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Arab Spring 10 Years Later; Interview With 'Washington Post' Executive Editor Marty Baron. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired January 29, 2021 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): After a stellar career spanning half a century and all of the major news stories of our time, Marty Baron says farewell. We
get his first TV interview since saying he will step down as "The Washington Post" executive editor.
Then: Ten years since the Arab Spring, what is there to show for it? I ask two women who played a part in those revolutions that sparked so much hope.
CHRIS YOUNG, FORMER INMATE: I did commit crimes, but he seen past and understand I was a human.
AMANPOUR: A judge and a young man he sent us to life in prison tell our Michel Martin how, together, they won his freedom.
CICELY TYSON, ACTRESS: I could not afford the luxury of just being an actress.
AMANPOUR: Screen legend and civil rights activist. Remembering Cicely Tyson, dead at 96.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone.
This week, one of the world's great news leaders announced that he's stepping down from one of the world's great newspapers.
Martin "Marty" Baron, who is the executive editor of "The Washington Post," said he will be stepping down next month. Now, his time at the top spanned
the second Obama term and the Trump presidency. The whiplash from one to the next was intense, as the paper, like so many news organizations, had to
hold a norm-busting president accountable and do battle with his avalanche of lies.
Before "The Post," Baron led "The Miami Herald" and "The Boston Globe" newspapers, breaking massive stories and collecting multiple Pulitzer
Prizes along the way. Perhaps most famously, he was in charge of "The Globe" when it exposed systemic pedophilia and child abuse by the Catholic
Church, an investigation that was adapted into the famous Oscar-winning film "Spotlight."
And Marty Baron is joining us now for his first television interview since announcing his retirement.
So, welcome to the program.
I want to ask you why, with such an illustrious position, being at the top of what's been a complete news environment, certainly for the last four
years, why do you want to step down from this position now?
MARTY BARON, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I'm beyond the normal retirement age. I have been at this for a very long time. I have
been the top editor of a news organization for 20 years, and I have been working in the business for 45.
And it's an exhausting job. It's 24/7, 365, and essentially every minute of every day in the Internet era. And so -- and "The Post" is in a great
position right now. And so I feel like it's an appropriate time to step away and enjoy some more personal time and personal liberty.
AMANPOUR: How difficult was it to be a newspaper editor in the time of Trump? Famously, in the year after he was inaugurated, you instituted "The
Post"'s first ever slogan or first ever headline, in which you wrote, "Democracy Dies in Darkness."
That was the rallying cry for your newspaper. Tell me about what -- the thought that went into actually doing that, first time in 240 years at "The
BARON: Well, it wasn't connected to Trump.
It was -- when Jeff Bezos acquired us in 2013, he wanted to have a motto that captured the essence of our mission at "The Post." And, of course,
"The Post" has had a long history and a heritage of shining light in dark corners, of holding power to account. And we were trying to come up with a
motto that would encapsulate that.
And "Democracy dies in darkness" is an adaptation of a phrase that was used by a judge at the time of Watergate. And Bob Woodward, the famous "Post"
journalist, had been using that phrase a lot in his own speech, speaking engagements around the country, and it seemed appropriate.
That is our mission, is to shine a light in dark corners. Democracy depends on that. And that's a motto that, while we created it during the Trump
administration, it was not targeted at the Trump administration, and it's one that we will maintain during the Biden administration.
AMANPOUR: And yet, Marty, you had a whole team, I think headed by Glenn Kessler, who was devoted to fact-checking the president and did it for
many, many other news organizations, who would pick up what you would report.
I mean, I think it's something like -- and you can correct me -- more than 37,000 lies and disinformation and misinformation that came from the
president over the last four years.
Beyond those numbers, how -- what kind of corrosive effect do you think it had on you, your reporters, and the public space in general to be doing
battle with a U.S. president so publicly for so long?
BARON: Well, it was a bit over 30,000 of false and misleading statements by President Trump.
And, obviously, our job is to hold him accountable for those. We would do the same and will do the same and are doing the same for President Biden.
We were characterized as enemy of the people, as garbage, scum, the lowest form of humanity, the lowest form of life, by former President Trump.
But, as I said long ago, we were not at war. We were at work. We have our work cut out for us as journalists. And that is to, as I said, hold power
to account. That's why we have the First Amendment in the United States. That's what James Madison had in mind when he helped craft that amendment.
He was the primary author of it.
And so that is our work. It is our work. It was our work during the Trump administration. It remains our work today. And we just have to stick to it
and not be distracted by the attacks upon us.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you, because, certainly, I think it was your fellow executive editor at "The New York Times," Dean Baquet, who was asked
very, very early on whether "The New York Times" or the press in general should be the opposition to this kind of president.
And he sort of batted away and said, no, we need to do our job.
