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Reliable Sources

Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-CA) Is Interviewed About Extremism At Home; Right-Wing Media Set The Stage For Trump's Acquittal; White House Aide Resigns After Threatening Reporter; What Went Wrong With The NYT's 'Caliphate' Podcast; BBC World Service Boss Responds To China's Ban; Feds Say New York Man Threatened To Kill Fox Hosts. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired February 14, 2021 - 11:00   ET



BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter in New York. Happy Valentine's Day to you and yours.

This right here is RELIABLE SOURCES where we examine the story behind the story and figure out what is reliable in this world.

This hour, the online videos that drove Trump's impeachment and the TV networks that helped determined his acquittal.

Plus, behind the scenes of the latest drama at "The New York Times."

Also, the newest clash between China and the BBC. A top BBC official will be here to respond to that.

And the editor of "Politico" is also standing by with reaction to TJ Ducklo's resignation from the White House.

But first, Saturday's acquittal, Sunday's developments and the reality of radicalization in America.

Donald Trump's acquittal by 43 senators on Saturday means that the trend lines that were obvious all around the election, the autocratic campaign called Stop the Steal, the far-right ransacking of the Capitol, the rank-and-file GOP's refusal to call a lie a lie, all of those trend lines are on the march unabated. That is one of the takeaways from the trial.

Many Americans perhaps rightly perceiving that Trump would not be held accountable, many didn't even bother to tune into the trial at all.

And right afterward, the vilification of the seven GOP senators who voted to convict, that began right away. Fox News sent out a phone alert, a push alert to phones describing the Republicans who turned their backs on Trump. Curiously, Fox later deleted a tweet about that.

One America News on its website is publishing a list of how you can support and donate to congressmen and women who supported and stood by Trump.

So the vilification of the dissenters is well underway. Again, that's another trend line from the election that continues unabated. In some ways, this story is just the prelude to the next four years, to the Biden era.

But let's look back in time as well as forward in time with a congresswoman who went to study extremism abroad and then came home and found it here in the United States.

Democratic Congresswoman Sara Jacobs of California witnessed the Capitol riot during her fourth day on the job as a freshman lawmaker. But before Washington, before running for office, she studied ways to prevent and counter violent extremism overseas. That was during the Obama years.

Thank you for joining me.

REP. SARA JACOBS (D-CA): Of course. Great to be here with you.

STELTER: Have to ask the obvious question: your reaction to the acquittal of former President Trump?

JACOBS: Look, I think it's clear that it shows that there's something very broken in our democracy and that we cannot hold accountable something that so many people believe happened. But I also think that the impeachment trial itself was incredibly important because I heard from constituents who were Republicans that this was the first time they realized just how bad the attack was and just the role that Donald Trump played.

And so, the fact that the American people now know the truth, I think we cannot discount the importance of that.

STELTER: I was wondering what you have heard from constituents because the ratings to the trial, 10 to 15 million people watching it at any given time. That's significant, but it's still a small slice of the overall electorate. I know other people watched bits and pieces, video clips on the web. But I have a sense that many Americans just didn't actually pay that much attention.

Do you disagree? Do you have a sense they did pay attention?

JACOBS: I think a lot of people paid attention, and I think a lot of people knew that the outcome was baked and didn't choose to tune in. And that to me also is a problem because when you stop believing our institutions are able to hold people accountable, that lack of trust in institutions, that's a key component of the kind of political violence and radicalization we're seeing in this country.

STELTER: Right. And "radicalization" is a loaded word, so is a word "extremism". So, talk us through why you think it's appropriate now. What did you learn, you know, working overseas, working with the State Department and how is it applied today?

JACOBS: Yeah. We define an extremist ideology as one that is unable to take in competing ideas and reflect the truth. And so, I think that's exactly what we're seeing here. And when you look at what correlates to extremist ideologies around

the world, it's things like a threat to your sense of identity, a lack of the ability to have critical thinking skills, common social networks with other people who are part of these kinds of groups and spreading this kind of ideology.

And we know that when you look at violence around the world, it often corresponds to when you have new technological systems. Like when you look at the role that the radio played in the violence and genocide in Rwanda, the role that Facebook posts played in the genocide in the Rohingya in Myanmar, Burma.



