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CNN Lawyers Are Pushing DOJ To Release Riot Videos; Why Won't Fox Defend Tucker Carlson's "Report"?; Local Stories Become Fodder For National Outrage; Apple Daily Raided By Police Due To National Security Law. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired June 20, 2021 - 11:00   ET



BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter, live in New York. Happy Father's Day.

This is RELIABLE SOURCES where we examine the story behind the story. And you know what we do here, we figure out what is reliable.

This hour, why Fox News is constantly ginning up fights about things that have nothing to do with your daily life? David French is here with insights.

Plus, we are heading to Hong Kong for the latest on this raid of a newsroom there, with editors now behind bars and media advocates on edge. A representative from this newspaper will join me live.

And later, the first joint interview with "L.A. Times" owner Patrick Soon-Shiong and his newly hired editor Kevin Merida. Here about their plans to transform "The L.A. Times", coming up.

But, first, why the January 6 attacks stays in the news, why it remains a lead story after all these months?

Donald Trump's allies resent hearing about the insurrection. They complain bitterly about the continued coverage. You can hear it in Tucker Carlson's voice. You can hear his resentment.

But his and their attempts to deny reality, to rewrite history, to come up with alternative -- inside job, the FBI made them do it, blame the feds -- all that stuff, that is one of the reasons why the insurrection remains in the news.

University of Illinois professor Nicholas Grossman said it better than I could just the other day on Twitter. He said: Repeating the truth about January 6 is tedious, even exhausting. But the people lying about it, downplaying it, defending it and apologizing for it appear inexhaustible.

So the choices are, he said, keep repeating the truth, shooting down lies and conspiracy theories, or conceding to them. Those are the two options.

Well, giving up -- for reporters, giving up is not an option. Number one is the only option. Keep reporting, keep debunking the crazy stuff.

But it's sad how inevitable this all feels, like we were always going to end up here in this place where people can choose their own reality about the riot. I wrote that headline a week after the day of terror. It was already starting, riot denialism. And it's become worse and worse since.

So, as my colleague Brianna Keilar says, roll the tape. Roll the tape, because the best thing the reality-based media can do is roll the tape. Start with the truth, expose the lies, yes, but start with what's real.

And here is what's real: the riot is a present tense news story every day due to prosecution and legal battles and new revelations. You probably heard on CNN about how media outlets are fighting for access to this footage from that day, fighting to make sure the public can see the attack from every angle. And this week, we succeeded in shaking some of the videos loose.

Prosecutors in nearly 500 criminal cases have been using these videos to make their cases against alleged rioters. But there are thousands more, thousands more videos. By one account, there may be 14,000 hours of surveillance footage, mostly still locked away from the public.

Conspiracy mongers on other channels are implying there's a cover-up afoot, that that's why all the footage is being hidden. But those channels aren't actually going to court to try to pry the videos free. They're not.

But CNN is, along with the AP, ABC, BuzzFeed. You can see this coalition that is working together to try to get these videos released.

This is the hard slog of real journalism. Eighteen, count them, 18 access motions in 18 criminal cases before 14 different federal judges fighting for access to the footage.

The Department of Justice led by Merrick Garland has promised to release the video, but it's been slow going, and it's been stymied along the way. Why? That's the simple question.

Let's ask two of the CNNers leading the fight now. Drew Shenkman, CNN assistant general counsel, and Katelyn Polantz, CNN crime and justice reporter.

Drew, happy Father's Day.

So, first to you, since your kids might be watching, tell me about this legal battle. Why is CNN spending so much time, money, time, resources, brain power to free up these tapes?

DREW SHENKMAN, CNN ASSISTANT GENERAL COUNSEL: Thanks for being -- for having me, Brian, and happy Father's day to you.

It's very important, as you just said, in the face of this denialism that's growing every single day, the video really tells the story. When you watch these videos -- and they are very difficult to watch, no question -- but when you watch these videos, you can see the undeniable violence that took place on that day.

