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The Impact Of Cameras On Changes In Policing; Comparing Biden & Trump's First 100 Days; Meet The OAN Staffer Who Got Fired For Sounding Off To The NYT; Former Alt-Right YouTuber Reveals Secrets Of Online Extremism; Study Finds Rising Negativity Towards Media In SCOTUS Opinions; China's Oscar Boycott Spotlights Its War On Free Speech. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired April 25, 2021 - 11:00   ET



JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there. I'm John Avlon, in for Brian Stelter. We're live in New York at CNN headquarters and this is RELIABLE SOURCES. And we'll tell you the story behind the story, look at how news gets made and what makes it true and reliable.

In this hour, an exclusive two former members of far right media are joining us to tell us what finally led them to leave the fray.

Also, the Supreme Court's opinion on the news media. Intriguing new study on changing judicial attitudes about journalism. One of the authors explains.

Plus, Hollywood versus China's assault on free speech, why these two films are at the center of that country's Oscar boycott. One of the directors joins us to discuss.

But first, journalism and justice for George Floyd. How citizen cell phone video forced the country to confront systemic racism in policing, while partisan media tried to present fear-fueled alternative facts.

Just take a listen.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: When unpopular people seem guilty, you just go ahead and punish them. That's the new rule. Usually, we call this lynching. Now we call it equity.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: They are not focused on the tragedy of George Floyd, because for them, he was just a stepping stone to tearing down America.

CARLSON: The jury in the Derek Chauvin trial came to a unanimous and unequivocal verdict this afternoon. Please don't hurt us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But convicting him of second-degree unintentional murder, to me, in my opinion, is nothing short of bowing to the mob here. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If anybody that's watching right now thinks that

BLM has anything to do with black lives, you need to have your head examined.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Maxine Waters calling for violent confrontations on the streets sounded insurrection like to me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In Minnesota, protesters were yelling at police get the blank out, and in New York, at that local restaurant, we don't want you here, we don't want you here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you know what? You should be barred from anyone who says that, you are no longer allowed to use 911.


AVLON: Journalism is about decisions. But reality is more than a Rashomon test. So is this a movement or just a moment?

Joining me now to discuss is Errol Louis, CNN political commentator and anchor for Spectrum News, David Zurawik, media critic for "The Baltimore Sun", and CNN's Adrianne Broaddus, live from Minneapolis. She's been covering George Floyd from the very beginning of this case.

Thank you all for joining us.

David, you wrote a column recently about the Chauvin verdict and compared the impact of video in this case, and its impact on the national consciousness to indelible images of police dogs and the Birmingham during the civil rights movement. So what influence do you think the coverage of these crimes can have when it comes to actual social change and legislation?

DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, THE BALTIMORE SUN: Well, that's a big question. I mean, I'm hopeful --

AVLON: It is.

ZURAWIK: -- that it will lead to social change.

But if you take the two camera instances in this together, first the video that was shot by Darnella Frazier, then a 17-year-old and you take it, John, with the cameras in the courtroom, it was, I think, a hugely powerful statement.

Here is what I mean. That video, of course, as it's been written about forever by everybody, really rocked the world with this, showed nine -- more than nine minutes of execution, of torture. That's one thing. It had that impact back last May.

Then it had another impact when it was shown at the centerpiece at the start of the trial, shown to a TV audience. And then when Ms. Frazier was brought in to testify, that was when it became hugely far more powerful to me because she made some of us see it through her eyes. She stood there and absorbed the trauma of what Chauvin was doing to George Floyd so that we could see it.

But we understood, here is the 17-year-old, she sends her 9-year-old cousin into the store because she doesn't want her to see it and they say why? She said because a man was being killed. He was suffering. He was crying for help.

That's wrong. She knows that. She has that kind of empathy, that kind of moral center, this 17-year-old. And yet we see Chauvin in there stone faced, looking like a killer, and the juxtaposition was enormous.

