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Reliable Sources

Fox News Hosts are Trying to Demonize Disney; Un-Reliable Sources are Misleading Putin and His Country; News Crew Ambushed In Ukraine: In Their Own Words; Horrific Discovery Of Mass Grave In Bucha, Ukraine. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired April 03, 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 and we figure out what's really reliable.

This hour -- inside a bloody ambush. A veteran foreign correspondent is now recovering from that shooting and he's here to recount what happened in Ukraine.

Plus, what is President Biden really think of Fox News? A forthcoming book claims to know. We have the exclusive excerpt to share with you.

Plus, Jen Psaki leaving her White House post next month. (INAUDIBLE) about where she's heading, that's coming up later this hour.

But, first, why the right wing media is targeting Mickey Mouse. In the United States, we're seeing a theme of the midterm elections emerging. It's the way you can see a wave start to form far from shore before it breaks on the beach. The theme, the talking point on the right is about protecting kids from the dangers of the Walt Disney Company. Really.

But Disney is just a stand in. It's just a symbol for something bigger. A conservative backlash to growing acceptance of gay and transgender people, a conservative fear that traditional believes are being trampled on. And their, entire networks are programmed to this fear and many politicians that react to it. That's the story here.

As this reporting says, three months into the New Year, lawmakers in dozens of states have introduced a slew of bills that could limit the rights of LGBTQ Americans. Some of those bills are framed as parental rights bills, opponents say they're really actually anti-gay bills and it's easy to picture this battle continuing right through the midterm elections.

But for folks who aren't partisan warriors, this battle is incredibly disheartening. I spoke with a Disney executive who's caught in the middle of it right now and they said, you know, Disney's brand for decades has been family-friendly and has been gay-friendly, and that hasn't been in conflict. That need not be in conflict.

But the media organs that profit from conflict are on a crusade now, regarding overtime to demonize Disney, claiming the company is indoctrinating and sexualizing children through movies and TV shows.

So, let's unpack what's going on because I think this story is going to be with us for at least another six months. The main prompt this winter was Florida's parental rights in education bill cast by critics as the "don't say gay" bill. Disney CEO Bob Chapek, you're seeing there on screen, he tried to sidestep the politics by not publicly opposing the bill, although Disney was working privately with lobbyists to try to water it down.

Now, Chapek's lack of a public opposition sparked an internal revolt by LGBTQ employees and allies, causing Chapek to apologize and publicly oppose the bill and put Disney's weight behind the bill, and this has snowballed from there, with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis labeling Disney as woke and the right wing media backing him up and celebrating them. So, activists even called for boycotts of Disney and now, GOP lawmakers and media stars are threatening Disney's copyright and special self-governing status.

In the past week, Fox News has talked about Disney hundreds and hundreds of times, and the mentions really ticked up after the same conservative activists who hyped concerns about critical race theory last year showed a leaked video of Disney executives talking about diversity, equity and inclusion. It was deemed scandalous that some producers at Disney want to include more LGBTQ characters and story lines in shows.

So, this is the leaked video, it became this very hot topic in right wing media, but I want you to remember, Disney is one of the largest companies in the entire world, with nearly 200,000 employees and lots of different opinions. But suddenly, the opinions of these employees on an internal video call were treated like breaking news on Fox and other networks. The overarching narrative was about left wing gender ideology going too far endangering kids.

One Fox guest said Disney is, quote, at war with American families. Disney.

Look at these banners. Walt Disney is seeing its dreams shattered. Disney turns its back on millions of Americans. They think it's their duty to repeal laws.

They are talking about the company that Fox owner Rupert Murdoch did business with. Murdoch sold most of his entertainment brands to Disney a few years ago. He may still be one of Disney's biggest shareholders.

But like I said, this is bigger than Disney. This is a preview of a midterm election battle.


In fact, it's already raging on the right. Is anybody else paying attention to it? Should they?

Joining me to discuss that and more: Charlotte Clymer, writer and LGBT activist who previously served as a press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign. Also with me, Natasha Alford, CNN political analyst and VP of digital

content at "TheGrio", and David Zurawik, CNN media analyst and media studies professor at Goucher College.

Welcome to you all. There are other layers to this.

Charlotte, let's start with the history of this. There is an ugly history in the United States of portraying gays, lesbians, transgender people as perverts, as predators who are preying on children. When I see some of the coverage in the last week seems to me they are just repeating an ugly history.


