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Trump's Recycled Message Draws Crowd, But Not Coverage; How Fox Is Boosting Dr. Oz's Senate Campaign; COVID Disinformation Can Be A Deadly Problem; Red And Green Ratings To Separate Fact From Fiction Online; Chilling Impact Of Hong Kong's Press Crackdown. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired January 16, 2022 - 11:00   ET



BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter live in New York and this is RELIABLE SOURCES. Here's where we examine the story behind the story and figure out what's reliable.

This hour, we're taking you to Hong Kong to meet these reporters who feel they've been muzzled. We're going to talk about the state of press freedom there.

Plus, in the United States, in Pennsylvania, seems like a new Fox primary is under way. We're looking at Dr. Oz and his very close relationship with Sean Hannity.

And later, a start-up trying to guard against hoax sites. They're here to share some news. Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz will join me for news about NewsGuard later this hour.

But, first, the never-ending election. Never-ending elections are so bad for the United States.

As President Biden hits his one-year mark in office, Donald Trump hits a wall, repeating his usual lies at a rally in Arizona overnight. The rallies themselves are barely news anymore. What's newsworthy, what's interesting, is the way these allies are covered or the way they're ignored.

For example, here's what Trump said at the very top of the rally Saturday night, calling the media the big lie.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Last year, we had a rigged election and the proof is all over the place. We have a lot of proof and they know it's proof.

They always talk about the big lie. They're the big lie. But the fake news and the lame-stream media refuse and they refuse, they refuse -- they refuse to talk about it.


STELTER: So he's actually right about that. Major networks and newsrooms mostly do ignore Trump's lies.

ABC's morning show today, no mention of the rally. NBC, no mention of the rally. Even "Fox & Friends" only mentioned Trump a couple of times this morning.

Fox did not hype the rally in advance. Fox did not air it live, did not play all of the greatest hits afterwards. They're much busier with Biden bashing.

So Trump fans had to seek out smaller channels like Newsmax and One America News and Right Side Broadcasting in order to get their fix. These channels treated the rally like a Super Bowl with hours of pregame coverage and live interviews from the stand.

This Newsmax reporter almost nailed it. She referred to Trump having almost a cult following.


NEWSMAX REPORTER: Why does Donald Trump have such a strong following of -- like it's almost like a cult following of people like no other president has ever had?


STELTER: The truth about Trump's cult's following is it's a relatively narrow slice of America. Most Arizonans were not rushing to the rally. The vast majority of Americans don't care enough about politics to spend their Saturday night listening to a former president rant and rave. Most people didn't care, didn't give one hoot.

But for those MAGA die-hard who do want to watch, there are multiple startups and channels fighting for that sliver of audience. And in the case of Newsmax, look at this, they ran ads to fill up half the screen during the speech. Trump is free content for these channels and he promotes them in turn.

One of the channels, One America News, is in trouble this weekend. "Bloomberg" broke this story. Its biggest distributor, its biggest source of revenue, DirecTV, is dropping the conspiracy channel in a couple of months.

DirecTV says this is a routine decision but on the far right, it's being cast as a conspiracy to banish dissenting voices.

The reality about One America News is there's very little news. They don't have newsrooms around the world. It's mostly a propaganda channel, promoting 1/6 conspiracies and all the rest.

But Trump said that the owners of One America were at his rally Saturday night. He said he was hanging with them before the show. And he attacked AT&T for dropping the channel.

What's interesting is this information is out of date, because AT&T spun off DirecTV last year. AT&T is also in the process of spinning off CNN and the rest of Warner Media. But Trump suggested that his fans should retaliate by dropping AT&T.

You know what, he's encouraged boycotts before, nothing ever happens. A lot of times these rallies, to the extent that they are covered by the news media, people talk about the size of the crowd and they portray Trump as really strong and powerful, but I think his rallies are becoming a show of weakness.

He tells his fans they should drop AT&T. It's not going to happen, and never has before. He tells fans to do this and that.

Some of them, a small number, do tune into these fringe channels if they can find them somewhere, but when even Fox chooses not to carry a Trump rally at the start of the midterm year, you know something is going on. That's not strength, that's a weakness for the former president.