Did you ever feel that, apart from doing your job and holding everybody accountable, that you also, as time went on, were sort of de facto an
BARON: I did not feel that way. I don't -- I am not an activist. Our institution is not an activist institution. We believe that our mission is
to get at the facts and to get at the truth.
And if we're an activist for anything, we're an activist for facts and for truth. And it wasn't an act of opposition to the president. It's an act of
-- an active effort to get the facts and to get at truth.
AMANPOUR: Did you ever imagine, given that "The Washington Post" is synonymous with holding presidents accountable -- you mentioned Watergate.
Obviously, that was during the reign of Ben Bradlee, Woodward and Bernstein, and that nobody thought -- a president had never done anything
like that before. And he had to resign.
Did you ever think that it was possible that this could happen, like what happened over the last four years, and particularly with the denying of the
election, and then the insurrection on January 6? Did you ever think you would see that in America?
BARON: I did not, until, let's say, the last year, where Donald Trump was indicating that he would not accept the results of the election. He said
early on that he would not agree to a peaceful transfer of power.
He was suggesting prior to the election that there would be -- that he said there would be fraud, even though there was no evidence of that during the
election, any substantial fraud. And so I came to anticipate it over the last -- over the last year.
Certainly, his resistance to accepting the results of the election, I anticipated that. I anticipated that he would try to hold onto office until
the very last moment. But I never anticipated an attack on the Capitol, and what that really amounts to, which is an attack on our democracy.
AMANPOUR: And what do you think going forward for whoever comes off to you, all the journalists, all the other news organizations who have to
compete with now conspiracy theories, lies, a complete and utter delegitimization -- or certainly a growing attack on the truth?
I just want to read you this from Edelman. They have a trust barometer. They said that 56 percent of Americans agree with the statement that --
quote -- "Journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations."
How did we get to this point? And how dangerous is that for a democracy like the United States, one that's, frankly, somewhat fragile?
BARON: Well, I think it's very dangerous.
I think that, in order to have a democracy, we have to have a common -- we have to agree on a common set of facts. In a democracy, there should be a
vigorous and vibrant debate about the challenges that we face. There should be a vigorous and vibrant debate about how we address those challenges.
That's what a democracy is all about.
But we have to work from the same set of facts. And these days, we can't seem to agree on what happened -- what happened yesterday. And how do we
operate in an environment like that? How do we have a democracy in an environment like that?
How do we -- how does the press operate in an environment like that, where people sort of reflexively dismiss and deny real reporting that has been
done to uncover the facts? It's hard to say how that's going to all turn out.
And I think also another issue that's been raised -- and, in fact, I spoke to you own media columnist Margaret Sullivan about this a week or so ago.
How much oxygen or media time do you give anybody, whether it's the president or anybody, who you know is lying and fomenting disinformation?
And this is what she said to me about a conversation that actually in "The Post" newsroom you had on -- in 2016, when he won, when pretty much
everybody thought Hillary was going to win. But you had to decide how to then cover the Trump administration. This is what she said to me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARGARET SULLIVAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": No one's suggesting, oh, don't tell people what the president said. But we have to provide context in real
time. We should not be providing a platform for damaging lies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Marty, this is a big, big, big issue, because whether it's the lies of a president, whether it's this completely bonkers QAnon woman
who everybody seems to be -- keep giving her the oxygen of air, despite the very dangerous things that she's been saying, whether it's even denying
climate change or being falsely equivalent on climate change, where do you draw the line?
BARON: Well, it's hard to say.
Donald Trump was president of the United States. What he said and what he believed and the policies that he implemented had a tremendous impact on
this country, and, in fact, on the entire world. So, we have to cover -- we had to cover what he was doing. There was no way that we could ignore that.
I agree with Margaret that we need to put that all in context in real time. But I think we also have to remember that his followers are not necessarily
getting their information from "The Washington Post" or from "The New York Times" or any other mainstream media outlets, except maybe Fox News.
And so they -- it almost doesn't matter how we do it, because, whatever we do, they're going to deny it and dismiss it, and they're going to see us as
the enemy. That's exactly what Donald Trump had in mind in demonizing us and in delegitimizing us, is, the objective there was to ensure that his
followers paid no attention whatsoever to what we reported and what we wrote.
And, to that extent, he's had a fair amount of success, unfortunately.
How we get beyond that, how we solve for that, I don't know. His followers have their own sources of information, as we all know. Some of them are
more mainstream like FOX. Then there are the other networks like OAN and Newsmax.
And then there are social media outlets where people exchange so-called information, which, in fact, is not information at all, a lot of falsehoods
and conspiracy -- crazy conspiracy theories and lies and all of that.
