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Report: WH House Considers Changing Libel Laws; WH Defends Trump's Praise of N Korean Leader; Parents Speak Out on Son Detained in N Korea. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired May 1, 2017 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump is considering how to make it easier to sue the media. Trump's chief of staff says the administration is looking at changing liable laws.


REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It's something we have looked at and how that gets executed or whether that goes anywhere is a different story. When you have articles out there that have no basis in fact and we're sitting here on 24/7 cable companies writing stories about constant contacts with Russia and all these other matters.

REPORTER: You think the President should be able to sue "The New York Times" for stories he doesn't like?

PRIEBUS: I think that newspapers and news agencies need to be more responsible with how they report the news.


BROWN: Joining me now an attorney specializing in liable and defamation. Libby, you say the white house has a point here when it comes to wanting to change liable laws. Why?

LIBBY LOCKE, ATTORNEY SPECIALIZING IN LIBEL-DEFAMATION LAW: That is absolutely right, let's be clear, the first amendment is important. It guarantees a free press but doesn't guarantee a consequence free press. The media has a mega phone that can harm and damage a person's or company's reputation with one news story.

BROWN: Doesn't the President continually as you hear him say CNN is fake news. Doesn't the President have the same thing?

LOCKE: The President is held to a higher standard when it comes to suing the media. He's a public figure. But the courts have issued decisions that have been overly protective of the media and the first amendment when it comes to considering who is a public figure and private figure. Real reform is needed.

BROWN: We're going to get to that in a moment. I want to go to Erik and get your reaction. This is not the first time the President has attacked the media. He spent much of his Saturday rally continuing his feud. Let's listen to that. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Let's rate the media's 100 days. They are a disgrace. Media outlets like CNN and MSNBC are fake news. Take the totally failing "New York Times." they write nasty editorials and op-eds to Washington media is part of the problem.

I think we would all agree the media deserves a very, very big fat failing grade.


BROWN: So, you heard what President Trump said. We heard that many times. You heard what Libby said here. What's your reaction?

ERIK WEMPLE, MEDIA CRITIC, THE WASHINGTON POST: What Libby is saying and Trump is saying I think it is important to distinguish between those two. What President Trump appears to want is an easier job in basically suing companies and news organizations that have reported honestly and very factually about him. That's a load of trash. Now I would point out, too, that Trump is more likely to be a defendant in liable and defamation cases than a plaintiff. There's an example here. Cheri Jacobus has sued Donald Trump for calling her a real dummy and a loser. This is back in February of 2016.

He called her these things and said, no, that's protected opinion. So, these liable laws are generous in ways that have already helped Donald Trump. What Libby is talking about some reform between how courts handle private figures and public figures isn't something that really as far as I can see that the white house could do by snapping its fingers at any case. I'd like to hear a little more from her about that. She happens to be the lawyer that sued the pants off of "Rolling Stone." I believe they got a nice settlement there. I cheered on that lawsuit. I thought they deserved to have their pants sued off.

LOCKE: That was a lawsuit that required many years of litigation and millions of dollars to prosecute that litigation and that just demonstrates how hard it is to sue the media and overcome the standards that are imposed on it. Which are, yes, constitutional standards, but I think one of the first and foremost things the administration can do is appoint judges who understand that the first amendment guarantees a free press, but not a consequence free press.

[15:35:00] BROWN: I was going to ask. Do you think it's a consequence free press?

WEMPLE: No, I don't. We get hammered when we get things wrong. Whether they are happy with the settlements from it media organizations when these things happen is another matter. I would point out that President Trump seems very happy with his appointment with Neil Gorsuch, but Neil didn't come out of those confirmation hearings saying we need to look at liable laws. I think he's happy with the state of law in this area. I'd like you to forward some names of some judges that would tinker with the system. LOCKE: I don't think the President is looking for easy defamation

suits. I think he's looking for a level playing field. In state after state, there are is a thumb that is on the scale to protect the media. They can say things with impunity and ruin people's lives and reputations. They have shorter statute of limitation an any other claim. In some states have held that the institutes that are enacted deprive from the right to a jury trial. It's incredible what these institutes do. The media is protected from answering questions in civil discovery in a way that other civil defendants are not. So. I think the President has a point in asking not for easier defamation suits, but the level playing field.

