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President Biden Meets The Press; Elon Musk Strikes A Deal To Buy Twitter, Now What?; The Great Disconnect Between The Press And The People; Is Ukraine Winning The Battle Against Disinformation?; CPJ: Ukraine War 'Takes Rising Toll On Reporters'. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired May 01, 2022 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter, live from Washington, D.C. today, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES, where we examine the story behind the story to try to figure out what's reliable.
This hour, one of the biggest divides between the president and the public. Pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson has answers from her fascinating focus groups.
Plus, the Twitter-verse is in Elon Musk's hands, or likely will be soon. So, what does everybody get wrong about Musk? Molly Ball is here to tell us.
And here is the Committee to Protect Journalists' headline right now, Ukraine war taking a rising toll on reporters. The new president of the group Jodie Ginsberg will join us here live.
But, first, finding the serious amid all the spectacle. The White House correspondents' dinner spilling across the U.S. capital, spawning dozens of related events all weekend long, remarkable normalcy.
President Biden showing he can deliver a good joke, ripping Fox's hypocrisy, mocking his own low polls and showing he does get "let's go Brandon".
This event also has a bit of reality TV vibe, especially in years when Democrats control the White House and especially this time around with Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson attending as guests of ABC News. But there was no laughing, gawking, no selfie taking when Biden said this to the press. The room went dead silent during this moment that I want you to watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The First Amendment grants the free press extraordinary protection, but with it comes, as many of you know, a very heavy obligation to seek the truth as best you can, not to inflame or entertain, but to illuminate and educate. I know it's tough, and I'm not being solicitous. The industry is changing significantly. There's incredible pressure on you all to deliver heat instead of shed light as technology changes so much, the system is changing, but it matters.
No kidding, it matters. The truth matters. American democracy is not a reality show. It's not a reality show.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: America's democracy is not a reality show, but is the media guilty of making it seem that way?
The night's entertainer Trevor Noah had some comments about that too. We'll get to him in a minute.
But, first, let's now analyze Biden and the event with CNN political analyst, April Ryan. She's also Washington bureau chief and White House correspondent for "TheGrio"; Molly Ball, national correspondent for "Time" magazine; Leigh Ann Caldwell, author of "The Early 202" newsletter for "The Washington Post". She just joined "The Post" from NBC. And CNN media analyst David Zurawik also here with us.
David, you were watching at your home. Everybody else was in the room. So, let's talk about Biden and how he fared. I think there were questions, April, about what message he would want to bring to this event, how serious or how silly he would want to be. What did people in the room think of Biden?
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, people in the room laughed with him. They thought he was able to laugh at himself. But at the end of the day, he had to mark the moment and he also had to bring people in to see him because we realistically, this is a president who has low poll numbers, leading into a midterm that's very critical.
But as far as laughing at himself, he was able to do that, but as far as also putting an exclamation mark on the moment, a moment of crises, a moment of seriousness domestically and with foreign policy and foreign issues, I think he hit the ball out of the park last night.
STELTER: All of the reality show stuff kind of paused because there was such a serious conversation from both Biden and Noah about the state of democracy. Now, to me, it felt different than in past years, pre-COVID, pre-Trump even. To me, it felt like this was President Biden trying to talk about democracy versus autocracy, which is which is one of thinks favorite themes.
DAVID ZURAWIK, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: It is. From the time he announced his candidacy, he announced that and it was a key insight and people kind of ignored it. Now we see what's going on. I think he really did with -- the key phrase was that you just had up there, democracy is not a reality show. That's what's wrong with the culture.
STELTER: But don't we treat it like that? Aren't we part of the problem?
ZURAWIK: I try not to, and I think you try not to on this show. A lot of us do but a lot of people don't. That's the problem. That's the other problem with it.
STELTERR: Yeah. Trevor Noah I thought had a fantastic media critique that he left hanging in the air at the end of his address. Let's go ahead and show that as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TREVOR NOAH, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH TREVOR NOAH": If Russian journalists who are losing their livelihoods, as you were talking about, Steve, and their freedom for daring to report on what their own government is doing, if they have the freedom to write any words, to show any stories, or to ask any questions, if they had basically what you have, would they be using it in the same way that you do?