But it's not just a matter of what we in mainstream media do. It's where people are getting their information. And the fact is, is that people are
searching out information that affirms their preexisting point of view. That is what they are believing, is whatever affirms their preexisting
point of view.
And anything that challenges it, they dismiss and they deny.
AMANPOUR: Yes, it's really dangerous. And we certainly have our work cut out for us.
Of all the stories that you have led and all the Pulitzer Prizes you have won throughout your career, I wonder what stories, if you can, you think of
most consequential. There was the "Boston Globe" scoop over the Catholic Church sexual abuse story from -- and child pedophilia.
AMANPOUR: You broke the Snowden papers about the surveillance and also the Afghanistan papers, which were huge, which -- just recently, and showed
that there was so much lying going on about the bombing there from the U.S. -- from the U.S. side.
What, when you look back, do you think is your most consequential story?
BARON: Well, it's a little hard to pick. But you mentioned several of them there as well, as coverage of the Trump administration.
But I think the stories about the Catholic Church are, in many ways, the most important, because we challenged a very powerful institution, what was
then the most powerful institution in New England. We unearthed a cover-up that had taken place over the course of decades.
And the reason I mention that story is because of the impact that it had on ordinary people. There were survivors and victims of abuse who were not --
had not been listened to. They had not been listened to by law enforcement. They had not been listened to by politicians. And they had not been
listened to adequately by the press.
And, finally, we listened to them. And they had something very powerful to say. And those had a tremendous impact over the long run, not just on the
church, but on other institutions as well.
AMANPOUR: Well, look, I want to play a little clip from the film. You were famously played by Liev Schreiber. He was Marty Baron in "Spotlight."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SPOTLIGHT")
LIEV SCHREIBER, ACTOR: We need to focus on the institution, not the individual priests, practice and policy. Show me the church manipulated the
system, so that these guys wouldn't have to face charges. Show me they put those same priests back into parishes time and time again.
Show me this was systemic, that it came from the top down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, what do you think when you see that?
And it's really important. You didn't want just them going after individuals. You wanted to get the head of this monster.
Well, first of all, Liev Schreiber did a great job. And more to your question, it was not just a matter of exposing abuse within the Catholic
Church, that there was substantial clergy abuse. There had been cases reported prior to that.
What we needed to show is that there -- this had been systemic, and had it been covered up, that when the church became aware of these cases of abuse,
it chose to do nothing, betraying its own parishioners, the most devoted, most devout people within the church, and that it did it time and time
again merely to protect people within the hierarchy of the church.
We did expose that. We expose that by getting internal church documents. We went to court for that. We exposed it because of the reporting that the
staff at "The Boston Globe" did. And that was the achievement.
And it was all to the benefit of survivors, who had not been -- had not been listened to adequately before. And I do think that has changed our
perspective on abuse survivors of every type in a variety of institutions in this country and around the world. And it continues to put pressure on
the Catholic Church to address -- address this issue, which continues to need addressing.
AMANPOUR: Well, I just want to, in closing, read a bit of a tribute actually from one of your former employees, Sacha Pfeiffer. She was a
member of the Spotlight team at "The Boston Globe."
And this is what she said about you to "The New York Times."
"It's well known that Marty is not warm and fuzzy, but he's one of the best editors I have ever had, because he has an excellent moral compass, an
uncanny instinct for what could make a good story. And he seems to be fearless. He knows how hard reporting can be."
How does that sound, particularly fearless? Because you take on institutions like the church.
BARON: Well, it sounds great. And I appreciate what Sacha, what Sacha said. That was very, very kind.
I think I have a strong sense of mission, strong sense of purpose. I'm willing to stick to it, regardless of the pressures that we face. And we
face enormous pressures. And I have been gratified to be surrounded by journalists who feel the same.
And I think that's why we have done as well as we have. I think that's why we have been able to bring power -- to hold power to account. And I think
all of that accounts for the success that we have had at "The Washington Post."
AMANPOUR: Well, we wish you good luck.
Marty Baron, thank you for being with us. And congratulations on an amazing career. Thank you.
Now, cast your mind back, everyone, exactly 10 years ago to a heady time of street protests and revolutions. It was known as the Arab Spring. From
Tunisia to Egypt, Libya to Yemen and Syria, young people rose up to shake off their dictators and finally try to grab their freedom, or so they
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Something I have never seen before, a phalanx of men on horseback and on camels.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one is going home. No one is going to go home.
We're in this until the end, even if it means we're going to die.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It started with one man in one country Tunisia, who set himself on fire when the police confiscated his fruit cart, leaving him
with no way to make money.