So the cameras in the courtroom, John, really mattered because if they weren't there, we wouldn't have heard her words which further contextualized that video into a more powerful way.

So what I'm saying is you take the video, we have now, television and letting cameras in the courtroom for that trial, yes, I believe it has the same kind of impact even news film footage of civil rights demonstrators being abused in the South in the '60s had.


Will it have the same impact for social change? As you know, there's a million factors involved in that from who is in Congress to who is the president, et cetera.

AVLON: Sure.

Adrianne, I want to take this to you because you covered this from the beginning and there is no question that the courageous young woman's video changed the course of this case and there's evidence of that.

I want you to take a look at the original police officer for where the police described him as resisting officers and then appearing to be suffering medical distress, and then not dying on the scene. So if it weren't for the video, of that would have been the official narrative. You were covering this on the ground at the time. What lessons do you think journalists need to learn from this?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Question, question, question. And we also need to question members of law enforcement, that includes police.

I remember that night when I saw Darnella's video, at the time she only had about 200 views. I called up my station and I said, hey do we know about this incident between a man and Minneapolis police? And the overnight editor said, yeah, Adrianne, we got a news release about that and I'll email it to you. And we have sound with the public information officer, we're not doing anything on this. They told us it was a medical condition.

So I wrote a letter to my entire newsroom and I included Darnella's video and some of the messages I traded back and forth with Darnella. We could rely on police for basic information, for example, what street did this happen on, what time did this happen. But we need to keep what the police are saying in context and what I mean by that is we need to compare it to what witnesses and people on the ground are saying.

For example, if you have a group of witnesses singing the same chorus that matches and is a big difference compared to what police are telling you, you need to include that in your reporting.

I remember Darnella saying, Adrianne, you do not let the media cover this up. I cannot believe this is what police are telling you. And if it hadn't been for her video, we wouldn't be having this conversation right now.

I personally wish we had citizen journalists like and I called her a citizen journalists like Darnella Frazier two decades ago when my own cousin was shot and killed in California by police. A traffic stop in that case. His taillight was out. And if I know my cousin, he was trying to get to a safe spot where there were witnesses, where there was light, because that's what our parents taught us.

But there were no cameras and his life ended and he was an army veteran.

AVLON: That is a horrific story and it is one that we've seen too many echoes of even in recent days. Which gets to the core question, Errol, you know, as our former colleague Jack Newfield (ph) used to say, journalism is not about being a stenographer to people in power but you're also the son of a NYPD officer.

And so, where do you think that line it between making sure that we are questioning the official version of events when the PD puts it forward, but also be appropriately skeptical when there's an outcry but the facts don't fit the narrative?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, a decent journalist should be immune to the idea that something is more authoritative or more reliable simply because it's coming from people in power. The government is elected by people just like us. The departments are run by people just like us.

Those people can have -- could make mistakes. They could have nefarious intentions. They can lead you into a really bad place, just like any source can. And so, it's important to not drop your suspicions, not drop your professional standards just because the person giving you the information has a title or wears a uniform. We've seen that over and over and over again.

And especially in the day and age when people have cameras, when almost every person you could assume or every other person has high definition video at their finger tips literally, you should continue looking. You don't email around some of these press release.

You look for something nor authoritative if you possibly can. You stay well sources within the department. You make person-to-person contacts with people because in any large organization there are people who understand that the organization could make mistakes but their own personal integrity matters.

That's a source that's gold and you hang on to that person with both hands and you text them or you contact them on the side and say, look am I getting the official version here? You have to always keep questioning. There is no other way to do this job. I think as we've seen in this case, it is vitally, vitally important.

If the police department had gotten away with a cover-up of the murder of George Floyd, what a black market would have been on our profession forever and ever. And it is really a cautionary tale that should be taught in journalism school and people should keep in mind every single time they get a press release from their locate department, John.


AVLON: And yet, one of the things that we also saw is the different decisions in the coverage, as I mentioned in the intro.