Ask yourself that question every day because you have one of the most important roles in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: I know he's just a comedian and I know it's easier to mock news than make news, but, Molly, I think he's trying to say, hey, y'all are not using your freedom as effectively as you should.
MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESONDENT, TIME: Yeah, the lecture always come wrapped in a sort of compliment sandwich, right?
STELTER: The lecture.
BALL: And everybody in the media loves being lectured by a comedian.
BALL: But, you know, the people in that room, most of the people, the people who are members of the association, who are White House correspondents, do take our jobs very seriously, you know?
And it was interesting, you know, thinking about -- it's almost the same challenge that Biden faces with his entire presidency -- trying to signal the return to normalcy, at the same time as you acknowledge, that this is a once in a lifetime moment. This is a different moment coming out of COVID, and trying to manage the symbolism of that, trying to send the message to America about how to be safe. But also, you know, to go on with life, trying to return to normalcy while also acknowledging these unprecedented challenges.
And coming out of the Trump years, being the first president to turn the dinner to the status quo ante, how do you make that seem normal while also recognizing how different it is?
STELTER: Right, and Biden saying, you're not the enemy of the people. You're the guardians of truth. I don't think he's going to persuade anyone about that, but it's so important president say it. Is that truth, Leigh Ann? LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, TEH EARLY 202 AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes,
and absolutely one of the most important things the president said that seemed to be not part of the prompter, but before he took it to Trevor Noah, he said --
CALDWELL: -- you can say whatever you want about me, and unlike in Russia, you will not be arrested. And so that was a moment as well that not only the -- not crisis but issues happening domestically and divisions among the public and their interpretations and their opinion of the press, but also what's happening internationally as well, and what is happening to this very difficult for even Western journalists to report from Russia.
STELTER: Absolutely. Let's point out that when the event organizers had a tribute to the journalists who had been covering Ukraine, April, you pointed out, who applauded first? Tell viewers what you saw.
RYAN: The president of the United States rose to his feet and started a slow clap.
STELTER: Right, he was the first to stand up for the entire room.
RYAN: He was the first. After that very sober moment of journalists watching the journalists who have died in that war in Ukraine, Russia war on Ukraine, and he began the clapping.
STELTER: He led it.
RYAN: He led the clapping, he stood up and everyone in that room, 2,600 people stood up. And it took him to lead that and that's unfortunate that people don't see when we report, you know, we're trying to bring you real time news, trying to help you understand what is going on in the world, as people try to critique the news, you're always watching us to see what's happened, let's remember that.
But at the same time, we are talking -- I'm talking here as White House correspondents now, we're the first in line of questioning an American president, and you always look to us to find out. And when something happens, when you have a president or when you have a Vladimir Putin warring on people, warring on journalists, there's a problem.
And the president of the United States began that moment last night that reverberated in that room. It was one of the most poignant moments of the evening.
STELTER: Yeah, making -- making clear the importance of press freedom around the world in Ukraine and Russia, where there really isn't any right now.
And then, Leigh Ann, you happened to be at table that was significant. There was a callout for Austin Tice, the journalist who went missing in Syria about a decade ago. His family was in the room and there was a moment about Austin Tice. Tell us about where you were sitting and what the rest of the table.
CALDWELL: Yes. So, Debra Tice, his mother, was a guest of "The Washington Post" and so she was at my table. And she said that this week of meetings is the most meetings she's been able to have about her son in Washington in a very long time.
CALDWELL: She said in part because of Trevor Noah and drawing attention to him. So she has him to thank and she said she wanted to get in touch with his people to be able to thank him, and she said it has been a very long pause, really hard to get people to listen to her.
STELTER: And I believe Biden said on the stage, I want to meet with you, so that seems significant as well. We're going to talk to the head of the journalists a little later this hour about those threats around the world.
I do want to ask you, April, about the moment -- the folks that watched last night, they saw a standing ovation for you, recognition of you.
It was in April that you became -- it was in January, that you, April, became the longest serving Black female in White House correspondents' dinner history. Here's the moment. Tell us what this was like for you.
RYAN: Ooh, I'm getting chills as you show this. I am the longest serving Black woman journalist to ever cover the White House 25 years. Wendell Goler, the late Wendell Goler, is the longest serving at 28. And working at "TheGrio", we're going to pass that record.