Egyptians filled Tahrir Square in the center of Cairo, protesting for weeks. Their demand? Longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak has to go. By February,
he was gone.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you ever imagine that this would be happening in Egypt?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never. One month ago, I would never imagine. You told me -- I'm a young man, and I always believed that my generation will never
make any history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: They did make history 10 years ago. But what began with such youthful fervor descended into civil wars, the rise of militants, and even
Joining me now to discuss is the award-winning Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif, who had also taken part in the Tahrir Square protests, and Amna
Guellali, who became a human rights activist after the fall of the Tunisian dictator. She's now Amnesty International's deputy director in the region.
Welcome, both of you, to the program.
Amna, can I start with you? Because it really was Tunisia and the self- immolation of the fruit seller that started this, that launched all of this. Just cast your mind back. And what were you thinking then?
AMNA GUELLALI, DEPUTY REGIONAL DIRECTOR FOR MIDDLE EAST, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Well, first of all, thank you for inviting me on the
At the time when Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire and all the protests erupted throughout the country, we didn't really think that, a month later,
we -- there would be the fall of the regime. We thought that there is a movement that is really incredibly powerful, but that it will run against
also a very important repression. There were people who were killed.
And nobody really expected that, on the 14th of January, Ben Ali would flee the country, after more than -- after tens of years in power. And so this
was really a moment of incredible strength, a moment of inspiration for all of the people who took to the streets, because they really saw that their
demands and their desire to get rid of the dictatorship were successful, and that we had a new country to build.
That was really what people felt at the time, that we need to build new foundations in Tunisia.
And, actually, Tunisia has emerged better than most. And we will get back to what's happening there now.
But, Ahdaf Soueif, it happened in Egypt about a month later about this time 10 years ago. And you were there. Tell me what has been the result. We
asked, what has the region got to show for it? What has Egypt got to show for the Tahrir Square revolution?
AHDAF SOUEIF, EGYPTIAN NOVELIST AND ACTIVIST: Well, that's something, of course, Christiane, that we discussed ad infinitum.
We're actually in a much worse place now than we were 10 years ago, in terms of the deterioration of the country, in terms of the hollowing out of
institutions, the economy, and certainly human rights.
However, it -- a revolution provides a kind of benchmark, a kind of moment in history that we can refer to. And, also, it has created an amount of
change in people's -- a huge amounts of change, I think, in people's psyches, if you like. There's a much higher level of political awareness
And there's kind of more interest in information. And some of the societal things that continue and the initiatives that happen are children of their
evolution. They're small, and they're simply sort of things to do with similar services and so on, but they are the things that people can do
which will not land them in prison.
And you can see the thread of thought that stems from the revolution into them.
AMANPOUR: So, let me go back to Amna, because, again, Tunisia does seem to have done the best, at least in terms of carving out some certainly space
for free speech, and your people have a lot more opportunity there.
But, as you said, there's a huge now -- people on the street again, because the economic promises and the promises of jobs were never met.
I'm just going to play a little sound bite from somebody in Tunisia talking about this aspect.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAGHDA FHOULA, PROTESTER (through translator): Today, after 10 years since the December 14 protest, the so-called revolution, we still have the same
demands, the same slogans. And this is the biggest proof that what is called a revolution did not happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, it's quite dramatic, Amna, because the figures show -- and this is quite sad -- that young Tunisians are joining jihadi groups in huge
numbers. They're by -- the largest group to try to get out and reach Italy by sea.
These are things that have been going on over the last 10 years. Where do you see your country going now?
GUELLALI: I believe that the reason why people rose up against the regime were not totally addressed during the democratic transition.
Tunisia had a relatively successful transition, compared to other countries, from the Arab Spring, which descended into chaos or civil war or
backsliding into dictatorship.
But the very root causes of why people took to the streets 10 years ago on the level of their livelihood has not been addressed. And the deep and
comprehensive reforms that were really needed in order to have a clean break with the dictatorship did not also happen.
And so that is why people are still really angry. There is a lot of unsatisfaction and frustration in Tunisia, because, for example, the
economy has -- that was used by the former regime did not at all undergo any kind of reform. The cronyism, the predatory practices did not change.
And, also, the kind of reforms that were needed at the level of the security services at the institutional level really also did not happen.
So, we have still a large part of the population in Tunisia, especially in the inland regions, that feel and believe that they are disenfranchised
from the state.
They feel alienated because they face in their everyday life the kind of repression that was going on under Ben Ali, but that is not totally gone,
because the security services continue, for example, to commit all kinds of abuses. They are not -- these people, these young men and women are not
reintegrated in a way in the economy so that they feel part of building the society.
And they feel that their demands are not met, that nobody really listens to them. The political class is so totally embroiled into its own squabbles
and infighting, that it's completely autistic (ph) to the demands of the people.
And this is what we are seeing right now, this young population, young men and women who cannot take it anymore.
AMANPOUR: Ahdaf Soueif, let me ask you, from your perspective, because, obviously, Egypt has been the powerhouse of the region. And, generally, it
was said what happens in Egypt happens around, and the poverty is terrible there as well.