Yeah, it's exasperating to watch all of this go down. I can't believe that it's 2022 and we're still seeing LGBTQ families be framed as predatory or as diversive or I would say as almost perverted. I mean that is correct seems to be the message to millions of LGBTQ families by the actions of Governor DeSantis right now. And I -- it's heartbreaking to watch because these are families who already struggle to get by day to day in the public square and now have their own government going after them just for existing.

STELTER: But when you hear the framing on the right, this is just about parents' rights, just about parents' rights, what does that get wrong? What's wrong with that?

CLYMER: I think it's insulting to the parents of Florida. It says to the parents of Florida that we can't talk about LGBTQ families without talking about sex. It is this very strange need by Governor DeSantis and the Republican Party of Florida to I would say sexualize LGBTQ families in a way that you would never see done to non-LGBTQ families.

I -- you know, I have so many friends who are LGBTQ parents or parents of LGBTQ children and they are shocked and exasperated by what's going on right now. They don't feel that they can be in schools or their communities without seeing this kind of backlash from conservative lawmakers. It's really unfortunate to watch.

STELTER: Rhetorically, Natasha, do you see this as effective? I don't mean to talk about all of this in terms of politics only, but when I'm watching the Fox coverage this week I'm thinking they know what they're doing. Like this is something that's very compelling and scary to their audience.

NATASHA ALFORD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Brian, you're right, it's brilliant framing because you can't argue with a parents right to influence their child. Parents care deeply about their children. I'm a parent, I get it.

And when you focus on this particular subset kindergarten through 3rd grade -- again it's very smart and strategic because most parents will say, yeah, I guess that makes sense, it seems pretty common sense we wouldn't be talking about sex or sexual orientation. But it sort of hides the real intention behind the bill. And the thing about parental rights framing is that this is not the first time we've seen this in American history. If you frame, you know, critical race theory against parental rights then people feel, okay, we have a right to be upset. If you think about -- go back to segregation. There was a parental rights argument about -- well, we shouldn't be integrating and having our kids in schools based on race because that will introduce another level of intimacy or relationship.

And so, when you go at that personal angle, you will actually get a lot of people who miss the sort of bigger picture behind what this bill is really about and it has a chilling effect. When you say there could be consequences for even touching this issue people are more likely to not want to touch the issue at all, which marginalizes groups, which takes a family that maybe has two mothers or two fathers and you say, all right, I can't read that book or we can't have that conversation in class because no want to be penalized as a teacher.

So, there is more to the bill than just parents rights and that's what we have to remember.

STELTER: There's a lot of code words being used here it seems like.

David Zurawik, let's try a counterargument, okay? There are many millions of Americans worried about how far the left is going with gender ideology and gender theory and they just yearn for a more basic approach to the way life is or was or maybe never was but they thought it was anyway.

DAVID ZURAWIK, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: Well, Brian, that's kind of the make America great argument that we used to have this wonderful world where everything was taken care of and now all of these people from the world of cultural studies are bringing all of this into and taking our children's education away from us.

I mean, that -- you know, Natasha is right, it's a brilliant kind of framing, but it's a very, very ugly, dangerous kind of framing as well. And they have a spokesman in media in Tucker Carlson who is very, very good at it.

You know, Fox provides the forum for hateful, reckless kinds of speech, couched in different terms.


It's never put out that way. They provide a forum for it. That's one thing. They play it as you showed over and over and over so they give this huge forum. But they don't just give a forum, they then use their prime time host like Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, to fan the flames of it.

And when Tucker Carlson says of Disney, they have a sexual agenda for your 6-year-old children, that's outrageous. Then he goes on and says, you know, that's illegal. That should be illegal in some ways you would think. It's certainly immoral.

But he's basing all of these follows on that fact which he has no evidence for. Fox is really the cauldron because they then spread this poison through the entire right wing media ecosystem and it's big. And now, it's political and with the midterms coming up, this is a juggernaut.

But it's constantly -- just as was said before, it was used in critical race theory, oh, they're putting this stuff into your children's head.

You know, conservatives used to believe the best thing was to be regulated at the local level. Let the principal of the school, the school board decide what's taught. Now that they want it taught by Governor DeSantis, which is a direct contradiction of traditional conservatism as we've known it in this country.

STELTER: All of this makes me want to visit Disney more. I haven't brought my kids yet, and I'm curious and see what's changed at Disneyworld, right?

Look, an important, Fox's coverage did cause the Human Rights Campaign to come out and denounce the network and take away its 100 score for being a positive workplace for gays and lesbians and transgender individuals. Here is part of the statement from the group saying: We can no longer allow Fox to maintain its score if they will continue to deny the existence of transgender people, minimize the violence transgender individuals face, refer to parents of LGBTQ+ youth as perverts or equate leaders with sex offenders.

