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WHO: World on Track for 300M Cases by Early 2022; Mexico's President Vows to Protect Prominent TV Anchor. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired August 12, 2021 - 00:00   ET



JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm John Vause.

Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, a military offensive by the Taliban like no other. Stunning in terms of both speed and success, bringing this question who's helping the Taliban? Where are they getting their strategic and tactical advice?

The three-year heatwave and drought were a one two punch fueling destructive wildfires across Greece in Algeria. And now comes to word that some of those fires may have been deliberately lit.

And he spent years vilifying reporters but now Mexico's president promises to defend the press after a major drug cartel threatens to kill a T.V. news anchor.

A new military offensive -- assessment rather by the U.S. military that Kabul could fall to the Taliban within weeks comes hardly a surprise given the speed of the military takeover of the country so far.

Nine provincial capitals are now under Taliban control most in the north, once a bastion of resistance to the Islamic militants but not now.

In parts, the battles have been fierce elsewhere, barely a shot has been fired in anger. But Afghanistan's foreign minister says more than 6,000 people have been killed since April. 2,000 of them are civilians.

The U.S. is still pushing for a political solution to the conflict that talks in Doha. But there are concerns about how much influence Washington can exert as it exits the country and whether the surging Taliban even want to make a deal.

Kylie Atwood reports now from the State Department.


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN U.S. SECRETARY CORRESPONDENT: The State Department said the progress for the political solution between the Afghan government and the Taliban has been painfully slow, but also continued to reiterate the U.S. position that a political solution is the only way towards peace in Afghanistan. And the State Department spokesperson said that the U.S. is pushing the international community to support intra-Afghan dialogue.

Now, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan is in Doha in talks with the Taliban. States Department says that he will urge them to stop their military offenses in Afghanistan and also urge them to engage in a negotiated political settlement.

But he himself has also said that the Taliban feel emboldened by the gains that they have made on the battlefield. And there are concerns about what kind of pressure the U.S. can really apply here. What kind of leverage the United States really has here to push the Taliban to really engage in any of these negotiations in a real way, particularly given the fact that President Biden continues to double down on his decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by later this month.

Kylie Atwood, CNN, the State Department.


VAUSE: CNN's Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward reports now on why a much smaller Taliban fighting force has been so successful against Afghan soldiers.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The reality is there isn't complete cohesion within Afghan national forces, there is a sense that morale is really low at the moment.

And understandably, Afghan soldiers don't want to die. The same cannot be said of the Taliban, there is much higher level of cohesion, command and control. For them, dying in battle is the highest possible virtue, it means you're guaranteed a place in paradise.

And so, they simply don't operate in the same way that a traditional fighting force would, which makes it a formidable enemy for the Afghan forces to try to fight back against.

We drove past a checkpoint yesterday, an Afghan small base on the edge of a major city. And we literally saw Afghan commandos running from the base, hailing down civilian cars, getting in those cars and booking it out of the area because they were coming under fire from Taliban forces.

As long as that kind of thing continues, whereby you see people deserting, running away, surrendering, then it is, you know, just a reality that the Afghan government is not going to be able to stand the test of time and face this threat from the Taliban.


VAUSE: General Wesley Clark, a CNN Military Analyst who served as NATO Supreme Allied Commander and he is with us this hour from Little Rock, Arkansas. General Clark, it's good to see you.

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Thank you, good to be with you.

VAUSE: So, the U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Wednesday, the U.S. has leverage when it comes to reining in the Taliban supporting the Afghan government but he doesn't want to give too much away. Here's what he said.


NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: I don't think it's prudent for us to preview what we might do, but the fact is that we will not hesitate.

If we think it will be in the interests of the people of Afghanistan, if we think it is an appropriate recourse to you -- to use any and all tools at our disposal. The one -- the one tool we have taken off the table, of course, is the reintroduction of U.S. servicemembers.



VAUSE: And there's the rub, that's the one tool which could be effective right now, isn't it?

CLARK: That's the problem, really, what's happening in Afghanistan right now is a consequence of, it's a tragedy, of course, for the people of Afghanistan, and for the larger region.