BROWN: Erik, you disagree?

WEMPLE: I think we can have that debate, but that's not what President Trump is doing. Have you heard him talk about slap suits? Thresholds for testifying in these things? Have you heard them talk about the media's right to not being subpoenaed and testify in these situations? I don't think he's talking about that. I think he's talking about he wants to be able to sue the media because he doesn't like criticism.

BROWN: It is true that he says fake news on stories. That are based in fact.

LOCKE: These kinds of protections are what allow them to run amok. There's less of a fear in the newsroom and editing room for making sure you get it right. What other profession?

BROWN: That's not the case in this newsroom.

LOCKE: Lawyers, doctors, accountants, when they damage someone and they hurt someone, they are held to account in a way that the media just isn't these days.

BROWN: Just really quickly.

WEMPLE: I disagree. I have seen the suits that you bring that do bring a considerable amount of oversight. I must say fear and caution into newsrooms. The case I just wrote about that you brought against CNN itself. And the story about the Florida hospital and pediatric surgery. I think that's a well-crafted complaint. I think it has a ripple effect across newsrooms to be really careful. I have sat in hundreds of meetings with lawyers talking about liable law, talking about the various thresholds with private and public figures.

[15:40:00] I don't think you understand how carefully we do take our job to get things straight and to protect people that we're writing about.

LOCKE: I'm thot saying all journalists are careless. There's a poll that just came out yesterday or the day before yesterday that a majority of Americans believe the media is out of touch. There was a UVA poll in there that came out that 81 percent of Trump supporters agree with his statements that the media is -- BROWN: There's clearly a trust issue at play here. But the notion of

changing liable laws would be -- it is impractical it you take a step back and include having the supreme court weigh in. This is an interesting discussion. Thank you so much to both of you. We do appreciate that very interesting discussion there.

President Trump says he's honored, would be honored to meet with Kim Jong-Un. I'm going to get reaction from the parents of an American who has been sentenced to 15-years hard labor by the oppressive regime. What they want the Trump administration to know about their son. We'll be back.


BROWN: We have been telling you the past couple hours, President Trump is ready to break with U.S. policy and says he would be quote, honored, to meet with Kim Jong-Un if the circumstances were right. It is a stunning policy shift, but it likely welcome news to the imprisoned 22-year-old American being held in North Korea. And desperately hoping their son will be released as part of any negotiations. Otto Warmbier was arrested in January of 2016 after being accused of taking a propaganda sign from a hotel. At the time, he was a 21-year-old economics major from the University of Virginia. He has decided to stop by North Korea during a study abroad trip. The young man is now serving 15 years of hard labor in a North Korean prison.

His sentencing was the last time he was seen in public. With me now are the parents, Fred and Cindy. Thank you both so much for taking the time to talk with us. I know you're going through such an incredibly difficult time with your son being in North Korea and the uncertainty surrounding all of this. I want to first get your reaction, Fred, to President Trump saying that he would be honored to meet with the controversial North Korean leader.

FRED WARMBIER, FATHER OF IMPRISONED SON IN NORTH KOREA: Thank you for having us. Cindy and I are encouraged by this. Our mission is to bring our son home. And President Trump's willingness to focus on the big picture, the relationship between the United States and North Korea, anything he can do towards improving that and also including Otto in the solution and making him a part of the solution I think is good and honestly, I think it's going to be good for our country. We're very happy about this.

BROWN: And during the Obama administration, U.S. officials advise you to keep silent. Am I right? To avoid antagonizing North Korea. Tell me why you have decided to speak out, Cindy?

