You know, it's been -- and every time this happens you know, there's always somebody on T.V. in a position of power instead sending thoughts and prayers but not really willing to step up and do more than that. And I've always thought that was cowardly. And you know, I think if I was -- I think if I was a devout Christian, I would be offended by using that as an excuse for inaction.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The powers that be are in for shame and comeuppance when generation lockdown has their day.


AVLON: Have you guys seen a backlash from some of your fans over that song?

COOLEY: Maybe a little.

HOOD: Yes, not too much. I mean, online if you -- if you get on Facebook, you would think it was the end of the world and we had, you know, essentially run off you know, -- you know, run off half of our fanbase, but --

COOLEY: You don't even know if those people are fans or not. You know, they can be anybody. I don't think social media is an accurate reflection of who we all really are. I think it provides an anonymity that makes people feel comfortable screaming and wise like they probably wouldn't if they were face to face.


AVLON: If they were face to face, they wouldn't feel that kind of freedom to hey, in the same way. So boil it all down, are you optimistic about where we're heading or are you concerned the unraveling is happening and the optimism may itself be a new lost cause?

HOOD: I've always considered myself basically a kind of a cynical optimist, if that makes sense of a pragmatic, cynical optimist, even. And, you know, the optimism part has taken a real beating in the last few years for sure. But at the same time, I spent a lot of time around a lot of really young people. I've got kids, I've got -- you know, we have people who work with us and work for us who were you know, good generation and half younger than us who are inspirational. That's where most of our optimism comes from. That's why we have the

kids on the album cover. I mean, that's a big part of that. You know, even as they're watching the sun setting, there's still maybe a hope in that or that's what I -- that's what I was drawing from it anyway.

AVLON: The resilience of hope.

HOOD: Yes.

AVLON: Not a bad message. DBT at CNN, thank you for joining us guys.

HOOD: Thank you.

COOLEY: Thank you.

AVLON: I appreciate it.


AVLON: You can find the rest of my interview with the Drive-By Truckers online. And that's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. Remember, the media coverage continues all the time online. Thanks. Brian will be back next week.