But it's a consequence of, in part 20 years of U.S. misjudgments and policy failures and saying that we're not going to put troops back in is, of course, just one more statement, along with the idea that you could negotiate and setup a negotiation, when you announced your intention to withdraw.

And going all the way back to 2001, when we intervened supposedly to punish Afghanistan's leaders for not turning over Osama bin Laden. But we had no plan to get Osama bin Laden. And we had no real plan to what to do if the government fell in Afghanistan.

So, everything has been -- has been air soft and it's been put together on the fly. The policies have tried to match needs on the ground with domestic politics in the United States and it's failing.

VAUSE: Very quickly, the Taliban offensive has been incredibly successful like no other the Taliban has ever waged before. Is Pakistan -- is the ISI the intelligence service from Pakistan advising the Taliban on strategy and tactics and logistical support?

CLARK: Well, certainly, you know, Pakistan's made no real secret of the fact that the Taliban were agents of Pakistan, to some extent. Now, how much control they actually have has never been totally clear to us. Certainly, Pakistan provides guidance, logistics and weapons early on.

But then it's also true that the Taliban have their own leadership and probably can argue somewhat with their Pakistani controllers. Be that as it may, the Taliban has gotten stronger and stronger.

And the United States telegraphed our moves years ago that we were coming out. And especially during the Trump administration, bold announcements of pulling back at the same time we tried to negotiate a graceful exit.

So, it's in the Taliban's interest if they really understand what the future might hold to halt the offensive operations right now. They've shown they have power, work a compromise with the government and seek continued international support.

Whether they do that or not, none of us know on the outside. My guess would be they probably cannot control their own momentum. And so, I think Kabul is in jeopardy.

VAUSE: General Clark, we will leave it there. But we'll continue the conversation next hour especially we'll talk a little bit more about Pakistan's involvement. But for now, Sir, thank you for being with us.

CLARK: Thank you.

VAUSE: Almost a year and a half, close borders spared New Zealand from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, fortress New Zealand is coming to an end with the phase reopening to the world set to begin early next year.

But first, the government plans to speed up vaccinations to blunt the impact of the Delta variant.

Manisha Tank live now for us in Singapore with more on this. And along with this sort of, you know, increased vaccinations, there is a plan, a zero COVID plan to eliminate COVID entirely.

MANISHA TANK, JOURNALIST: Yes, well, you see, New Zealand John has from the very beginning had this elimination approach to the disease, which is why their case numbers have remained so low relative to a number of the other countries that we cover every day.

2,500 cases since the pandemic began, and any loss of life is a lamentable thing to report but 26 people have lost their lives in New Zealand, which, you know, when you compare that to other numbers, it is a very low number. Even lower than the death toll here in Singapore from this disease.

But yes, let's talk about the news. The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing that New Zealand is going to speed up vaccinations. Why? Because they want to open up to vaccinated travelers come early next year.

But watching what's happening in other countries, the prime minister also outlined that this is going to be a moderated approach. Here's what she had to say. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACINDA ARDERN, NEW ZEALAND PRIME MINISTER: We're not in a position to fully reopen just yet. When we move, we will be careful and deliberate because we want to move with confidence, and with as much certainty as is possible.

Russian could see us in the situation many other countries are finding themselves and we're off to sustained periods of case. Numbers falling due to vaccination, they're finding them rise again, after relaxing their settings and opening their borders.

So, our plan is to reopen in a phased way where we assess and check before we take each step.



TANK: So, there you can see and hear the way that this will be a very moderated approach from New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern slowly does it, especially keeping an eye on what's happening around the world, John.

VAUSE: Well, Australia, much like New Zealand had a zero COVID policy. But it's a very different story there right now, locked downs are being put in place and extended.

TANK: Yes, exactly. And some very strict rules being put in place by some of the individual states in Australia, something actually about the Australian Olympic Committee are not very happy about because some of their athletes returning from Tokyo who are already serving quarantine in Sydney, which is in the state of New South Wales. Those are some 16 of them actually come from South Australia, which is a neighboring state.

