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American Journalist Killed In Irpin, Ukraine; Russian Anti-War Protesters Brutally Detained Across Country; Some News Outlets Have Removed Reporters From Russia; Russia Spreading False Info Under Guise Of "Fact-Checking"; Disney CEO Apologizes For 'Silence' On 'Don't Say Gay' Bill; Examining Media Coverage Of Record-High Gas Prices. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired March 13, 2022 - 11:00   ET



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

Ahead this hour, a lot of breaking news. We're going to go live to Moscow.

Plus, looking at a curious change in tone among some Russian state TV pundits.

Plus, in the U.S., it's Disney versus Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. We're going to tell you what's going on and talk with a former Disney TV executive.

And later, a meme on the move. Anti-Biden stickers turn up at gas stations across the U.S. What does that tell us about political messaging.

But, first, breaking news. There are reports of an American journalist, a well-respected filmmaker killed while covering the war in Ukraine. Local police saying this happened in a suburb of Kyiv. Another American journalist apparently wounded. Details are scarce, but we have just received some reporting from the CNN International desk.

When these reports came out a couple of hours ago, there was a name reported. We wanted to wait to find out if the family had been notified yet.

But now, we can report the following: the award winning American journalist Brent Renaud, age 50, was killed by Russian forces in Irpin, according to Kyiv regent police. This is according to social media on Sunday. Kyiv police said another American journalist was wounded by those Russian troops.

So, these are reports from the police there in Ukraine in that suburb of Kyiv accusing the Russians of firing and causing the death of this American filmmaker and journalist. Brent worked for many years creating content for "The New York Times,"

creating films, he has his own production company where he has been making films for years. He's quite well-known in the journalism and in the filmmaking world. A real loss for the U.S. and for the world to have this American filmmaker killed -- we don't know the context yet -- but killed in a suburb of Kyiv today.

We have more breaking news as well.

This also just into the CNN newsroom out of Russia: Riot police today arresting over 658 people in at least 35 Russian cities. The number of those detained keeps growing according to OVD-info. This is an independent human rights protest monitoring group.

Images of brutal arrests have been flooding social media today, showing people dragged off the streets by Russian riot police.

So, some news is getting out of Russia despite this month's draconian anti-journalism law. That law in Russia led one veteran reporter there to say, quote, journalism has been lost in Russia. It just doesn't exist anymore.

Some major news outlets like "The New York Times" and CNN have moved reporters out of the country for the time being. CNN said, quote, we are not shutting down our Moscow bureau but we have ceased reporting from there until we have assessed the impact of this new law.

So, that is the reality, the disturb reality, about reporting from Russia right now. There are some journalists, local journalists who have fled the country for their own safety. There are other journalists who have decided to stay, perhaps they would say they decided to stay and fight.

One of those is Yevgenia Albats. She stayed in Russia. She's the editor in chief and CEO of "The New Times", a liberal independent magazine.

She also posts to her YouTube channel, which could be a violation of that new law. It could have her end up behind bars, but she's able to join us right now.

So, let's go and connect with her.

Thank you, Ms. Albats, for coming on the program.

You're in Moscow. You decided to stay. Many of your friends and colleagues have left.

So, tell us what the past week has been like since many of your colleagues decided to leave Russia.

YEVGENIA ALBATS, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE NEW TIMES: Thank you very much for having me.

Yes, it's true that about 150, 160 of the best reporters left. Some of them, they're working from abroad. Some of them, you know, they just are trying to find their place now. I'm still here in Moscow. I don't -- you know, to be honest with you, I'm not a martyr, but I feel like somebody has to do that.

And I'm just trying -- you know, especially since my YouTube channel is keep going, so I can do shows and I can invite people and I can make interviews and I can report some news. I'm trying to be very careful.

I'm an experienced journalist, so I know how to use -- you know, to speak between the lines and I'm trying to do it in a very careful way. I can tell you for sure I don't want to end up in jail.

STELTER: Tell us about what life is like there in Moscow. We don't have a lot of eyes and ears on the ground anymore. So, what have the im -- what is the impact of this war been there? Are you seeing the impact of sanctions firsthand? Are you seeing food running short? What are you noticing there?


ALBATS: Thank you.

Yes, it was quite a disaster when CNN pulled out, I should tell you. For me personally, I was watching CNN on each night and it was a real disaster for many Russians who don't understand English to find out that CNN was no longer broadcasting in Russia.