JACOBS: We know that these kinds of technological systems when you have the ability to communicate in a different way also correlate to what we're seeing here in the U.S. with the rise of this extremist ideology.

STELTER: So you are describing the impact of cell phones and this constant connectivity, social networks and far right television networks, all of which you are saying are fuelling the fire.

JACOBS: Well, that's exactly right. We know the violence on the 6th was predicated on the idea of the big lie, the fact that this election was stolen, despite the fact that Donald Trump's own Department of Homeland Security says it was not. And you need to be able to perpetuate that kind of lie in order to get the kinds of reactions that you did.

I think we need to look at far right media, which I know, Brian, you have been such a leader on calling out. And also the role of social media and the whole ecosystem of social media where the kinds of information and the kinds of posts that get the biggest reactions are the ones prioritized by their algorithms.

STELTER: You know, you wrote a letter to Speaker Pelosi about this subject. You said there is a media system in place for conflict entrepreneurs. Can you help us understand that term, conflict entrepreneurs?

JACOBS: Yes. So, lots of countries, lots of places have ideologies that are extreme -- people who believe ideologies that are extreme have conflict, have disagreements within their community. But there are only some areas where that actually turns into violence and that's the role of conflict entrepreneurs or in other words, leaders.

So, basically, leaders take existing fault lines in society, in our case white supremacy and racial injustice, and mobilize around them using the enabling environment of our media ecosystem and our lack of trust and decreasing trust in our institutions.

STELTER: So, in the case of the United States, it is about a white- lash, about a white Christian America reaction backlash to a changing country personified by Trump. But I guess the point I'm trying to make or I think you're trying to make none of this is going away now, even though the trial is over and even though one phase of Trumpism is over.

You also said in an interview with the 19th news website this week that the country needs a truth commission. What exactly would a truth commission be?

JACOBS: So, I think part of what we're seeing now is because we haven't really done the reckoning with the racial injustice and white supremacy of our past that we need to do. And so, you know, a truth commission, a lot of people will think of South Africa. We've used them in countries around the world.

And basically, what it is, is it's communities all the way up to the national level having conversations about both the gory and the glory of our history and what happened, both throughout the history of our country and leading up to and on January 6th, so that we can come to a common narrative moving forward of what we want our country to be.

STELTER: Do you think the House and Senate leadership have the stomach for that?

JACOBS: I think so. Look, we all were victims of this attack in addition to being the lawmakers of this country. And I know for a lot of this, this is very personal. We've had threats to our lives, threats to our homes and our families.

So I think there are a lot of us who know that this impeachment trial was just the start of holding Donald Trump accountable, but that we need to make sure that we're doing a accountability of anyone who incited, encouraged or committed acts of violence and then really looking forward at kinds of things like truth commissions, like democracy, like institution building that we know are going to be the real fixes to what we have seen in this country.

STELTER: Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining me.

JACOBS: Of course. Happy to be here with you.

STELTER: Thanks.

So, we know that President Biden is more than ready to move on from this trial. What about the former president? What will he do now? Will Trump's first post White House interview go to Sean Hannity, Maria Bartiromo, maybe someone on Newsmax?

Certainly, his legal defense in recent days was worthy of, you know, Judge Jeanine, it was a Fox News mashup, with echoes of One America News as well. It was a master class in whataboutism. It can be mind numbing to watch and hear and maybe that's part of the point.

So, let me bring in two reporters who consume a lot of this stuff. "Daily Beast" editor in chief Noah Shachtman and "Politico" national politics reporter Tina Nguyen, who recently spend a day inside this information worm hole. Her article is titled "I spent 11 hours inside the MAGA bubble."

So, Tina, tell us about that. You spent an entire day watching One America News. It turned out they're obsessed with this show, RELIABLE SOURCES, actually. They're also obsessed with, you know, cancel culture, big tech censorship. What did you hear? What did you learn watching a full day of One America News?

TINA NGUYEN, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, POLITICO: So, at One America, there seems to be a desire to build an entire world around the idea of grievance culture, cancel culture, and they derive from there all sorts of ways that the left or the media are trying to cancel the right or whatever true Americans believe.