Well, if they go back there, they're going to have to do another 14 days in quarantine, that's 28 days. The Australian Olympic Committee basically pointing out that they feel this could have implications for their mental health, that level of isolation just being too much they say. But they've also described this as a cruel and uncaring way to treat these returning athletes.

In the meantime, Canberra also being very, very strict. This of course, Australia's capital territory, it's saying that it's about to go into a new seven-day lockdown after discovering its first case of COVID-19 in an entire year. So, this is a situation we're watching closely.

VAUSE: Manisha, thank you. Manisha Tank there live in Singapore.

Well, global COVID cases hit 200 million last week. Experts now warn the 300 million mark may come a lot sooner than expected. We'll look at some of the hot spots when we come back.

Also, one step forward, two steps back in the fight against wildfires in southeast of Europe and North Africa.


VAUSE: On the Greek island of Evia, they say they can see the sun for the first time in days. The thick, heavy smoke from recent wildfires is beginning to clear as firefighters slowly gain control. But now the fire emergency has spread to other parts of the country.

In Algeria, the death toll from some of the most destructive wildfires in the country's history now stands at 65. The president has declared three days of national mourning.

The fires in Greece have killed at least three people left hundreds homeless, tourism and agriculture is said to be facing extinction.

CNN's Eleni Giokos reports now from Evia.


ELENI GIOKOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nine days into the wildfires here in Evia and around Greece. And the big fear is the rekindling of fires.

Yesterday, we saw this particular forest burning to the ground. And we also witnessed how firefighters spent hours trying to saturate the ground with water to ensure that it doesn't rekindle.


GIOKOS: But this is why it is still very much dangerous. Your feet -- you can feel the heat, you can see the smoke coming through from the ground.

One firefighter told us that it could take months to get this truly under control. The forest could slowly burn because of the heat due to the fire's intensity, and the aggressiveness and the scale has never been seen before here in Evia.

Now, government has put various measures in place, compensation for farmers, for businesses as well as victims. We also saw the prime minister apologizing for the weaknesses in the reaction to the fires across Greece.

The rekindling of fires is still an issue around the country. We've seen that happening in the Peloponnese. Now we're seeing almost 1,000 firefighters on the ground not only Greek emergency services, but also international assistance and it's all about trying to get to difficult to reach areas from the sky.

Unfortunately, because of the lack of visibility that has hindered a lot of those operations, which means that many forests are still at risk.

Eleni Giokos, CNN, Evia, Greece.


VAUSE: Now CNN's Jomana Karadsheh with details on the fire emergency in Algeria.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These wildfires have been absolutely devastating. More than a hundred according to state media quoting officials since Monday, the area most impacted, this is in northern Algeria 16 provinces where they have seen these fires spread across forests, mountainous areas, villages, some really hard to reach areas which has made the battle against these wildfires so much harder for the authorities.

Now, the government says it is reaching out to European allies to try and hire more capabilities to help in the fight against these wildfires and also asking for support. We've heard from the French President Emmanuel Macron, saying that France is going to be sending firefighting planes and that they stand with Algeria in trying to assist them during these wildfires.

Dozens of people have so far lost their lives including servicemembers soldiers who were deployed to the region to try and assist with the evacuation of civilians and in the firefighting efforts, absolutely terrifying images that we have seen coming from Algeria.

Not just firefighters and soldiers trying to extinguish these flames, we saw civilians doing all that they can, grabbing what they could find, including tree branches and filling up buckets of water and water containers to try and put out the flames to try and save their homes and their livelihoods.

The government says it is investigating these fires. While they have not denied that the current weather conditions, the heatwave that is impacting the country with some record temperatures may have contributed to these fires.

We've heard senior officials including the prime minister blaming this on arsonists, saying that there were criminal elements involved.

And we've heard from some government officials through state's media saying that it's just not normal seeing this sort of simultaneous fires taking place in so many different areas.

But what we have seen in recent days and recent weeks in the Mediterranean region, whether it's here in Turkey, also when you Greece, Cyprus and Italy, is that scientists are saying that these wildfires that have become larger in scale, more ferocious that this could be the new normal. They are warning that the Mediterranean region right now is becoming a wildfire hotspot.

Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, Istanbul.


VAUSE: What was Tropical Storm Fred has weakened to a tropical depression, dumping heavy rain on parts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The system is moving Northwest towards Cuba and the United States with Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands now under a tropical storm watch.

There's a chance Fred could strengthen to a tropical storm once again, but It's not expected to become a hurricane.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann has more now reporting in from Havana.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred continues to churn through the Caribbean, causing heavy flooding in the Dominican Republic. Streets are full of water there as Fred continues to pour down rain on the Dominican Republic and is expected to impact Haiti and then as it continues westward, eventually reach Cuba and also cause heavy rain -- bring heavy rain to the Bahamas.


OPPMANN: In Cuba, there is a lot of concern because it is expected to go up the entire north coast -- just about the entire north coast of the island. And in Cuba, over a previous storms are all the same. People have to evacuate from low lying areas, coastal areas that can flood.

And during a pandemic, we have seen that causes people that have to go on to shelters, to travel across the island being close proximity, and that invariably leads to higher numbers of coronavirus.

And that comes as Cuba is seeing some of the highest numbers over the last several weeks of the entire pandemic, so officials are concerned this will continue to make a bad situation worse as well if it does lead to power outages, that was power outages that were one of the sparks that caused unusual protests, unprecedent protests in Cuba in July.

So, if the power is out here as a result of the tropical storm for any extended period of time, that could cause more discontent -- the kind of discontent we saw that led people to go into the streets and say that they wanted better living conditions and freedom. Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Havana.


VAUSE: More extreme weather in the Mediterranean where Sicily has unofficially broken Europe's all-time heat record.

On Wednesday, the city of Syracuse reached close to 49 degrees Celsius, that's about 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Weather officials say they may reevaluate that reading just to make sure it's correct.

Most of Southern Europe is in the midst of a sweltering heat wave, temperatures five to 10 degrees above average and then some.

Well, outrage is growing in Canada after China's citizens Canadian businessman Michael Spavor to 11 years in prison for spying. His case along with that of another Canadian citizen is seen as countermeasure by China following the arrest of Huawei executive in Vancouver three years ago.

CNN's Paula Newton has details now from Ottawa.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, troubling events not just for Michael Spavor but also Michael Kovrig who has also been found guilty of espionage, his sentence yet to come down.

This is the case of the two Michael's, both Canadian citizens who have been detained in China. Really since Meng Wanzhou, a Huawei executive, the daughter of the founder of Huawei was detained in Canada on an extradition request from the United States. And by all accounts, this is really all interconnected.

Now, certainly, Canada condemned this latest sentencing as unjust and completely unacceptable. The Foreign Minister going as far as to say it was a mock trial and saying that this was arbitrary detention and that it was in the interest of all countries to make sure that China does not get away with this.

What is crucial here, though, is that Canada's foreign minister says that there are what he describes as intense discussions behind the scenes to try and come to a resolution. Take a listen.

MARC GARNEAU, CANADIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I can assure you and you heard President Biden comment back in February, that the detention of the two Michaels was completely unjustified, that they were treating them as though they were American citizens and that they were working with us to try to find a solution for the release of the two Michaels and I can't go into any further details, but those intense discussions continue.

NEWTON: What's interesting here is that these negotiations involve the United States. It will depend on what the U.S. Justice Department decides, what they want to do with Meng Wanzhou, that is all connected to the case of the two Michaels, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who Canada says have been basically detained for no reason at all, with no transparency to the trial and no evidence. It is those intense negotiations on which everything hinges right now.

Remember, the calls have been louder to boycott the Winter Olympics in China if these kinds of issues go any further. It is realistic that in the coming weeks or months, perhaps we will see some kind of negotiated resolution.

Paula Newton, CNN, Ottawa.


VAUSE: The man who spent years denouncing and vilifying reporters now promises to defend a T.V. anchor after a very public death threats from a powerful drug cartel. More on that in a moment.