And so, as CNN's lawyer who tries to help our journalists report the news every single day, when Katelyn said she was having trouble getting these videos out of the court, I knew that it was time to help her out.


And so, we got our outside lawyers at Ballard Spahr led by Chuck Tobin on board to start filing these actions in court, and we've been so far successful with a bunch of media partners who agree of the importance of getting this material out there for the public.

STELTER: Katelyn, here is a question from a viewer who wrote to me when we were doing this block. Jerry asks: Are outfits like Newsmax, OAN, Fox News in court with you -- in court with you CNN, NBC and the rest? Are they also fighting for release of these videos?

What's the answer, Katelyn?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, right now, those outlets are not part of our media coalition. And I can't speak to why they wouldn't be. All that we know is we did feel early on that it would create a strong showing to have media outlets band together.

I mean, I was asking the court repeatedly and the Justice Department, please give us access, please give us access, there are tapes being shown in court that no one has seen. We couldn't get it.

And there were other outlets too that were pursuing that. NBC had gone to court and gotten one of the early pieces of tape released.

And so, it really has been an effort from these organizations that all -- all for their own reporting but then communally also believed that we should be getting access to these tapes somehow.

STELTER: Yeah. There's a principle here and there's also practical reasons why we need the footage.

So, what is most of this footage, Katelyn? It's being used in court. Is it mostly surveillance footage, bodycam video? What is it?

POLANTZ: Well, we actually won't know it until we see it. But what we are seeing, right, is -- what we are seeing right now is that -- well, we're actually not seeing anything.

What we're hearing is that we're listening to court hearings and prosecutors, or even defense attorneys, are showing footage. Sometimes they're playing it to a judge and we're listening on a court line to cover the hearing. That's part of the coronavirus restrictions where we can't actually be sitting in court for every hearing right now. So that's one of the implications.

And then we also at times are reading judges' opinions or hearing judges speak and acknowledge that they saw video that was sent directly to them.

So what we believe is in a lot of these cases is body camera footage and surveillance footage video. That is like an up close angle that is much -- it's a scene of the Capitol riot that we just haven't been able to access because much of the video from that day, on January 6, was either shaky like participant video or news cameras that at some point pulled pretty far out of the scene.

STELTER: Yeah, most of the views we saw that day live were far away. Sometimes, if you weren't looking carefully, it looked like a party. These videos show it was a crime, like a crime times 500 that we know of in the cases so far. Now, of course, the prosecutions go on.

Drew, is it constitutional for the Justice Department to be withholding all of this content?

SHENKMAN: It's not. We -- the public right of access, and it is the public's right of access, the media stands in the shoes of the public. When we go into court, we are saying the public has a right to be in this courtroom, to see this proceeding, to watch this video.

And the Supreme Court has held for over 40 years that the public has a right to be in the courtroom during criminal proceedings, and that's been extended to documents and videos that the court relies upon. And that access must be contemporaneous. And, unfortunately, what we're seeing is that it is taking much too long to get this video released.

We've been requesting it since March in many cases and still haven't gotten a lot of it.


SHENKMAN: It's very important that we get it contemporaneously, because the reason why a lot of these judges have been shown the video, as Katelyn said, is because these defendants are being detained before their trial. So they're in jail awaiting trial because a judge saw these videos and said, wow, these are really graphic, awful things that you are accused to have done. I see the video, and I'm relying on that document, that video, in order to detain the person in jail.

That's a significant moment in any criminal proceeding.


SHENKMAN: And we need to be able to see that and to judge for ourselves as the public whether or not these people ought to be remaining in jail until their trial, and, of course, when they do have their trial, they will have an opportunity to make their case of why they don't believe that they did the things that they apparently did on video.

STELTER: Right. Let's roll the tape and then people can see it.

Briefly, while I have you, Drew, I know you weren't in this meeting on Monday, but news executives from CNN, "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" had an off the record meeting with Merrick Garland about the issue we covered last week, that the spying of journalists, the secret seizure of reporter phone and email logs.

The meeting seemed constructive. The A.G.'s office said afterwards that they are going to change the rules and codify the rules.