We understand that the Middle East has the worst youth unemployment in the world, and that things have got worse for people in the last 10 years, not
What is the state of play and the state of dissatisfaction in Asia? Because, unlike in Tunisia, right, they can't complain. They just get
hauled off and put into jail.
No, the possibility of actually speaking up or organizing or making demands or trying to change things at the moment are very, very slim, indeed. I
mean, the authorities have made it their business to close down every possible avenue of -- of organizing, of talking to each other, of reaching
out to other people. It's -- it's pretty dire. But the level of dissatisfaction is very high.
The economy is doing that, you know, liberal thing of looking very good at the macro level, but in fact, the level of poverty is getting higher. There
are more people in poverty. There are things that we see people sleeping rough, people eating out of, you know, dust bins that we never ever see in
Egypt. And the policies of the authority are really cutting huge swathes through people's lives, through the urban fabric that they live in, through
nature. So, it's not good.
However, because it is so unstable and because people are so dissatisfied, you are always sort of, you know, wondering when the moment will come and
what it will look like and what would happen next. I should say though, actually, also, that no country is going to sort of fix it itself on its
own, and certainly Egypt is not going to fix itself on its own. It's part of a continuum of failures of, you know, attempts at democracy, of
neoliberal capitalism, of surveillance that are running across the world, and that the world is starting to actually resist together.
AMANPOUR: Well, you know, surveillance -- I just want to read you this from "The Economist." The tight political space of Hosni Mubarak's Egypt,
that's the leader who obviously was deposed in the Arab Spring, looks positively freewheeling compared with todays.
According to "The Washington Post," there are 60,000 Egyptians in prison whereas under Mubarak, there were maybe 10,000. And you, yourself, Ahdaf,
were briefly detained. You have had family members who have been detained for a while and, you know, with no recourse to due process whatsoever.
SOUEIF: No, it is -- that's one of the major problems that we have is the level of cooptation that has happened to the judiciary and the way that
justice is withheld and that is done through laws and through -- you know, through passing new laws and through also using loopholes in existing laws
to keep people in prison for long times without any due process.
And as you say, yes, my nephew and my niece are both in prison and my nephew, in particular, has served six years. And the thing is, actually,
that the common factor in the people who are in imprison, the people who are called activists, if you like, the secular ones and so on, and the
young ones is that there are people who -- they were professionally very, very good at what they did.
There are various professions, I mean, whether it was I.T. or journalism or the law or whatever, but there are also other people who are not in
ideological straitjackets. They are young people who are very well informed, who are switched on, who are in contact with the outside world,
and who are very naturally inclined to reach out across boundaries and who are able to make common cause and to work with people who are not exactly
like themselves or who are very different from themselves, and that is what we saw and what was proved in the first year of the revolution. They are
also very, very good at communication, and they are charismatic.
And so, really these are the people who would naturally evolve into leaders, and this is why they are being kept in prison.
AMANPOUR: It is really draconian. It's really scary actually out there. I want to ask you, Amna, about women, because obviously Tunisia one of the
countries that imposed quite a few, it looked like anyway from the outside, reforms and liberated a lot of the restrictive laws against women. Tell us,
because your region, the Arab world, the Middle East has one of the worst, you know, gender records around, what has happened for women in your
country in the last 10 years?
GUELLALI: I think that Tunisia can very accurately be described as the most progressive country for women's right in the Arab world. And this much
predates the revolution. So, since the 50s, Tunisia abundant and abolished polygamy, there were laws to give equal rights to men and women in terms
the of nationality and in the rights for abortion were upheld really very early on. And so, this is a country where indeed the women's rights were
After the revolution, there were incremental steps and more laws to consolidate women's rights, for example, the adoption of a law to fight
violence against women, which on paper had very good articles and provisions to prevent violence and to offer women remedy and protection.
There were also all kind of new provisions or laws that were adopted in order to foster equality between men and women or to establish quotas for
women in representative assemblies, and to have parity between men and women.
Unfortunately, what we see is a very big gap between these laws or these promises in those laws and the reality on the ground. So, for example, we
have parity that should be imposed for the elections, the elections for example for the parliament, but yet, this last year, in 2019, when we had
the legislative elections, only 15 percent of women were voted into the parliament which is very low compared to what we had in the beginning of
So, this means a lot in terms the of this disparity or this gap between the laws and the reality.
AMANPOUR: Right. Well, we'll keep following that. Listen, it's great that we've had you both on, Ahdaf Soueif and Amna Guellali, thank you so much
for being with us to give us this update.
And we have talked about how many people have been swept up in the prison dragnet in Egypt. In America, mass incarceration has been long been
synonymous with the United States, and many of the stories are simply extraordinary.
