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The Center Of Henri Is Approaching Rhode Island Coast; Reporter's Notebook Is About the Fall of Afghanistan; One-on-One With Owner of Afghanistan News Network. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired August 22, 2021 - 11:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: What a rare weather event in the northeastern U.S. today -- a tropical storm about to make landfall in southern New England.

I'm Brian Stelter live in New York. This is RELIABLE SOURCES.

We'll get to all the media news in a few minutes, but the 11:00 a.m. Eastern advisory from the National Hurricane Center has just hit. It says the center of Tropical Storm Henri is passing close to Block Island, the storm, the center of the storm heading straight for Rhode Island, parts of the eyewall already on shore, and we're seeing the storm move to shore as we speak.

More than 1,500 people under tropical weather alerts right now concerned about storm surge in the harbors and the bays of Rhode Island, New York and Massachusetts. Concerns about flooding in the coming hours and widespread power outages because we're talking about a part of the United States not used to seeing tropical weather barreling ashore.

So, dangerous levels of rain coming for the Northeast. Storm surge as well. We're going live just in a moment to Derek Van Dam who is in Newport, Rhode Island, who can give us a sense of what's happening on the coast.

But, first, let's go to Allison Chinchar in the CNN weather center for the latest on this 11:00 a.m. track.

Allison, any updates from the National Hurricane Center?

ALLISON CHNCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. We've got several actually, in fact. We're learning it is moving very, very close to shore. Landfall is expected imminently here.

And what we're also seeing is that little bit of down push in wind. So, the winds are at 60 miles an hour, still gusting up around 70 miles an hour. And, again, look at the expanse of that storm. Look how wide the storms really stretch from this particular storm. Once it makes landfall, it is expected to move a little farther inland

before making a sharp turn to the east back over the open Atlantic. In the short term, however, we still anticipate very heavy rainfall, very gusty winds, and we already started seeing these heavy bands of rain really for the last several hours over states like New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, even Rhode Island. Again, Rhode Island getting very gusty winds just in the last hour or so.

Storm surge still going to be a big factor for some spots. Looking at some of these numbers, Newport picking up about 1.9 feet of storm surge around Montauk. It was about 2 feet. Again, these are just the latest observed numbers but those could change throughout the day today. Flash flood watches are in effect for numerous states. Those are likely to stick around for the rest of the day today, because heavy rainfall is still expected. The thing to note for a lot of these areas, they've already had a tremendous amount of rain and now we're adding on top of it.

For example, Cranbury, New Jersey, about 8 inches of rain, Brooklyn picking up over 6 inches and Central Park nearly 5 inches of rain. Now, on top of that, we're going to be adding widespread, likely to get another two to four inches, but some spots could have another six inches on top of what you already have, which is why you have those flash flood watches in effect.

Wind gust also very strong. Areas of Rhode Island picking up, even Massachusetts around 60 miles per hour? The thing to note, too, is that that's triggering a lot of power outages. That ground is completely saturated, not just from this storm, but remember earlier in the week, these areas got hit by the remnants of Fred.

So they've had a tremendous amount of rain in a short period of time. It only takes wind gusts about 40 to 60 miles per hour in those saturated conditions to bring down trees and power lines. Across several states, you're looking at about 30,000 people without power already, and as those conditions worsen, that number is likely going to tick back up as well.

Brian, one final thing to note, delays and cancellations. We already have a couple hundred of them around Boston, New York, even including Philadelphia, so do make sure you check if you have some travel plans in or out of any of these cities.

STELTER: Allison, thank you. Back to you shortly.

Let's go to Derek Van Dam, as close as we can to the center of the storm. He's in Newport, Rhode Island.

Derek, what's the weather like?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, a blustery Newport, Rhode Island, too, Brian. We're probably one to two hours away from the closest approach of tropical storm Henri. Every moment or so we get blasted by strong gusts of wind, just verifying what Allison talked about with 40 60-mile-an-hour gusts. We had a report of 69 miles per hour. You'll definitely see it come through on the water. Look at the

ripples there just fanning out and a lot of the boats just taking the brunt of this storm in the Newport harbor where I'm currently located.

You can see them swaying about, and a lot of the captains here, the owners of the ships we were speaking to earlier today, they have had to put extra lines down just to secure their property. We talk about power outages within Rhode Island specifically, with wind gusts in excess of 60 miles per hour, that saturated soil that Allison was talking about.