Now, as for the current president, we're going to hear from him this week as Biden holds his first formal press conference since November. I want to get into that with my two next guests, two former White House insiders turned political analysts, Alyssa Farah, a veteran of the Trump White House, and Joe Lockhart, a veteran of the Clinton White House, vote now CNN analysts.

Welcome to you both.

Alyssa, did you watch the Trump rally?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, like most Americans, I was watching the Patriots and Bills game. I was kind of surprised that they would decide to host this big coming back rally for Donald Trump when the rest of the country is wanting to watch this exciting football game.

But to your point, Brian -- yes, the former president has lost steam in legacy media. But what I would not discredit is how much these sort of fringier sites on how much viewership they are getting, whether it's Steve Bannon's War Room, OANN, Newsmax, that people are still tuning in, and I'd say we are going to regret it if we think that he is not coming back and we don't prepare accordingly and we don't cover these incredible, terrifying lies that he was spouting last night.

Those do warrant getting coverage because it shows you what he's planning to do in the months ahead, in the year ahead. He's still stoking the lies about the election being stolen. So, to some degree, it does warrant news media coverage.

STELTER: So, my brain gets a little jammed when I hear former White House communications boss say he was delivering terrifying lies to the crowd. We're only a year out of this o presidency and it sounds like you are fully disturbed by the prospect of a Trump 2024.

GRIFFIN: Oh, absolutely, and I've been outspoken about this. He has -- he resigned his right to ever serve as president again after January 6th. And lying to the public about the fundamentals of our democracy and the fact we had a legitimate election and Joe Biden legitimately won is beyond destructive to the future of this country.

And Republicans, my party cannot dismiss that. They cannot discredit it. He's going to continue to stoke these lies and it will be our undoing if we're not paying attention and taking him very seriously when he talks about, you know, wanting to stack state officials so that in the future, electors are going to go for him.

He's doing this all over the country. We need to be paying attention to it.

STELTER: Joe, what do you make of what Alyssa said about the balance of how much attention is paid at these rallies or not?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think the rallies and Donald Trump needs to be paid attention to because he still has a stranglehold on the Republican Party.

And these things around the country are undermining our democracy in plain sight, right in front of us. They don't get the attention they deserve because people kind of dismiss them. They should not be dismissed. This is our democracy we're talking about.

And I'll say this about the lies, the Trump party lied -- presidency lied from the beginning, lied from the first day and it's a hard habit to break.

Alyssa herself on Friday tweeted Joe Biden didn't need or do an education program on vaccinations. He went right to mandates. That's absolutely not true.

Joe Biden did more advance promoting vaccinations in the first six months of his presidency than anything else. So, I guess some habits are hard to break.

STELTER: All right, Joe, let's let Alyssa respond.

GRIFFIN: Well, hey, listen, Brian, you got me and Joe to agree at least on the first part of that.

I responded and followed up to that and I actually had a great conversation with Ron Klain. It was certainly not fair to say that Biden did nothing on public awareness. That's not the case.

I do hold the position that he could have done more. I encourage the Biden administration to partner with Republican governors. If you had Joe Biden and Ron DeSantis doing ad together in Florida saying you can trust this vaccine, this is safe, that would go so much further than putting in place mandates that we kind of knew were going to get knocked down at the state level. So, just -- I will just say that real quick.

But, Brian, I mention this as well, an interesting juxtaposition in the Republican Party last night was the swearing in of Governor Youngkin in Virginia. So, this is a man who came in, made some smart education reforms immediately. He honored Martin Luther King, he did a day of service and then he met with faith leaders in the community. That's what my party could be.

And then the split screen of Donald Trump spouting conspiracy theories and lies and hosting fringe figures in Arizona, it's a time for choosing. I mean, the time for choosing should have been sooner but we've got better options out there, Youngkin being one of them.

I'm just stunned after all of this, there's still such a following and such a stranglehold by Donald Trump.

STELTER: Like when DirecTV is dropping One America News and Fox ignoring Trump's rallies, I think something is going on. But it's going to require more reporting to really know.

