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Ukraine and Russia to Talk Monday As Fight Rages; Newsrooms Working Around the Clock to Vet Ukraine Images; Inside 'Russia's Last Independent TV Channel'; What Will Biden Prioritize In SOTU Address; Penguin House CEO Donates $500K To Fight Book Bans. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired February 27, 2022 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brian Stelter in the special hour of RELIABLE SOURCES. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. We are here with the story behind the story, covering the wide world of media.
But first, the latest alerts from CNN's teams in the war zone. The sun is setting in Kyiv as residents learn of expected talks between Russia and Ukraine delegations. Those talks are scheduled for Monday. But who knows what's Sunday night will bring.
Here's the CNN.com banner right now, the headline about those talks. An hour ago, the banner was about Kharkiv, Russian forces entering Russia's second largest city. Now Russian armored personnel carriers and other vehicles are destroyed by Ukrainian forces.
These sights on the edge of the capital have been geolocated by CNN staffers to verify that they are what they look like they are. Geolocation is one of the many tools in the proverbial toolkit, as news rooms are covering a war that's been TikTok and Telegrams, YouTube and Google Mapped, livestreamed everywhere. All those tools are valuable, but nothing beats actually being there.
This week has been a master class in conflict reporting. CNN has been on the frontlines in the thick of it all, underscoring the unique reach of this network, with teams across Ukraine, Russia, and the entire region.
Media critics have been praising CNN's coverage in particular, with pointer saying the invasion coverage showed why CNN remains, quote, TV's gold standard for fast, breaking international news.
We'll leave those reviews to others.
Let's get to the news now, and CNN's chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, in Kyiv, where nightfall is starting to set in.
Clarissa, what's the latest in the last couple of hours where you are? CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Brian,
definitely the most significant development today is the news that a Ukrainian delegation will head north to the Belarusian border tomorrow, to engage in negotiations with a Russian delegation. Originally, Ukrainian President Zelensky has said they had agreed to negotiations but they didn't agree to have them in Belarus. Now though, they are scheduled to take place in Belarus near the Pripyat River, near the border.
It's unclear whether anything will come out of those talks in terms of real substance or progress, or finding a diplomatic off-ramp to this war. But nonetheless, that is a significant development.
Now, we've also seen some video today, which you just mentioned, which is pretty extraordinary, Brian, which shows essentially, in a western suburb of Kyiv called Bucha, near the Gostomel airbase that my colleague Matthew Chance had actually seen Russian soldiers that several days ago, who had taken part in some kind of an air assault to take control of the airbase.
What you are seeing in this video is, essentially, a column of Russian military vehicles, armored personnel carriers, other vehicles part of the convoy. They appear to have been completely destroyed by Ukrainian forces. Now, that just gives you a sense of what a fight the Ukrainians are putting up.
You can actually hear the voice of one man on that video. He is the person shooting it on his cell phone. He says something that I think is very telling.
He says: They came to our land. I wish you all to burn in hell. I would give my life if needed.
Those words, Brian, very much indicative of a sentiment that is filled by so many here in this country, as we have seen. Young and old, lining up to try to get hold of a weapon. Make a Molotov cocktail, and take part in any way they can in this stiff resistance that has been mounted against this Russian invasion, Brian.
STELTER: A couple days ago, viewers saw you in Kharkiv in the subway station, turning it into bunkers. It's incredible that you were able to broadcast the whole world in that way. We're seeing a new form of war coverage every day, as this rages.
And yet, now you're in Kyiv. Did you leave Kharkiv for safety reasons? Tell us about how you make those risk calculations.
WARD: So, we did not leave Kharkiv for security reasons. We left because we felt it was important to come back to the capital, because it seemed like a major attack on the city center was imminent.
There was heavy shelling and strikes going on in Kharkiv as we were leaving. That, obviously, is an important calculation that you need to make when you're preparing to make any kind of major movement.