I expect the power outage number to spike quickly because we're already at 20,000, which is the most significant in terms of power outages across the New England coastline. But really, tropical storm conditions verifying here within Rhode Island as Henri makes its closest approach. We still have another few hours to go.

We're on the dry side of the storm, but we do know that heavier rainfall is located across the northwestern sections of this storm. You can feel the wind just about to pick up here in just a moment, and you can also hear it, that ominous noise as the wind wraps itself around some of the masts of the taller ships located here within Newport Harbor.

It's going to be a long day here, to say the least.

Brian, back to you.

STELTER: Derek, thanks. We'll get back to you soon as well.

Now to the story behind the story in Afghanistan. Clarissa Ward and her team members have been the eyes and ears for much of the world for much of the past week. I know you have been watching just like I have been. And I know a lot of you have been worried about Clarissa Ward and her crew as well.

I feel like many viewers let out a giant exhale when they heard that Ward was on a flight leaving Kabul on Friday.

It is a perilous story to cover and it will continue to be covered by journalists in Afghanistan and out. But for the time being, Clarissa is at home, and I want to bring her in now for her first interview since she was able to leave Kabul.

Clarissa, thank you for coming on.


STELTER: I know you're home in France after weeks in Afghanistan. What was the moment like when you were able to get home and see your family?

WARD: I mean, you know, at this stage, honestly, I'm so exhausted and so kind of overwhelmed by everything I've witnessed over the last week or so that it was absolutely a wonderful feeling to hug my little boys and my husband and my parents. But there's also just a sense of, like, it's just like collapse, basically. It's like finally I can just let go and collapse.

STELTER: And hopefully get some good sleep for the first time in many days.

Let's talk about the experience of leaving Kabul, leaving Afghanistan and then we'll go back to what the past week has been like. We have some video we can show of getting on board the plane in Afghanistan, leaving the country. Can you describe for us what this journey was like?

WARD: Well, essentially, there's hundreds of you. It's the middle of the night, it's incredibly loud. You walk along the airfield.

There's hot air being blown at you from all the different engines on the runway, and you are crammed onto this enormous C-17. Everybody has to stand and face forward because you're like sardines packed in there, and then at a certain point, everybody sits down in unison so that there is room for everyone to sit.

But you're not really able to -- you can sort of just about sit cross- legged, and you're sort of looking around and people are just so scared, Brian. People are asking, where are we going? What happens next?

I can't -- my phone doesn't work, who do I contact? How will I find the rest of my family? And because I'm a Westerner and with my crew, Brent Swails, William Bonnett, so everybody is asking all these questions like we might know the answers in terms of what comes next, and how they'll get out, and where they'll go and what will happen to the people that had been left behind.

And then the engines start and you're off, and everyone is sitting sort of huddled together, people holding onto each other, people collapsed with exhaustion.

And it's just this very, very strange sense of relief but also sadness and guilt -- guilt like why do we get to leave? Why are we so lucky and fortunate? And tens of thousands of others are still pressing to try to get into that airport to try to get out safely.

STELTER: And you landed in Doha, in Qatar. I know there was a delay. You had to get a COVID test.

I have to admit I laughed a bit when I heard that. You're coming out of this dangerous country and now you have to get a COVID test.

But -- so what was that processing situation like in Doha?

WARD: So, you know, first of all, I think it really -- it has to be said that what the Qataris are doing and what they have been trying to do is incredible. They are completely inundated and overwhelmed. They were originally asked to take several hundred. They got 600 in the first plane load, thousands since.

They've been trying to process them. They've been trying to get them housing. They've been trying to feed them, to make sure they have medical attention, the medicines that they need.

So many people with diabetes and heart issues are arriving without their proper medication. And so, they've really been struggling.

On top of that, they're launching their own evacuation efforts, a girls' school, a boarding school they managed to evacuate.


But because they are so inundated, there are cases where the C-17s will sit on the runway for six hours as the process unfolds of trying to put all these people through the system. And obviously, that's pretty much a nightmare because it's over 100 degrees, very high levels of humidity.


WARD: From there, we got off the plane, we had to do a COVID test, and as you said, it's sort of that reminder of, oh, wow, COVID. You know, we had all sort of forgotten about COVID for a few weeks, because when you're in this heartache and this chaos in Afghanistan, it just -- the normalcy of the rest of the world feels a million miles away.


WARD: And from there, the Qataris were incredibly gracious. They really expedited those tests for us so that we were able to get on planes and go to our respective homes around the world.