And, Adrienne, one of the things we saw is Fox aired old protest video to sort of give evidence as it were to their anticipation of violent protest swarming cities. So, how does this fear-mongering just increase the political divide and where is the accountability in the community.

BROADDUS: Accountability comes from community members calling out those media stations. Look, the media is not going to get it right every time. But it is our job and our role to attempt to be accurate by showing that old protests video, you're playing into fear. And by showing that old protest video, that's actually adding fuel to members who are in the community, in the street, protesting.

What we've seen in the last year is more independent journalists rise. We've seen independent journalists covering the Chauvin trial, they are now starting to activate and cover and tell their own stories because they don't want the narrative to be misinformed. They want the narrative to be exactly what they're seeing. They want the narrative to be what they're hearing. And we saw a lot of that over the course of the last three weeks.

AVLON: We sure did. And, David, just final to you, when we saw also in recent days Fox News host trying to double down on the big lie. But also change its definition, Laura Ingraham in particular, saying that the big lie is that the existence of systemic racism itself.

David, I want to get your take on it and then, Errol, I'll give you the final word.

ZURAWIK: You know, I don't think it is ever more important, and I've been doing this for a long time, for media critics like me to call out Fox repeatedly for this. I've been writing columns saying, look, this was founded as a political tool by Roger Ailes, Fox was founded. But it behaved in a quasi-fashion, did some news. Since Donald Trump, it has completely become a tool of propaganda.

We shouldn't even treat it like the press any more. They have news in their title which is to mock the name of news. We have to call them out when they do this because we see how incredibly destructive this is to democracy. There is no doubt, Rupert Murdoch and Fox News are now a danger to

democracy and they should be treated that way. If they won't do it and the federal government challenging licenses or any way that they can do it through regulation, we have to keep doing it in the press. We have to keep pounding away and call them out the way they're being called out right now by this production.

AVLON: Well, pursuit to the truth is the core of the responsibility.

Errol, final question to you. How do we turn this to a movement rather than a moment as a nation?

LOUIS: The nation is moving forward. The institutions held. The media by and large did what it was supposed to do, by showing the trial, by airing the information fully, the courts did their job, the justice system, they did not take the guilty plea that Derek Chauvin wanted.

His attorney tried to plead him out and say they would take ten years prison right out front. The prosecutor said nothing to it, including the federal prosecutor, including Bill Barr, by the way, who was the U.S. attorney general at the time, and we should give him credit for that.

The system works as it is supposed to in the sense that the jurors went and did their duty. You know, everybody seemed to be doing what they're supposed to do with some notable exceptions. Like the folks at Fox News who try to act as if there was some untoward influence on the jury as if the streets were going to be filled with rioters and so forth.

We have a movement in place, the largest mass movement by some measures in U.S. history around this very case. And I think that is started some momentum that is not going to be turned around easily. There are over 140 laws that have being considered in the various states around the country to deal with police reform. That shows you that this has roots, this has legs and this is going forward I think for sometime into the future.

AVLON: I have to leave it there for now.

Adrienne, David and Errol, thank you very much.

All right. Later this hour, an inside view from within the world of MAGA media. Two defectors from that alternative universe are going to join us.

But first, as we close in on Biden's first 100 days, a view from the press seats and two veterans of multiple administrations. April Ryan and Ron Brownstein join us after the break.



AVLON: The first 100 days, it is a metrics to find the start of presidencies since at least FDR. As it stands, Biden has an average approval rating of 55 percent which is lower than Barack Obama and George W. Bush but decidedly higher than Donald Trump.

Now, one fascinating finding, the Harvard Institute of Politics Youth Poll found that Biden hit the highest favorability among college voters compared to any president in the poll's 12-year history.