Charlotte, you used to represent the human rights campaign. Was this important to you to see the group come out and speak out strongly?

CLYMER: Incredibly important. You know, the Human Rights Campaign has tried to give space for companies to slowly progress their workplaces. And I do have friends in the broader Fox Corporation who say it has been a positive environment for employees specifically in the past in terms of workplace policies, but not culturally.

And I'm so glad that HRC is finally coming out and saying that Fox News can no longer get away with spreading this horrific anti-LGBTQ propaganda. We have to stop this demonization of LGBTQ children, of LGBTQ families and certainly LGBTQ public school teachers who are just trying to do their jobs and are being sexualized by the governor of Florida for no other reason that the electoral benefit that he believes he'll gain by attacking LGBTQ people.

STELTER: Charlotte, thank you for coming on the program.

Natasha and David, thank you both. Please stick around.

Coming up here, is anyone in Russia getting the truth? We have insights from Julia Ioffe, coming up.

And later, some very public dissent at CBS after the news division hired a former Trump official.



STELTER: Today's front page as in home page is conveying a change in the war zone, "The Washington Post" saying Russia cuts back its war goals, abandons Kyiv, at least for now.

The great unknown is what is Russian president Vladimir Putin thinking?

This week, U.S. and U.K. officials said they believe that he felt misled by his advisers, given unreliable sources, so to speak. In the words of one official we believe Putin's advisers are afraid to tell him the truth.

Of course, his propaganda machine within Russia spread his lies through state-run media so Russian folks have not heard the truth from official sources, either. This real concept that Putin was misled, the public was misled in Russia, how much of that has contributed to this doomed war, a lot of questions.

Let's get into it with Julia Ioffe, founding partner and Washington correspondent for "Puck" and Ivan Kolpakov, he's the editor and chief of Russian independent news outlet "Meduza". I'd like to start with you and what medusa is. Some CNN viewers no he it well. You are an English language news outlet covering Russia for Russians and you have been having to rebuild your newsroom because of sanctions recently.

Tell us first, do you have a sense -- do you buy into the U.S. and U.K. officials saying that Putin was misled by his advisers and that Putin doesn't know the truth about what's happened in Ukraine?

IVAN KOLPAKOV, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, MEDUZA: I think that many of this is unfortunately true. I think that Putin for a long time, a long period of time was convinced by the propaganda narrative. He's, you know -- his team provided to himself, so he constructed a huge propaganda narrative about Ukraine as a failed state and he actually believed that. That's the problem.

STELTER: He got high on his own supply, so to speak.

Julia, you wrote for "Puck" this week that now he is a prisoner of his own propaganda. What does that mean?

JULIA IOFFE, FOUNDING PARTNER & WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, PUCK: Well, what we're seeing is that when the Russian delegation to the talks in Istanbul announced that they were starting to get closer to the Ukrainian position, that they might drop some of Russia's demands, for example, you know, making -- trying to force Ukraine to make Russian one of its official languages --


IOFFE: -- there was an uproar on Russian social media, including from people like Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya, who is very loyal, including the head of Russia Today, Margarita Simonyan, who said this is an outrage, this is a betrayal. We were promised total victory. So, now, there's no room to retreat from the maximalist demands that

Putin has made. One of the hopes that had been expressed in Washington and Brussels and London was that maybe Putin could take a settlement and then use the propaganda machine back home to spin it as a great victory.


IOFFE: That seems to not be happening just yet.

STELTER: So, you quoted some -- a person in your piece saying what Putin fears is pro-war protests, that his audience, his public is going to demand the war to continue. That's a frightening concept.

IOFFE: Yeah, well, they've been for the last few months the Russian propaganda machine has been training the Russian public to want blood. Now, they want blood, they've been promised blood, they've been promised total victory, that they would defeat Nazism in Ukraine which is for a country that sees its role historically as having beaten Nazism in World War II, they see it as a sacred duty.

And so, why would you only go halfway if we're fighting Nazis?

STELTER: You have been supportive of "Meduza". That's why one of the two, if you want together, you've been supporting of Ivan.

Tell me why -- well, first of all, Ivan, tell us why you needed support, why you needed donations? What happened in Meduza when the war began that required to you call out for more donations?

KOPAKOV: Yeah. Well, actually, "Meduza" right now is the biggest Russian independent media outlet that actually keeps covering the war in Ukraine and can reach out to people in Russia because as many Russian independent publications, we were blocked during the war.

However, we've been prepared for that for so many years. We've been thinking that we're going to be blocked at some point and eventually it happened.