But as the association and that beautiful program they had last night, how they lifted up the names of Ethel Payne and Alice Dunnigan, two of the first Black reporters to cover the White House and be credentialed and the racism, the gender hate they received, that in some cases mirrored what I saw a few years ago, it was eerily familiar and for that room, 2,600 people to stand.
I had a congresswoman, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson called me this morning and she said, April, that room was not just at the African American museum history and culture world, we had our party last night, that was a room filled with people, white people, who saw and celebrated you.
That was a poignant moment. That was a poignant moment, and I will never forget it and I thank Gayle King, my friend, for doing it. It still brings tears to my eyes.
STELTER: Good, I'm glad to hear it.
I don't want anybody to go. We have so much more to talk about. Let's take a quick break. Much more with the panel in just a moment. Molly's new cover story for "Time Magazine" is all about Elon Musk and
what he's going to do with Twitter? What does he really believe? We're going to get into that.
Plus, we'll speak with the disinformation expert on the example that Ukraine has set in its fight against Russian disinformation. Can that be replicated?
A lot more coming up. Just getting started.
STELTER: Elon Musk, he's tweeting through it, you know, right now, sharing his every stray thought as he prepares to take over Twitter. He says he wants to protect the public square by taking the company private. This deal could close in just a few months.
So what does Elon Musk really believe? Why does he really want to own this powerful communications platform?
Let's talk about it again. April Ryan, Molly Ball, David Zurawik, and Leigh Ann Caldwell are back with me here at the table.
Molly, you wrote the cover for "Time" this week titled, "What everyone gets wrong about Elon Musk." So tell us.
BALL: Yeah. Well, you know, I got to know Elon Musk and spend some time with him when I was profiling our profile on him as Person of the Year back in December. When he talks about politics, it tends to be very much in it tech bro kind of way, I don't agree with either party. He doesn't have traditional political allegiances.
So it's been interesting to see, his two missions in life are, number one, to save the climate. And number two, to get humanity to Mars. So it's very interesting to see him get coded as sort of a right wing billionaire just because of the way he moved on the speech issue.
Now, it's very clear he has moved right on the speech issue, and he basically said that this week. But I think people are reading a lot of things into his intentions that he hasn't actually said. And what he has said though is that he would use this as another important problem facing humanity, right?
And if you think about it, I think a lot of people would agree with that, that twitter and social media and the toxicity and everything that happens there is a big problem for American democracy, and so it seems that Elon Musk has also come to that conclusion and decided he can be the one to fix it. Now how he's going to do that I think remains to be seen.
RYAN: And that's the problem right there, we need to find clarity at this moment about control, what will be kept, what will be erased? Will some politicians who created misinformation be allowed back on, et cetera. Twitter has now become a platform where there's misinformation and in
some cases danger and he has got to bring clarity to what he plans to do, especially as many of us who use the platform have been targeted on the platform. There are so many pieces out there in the hinterlands, maybe lying out in Mars, that we need to find out about.
STELTER: Right, there's more questions than answers right now.
Leigh Ann, what question do you have?
CALDWELL: Well, I just want to know if he's going to add an edit button.
STELTER: That's a good one.
RYAN: That's a good one. That's a very good one.
CALDWELL: But speech and twitter especially, it's been part of the political discourse now. It's become a culture issue, a wedge issue politically, not only in Congress but in the public as well. So it's going to be an interesting journey.
STELTER: (INAUDIBLE) Elon Musk, David?
ZURAWIK: No, I think there's a bigger problem that when we focus on the personalities of people like Elon Musk and people say, oh, I think Elon is thinking this or that, there's a bigger problem here about how we are going to control the channels of communication in this country. In 1927, we had the Radio Act. 1934, the Communications Act.
Congress stepped in. We made rules. FCC wasn't great but it's still regulating the broadcast industry. You can't use vulgar language, you can't do all of these things with speech.
We gave over amongst our airwaves or Internet waves to Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, and we are in so much trouble because those guys believe in making money. We've already seen that with the 2016 election, and Zuckerberg when he was taking rubles for ads from Russia saying I think it's crazy to think they had any influence on this election.
Musk is the same. Musk doesn't want -- he's upset with the FCC, how dare they request him? You know what I'm saying? This is dangerous.