But for all the Afghans who were on the plane for us, some of them have gone to the U.S., including our translator, Shaffi (ph), which honestly, I can't even tell you what a relief that was to be able to be sure that he got on that plane and is starting a new life. And it's petrifying for him and he was on the edge of tears, and we're trying to comfort him and tell him it's going to be okay.

But thank God he got on the plane. So, that's really good news.

STELTER: Thank God.

What about a week ago? A week ago, Sunday, you and I were talking here this hour when the Taliban was confirmed to be in the capital, when the capital fell to the Taliban. Was that the scariest day? Was there a day that was the worst or the most perilous for you and your team?

WARD: I think, you know, whenever you're covering conflict, the thing that generates the most fear other than someone literally sort of putting a gun in your face is uncertainty, like real profound uncertainty. And so, we woke up that Monday morning having no idea what to expect. And on a sort of everyday logistical level, that was challenging,

because obviously, our local staff did not come to the house that day because they were incredibly fearful which meant we really didn't have any food. So, for a couple of days, we were just sort of eating eggs and nuts. So there is the kind of logistical considerations.

And then there are the very real security considerations, and there was a lot of talk on those first days about organizing an evacuation, and I sat with Brent Swails and William Bonnett and Najibullah Qureshi, who were all part of the same team and we said, listen, do we want to evacuate? We don't know what's going to happen.

Is there going to be house-to-house fighting? Is there going to be -- you know, are there going to be car bombs? Is there going to be resistance? Are the Taliban going to come and start purging all Westerners? You just have no idea what to expect.

But we sat and we had this conversation, and I think we just all felt we had to see this through, we had to stay on this story. We had enough experience dealing with the Taliban over the past weeks, and for me, years, that we felt confident that it was in their interest to allow us to do our jobs and with some degree of safety.

So, we all made the decision to stay, and I'm very glad that we did.

STELTER: So the decision to stay, and then how did you decide when to leave? Was it as conditions worsened on the street? We all remember when -- you know, when Brent was confronted and almost pistol-whipped.

WARD: Yeah. Actually, honestly, the decision to leave, I think, was mostly a product of the fact that we were all absolutely exhausted. We've been in Afghanistan for three weeks working 19-hour days.


It's certainly been one of the most intense stories I've ever covered, and I think for all of us, we thought, okay, if we're going to keep doing justice to this story, we need probably a fresh set of eyes on it.

And, you know, my colleagues -- our colleagues Sam Kiley and Nick Creaver (ph) are now on the ground at the Kabul airport doing incredible work.

And that's the beauty of working somewhere like CNN is that, you know, it's a big team and we all got to take turns to make sure we give it our full energy and all of the heart that we can muster.

STELTER: Well, to that point, I was rereading your book "On All Fronts" earlier this week because I have it at home. I was flipping through the pages reading about your experiences in Afghanistan in the past.

You write about your first trip with the Taliban, I think it was two years ago, right?

WARD: Uh-huh.

STELTER: And you write about getting access.

I wondered if that -- if those trips in the past helped you this time around, right, that you were anyone to embed at different moments with Taliban officials or with fighters.

WARD: I think it was a big help, Brian, because for a lot Western journalists, the Taliban is just this absolutely petrifying, enigmatic, dark militant force. And for myself and Najibullah Qureshi, having spent some time with them before and interviewed with them, and embedded with them in their own territory, you have a better understanding of how to deal with them, how to engage with them, how to behave in a way that they might be more receptive to.


And I think it definitely did something to mitigate the fear factor a little bit, because while I am not trying to downplay the danger that the Taliban can and does pose to so many right now, I also understood that they wanted to be seen as pragmatic, they wanted to be seen as politically mature, they wanted to be seen as protecting the rights of journalists and other parties involved.

So I think that it gave me just a little more confidence and courage when it came to marching up to them on the streets and confronting them about things like women's rights.

STELTER: Right, right.

And, you know, about that, you mentioned -- we were talking about getting home and you being with your kids today. I have two young kids, you have two young kids -- we've talked about this in the past. I wonder how you -- how do you square it? How do you square it in your mind?

Because I'm sure there is a part of you that still feels like you're in Kabul right now and thinking about the children that you saw, the parents you saw desperately trying to hand off their children to the military -- to military officials. How -- how do you reckon with it?

WARD: Yeah. I mean, I honestly think people always -- they're like, what's the hardest part of this job? It must be that you get scared, and it's not. Honestly, the hardest part of the job is the guilt, because I get to walk away.

When I get too tired, I get to walk away at the end of the day, get on a plane, land, hug my kids, be with my family, sleep, eat, and why is that?