[11:05:04] You need to be sure that the roads are secure, that there is a valuable way out.
We're very lucky to work with security consultants like Mike Pratte, who help us to ensure that we make the right calculations. I also think it's important to mention, Brian, that Ukrainian authorities are now saying that two Danish journalists were actually injured not too far from that area in the eastern part of the country.
We don't know any details about that. But of course, always, when you are doing this kind of work, the most important thing in order to be able to do the work is to ensure that you are taking every measure and precaution possible to protect your team -- Brian.
STELTER: And that Danish news outlets as those reporters were able to evacuate the area, were able to seek help, thank goodness. But it does underscore the risks.
Now, what about in Kyiv now? Are you able to know what is happening five or ten miles away? Or are you very limited?
Because I get this sense on social media, very different than from television, about the fog of war. And I wonder if that fog of war is reality for you, as well.
WARD: The fog of war is a reality, particularly when there is a curfew in place and you are not allowed to go out onto the street.
And so, we have been relying heavily on an extraordinary team at CNN. Tim Lister, Katie Polglase, Gianluca Mezzofiore, Paul Murphy, who have been combing exhaustively through all of the social media footage that is out there. They have been working to geolocate it, have been working to place it in its appropriate context so we can better understand the significance of it and have been essentially allowing us to try to get a better picture of what is happening on the ground, when there are very real limitations on where and how we can move around, Brian.
Clarissa, thank you so much for giving us an update from there.
And Clarissa mentioned Tim and the other staffers, the other producers and reporters who are helping us here. Just so viewers have awareness, you know, we're getting alerts all the time and we will pass them on as those teams confirm information.
With us now is Jane Lytvynenko. She's an investigative reporter and researcher on disinformation, formerly of "BuzzFeed". She's now a senior research fellow at Harvard Shorenstein Center.
Also with me, Julia Davis, a Russian media analyst and columnist with "The Daily Beast".
And Bianna Golodryga, CNN senior global affairs analyst.
So, thank you all for assembling. We're going to have a conversation here for a while.
And I want to start with you, Jane, on your experience. You're a journalist by training. You've been covering disinformation for years.
But this is very personal for you. You've been writing about your family being in Ukraine and what it's been like for you, experiencing this invasion from distance.
Your piece for "The Atlantic" was titled: I can't stop watching this livestream from Ukraine. Watching what's happening there.
So, tell us how you think the media has been faring so far, and how the media should be framing the events that are ongoing this weekend.
JANE LYTVYNENKO, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER & RESEARCHER ON DISINFORMATION: Yeah. The -- first of all, thank you for having me.
And I will say that all of the reporters who are on the ground have been doing exceptional work, trying to get information from Ukraine into the international community. And, of course, we are aware of the risks that they are taking.
I would say that in the analysis portion of how Western media is looking at this, there is a big need to fill information gaps and explain Ukraine and its history, because part of what Russia is doing is exploiting that lack of knowledge that Western audiences may have because they're not as familiar with Ukraine, and filling them with false information, false justifications for this war.
STELTER: Julia, you specialize in how Russian state-owned media is covering this conflict. The regulators have told Russian outlets, do not call this a war, do not call this an invasion. Just, you know, simple black is white, up is down sort of disinformation.
Is that changing at all as the days progress? Or is Russian state- owned media still an absolute denial about the war, Julia?
JULIA DAVIS, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Hi, Brian. Thank you for having me.
They're absolutely continuing on the same warpath and they are trying to tell all the media domestically not to use the words like war and invasion. On state media TV shows, they are discussing about how important words are and they shouldn't be describing what's coming for Ukraine as an occupation, but instead, call it brotherly help.
And Margaritas Simonyan, the head of RT, said they need to be referring to what's going on in Ukraine as something Russia is doing out of the kindness of their heart.
So, it's beyond Orwellian and they are definitely moving forward along the same lines.