Life in Russia, you know, it's slowly changing. For entire past week there were no imports whatsoever. Just imagine for a sec that this is a huge country of 11 time zones and nothing, just nothing crosses the border, no imports whatsoever. Banks, which used to run they are either under sanctions or cut off from SWIFT or don't know what they can or cannot do. There are no way to use dollars.

So to cut a long story short, we are slowly seeing -- you know, there are things like black wheat that disappeared or rice that disappeared especially from the discount stores because that's what people, you know, eat on a daily basis in my country. In more affluent stores, like Whole Foods in the United States, but it's a different name here, there are still stuff, but there is a shortage of fruits and vegetables.

But, listen, it's all minor problems, because, you know, when the Soviets when nothing existed, no meat, that was (INAUDIBLE) across history. So, it's not really a problem.

The problem is that I watch footage from Ukraine and I see what's happening to Mariupol and to Kharkiv and to Irpin at the outskirts of Kyiv and today there was shelling nearby Lviv and yesterday there was shelling at Lutsk. So, it means that the war is going to the west.


ALBATS: That's what makes me really, really see. It's not just words, it's not just empty words. I should tell you that I wake up in the middle of the night and ask myself, is it really happening to us? Is it really happening that Russian troops are killing Ukrainians?

My family partially from Ukraine, from the (INAUDIBLE) you know, in the west of the country. My father fought during World War II in Ukraine, in the city of Mykolaiv, in Ukrainian it's Mykolaiv, where there are heavy shellings and, you know, bombardment going on right now and that's what makes me absolutely sick.

STELTER: Do your neighbors believe that it's happening? Because there have been reports that many Russians don't believe that the war is raging. At the same time, though, on Russian state television on the state-run channels, some of the pundits have started to change their tune and talk about the damage done by this war and suggest that Putin should pull out the troops from Ukraine.

So what messages -- what news is getting through to your neighbors?

ALBATS: First of all, you should understand there are no other TV channels but state TV. Everything else got closed, just everything else. We have just state propaganda machine and the state propaganda machine tells ordinary Russians that Ukrainian nationals, not troops, they are all nationalists and Nazi -- Nazi -- they are destroying infrastructure of the Ukrainian cities and they show Mariupol and say look what Ukrainian nationals did to Mariupol. And they show a destroyed Kharkiv and say looks what's done to Kharkiv and that's the city where 95 percent of people speak Russian, 95. It's a Russian city.

So, some of my neighbors they say, listen, I'm sort of lost, you know, can you explain to me? And I say yes. You know, if you have a VPN, that's virtual network that allows you to see "New York Times," these people know how to use technology and the majority of people in Moscow and then some people would know how to do this, they can go and check these on the web.

However, those Russians who have nothing but Russian propaganda machine that's exactly the kind of news they get. That, you know, Russian army is defending Russia from Ukrainian nationals and Nazis who were avowed to invade Russia.


STELTER: By speaking now live on CNN, are you afraid of the consequences of speaking out?

ALBATS: No, I'm not afraid of anything. You know, it's too late for me to be afraid.

STELTER: What do you mean it's too late?

ALBATS: Listen, you know, I've been in a position in this government my entire life. Was Putin was just nominated as a (INAUDIBLE) liaison, I wrote piece after piece saying, guys, what are you doing? It's not just one KGB man who is getting into power, it is the whole corporation which will take over.

This corporation of the KGB was the most repressive institution of the Soviet Union and the most powerful one. It has means and ways to use technology, to control people's minds and et cetera and et cetera. It's also an institution which was based on violence.

So by bringing a KGB man into power, you are bringing the entire corporation. I should tell you, you know, I was telling this to the head of the presidential administration back then. And, you know, I especially went to the head of the Yeltsin presidential administration and told him what are you doing? It's going to be a disaster.

And do you know what was the answer? He didn't say this out loud, by the way. He wrote it on a piece of paper because he knew that the minute Putin walked into Kremlin, each and every office was bugged. He wrote to me, Genia, don't worry, he's under our control, period. That's it. That's what happened.

So, I am, you know -- so, I'm a known enemy and, you know, I cannot say more than I already said in my books and in my articles and in my magazine, you know, which was whatever happened to the publication has already happened. So what else? They can kill me. Okay, you know, nobody promised me that I'm going to live forever.