Just because I have a little blue passport and other people don't. And I don't think that gets any easier, and I don't think you ever get used to that, and especially as a mother this time, you know, that day at the airport, 14 hours in the scorching sun and watching these women try to find a private place to breastfeed, using these little bits of cardboard to fan their babies, hearing and seeing these images of people throwing their babies across the razor wire.

I mean, that -- if that doesn't rip your heart out and haunt you and make you question everything in this life, then I don't know -- then I don't know what will.

But the bottom line is, in order to keep doing this job, you have to live with it and accept it and embrace it and thank God for it. But you can't let it get you down to the point where you can't keep doing the work.

STELTER: Keep doing the work, right.

Clarissa, thank you for your courageous coverage, and I hope you can get some sleep.

WARD: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: Thanks.

Now to another side of the story, the urgent effort to evacuate Afghans who worked for Western media outlets throughout the country. These are local reporters I'm talking about, interpreters, assistants. They're sometimes known in journalism circles as "stringers" and newsrooms would be lost without them.

Ward was just talking about local staffers that were making food in the kitchen. Well, bureau chiefs and security staffers from Kabul to Doha to London to D.C. have been scrambling to get these colleagues out of Afghanistan.

"The New York Times", "The Wall Street Journal", and "The Washington Post" worked together and went public to get U.S. government help earlier this week. "The Journal' says that effort is now finally complete.

Other news outlets have also been doing this without saying anything publicly. I can now report that CNN quietly helped ten Afghan colleagues leave the country in the past few days.

Many other newsrooms are working on the same thing. This is -- from what I'm hearing, excruciating and emotionally draining work, but it is necessary work.

So as journalists evacuate and exit Afghanistan, how will the world know what's going on inside the country under Taliban rule? As "The Washington Post" put it, how to cover Afghanistan now?

For answers, let's go inside TOLO News, Afghanistan's first 24-hour television network. TOLONews has committed to continuing independent coverage, but will it be able to do so?

Joining me now from Dubai is Saad Mohseni. He's the owner of TOLONews.

Saad, thank you for coming on the program.

What are your colleagues in Kabul experiencing day to day now that the Taliban has taken over?

SAAD MOHSENI, OWNER OF TOLONEWS: Well, we have multiple challenges. First and foremost, we have a lot of our colleagues who were actually at the airport attempting to leave.

So, we have to hire people, we have no hire new people, we have to keep the business going, and at the same time, we have to manage the new regime in time, the Taliban. We met with them a couple times. They actually dropped by yesterday and discussed how they intend keeping media free, and they intend respecting women's rights.


So, for us -- I mean, every single day is a new thing, so we just have to manage things on a day-to-day basis.

STELTER: But for now, your channel is still up and running. So they haven't just come in and shut you down. Is that because they're trying to portray themselves to the world as more moderate?

MOHSENI: I think so. I think they have to win hearts and minds inside Afghanistan. They have to endear themselves to the international community. They'll definitely need international assistance, and they probably have limited bandwidth. I mean, they have so many other things to deal with.

STELTER: Yeah, we keep hearing stories and accounts of journalists being targeted, journalists being harassed in the country. Have any of your staffers been harassed or attacked?

MOHSENI: No. No. They obviously on -- you know, when they go and do a story, they get pushed around and they sometimes get abused, but that's not unusual in Afghanistan. It's a pretty tough neighborhood, and they used to get the same treatment from the previous regime's police officers from time to time. So it's not unusual. They're a pretty tough, stoic bunch.

STELTER: What about --


STELTER: I'm sorry to interrupt, and say, what about female anchors at your network? Will they still be able to report the news and anchor the news?

MOHSENI: They haven't been told -- yes. I mean, as a matter of fact, we interviewed a Taliban -- senior Taliban spokesperson only a few days ago, and the female presented -- did the interview, and they accepted it, which is -- which is a first for the Taliban, as a matter of fact.

STELTER: Yeah. For people who wonder, how is the world going to know about the country under Taliban rule, what do you say to them? Do you say right now journalists are able to report? Maybe not always freely, but they are able to. MOHSENI: Absolutely. I mean, you'll have to rely on people like us.

And the fact that we like to keep the business open and keep it going is necessary for us, and Afghans are used to getting the news uncensored. I mean, Afghanistan has one of the freest media markets, a dangerous one, but one of the freest in the entire region.

So it's a tradition we would like to continue, and the Taliban has assured us that for now, at least, that they will respect that.