But also the war and the Western sanctions crushed our crowdfunding campaign. Before the war we had 33,000 regular supporters in Russia and now we can't get any money from Russia anymore.

So what we did a couple weeks ago, we tried -- we established crowd funding focused on western audiences on people who live in Europe and in the United States and we are asking these people to replace our supporters from Russia because we think that the journalism is actually an international value and an international language. I'm pretty sure that there are a lot of people in Europe and in America who believe just as we do that you can't solve the problem, you can't stop this war without providing independent information in Russia.

STELTER: Julia, you put this on my radar, you were messaging me about this saying this is an important campaign. Tell me your perceptions of how many folks inside Russia, inside the country are able to and are interested in accessing content like Ivan's? IOFFE: Well, if you have a VPN, if you are interested you can get it. And personally, I check Meduza several times a day, it's my first stop in the morning, last stop in the evening. It's primarily a Russian news site but has an excellent English site, excellent English daily newsletter.

And, again, if Russians don't know what their country is doing, how can they be expected to press the government to do anything else? And I agree with Ivan and I would actually reframe it, I would say --

STELTER: Tell me --

IOFFE: -- you know, it's not just donations, you're paying for a product. You need -- this is information that is vital, that is important, this is basically a subscription. This stuff can't be and shouldn't be done for free.

These people should be paid to do the excellent work that they're doing.

STELTER: It's great point.

IOFFE: Again, I personally -- this is what I start my day with, this is what I finish my day with, this is my first stop to get information on what's happening in Ukraine is "Meduza".

STELTER: What are you looking at this week as we see Russian forces retreating, horrific images of mass graves and civilians shot in the streets. What are you looking for in this week ahead?

IOFFE : Well, I'm going to look to see how the international community responds because one of Putin's goals has always been to show the hollowness and the hypocrisy of the Western order, right, the U.S.-led order, and, you know, are there more sanctions? Is the West going to continue buying Russian oil and gas as Slovakia just said it would do?

So far, the new sanctions that have been announced do not include cutting off Russian oil and gas to Europe. So, you know, I guess Putin is trying -- is calling the West's bluff, right? What is the point of the U.N.? What is the point of the E.U. and NATO if it allows such atrocities to keep happening?

STELTER: All right. Much more to come.

Julia and Ivan, thank you both for being here.

This weekend, we learned of another Ukrainian journalist killed on the job trying to document this war. Max Levin's body was found north of Kyiv more than two weeks after he was reported missing. His friend said he wanted to use his camera and use his photography to show the world what was happening in his country. He did just that and he paid with his life. He is at least the sixth member of the media to be killed in the conflict.

Coming up next, I'm going to introduce you to two people to could have also paid with their life. They miraculously escaped an ambush outside Kyiv. Their story from Sky News is incredible and you are going to hear it in their own words coming up.



STELTER: My next two guests know all too well the dangers of covering the war in Ukraine. On February 28th, they were with -- they were a part of a team from Sky News, traveling, trying to drive back to Kyiv when the car was ambushed. They were out minutes and minutes of bullets rattling the vehicle.

Stuart Ramsay, Sky News chief correspondent, was wounded. Dominique Van Heerden, his senior producer, was with him trying to get help.

So they sat down with me a month later now that Ramsay has recovered. He's gone through a surgery. He's on the mend. He sat down with me to share the story.

And I want to note to you how we set this up. We decided just to take me out of it. We're not going to show my questions. We just want to hear them, in their own words, recount what happened, and how they survived that day.


DOMINIQUE VAN HEERDEN, SKY NEWS SENIOR FOREIGN PRODUCER: It was the first day after a two-day curfew that had been in place in the capital. We had just received new accreditation from the Ukrainian Armed Forces to go and cover, you know, Kyiv in the outskirts and that sort of the whole region.

And so we were -- you know, we were aiming to go out, we were planning to go to Butcha, a town you know, 20, 25 miles from the city center. So we set out that day knowing we'd have to navigate loads of Ukrainian checkpoints, and that took hours and hours.

And bear in mind we were going somewhere that should take 30 or 40 minutes maximum on a normal day's drive. It got around -- must have been around 3:30, 3:45 p.m. and we started to look at our watchers and we still weren't in Butcha. That's how long it was taking us. And we could -- we could sense that the fighting was starting to increase.

And although we were in Ukrainian territory and we were behind Ukrainian lines, we felt that the -- that the intensity of the fighting was somehow going up a tick, and we started to feel a bit uncomfortable and made the decision -- and this is the irony of it, we made the decision to go back to the city center for safety reasons before it started to get dark.