And their media coverage is painting a grim picture as to the Kremlin's intentions, because they are insisting that the upcoming talks with Zelensky are designed to extract Ukraine's capitulation and nothing less than that.
STELTER: And, Bianna, speaking of Russian state-owned media, there have been some staffers from Russia Today, one of those big Russian state owned operations, that have announced on Twitter that they've resigned, implying that they're quitting because of what's happened in the past few days.
But we don't know how many have resigned. We don't know how much to make of it.
Do you read anything into those public resignations? Does it speak something larger going on in Russia?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I mean, perhaps a little too late, in terms of these resignations. They've had years to respond to Russia's actions. This isn't something that's come up out of the blue.
Obviously, Russia invaded Crimea and annexed Crimea illegally in 2014. That was the tip of the iceberg, though that was well-received among Russians. It was clearly a violation of international law.
And since then, subsequently, we have seen the repression intensify, especially over the last year with a return of opposition leader and the arrest of Alexei Navalny, where there's been crackdowns on massive protests that we've seen on the streets of major cities throughout the country. And we have seen this repression from this regime over the course of the last few years, the last few months in particular. And there had been nothing but silence if not endorsement from some of those that are now resigning. So, it's up to them to explain why.
STELTER: It does create this incredible clash of media universes, where most of the world is hearing the reality on the ground in Ukraine, and then there is this Russian ecosystem that is completely isolated.
All right. Julia, Jane, and Bianna, stay with us. We're going to add David French to the conversation after a quick break.
Is this the first TikTok war? What would that even mean? How is social media changing warfare? We're going to get into that in a moment.
We also have new reporting later this hour about the next leader of CNN, an announcement coming this week.
Plus, what the CEO of one of the world's biggest publishers is doing to combat book bans. And what can you do?
STELTER: And welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter. What a world we all share, a world of incredible digital sophistication, coming up against the cruelty and the crude nature of warfare. This is a world where Instagram influencers in Ukraine suddenly become warzone witnesses, and show millions of people what it's like through their eyes. This is a world where urban warfare experts half a world away start tweeting tips for urban warfare so Ukrainians know how to use Molotov cocktails and conduct ambushes.
It's a world where photos of charred corpses on the battlefield show up in your feed right next to a funny picture of your friend's pet. It's a world where some of the images and videos are accurate, and others are not, and it's incredibly hard to know which is which. It's a world where Ukrainian fighters' epic F-word rebuke of the Russians is captured on an audio recording, and turned them into a meme that goes viral around the world and has transformed into a protest message on a sign in D.C. thousands of miles away.
It's a world where the creators of a game about civilians trying to survive a war, a game, donate their profits to the Ukrainian Red Cross, when it comes all too real.
It's a world that feels incredibly interconnected and yet broken in some ways by this conflict. A world of information warfare where memes and videos and tweets are not always what they seem.
At the same time, this is being called a TikTok war, and for good reason, because the build up, the military escalation that Russia was denying was being show on TikTok. Creators of Instagram videos and TikTok are also saying it's critical to speak out about conflicts so they are becoming anti-war activists.
So, we are seeing these tools being used in many different ways. Social media also in Russia's arsenal, of course, we are seeing a lot of lies and propaganda being spread by those plat -- on those platforms. And now, Twitter, and YouTube and other companies are taking action against Russian state-owned outlets, trying to sort out fact from fiction on these platforms.
It's an incredibly complex information warfare environment, at the same time, there are physical bombs being dropped.
So, let's return to our panel and also bring in David French. He's an Iraq war veteran. He's thought through these issues in great details, and he is also a senior editor at "The Dispatch". So, he joins along with our panel.
David, how much of this does seem to you a change in how the people around the world can consume and understand warfare because of all the images and content in our feeds? Is this a turning point?