STELTER: And when we think about what's changed in Afghanistan in the last 20 years, the independent media is one big example, social media is another, the proliferation of smartphones. People are able to make their own media.

Do we know how the Taliban is going to react to Facebook, to Twitter, to WhatsApp? Have they tried, so far, to clamp down on those platforms, or do we not know?

MOHSENI: Well, you know, the majority of Afghans, 65 percent, are under the age of 20. The sort of the 1990s Taliban rule is totally alien to them.


MOHSENI: But even for the Taliban fighters who are like, you know, in their early 20s, they, too, are used to social media. They, too, use WhatsApp and Facebook and so forth. They may consume a different form of content, but nonetheless, they're used to technology.

So, for the Taliban to actually ban these platforms is going to be -- going to be a shock to both sides, to our side as well as their side.

STELTER: Yeah, that's something I'm going to keep an eye on, because people can tell their own stories now in a way they couldn't 20 years ago.

Saad, thank you very much for being here.

MOHSENI: Thank you.

STELTER: Coming up, a lot of stories in the wide world of media. Fox calls it a mandate madness on the air, but we're going to show you how Fox's COVID coverage on the air does not match the protocols behind the camera.

Plus, is Mike Richards' producer job now in jeopardy? Meet the reporter who upended the iconic game show.

But, first, brand new polling about President Biden and big questions about the media's coverage.



STELTER: Everyone has an opinion about the media's coverage of Afghanistan, the withdrawal of the Biden administration. So, let's dig into it.

Knives out for Biden, Tucker Carlson said, claiming the press has turned on the president. Carlson has spun it as a conspiracy theory, of course.

But the critical tone of the coverage has been obvious to everyone. I'm not just talking about far right wing coverage, which has been predictably over the top. There was a Newsmax segment alleging that the Afghan mess exposed, quote, "Joe's cognitive issues." They don't even have the respect for him to call him the president.

But the mainstream media's tone has also been scathing. I heard complaints from Biden's aides about this. And so did Daniel Marans of "HuffPost" said, he has stuck to his guns while under attack in the press, laying out a case for the limits of American military power.

So, is this exactly what anchors and reporters should be doing, holding the administration accountable, or has the coverage been out of proportion, out of step with the American public?

Let's ask two of the critics this week, Matthew Dowd, former ABC News chief political analyst and former adviser to the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign, and Amanda Marcotte, senior politics writer at

S, Matthew Dowd, you would describe the media coverage as what?

MATTHEW DOWD, FORMER ABC NEWS CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Way over the top and unconnected to a perspective on the issue from the beginning. They added a perspective in the final days, but from the beginning, they didn't have a perspective on it.

My sense of this is, Joe Biden has done, we should judge it on the data of what's happened and not by anecdotes, and sometimes, the president -- the press has a tendency to judge things by anecdotes and not the data. And the data for the last week shows Joe Biden has basically gotten 30,000 people out of Afghanistan without a single loss of an American life.

STELTER: Amanda, what's your critique of the coverage?

AMANDA MARCOTTE, SENIOR POLITICS WRITER, SALON: I agree, it's been over the top. I think that we were reminded of the factors that got us into some of the wars to begin with, which is there tends to be a bias in the press towards military intervention, and I think that we also see why it was so hard for presidents in the past to pull out of Afghanistan. They were afraid of exactly this kind of press overreaction. There's no way to surrender, leave, withdraw, whatever you want to call it in a war without things getting ugly. And I feel there was something pollyannish about expecting anything different and it disappoints me that the press is behaving in this way.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: But Amanda, the role of the press is to challenge the government. Aren't these reporters just doing their jobs challenging the people in authority saying, why did this go so badly? Yes, you know, you withdrew, but why was it executed so badly? MARCOTTE: I feel like accountability works better if it's in good faith or if it's rooted in something that's factual. I think, you know, there's not been accountability for 20 years for staying in Afghanistan. Over and over and over again, Presidents have actually been rewarded for the bad decision of staying in Afghanistan by a press that kind of leans towards not ever wanting to see the ugly images of what leaving would look like. So, you know, accountability is good but what we have is a problem of failure of accountability for about 20 years now.

STELTER: That's very interesting. Dowd, how does that ring with you given your relationship with George W. Bush back in the 2000s?

MATTHEW DOWD, FORMER POLITICAL ANALYST, ABC NEWS: Well, I mean, to me, I've been a critic of Joe Biden in a number of different things so it's not like I'm some cheerleader of Joe Biden, I'm just trying to look at this from my perspective of this. George W. Bush is the one who should be lambasted the most in this coverage. That's who should be lambasted the most. The original sin of the problem we're seeing unfolding, and everything that's happened in 20 years is at his doorstep.