STUART RAMSAY, SKY NEWS CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Dominique makes a very important point here. The battlespace was keep changing absolutely constantly so the roads that we had traveled on suddenly weren't safe, they had been very safe. There was fighting taking place in three locations, which we found ourselves almost surrounded by so we didn't have many options. And we had to go down this road which did not look great, but it seemed to be the best if not the only option we had at that stage.

And then, of course, it -- we started -- the round started coming in and it was absolutely relentless. So we started shouting that we were press, etcetera, that is in a -- and stop the fighting and then the fighting -- the shooting. And the shooting then increase, in fact, definitely increased. You can hear it in the tape. It's almost as if they decided right we really are going to finish this lot off. And I'd say being in the back of the car, I was just watching the windscreen disappear but the holes appear in the roof.

VAN HEERDEN: It did feel like being in a washing machine with bullets. Of course, the car wasn't turning but what I mean by that is that -- is the sort of, the bullets were everywhere and although the camera only -- bear in mind, the camera is showing one angle. It's showing -- it's showing the angle from the front of the car where Richie's huddled in the -- in the -- in the footwell of the front passenger seat.

I'm huddled in the footwell of the back passenger seat and as Stuart says he's sort of, you know, just taking as much cover as he can on the back of the seat. But the bullets are everywhere. I mean, they're just flying. And it did feel like what I would imagine would be you know, me -- sort of going round and round in a washing machine was things just pinging everywhere. It was impossible to -- I don't even know how I wasn't hit and it was impossible to think that you weren't going to be shot. It was almost like a guarantee.

RAMSAY: I was absolutely convinced I was going to die. I didn't think there was any chance the amount of rounds that were coming into that car, then, are going to continue to miss. They kept hitting things, you kept seeing sparks flying off, traces going.

And what really marked it out from other ambushes I've been in in the past and I have been shot up many, many times in cars, many of us do these sort of -- sort of job have been, what's different is that this was absolutely zeroed on us. They weren't missing. They were smashing the car up bit by bit, which is quite unusual.

So I thought this is it. And will it really -- will it hurt. And that's when I got hit. And as I say I was lucky. It wasn't -- didn't hurt as much as I thought but I'm sure that's the adrenaline, of course, which is a remarkable thing. I pretty much fell dropped sort of 20 or 30 feet probably onto my head probably knocked myself out. We don't really know. And then Richie joined us shortly a little time later.

VAN HEERDEN: I mean, Stuart points out that he didn't quite feel very, you know, he felt a little bit out of it mainly because he felt he -- when he fell down the embankment he got a bit of concussion. And so at this moment, obviously my first thought is how badly injured is he? You know, how bad is that? Is that a bullet wound? You know, we know there's a clear entry wound through the top of his leg, it's come out through his lower back. What does that wound look like, you know? What is now the risk factor? Are we more in danger here -- being here on the spot? Do we need to find cover first before we check Stuart and that kind of thing? And, you know, as Martin Vowles, a producer who works with us who was

also there said, well, it was really a matter of weighing up, OK, he's walking, he's talking, he's breathing. Our first priority is to get to safety. Our second priority is to check that injury. And I think that Stuart was remarkably calm, remarkably held together considering he had just been shot and considering we'd all just gone through this horrific experience. And as he said, it was showing no signs of stopping.


RAMSAY: And, of course, what -- although we found covered, the -- if you like this, as often the case in these scenarios, the initial incident is horrendous, but you survive it. And then it just gets worse and worse, because now there's a huge fight taking outside, we're hiding in a garage ostensibly, no idea what's going on, and no idea of anyone's going to be able to even come and rescue us and are we now actually the front line. And I think, for some hours, effectively, we were and we were stuck and there were very few options available to us but to basically hunker down, and hope somebody would come.

VAN HEERDEN: We were in the garage for up to four hours -- three to four hours, I couldn't tell you the exact time we were extracted but when we got into the garage, it was still light, by the time we were out, it was dark. It was a good three, four hours. I would say and, of course, Stuart can correct me if he thinks differently, but I would say the fighting outside was at least half the time -- at least half the time that we were in the garage.

And it was intense. We -- in many ways being in the car, we felt like we could do something for ourselves, which was getting out. In the warehouse, we were very much sitting ducks. And we -- it felt completely out of our hands. And I think that that was the scariest beat and for me, the most terrifying, about was being in their garage, not really knowing what might happen next, and with those firefights continuously going on outside.