So it could come from this show. It could come from, say, Joe Biden trying to create a gender equity commission. It could come from, oh, God, one of my favorites was when they suggested that Marxism had been inside the U.S. government and what they did is showed a clip from the McCarthy trials praising Walt Disney for narcing on his alleged communists inside his own company.

So it's a world where the left and the media and all of the enemies of Trump are trying to do whatever it takes to cancel Trump.


NGUYEN: And in return that justifies them, the right, Trump's allies doing whatever it takes to, quote/unquote, cancel the left.

STELTER: So what I'm talking about radicalization with the congresswoman a minute ago, some of the roots of this are in these far right TV shows that make no sense unless you are a local viewer who turns in all the time. You pointed out it feels like MAGA media is missing Trump, that they're missing their star. Tell us about that.

NGUYEN: Well, the reason that One America became prominent in the American media sphere to begin with was because Donald Trump was retweeting their segments over and over. He made proclamations on what he just saw. He kept saying people should stop watching Fox News and watch OAN instead.

So, that forced everyone to start watching OAN, and the way that that worked, what happened then was OAN started entering into this feedback loop with Trump. So they put something out there. Trump tweeted about them. Everyone went to OAN. OAN adjusted their agenda based on what Trump wanted.

Now that Twitter banned Trump and he can't comment in real time, what does OAN particularly do? They just float around and imagine what the Trump agenda would be.


NGUYEN: And just kind of fill in the gaps there. And he has enough of a velocity that someone could easily cobble something on their own. But at the moment and without any sort of leader in the helm filling in those gaps, it's just really a collection of memes.

Like I saw orange man bad without explaining what that meant and just kind of assuming that everyone in their audience knew what that was.

STELTER: Well, news is hard, memes are easy. No, I know it's not surprising that Fox took the trail less seriously than the other networks. I know it's not surprising that the ratings for Fox declined whenever the Democrats were presenting their impeachment arguments.

I know it is not surprising that Fox made time for, what was it called, the cat lawyer? Look at that cute cat lawyer from Zoom earlier this week. None of that is surprising.

But what is surprising is that Fox boss, Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert's son -- there he is. There's the cat. Lachlan Murdoch said that the network is trying to appeal to a center right audience and not moving further right. He told investors: We don't need to go further right. We don't believe America is further right and we're obviously not going to pivot left. Obviously.

But every move Fox makes is a further right. Larry Kudlow's talk show is about to prepare on FOX Business, replacing a newscast. Greg Gutfeld is getting the 11:00 p.m. hour on Fox News replacing a newscast. So, they're going to put comedy instead of news at 11:00.

All of these moves in recent months have been to move further to the right. And, of course, the other big news about Fox News this week is that the CEO, Suzanne Scott, her contract was renewed by the Murdochs, despite all the recent turmoil that you at "The Daily Beast" have been reporting on.

So, given that you and your reporters are all focused on this, what is the take-away about, you know, Lachlan Murdoch saying one thing, but the programming moves saying another thing?

NOAH SHACHTMAN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE DAILY NEWS: Yeah. Well, I would say they're not moving right. They're moving further into B.S. They're moving further into crazy. Look, you could have taken the capitol riots as an opportunity to step back, to go back to some of the hard news reporting that Fox News did so well for quite some time on their day side.

But instead, they have decided to scrap hard news. They decided to have layoffs on their hard news unit and go further into the crazy, into the B.S. and so, I don't think it is a left/right decision. I think it's a -- I think it is a conspiracy/non-conspiracy decision, and they've gone full conspiracy.

STELTER: I continue to have journalists at Fox reaching out to me. They are trying to leave that network. It is difficult to find work elsewhere, but this seems to be a theme at Fox, journalists being squeezed out. Opinion or, as you say, B.S., becoming more and more prominent.

Tina, you study this world for a leaving, the MAGA sphere, what are you looking for in the weeks ahead? NGUYEN: Exactly how much will MAGA grow beyond having Trump at its

helm? How much will MAGA decide to take on its own identity passed Trump, who is going to step into that void?