Now, Barack Obama should have done something about it with the American people who want the troops withdrawing then. He didn't because he was -- as was just said, by Amanda, he was afraid of exactly what's happening here. I actually agreed with Donald Trump on this when he announced he was going to withdraw from Afghanistan, how we won about it, I disagreed but I agreed with the idea of getting out of Afghanistan.

But I think the press, again, does not cover this with perspective. And the idea -- one other thing, Brian, they're -- the voices they're putting on the air are all the voices that got it wrong from day one. All of the voices they're having on the air criticizing -- most of them, criticizing Joe Biden are all the ones that got it wrong for the last 20 years. Leon Panetta, George W. Bush, he hasn't been on the air but people around him, all of them got it wrong so why would we listen to them related to the pullout?

STELTER: Let me -- let me try the theory on you and see what you think. I think a lot of journalists are personally -- they know this story personally, they know Afghan interpreters, and they know Afghan journalists, they've maybe been on military embeds and they feel a personal, you know, awareness of this story and the fear that these Afghans now feel. So, I wonder if that personal relationship to the story influenced the coverage, Matthew?

DOWD: I mean, obviously, it does but they don't acknowledge that, there's no acknowledgment that that's happening in the midst of this. And I -- as I log -- watch this unfold, I mean, keep in mind one thing, Brian, 5000 people while this was going on, died of COVID in this country, 500 people died of gun violence in the last week in this country, and we're perspective and not a single American has died on the pullout in the midst of this chaotic situation and a political hurricane, and I don't think the press fully understands what the context is for the American public. And so, when you understand the context, not only of Afghanistan, but the context of what's going on in our country, there are far worse crises situations, including the assault on our democracy that gets forgotten about in the midst of this.

STELTER: Well, I think we can juggle lots of balls at once but I hear what you're saying. Let me show a poll that just came in from NBC today. Amanda, we know that Americans went out of Afghanistan. But this poll also shows 60 percent of Americans disapproving of Biden's handling, you know, looking specifically at what's happened recently. Does that surprise you? Didn't that's a real reaction to the media coverage? What do you say?

MARCOTTE: I mean, I think that's a reaction to the media coverage. Most Americans recognize full well they are not military experts, they are not foreign policy experts so their only information about this that they're getting is from the media and the media has got a message that Biden mess this up. We're not getting a lot of explanations about how we were supposed to ever have a bloodless withdrawal from a conflict with an enemy like the Taliban but it makes sense that people would go, well, the news says he messed it up so he must have.

I'm not saying he didn't make errors and there were -- nothing is perfect there. I'm sure that there are places that you can kind of nibble around the edges but I think you know, to what Matthew was saying, the larger problems here is that we're not talking about how Bush messed this up, we're not talking about how Obama messed this up, we're not talking about how so much of what we're seeing now, the context is that this is the inevitable result of 20 years of failure. The failure of even just getting involved in this conflict in the first place.


STELTER: Matthew, and Amanda, thank you very much for the conversation on this.

DOWD: Thank you.

STELTER: Up next. The question, can anything burst the vaccine-denying bubble?


STELTER: Hey, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

Remember in late July, there were numerous news stories about Phil Valentine, a conservative talk show host in Nashville who had downplayed COVID-19 for months before getting sick and getting hospitalized?


STELTER: His family members said he regretted his vaccine mockery, and there's no doubt that he did. The vaccine almost certainly would have kept him out of the hospital. Valentine's condition worsened earlier this month and the news stories stopped, the updates on his condition stopped. And now I am sorry to report that Phil Valentine has died.

As I said he did eventually express regret at questioning the vaccine but that came too late. And these news headlines this weekend are all about you know, this one example, this one life lost too soon after battling COVID-19.

That brings me to this stage now, and Donald Trump who was at a rally in Alabama last night, getting cheers from the crowd. Cheers. That suddenly came to a halt when he touted the vaccine.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Take the vaccines I did it, it's good. Take the vaccines but you got down, that's OK (INAUDIBLE). You got your freedoms but I happen to take the vaccine.


STELTER: You've got your freedoms, he says. It is -- it is awful to have to examine the right-wing content, the crap that masquerades for news that's full of anti-vaccine rhetoric. You know you do it, you listen to these radio shows, you watch these television shows, and you think about the real-world consequences for people like Phil Valentine but I have to tell you, hosts on Fox are still downplaying the vaccine, still engaging in contrarianism, still ratcheting up the skepticism.