Joe, can we go to Biden for a moment because I would like to hear a Democrats' point of view about Biden at the one-year mark. How is the press treating Biden as he heads into that one-year mark?

LOCKHART: Listen, I think the press is failing.


They're treating him unfairly.

First off, there ought to have been a dividend for returning truth and decency to the White House, and we didn't get that, we didn't get it at all. We've kind of returned to the snarky interviews that we saw with Trump, and in respects to Obama.

And I will give you examples about some of the decisions that get made. As I said, from the very first briefing, the Trump spokespeople lied. They lied every day, every briefing. And the majority of those briefings were aired live on television.

Jen Psaki is in there now telling the truth. She's telling us what's going on in the government, what people need to hear, and they're rarely on live television.

So that tells me this is more about entertainment than it is about news. It's more about getting viewers than letting people know what's going on in the country. And that's a failure as far as I'm concerned.

STELTER: Interesting. Press briefings every day, press conferences very irregularly. Let's look at the past, the few presidents will show compared to Biden. Biden's been holding formal press conferences less often, there's the data.

However, he does hold informal Q&As quite often, more than past presidents, where he answers a few questions from the press corps after the event. So, that's the data.

Now, we have a formal press conference coming up here this week, it's been announced almost a week ahead of time. What do you make of that strategy, Alyssa?

GRIFFIN: It kind of goes against my PR 101. You just don't know what the news cycle will be so to announce it this far in advance kind of builds expectation. But, look, any time the president is talking to the American people and taking questions from the press is a good thing.

Biden's challenge is this, there are -- you know, his press secretary does speak to the press daily. That is a good thing. But they're very confusing and conflicting guidances going out around COVID. He needs to be answering the questions more regularly.

If you can make sense of the CDC's guidances on quarantine, I would love to hear the answer because I know most Americans who do take COVID very seriously are genuinely unclear on some of the policies around it. So, I think that's going to be a big focus of it. I hope he's able to provide clarity.

And I would say this too. I mean, I would disagree with Joe. I think that Biden was very divisive this past week. Listen, there's no comparison to Donald Trump, that's not what I'm suggesting. But he's a man who ran on unity and being the president to all Americans and you cannot outright dismiss 50 percent of the country.

So I hope he takes kind of a softer tone in how he talks about working with the Senate and trying to get Republicans on board with his agenda.

STELTER: Alyssa and Joe, thank you both very much.

Coming up -- is Sean Hannity trying to win Dr. Oz a Senate seat? Sure looks like it. Olivia Nuzzi is here to share her reporting.

Plus, ABC's complete and utter distortion of the CDC director. What went wrong here? We have answers, next.



STELTER: The idea of a Fox primary does not just apply to presidential campaigns. It's happening right now in the Pennsylvania Senate race.

With the help of his friend Sean Hannity, Dr. Mehmet Oz has taken advantage of a national platform and in some ways tried to really establish a front-runner status in Pennsylvania. Whether it's working or not, Oz is trying to use Fox to win the primary. We counted 12 Fox appearances since Oz entered the race, seven on Hannity's show alone. That's a rate of one every four days on Fox since announced his candidacy.

Now let's show you all of the interviews on other major -- there's none. He's only talking on Fox. Well, he's talking to Fox and also on Newsmax. One of his challengers is doing the same thing, David McCormick entered the race this week and his first interview was Maria Bartiromo of Fox.

So, Oz goes on Newsmax. He goes on Fox again and again and again. He's trying to win the primary through right wing outlets. It's a logical strategy but it's interesting to see how he's using televisions after years, decades, on television now trying to appeal to the Fox audience.

I find it so hypocritical when he's out there bashing the media on Fox when he's been an elite member of the media for decades. Many of his closest friendships are with people in the media, right? And now, he has to pretend he hates the press and hates the media.

His heart is not really in these smears. His heart is in the ER.

Anyway, I'm joined now by Olivia Nuzzi, Washington correspondent for "New York Magazine". She's out with this incredible profile of Dr. Oz. She was even on the phone with him, although maybe accidently, and during that conversation, he called her a girl reporter.