Will it be Marjorie Taylor Greene who seems to become -- who's like a bit of a MAGA cause celebre at this moment for being, quote-unquote, canceled inside the house for her views? Will it be Lauren Boebert? And primarily -- it's primarily what does this movement look like when Trump is not the guy, not just leading the charge, but does he have power to do anything?


Like he can't just issue proclamations anymore. The only thing that he's bringing outside -- that he's issuing outside of Mar-a-Lago is just reports about what he thinks about impeachment and then letters saying, I'm quitting the Screen Actors Guild.

It's -- if they can have an identity outside of just following Trump or will they be wedded to his whims? That's the big question.


NGUYEN: And honestly, I don't quite know the answer to that.

STELTER: That's what makes it interesting.

Tina, thank you so much.

Noah, stay with me, we're going to bring you back later in the hour.

Coming up here, a reckoning for a White House aide who threatened a "Politico" reporter. How is "Politico" reacting?

Top editor Carrie Budoff Brown is next.


STELTER: This weekend, President Biden's press shop is navigating a scandal about itself, one of its own staffers.


Now, this is a complicated story, so I want to carve out a few minutes to really explain in depth.

And, by the way, all the people involved in this story have appeared on this program. Some quite recently.

So, look, the story ends with White House deputy press secretary, TJ Ducklo, resigning from his post Saturday night.

It began -- the story began many months ago after Ducklo was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, and after the cancer was brought under, and when he was working as a main spokesman for the Biden campaign in the general election. In November, Ducklo started dating Alexi McCammond, a reporter at

"Axios" and a frequent guest on cable news.

Gossip apparently swirled about the two of them, although, I felt out of the loop because I haven't heard about this blossoming romance.

So, a White House press staffer and a political reporter dating. Is that news? Well, it's not front page news, but it is notable from a media ethics standpoint.

"Axios" said McCammond would stop covering Biden directly, but she would cover progressive politics, is still covering progressive politics.

So, on Inauguration Day, "Politico" reached out to inquire about this secret-ish relationship. Ducklo is none too thrilled. He reached out to a "Politico" editor who rebuffed them.

Then he chose to call "Politico Playbook" reporter Tara Palmeri, you see here on the right, instead of calling the male reporter who originally called him for comment. That's curious.

Now, Palmeri was working on the story, too, and according to this "Vanity Fair" report, Ducklo threatened Palmeri in an attempt to kill the story. He told Palmeri, quote: I will destroy you.

Or according to a different account in "The Washington Post": I will ruin you. He accused Palmeri of being jealous that an unidentified man wanted to pursue McCammond instead of her.

Ducklo apparently got ahead of the "Playbook" story by arranging a profile in "People" magazine. The full story about what went down between "Playbook" and the White House didn't come out until "Vanity Fair" dropped its reporting on Friday.

And later that day, as you can see here in the headline, Ducklo was suspended for one week without pay for threatening Palmeri.

Now, what's notable here, a couple of things notable, one, this was known inside the White House right after inauguration day. This was known about. And yet, a lid was cut on it. Ducklo was not suspended right away.

"Playbook" -- the "Politico" editors complained. There were conversations back and forth. Ducklo wrote to Palmeri, tried to smooth things, but he was not suspended until the quotes became public on Friday.

The reason why that's notable is because President Biden has been trying to break with his predecessor and say the kind of indecency that Trump tolerated will not be tolerated by this new White House.

Here is the pledge Biden made on day one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not joking when I say this. If you ever work with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise you, I will fire you on the spot, on the spot. No ifs, ands or buts.


STELTER: So that's what Biden said. That's the bar that he set for his administration, a very high bar. Now he is being held by that standard.

Again, the White House apparently knew about the outburst by Ducklo against Palmeri right away. But it was not something that caused any disciplinary action until Friday. So, he was suspended on Friday. And then on Saturday, he ended up resigning seemingly under pressure.

Let me show you the exchange on Friday in the briefing room between CNN's Kaitlan Collins and Jen Psaki about this.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He's still be working with female reporters, and it wasn't just a hostile conversation. I think we've all probably had plenty of those and vice versa. Those happen.

But, you know, the language that he is alleged to have used, according to this report, is arguably, or even not arguably, sexist. So what are you doing to deal with that part of it?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's completely unacceptable. He knows that. We've had conversations with him about that.