And then, of course, your mind starts sort of going to all sorts of places that you don't want it to go. Like Stuart said, we've just survived round one, are we going to make it through round two? And I really, really actually started to feel -- when I had those moments to think that's when I started to feel a little upset by the whole thing, a little bit-- a little bit afraid, but also knowing that we had to stay on the phone with our colleagues who were -- who were talking to everybody they knew in the Ukrainian government and police forces and Secret Service, and you name it, you know, trying to get us out.

RAMSAY: We have been there as Dominique said, for some hours. We had a message back, I think it was a call that Dominique took saying the police will do their best to come and get you tomorrow. It was cold, really now suffering from lack of water so we decided to go to a sort of administrative area within the garage sort of upstairs.

Suddenly -- and I was talking to Richie about this, all we could hear with the sound of boots coming up the stairs and brought clearly weapons banging against the metal of the building. And Richie said this is it. They have come and we were finished. And then we heard these beautiful words we're Ukrainian, please hurry.

VAN HEERDEN: The Secret Service had actually got in touch out of Ukraine and had gone in touch directly with the Governor's Office of that region and the police force and said you have to go and get these journalists tonight. You just have to.

RAMSAY: So it is absolutely miraculous and you know, we're very fortunate. I think the real point to remember here is that the reason we -- why we've shown this story was because it's happening to ordinary people all the time. There's nothing exceptional in the attack upon us. What's exceptional is that Richie Mockler, a cameraman, filmed it all.


STELTER: Stuart and Dominique were lucky. They were able to escape to Kyiv, and then back to the UK. But the story does not end there. Let me show you a little bit of what I asked them about their colleagues.


STELTER: Dominique, even before you all are out of the country, I believe is when you arrived back in Kyiv, that you saw other journalists from other outlets, other networks, including the Fox News cameraman who later died in Ukraine. Tell me about seeing --


VAN HEERDEN: Yes, Brian, that's a tough one, you know, because as we were sitting here speaking, I was sort of thinking to myself, Stuart and I have talked about this and our team, can you imagine that what happened to us was the good outcome you know. And Stuart and Pierre are very good mates and I knew him just from being around the road, you know. And he was the first person who sought us out at it, guys what happened?

You know, are you OK, and big hugs and, you know, he just in pure Pierre style, just caring more about everybody else and everything else, you know and just sort of kind of your nice slap on the back and I'm so glad you're OK. And the last -- one of the last things anyway, I said to him was thank you so much and please take care, you know, it's was more as crazy. It's something different about it from what we know.

And I would say that actually, the hardest bit of our recovery, mentally, at least, has been you know, in that first week or so it was the elation about being alive and that's great. But then when you hear about your colleagues killed and it's uh, it really brings it home to you just how fortunate we were and then it just makes you wonder why sort of why us, why were we OK that day, and some odd. I don't know. I mean who knows?

[11:40:00] VAN HEERDEN: But yes, Pierre, you know an amazing guy. And so many amazing journalists and others doing what they do in Ukraine. And I don't think that -- I hope people understand the price that journalists pay, you know, to bring them the truth because in Ukraine right now, it's a very high price not just for us, but for all the others.

STELTER: Very well said. I wonder, Stuart if you remember your final conversation with Pierre?

RAMSAY: I do, Brian. I'm sorry, I can't -- I can't go there, mate. Sorry.

STELTER: I respect that.

RAMSAY: Thank you.

STELTER: When I -- when I read about that Fox crew coming under fire, I thought about you all right away, you know, because at first, the Fox had the Correspondent Benjamin Hall been injured and they didn't talk about Pierre and Sasha because they were missing. And then news outlets like CNN tried to find them. We all started working together trying to find them. But it sounded like kind of -- kind of similar to your all's experience.

VAN HEERDEN: Yes, absolutely. And you know, what happened to Pierre and the team who'd been doing some work for a time, you know, as well, a few days before the Fox incident. That sounds almost identical actually, to what happened to us. And then in his case, you know, he had one bullet wound through the neck. And that's all it takes is one bullet that's gone in the wrong place and that's it, you know.

But equally, you know, in this age of fake news, I think actually, what makes me more afraid than even what happened to us is this whole idea that misinformation and fake news can somehow outdo the truth. And I -- it felt like this and this visceral account of our experience was just the kind of counterbalance that is needed right now to all of the misinformation that was coming out of Russia. And so I think, as scary as it was for us, we're proud that the pieces are out there because hopefully, maybe it provides some kind of understanding of that.