CINDY WARMBIER: It's time. With tensions as high as they are, we felt that we needed to talk about Otto and put a face on the person who is being held there for 16 months. He's a 22-year-old college student who has never been in trouble and seems to be bigger than just anything he was accused of doing. So, we are thrilled to be here and to have you voice our concerns and hopes that he will be able to be home with us soon. And I can't thank you again enough. BROWN: It's important to get your son's story out there. He's been

detained in North Korea for 16 months. Now. You haven't heard or spoken to him. Do you have any word or indications of how he's doing?

FRED WARMBIER: No, we don't. We have not -- nobody has seen or heard from him since March 3rd of 2016. That's over a year. This is a university student who was on a tour with other university students and Cindy and I believe that nothing he did or didn't do in North Korea rises to this level of punishment. So, we have had no contact with our son whatsoever.

BROWN: And let me just ask you about just the increased tensions between North Korea and the U.S. you have been seeing it play out in the last couple weeks. Knowing your son is over there and has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. What does this all feel like for you?

CINDY WARMBIER: We try as much as possible to function. We have two younger kids and e we try to function as a family unit that's kind of doing our best to get through each day. Trying to remain positive and we're really hopeful that there will be resolution.

FRED WARMBIER: Cindy had made the comment early on as this was happening that it we break down and don't set an example for our children, our community, we're going to have more than just one person in prison. So, we have worked hard to create a positive environment for our family. We're proud of that. And we're proud of Otto.

[15:50:00] BROWN: You said you're staying hopeful. There have been previous detainees who have been released after high profile Americans such as Bill Clinton, for one, have been a part of the negotiations for their release. Looking ahead, what is your hope? Have you been in discussions with the Trump administration at all?

CINDY WARMBIER: Well, our hope is that he will be home today. Our hope is that he's coming home. There seems to be, in my opinion, there seems to be attention now placed on things that were ignored before. So, I can't imagine this isn't good for our country, but more importantly for Otto and I think getting this out in the hope now is like I said, just to remind everyone that there is an issue outside of the bigger issues that we'd like included in any type of negotiation. That's bringing the detainees home and especially our son Otto.

BROWN: Just last question to you, Fred. He's not the only detainee from the U.S. in North Korea. There have been others recently. Are you concerned that perhaps your son and those other detainees could be used by North Korea or looked upon as possible bargaining chips to gain leverage when it comes to he's not the only detainee from the U.S. in North Korea. There have been others recently. Are you concerned that perhaps your son and those other detainees could be used by North Korea or looked upon as possible bargaining chips to gain leverage when it comes to escalating tensions with the United States?

FRED WARMBIER: Certainly, but Cindy and I have made the decision not to engage in politics or diplomacy here, so we want to -- our administration has big problems to focus on concerning North Korea, and we feel that they can manage two things at once if they choose to do so. One is focus on the big picture of the North Korea-U.S. relations, and in addition to that we hope and pray that they focus on Otto and the other detainees and they do two things at once, so we -- we're hopeful that both of these can be resolved.

BROWN: All right. Cindy and Fred Warmbier, thanks for coming on and saying your story. The best to you and your family for a positive outcome.

We're following breaking news on the campus of the University of Texas, Austin where at least one person is dead after a stabbing. An update in just moments.


Going to bring you an update on breaking news. A stabbing on the campus of the University of Texas, Austin.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, what's important is UT Austin is sending out some information saying the threat is over for students and staff at the University of Texas at Austin. They say there's no additional immediate threat after an afternoon deadly stabbing that took place there in the heart of the campus. The numbers that we have from Travis County suggesting two people were stabbed by this individual. One of the two stabbing victims was pronounced dead at the scene. Again, this is all taking place in the heart of the campus there. The key question what was the motive in the main headline, all clear being issued after what was quite a tense situation there, a deadly stabbing in the heart of the UT campus in downtown Austin. Pamela?

BROWN: Thanks for the latest there. Back in just a moment.