We can't think anymore in this country, we don't have people -- no, I'm serious, we don't have people in Congress who can make regulations, that can make it work. I think we can look to the Western countries in Europe for how they are trying to limit it, but you need -- you need controls on this.
You need regulation. You cannot let these guys control discourse in this country or we are headed to hell. We are there.
Trump opened the gates of hell and now they're chasing us down. RYAN: That's hard, that's hard.
STELTER: We got to get -- we got to get Molly's reaction, because this is your -- you've been covering this for days.
BALL: Well, I'm not here to defend, you know, Elon Musk but, look, one of the things he said he wants to do who has been pointed to by some experts that could include discourse on the platform is to authenticate people, right? Make -- get rid of what he calls the spam box, try to make people have real identities.
Now, would that go a long way in stopping some of the targeting, some of the harassment? I don't know but a lot of the changes he's talking about making, making the algorithm transparent. Giving people access to the sort of source code that controls what can and can't be seen, that's another thing that people like Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistle-blower, have said could go a long way in actually cleaning this up in a systemic way.
Because the way it's done now where it's individual, flawed humans with biases trying to make judgment calls in real-time on really difficult stuff that we don't actually know, you know, trying to discern the truth or falsehood of individual pieces of informing or fast-moving, difficult situations like the 2020 election, that clearly isn't working so great either.
So if he has got a way to, you know, change the system in a way that makes discourse better, I think we can all use that.
STELTER: Let's see -- let's see what he does. You know who loves this, are folks like JD Vance. So many right wing politicians and wannabe politicians are interested in seeing Elon Musk take over Twitter.
Let's turn to Vance and the Ohio primary.
Leigh Ann, you're covering this. Tuesday is what the start of the midterm primary race, Ohio and Indiana. Ohio's going to be fascinating. Tell us what you're watching with JD Vance and his rivals in Ohio.
CALDWELL: Yes, everyone is watching Ohio in part because of Trump's influence in that race. He endorsed JD Vance recently. JD Vance has no political experience.
And since then, JD Vance, according to one or two polls, has moved up in the polls, perhaps even taking a slight lead, including against Josh Mandel, who's the more conservative, Christian conservative candidate who people like Senator Ted Cruz are behind.
And so, everyone is watching this race to see if Trump continues to have influence in the party, not only with his endorsements but if he can actually get voters to follow his lead. I have been talking to Republicans for many months about this, and this is also a question they have to Republican operatives in D.C. And so, it's not just us that are going to be watching it. It's also people in the Republican ecosphere, too. STELTER: What is Vance's evolution tell you about the state of the
GOP? He was a CNN commentator and now he's Tucker Carlson's favorite.
CALDWELL: Right. And he was anti-Trump. He said very crass things against the not-yet-president in 2016, even threatening to vote for Hillary Clinton. And so, if this is -- if Trump and JD Vance are able to turn around Republican primary voters in this race and JD Vance wins, it maybe perhaps shows Trump does have some hold still on the Republican Party.
RAYN: Is JD Vance desperate, or is he actually looking at the ideology, you know, of Trumpism? That's the question in this very working class state that is trying to figure out its way in the midst of a possible impending recession, et cetera.
STELTER: Right. I like this "Washington Post" headline saying in once mainstream rival, moderates struggle against Trump rivals, right? It's about a seismic shift in the state.
And we will get results Tuesday night, Wednesday morning hopefully we will know.
David, I mentioned, Tucker Carlson, have you read the big "New York Times" front-page story today? This is the first in a three-part series in "The Times" called American nationalists, examining Carlson, his evolution overtime.
Basically, it's straight up. This says he has the most racist show in history of cable news.
ZURAWIK: Boy, there might be some minor channels we don't know about, but he's right up there. I mean, it's -- and no one has ever had the kind of audience he has and preached the kind of racism he preaches. I would say that's absolutely certain.
I think the piece in "The Times" did a very good job early on of contextualizing him with Father Coughlin, 1930s, virulent anti-Semite on radio, out of Detroit who had a huge audience. I mean, this was rival to Roosevelt in those eras.
There is a tradition here but Tucker Carlson -- and I'll tell you what, you can separate Tucker Carlson from Rupert Murdoch. Rupert Murdoch allows this stuff to go out over his airwaves.
STELTER: And his son, Lachlan.