DAVID FRENCH, SENIOR EDITOR, THE DISPATCH: Well, I think it can do at social media does. It makes things both more real and immediate, and sort of feel more tangible, and also, more potentially misleading, because each one of these TikTok videos is a tiny little snapshot of a tiny little moment of time, often without any other overlaying context. And so, you really would have to spend an enormous time, with some
real background to begin to piece together all the pieces of the TikTok jigsaw puzzle.
So, on the one hand, it's serving the purpose of reminding of Americans that this war is incredibly brutal and we're collectively seeing incredible resilience from the Ukrainian people. At the same time, none of it is giving you an overall strategic view. None of it is really giving you a sort of an idea of where are Russian forces, what are the real casualties, what are the disposition of Ukrainian forces?
All of that remains opaque and mysterious, at the same time that you kind of feel as if you are seeing more -- war more up close, and making war more personal.
But I do think it's had the effect, honestly, of stiffening the resolve of the Western world, more broadly. We've seen European countries really fall into line, quickly, on stiffer sanctions than a lot of people thought they'd agree with. Just Germany, just now, announced an enormous increase in defense spending.
And I do think part of that is due to the immediacy of these reports and the inspirational nature of Ukrainian resistance that is shaming a lot of Western governments, quite frankly, into action.
STELTER: Bianna, what's your view of this? You're inside CNN, just like I am. You see all the alerts that come through. You know there's hundreds of people trying to vet all the unverified information that's out there.
How do you see this going down?
GOLODRYGA: Listen, on the one hand, it's sort of a confluence of barbaric actions at the hands of a now, let's call him, a mad man -- because only a mad man act in such ways -- in a civilized world, where technology is really helping us sort through fact versus fiction. And this is something that Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin, through their propaganda machine have thought for years that they have been successful in avoiding Russians, specifically at home, from being aware of their actions internationally.
And yet, we still have some really brave journalists. And I know you're going to be speaking with one, one of my friends coming up in this hour, (INAUDIBLE) from TV Rain.
GOLODRYGA: It's on the only last independent network, news network, in Russia right now, and they are once again being hounded by regulators.
And they can only be found on YouTube. They used to be televised statewide as well. And they are now up against a wall reporting and trying to accurate reports out to their viewers of what they are seeing on the ground and what they're seeing on the ground clearly differs from what they are seeing on state television at home.
STELTER: Yeah, absolutely.
Jane Lytvynenko, you specialize in disinformation. We can show a bunch of examples on screen of videos that are not what they seem to be. There's been a flood of this.
I'll show a video showing paratroopers getting ready to invade. It was shared on TikTok and Twitter, but it was actually authentic video of Russian parachute jumpers, but from 2015. That's the kind of content that's out there that may look real, but it's not relevant to this current conversation. There's been a lot of that.
So, Jane, what are your tips for people who are trying to navigate social media right now?
LYTVYNENKO: Look, propaganda is a part of every war and the point of propaganda coming out of Russia right now is to undermine Ukrainian narratives and to scare Ukrainian people Ukrainians are not scared. They understand information warfare like nobody else.
In 2014, during the revolution, we have come up against it. During the annexation of Crimea, we came up against. And during the horrible MH- 17 tragedy, where Russia tried to cover-up its role in shooting down a civilian airplane, we came up against that propaganda.
And so, of course, the main thing to do is to get your sources from people on the ground and to understand that even people on the ground may sometimes misinterpret what's happening in the moment because a situation is changing from minute to minute but will always do their best to correct.
And, although, there may be confusion when you look at the flood of information across social media -- on Telegram, in particular, public channels that act much like Twitter does, in the Western world, keep careful track of Russian forces, Russian force movements and disinformation.
Ukrainian television debunks disinformation in real time. So, there is a huge effort --
LYTVYNENKO: -- not just within the country, but also internationally to get accurate information out to people.
STELTER: Same question for you, Julia. What tips, what advice do you share with folks about not getting fooled online right now?