Olivia, great to see you. Thanks for coming on.


STELTER: I think we have to start with the phone call you had with Oz and his wife. How did that happen last month? What happened?

NUZZI: Well, you know, I was trying to go through the traditional process to reach the candidate and hopefully spend some time with him on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania and that was failing. And so I decided to try to reach out directly and Mrs. Oz attempted to hang up the phone on me and was not successful and instead kept me on the line, sounded like we were connected to perhaps the Bluetooth in a car, kept me on the line about 4 1/2 minutes as they kind of shit- talked me and complained about me and my reporting.

STELTER: So will girl reporter be your new identity?

NUZZI: Look, it's not the most unflattering thing I've been called in the course of my career. So I don't know about that.

STELTER: So you're one of the many people who would like to interview Oz and he's blowing off everybody except Fox and Newsmax.

What does the reporting tell you about his relationship with Hannity? It seems really important.

NUZZI: Yeah, it's interesting. I mean, it's not an uncommon strategy these days to kind of just talk to the audience your hoping will become your base. And I think candidly from the Oz point of view there's really no upside to participating with the mainstream media, with people in the media who they perceive to be more left leaning.


And they're kind of getting away with it.

You see other politicians kind of following the same strategy. Sarah Huckabee and Sanders is a good example. She's running for governor in Arkansas and only really talking to the right wing press.

And it seems like I think the nationalization of everything has sort of allowed this type of strategy to be something politicians can get away with now. I don't know how long that will last.

And I think if I were a Pennsylvania resident, I certainly would want to be hearing candidates for office talking about issues that matter specifically to me, issues that matter specifically to the state, so maybe it won't work long term but I think early stage in an interparty contest like this, you can see the certain logic of just talking to the right wing base, as Oz is attempting to do.

STELTER: Right, just play the Fox primary.

I think the lesson in your profile, and there's always lessons in every profile you right, you got to call directly, try to get them on the phone, try ever cell phone number you have, and you might get through. That's a good reporting 101 reminder.

NUZZI: Yeah, I mean, I think I always try to get the other -- you know, every side of the story and to talk obviously to the person that I'm writing about. And sometimes -- we've seen it happen before with Rudy Giuliani, with a couple other people in that age bracket, sometimes people, their phone comportment is not great and leads to a mishap like this.

But I think what was very interesting about the entire thing, part of what I overheard, was the Ozes talking about Dr. Oz being upset a friend of theirs told me he would be the new leader of the Republican party. I had to kind of wonder if you're running for a position of power in the Republican Party, why would you not want to be perceived as a potential leader of that party?

And it's also very interesting lesson, this is someone, as you said, who's been a celebrity, been a part of the elite media he's now condemning for quite a long time, for two decades at least. And it kind of goes to show just because you're media trained in one area, you're able to succeed in one area, does not mean you can translate that necessarily to another area. And I think this is kind of a lesson in overconfidence and hubris.

STELTER: Interesting. And meanwhile, he lost his TV show.

Let's take a look at this week's cable news action while I have, Olivia. Jesse Watters and Jeanine Pirro both promoted at Fox News. Watters signed off his Watters World show last night, and he's heading to the 7:00 p.m. weekdays later this month. So, from Watters at 7:00 through Gutfeld at late night, it's all bomb-throwers all night long on Fox. Watters is going to stay on at 5:00 and one of his new co-host is Jeanine Pirro, who is leaving her Saturday show and moving to weekdays.

So, Olivia, Jeanine Pirro wanted a weekday spot for years. This is a big promotion for her and it's also like Fox News quadrupling down on what it does best, which is right wing Biden-bashing.

NUZZI: Yeah, I don't care about Jeanine Pirro or Jesse Watters for that matter. But they obviously think this is a winning strategy to kind of double down on the most extreme people that they have on the air. And I think for everyone who thought maybe Fox would pivot in the post-Ailes, post-Trump era, this is more evidence they're certainly not going to be doing that.

STELTER: Right, and that's definitely true.