Now, to mark his 100 days, Biden will hold his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. Biden has gotten high marks across bipartisan lines in his response to COVID but differences remain. "Bloomberg Businessweek" released this love letter of a cover story about Biden, saying he's achieving a plan to move fast and fix things. But conservative outlets groused that Biden is getting it easy from the press.

So just how does Biden's kickoff compare with past presidents?

To give us perspective are two White House press corps veterans, April Ryan, White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief for "TheGrio." She's covered five presidential administrations.


And Ron Brownstein, senior editor for "The Atlantic". He's covered seven White Houses and he's also the author of the excellent new book "Rock Me on the Water" which I highly recommend.

So, April, let's start with you. How does the bidden administration's first 100 days compare to the five others you've covered?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we have never seen this moment, these colliding crises. Yes, we've been in recession before, yes, we've been in war. But have we been in a pandemic with devastating losses, a life, devastating job losses, just devastation on every side.

And at this moment, it looks like, according to these recent polls, that you just said, he has the winning picture. He is over-producing when it comes to the number of vaccines. He said 100 million by the first 100 days and look at where we are right now. He's over-surpassed that number.

And right now, he's offering jobs. Politics is personal and I think back to then President Barack Obama. He came into office when we were in the midst of a recession, and people were war weary. We were dealing with the war. He talked jobs and his numbers started going up, once people started seeing and feeling the impact.

And these numbers are showing something that is very tangible for middle-income America. When they feel it, that's when they vote on it or say it.

So it shows, it goes back for each president. It doesn't matter the president, or the party, it matters how the American public is feeling in their pocket book.

AVLON: Aim for the middle of America and you usually see a sustained balance. Ron, I want to give you some stats. Check this out.


AVLON: Check this out.

In his first 100 days, Biden's press secretary held more press briefings than both Obama and Trump. But he did see a historic number of days for his inauguration and his first solo press conference. And with the tweets, well, it's safe to say that Biden is miles behind Donald Trump.

So what do all of these media related stats say about the Biden administration's posture towards the press?

BROWNSTEIN: You know, I'm not in the press room every day like April, but from vantage point, there is one word that applies and it is certainly not the word you would have anticipated, you know, having covered Joe Biden since the 1980s. The word is "discipline."

We're talking about the staff level. There is tremendous access on policy, on explaining what they are doing, but there has been as you know very few stories about process. I mean, many feel that the internal sausage making and the polling inside of the administration, maybe we'll see more when things start to go wrong.

But so far, they've been very disciplined at the staff level, and then certainly, Biden himself as you point out, there has been very limited access to him. Whether in press conference or direct interviews and when there has been access, he pretty much has stuck on message without creating a lot of verbal land mines for himself which is not what you would have predicted.

If it reminds me of anything, it is probably the first White House that I covered. In some ways it is closer to the Reagan model and even there, there was somewhat more process stories about the Baker diva pragmatists, against the Meese idealists.

Right now, they are button up, they are accessible, but on their terms.

AVLON: Well, I guess it's called sausage-making for a reason.

April, for a better throwback, I want you listen to what Laura Ingraham had to say about Biden this time last year.


INGRAHAM: If we don't get this economy going again, that man could become president of the United States. Now that is far more terrifying than any coronavirus.


AVLON: Now, perfect is never on the menu, about why do you think conservatives have had a hard time negatively defining Biden to date? RYAN: Again, just going back to what I said earlier, it is a

pocketbook issue today, as well as a deathly -- deadly issue with COVID. He seems to be -- he seems to be making things move. You know, for instance, in housing, he's creating, we're going to hear about this very soon, new low and affordable income homes with a $213 billion plan for these low and affordable income homes and this creates jobs and they're going to also retrofit the homes with broadband and high speed internet.

This is jobs. They're also going to pull out what is it, the lead pipes in these homes. These are jobs. These are things that people are needing.

We are at a time when we have a very high unemployment rate and underemployed rate. So he's hitting people where they need it. He's hitting people where they are. And this is why Republicans are finding it hard to hit them.