DAVIS: Well, first and foremost, if you're not sure that the source is credible, err on the side of caution and don't share it. If you share something, and it turns out not to be correct, don't just issue a follow-up tweet or post, delete the original post and you may explain why, but don't let it continue spreading. STELTER: Yeah.
DAVIS: And also, what Jane mentioned, the demoralizing effect of what Russia is filling the info space with, that could spread to our own media, where they continuously talk about how fast Ukraine is expected to fall.
Let's not do that. Let's fill that space with discussions about what's this conflict truly is about and contradicting Russia's narratives.
They're so prevalent.
STELTER: Yeah, totally.
David, you wrote on Twitter just now that the fog of war has descended, that there's a lot we don't know. I think we should underscore that. There's so much -- there's so many known and unknowns. You know, we don't know what's happening 20 miles outside Kyiv. We don't know what's happening in a lot of these communities and we're not going to know for a while.
FRENCH: Right. We might not know for days or weeks or months about the actual course of the battles that are being fought right now.
And I have a general rule. The more specific and dramatic the information, the more suspicion you should apply.
I remember when I was in Iraq, learning in real time about the outcome of firefights that were taking place ten kilometers away, involving small numbers of troops, was often difficult enough, much less uncovering the truth about what's happening between the clash of two large armies thousands of miles away that don't have embedded reporters in the same way that a lot of American units did.
So, the more specific the information, the bigger the grain of salt you should read it with. Read with extreme suspicion.
Right now, the more reliable reports are quite frankly going to be the more high-level, more vague reports. Things like, the Russians are disappointed by their progress so far. That's something that I think we can be pretty sure about.
Some report that says 15 kilometers from Kyiv, there was a tank battle involving X number of tanks destroyed and X number of Russian soldiers killed. Take that with a huge grain of salt because we don't know. We don't have the resources to know.
And in fact, we might not know for a long time exactly what happened where and when in this fight.
STELTER: And that's --
GOLODRYGA: If I could chime in in terms of what this -- what this means for Russians at home. There is a reason that the Kremlin is not announcing how many Russian soldiers have been killed, again, with thanks to our friends at TV Rain, there was a decree signed by Vladimir Putin in 2015 that any operation not called a war justifies keeping in secret any troop numbers that are killed.
And so, we are not seeing that number and we are not seeing this being called a war on Russian state television and Russian media, in large part because of this very decree.
STELTER: Yeah. Thank you, everybody, for this important conversation. And as Bianna said, we're going to talk next with a Russian TV anchor who's pushing back against the Putin narrative. That's ahead in just a moment.
Plus, Jon Favreau is joining me, talking about President Biden and the State of the Union coming up on Tuesday.
Lots more to come. We'll be right back.
STELTER: Now to Moscow, and what it's like for independent media that have been challenged and pushed and shoved and pressured by the Kremlin for years and years and years. TV Rain is now considered Russia's sole independent television station, it's under tremendous pressure from Russian regulators, but it's trying to get the truth out about Russia's invasion of Ukraine. With us now is Ekaterina Kotrikadze. She's an anchor at TV Rain, and she's coming to us from Moscow. Ekaterina, what is the current status of your channel? You are able to broadcast but are you constantly facing censorship?
EKATERINA KOTRIKADZE, NEWS DIRECTOR & ANCHOR, RUSSIA'S TV RAIN: Yes, absolutely. And thank you for inviting me, first of all. So we are facing a huge threat, and it's not easy to work here, of course, under the circumstances. We are already declared foreign agents officially in Russia and we also have gotten some coals and you know, statements by the regulators saying that we need to -- we need to deliver only official versions of this situation, only official statements, and only official look at this -- at the -- at the conflict.
Russia calls this conflict, not a war but a special operation, as you have mentioned several times. So they are trying to make us you know deliver the same message as they do but you know it's impossible for us to work like this. We go on -- we keep on working as professional journalists. There are thousands of -- hundreds of thousands -- millions of people watching us.