Olivia, thank you so much.

NUZZI: Thank you. We care about you.

STELTER: And I care about you.

Staying on that, up next here, let's move on. Did a right wing conspiracy theory about COVID internment camp start as a joke, as satire? The unfunny comment is coming up.

Plus, we're going to go to Hong Kong for an up-close look at the gutting of the free press there.



STELTER: Falsehoods about COVID-19 and vaccines are flying from every direction right now. I want to show you what I mean.

If you take a step back and think about it, the COVID-19 pandemic is a chance for salesmen to sell fear. Take the unvaccinated Glenn Beck, who's been selling his new book while sick with COVID. He went on Tucker Carlson's show and kind of felt like a ghostwriter had done the book for him. Take a listen.


GLENN BECK, AUTHOR, "THE GREAT RESET": Doctor, this is the most important book I have read -- this is the most book I have written.


STELTER: OK. So, he says he wrote the book and it's full of proof global elites are conspiring to reshape society and crush the little guy.

So, here's what's amazing, Tucker doesn't ask a single question, he just listens while Beck says officials are meeting in Washington state to set up an internment camp, applying they will be punished for not getting COVID vaccines. I'm serious. Beck literally says this.


BECK: This is an internment camp. Washington state has done it before. They haven't obviously learned their lesson from World War II.


STELTER: So Tucker sits there and listens respectively as he implores people to buy his book. And sure enough, the book is number one on Amazon right now because fear does sell. And after the interview, Tucker thanks the guest and calls the book

amazing and horrifying and said just briefly and gently, he heard about the Washington state conspiracy and he hasn't been able to verify it but obviously, he will keep looking into it, right?

So, he hasn't been able to prove an American state is setting up internment camps to punish the un-vaxxed. Clearly, Tucker is part of the cover-up, because his rivals on Newsmax pushed this story for multiple days in the row.

Quarantine camps for unvaxxed residents.


This is nonsense, of course, but it's a falsehood that spread with Omicron like repeat -- rabidity. That's what the Seattle Times said. It was fueled by misinfo from anti-vaccine activists, right-wing radio hosts, and worst, of all Republican candidates running for office.

The paper says this bunk started on social media and spread to TV and freaked out so many people that the health board was overwhelmed by protesters. They showed up in person to protest something that wasn't happening. They made comments about Nazis and compared the non- existent plans to Auschwitz.

The Times interviewed a guy named Ricky who opposed the internment camps that didn't exist. Instead, if you want to know more about it, just Google it "there's a lot of videos."

Well, yes, that is true. There are a lot of videos lying about it, thanks to Newsmax and Glenn Beck and all the rest.

So numerous news outlets felt compelled to fact-check this BS. And according to this reporter, it all started as satire. It started as a joke.

So let's go to Washington State. Kate Starbird is a professor at the University of Washington, also the Co-Founder of the Center for an Informed Public. She researches this stuff every day. Caroline Orr Bueno is also with me, a Post-Doctoral Associate from the University of Maryland, and a misinformation expert.

Kate, you're in Washington State. Have you been -- have you seen the internment camps with your own eyes?


STELTER: What is going on?

STARBIRD: But, you know, this is -- this is something we've seen over and over again. And we know that you know, conspiracy theories and rumors are often built off of old building blocks. And this is a conspiracy theory we've heard before FEMA camps. We've heard this idea that people would be rounded up and put there for any number of reasons. And I think people are afraid because they've been stirred up to be afraid, and these kinds of things can take root and then people -- cable news hosts and others are opportunistically amplifying these things to feed their -- feed their entertainments, their news entertainment, financial models, actually that's what settled therein.

STELTER: Right, to sell their books and all that. Look, I'm getting e- mails from people whose friends -- whose family members are scared about these lies like they read them, they believe them, they're scared about them. And I'm always saying it's important.

Remember, this is not hypothetical. We're talking about flesh and blood. We're talking about families being ripped apart based on lies about COVID and the pandemic of vaccines. Do you ever experience that firsthand, Kate?