STELTER: Well, what you said resonates to me that it's too late to be afraid. But it sounds to me like you may fear for your country, not for yourself but for Russia.

ALBATS: I am ashamed. To be honest with you, if you ask me what the prevalent sense that I feel, I am so ashamed for my country. I am a citizen of the Russian Federation. I am ashamed that my taxes go into bombs that kill people in Ukraine.

I am ashamed. I feel so badly. I understand that -- you know, I've been to Ukraine many, many times when I was a kid, when I was a teen, when I was a student, when I was a reporter, when I was an editor.

God, you know, I would be -- it's a neighboring country. And I traveled all around it. I drove my car all around Ukraine.

And now, you know, I just -- when I think -- when I see photos from Ukraine I feel deadly shame. I feel like, you know, I want to get on my knees and say I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry that my country is doing this to you guys and that I'm -- I totally failed. Totally failed with this regime.

And that's, I think, a prevalent notion for many intellectuals in Russia, for those who understand what's happening, you know, they feel ashamed. We -- after all, you know, you can say, oh, you know -- Yevgenia was in a position to Putin her entire life, it's true, and many others were too, but we totally failed to stop them.

STELTER: You haven't failed because you're here.

ALBATS: Yes. I really --

STELTER: You're speaking.

ALBATS: Trust me. STELTER: Thank you for your bravery.

ALBATS: Unfortunately (INAUDIBLE).

STELTER: Thank you for speaking with us and continuing to do the work.

ALBATS: Thank you for having me.

STELTER: Let's reset here. We weren't sure we were going to be able to have that live shot at all from Moscow.

So, let's take a quick break, then after the break bring in Nick Kristof and Maria Ressa. They're next in just a moment.



STELTER: We've been talking about the impact of Russia's anti- journalism law which makes it possible for authorities to arrest and imprison people in Russia if they report what the authorities believe is fake news, like calling a war a war. Well, Russia's actions will it cause further crackdowns around the world.

With us now, 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Maria Ressa, the CEO and president of Rappler. Also with us, Nicholas Kristof, the acclaimed former "New York Times" columnist now the author of "On the Trail with Nicholas Kristof" on Substack.

Thank you both for coming on the program.

Maria, when you look at this so-called fake news law in Russia that actually endangers real reporting, is this something you fear will spread to other countries and make press freedom even -- more imperiled around the world?

MARIA RESSA, CEO & PRESIDENT, RAPPLER: It already has and it's gotten much worse since this happened. I mean, you know, I listened to her agony, her conviction, and her resolve and I think that's -- that's what we are facing and that's what we have had to face for the last -- well, let's look at actually when it began, where this fissure in reality was in 2014 in the Ukraine, right?

And this is kind of the logical extension of impunity both for President Putin and for the technology platforms that have allowed this splinter in reality to happen.

STELTER: When you say the platforms, tell me more about what responsibility they have right now.

RESSA: You know, it's a strange moment, it's actually a moment of reckoning, but by design the social media platforms the world's largest delivery platform of news has actually prioritized the spread of lies laced with anger and hate over facts. That's what studies have shown us since 2018. And that moment began in the Ukraine when you had, you know, these

bottom-up exponential lies going up and then the ceding coming top down. These are the meta narratives used by President Putin to justify the invasion now. So, eight years, right?

So what is the responsibility? Well, it should have done something in 2014 and instead of now at this moment saying that it is a tool for freedom of expression -- freedom of expression that allows lies greater power leads to this.

STELTER: Nicholas Kristof, did you ever expect to see a world where "The New York Times" with would withdraw from Russia, from its correspondents leave Russia of all places?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, AUTHOR, "ON THE TRAIL WITH NICK KRISTOF" ON SUBSTACK: No, "The New York Times" has had a reporter in Russia since 1919 continuously and, you know, the idea that we would be forced to pull out is just astonishing. You know, I think there is more broadly a sense that press freedom is evaporating in much of the world and that it's people like your guest from Moscow and, you know, Maria who have so much to teach us around the world about the -- when journalist is put to the test, boy, they show us our journalists can do an outstanding job and standing up for those principles.

STELTER: And the report today about the American filmmaker Brent Renaud killed in Ukraine, did you ever overlap with him at "The New York Times" when he was making films for "The Times," Nick?