And we'll check in on South and Central America, where at new COVID variant as some doctors confused and concerned. We'll clear -- we'll clear that up in a moment.



VAUSE: Despite increasing supplies of vaccines, COVID cases globally continue to rise. The World Health Organization says by early next year, the total number of infections could hit 300 million up from the current 200 million and the real actual number is much higher than that. More than four million new cases were recorded this week, many of them in North America. 65,000 deaths also reported this past week.

Among the nations dealing with new COVID cases is Mexico. The country set a record for New Delhi infections on Wednesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to more than three million. Mexico is seeing levels of infection that match the surge back in the winter. And there are concerns that some of it may be driven by the Lambda variant.

Lambda first showed up in Peru has now been detected throughout the Americas as well as parts of Europe.

Dr. Eric Topol is a cardiologist and professor of Molecular Medicine at Scripps Research. He joins us now from La Jolla in California. Welcome back. It's good to see you.


VAUSE: OK, for now the Delta variant is the all-time champion of coronavirus variants. There is this variant of interest in South America the Lambda. It seems to evade vaccines better than Delta, but it's still unclear if it can spread as fast or, you know, possibly even faster.

Some researchers believe Lambda should be upgraded to a variant of concern. They fear the WHO is underplaying the risks here, what are your -- what's your take?

Xxx Well, John, the Lambda variant doesn't appear to be able to compete with Delta. We've watched it start to fade in the U.K. where they're doing, you know, great genomic surveillance. So, even though it has had a lot of association with the problems in South America, and as you mentioned, you know, now in Mexico, it isn't clear that it's the cause. And it certainly doesn't appear that it's going to be more formidable than Delta right now.

VAUSE: The Washington Post recently had a headline which described the Delta variant as the Goldilocks virus. Declared the variant battle was over with Delta, the clear winner.

Does the speed of that victory make you nervous for what might come next year?

Xxx Well, it goes both ways, John, because this is such a tough variant, and it's become be get -- quickly going to become the global dominant strain and pretty much the only variant strain that we'll be looking at.

The question is, is there going to be another variant that can compete with it? We don't know that. It's going to be tough because this thing just was a major acceleration and spread likes of which we hadn't seen to the beginning of the pandemic.

So, you know, we're hoping, obviously trying to be optimistic that there's nothing worse than Delta. It's going to be tough to outdo that because it means as they're either more transmissible, which this one is so transmissible, or has more ability to evade our immune response. And we'll see.

VAUSE: There is the issue of breakthrough infections and for the most part, infections linked to the Delta variant. They're mostly recorded when someone (INAUDIBLE) they've been to hospital, they die.

So, add to that a new study, which is found the Pfizer vaccine was only 42 percent effective against infection in July, when the Delta variant was dominant, that's in the U.S. Moderna was 76 percent. The study has not been peer reviewed, but it is getting a lot of attention.

Is there a picture emerging here that may be that number of breakthrough infections is a lot higher than the official number?


DR. ERIC TOPOL, AMERICAN CARDIOLOGIST: Yes, you're onto something really important here, John. That is that Mayo study, which showed that Pfizer was 42 percent. And Qatar published a study, a big one, pre-print (ph). Fifty-three percent or so. And then there's Israel that's at 42 percent.

So the problem here is it's hard to evaluate the Moderna in these studies, because those vaccines were given later. And this is an issue about waning immunity. So if you've gone more than 5 or 6 months, that's where this drop-off is.

Now, it's really important to make sure that we're just talking about infections, whether with symptoms or without symptoms. We're not talking about protections from hospitalizations and deaths, which have held up really well for all these vaccines.

But there is a problem with the vaccines protecting against infection, dropping down substantially from what it was before Delta.

VAUSE: When Delta emerged from India, it came around the same time that there were three other variants that came out with it. Delta won out because it was more transmissible. The other three were able to evade the vaccines in the immune system a lot better than Delta. But they were nowhere. Delta became the dominant strain in many parts of the world.