Take for instance Chris Young who was sentenced to life in prison at age 22 due to mandatory minimum laws after a third non-violent drug-related
conviction, that was in 2010. Kevin Sharp was the federal judge who handed down that sentence and who later resigned from his lifelong judicial
appointment. But in a twist, he went on to work with Young's legal team to overturn that sentence. They petitioned for clemency, which in fact
President Trump granted in his final hours in office. Here is our Michel Martin talking to them both about the lifechanging impact they have had on
MICHEL MARTIN, CNNI CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you, Christiane. And Judge Kevin Sharp, thank you so much for joining us.
KEVIN SHARP, FORMER JUDGE WHO SENTENCED CHRIS YOUNG TO LIFE IN PRISON: Thank you.
MARTIN: And, Chris Young, thank you so much for joining us.
CHRIS YOUNG, FORMER PRISONER, SENTENCED TO LIFE BY KEVIN SHARP: Thank you. I appreciate it.
MARTIN: Chris Young, how did you come to be at Judge Sharp's courtroom?
YOUNG: There were poor decisions, decisions that I now know could have been made that was better. But unfortunately, that those poor decisions was
like fertilizers that blossomed a beautiful relationship between me and Judge Sharp.
MARTIN: Could I just dig a little bit deeper into that, and I don't want to, you know, go into too much detail, but it is my understanding that you
kind of had a rough go of it, growing up, and not a lot of parental support. You and your brother kind of on your own. Is that about right?
YOUNG: Yes, ma'am. My mother, unfortunately, suffer from a drug addiction and that led to my brother being more than a brother. He had to be a big
brother, a father and a mother, which is a lot of stress and pressure for a young man. And unfortunately, he took his own life in 2007, the first day,
January 1, 2007.
MARTIN: Well, we share that experience. So, I experience you sharing that. How did you -- you had had some run-ins with the law prior to getting into
Judge Sharp's courtroom. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
YOUNG: Yes, ma'am. The month after my 18th birthday I had got pulled over riding with another young man, and I had some drugs the on my person. And
then literally within the next 12 months, probably 9 to 10 months later, I got pulled over again, and it was some crumbs in my carpet. Unfortunately,
those crumbs were illegal substances and that led to my second felony arrest that helped me get the mandatory minimum of the life sentence.
MARTIN: So, by the time you got the Judge Sharp's courtroom, these were all nonviolent offenses. Am I right?
YOUNG: Yes, ma'am.
MARTIN: And it just so happened that this was the third strike. Is that right?
YOUNG: Yes, ma'am.
MARTIN: Even though it was small amounts of drugs? And, Judge Sharp, you are saying this was part of this very sort of complex case. As briefly as
you can, what was Chris Young's role in this conspiracy?
SHARP: Well, that's one of the things that so bothered me about this case, because his role was very tangential in what is going on in a larger drug
conspiracy, where you had 32 people. And the way conspiracies are prosecuted, you don't have to know, if you are one of the defendants, you
don't have to know who is involved, who don't have to know what is going on in order to be swept up in the conspiracy.
And so, Chris' role was really on the fringes. He was probably the most minor player. And so, you know, that is one of the things that really
disturbed me as we go into this case. And his co-defendants are pleading guilty. The average sentence for most everyone by agreement, the average
was about 14 years. And these were the major players in this. Yet, they were getting 14 years, how is it that Chris Young is getting life? And that
had to do with a lot of the decisions that led to him deciding to take this to trial instead of pleading out.
MARTIN: Chris, can you go back to that? Why did you decide to go to trial along with the other, as Judge Sharp put it, minor players? Why is that?
YOUNG: I felt that if possible, some of the case laws could play in my favor and I could get a lower sentence due to the fact that the charges
could be reduced. I understood I did something wrong and I was willing to plead guilty but I was not willing to plead guilty to a crime that I was
not the most culpable defendant and I understood that I was facing a long time but agreeing to a long time was equal to getting a long time at trial.
So, I said, let me take my chances, and I believed hopefully the case would play in my favor, the law was not in my favor, but there's various cases
that have been ruled in certain ways that they call case laws and I was hoping they will play in my favor and I would get the charges reduced and
get a lower sentence.
MARTIN: What made you want to fight?
YOUNG: My love for me. Unfortunately, when I was in the streets doing the things I was doing, I did not love me because you cannot love yourself if
you are willing to sacrifice yourself. And as I learned that and as I began to actually care about me and love me, I wanted the judicial system to
realize that I'm a human being, I am part of humanity. I'm not just something you can throw away. I'm not just something that can be discarded
So, I wanted to go to trial, and I wanted them to realize that I am a human being that has worth and value. Unfortunately, I lost, but I am very
fortunate and blessed that in my sentencing, Judge Sharp and other people in their courtroom began to see me as more and more of a human being that
is valuable to humanity and society.