STARBIRD: Absolutely. I know that a lot of us -- actually in our center where we're working, almost every one of us has a family member who we were -- we love but we're struggling with because we don't necessarily share the same, you know, views of reality right now and I think it's very difficult and it puts a lot of stress on a lot of us.

STELTER: I think it's getting a lot worse than it was 10 years ago, for example.

Caroline, there's misinformation coming from every direction about COVID. Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, having a false hat in the middle of a Supreme Court hearing, and it was fact-checked by numerous outlets.

ABC News is interviewing the CDC Director and the way they edited the interview, they cut out 22 seconds that totally distorted what she was saying, and took out the context. And then there are days of distortions from Donald Trump Jr. and others based on ABCs bad edit. So you have it from the right you have from the left, you have it from networks that make stupid choices in the editing bay and end up causing distortions. And the end result is, what Caroline?

CAROLINE ORR BUENO, POST-DOCTORAL ASSOCIATE, THE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: The end result is confusion, is fear. And you know, once something gets out there, it's impossible to get it back. And you know, I think we're seeing this sort of chaos caused by this constant stream of misinformation and confusion and fear.

STELTER: I look at the ABC example and you know, they eventually fixed it online and like, kind of admitted they made a bad edit but didn't really apologize or didn't apologize at all. And I'm just thinking no one's ever going to see that follow-up. The damage has already been done, the damage is done instantly.

Kate does this relate to a concept you study -- you use -- you use it -- you use the phrase participatory disinformation. But I think is a really interesting phrase that this isn't a one-way situation, it -- people participate in the disinformation.

STARBIRD: Yes. We're seeing disinformation right now is collaborative, where people are actually creating it. They're working together in ways that they don't necessarily even know where, you know, elites and the media or politics are setting the frames and telling people, you know, to be afraid and to believe things. And then everyday people are sort of creating these rumors and eventually they may get amplified by some of the elite. So we see these sort of top-down and bottom-up processes and what we were thinking of as participatory disinformation.

STELTER: Right, we see what the big lie we see with COVID.

So let's wrap by going back to the beginning of the show here. Donald Trump's rally last night Caroline, you were watching this rally, and you were horrified. You were posting about it on Twitter. What stood out to you about the rally when it comes to disinformation?

ORR BUENO: Well, you know he was -- Donald Trump was more defiant and more forward with this disinformation about the election. You know claiming that he hadn't really lost the election and really just doubling down on the lies that have caused so much trouble over the past you know year and a half.


ORR BUENO: And last night I heard him you know, more forcefully put those lies out there than I've -- than I've heard since January 6 and I think it's scary and I think we should be paying attention you know as a sign of things to come.

STELTER: You say we ignore it at our peril. Caroline and Kate, thank you both for being here.

Up next, one company's mission is to address what we're talking about lies all over the internet. They say they use not artificial intelligence, they use human intelligence.


STELTER: Are red and green ratings the right way to separate fact from fiction online? That's what a startup called NewsGuard is pitching.


STELTER: And today, here on RELIABLE SOURCES, they are revealing that they've reached profitability. They have presented themselves as a sustainable solution to all the problems that you know, fester online. So what NewsGuard does is it has a set of journalistic standards, a set of criteria that it applies to sites all across the World Wide Web. Using a team of close to 40 employees, the company tries to cut through the noise of misinformation and deception and helps advertisers do that by letting them know when their ads are running on sites full of nonsense.

NewsGuard conducted a study that found advertisers were spending nearly $2.6 billion on ads running on hoax sites, in many cases without the advertisers having any idea at all. So some advertisers now support NewsGuard, and so does Microsoft, Microsoft now pays to license NewsGuard's tool. Will other tech giants follow? (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: NewsGuard Co-CEOs Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz join me now. Steven, why did NewsGuard need to exist? Why did you need to launch this company?

STEVEN BRILL, CO-CEO, NEWSGUARD: Right now, suppose you walk into a library, you can see books and magazines arranged by whatever subject they cover, you can pick up the book and read the book jacket and you know who the publisher is, who's financing it, you know who the author is, you get a little profile the author. And best of all, there's a librarian who can explain to you this book is by an author with these credentials, this book is by a conservative author or liberal author.