So it's all about transmissibility. If the coronavirus is allowed to continue to spread, at the current rate that it is, with people either not getting vaccinated, because they can't get access to vaccines or because they choose not to, is it only a matter of time before we're looking at what, you now, could be a doomsday mutation? One that is both transmissible, like Delta, and can evade the immune system and vaccines?

TOPOL: Well, you know, that doomsday scenario is something I think is really farfetched. You know, I think that we perhaps have seen the worst of transmissibility. You now, we are still -- what is looming is more immune evasiveness, because our vaccines are holding up really well, for death and hospitalization protection.

The real question is, will that hold up? And I think that's what we have to be concerned about, and that's why we have to continue with this virus, whatever it takes.

VAUSE: And that means people getting vaccinated if they can, if they have access to it. And the fact that they've not, there is a level of irresponsibility here which sort of goes beyond words.

TOPOL: You now, this is really a critical issue because if it wasn't for Delta, we could get this population immunity and cover the planet much easier. We would have had this done in many places around the world by now.

But Delta changed everything. So instead of 70 percent that we needed, now we need 95 percent. So we really need everyone to kick in here to help get this thing under wraps.

VAUSE: Yes, it's one of those things that, every time the new variant, it seems, that level needed for herd immunity just ticks up a little bit higher, making it just that much further out of reach, right?

TOPOL: Yes. It really wasn't an issue until this one. This is just ferocious. And it's changed the whole calculus. It's made it much more challenging.

And even countries that have very high vaccinations, like Israel, the U.K., they're experiencing really tough surges. And you know, Israel is still grappling with that. So it just shows you how difficult this is.

VAUSE: Yes, we've snatched victory -- or defeat from the jaws of victory, it seems. A couple of months ago. Dr. Eric Topol, thanks for being with us.

TOPOL: Thank you.

VAUSE: Well, Mexico is said to be one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists. Up next, the latest worry. A prominent TV anchor received a direct threat from a powerful drug cartel, a very public one at that.



VAUSE: Mexico's president has promised to protect a prominent TV news anchor after her life was very publicly threatened by one of the country's most notorious drug cartels. Azucena Uresti, who said on her news cast that she will not back down from doing her job, which is covering the cartel violence for Milenio TV.

Matt Rivers has more now from Mexico City.


MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: One of Mexico's most powerful criminal groups, the Jalisco New Generation cartel, has directly threatened an extremely prominent journalist here in Mexico by the name of Azucena Uresti. She works as an anchor, hosting a show for Milenio, a pretty big channel and media group here in Mexico.

It was earlier this week that this criminal group posted a video that circulated widely on social media, where they directly threatened the life of Uresti, with one of the group's leaders saying in this video that CNN cannot confirm its authenticity, but in this video, this alleged leader says, "I assure you that, if you continue talking about me, Azucena Uresti, where you are, I'll get you, and I will make you eat your words even if they accuse me of femicide because you don't know me."

Uresti did respond to this video on her on the show. Here's a little bit of what she has to say.

AZUCENA URESTI, MILENIO TV ANCHOR (through translator): I have joined the federal system of protection from the government. I repeat: our work will continue to be based on the truth and with the intention of providing information on the reality of a country like ours. As has happened on other occasions, I express my solidarity and support to hundreds of colleagues who are still threatened or who have had to leave their areas but who keep on showing the value of information and their love for this profession.

RIVERS: And you hear her there, talking about the threats that other journalists here in Mexico faced. This is one of the most dangerous places in the entire world to be a local journalist.

Mexican journalists here routinely risk their lives just doing their jobs. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, since the beginning of 2020, 13 journalists have been killed here in Mexico.

Going back 10 years, 76 journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, have been killed here in Mexico. It is an incredibly dangerous job. And what we're seeing with Uresti is a high- profile example of the threats that journalists face here every day.

Matt Rivers, CNN, Mexico City.


VAUSE: Staying in Mexico City now, and Jan-Albert Hootsen, a reporter with the daily newspaper "The Trial (ph)." He's also Mexico's representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists. Thank you for being with us. I want you to answer me this, if you can.

Since when do drug cartels actually care about perceived bias and how they're called (ph) by the media? But are they concerned about their fine, upstanding reputations being harmed? This seems very odd.