ZURAWIK: You know, pardon?
STELTER: And his son Lachlan.
ZURAWIK: Oh, absolutely, his son. You know, I remember in 2018 when he said immigrants make us poorer and dirtier. We were doing a show about that and denouncing it, and he was saying, oh, they're denying me my freedom of speech and First Amendment rights by this advertiser boycott.
I mean, he goes from ugly aggressor attacking vulnerable minorities and then as soon as it's punched back, he then plays the victim card and the aggrieved American. It works with his audience. It works with his audience.
But it's so scary. He has tremendous power. The right is powerful because it has him as a voice and the rest of the Fox primetime lineup.
RYAN: Racist entertainment he makes believable.
ZURAWIK: Yes, yes.
STELTER: I'd love to talk to him and see what he says to all this. But I doubt that's going to happen.
To the panel, thank you very much. Let's take a quick break and come back in a moment with GOP pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson talking about disconnect between the news coverage that was the D.C. media focuses on versus what America might care about more.
We'll be right back.
STELTER: Let's have a frank conversation about the disconnect between the press and the public. While the public lives in the world, the press maybe lives within a bubble within that world. It's so important for the news media to examine the bubbles that it's in and to try to burst those and connect with people more often in different ways.
Let me show you one way, I think it's really important to do that. These focus groups, including ones recently organized by the New York Times, the results have been going viral. Its articles have been getting so much attention because they've been speaking with Americans in different groups for different reasons about different topics and getting to the heart of how Americans feel.
One of the organizers of these focus groups is Kristen Soltis Anderson. She's a GOP pollster and strategist, now also a CNN political commentator, co-founder of Echelon Insights, she's here with me in Washington. Good to see you.
KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good to see you, Brian.
STELTER: I've been wanting to talk to you for a while about these focus groups you're doing because every time you speak with another group of voters, I learned -- I learned something new. What have you learned so far about disconnects between the public and the press I mean the media and the public?
ANDERSON: I've learned that a lot of Americans are very focused on the challenges they're facing in their own lives and that's not always exactly what they're seeing covered in the media. So for instance, in the very first focus group, we did for the New York Times, I was talking to Republican voters about January 6.
And in those focus groups, we found that you know, for many of those Republicans, they did not -- they were horrified by what they had seen on the television, but at the same time hadn't been following the sort of beat by beat of well, who texted whom, in which congressman from where we're sending texts to Mark Meadows. Many of them were surprised to learn that, for instance, Laura Ingraham had been texting with, you know, Mark Meadows on the day saying, you know, hey, can you get to call this off?
That there are just lots of little details that I think the news media focuses on, and it's big breaking news, it's everything. But for your average voter, they're focused on what's going on in their own lives much more so than that. The comings and goings of characters in these stories that I think journalists are very important, but just don't seem connected to what's going on in people's lives.
STELTER: Is the argument then not to write the some of the -- I helped write one of the stories this week about the 1/6 texts, I thought it was fascinating. Is the argument not to write those stories or is it about proportionality or something that's --
ANDERSON: I think it's about proportionality. I think it's important for the news media to dig in, find information, report on what's out there but I do think that there's a balance of, you know, is it the top breaking story that it turns out that a Pennsylvania Congressman texted the White House Chief of Staff, something that we probably all could guess he was texting that he didn't believe the results of the election, you know.
But you have gas prices that are around $4, you have all sorts of challenges that your average American is facing, they're worried about immigration, they're worried about crime, they're worried about the ability to make ends meet. And those are the sorts of things where if they feel they're not getting coverage from a certain media source on the things that they're worried about, they'll go find it somewhere else.
STELTER: Does that mean that Republican narratives are beating Democratic narratives? Because when I hear you say they're worried about crime, I kind of hear the Republican narrative.
ANDERSON: Well, I don't think being concerned about a crime is necessarily a Republican narrative. I think a lot of swing voters would push back on things like that.
STELTER: I think right-wing media talks about that story a lot. Maybe that's what I mean.
ANDERSON: Well, I think it's right-wing media does but I think this is a moment where at least in the research, I'm seeing swing voters in the middle, their priorities look a little more like the priorities of Republican voters. I think back in 2018, I would have said the opposite. You had swing voters in the middle who were really worried about things like pre-existing conditions, health care. They didn't like Donald Trump very much. And so in 2018, those swing voters probably looked a little more like Democrats in terms of their priority but this year for the midterms, it's the opposite.