Now imagine if you walked into a library and the only thing you saw with 2 trillion pieces of paper flying around in the air, and you put one out of the air, and you look at it, you don't know who wrote it, you don't know who's financing it, you don't know what their credentials are, you have no idea whether it's reliable, that's the internet. That's your Facebook feed. That's your Twitter feed. That's your Google search. So we created NewsGuard, basically, to do what librarians do, which is explain to people something about the reliability and trustworthiness and background of those who have feeding them the news.

STELTER: And then let people decide if they believe the source.

So Gordon, how do you all do that on a daily basis? Is it about giving grades?

GORDON CROVITZ, CO-CEO, NEWSGUARD: So what we did was we identified nine basic apolitical criteria of journalistic practice and our analysts have applied that now to all of the news and information sources that account for 95 percent of engagement. That means as people thumb through their Facebook feed or Twitter feed or look at a search result. If it's from a news or information source, it'll come with a green icon or a red icon, and a quite detailed nutrition label explaining the trustworthiness of that site.

It's really designed to give people the tools they need to be able to determine is this something that I should trust generally or is this misinformation or hoax site, it turns out in the U.S., of all of those sites that we've raided, all the sites that account for 95 percent of engagement almost 40 percent of them get a red rating from us.

BRILL: That sounds like we're pretty strict. In fact, you have to be really, really bad to get a red. You have to be a website that says that, you know, if you buy apricot pits, you can cancel your appointment with your oncologist because apricot pits will cure cancer. Lots of sites that your show has been critical of, you know, nonetheless get a green, they might get a relatively low score green, but they get a green.

So what's really shocked us since we started the company is just the proliferation, particularly around health care of hoax sites that are really in it for the money, they're in it for the ad revenue. STELTER: And is that something that predated COVID-19 and the pandemic?

BRILL: Oh, yes. I mean, we were stunned that there were so many, you know, hoax healthcare cites well before the pandemic. Now, that's only un-accelerated. And obviously, you know, there are lots of sites, you know, that political propaganda too. But, you know, the good news, again, about the internet is that anybody can be a publisher. The bad news about the internet is that anybody can be a publisher.

STELTER: Right. Let's look at the scores for a couple of different websites. Here's, a 69.5 out of 100 so it gets a green grade but you all acknowledge some of the weaknesses. But then here's, Russia Today, a Russian state-funded news source, and it's got like a 12.5 out of 100, a big red label proceed with caution. So Gordon, who makes these decisions? Who decides what gets green in red?

CROVITZ: We use HI, not AI. We use human intelligence, not artificial intelligence.

STELTER: Human intelligence.

CROVITZ: And so we have --

BRILL: You're shocking.

CROVITZ: -- Yes, go figure we have. We have a staff of analysts. Every label goes through five or six layers of review. Steve and I actually line at it every single label before we publish them.


CROVITZ: So the nine criteria are fully disclosed, entirely transparent, we include feedback from the website if they disagree with our assessment or they try to explain the assessment. And interestingly, the kind of the other extreme from an RT, more than 1600 websites have done something to improve their practices after engaging with our analysts in order to get a higher score. Unlike an algorithm, we're delighted. When publishers game our system, they'd love all the publishers to get a green rating.

STELTER: Gordon, why don't platforms like Twitter and Facebook install NewsGuard and make it part of their platform so people know what they're clicking on?

CROVITZ: We think eventually, they will. There's a lot of pressure on them to clean up their act. The Europeans, the British, Australians, Canadians are all working on regulations so that the platforms will have to take some basic duty of care not to harm their users just like a chemical company or, you know, an oil shipper. And up to now, they've really been immune. So I think they will eventually be forced to give their users some tools to determine the reliability of what's being published on those platforms.


STELTER: So that's their pitch offering their tools to platforms like Facebook. To check out the company, go to

All right, we're leading up to the most important story of the hour, the arrests, the raids, the muzzling of the media in Hong Kong. Ivan Watson's in-depth report is next.