STELTER: That was -- that was on Friday. At the moment, Ducklo was suspended but still remaining working for the White House.

But then Saturday evening, Ducklo resigned. After having conversations with Psaki and others, he said, quote: No words can express my regret, my embarrassment and my disgust for my behavior. He pledged to be better, to do better in the future.

So, Ducklo's out. This is in some ways the first scandal of the Biden White House. Some people say it's a very big deal. Others say, so what?

I would say sexism and misogyny is always a big deal.

But these relationships between reporters and PR people, they are always charged, sometimes very intense.

So let's talk about this and their implications with "Politico" editor, Carrie Budoff Brown. Carrie oversees "Politico," all the reporting, "The Playbook" franchise, et cetera.

Carrie, thanks for coming on.

CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, EDITOR, POLITICO: Great to be here. Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: We -- we had booked you back on Friday before Ducklo resigned. So, obviously, the story has changed quite a bit this weekend.


STELTER: What does this episode tell us about relations between the Biden White House and the media?


BUDOFF BROWN: Well, Brian, look, I was on your program a few weeks ago where we talked about the approach of the media and particularly "Politico" to this administration versus --


BUDOFF BROWN: -- and Trump. I said that we would treat this administration just as we have others. We will report vigorously on it.

I expect my reporters to behave professionally. And in return, we expect the same of the people we cover, but particularly, public officials who are paid by taxpayers. And in this instance, you know, it was clear that that bar, as you mentioned in the lead-in, what was so striking about this instance was President Biden said that on inauguration day and just a few hours later, we had that conversation. My reporter had that conversation where those comments were made.

The president set a high bar. And I think what this shows is that they will be held to it --


BUDOFF BROWN: -- obviously.

In the Trump administration, he did not set that bar for his administration. This president has. And I think we can all expect and hope that professionalism is what happens when reporters are doing their jobs and ask the people they cover to expect the same in return. And this type of language obviously has no place in our work, Brian.

STELTER: And Ducklo has not disputed the details that were reported on Friday.


STELTER: Some readers, probably mostly conservatives, say that relationship that you all reported on between Ducklo and McCammond is proof of the coziness between the Biden White House and the media. Is it proof of that? BUDOFF BROWN: Well, Brian, you know, as you mentioned, this was -- our reporting was on an apparent potential conflict of interest and disclosure. We were not asking about personal details of somebody's relationship. And this came to light because "Politico" is part of the media.

We reported on this and then we can now become --



BUDOFF BROWN: -- as widely known had we not done that.

So, I -- you know, obviously, we hear this all the time, Brian. I disagree with that premise. We're doing our jobs. We are going to do it with the same sort of vigor, nonpartisan factual basis of reporting that we, you know, have done with Trump and we will do with Biden.

I do not believe that it shows an overly -- an overly cozy relationship. We are part of the media. We reported this.

STELTER: Right. Other readers, I think mostly liberals, are going to say this is a nonstory. The Biden White House is getting held to a way higher standard than Trump. What do you say to that?

BUDOFF BROWN: Well, again, I mean, I think it goes back to the standard that the president set himself.

But even beyond that, Brian, we have seen -- and I think what was so fascinating on Friday when this became more widely known, the outpouring from my female journalists who have said this is all too familiar, and to take this kind of pushback, to take this kind of, frankly, you know, many abuse, whether it's on Twitter or in one-on- one conversations with sources, this happens way too often.

And if there is one silver lining out of this, it's that it's widely known that this happens and also that it's not acceptable. And I will certainly hold that ground as the editor of this publication covering people in power.

And I think what we saw as Kaitlan Collins showed and other female journalists, this press corps covering the White House is heavily female. My own White House team is predominantly female. And, yet, so many women including myself have these types of stories to tell.

We often have had to take it. Times have changed. That's not acceptable.

STELTER: You tell me if I'm crazy about this. Like when I'm talking to a PR person, a spokesperson trying to talk me out of something, by all means. You know, be as tough as you want, tell me I'm wrong.