STELTER: I thought Trevor Noah's best joke last night. I don't have the clip, but I'm going to read it. He said, ever since he came into office, President Biden, things are looking up, gas is up, rent is up, food is up, you know, going after him on inflation, going after him on, frankly, stuff that Biden may have limited control over. But that is the mood of the country in the United States.
Things are -- things are price here, things are more expensive, and it's a hard time. Now, how do we make -- in the press, how do we make that a daily important story? How do we make that a top story every day to show that we are in touch with what the public cares about?
ANDERSON: Well, I think a lot of the public would like to know a little bit more about what's causing this. And actually, that's the sort of thing that I think Democrats wouldn't be as upset about talking about because, in their view, they feel they're being unfairly blamed. But I think a lot of Americans, they walk into a grocery store, and they don't understand why chicken breasts cost as much as they do.
I think those kinds of stories are very much connected with where your average American is. It may not be as sexy and breaking news, but I do think that that's the kind of thing that Americans are curious about because it's hurting them at home.
STELTER: Right, definitely. So this dinner, this entire DC weekend, the reason I'm hearing basically, does this -- does this -- when average Americans see this, are they repulsed? What do you -- how do you think it reads to the public at large?
ANDERSON: I think most of the public is not necessarily repulsed. I actually think that in some ways --
STELTER: Or doesn't even hear Biden care at all.
ANDERSON: The people who are the most sort of jaundiced about the relationship between the press and Washington are also the ones least likely to be you know, sort of the COVID concern. So I think there's a couple of different reasons why someone might sort of give a little side-eye to the dinner.
ANDERSON: But in general, the audience for the dinner is, for the most part, the roughly four to 5000 people who get a joke about Axios being playbook without the birthdays, right? The vast majority of Americans are not going to get that joke and that's fine because they're not the audience for it. That's OK. STELTER: And that's OK. And that's actually better. Yes, right. There was a Pew poll -- a data point from Pew in 2020 that I wanted to ask you about it. This was a couple of years ago, but it said 75 percent of U.S. adults believe it is possible to improve the level of confidence that Americans have in the news. Should I feel optimistic or pessimistic about that number? I mean, that means 25 percent have given up.
ANDERSON: Well, I think you should feel optimistic about that number. 75 percent in any poll these days, with things being so polarized is pretty good news. But the other thing to bear in mind from that poll is you had 63 percent of Americans saying that they think it's good for people to be skeptical of the news. I know a lot of times we can say, look, is it this crisis that there's this decline in trust in the news media?
I do worry not so much that people are distrusting the news, but rather that they are trusting of the wrong sources. That's actually something that would concern me more. But most Americans don't view distrust or skepticism of the news as a bad thing that need things to be fixed -- that needs to be fixed. They view that as a feature, not a bug.
STELTER: It's a great point. Kristen, thank you for coming on. Great to see you.
ANDERSON: Thank you, Brian.
STELTER: After the break here, what is this disinformation governance board about? We're going to get into the Biden administration's new effort they say to combat disinformation and what it can mean, and also how it's linked to the ongoing war in Ukraine.
STELTER: In the ongoing war with Russia, Ukraine has managed to move the needle in the battle against disinformation, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other high-ranking officials successfully calling on tech companies to challenge and to minimize at least Russia's cyber propaganda. Let's talk about this with more -- with Moira Whelan. She's the director of Democracy and Technology for the nonprofit National Democratic Institute. Great to see you. Thanks for coming over.
MOIRA WHELAN, DIRECTOR FOR DEMOCRACY AND TECHNOLOGY, NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTE: Thanks for having me.
STELTER: You say that in Ukraine, we have seen the rules of conflict changing, and in what ways?
WHELAN: Well, we're really seeing the internet be a front in this war, and Ukraine is really stepping up and showing us something brand new we haven't seen. We've come a long way from 2014 when we talked about little green men to really looking at the internet as a place where we can -- they can press their advantage, where they can mobilize both Europe, a lot of European governments, the United States, as well as tech companies to help them get their message out and communicate what's actually happening inside of the country.