BRIAN KILMEADE, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: If you can't get the vaccination, do you have to shelter in place now like in -- like an American in Afghanistan?

WILL CAIN, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: Some people can't get the vaccine or simply won't, is Fauci's solution to make them?

SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: The science shows the vaccine will not necessarily protect you. It's not protecting many people.

AINSLEY EARHARDT, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: She says just replace the words vaccinated and unvaccinated to black and white or Muslim and Catholic or gay or heterosexual. Listen to her.


STELTER: So, they're saying it's about discrimination but on the air is one thing, behind office doors is another. Fox management is mandating that employees disclose their vaccination status. This is a memo that came out earlier in the week. It stopped short of saying employees must have a shot in order to enter the office but it says that staffers must disclose whether they've been vaccinated. There are real-life consequences for this misinformation in this nonsense. So, when is Fox ever going to be held accountable? Let's talk about it with Oliver Darcy, CNN Senior Media Reporter.

Oliver, you wrote about this vaccine-passport type thing at Fox, do you view it as an example of hypocrisy on the part of Fox management?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: It's an example of brazen bald-faced hypocrisy on behalf of Fox. Like you pointed out, Brian, there are really two Foxes. One that the viewers see, one that's public facing that engages in anti-vaccine rhetoric that attacks the idea of vaccine passports, that says that masks don't work. And then there's the Fox in private, the Fox as an employer which is mandating a lot of the same public health protocols that they're attacking. So, for instance, people probably don't know this but when they're producing these anti-vaccine segments or anti-public health segments on Fox, the entire control room is mandated now to wear masks, right?

When they attacked the notion of vaccine passports or asking about vaccine status, Fox News is mandating that their employees reveal whether they've received the vaccine or not. And so, it goes on and on but this really does matter because while Fox is engaging in these public health protocols, they're making it so much more difficult for other businesses, for governments like New York City to keep their own people safe. They want to keep Fox's employees safe while making it more difficult for others to also be safe.

STELTER: That's a really striking image, I mean, we're never going to see it but inside a control room in Fox, everyone's wearing a mask, and then you've got some of the stars on Fox mocking masks.

DARCY: Right. It's amazing, really, when you think about it, that has Laura Ingraham or Tucker Carlson is really putting out this anti-mask venom, this anti-public health protocol venom out there, that their entire staff in the control room is actually wearing a mask. And it's just because Fox News management knows that these are very basic common sense health protocols that will keep people safe but they're still allowing their top faces on Fox to go out there and tell people that that's not true. And that's what's so hypocritical and really frankly appalling about what they're doing over there.

STELTER: By the way, new USA Today poll this morning, 72 percent of people surveyed said mask mandates are a matter of health and safety not some infringement on their liberty, you know, I don't love wearing a mask, I know you don't either but this is not the kind of like -- the Fox portrays in America doesn't actually exist, where there's this overwhelming opposition to masks and that's not actually the reality.


STELTER: All right, Oliver, do you see any signs that the anti-vaccine bubble can be burst, that this kind of vaccine opposition media is ever going to snap to reality even as radio hosts die after battling COVID? Do you see any signs of that?

DARCY: I mean, if you watch Fox News, if you -- if you watch some of the right-wing media channels, and listen to some of the shows out there, there really is no indication that there is going to be a shift. If anything, it's actually getting worse as businesses and governments are starting to implement vaccine passports and ask about vaccine status and say you have to be vaccinated to come back to work, the opposition is growing worse. They're saying this is an infringement on our freedoms and, and so on and so forth. So unfortunately, I wish I had better news for you but there doesn't really seem to be any, you know, any signs that it's getting any signs that are getting better.

STELTER: Any signs of it -- any signs but although thankfully, vaccine acceptance some people are getting vaccinated, it is ticking up someone. Oliver, I know you've been celebrating a birthday the weekend -- this weekend, you might have missed a crazy moment on one of those right-wing web streams, one of these, you know, pro-Trump Maga streams for his rally. There was a moment where Mike Lindell was being interviewed yesterday, and I want to play it because I think it's important to see just how radicalized some Trump believers have become. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People want change now. We can't wait to 2024 for things to reverse. This country is going down a road right now, it has to be reversed now.

MIKE LINDELL, BUSINESSMAN: Yes, it has to happen now, it's 2021. 100 percent Trump 2021.