MARTIN: So, how did you prepare for the sentencing? What was on your mind as you were getting ready for that day?
YOUNG: The main thing on my mind was there's no getting around this. You are getting a life sentence. But with getting this life sentence, I could
begin a new life. I could begin the show the world that I shouldn't have a life sentence and I that should not die in prison. And that if given the
opportunity and chance, I could be beneficial to the world.
So, it was no changing the life sentence, but what I was hoping and what I did attempt to do was to change the minds of everyone in that courtroom
about if I deserve the life sentence.
MARTIN: Judge Sharp, did you know you were going to be handing out a life sentence that day? When you went to court that day, I assume you have a
docket, you know what's on it, and I was just wondering what is it like for you that day when you got up and went to court?
SHARP: Well, you know, I knew that when he went to trial what he was facing. I knew if he was found guilty there was a mandatory life sentence
and I knew that during the trial. As I am presiding over this trial, I also know at the end, he's going to be found guilty.
Chris has admitted that he did the things that he says he did. What he did not deserve for that was a life sentence. But I knew that was happening and
I knew that was happening that day. And my recollection is that I did not have anything else on the docket that day. I don't believe I did anything
but to think about Chris.
When Chris started to allocate every criminal defendant as they're being sentence, before they are sentenced, has an opportunity to speak to the
court and say whatever they want to say. And usually, it's not much. They may say they're sorry, they may wave that altogether, they may speak a
little bit to their family, but Chris stood up and started talking about all of the things that he would do if and when he gets out. And I -- my
initial reaction is, what are you talking about, we both know you are not getting out. I haven't said life in prison yet but I will when you're done.
But then I began to realize exactly what he was doing and he was successful. I started to realize, what a waste. This is -- you know, I
intuitively knew that but then when Chris stands up and starts talking about history and starts talking about his own history, the history of this
country, historical figures in world history and then what he would do were he not going to die in prison, it was, you know, like a lightning bolt,
what in the world are we doing? This man doesn't deserve life. He deserves punishment. And let me mete out that punishment.
Because one of the things that I found frustrating was that all of the work and investigations and vetting that it takes to become a judge to make sure
that they are putting the right person in that position. The most important thing being, that I have the judgment to make these kinds of decisions. And
then instead what you do is you take that discretion away from me and you give it to someone else knowing nothing about the human being that I am
about to sentence.
And so, that was what really struck me as this process was going on and Chris spoke for at least 45 minutes, maybe more. And then we started to
engaging in a conversation, which I had never done with a defendant before. I may say something here or there, acknowledge them, acknowledge what they
say, but not engage in conversations and then we started talking about music and books, and he was a human being.
MARTIN: What were you doing there? Is it that you just could not let it go or you just could not stand what was about to happen? What were you doing?
SHARP: Delaying the inevitable.
MARTIN: You wanted to give him a few more minutes as human being?
MARTIN: Judge, you did something remarkable after that. You actually left the bench in part because of this. Do you want to tell me about that? What
-- tell me what was going through your mind.
SHARP: Well, you know, Chris was not the only one. There were lots of sentences that I thought were unfair, mandatory minimums, took away the
discretion that you hire me to do, and I became a messenger, and I had to decide where I am most useful? And the answer could have been staying on
the bench and complaining every time I had to do something like this, or it could have been step down and take this on.
And it really could have gone either way except that there was a law firm out there that said, we want you, we want you to come work with us, and
we're going to give you the platform and the opportunity to talk about these things and make a living and take care of your family. And so, that
is what I did. I mean, I could have stayed. I just -- when I had to think, am I more valuable to society on the bench or off of the bench, I came to
decision that it was off of the bench.
MARTIN: Chris, what happened? At some point, you had to have heard that Judge Sharp had stepped down after your case. Do you remember how you heard
about that and what you thought when you did?
SHARP: Yes, ma'am. I logged in to check my e-mails and I had one from an auntie and a friend and then another friend who's actually a journalist who
did an article on me. And all of the subject lines kept saying, you are in the paper, you are in the paper. Judge Sharp is speaker about you. So, I
hurried up and clicked into the message and it was breathtaking. It was the best part of not only that day, not just that week or that month, but of my
whole incarceration. It was something that empowered me and galvanized me to feel like, OK, I got some more fight in me. Let's go. Let's win this and
MARTIN: So, Judge Sharp, you stepped down from the bench. How did you get involved in Chris' case?
SHARP: Well, it is interesting. When I stepped down, I heard almost immediately from Brittany. Mrs. Barnett called me. Said, I read the story,
there have been at several articles about this, and she had read one of them and she was taking on Chris' case and asked if I would help and get
involved, and the answer was, of course. And look, if you need me to go through the trial transcript and figure out what I did wrong, I will do it.