What's your impression of the takeaway? Was this a constructive and encouraging meeting?

SHENKMAN: Yeah, I think that we are encouraged and hopeful that the promises that the DOJ seems to be making are going to be set in stone.

It's important that our journalists like Barbara Starr or you or Katelyn have the opportunity to do the work you need to do, to talk to the sources you need to talk and not to be fearing that the DOJ was going to go into someone's e-mail accounts, personal phones, certainly not without being able to tell the journalist that.

So we are hopeful that the changes are going to be structural and in writing, and we'll see if that happens. Hopefully, it will.

STELTER: I'm grateful for these reminders of how important the legal department is, two newsrooms, CNN but many others as well.

I mean, Katelyn, bottom line, you couldn't do your job without Drew.

POLANTZ: Not at all. And, I mean, the stories we've been able to tell because of the efforts of CNN to go to court to fight for access, I mean, that really has been so important in coverage of court --


POLANTZ: -- because the video -- I mean, we can't be in court. All we can do is try and recreate this to the best as we can, and video is really an essential point of that.

STELTER: This is our media law 101 class, all right?

Drew, Katelyn, thank you both for teaching us.

SHENKMAN: Thank you.

POLANTZ: Thanks.

STELTER: CNN is premiering a very special two-hour documentary tonight, "Assault on Democracy: The Roots of Trump's Insurrection". It starts at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, here on CNN.

But first on RELIABLE SOURCES, Carlson Tucker's fantastical claims about the riot. Why won't Fox defend his so-called reporting?



STELTER: Tucker Carlson was not just "asking" questions when he advanced his theory about a false flag attack the other day. He stated as fact that the FBI operatives help organized the on the Capitol.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: FBI operatives were organizing the attack on the Capitol on January 6, according to government documents.


STELTER: He said it as fact. He said there are documents to prove it. And all of that was inspired by a headline from a pro-Trump right wing website that most folks haven't heard of.

It was there on Monday. It was on Tucker's show on Tuesday. Tucker repeated it all week long.

He said, hey, how can you -- how can you disprove this, right? He said, go and prove it. Like he was challenging the media to go and do his work for him.

And now, it's everywhere. This is everywhere now. I mean, everybody has heard about it at this point. GOP lawmakers are parroting this completely bogus conspiracy theory. And it's all because of that pipeline from one random website that Tucker likes, to his top-rated show, like a domino effect all across the right wing web.

So, that inspired me to send some questions to Fox News. And this is just reporting 101. This is presumably what Tucker did, right? Presumably he asked questions of the FBI and of prosecutors and the sources?

So I asked Fox News PR executives, did anyone vet Tucker's reporting? Did the Fox newsroom go through his reporting? Did they examine it ahead of time? Why haven't they followed up on it since?

Carlson alleged these explosive stories. He's claiming this incredible bombshell. Where is the Fox newsroom? Why isn't "Special Report with Bret Baier" covering this every day? Why isn't "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace" covering this incredible claim right now?

We know why, right? Because Carlson is out there on his own. Carlson island. I mean, he does own an island.

He's out there on his own, claiming to be telling the truth to his viewers. And the defense from Fox is that it's an opinion show and everyone knows it's an opinion show. But it looks like news, it smells like news, his fans think it's news. They trust Tucker more than they trust real reporters.

So, what was the vetting? What was the process? Why isn't Fox following up? Why isn't the newsroom digging into his claims? Why isn't the newsroom at Fox trying to prove Tucker's theory?

Those were my questions. Let me check my e-mail to see if there's been -- yeah, no, still no response from Fox News' PR to those basic questions about journalism. Just about -- just basic news gathering.

What do you think? Are there any answers?

With me now is David Zurawik, media critic for "The Baltimore Sun", and Jennifer Mercieca, she teaches rhetoric at Texas A&M University. She's the author of "Demagogue for President."

I know you both have a lot to say about this. I'm going to just keep checking my e-mails to see if I get answers to those questions. What was the vetting process? Why isn't the newsroom following up? Tucker Carlson is alleging one of the biggest stories in American history of the last 20 years. He's alleging a false flag attack by the fed.