And the only thing they could say right now about the jobs plan is the fact that oh, we don't like the black farmer's money. It is not about infrastructure. That is something that is an issue. But it is about where people are hurting and he's meeting them where they are at this moment.

AVLON: All right. April Ryan, I'm sorry, we're going to have to leave it there for now but thank you for joining us. Also, I need to say the Harvard IOP poll had actually a 20-year history not a 12.


All right. Coming up, an exclusive peek under the hood of how far right wing media machine really works. From TV to YouTube to former producers, they're going to join us next.


AVLON: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm John Avlon in for Brian Stelter.

Whether you call it alt-right media or MAGA media, you know how its play-to-the-base, hyper-partisan take on news profits off polarization. But we know very little about its inner-workings until now.

So, now, two key players in this world are speaking out in RELIABLE SOURCES exclusive to lift the curtain.


We're going to hear from Caolan Robertson, who produced YouTube videos and social media content for the likes of Alex Jones. But first, Marty Golingan, a former producer from the cable network OAN. Marty, thank you so much for joining us.

You made headlines this week when you spoke to "The New York Times" and were fired for telling the truth in effect. Now, you told The Times that a majority of staffers at the outlet know that they're spreading election lies. My question to you is, how and why does the newsroom rationalize this?

MARTY GOLINGAN, FORMER PRODUCER, OAN: Well, rationalizing is more kind of based on just doing our -- we were doing our -- like our job kind of. We were basically kind of doing a day-to-day thing, like we were doing normal news and working in basically two parallel universes at the same time.

So, what I -- my understanding and my experience, in my opinion, we were -- I was setting a normal news rundowns and starting off with like, basic, you know, news of the day kind of, you know, everyday, you know, politics stuff. And, yes, I had like a conservative slant.

And we -- you know, we got to do that, but at the same time, while that was going on, we were, you know, kind of being thrown curveballs with weird sourcing and, you know, kind of just overall, you know, voter fraud stuff, and stuff that -- and new stories that my, you know, superiors wanted to run it because they thought that's what the viewers wanted to see.

And kind of -- it kind of meshed into both worlds at the same time. So, I was doing normal news rundowns, and at the same time, they were kind of throwing in and sprinkling in all these different, you know, stories that were pretty fringy. And kind of not the way that -- not normal news stories that would be normally seen.

AVLON: Sure. So, you signed up for a center-right news organization, but you feel pressure from the top, to sort of adding in these sort of partisan lies, and presumably because they, the owners and the bosses thought that that's what the audience wanted. So, it's this sort of spin cycle, but part of the problem is, you know, OAN is still spreading the big lie.

Up here, I'm going to show you, these are articles from the last month. And a third installment of Mike Lindell's election fraud documentary recently aired. So, who exactly is enforcing this embrace? I mean, is it ultimately your bosses in the newsroom, or are they responding to owners to keep up lying to their viewers?

GOLINGAN: It's -- it was mostly coming from the top. So, we -- and it was like a weird feedback loop, like kind of like what you said, we would get -- we would follow viewer e-mails and get, you know, their recommendations like they would critique us, and we would pretty much craft our news biases based on their -- on what they were telling us.

And so, we would get like an e-mail saying, we don't want to see AOC, or we don't want to see Pelosi that much, or, you know, the (INAUDIBLE) being shown too much. And we would kind of go what they would say, and that's kind of what helped form our news rundown stuff that's aired.

AVLON: I want to get -- I want to get your take on one final thing, because the -- on the subject of disinformation, what was the reaction in the OAN newsroom with the so-called investigation that was sourced to alleged Russian agent Andriy Derkach? Was there an awareness that you guys were playing into Putin's hands and amplifying his message? Was there regret? Was there more, or was there just following orders attitude?

GOLINGAN: I really had no say and, you know, the Russia, you know -- you know, the Russia investigation coverage. I -- we covered it as much as we could. It was easier to do it during the Trump administration. The Derkach stuff, I really can't speak to. I had no involvement in those OAN specials that was completely outside of my, you know, paygrade. But, yes, I wouldn't be able to speak to that.