STELTER: What's an example of disinformation pushed by Russia that Ukraine has actually been able to neutralize or change, like, is there -- are there -- is there a specific example you would point to as a great one?
WHELAN: Probably the greatest example is the limiting of the reach of RT and shutting down RT, both in Ukraine, but also in the European Union. That's probably been the greatest example. And here in the United States, undermining their finance to limit the spread of Russia Today. And that really shows us how that mobilization of the market of governments working together can really change the dynamic of how we see war play out in our family rooms, as we watch it play out on a battlefield.
STELTER: Right, in our family rooms. Yes. Here in the U.S., there's been an uproar in recent days about the Department of Homeland Security, setting up what they call a disinformation governance board. This has been mostly a Fox world story, and it could come up earlier today on CNN State of the Union, but I don't think people know what it is and what it isn't and there's just been a lot of right-wing uproar without knowing what it is, so are you aware of this at all? What is this all about?
WHELAN: Aware of it. And I think the first thing is, is that it's --
WHELAN: Exactly as we say. It is meant to bring together people to coordinate a lot of the efforts inside of DHS. That means law enforcement. That means emergency services like FEMA. They've all been doing counter disinformation efforts for a while to give us accurate information about human rights abuses, but also about disasters and where people can get assistance. So coordinating that activity and making it speak with one voice and being a stronger advocate to tech companies and engaging the public and academia, that's really what they're after.
STELTER: Well, that sounds like common sense. But when I Google this, all I see is like Joe Biden's ministry of truth, and they're going to say, you know like it's there's this incredible backlash to something that sounds like a basic government bureaucracy.
WHELAN: It is basic government bureaucracy in around the world, but we're asking for governments to do is to step up more and to play a bigger role in advocating for people. The big litmus test is, is civil society included, is the media included, and so far everything we've heard about the board, which is new, and just started, shows us that that is the intention is to be fully transparent and to demand more from our government in terms of how they protect us from disinformation and enable us to have information that protects our country and advances our ability to survive in a -- in a major incident, for instance. STELTER: There's also an announcement from the State Department this week about the declaration for the future of the Internet. What does that?
WHELAN: I think it's a great step forward. What we saw in the announcement was more than 50 governments coming together to reaffirm a commitment to free expression, and advancing human rights as a component and -- the Internet as a human right.
And it wasn't just the likes of Europe and the United States that we typically see but we heard from the Marshall Islands, we heard from Ukraine, talking about how important it is to view access to the internet and the ability to express your opinions as a human right. And so we're seeing democracies around the world really join together and reaffirmed that this is a component in advancing democracy.
STELTER: Do you think the message is about democracy, the message is that President Biden expressed last night at the White House Correspondents Dinner? Is it getting through? Is it permeating to the people who actually need to hear it? Or is it becoming this like, left-right issue where, you know, conservatives in the U.S. hear the word democracy, and they think liberals just using it as a wedge against them?
WHELAN: I think the ability for us to have that conversation out here in the public is what makes us a democracy --
STELTER: Fair. OK.
WHELAN: I do think we are making progress on that front and we are -- you know, it's really heartening to see this administration through the summit for democracy and other activities reaffirm democracy as a front and center issue as part of our national security agenda. And, you know, we fully support that. And I think last night, set a tone where we answered a moment where we recognize that democracy is a fragile thing and takes all of us and takes that debate, and the importance of satire and the importance of being able to have an opinion about the president and be fine.
STELTER: And be fine. And I think probably a lot of Americans have that for granted for a long time, and right now, we're being reminded not to.
WHELAN: Yes, and around the world. This is something that people fight for every day and at NDI we try to help people do that. But it's a full-time job and democracy is under assault, so more affirmations like that, not only from President Biden but from global leaders is really necessary.
STELTER: That's a great point. I had a tweet from a viewer a few minutes ago saying, because I was kind of saying, hey, you know, Trump said the press -- Biden, excuse me. Biden said the press is not the enemy of the people. They are the guardians of truth, right? He was given a report to Trump. But I said, well, OK, but no one's going to be persuaded by that.
And one of my favorite viewers, Alex Sweet (PH) he says it actually does matter. It does matter when the president repeats that over and over again. Repeating the truth matters, in the same way, that Trump lying over and over again mattered. So it's important to use the power of the pulpit to defend basic democracy -- democratic principles.