STELTER: Definitely. Stuart, I was just thinking it's been 30 years for you at Sky News. You mentioned all the scripts you've been in before and this is the worst of them all. Does it make you want to stay at home? Does it make you want to --

RAMSAY: No. You know, I've been asked this question quite a lot. And, you know, if you were getting all highfalutin, right, if you actually believe that your job is to bear witness to awful things that happen to ordinary people who need a voice, then that's your job. And I do believe that. And so to all the friends of ours who are working there right now, and all of those who have died before because it is what we do, we have to go to these -- to these places and to boot -- to do the best we can report accurately and truthfully, because if we don't, then you'll never know what's going on in this world. (END VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: Stuart and Dominique say they will both return to Ukraine. You can hear even more of the interview on this week's Reliable podcast. On that terrifying day in February, the Sky News team was trying to reach Bucha, northeast of Kyiv. Today, there are horrific reports of mass graves found right there in Bucha. A CNN team was able to go there. So we're going to try to get Fred Pleitgen on the phone to recount what he saw today. Stay with us. We'll be right back.



STELTER: Disturbing new images show the bodies of at least 20 civilians littering the streets of Bucha, a town just outside Kyiv. We are going to show some of these images, they've been carefully reviewed but they are disturbing. CNN's Fred Pleitgen was able to visit Bucha earlier today. He was able to see some of these scenes and mass graves there. Fred, are you with me?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Oh, hi there, Brian. Yes, I am -- I am with you. And it certainly was -- it's a devastating feeling I can tell you in Bucha. You can tell that there was obviously very heavy fighting there. There's still a lot of destroyed Russian armor and then there are still a lot of dead bodies, also in the streets of Bucha.

And there was a church that we went to, and behind that church, we found a -- you know a sizable mass grave. And essentially what the people they were telling us is that there were so many civilian casualties, so many civilian deaths during -- at the time that the Russians were occupying the place, that they started filling this grave.

And the mayor of Bucha, he said that you know, almost 300 people he said were inside that mass grave. The local policeman that we let sit, he said he thinks it's more like 150, maybe 200, but certainly a very large mass grave. And you know, just describing the scene, it was absolutely awful. There were people who were breaking down and crying, many of them had obviously been looking for relatives and friends and then, you know, found out that they were dead and lying in this mass grave. You know, some of the bodies were only half-buried with sort of limbs still sticking out. So it's really a devastating scene there in Bucha.

And in other places, as well, north of Kyiv, we were in another town called Borodyanka, where we -- behind the house actually found a dead body that had been executed -- apparently executed with his hands tied behind his back. So it really seems as though as the Russians leave this area, north of Kyiv that there is a lot of devastation and a huge amount of civilian casualties. Brian.

STELTER: Some of these images from Bucha became available Saturday, and they've been seen overnight into Sunday. But when I read an e-mail from you during a commercial break, saying you were - you were there, and you were driving back, I thought we need to get you on right away, Fred, because you're bearing witness to this. You're seeing this with your own eyes and ears. What else did you see in and around Bucha, where there are other civilians there, are people coming out of their homes for the first time?

PLEITGEN: Yes. I mean, first of all -- first of all, thank you for getting us on so quick. You're absolutely right. I think it's important to get this out as fast as possible. Look, there's massive devastation in -- not just in Bucha, but in the places around there as well. I was also at the Gostomel airbase, which would -- is really the first place of the Russian stuff that's completely totaled. The biggest plane in the world that you standing at that's also destroyed.

But I mean, more importantly, there are so many dead people also under the rubble still there. We were at a town called Borodyanka where they said that there was a building that was shot into by tanks and artillery so many times that it had partially collapsed and there were people who were hiding underneath it and you know, they have very strong evidence to suggest that all those people were killed and had been lying there dead for a very long time, but they said we don't have the equipment to actually get those people out.


PLEITGEN: There are some people who are coming back, Brian, and many of them are actually finding their houses ransacked. There was one family that we spoke to that said that they had Russian soldiers in their house that could be, you know, completely messed the place up, they'd obviously drank a lot of alcohol in there and destroyed a lot of things. So there are some people coming back, but they are coming back to a real -- I wouldn't call it a wasteland, but it was definitely a very destroyed area, not just in Bucha, Borodyanka, Hostomel, all those areas where the Russians were, I think there's two things that are becoming abundantly clear.

On the one hand, there are a lot more civilian casualties than any of us would have thought, unfortunately, and also that the Russians got beaten a lot worse than they -- obviously, I've been saying there's an unbelievable amount of destroyed Russian military hardware everywhere there, from tanks to armored vehicles, to trucks. That just shows that they were absolutely routed from this area by the Ukrainians and killed a lot of civilians in the process, Brian.