And, obviously, we know, David, why they don't reply. We know why Fox doesn't comment. Because Tucker is just his own guy, he does whatever he wants.

So, is there anyone in charge at Fox News, David?

DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, BALTIMORE SUN: Brian, I think it's worse than that, and we've had parts of this discussion on this show.

I have said that Fox News is crooked and rotten from top to bottom, and sometimes, people push back and say, oh, no, those opinion shows, what about Bret Baier, blah, blah, blah.

No, it is a propaganda operation. It is not a journalistic enter surprise. As we both know well, Roger Ailes founded it as a political operation, not a journalistic enterprise, but he was clever and smart enough to brand it as if it was mainstream, journalistic cable news channel much like CNN, but maybe leaning a little right was the way they were -- it's not leaning right, it's falling over on its face into the right, where it's prostate on its knees before Donald Trump.


Fox is rotten from top to bottom. They will never investigate Tucker Carlson on this with their newsroom. And the fact that Bret Baier and everyone who claims to be a journalist over there doesn't is proof of what they are. It's a propaganda operation.

Now, since Donald Trump and Lachlan running it now, Lachlan Murdoch, it's become much more of a propaganda operation. Roger Ailes almost stayed between the lines, except he didn't. But this is now since Trump, an operation and it's full-blown.

Brian, you take it -- you talk about this echo chamber. You have right wing radio. You have Fox Nation and each of those can go further to the right and a little crazier with conspiracies than Fox wants to go on the air.

But Fox News is the lynchpin. When you have an audience of 3 million like he does, once you say it on Fox News, it takes on a mainstream kind of status, at least for people on the right. That's why it's so dangerous.

STELTER: So let's go into the rhetoric of it and what it actually -- what Tucker is actually doing. Jennifer, you study this for a living. You teach your students about

propaganda. So, what is Tucker doing when presents this country theory? Is he provoking a fight or flight response? And what does that mean?

JENNIFER MERCIECA, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATIONS, TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY: Yeah, he is, absolutely. You know, we've known -- rhetoric scholars like me have known since Aristotle that emotions are pretty desperate. When you tap into people's emotions, then you can get them to do, you know, what you want them to do.

Media effect scholars talk about how therapeutics work through the television, and cognitive scientists have explained that it's actually your body's physiology. So your fight or flight response is when there's something dangerous that's in the area. Your body's physiology floods your brain with stress hormones, with adrenaline, with cortisol and those take over the rational part of your brain which hijacks your brain. They called it amygdala hijacking and --

STELTER: So, hold on, let me ask you a question, Jennifer, so are you saying that first he scares his viewers by referring to the Biden regime and claiming you might be next. So he scares them and then he presents a conspiracy theory?

MERCIECA: That's absolutely right. And so, what he has is your attention, right? Because those hormones have made you attend to his message. They've also denied you of your ability to think critically.

And so, he has your attention but you don't have your reason. And then he deploys conspiracy theory and he's excellent at creating narratives that people will believe.

STELTER: So a conspiracy theory is self-sealing. I saw you said it on Twitter yesterday. What does that mean? This theory about like 1/6 was an inside job. Is that basically what he's saying? How is that a self- sealing conspiracy theory?

MERCIECA: Yeah. So, think of it like a tire, that is design so that if you run over a nail, instead of puncturing and the tire goes flat, it seals itself up. Conspiracy theory works on that same logic. So, if you say the plot didn't happen, they say, you are denying the truth and you are against free speech and why won't you even let us talk about this or investigate?

If you deny the facts, then they say you're hiding the truth from us, right? So the logic of conspiracy theory itself cannot be punctured because the conspiracy theory will cover over, just like that nail, will cover over any objection that you make.

STELTER: So how do we get out of this mess, Jennifer?


MERCIECA: It's a big problem. Yeah. I mean, so what I teach my students is to pay attention to your own responses to the media that you consume. STELTER: Right.