STELTER: But the moment you say, I will destroy you, I will ruin you, the moment you suggest someone's motives or, you know, caught up -- you know, you have a misogynistic suggestion by most (ph), that's where it goes too far.

BUDOFF BROWN: Absolutely. We all expect to have adversarial relationships --


BUDOFF BROWN: -- with the people we cover.

It can get adversarial. It should never get personal. You should never be subjected to attacks in the way that my reporter was, and that so many other women are.

STELTER: Yeah. Carrie, thank you so much for coming on the program.

BUDOFF BROWN: Thank you, Brian, for having me.

STELTER: Up next to RELIABLE SOURCES, reconstruction with how "The New York Times" podcast "Caliphate" fell from grace.

And later, it feels like there is a lot of hate in the world right now, and there is. But that doesn't mean that hate is winning. I'll explain what I mean coming up.




STELTER: Hey, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES, I'm Brian Stelter. With the New York Times still working through the fallout from a controversy surrounding its podcast called 'Caliphate', we took a closer look at what went wrong.




CALLIMACHI: Yes, here we go.

STELTER (voice over): It was a podcast that captivated the media world. The 2018 hit audio documentary 'Caliphate', examining ISIS and its operations. The New York Times was flexing its podcast producing muscles.

ERIK WEMPLE, MEDIA CRITIC, WASHINGTON POST: They've had millions and millions of downloads.

STELTER: But some, like the Washington Post's Erik Wemple, had suspicions about the story's credibility. WEMPLE: Very, very good journalists at the New York Times for years

had been warning about reportorial lapses and concerns about the work of Rukmini Callimachi.


STELTER: Callimachi, an award-winning foreign correspondent who covered al-Qaeda and ISIS for years, led the 'Caliphate' project. She won acclaim for the podcast. But some, like Los Angeles Times T.V. critic Lorraine Ali listened to the podcast and questioned its depiction of Muslims.

LORRAINE ALI, TELEVISION CRITIC, LOS ANGELES TIMES: There were things that kind of set off my alarms that were kind of relying too heavily on stereotypes of Muslims being violent on, you know, the scary, unknown, spookiness of the Middle East.

STELTER: Now, 'Caliphate' has come undone. With a major retraction. It's a blow to the credibility of the New York Times and a wake-up call about the booming business of podcasting. The aftermath continues to royal The Times newsroom this month, with reassignments and one prominent departure. A reconstruction of events shows where the project went wrong. The 12-part series had, at its core, a confessional interview with a Canadian man of Pakistani origin.

MILLS: What are we going to -- what are we going to call him? The Canadian?

CALLIMACHI: He wants us to call him Abu Huzayfah.

STELTER: He claimed to have worked as an executioner for ISIS.

CALLIMACHI: How does ISIS prepare you to kill people? Is there anything ...

ABU HUZAYFAH, SELF-DESCRIBED MEMBER OF ISIS: They -- we had dolls. Yes, we had dolls to practice on.

STELTER: He admitted to committing two gory executions in Syria.

HUZAYFAH: I had to stab him multiple times. And then, we put him up on cross. And I had to leave the dagger in his heart.

STELTER: The Times and Callimachi worked to vet his claims, and reported that two U.S. government officials and an ISIS source confirmed he was a member of ISIS. In Canada, there was an uproar, with lawmakers questioning Huzayfah's ability to roam the country freely.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Canadians deserve more answers from this government. Why aren't they doing something about this despicable animal?

STELTER: But Huzayfah told different stories to different news outlets, at times, he even denied taking part in executions. WEMPLE: There was an incompatibility, an inconsistency between what the Canadian media was reporting about him and what the New York Times was reporting about him.

STELTER: Last September, it all came crashing down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: An Ontario man who claimed he had conducted executions for the so-called Islamic State is facing the rare charge of faking his involvement with a terrorist group.

STELTER: Huzayfah's real name was revealed to be Shehroze Chaudhry. And he was charged with perpetrating a terrorism hoax. With so much at stake, including the Peabody Award that it won for 'Caliphate', The Times began an internal investigation. And shortly before Christmas, it issued a major correction, retracting the heart of the story.

MICHAEL BARBARO, HOST, THE NEW YORK TIMES PODCAST: The Times has concluded that the episodes of 'Caliphate' that presented Chaudhry's claims did not meet our standards for accuracy.