JAN-ALBERT HOOTSEN, COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS: It seems very odd at first, but that these drug cartels are actually embroiled in what is essentially a low intensity war with other criminal groups in different areas in the country.

And with warfare comes information warfare. It's in their interests to make their rivals look bad and make themselves look better. It may sound strange, but they actually are interested in winning the hearts and minds of the people in the regions where they're active.

It helps them to stay away from the authorities. It helps them to conquer territory.

So for them, trying to influence public opinion is an essential piece of the puzzle in winning the drug war that they're fighting.

BERMAN: It sounds like a narco terror war, more likely. You now, Mexico's always been a very dangerous beat for reporters. It's one thing to threaten the group as a whole. It's another level to call out a particular journalist by name. What sort of impact has that had?

HOOTSEN: Well, the impact has been huge in Mexico. Because this is actually something without precedent. It never happened before, that an organized crime group directly threatened a news anchor.

So the response from Mexican journalists is one of shock. It is one of uncertainty. Many reporters don't know how far they can go in reporting on this particular criminal group, especially correspondents who are active on the ground and who actually provide material to Milenio Television, to journalists like Azucena Uresti. They're very much at risk here. So the effect has now been --

VAUSE: You know, Mexico's president has defended the TV news anchor, Azucena Uresti. That's actually significant (ph). Because he is no fan of the press. Here he is.

HOOTSEN: He is no fan of the press. I mean, his initial response has been adequate. He condemned the threats. and he told the public that the Mexican authorities would incorporate, as you say, a protection mechanism.

The problem is that the Mexican government has a very strained relationship with the press. They're constantly stigmatizing. They're constantly disqualifying the press. A little bit of the way Donald Trump would do so in the United States.

So it's a little bit of a double -- and honestly, the Mexican government is not taking adequate steps to protect journalism, as a whole. And that's really problematic.

VAUSE: Let's listen the president and what he actually said about one particular journalist. Here he is.


ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR, MEXICAN PRESIDENT: I completely reject these threats. We don't accept this sort of behavior. We are going to protect Azucena, and we're going to protect all Mexicans. It's our responsibility


VAUSE: That really is a welcome change, given that "The Washington Post" reports the violence targeting journalists has worsened since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office in 2018. Twenty-four media workers have been killed over the last three years.

Last year, Mexico was the deadliest country, as you say, for -- in the world for journalists. That's according to your group, the Committee to Protect Journalists. So how does the president actually plan to protect all journalists? The big question is, he could tone down his own rhetoric, right?

HOOTSEN: Well, that's a big question, actually, because the Mexican government has a few agencies, like when they call the federal mechanism which they've used to incorporate journalists in protection schemes.

But overall, the government is doing very little to protect reporters. And most importantly, to combat impunity in crimes against the press. Because the Mexican police and Mexican prosecutors are very ill- equipped to deal with this kind of violence. And impunity is what keeps incentivizing these attacks. So it's really unclear how the Mexican government wants to move forward from this situation with Azucena Uresti.

VAUSE: There is outrage and there is fear among journalists within Mexico. What about with the public? Is there any concern that, you know, this is a direct attack on the freedom of the press, an attempt to silence the voice, which is, you know, the voice of the journalist, the voice of the people?

HOOTSEN: Well, I think generally the public was just as shocked as journalists were when it happened earlier this week. And it's been the talk of the town for about three to four days now. So I think there's definitely a sense of urgency among the Mexican public.

But the problem is that, as I say Uresti is just one reporter. And she's a really well-known one.

Meanwhile, there are hundreds of reporters everywhere in the country who run a lot of risk every day when they're doing Azucena Uresti the reporting. And they have much less of a support network and much less support from public opinion. And it's much harder for them to get the protection that they need.

VAUSE: Yes. And thanks so much for being with us. We really appreciate your insights and coming up and talking with us. Good to see you. Thank you very much.

HOOTSEN: Thank you.

VAUSE: And thank you for watching this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause. I'll be back after WORLD SPORT, which starts after a very short break. See you at the top of the hour.