Now, I have been through it before and I can't -- I don't see where I did anything improper or wrong in the trying of this case, made any rulings
that we're going to make a difference and no one found those. But I told her look, if you see them, I don't see them. If you see them, let me know
and I'll fall on my sword in a heartbeat. If I made a mistake, let's fix it. We didn't see that.
But as she started to filling up clemency paperwork, I came in, helped her with that, submitted my own letter asking the president for clemency.
MARTIN: And you actually went to the White House, as I understand it, to lobby along with Kim Kardashian West and lobbied President Trump for
clemency for -- not just for Chris Young, but I guess to also to elevate the whole issue around mandatory minimums. How did that happen?
SHARP: Kim Kardashian got involved through Brittany. The -- in the September of '18, she got me an invitation to a roundtable meeting at the
White House led by Jared Kushner on the issue of clemency. In general, how this process works, what is wrong with this process, and that meeting
lasted for about an hour-and-a-half. And really, I looked around the room and though, you know, you have got some of the best minds on this.
MARTIN: And just fast forward though, this was one of President Trump's last acts in office, right, as I am understanding it in January.
MARTIN: So, just, Chris, take me back to that. How did you find out that, in fact, your clemency petition had been approved and you would be free?
How did you find out?
YOUNG: Well, Mrs. Brittany (INAUDIBLE) had won an argument through the courts to get my sentenced corrected to 14 years, which makes me no longer
classified as a maximum-security inmate. So, due to COVID-19, I couldn't be transferred so they could put me in the SHU, which is the Segregated
Housing Unit. Most guys in prison call it the hole. And we called it the hole for a reason because, unfortunately, it's like you're in a dungeon.
So, I am hungry and I'm waiting on lunch. So, when I heard some keys, I know it's a guard coming, so I'm thinking it's lunch. I was very surprised
to see it was a lieutenant and he was smiling really hard. He was saying, Young, do you want good news? I said, what? What are you talk about? He
said, are you going to cry? I said what are you talking about? He said, I was to tell you you're going home right now, would you cry? I said, if it
don't come out right now, it's going to come eventually. But yes, I'm going to cry. And he said, well, come on, man, you got immediate release.
When he unlocked that hole that they feed us through, he said, come on, man. Cuff up, man. You're getting ready to go home, it was breathtaking to
the point where I honestly think that I did hold my breath for about four or five minutes. It took me to get up there in R&D to get processed, to get
released for me to realize that it is real and to breath and take my time and absorb it.
MARTIN: Judge, you were there when Mr. Young came out. What was that like?
SHARP: That -- you know, the last time I had seen Chris, he was in an orange jumpsuit, and I was telling him that his life sentence was imposed.
Now, I saw him coming out in civilian clothes and his fresh haircut and a big smile on his face as he is coming down the terminal at the airport, you
know, that was one -- give me a hug. This is an unbelievable moment.
MARTIN: Chris, what about you? What went through your mind when you saw, of all people, of all people, Judge Sharp standing there?
YOUNG: I have held back tears during this interview and almost every time I've seen him, because the level of courage and temerity it took to speak
out in my behalf, like I told him, he is changing the world, because he is helping break stereotypes, he's helping break barriers. How many times have
you seen an older white male speak out on the behalf of a younger black male who did something wrong? I did commit crimes.
But he seen past that and understand that I was a human. He understood that I was conscious, that I needed to change some ways. And he understood that
my acknowledgment led to my improvement, and he seen me as the human being I was and value.
So, when I actually seen him, I was ecstatic. I was emotional. I have cried several times due to the fact of his support and the hard work of Ms.
Brittany K. Barnett and the attention and the excitement that Kim Kardashian has brought, and due to the fact of seeing my niece. When I
left, she was eight years old, now, she is 19 years old. So, went from a child to a young lady. I've cried over the guys that I had to leave behind,
unfortunately, because I'm not the only person who was buried alive. That's why Ms. Brittany K. Barnett has the Buried Alive Project because we need to
reach back and dig those people (INAUDIBLE) because they're living waiting to die, unfortunately, for something that is not worth being killed over.
MARTIN: Kevin Sharp, Your Honor, Chris Young, thank you both so much for speaking with us.
SHARP: Thank you for giving us the time.
YOUNG: Yes, ma'am, it was an honor.
AMANPOUR: What an amazing story. And finally, we remember the barrier- breaking actress, Cicely Tyson, who has died at the age of 96. Her career spanned six decades and included major roles in film, theater and
television from "Sounder" to "Root" and more recently, "How to Get Away with Murder." Tyson was awarded the presidential medal of freedom by Barack
Obama in 2016.
That is all for now. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.