STELTER: Fred, thank you. Thank you for calling in. Your team is out in the field right now, so you're going to be coming back with a video that we ought to show later today. Thank you, Fred.

PLEITGEN: Thank you.

STELTER: The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Face The Nation moments ago saying "this is genocide." We'll be right back.


[11:55:00] STELTER: Now, a sneak peeks at the forthcoming book, This Will Not Pass. It's coming out May -- in May. It's from CNN political analysts and New York Times reporters, Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns. They have some interesting insights about President Biden and Fox News.

They say as Fox spewed forth a torrent of anti-Biden programming, stoking skepticism -- let's go get about vaccines, and disseminate wild conspiracy theories about January 6, the Democratic President assessed Fox as one of the most destructive forces in the United States and told an associate midway through 2021 that its corporate overlord, the Australian-born News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch, was even more toxic than that.

Murdoch, Biden said, was "the most dangerous man in the world." Of course, the White House is not going to confirm or deny an excerpt like this. The book comes out in a month. It is chock-full with news. Let's bring back David Zurawik and Natasha Alford. Zurawik, do you believe that Biden actually said that?

ZURAWIK: You know, I don't know if Biden actually said it, but I'm with him if he did say it. And I think I know what he means. Biden's pretty good on this stuff. Rupert Murdoch has allows this kind of disinformation and misinformation to flow through American life to millions of Americans, and he does nothing about it.

STELTER: Well, you're not the only one that feels that way, clearly. All right, Biden's press secretary, Jen Psaki leaving this spring for MSNBC. Sources saying that she's planning to join the network, but there's no deal signed, and there won't be a deal signed until she departs the White House podium and until that's going to happen in May. Is this surprise you that she's going to MSNBC? Lots of networks, won't there, Zurawik?

ZURAWIK: Well, she was on CNN, as I recall, before she became the press secretary this time around. She's good. No, I'm not surprised but -- I'm not surprised by it at all. There is a question and they've now recused her from being involved in anything involving MSNBC and the White House. And I think that's important until this is made official. And she leaves.

STELTER: Yes, right. Does this revolving door bother you, Natasha? This is the same week that CBS hired Mick Mulvaney, the former Trump official, and they screwed up on the air for the first time by not naming him as a Trump official, and that they know they screwed up and that won't happen again. But Mick Mulvaney joining CBS, and Psaki is about to join MSNBC, is that troublesome?

ALFORD: Well, this is not the first time we've seen it. I think the question is what does journalism need, right? As long as anchors and journalists hold their analysts and guests accountable for speaking truth you know, giving fact-based analysis --


ALFORD: And not just coming on and repeating talking points representing a political party, I think you have something there. STELTER: Great point.

ALFORD: But if you're just going to let folks like Mick Mulvaney, come on, you know, wax poetic about Joe Biden and not acknowledge where he's coming from, then you have a problem.

STELTER: Then you were a problem. Zurawik, we have 90 seconds left so we've saved it for the smack, of course. I know the media has been in an overkill mode on this. The newest information, of course, now that Will Smith has resigned from the academy is that he's going to have trouble getting movies, Netflix is delaying one of the movies they were developing with Will Smith, it's probably going to happen for other films of his. So Will Smith. What's his future in Hollywood?

ZURAWIK: Well, you know, that's a good question. I think -- I think -- Brian, I think he crossed the line here by introducing violence into that space, not just in the hall, but in the homes of millions who are watching. I think that I -- really, I think Hollywood has to do something about it otherwise, they're hypocritical. And I think Hollywood works with the pocketbook and I think they are going to be reluctant to go into business with him.

STELTER: Hmm. Natasha, anything to add?

ALFORD: No, nothing to add. I think it's time.


ALFORD: I think it's --

STELTER: Wait. You're over it. You're done with the slap.

ALFORD: So many opinions we have learned this past week. Everyone has an opinion. Not every opinion is valid. I think that if we're talking about mental health, healing relationships, and we are having conversations that are meaningful, great. We're analyzing the slap about angles, you know, the drama, I think we can put that to rest.

STELTER: There we go.

ALFORD: So meaningful conversation, please continue otherwise, let's wrap it up.

STELTER: At least is another word or so tonight, the Grammys. All right, thank you both. That's all for us here on TV but check out CNN Plus for our daily RELIABLE SOURCES, it's called RELIABLE SOURCES DAILY. You can see me interviewing Barry Diller from aboard his corporate jet at 30,000 feet. That's up on CNN Plus right now. We'll see you right back here this time next week.