AVLON: Understood. All right, Marty Golingan, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate you joining us, and appreciate you speaking out. Now, to another major --


AVLON: -- driver of disinformation, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and YouTube where these messages proliferate and exacerbate polarization, but joining us to discuss this fringe frontier is Caolan Robertson, former documentary director and producer for far-right content creators like Alex Jones, Lauren Southern, and Gavin McInnes.

Caolan, thanks for joining us. So, you specialize in getting these far-right clips to go viral. So, what was the formula that you found work best?


CAOLAN ROBERTSON, FORMER DOCUMENTARY DIRECTOR & PRODUCER FOR FAR-RIGHT CONTENT CREATORS: Well, when I first started all this, I've been consuming radical content on YouTube for about six months after the Orlando shooting.

I remember I typed that theme into YouTube and was inundated with YouTube videos from rebel media, and One American News Network type channels, and ended up going down that rabbit hole. I ended up becoming a correspondent for rebel media, of which I obtained millions of views.

And my boss always told me, and the bosses of these other organizations always told me, that we should never let the truth get in the way of a good story. And if we can get people angry, and if we can get people upset, then we can make more money, we can make more profit, and we can drive the algorithms to keep pushing these videos. It's what made me feel very disenfranchised and end up speaking out about all in the end.

But as someone who really believed in it, and believe that, you know, free speech was under attack, and that the West was being invaded, and all these ideas that they were pushing, I really felt that if I had to take part in disinformation and take part in bending the truth, that it was for the greater good.

But actually my bosses and the people at the top of this ecosystem from Newsmax and all these organizations from Project Veritas, which collaborated with Rebel at the time, it was all fair game, because the left were just so terrible.

But actually, the kind of tactics that they were engaged in, and even myself now looking back were engaged in were far worse than the quote, unquote, liberal media, and CNN, and any of these groups ever took part in. It was completely devoid of any realism or any journalism.

We would go to, quote, unquote, no go zones in 2019, when Fox News would hype up that whole situation. And we would create conflict, and then selectively edit it to look like those areas were far more dangerous than they were. Those videos would obtain millions and millions of views. Again, I regret that massively.

The only reason I did it was because I was radicalized by those people and felt like it was for the greater good. And it was a bit of a cult, but those people profited massively from it. And it was always about posting disinformation. Alex Jones, who I spend a lot of intimate time with.

And a lot of the people that employed me, told me openly that they thought the whole Pizzagate stuff and the pedophile stuff, and all the stuff that they were pushing is something that they don't really care about or they believe in, but it whips up their audience into anger, and it gets them to buy products on their news sites or to -- or to sign up to their Web sites.

AVLON: So, what you're saying is -- sorry, you're saying that the hosts are not true believers, they were just doing what worked. And in some extent, the entire formula flows from what we saw from ex- President Trump, you know, create conflict, facts be damned. And that will it said it create its own ecosystem of outrage that will build a brand. That's extraordinary--

ROBERTSON: And it works.

AVLON: And it worked. And that's what huge--

ROBERTSON: I mean, I never made a huge amount of money from it at all, but they did, they made millions and millions of millions. YouTube algorithms funneled all of this as well. YouTube recommended about 80 percent of all the views that I made on all these channels, and they pushed it and pushed it.

Infowars as told to the New York Times made about 50 or 60 million in revenue from funding all of this and from pushing all of this, and to funneling all of this outrage, and it was a massively funded ecosystem that still exists to this day.

AVLON: That's right. I want to pivot forward, because we're going to have a Senate hearing this week in the United States. That really takes a look at the impact of these algorithms. And I want to know, just from your expertise and experience, what do you think should be done with these platforms, and specifically, the algorithms that you saw effectively gamed?