STELTER: Hong Kong has long been a vibrant international media hub in Asia with press freedoms and thriving independent newsrooms, but now it is being gutted. The Chinese government while claiming the press in Hong Kong remains free is tightening control through police raids, threats, and arrests.

According to the latest Press Freedom Index, Hong Kong's rankings have fallen from 18th place in 2002 to 80th place now. CNN's Ivan Watson spoke with some of the reporters who've been restrained, and one of them has a message for the rest of us.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): This is what it looks like when the Hong Kong Police knock on the door of a local journalist carrying a search warrant.

What time did they show up at your door?

RONSON CHAN, EX-DEPUTY ASSIGNMENT EDITOR, STAND NEWS: Six o'clock a.m. I'm waking up into my dream.

WATSON: Police take Ronson Chan in for questioning. That same morning, they raid his workplace, the independent online news portal, Stand News, and arrest at least six other people tied to the outlet accusing them of publishing seditious material. Within hours, Stand News shuts down for good. And just days later, another independent news site, Citizen News closes preemptively citing the deteriorating media environment.

CHAN: Today, getting a foreign correspondent interview is quite dangerous, honestly.

WATSON: It's dangerous for you to talk to me right now?

CHAN: Yes.


CHAN: I'm afraid that it will become a-- evidence so saying that we become an agent of a further foreign power but I still think that I have to speak out about what happened in Hong Kong.

WATSON: The Hong Kong authorities say they're going after criminals not silencing journalists.

CARRIE LAM, HONG KONG CHIEF EXECUTIVE: So these actions are law enforcement actions. These actions have nothing to do with the so- called suppression of press freedom or suppression of democracy.

WATSON: The government says it is not targeting journalists.

CONNIE: She's lying. This was a lie.

WATSON: Connie, who doesn't want her full name published for safety reasons, worked as a journalist at the tabloid Apple Daily. It shut down last June after police raided its offices, seized its assets, and arrested at least nine executives and staffers on charges of collusion with foreign powers. After a 16-year career as a journalist in Hong Kong, Connie is now unemployed.

CONNIE: I'm thinking of leaving Hong Kong.


CONNIE: Because this is not safe anymore.

WATSON: Hong Kong used to be the freest corner of modern-day China, a former British colony that was supposed to be spared the strict government censorship in mainland China.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can see that gas right there.

WATSON: The city was home to a feisty local press corps. In 2000, reporters shouted questions at then-Chinese leader Jiang Zemin.

JIANG ZEMIN, FORMER CHINESE LEADER: But the questions you keep asking, too simple, sometimes naive got it?

STEVE VINES, FORMER PRESENTER, RTHK: Hong Kong was also a very big center for international coverage in the Asian region, precisely because it was a place where you didn't need to worry about someone knocking on your door in the early hours of the morning.

Hello, and welcome to the polls --

WATSON: For 20 years, British journalist Steve Vines hosted a new show on Hong Kong's public television network, but he packed up and left for this rain-soaked corner of England last year after he watched Hong Kong authorities arrest dozens of opposition politicians and activists.


VINES: It was just breathtaking. Every day somebody was arrested. Some organization was forced to close down. Somebody else had been fired. I mean, it was just relentless.

WATSON: The Hong Kong authorities insist journalists can still work here.

Is their freedom of the press in Hong Kong today?

TOM GRUNDY, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF AND CO-FOUNDER, HONG KONG FREE PRESS: Yes and no. It's difficult in the -- we feel that there is enough for us to continue but it's certainly put the industry in crisis.

WATSON: Tom Grundy is editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Free Press. He hopes authorities don't muzzle his small nonprofit reader-funded news site.

GRUNDY: We don't know where red lines are, the goalposts keep moving for the moment with things put and pressing on.

WATSON: But last year has been a bitter lesson for the city's heartbroken newly unemployed journalists.

CHAN: I trust them for over 27 years.

CONNIE: So I just hope that anyone still have freedom of speech. Just you must hold it tight.

WATSON: Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.


STELTER: That is what democratic backsliding looks like. It can happen anywhere.

All right, we'll be back this time next week with more RELIABLE SOURCES.