MERCIECA: Right? So, if you feel like your adrenaline is coursing through your body, if you feel on edge, if you feel anxious when you're watching the news, then that news is designed to make you feel anxious, and that's a problem.

And I think it's also important when we talk to our friends and family members who do watch this kind of media, you know, that we can be a little bit more empathetic with them and understand that it's not necessarily a rational response, that they might actually have something like PSTD, right, where their body is being set on high alert so often, you know, that they're walking around constantly in this state of fight or flight.

STELTER: Goodness gracious.

By the way, I just checked my e-mail again. No response from Fox News from those basic questions about the vetting of Tucker Carlson.

David, real quick. I have 30 seconds. Did you know some of these American TV hosts rooting for the Russian President Vladimir Putin during and after the summit this week? They were rooting for Putin.

ZURAWIK: I did on Fox.


Not surprised -- you know what? Let me correct that. I was actually surprised, even for Fox, I was surprised to see it, Brian. And I thought, well, they have to say -- it was interesting because it was projection.

They were angry that people said Trump was an embarrassment when he was next to Putin. So now they're going to say it was an embarrassment, but Biden san embarrassment because he wasn't next to Putin.

STELTER: Oh my. It makes my head ache.

ZURAWIK: It does.

STELTER: Good thing I don't have much hair left. I'd be pulling it out.

Jennifer, David, thank you so much.

For more on the conspiracy chaos, check out my podcast with New York University Scholar Jay Rosen. It's up on RELIABLE SOURCES pod.

Up next, Barack Obama's message about nationalization and David French's warning about constant fuel for the grievance fire. What is a grievance fire? French will tell us, next.



STELTER: Hey, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES, I'm Brian Stelter. One of the root causes of America's cold civil war is nationalization. These days, small local stories get blown up into nationalized outrage cycles, obscure figures get turned into national heroes and villains, local newscasts get larded up with national stories.

And it happens in politics, too, city and statewide elections get nationalized by donors, reporters, and political junkies. Barack Obama recently spoke out about this problem. In an interview with Anderson Cooper, he used the same word I just used, nationalization.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Part of it is the nationalization of media, the nationalization of politics. You know, the fact is that, you know, you used to have a bunch of local newspapers, local TV stations, people weren't having these highly- ideological debates, but they were kind of more focused on what's happening day to day.


STELTER: But not so much anymore. So, as a result, sectarian tensions are inflamed, people are driven apart. I mean, I'm mad as hell. Might be that -- might as well be the new slogan for some of those shows on Fox News we were talking about earlier. One of Fox's favorite stories this week was about some school board in New Jersey that decided to list each holiday as a day off instead of using names like Christmas or Thanksgiving.

Now, this is just local New Jersey news, but it inspired at least 16 mentions, at least 18 mentions on Fox. And then, after all the drama, the school board wound up holding a special meeting to rethink the decision. And sure, it was probably a boneheaded decision in the first place. But national news? This is what I mean by nationalization.

And this, too, a law enforcement officer in Idaho gets fired after making a viral TikTok video slamming LeBron James, and boom, there he is on Hannity railing against the dangers of cancel culture. Here's another example, a local op-ed column critiquing a new Snow White ride at Disneyland.

It became national news, random op-eds -- sorry, writers, they shouldn't be national news. But the story got more than 30 mentions on Fox where it came out. And we're seeing this again -- we saw it again earlier this week with the cancel culture segment about Tom Hanks, based on an column.

Now, this concept is not unique to Fox. They just happened to be really easy to show those examples because they're on Fox every day. But this is a concept much bigger than a single network. Nationalization of news, of media, of politics is something that scholars keep studying.

And it's a phenomenon that my next guest refers to as nationalization of outrage. He says the nationalization of everything means there's constant fuel for the grievance fire. It's a big country. And there's always an outrage somewhere.

David French authored that piece. He's with me now. He's a senior editor at the Dispatch, and columnist for Time Magazine. David, I feel like this is an issue I've been noticing for a long time. I didn't have the language for it. And then, I read your column. And a couple days later, I heard Obama talk about it. And it all kind of connected for me. So, spell it out how you view nationalization, what that means and why it's a problem.