WHELAN: And I think you've made a great point that people take it for granted unless they see it every day. But we just heard in a previous show about the importance of this issue in Taiwan, about the importance of this issue in Hong Kong.
WHELAN: There are activists who are put in jail every day. The Nobel Peace Prize, Maria Ressa, you know, couldn't travel to be with us this week at Madeleine Albright's funeral who was a founder of our organization because of the limits put on her as a member of the press.
WHELAN: And what she's facing. So this isn't an abstract issue. It's something that here in the United States we really enjoy, but around the world is very real to democratic activists, to journalists, and something that we have to keep reminding people of every day, and most importantly, asking tech companies to help us to make them realize that as far as a dictator is concerned, they're on our side.
So, what we need is a more proactive activity from the likes of major tech companies to engage in this conversation and to help enable the voices of those who don't have a level playing field in the countries in which they're operating more.
STELTER: Moira, thank you so much. Great talking with you.
WHELAN: Thank you very much.
STELTER: We're going to stay on this theme in just a moment with the new president of the Committee to Protect Journalists, her first interview about her priorities for press freedom around the world.
STELTER: This year to date, at least 17 journalists have been killed on the job and the true total is even higher. Groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists keep track of this and they try to hold enemies of press freedom accountable. With us now is the new president of the group, Jodie Ginsberg. Jodie, welcome, and thank you for coming on.
JODIE GINSBERG, PRESIDENT, COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS: Thank you, Brian, for having me.
STELTER: We've been covering the death toll in Ukraine, reporters killed on the job but this is a problem even beyond war zones.
GINSBERG: Absolutely. I mean, the death toll in Ukraine is at least seven journalists so far since the conflict started in late February. What's concerning about the situation for press freedom in the moment is not just the rest of journalism, also, there's always been risks to journalists reporting more, it is a risky and -- it is a risky profession when you're reporting on the conflict.
There's a couple of things that are really concerning about the conflict in particular, in Ukraine is that journalists also appear to be targeted, which is something new. Often having the word press on your back or on your front was seen as a form of protection.
Now, there's a concern that it makes you an actual target. And the second thing is the rising threats to journalists outside of war zones. This year alone, CPJ has confirmed three murders of journalists in Mexico alone, and the total may be higher, it may be seven, which would put it at the same level as the conflict in Ukraine. That's unimaginable in a country that is a democracy that is not at war. There is a journalist in the local context reporting on local issues like corruption, who are being killed for their work.
STELTER: What are your priorities now as the new president of CPJ to try to -- try to both raise awareness of this and stop it?
GINSBERG: My priorities will be to continue the great work CPJ has done in documenting these attacks on the press, raising awareness about those threats, particularly, I think, in democracies. We need to be aware that these threats to journalists are not somewhere far away. They're not all happening in authoritarian regimes. They're happening right here in the United States, in the UK, in Europe.
GINSBERG: I think you pointed out in your Newsletter recently, an attack -- a verbal attack by a Los Angeles sheriff, right, on a -- on a journalist.
STELTER: It was crazy. He (INAUDIBLE). He was going to investigate her for breaking news about him.
GINSBERG: For doing her job.
GINSBERG: And I think we need to be really clear that it is the job of journalists to hold those in power, those in authority to account. That's our role, and we should not be criminalized, we should not be attacked, and we should not be jailed for holding those in power to account for doing our jobs.
STELTER: And where do people go when they want to help CPJ?
GINSBERG: They go to cpj.org.
STELTER: Well, it's easy. GINSBERG: It's really easy. And one of the things I think we can really do and what I really want to do is to help people understand -- one of your previous guests talked about this, I want to really help people understand that journalism is a public good. Journalists are not some rarefied individuals doing something that is not connected to our day to day. We heard from --
STELTER: Right, they're just members of the people -- Republic, like the rest of us, yes.
GINSBERG: They're a member of the public like the rest of us whose work is to help us live our best lives --
STELTER: To make it way better.
GINSBERG: To make sure that we can do our jobs. And that's what I want to really do, is help people understand that and see it as a positive for everyone.
STELTER: It's a great way to put it. Jodie, thank you so much. Nice talking with you.
STELTER: And thanks for joining us this week. We'll see you this time next week for much more RELIABLE SOURCES.