KRISTOF: I did not know him except by reputation. When we get these kinds of reports I think it sends a chill through every reporter who has been in situations like that. And we also fear that there's going to be more of this and it's also, you know, noteworthy this was somebody making documentaries because I'm not sure people fully appreciate it is the photographers and the TV journalists and video journalists who take so much of the risk because they want to be there when the gunfire happens, they want to be at the scene.

Those of us who have a notebook in hand, but they show so much raw courage.


KRISTOF: And I fear that there's going to be more of this.

STELTER: Right. That's right.

Let's show that this is a much bigger -- bring Nick back, show the fuller picture, a map of the top ten most censored countries in the world, Belarus one of them, Russia not listed a couple years ago on this map but China, Vietnam and others.

Maria, you have of course been grappling with the authorities in the Philippines for years, it's what led to your Nobel Award last year. You're supposed to leave on a flight for Austin tomorrow to go to South by Southwest, but because of the authorities trying to clamp down on you, you're not sure of you're able to leave the country tonight or tomorrow, is that right?

RESSA: That's absolutely right. I have court approvals for six of the seven charges, that seventh one because I don't have it, I'm supposed to leave on a morning flight and most likely I probably won't because I'm supposed to leave at the time when courts open. So this is the kind of up and down, but it is nothing compared to of course what we're seeing playing out.

STELTER: It's all a piece, is it not, if they can't get you physically, they will get you in court on these charges, right?

RESSA: Yes, absolutely. Look, the last six years, I have never gone through anything like this where, again, I feel like what we're seeing in Russia is the complete splinter, right? What we're going through is weaponization of the law. I have seven cases that could send me to jail for the rest of my life, right?

But we have elections come May, and of course, the question that you have is how cuff integrity of elections if you don't have integrity of facts? It's a splinter moment for the world.


STELTER: It does sort of feel that way.

On a different topic, Nick, I haven't seen you on TV since this happened. Let's put up the headline for you, you were running for governor in Oregon and the state Supreme Court rejected your bid saying you didn't meet the residency requirement.

So, I haven't seen you on air since then. What's next for you? Do you have a plan? Are you going back to "The New York Times"? Anything you can share with us?

KRISTOF: You know, boy, every time I -- you know, read about the conflict in Ukraine, I -- I think, boy, that is my sort of natural home in a case like this. My wife tells me, no, absolutely, it isn't.

I'm not sure exactly what my next chapter will be. It may be a book and then I have to figure out, you know, what toolbox I want to use to address the kinds of challenges that I've always written about that I care very deeply about. So, it may be journalism but I'm just not sure.

STELTER: To be determined. "On the Trail" at Substack is where you are in the time being.

Nick, thank you for coming on the program.

Maria, I hope you can get to Texas. Good luck.

RESSA: Thanks.

STELTER: Up next, the one, the only Daniel Dale here with brand-new insights about fact checking being hijacked. Hear from him next.




STELTER: In Vladimir Putin's Russia, nothing is true and everything is possible, that's what Peter Pomerantsev wrote years ago. And it's becoming even more relevant now as we read about Russians who don't believe that a war is raging, even when their Ukrainian relatives tell them about the shelling and suffering. That sense that nothing's really knowable and anything is possible that can be caused by disinformation and propaganda and information pollution.

This week, for example, some pro-Russian social media accounts were pushing crisis actor conspiracy theories. This is the conspiracy theory that someone who's trying to make it seem like there was a tragedy is actually playing a role that they are an actor just pretending to be a victim. This is kooky stuff, it spread of the United States after the Sandy Hook massacre, and we're seeing versions of it now being spread about Ukraine.

CNN Reporter Daniel Dale, our fact-checking superstar has been digging into this. He's with us now from Washington. Tell us about what some of these pro-Russian accounts have been posting on social media, Daniel.

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: Brian, there's one pretty sneaky fake that's been going around social media that tries to make it look like the media broadcast, a video of Ukrainian crisis actors, as you said, Ukrainians who were just pretending to be dead. I want people to take a quick look at this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And 49 people wounded. Those numbers are going to go up. There's just no question about that. I mean, you have theories trying in --


DALE: The thing is, Brian, this footage is not from Ukraine, and it has not actually been broadcast by the media as if it was from Ukraine. So what happened here? Well, someone copied the audio and the on-screen text from an NBC report about Ukraine on the first day of the Russian invasion and attach that text in that audio to completely unrelated news footage from Vienna, Austria three weeks prior. This was a news report in Germany on a climate change protest where protesters lay down in body bags. Here's some of that NBC report and then some of the real Austrian news footage.