ROBERTSON: Well, if 80 to 90 percent of all of the half a billion views that I was attributed to in working for these people and on camera were from YouTube recommendations, they were pushed to people that are not looking for this content. In 2016, when I was an apolitical person, and I was browsing YouTube, and I was given all of this information and given recommendations from all media, I wasn't looking for racist and far-right content, I was just browsing the internet.

So, I think that platforms have -- now need to have a legal obligation to not recommend and push content that comes from extreme and racist channels, channels that break hate speech policies, whether that's legal policies on a local level, or on a -- on a level for those platforms, and actually are held accountable for that, rather than just are allowed to recommend things on a -- on a massive, massive, massive level.

I mean, I manage some of the biggest YouTube channels on the right, that exists to this day still, and all of their views come from non- subscribers, they come from YouTube pushing their channel everywhere. This isn't a free speech argument. I'm not saying that they should be censored and banned, and who decides.

This is about YouTube, the biggest video platform on the planet recommending and pushing content that is extreme, that is endorsing real-world violence, and saying actually, maybe we shouldn't give this stuff a thumbs up. Maybe we shouldn't take this stuff and say, everybody else should watch it.

Maybe if someone wants to find it, they can find it. But we should not allow that stuff to be elevated. I think it's clean cut. I think it's fair and simple. We can develop boards and oversight boards that can manage that. It's very, very, very easily managed.

AVLON: Caolan Robertson, thank you very much for joining us on RELIABLE SOURCES. Up next, have political attacks on the press bled over to the Supreme Court? The answer might surprise you. And later, why this documentary struck a nerve in China, and what that means for tonight's Oscar ceremony abroad.



AVLON: Attacks on the press were a regular feature of life in the Trump years along with calls to change the libel laws that helps secure freedom of the press of the United States. But while Trump is gone, has the anti-press rhetoric bled over to the judicial branch? Check this out.

In March, Judge Laurence Silberman at the D.C. Court of Appeals slammed the press in a dissent for routine libel case, saying top newspapers our Democratic Party broadsheets. And T.V. news is a Democratic Party trumpet. So, if libel laws were to be questioned before the Supreme Court, how would the free press fair? A new study says not well.

After tracking every reference to the news media and Supreme Court opinions since 1784, the study says there is an undocumented uptick in negative depictions of the press. With me now is one of the researchers behind the study, RonNell Andersen Jones.

She's a professor of law at the University of Utah. Thank you so much for joining us. And I got to say, the scope of this study is stunning. And it shows that positive references to the press seem to have peaked around Watergate. So, what do you think has led to the increase in negative assessments of the press and could it be the rise of partisan media?


RONNELL ANDERSEN JONES, PROFESSOR OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF UTAH: I think that's a really good question. There are a lot of moving parts here, when you have a major institutions speaking about the characteristics of another major institution, certainly the changing nature of the press itself, the changing nature of the public's view of the press, and also, maybe even the changing ways that the press itself is speaking of the court might all be coming together to influence this rhetoric that we're seeing from the court, that whatever is causing it, it is certainly the case that the depictions of the press by the court are in a much more negative light now than they were a couple of generations ago.

AVLON: And your study states that in three terms, 2012, 2015, and 2017, no justice of the court made any positive characterization at all in any majority concurring or dissenting opinion. So, how is this negativity really taken hold and become so bipartisan then?

JONES: Yes, one of the things that's really interesting to us about this is that the justices across the board, from the right and from the left, seem to be moving away from positivity about the press. There are no strong advocates on the Supreme Court today of press freedom, at least in the ways that we saw a couple of generations ago. It seems like the broader reservoir of judicial goodwill towards the press has mostly dried up.

AVLON: Now, after your research, your study concludes, there's not a single indicator that bodes well for the press's position before the current U.S. Supreme Court. Now, I sometimes like to point out the Constitution doesn't mention political parties, but it does mention the press. Given the First Amendment, though, how do you think the press could be vulnerable to court cases related to libel that could go before the Supreme Court?