STELTER: "The Daily" host, Michael Barbaro, recorded a disclaimer. The Times upended an editor's note to the Web site for the podcast, and published a new article about the man in question. While Chaudhry declined to comment to The Times, his lawyer told them he would dispute the hoax charge, saying, Mr. Chaudhry has been charged with a very serious criminal offense of which he is not guilty. He is still awaiting trial.

So, how did this 'Caliphate' controversy happen in the first place? Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet said podcasts did not go through the same review process as straight news stories.

DEAN BAQUET, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: But this failing isn't about any one reporter. I think this was an institutional failing.

STELTER: Baquet said Callimachi and her editors did not push hard enough to verify Chaudhry's claims. What made the podcast so engrossing turned out to be embarrassing for The Times.

BAQUET: You know, I think this is one of those cases where we all have confirmation bias.

STELTER: Podcasting was and is a huge priority at The Times, a big growth area. But standards and practices didn't grow along with the audio unit.

WEMPLE: Somehow we learned that it doesn't, it doesn't necessarily have all the same checks, all the same rigor that a -- that a print story would have.

STELTER: So, The Times returned its Peabody Award, and 'Caliphate''s status as a Pulitzer finalist was stripped away.

WEMPLE: This is what you want to see from a news organization which is retract or make necessary corrections, say why it happened, and then do something afterwards that will prevent a recurrence.

STELTER: A top editor at The Times will now oversee the audio unit. He will likely bring in new standards and practices. But there has been further fallout involving 'Caliphate''s producer, Andy Mills. People questioned why Callimachi took the initial brunt of the criticism, not Mills. Then, several people who previously worked with Mills at the WNYC radio show Radiolab posted complaints on Twitter about his behavior toward women.


Mills resigned from The Times earlier this month, admitting to behaving unprofessionally in the past. But saying, quote, "The allegations on Twitter quickly escalated to the point where my actual shortcomings and past mistakes were replaced with gross exaggerations and baseless claims." Mills told us that his departure was in no way connected to any journalistic issues found with 'Caliphate'. The big question remains, will podcasts like 'Caliphate' keep slipping through the cracks, or will The Times and other newsrooms learn from the mistakes?

ALI: 'Caliphate' will really change the way news organizations move into podcasting move into new media.

STELTER: As for Callimachi, she remains at The Times, but she's off the high-profile terrorism beat, reassigned to cover higher education. Her most recent tweet from December, apologized for what 'Caliphate' missed. "We are correcting the record," she said, "and I commit to doing better in the future." She declined our request for comment.


STELTER (on camera): So, that's 'Caliphate'. And it's not the only scandal involving the paper of record this winter. The New York Times does not want to be the news, but right now it is, with multiple stories this week about anger and chaos behind the scenes, particularly around the departure of science writer Don McNeil, Jr. Daily Beast editor, Noah Shachtman is back with me now. The Beast has been breaking stories about McNeil. So, help us understand, Noah, the bottom line about why the New York Times is in the news all of a sudden.

NOAH SHACHTMAN, EDITOR, DAILY BEAST: Yes, I think they're in the news because they seem to be making up as they go along new rules about how their reporters should behave. You mentioned all the scandal around Rukmini Callimachi and her 'Caliphate' podcast. Well, the podcast wasn't the only problem with Rukmini, she also exhibited similar shortcomings in other stories. She bullied the families of American hostages, and she seemed to get a cush job for it.

Meanwhile, the Daily Beast reported that Don McNeil, their star Coronavirus reporter, had made a series of racial -- of racist statements, according to students on a student trip in 2019. For that, at first, the paper's top editors gave him basically a slap on the wrist. Then, our report came out, and they totally reverse coursed, and pushed him out. And then after that, they kind of reversed course on reversing course, and said --


SHACHTMAN: -- and said, well, you know what he said here was bad, but maybe it wouldn't be bad in all circumstances. It's been a real confusing muddle. And then, to add to that, they also seemed to fire a contract editor because she -- because of a single tweet, in which she said she had chills during the transfer of power. So, it seems like there are just multiple different standards of discipline, and they seem to be changing day to day, and it's left a lot of Times reporters and editors and staffers very confused.