DAVID FRENCH, COLUMNIST, TIME MAGAZINE: Yes, it's a two-step process. So, number one, what's really important to understand is we live in something called negative partisanship. That means that a person who's a Republican, not so much because they love Republican ideas, but because they really dislike Democrats, or someone's a Democrat, not so much because they really love democratic ideas, because they really dislike Republicans.

And so, because we're fueled so much by animosity, there's an enormous market for justification for the animosity. So, in other words, if I'm on Twitter, at any moment, I can -- there's somebody -- always somebody's doing something crazy somewhere. And so, you can find that fuel. Oh, and Topeka at a Costco, someone yelled at someone for wearing a mask. Look what they're like. Or in Des Moines, some kid got his MAGA hat knocked off his head. Look what they're like.

So, you're always going to find that fuel. And what that fuel does, is it tells you it actually communicates inaccurate information about your political opponents, so that there's now a lot of research that says the more engaged you are in political media, the less informed you are about the actual viewpoint of your opponents because you're constantly -- you're constantly exposed to their worst, you're never exposed to their best.

STELTER: Right. So, you're saying you're -- if you're only hearing about the most radical, like random, you know, New York City liberal, you know, hip element -- more liberal, leftist, hippie, you know, if you think that's your opponent, and you have this complete wrongheaded sense of what the so-called other side is in this nationalization of outrage, like you said, there's always some piece of content to get angry about.


And it seems to me these social -- I was-- we're talking about Fox, but it was even in Facebook and Twitter are very much part of this problem, because there's always something you can click on and get angry about.

FRENCH: Well, and honestly, we're the problem, because we engage with that content. You know, it's not that Facebook forces us to engage with it, we're like, oh, happy to share that.

Look at what they're really like. And the really interesting data says that, you know, look, if you're less engaged with the political media, and you get more of your information about your political opponents through these things called friendships or relationships, you actually end up with a much more accurate view of what they really think about, say, border security or about defund or support the police.

It's the -- it's the political hobbyist class that is totally focused on that -- on that negative partisanship that is really driving this nationalization of outrage, because they're so thirsty for that fuel, for the fire of their own anger.

STELTER: I'm really glad you coined this term. I think you coined this term. I'm giving you credit here and now. It just helps me kind of process all these media battles that I see happen every day. And then, the other layer that Obama added to it in his recent interview was about local news coverage.

And there's been some great research about this, as well, showing the less local news content there is in a newspaper, the less local content there is on a local T.V. station, the more National hyperpartisan stuff you hear, the more that people feel disconnected from their communities. And this really relates to the local news crisis, doesn't it, David?

If you're not able to -- if we're not -- we as a country are not able to (INAUDIBLE) what's the word I'm looking for -- sustain local news, then we'll end up all going to be hearing national news all the time.

FRENCH: That's a big, big issue. Because what happens when an issue is nationalized, you actually begin to feel both more angry and more helpless, because how much of a voice do we really have on something national, whereas if something is local, if it's dealing with your own school board, instead of some New Jersey School board, or the Loudon County Schools in Virginia that are covered all the time, then if it's your own school board, you have the ability to do much more about it, than if you're looking at something like say the San Francisco Unified School District, and you're living in Williamson County, Tennessee, like I do.

And so, when it's nationalized outrage, it's also in many ways, impotent rage, it's helpless rage, because you can't do anything about it. When you're -- when you engage locally, you can do something.

STELTER: It's like almost pornographic if you're living in the middle of the country. And you're reading about San Francisco all the time. And like the worst -- and the -- and by the way, there's problems in cities, there's problems everywhere, but if you're reading about them constantly, you're going to blow them out of proportion.