CAL PERRY, CORRESPONDENT, MSNBC: Look, I -- you know, we're going to use the at least -- at least 59 people killed at least 149 people wounded. Those numbers are going to go up.


DALE: So people are using the fake mashup to suggest Ukrainians and the media were shamelessly tricking the public with this body bag footage, but that is not what happened at all. Here's one other piece of deception that's going around. Pro-Russia accounts on social media have used a video of a filmmaker getting people to run, screaming through a city square, as supposed evidence that Ukrainians and the media are staging footage of war terror, but that is totally untrue also.

This is actually just footage from the making of a low-budget British sci-fi movie called Invasion Planet Earth in 2013. It was filmed in England. It has nothing to do whatsoever with Ukraine. And Brian, the media has not pretended that it was from Ukraine.

STELTER: Right. There's a lot of claims out there. The other media is doing this when that's not true. We've also seen, and I hate to call this an innovation, but we're seeing attempts to have fact checks of things that are actually true claiming they're false. Oh my -- oh my Gosh, it's even hard to explain, isn't it, Daniel? What's going on?

DALE: Yes, it's really confusing to people. So like with those videos we just talked about, they're pro-Russia account saying, we are debunking this, we are exposing the fakes. It's the kind of thing that I say, but in fact, the deception is in the supposed debunking because they're not debunking something that's actually fake, what they're even adopting what I call the visual language of fact-checking. So you know, we, sometimes put a red fake stamp on top of an actual fake.

This past week, we saw the Russian Embassy in the United Kingdom apply a fake stamp to a totally real photo of a victim of the Russian shelling of a maternity hospital. So again, adopting the language of fact-checking pretending that they're debunking this photo, but putting that debunking stamp on something that's absolutely authentic, it's troubling.

STELTER: It's so twisted -- it's so twisted. Let's give the viewers at home three questions they can ask about viral videos when they see them, especially from the warzone, what are the ways to evaluate the content?

DALE: So I'd say number one, just Google to see if there's a fact check about this. It -- has anyone fact-checked this already? You might find something immediately saying no, this isn't real. Number two, what is the source of this? Did a reliable source, no pun intended, post this video?

And number three, are there any signs that something might be off? So in that footage of people running in fleeing, you can see the flag of the United Kingdom because this is filmed in Birmingham, England. So, there's often little clues in the audio in the video and the visuals that might give you a hint that something is has gone awry or something is deceptive in the way this is being framed or captioned, Brian.

STELTER: Be skeptical, my goodness. You've got a lot of work to do on this beat now. Daniel, thank you for coming on.


DALE: Thank you.

STELTER: A former Disney TV executive is next. He's here to speak about the current CEOs about faith when it comes up to Florida's so- called Don't Say Gay bill. We've got a lot more, coming up. Stay with us.


STELTER: There is no way to dodge political footballs in the United States. You end up just getting bruised if you try. Disney CEO Bob Chapek learned that the hard way this week. It took the better part of a week for Chapek to come to the side of his employees to speak out against Florida's controversial and so-called Don't Say Gay bill.

Chapek started the week by deciding not to directly condemn the legislation that will ban discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida classrooms among young children. By Wednesday, Chapek did start to speak out more directly against the legislation. He acknowledges original statement did not meet the mark but continued -- he continued to face backlash from employees. And finally on Friday, here's the apology he issued to his employees saying he believes we are an infinitely better and stronger company because of our LGBTQ plus community.


STELTER: I missed the mark, he said, but I'm an ally you can count on and I'll be an outspoken champion in the future. So Chapek completely botched this throughout the week and then eventually conceded to his employees' deadline this weekend calling it Chapek's biggest toughest test yet, running one of the world's biggest media companies.

We're going to go to Florida and speak with NPR TV Critic, Eric Deggans about this in a moment. But first, veteran chief executive Garth Ancier is here. He's a former president of Walt Disney Television. Garth, you heard on Facebook about this a couple of days ago saying, you know, you're an openly gay executive at Disney decades ago, the company was obviously known then and now as clearly gay friendly, lots of people working in theme parks and animation and films and movies and TV and all the rest of it.

So was Bob Chapek so out of touch with his employee base that he decided he was going to try to avoid this controversy in Florida until he had to give in and speak out against it?