STELTER: It definitely has. Noah, thank you so much. Read more about this at and at Oliver Darcy has a full story about The Times turmoil. You can also sign up there for our nightly Reliable Sources Newsletter. Coming up, China taking new steps to shut out the international press. The head of the BBC World Service is speaking out right here, next.



STELTER: Covering China keeps getting harder from refusing to renew journalist visas to outright detaining an Australian T.V. anchor. The country is increasingly cracking down on international reporters. Now, the BBC World News Channel has been banned in China. It was barely accessible at all before, and now it's even been banned from hotels as of this week.

The proverbial plug was pulled in apparent retaliation after the U.K. revoked a license for a Chinese state broadcaster, characterizing the outlet as, quote, ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. The BBC ban has been condemned by the network, the E.U., the State Department, press freedom groups all around the world. Jamie Angus is with me, he's the director of the BBC World Service.

Jamie, what other countries banned or blocked the BBC like this?

JAMIE ANGUS, DIRECTOR, BBC WORLD SERVICE: Well, China is taking its place on a very short list of countries alongside North Korea and Iran that explicitly and totally blocked BBC News coverage. And I think our view is that China don't belong on that list.

You know, Chinese people are very outward looking. They want to understand international news from around the world. But crucially, they want to see how their own country is being reported by the BBC, and it's not acceptable for them to be completely blocked from access to BBC News outlets in the way that they are being.

STELTER: We are seeing a tightening, the tightening of the controls. And yet, is it true that folks in China and now in Hong Kong, do find ways around the system to access the BBC?

ANGUS: Well, that's right. Of course, you can always access BBC digital services with some kind of VPN setup. But China itself are making that harder and harder to an access to our digital services in English and in Mandarin, have been increasingly blocked over the last 18 months, too. Of course, for decades previous to that, China blocked shortwave radio broadcasts into the country. So, it's really been very, very difficult for Chinese citizens to receive the BBC's international services.

STELTER: Is this partly about China trying to restrict coverage of ethnic minorities and mistreatment of ethnic minorities?

ANGUS: Well, we were told formally by the Chinese regulator that they objected to our award-winning reporting of the detention camps in Xinjiang, and also our reporting of the COVID situation and the visit of the WHO team to evaluate that.

But we think that's transparently not the whole story. China is clearly being irked by the independent media regulator's decision in the U.K., as you mentioned in your intro to take CGTN off the air here. But we think of an equivalence between those two platforms is unfair, because of course, the BBC is fully independent and committed to accuracy and transparency and it's reporting any way that CGTN is not.

STELTER: It is so revealing when countries try to block out real news coverage, as is the case with the BBC in China. Jamie, thank you for coming on and explaining it. Up next here, a man in New York City arrested for threatening to kill Fox News hosts. We have the details in a moment.



STELTER: Often it can feel like the system is not working. Take the recent senate trial for instance. But in many cases, the system is working, and people are being held accountable, including for crimes and threats against the media. This week in New York City, a man was arrested for allegedly threatening to kill multiple politicians and Fox News personalities.

According to the Justice Department, the man sent a private message to an unnamed broadcaster that said, quote, "You will all be held accountable. You will be killed." He posted public threats, as well, according to the Feds. The targets in this case included FOX's, Greg Gutfeld, Laura Ingraham, and Jesse Watters.


Imagine being on the receiving end of something like that, messages saying, you will be killed. It's terrifying. And this is a problem that crosses partisan lines. It's despicable and must be called out consistently. So, let's give a thanks to the law enforcement bodies that track down these threats.

And try to ensure that a free media is always a safe media. You know, we've seen that in Washington, as well. The Feds are looking into the rioters who attacked members of the media there on January 6th. These prosecutions are critical to ensuring a free press.

Hey, at least it's Valentine's Day, right? Happy Valentine's Day from RELIABLE SOURCES to you and yours. And then, how's this for a Valentine's plug? What's more romantic than an Italian vacation? Stanley Tucci's CNN Original Series, "STANLEY TUCCI SEARCHING FOR ITALY" is tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time. And we will see you right back here this time next week.