And by the way, you know, you mentioned Loudon County. Fox is focused on critical race theory on Loudon County parents speaking against it. NBC had a great story this week about critical race theory concerns -- at the national level, then trickling down to local. So, you're seeing that the flip side maybe of this nationalization issue is stories then go to local levels, communities get polarized locally, because of national fights. Is that a part of this layer that we should have mentioned as well? FRENCH: Well, what happens is people get very angry and then (INAUDIBLE) go engage locally very angry about something that is not happening locally.

STELTER: Right. Right.

FRENCH: And so, you'll hear a story about something in New Jersey, and it could be a bad story, or you could hear something -- a story about something happening in San Francisco and maybe the school district there is really wrong. They did something bad.


FRENCH: And then, you charge into your local environment, and nothing like that is going on. And so, it's very important I think that people -- look, it's not that stories about what's happening in other states and cities and jurisdictions don't matter. Some of them spawn, for example, legal precedents that do matter. But we need to keep it in proportion and perspective. That a -- that a masking incident in a Costco 300 miles away does not necessarily tell you all that much about the United States of America.

STELTER: Or anything. David, thank you so much. Thanks for coming on.

FRENCH: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: Up next, a very serious story. A newsroom becoming a crime scene with editors now behind bars. Is this the end of a free press in Hong Kong? Two special guests join me next.



STELTER: Hey, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. This is what the newsroom of Apple Daily normally looks like. Apple Daily is a bravely pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong, founded by Jimmy Lai, a billionaire businessman who has been fiercely critical of Mainland China. But now as China tightened its grip on Hong Kong, as freedoms evaporate there, Apple Daily is being targeted.

Hundreds of police officers poured into the paper's office this week, flooding the newsroom, seizing computers, freezing bank accounts, and arresting five editors and executives on the spot. This is the outlet's live streaming of the entire ordeal. All this is happening in the name of, quote, unquote, national security. But those police, it looked like thought police trying to stamp out ideas that threaten Beijing, specifically the paper's pro-democracy commentaries.

This weekend, the editor and the CEO of the paper were denied bail, which means they are in prison for the long haul. Jimmy Lai is already in prison. Meanwhile, people in Hong Kong are lining up to buy copies of Apple Daily a purchase as a sign of protest.

But the paper is in dire financial straits. It may not survive much longer. Jimmy Lai's right-hand man will join me in a moment. But first, let's go live to Hong Kong to Elaine Yu. She's a reporter for The Wall Street Journal who has been covering this story. Elaine, thank you for coming on. Has this raid -- has it caused fear among reporters and citizens in Hong Kong?

ELAINE YU, REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Yes, this has sent shutters through the industry because it raises important new questions about how media outlets could report on topics that are now considered highly sensitive. And this is the first time authorities arrested newsroom leaders and prosecuted them under the National Security Law over published articles.


And this is not just about Apple Daily. Local media groups say the whole news industry is affected because we don't know exactly whether those allegedly offending articles were news reports or commentaries. And many journalists say they are now left guessing where the new red line is.

And at a press conference, some reporters even asked officials to explain how they can navigate reporting on sensitive topics like foreign sanctions. So, questions about these new red lines are clearly hanging over them. And to the -- what I've talked to you about --

STELTER: So, what I -- what I hear you describing-- what I hear you describing is a chilling effect that it is having a chilling effect.

YU: Yes, and it also affects people as well. Many media groups here are also saying it'll get harder for reporters to get people to talk to them, because the police can now potentially seize reporters' files and devices through a court warrant. And that happened for the first time a few days ago. So, government critics and other people could become scared of talking to the media. So, yes, this has wide reaching consequences.

STELTER: Elaine, thank you for bringing us up to speed. Read her work on WHA Web site. Joining me now to discuss the arrest of his colleagues, Mark Simon, he's in -- he is the assistant to the chairman of Apple Daily, Jimmy Lai. He is there, Mark currently wanted by Hong Kong authorities. So, Mark, I assume that's why you're in New York and not Hong Kong?

MARK SIMON, ASSISTANT TO THE CHAIRMAN OF APPLE DAILY, JIMMY LAI: Yes, unfortunately, if I was in Hong Kong, I'd probably not be up in public and able to do a television show.