You know, I was just on-air five minutes before we have started this show and I will be after we talk. There are 200,000 people only on YouTube -- only on YouTube watching us at the moment. So we will go on with this. But we understand that there's a huge threat for us. We understand that there is military censorship in Russia right now. We understand that they're blocking everyone who tries to deliver alternative facts -- I mean, alternative information, alternative from what this government is saying. So I didn't know when they will try to ban us but we're still -- we're still working on air.
STELTER: You said alternative facts and reminded me of Kellyanne Conway and the Trump administration --
KOTRIKADZE: Yes, that's why -- that's why I'm starting to (INAUDIBLE).
STELTER: With alternative facts that know no bounds.
STELTER: That knows no bounds.
KOTRIKADZE: Yes, I remember that.
STELTER: But here's the thing -- here's the thing --
KOTRIKADZE: Of course -- of course this is not what we think, yes.
STELTER: that we can -- you know that we can when Kellyanne Conway said that on TV, I had Trump aides calling me yelling at me, and I just -- I just ignored them. Are you able to ignore the pressure and for how much longer in Moscow?
KOTRIKADZE: We are obliged to -- you know, to follow the law that here in Russia still exists. Partially, we follow all the rules.
KOTRIKADZE: Of course, we ignore the demand, not to mention Ukrainian official position, we ignore it because this is abetting, this is censorship, which is you know, which does not exist. If you read the Constitution of the Russian Federation, we obey the law, which is the most important for us and we do everything -- we'll follow every single rule that is written in the Constitution of Russia but we understand that they, these guys, from the government, they do ignore the law of Russian Federation, they are trying to set this military of censorship, they are trying to shut down every free voice and every free media here.
But, you know, we ignore the demand not to -- not to show our viewers the whole picture, understanding that we are under the huge threat, we are under the terrible, terrible, devastating threat, the whole journalism, the whole freedom of speech is under this threat. But we are -- you know, I don't know, for how long it will take, and how long will we be able to say everything we need to say to be professional journalists in Russia. And it's very important, you know, to get support from the independent world, from the civilized world, from the leaders of different countries.
KOTRIKADZE: You know, I have recorded Antony Blinken just a week ago, and Victoria Nuland was on here with my colleague yesterday. We are trying to show the whole picture. We're trying to get all the positions as long as we can. We will do it. STELTER: Ekaterina, I just pulled up your YouTube channel. You have so many people watching live on YouTube around the world. Everyone can check it out TV Rain just search it you'll find it right away. Ekaterina, thank you for being here, and best of luck.
KOTRIKADZE: Thank you very much.
STELTER: Pod Save America podcaster Jon Favreau is on deck. Plus, why are these classics winding up on banned book lists, that at Penguin Random House, one of the world's top publishers is here with an announcement about combating book bans?
STELTER: Hey, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. Any minute, breaking news from Ukraine and Russia crosses our wires, we will get back to that. Newsrooms are juggling right now, juggling so many big stories. As seen on the front page of Saturday's Washington Post, you check it out here, Ukraine dominating the page logically, but President Biden's Supreme Court pick in top billing, a banner headline for history. And on the left side, relatively small news that used to consume a big chunk of our time, the CDC easing mask guidance in the United States.
This is what Newsrooms do 24/7, decide what story is number one, what's the lead, but the decisions are sometimes disconnected from the public's priorities and that's what brings me to Biden's State of the Union address coming up on Tuesday. Jon Favreau knows a lot about these addresses. He is now the co-host of Crooked Media's Pod Save America, the host of Offline, but he's the former Chief Speech Writer for President Obama.
Jon, Biden has to decide how to start this address on Tuesday and how much to focus on Ukraine versus domestic matters. Seems to me, he probably has internal research saying Americans want to hear about what's happening at home.