JONES: Yes. We do have a sense that this places the press in some vulnerability, having no strong advocates there suggests that we might not have this wellspring of understanding that there is a freedom of the press. And in fact, references to freedom of the press, which were really quite regular occurrences both in cases involving the press and in cases not involving the press in the past, have now essentially disappeared.

So, because of the court isn't speaking of freedom of the press anymore, it's hard for us to understand what kind of audience new cases that come before the court might get from this particular judicial body. AVLON: RonNell Andersen Jones, thank you very much for joining us. Up next, Hollywood's biggest night is putting the spotlight on China's abuse of free speech. How this documentary is caught up in the fight? We've got the directive, next.



AVLON: The Oscars are no stranger to controversy, but in tonight's Academy Award, the spotlight is on the Chinese government's assault on freedom of speech. Two films seemed to have sparked China's ire, from Chloe Zhao, the Beijing (INAUDIBLE) born director of Nomadland, the film's Oscar nomination was initially well-received by China until an old interview surfaced, in which he spoke frankly about censorship in China.

And another more recent interview, misquoted her speaking about America, ultimately resulting in a clamp down on the film. Then, there's the short documentary, "Do Not Split," which gives a searing glimpse into the 2019 Hong Kong protests.

The result is a near unprecedented shutdown of any live viewing of the Oscars in the world's most populous nation, marking the first time in over 50 years that the Oscars won't be seen in Hong Kong. Anders Hammer, director of "Do Not Split" joins me now. Anders, good to have you. Are you surprised that such a short documentary sent such a big blowback?

ANDERS HAMMER, DIRECTOR, DO NOT SPLIT: We expect to the reaction to our documentary. It's basically a movie about a big group of mostly young people standing up against Beijing. Beijing is known to react very strongly if they feel that their main political aims are facing resistance. And in our documentary, we are portraying these protesters, so it's -- it was -- it was no surprise that Beijing reacted. But we didn't know that it would be in this form of censorship, which affects the whole Oscars.

AVLON: No, I imagine that was hard to anticipate. Born of the tragedies is that Hong Kong, of course, is historically a bastion of freedom in the Chinese sphere of influence. How's that China -- that's Xi's crackdown has changed the culture there so quickly?

HAMMER: So, it's all about all through the period when we were filming the documentary that these basic democratic rights were disappearing very fast from the city. Unfortunately, it has just continued after our movie finished. Last summer, this new draconian national security law was imposed in Hong Kong. It's very straight at the same time, it's very wavy.

So, it's basically suppressing freedom of press, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly. The problem is that it's so wave, so it's difficult to know whether these and those actions were -- will be seen as illegal or not. So, then you have the situation where you have media imposing self-censorship and obviously, this is all done to just crush another effort to make any kind of similar protests, like we saw in 2019.

AVLON: That's right. And I want to highlight that fact that in the last two years, we've seen 96 journalists and publishers arrested and/or imprisoned over there. So, what do you think is the most effective strategy for fighting back on behalf of free speech?

HAMMER: I hope the world will care, because it's really dark times in Hong Kong. And I'm frightened by how fast the whole city has changed and how fast it's actually possible to just remove all these political freedoms.

And if the world don't care, and if they don't stop being afraid, or Beijing sanctioning, because we all know that Beijing will sanction if they feel that their main political claims are being threatened. Still, I would hope that my own government, the Norwegian government and other democracies will there to speak out and basically defend basic human rights.


AVLON: I have no question every generation needs to defend freedom and democracy. Thank you very much for joining us. Now, that's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. Brian Stelter will be back in the seat next Sunday, but remember, our media coverage continues all the time online.

And later, from Johnny Carson to Jimmy Kimmel, the stories of all your favorite late-night legends are coming to CNN. We got the story of late-night premiering next Sunday at 9:00 p.m. See you right here next week. Be well.