STELTER: We know Jimmy is behind bars now, the editor, the CEO of the paper. Is this paper essentially going to be shut down in the coming days because of these arrests?

SIMON: Apple Daily will keep going as long as they can. Our problem at Apple Daily is not that we don't have funds, we have 50 million U.S. dollars in the bank. Our problem is the secretary of security and the police will not let us pay our reporters, they will not let us pay our staff. And they will not let us pay our vendors. They have locked up our

accounts. We are basically being shut down by just an entirely of crushing of our ability to operate and our ability to finance our operations.

But we have 600,000 paying subscribers. We are fine in Hong Kong. We could last for as long as we need to. We just filed a document with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, saying we have enough cash on hand to last 18 months. That's a legal document that could get you thrown in jail if it's wrong. We have the money. It is the Hong Kong government that is freezing our accounts and is shutting us down. It's basically the confiscation of a new source and of -- and of a paper.

STELTER: Is this just fundamentally the Communist Chinese officials trying to stop a free press in Hong Kong. Are there -- are there -- are there lots of other independent outlets in Hong Kong?

SIMON: There are a lot of independent outlet in Hong Kong. But, you know, earlier, you made a comment about mass media. Mass media matters. We're probably the largest by most estimations in Hong Kong. You know, we have 600,000 subscribers, we have a couple of million viewers every day come to us. Mass media matters.

And once they can shut down the biggest pro-democracy and maybe probably -- well, we are probably the biggest newspaper in town. At that point in time, you know, the smaller guys just have a tougher and tougher time getting the stores -- the news out. Mass media matters.

STELTER: Well, you said to me off air, you said there's an old Chinese saying, you kill the chicken to scare the monkey. Is that what's happening here?

SIMON: That's right. That's exactly right. That's exactly right. Basically, if you knock us off -- look, we have lawyers, we can pay. We can defend our people. We can defend our brave journalists who sat at their desk and typed out while policemen stood behind them and threatened them.

But if we go -- if you're a smaller outlet, if you're a blogger, if you're somebody like that, God help you if you get caught up in the Hong Kong national security apparatus, which by the way, is not the court system. We have not had a court decision against us yet. We have not had done anything. These are all orders from basically the secretary -- well, from the secretary of security. We are facing a security agency. We are not facing courts.

STELTER: You also said this reminds me of an old John Wayne movie. What's the movie? Why is that?

SIMON: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. At the end of the day, you know, the guy who -- the newspaperman was not exactly the most reputable guy in town, but he told the truth, and the bad guy had to get rid of him. You had to kill the one voice that would say the truth, even though we're probably not everybody's favorite person all the time. And that's what's happening here. A free press matters. It is the most

important thing in a society. People I know in America go back and forth about these things. Folks, if you don't have a free press, you do not have a free society.


STELTER: Mark, thank you. We will try to keep on top of this case. More RELIABLE SOURCES in just a moment.


STELTER: Happy Father's Day to everybody watching today. Before we go at this hour, just thinking about my dad, and how I used to wait for him to come home when I was a kid. I'd wait by the door for an hour sometimes because I wanted to talk his ear off about the day's news.

Of course, he already knew what had happened in the news that day because he was in traffic for an hour on the way home listening to WTOP, listening to the radio, hearing all the news. He always pretended to be surprised about what I told him. He always -- he always played along. That's what being a dad is all about. Right?


My dad died 20 years ago. I wonder what he'd think of me now, now that I talk for a living, now that I talk people's ear off for a living, now that my kids see me on CNN yapping away. I mentioned that story because today, I talked too much on T.V. You know, we're always up against the clock here on -- here on the big screen.

I ran out of time for an interview that I teased at the beginning of the hour. It's my interview with Los Angeles Times owner, Patrick Soon-Shiong and new editor Kevin Merida. So, here's the deal, we're going to save it for next week. This is a super tease for next week's show.

And you can tune in for that interview and much more. Before we go, make sure you're signed up for our nightly RELIABLE SOURCES newsletter. You can get on the list for free at And we will see you right back here next week.