STELTER: I just want everybody who doesn't watch this crazy stuff to realize, this is the anti-democratic campaign that we see underway from parts of Maga Media. It's the interviewer saying, we need change now, kick Biden out of office now and then Mike Lindell, of course, is lying, claiming the Trump's going to be reinstated. This is happening right under our noses.

DARCY: Yes, Brian. And a lot of the people that do push this anti- vaccine rhetoric, and those whose been talked about but they're also the same people who are pushing these election lies, they're engaged on lies on many fronts at this point and it's a sustained propaganda effort on their behalf. And unfortunately, too, there are these avenues, these platforms that allow them to spread this sort of disinformation to large audiences. And I think, you know, we talk about conspiracy theories and misinformation quite a bit, but they're still these platforms that allow for them to spread so quickly, and there's no (INAUDIBLE).

STELTER: It is an anti-democratic crusade and it is happening right in front of us. I just don't want people to look away from it. When we've got a guy driving up to the Capitol, you know, claiming he has a bomb who's had his mind poisoned, poisoned, we can't just move on the next day and pretend like it was no big deal. All right, Oliver, thank you so much. Thanks for being here. Oliver, of course, is my co-pilot on the nightly RELIABLE SOURCES Newsletter. Signup for free, When we come back -- when we come back. The reporter who exposed the new host of Jeopardy. Hear from her.


[11:52:25] STELTER: Jeopardy needs a new host again. Executive Producer Mike Richards lobbied for the job behind closed doors, but now he's stepping down after just one day of tapings so Sony has to find a new permanent host to take over for Alex Trebek. This shocking turn of events would not have happened if were not for the extensive investigation by The Ringer Reporter, Claire McNear. She exposed a slew of offensive comments toward women, Jews, Asians, and others, all in Richards' past. They were on an old podcast they recorded in 2013 and 2014.

So, how did McNear find the podcast? Why didn't Sony find it? Why didn't they vet the guy? How did this happen? How did the smarter show on TV ended up making such a dumb mistake? Let's ask Claire McNear, she's with me now. Claire, what's your reporting secret?

CLAIRE MCNEAR, STAFF WRITER, THE RINGER: I just kept looking. I was really -- after the initial recording came out that he was in advanced negotiations to become the new host of Jeopardy, there's a lot more scrutiny of a couple of lawsuits dating to his time at PRICE IS RIGHT. And he had to issue an apology to the Jeopardy staff and he said in part that that did not reflect the reality of who he is.

And that sort of set me on this path of looking into, you know, who he is and letting his past statements kind of guide that information. And I, you know, found this podcast to be hosted in a job very similar to the one that he now holds at Jeopardy, where he was the person running this large workplace of the story Game Show, and he did this podcast very much in an -- in an official capacity --


MCNEAR: -- Taping there on the set and everything. So, you know, it's kind of I think was fairly shocking to people but of course, it's also shocking that Sony says they didn't know about it.

STELTER: Last year, you wrote the book, answers in the form of questions. I love this book, it's the definitive history of Jeopardy, it's all about the throw-back years but you also look forward what's going to happen. So, who's going to be the new host, Claire? If anybody knows, you know.

MCNEAR: I mean, that's a good question. It's -- they've said they're going back to guest hosts. We don't know how long they'll do that, we don't know for sure what they -- what they plan to do in this new guest host rotation. I think Sony has two options. One is to go back to some of those guest hosts they used over the last six, seven months. Three of whom were actually in the studio on Thursday, when Richards taped his five episodes of Jeopardy before he stepped down as hosts. So that's my, you know, like Buzzy Cohen and Ken Jennings, so they're all kind of they're in on hand. And then, of course, there's also the Clue Crew who kind of provides an in-house possibility as well. But it's also possible that Sony now will go with new hosts.

MCNEAR: I mean people who perhaps have more experience in game shows, which didn't really happen the first time around, or it's somebody like Laura Coates, a CNN analyst who's gotten a whole bunch of attention over this, you know, the last week or so because Drew Beck had said that he thought that she would be a great candidate. So, you know, we don't -- we don't know how long they're going to redo this search.


STELTER: We don't know but we know guest hosts are going to take over for the time being and I checked in with Sony just now, no comment yet on who will be filling in so we will see. Claire, thank you so much. The book again, answers in the form of questions. It's really fun to read.

We're out of time here on reliable sources. We're going to get back to storm coverage here in just a couple of minutes. Chris Cuomo, Fredricka Whitfield take over on the other side of this break.