GARTH ANCIER, FORMER WALT DISNEY TELEVISION PRESIDENT: I think he was trying to avoid it. The problem is that Disney is much more of a moral guardian company than most. It's a very special position that Bob Chapek is in, and his two immediate and prominent predecessors, Bob Iger and Michael Eisner have both been at the forefront of protecting their employees and doing moral, you know, being moral clarions. In this case, it's sort of compounded by the fact that one, he didn't

react quickly enough. And secondly, now -- you know, Walt Disney Company is the largest employer in Florida. So it's -- they have more employees than the Publix supermarkets.


ANCIER: So it's not surprising that he had to walk this all back. I just wondered how he got this -- got this wrong in the first place.

STELTER: Yes, by trying to avoid it in the first place. I think there's this much broader picture story here. Obviously, DeSantis planning to run for president in 2024 trying to appeal to conservatives across the country with bills like this. That's number one.

Number two, you know, Disney, as you said, huge employer in Florida coming up against DeSantis now. DeSantis calling Disney a woke Corporation. I -- maybe I'm old-fashioned, Garth. I never imagined we'd see a Florida Governor and the head of Disney like basically going to -- go into this feud. It's unfathomable.

ANCIER: Yes, no, I think -- I think I saw DeSantis called him a communist actually, late last night. Look, I don't know. I think it's hard enough being a gay kid growing up in any state in the country and dealing with the questions about your sexuality. You know you're different but you don't want to stigmatize people. And this just seems like a raw political play on the part of DeSantis.


ANCIER: And you just think like, oh, Chapek, we'll see this for what it is and respond quickly, like Bob Iger would have done.

STELTER: And these bills, these laws are going to go in other states. This is going to be a big story for the midterms. You know, critics of the bill call them -- they call them the Don't Say Gay bills, DeSantis says about parental rights and education. What I get frustrated by, Garth, tell me what you think.

He used to work here at CNN and other networks. When the media calls it a culture-war battle, what -- it is not the wrong frame for this, it's not a culture war talking about equal rights for everybody in a country. I mean, I guess it is, but this is -- especially when there's a real war raging in Europe, I'm getting tired of the culture war frame.

ANCIER: Well, the challenge you have is if you don't immediately speak out against it and drag on like this then becomes evolves into a culture war issue.

STELTER: That's interesting.

ANCIER: That's what's happened here. I think, had he spoken out against it the way that Bob Iger would or the way President Biden did very quickly, it wouldn't have become this problematic thing for Chapek.

STELTER: Right. Now, what I'm going on every day for a week. Let me bring Eric Deggans in on this. Eric, you've covered Disney for a long time, you're in Florida, you're in St. Pete, I think. What's your read on this mess that Disney has created?

ERIC DEGGANS, TV CRITIC, NPR: Well, it's interesting. There's always been a sense that Bob Chapek, because he comes from the part of the company that dealt with theme parks and things like that, that he wasn't necessarily used to the people side of the business and the public-facing, you know, dealing with personalities' side of the business.

You will recall that there was a huge problem with Scarlett Johansson and her compensation for the Black Widow movie that resulted in a lawsuit and many people said that Bob Iger would not have let that happen either. And so I think there was a sense that maybe -- my own hunch is that perhaps Bob was trying to chart a different course as a leader for Disney, someone who wouldn't necessarily respond to these events in the way that Bob Iger might have or even Michael Eisner.

But what he's wound up doing is committing these unforced errors that he's had to walk back things that he's done and it's -- and it's caused people to question his leadership just at a time when he needs to take full control of the company and lead it into a new millennium. This is -- this is a tough problem for him.


STELTER: It sure is. And it's not the -- it's only the most reason I've seen this employee uprising. Think about Spotify and Joe Rogan, where it was employees putting pressure on the CEO a couple of months ago and now it's happening at Disney as well. Garth, thank you very much for being here. Eric, please stick around. It's a lot of breaking news this hour. We're going to take a quick break, reset, come back with much more right after this.



STELTER: Can we have an honest conversation about gas prices? Because too much of the U.S. media chatter is distorted to the point of being dishonest. This week's record highs are big news and they're bad enough that they don't need any exaggeration, but there is exaggerating happening anyway. Like when newscasts focus on the outliers the stations with off the charts high prices in a couple of big cities.