JON FAVREAU, CO-HOST, CROOKED MEDIA'S POD SAVE AMERICA: Yes, I bet that's right. I mean, I wrote a piece in The Washington Post this morning about how the State of the Union is Biden's chance to speak to a global audience and reclaim the mantle of global leader, and that's true. It's also true that his most important audience is the American people. I think the reality is that most Americans are probably paying closer attention to the cost of gas and groceries than they are to Putin's invasion of Ukraine.
You know, there's an ABC Washington Post poll out this morning that shows support for sanctions against Russia, if they lead to higher energy prices in America, 15 points lower among people who say they're experiencing economic hardship, and those people tend to be the ones who aren't paying as close attention to the minute by minute coverage of the war in Ukraine right now.
STELTER: Well, this relates to what you said on Offline a couple of weeks ago with Ezra Klein, you were talking about the biggest divide in media is, I don't want to give it away, you toss.
FAVREAU: Yes, you know, he's always said that the biggest divide in political media is not necessarily left versus right, but it's interested versus uninterested and that a relatively small part of the country is news junkies or at least avid consumers of the news, it's people like us, it's people who watch your show, it's people who were in a Pod Save America and Offline.
And I think those people happen to be disproportionately higher educated, well off, and also more polarized than everyone else. So the people who pay attention to the news have stronger political opinions, they're politically interested. People who don't consume the news as much tend not to be. And the more that gap grows, you know, the more trouble it is for someone like President Biden, who's trying to speak to the whole country and rally the whole country.
STELTER: Hmm. Do State of the Union addresses matter as much as the political press says they do? You know, most Americans hear about it, but don't watch live, so how would you describe the significance of a State of the Union at all?
FAVREAU: I think the significance of the State of the Union has declined precipitously over the years. I mean, it's just not the way that people consume information anymore, people don't watch our long speeches so you've seen the audience for the State of the Union go down, but it's also just the way people consume information these days, which, because the media moves so fast because social media moves so fast, people aren't going to sit down and watch the entire speech.
So if you're the Biden administration, you have to figure out what are the one or two takeaways that I want people walking away from this speech with. And so a laundry list of policies is not really going to be that useful because people aren't going to remember them.
STELTER: Meanwhile, if there was not a war, and if there was not a Supreme Court pick, and then all these other stories, you know, we what we've been talking about Jon, the former Attorney General of the United States under Donald Trump just came out with a book where he scolds Trump, where he says Trump lost his grip. And these extraordinary revelations keep happening about the prior President.
And by the way, the Bill Barr book won't even come out for 10 more days, so it's going to make headlines eventually. But it's just incredible, this news juggling act were these stories about Trump that would be so stunning, they don't even get played these days, largely because of Ukraine and Russia, but also because of the Supreme Court.
FAVREAU: Yes, I know, we face the same thing ourselves on Pod Save America. I think the other day we did a segment on all of Trump's legal troubles that had just piled up over the last week and some reading some of the stories even surprised me and I pay attention to the news as close as anyone because it's just too much keep up with that feel so --
STELTER: It makes me feel bad. I'm not the only one that goes through that, Jon. Thanks for coming on talking about it.
FAVREAU: Thanks for having me, take care
STELTER: Up next, new reporting about who's going to be running this place, CNN, starting this spring.
STELTER: A new CBS poll shows that the vast majority of Americans, more than (INAUDIBLE) reject book banning, but a surge in attempts to hide books from students, well, it's been in the news for months with the American Library Association reporting an unprecedented volume of challenges to books. The list of books that have faced bands in some local areas or at least challenges, that list is so long that we're not even going to get to the end of it as it scrolls by on-screen.
STELTER: But these attempts at covering up the complicated truth about the world have prompted a reaction. Big action from the CEO of one of the world's largest book publishers, Penguin Random House CEO, Markus Dohle, announced he will personally donate at least $500,000 over the next five years to PEN America, a group that is trying to resist these book bans and keep books on shelves. His individual contribution may inspire others to step up as well. I talked with him about what we can all do to fight this global problem.