Fox has been doing a lot of this but other networks have as well. Take the handful of LA gas stations with notoriously high prices. I mean, I'm only in LA like once a year, and even I know to avoid the station at Fairfax and San Vicente. Like I said, it's bad enough without showing out-of-context $7 gas signs. In fact, California isn't even the best example of how high gas prices harm consumers. This CNN story points out that drivers in states like Mississippi and Nevada make lower wages on average, so they feel the higher gas prices more intensely. See, the more you read about gas prices, the more you learn, the more complicated you realize it is. But right-wing pundits are trying to make it sound simple, blaming it all on President Biden.

The New York Times fact-check about this was pretty explicit saying Republicans wrongly blamed Biden for rising gas prices. Biden then celebrated that fact check when he was speaking to fellow Democrats. But let's be honest, nobody from right-wing media is ever going to acknowledge that fact-checks were pointed out.

Joining me to discuss this and more, Nicole Hemmer, Associate Research Scholar at Columbia University, she's also the author of Messengers of the Right. Here also, Senior CNN -- Senior -- he's a CNBC and CNN's Senior Media Reporter, Oliver Darcy. There we go. And NPR TV Critic Eric Deggans is back with us as well.

Oliver, since I was butchering your title, you're up first. The coverage of gas prices is a very real issue. I paid 80 bucks yesterday, fill up the tank, we all feel it. And yet there's also some exaggerating going on. Why do you think that's happening?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Well, it's good politics for Republicans, right? Because people associate how high gas prices are, I think with how well the president's doing. And so when you have these record-high gas prices, people say that Biden's not doing well.

And then you have outlets like Fox reinforcing that view saying that this is President Biden's fault, had he not, for instance, suspended or revoke the permit for the Keystone pipeline, the U.S. would have more oil production not be reliant on Russian fuel when we know that even if he hadn't done that, the pipeline would have been built. So that would -- that's not -- that's a non-starter. So there are all these ways that Fox is distorting the story to pin the blame on President Biden and I think, frankly, if you're Republican, it's good politics, it's just dishonest politics.

STELTER: And it's working, we should be clear on how well it's working. Have you noticed these stickers that are popping up at some gas stations? Let's show them. There are stickers of Biden that is pointing to the high prices and say, you know, that's because of me, I did that. There's one of these stickers. This is really catching on. There's, I did that. This is really catching on. And to me, Nicole, it's an example of how a meme something online can actually manifest in the real world.

NICOLE HEMMER, ASSOCIATE RESEARCH SCHOLAR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Absolutely. I mean, it's pretty savvy because it's something that people you know when you're filling your car with gas you're staring at the numbers go up and up and up and now you have this little sticker that tells you, you know who's to blame for this? Joe Biden. So it's very effective messaging, even though it's completely wrong.

STELTER: Hmm. Eric, are you feeling it in Florida as well? What -- how do you -- how do you read the coverage of high gas prices because it is obviously a real issue?

DEGGANS: I was going to say you should come to Florida. I only paid 60 bucks to fill up my tank. But what I will say is what's interesting to me about this is that this isn't new for Fox. They were trying to make this connection back in November and even earlier.

And in right now, what it feels like is an attempt to sort of, forestall the natural tendency that Americans have to rally around the President when he's in the middle of an international crisis, especially something like the Ukraine War, where there seems to be a lot of agreement with how he's handling it. And so these rising gas prices are a good way to sort of push back against the good feelings that Biden is engendering without actually taking aim at the Ukraine war or anything that could be sort of perceived as harming that effort.

STELTER: All right. That's interesting. That's really interesting. Another headline this week about Fox. This was the Smartmatic lawsuit. Remember, the voting technology company is suing Fox and others for perpetuating the big lie. A judge has allowed that case against Fox to move forward. The motion dismissed -- to dismiss failed, and so Smartmatic now, Oliver, will be able to potentially go into discovery and really pursue this case. How -- this is -- was this surprising and how much of a blow is to Fox?

DARCY: I don't think it was surprising because we saw the same thing happen in the other case, where they're being (INAUDIBLE) --

STELTER: With dominion.

DARCY: With dominions.


DARCY: So not too surprising. I think it's another huge blow to Fox because they don't want to go to discovery, right? And also, I thought it was interesting how the judge, in this case, pointed to Tucker Carlson rejecting some of these crazy conspiracy theories as evidence of the network should have known better, that they did know better and they still aired and peddled some of these crazy theories about the election being stolen.


STELTER: By the way, Nicole, this is not a past tense story. This is still going on this weekend with Trump.

HEMMER: Absolutely. And this is something that Fox is going to have to be pretty careful about going forward, right? It's easy to get away with misleading people on things like gas prices but when you're specifically naming a corporation and blaming them for something that they didn't do, now, they're finding out that there are real repercussions for that.

STELTER: Real repercussions. All right, we could keep talking but we do have a lot of news out of Ukraine to get to, thank you to the panel. The news -- let's go ahead and do it. Here's what's happening basically at CNN, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The international news desk says gathering information constantly. As soon as these e-mails cross the wires, we want to bring it to you. So let's bring you this one from a few minutes ago from the International desk. This is out of Mariupol, southeast of Kyiv, reporting that nearly 2200 people have been killed by the Russian offensive. That's what officials in Mariupol are saying.

They say the 2187 Mariupol residents have died from attacks in Russia, a sharp increase of the figure that was nearly 1600 that was announced a little ways back. A city official says "the situation in Mariupol continues to be very difficult. The city has no electricity, water, heat, almost no mobile communication, and is running out of food and water." So that's the latest urgent from the International desk out of Mariupol.

We also have new developments on what we mentioned at the top of the hour here, the death of American journalist Brent Renaud. Brent was 50 years old. He was killed by Russian forces in Irpin. That's according to the Kyiv police. We don't have independent confirmation of that. But the local police say that he was killed and another American journalist was wounded by Russian troops.

This statement just in from the Committee to Protect Journalists, "we are shocked and saddened to learn of the death of U.S. Journalist Brent Renaud out in Ukraine. This kind of attack is totally unacceptable and is a violation of international law." That's what the Community to Protect Journalists are saying this morning.

I want to bring in one of Brent's friends, his longtime friend, Christof Putzel. I believe we have you on Skype, Christof, thank you for coming on. I'm very, very sorry for your loss. And I'm glad you can be here and tell us a bit about Brent.


STELTER: How did you find out about his death? What have you learned so far today, Christof?

PUTZEL: I woke up this morning to the news that Brent, longtime best friend, incredible colleague, the best war journalist I've -- I think ever existed, finding out about his passing, you know. Brent had this ability to go anywhere, get any story, listen and communicate what was happening to people that otherwise wouldn't other -- wouldn't otherwise see it. And it is a devastating loss to journalism today.

STELTER: What do you know about what he was doing with his colleagues in Ukraine? Was he working on a documentary?

PUTZEL: Yes, he was working on a documentary about refugees. It was a story he was doing around the world. And when the crisis in Ukraine happened, Brent was on the plane the next day and just covering a story about refugees coming out of Kyiv into Poland. And that's what we know.

STELTER: I remember you worked with him. You work with him on multiple projects, but I remember one about Occupy Wall Street like a decade ago. So you know, Brent was working on projects with the New York Times, for Vice, for others.


STELTER: What stands out to you most about his style of journalism and filmmaking? What made him so special?

PUTZEL: Yes. I mean, Brent, just as I said, we went to DuPont together about 10 years ago for a story we did in Mexico about guns being smuggled from the U.S. across the border. And what I said at the time, when we accepted our award was the only thing bigger than Brent's balls are his heart. And I stand by that.

That's what kind of journalist he was. He could get into any location. He had this ability just to blend in wherever he was. You know, where I would be stopped at the border, like Brent could just walk through because Brent could just blend in. And then he had this ability for people to trust him. He could draw anybody out, you know, the stories he did.

He went from -- he was in Iraq in the early days, did an incredible story for Discovery Times called Off to War. He went to DuPont for me for the story in Mexico. He did -- we did -- yes, things like Occupy Wall Street where we were camping there while editing that piece at night, running back to the office. He went to DuPont for the Times on a story about migrants from South America. He wanted a Peabody for VICE, a long documentary series called Last Chance High. I mean, you could sit down and spend a week watching all of Brent's stories over the years back to back and just be flabbergasted.


PUTZEL: The career that he had, his ability to reach people, his ability to capture the humanity behind people's suffering is something I've never seen before and I was just honored to work with him as long as I did.

STELTER: Christof, thank you for honoring him today. Dozens have been killed in Ukraine in the past hours, one of them, an American journalist, Brent Renaud, who was there to tell others' stories.

CNN's live coverage continues now. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Dana Bash is up next.