STELTER: Why did you decide to announce this big donation to PEN America? What's motivating you personally?
MARKUS DOHLE, CEO, PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE: Well, look, the freedom to write is fundamentally linked to the -- to the freedom to read, and the freedom to read and having open, equitable access to books is actually vital to a knowledgeable, inclusive democracy, so I decided to step up and I did it in sort of three functions. I did it as an -- as an active citizen, as a business leader, and of course, I also did it as a book publisher.
STELTER: And you announced something called the Dohle Book Defense Fund. So you're hoping others also step up and donate. What do you -- what do you see that fund doing in the coming months and years?
DOHLE: Yes, we created a fund. What you need, basically, is resources, right? What we -- what we also need is a very swift response. What we are experiencing right now is unprecedented in terms of the number of books that are being challenged you know, in many, many states, so what we need is support on the ground for, you know, for librarians, for teachers, for parents, on school boards, to fight this, again, an unprecedented number, the sheer size of the number of challenges. You can -- you combine that with, you know, very broadly, sort of, you know, formulated challenges and legislation to limit critical race theory, which sort of goes in the same direction, and that mix is super dangerous for the future of our democracy.
STELTER: Are there books that Penguin Random House sells, that either are banned and suffer in sales or that create controversy and then they end up selling lots of copies because someone's trying to ban them?
DOHLE: Yes. That's a good point, Brian. So first of all, dozens and dozens of our publications, and again, you know, even modern classics are being challenged right now. Sort of books from, you know, Toni Morrison, the first Afro-American Nobel Prize Laureate in literature, you know, national treasure with her writing and sort of many, many, many other important publications, so -- are being challenged from us and from other publishers.
So, you know, first of all, we have --we have, of course, fighting these challenges. We are, again, all about expansion and diversification. This is the opposite, it's about contraction, and that's why we are fighting it. We actually try to sort of, again, offer a broad range of stories for a broad range of readers. And if that is suppressed, things are bad. Nothing good, Brian comes from silence, right? And again, there are a lot of cases for that right now in the field, then it hurts -- it hurts the authors, it hurts the publishers and basically, it hurts all of us.
STELTER: And my entire conversation with Dohle is online now, check it out through the RELIABLE SOURCES Podcast, through whatever podcast app you use. Up next is what the next owner of CNN said about this week's war coverage.
STELTER: There is no news organization in the world that can do what CNN does. That's what Discovery's CEO David Zaslav said on Thursday while applauding the network's reporting from Ukraine and Russia. Zaslav is the CEO in waiting, meaning he will oversee CNN and the rest of Warner media once AT&T spins Warner off and merges it with Discovery. That's expected in April. And now we know who Zaslav is selected to run CNN once it happens. Chris Licht will be the head of news for the newly combined company, according to three sources who spoke with me on Saturday. And the appointment has not been officially announced yet but it will be made official in the coming days. The website, Puck, broke the news.
Licht is an accomplished producer and manager with about 20 years and the TV news business, first in local, then cable news at MSNBC masterminding Morning Joe, then in broadcast news at CBS running CBS This Morning. Six years ago, he pivoted to late night and took over the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. So Licht knows TV and he knows news. Now, CNN will be his biggest challenge yet. It's a massive enterprise, about 4000 plus people.
In February began with a shock to the CNN system, longtime President Jeff Zucker has an ouster, which may never be fully explained. Now, the month ends with a word of a new leader. Licht will start in April and that deal takes effect. In the meantime, CNN keeps on keeping on. As Zaslav said, "as you go around the world and you look at other news channels where people are sitting behind desks and giving their opinion about what's going on, there's a news network, CNN, that's on the ground with journalists and bulletproof vests and elements that are doing what journalists do best which is, fight to tell the truth in dangerous places so that we can all be safe and we can assess what's going on." That's CNN.