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New CNN Poll: Trump Lead Drops, Fiorina in 2nd; GOP Debate Draws Record Viewership for CNN; Looking Forward to the Pope's Visit to the U.S.; Pope Francis in Cuba; Donald Trump on Whether President Obama is Muslim; Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired September 20, 2015 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:08] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good morning. I'm Brian Stelter. And it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the story behind the story, I thought newest in pop culture get made (ph).

This morning, there is breaking 2016 news. Donald Trump losing some support for the first time in this GOP race. CNN/ORC's poll is out this morning. It's the first major poll since the Republican debate last Wednesday.

What it shows is a Carly Fiorina surge. You can see here. Trump still leads the candidates overall with 24 percent support, remarkable support. But that's down 8 percent since early September. Fiorina is now at 15 percent. That's way up from 3 percent before. What a difference a debate seems to make.

So, how is Trump reacting? Here is what he told Jake Tapper on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION".


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's start with new poll numbers. You're still many the lead by a wide margin but you have lost some support, with Carly Fiorina and Rubio going up considerably.

What do you make of it all?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via telephone): Well, I'm a little surprised because other polls have come out where it actually picked up after the debate. I actually gained after the debate. I'm in first place in every poll, but gained substantially in a couple of them. So, I'm a little surprised, but, you know, it's a poll.


STELTER: Summer officially ends on Tuesday. But is the summer of Trump already over?

You know, media outlets have been benefitting from Trump, no doubt about that. But I wonder if the press will tear him down just as fast as it built him up?

My guests know more about politics than me than just about anyone. Let's bring them in, Glenn Thrush, chief political correspondent at "Politico", and Ana Marie Cox, the political columnist and podcaster who does this week took over "The Talk" column at "The New York Times Magazine".

Thank you both for being here this morning.

GLENN THRUSH, POLITICO: Great to be here.


STELTER: You all know how the news cycles work. Does it feel like the love affair, so to speak, is over between the Trump and the media, Glenn?

THRUSH: Well, I don't know if it's over. You know, every -- if you look at our Web site you'll see the top ten stories. Usually six out of ten are Trump. I was surprised he didn't say that, you know, your poll did oversample losers, Muslims and Mexicans.

I just think, you know, we have a collectively -- and I think history is going to show this -- we have not exactly covered ourselves in glory over the past three months in terms of our coverage of this guy.

STELTER: You're feeling a bit embarrassed about the summer of Trump, so to speak?

THRUSH: I wouldn't say I feel embarrassed. I just think he has found the soft spot. He's kind of like that missile at the end of "Star Wars" that finds the one flaw in the Death Star. He has really filled the space between sort of politics and media. He fully understands what we need. He's obviously blown our ratings and our web traffic through the roof.

The question, what does this have to do with electing a confident president?

STELTER: I think we have learned a lot about the Republican electorate through the rise of Trump.

Ana, let me ask you what do you make of this -- this idea that maybe Trump is more vulnerable than he was before the debate on Wednesday? Do you sense that and this hasn't been a shining moment for the American political press?

COX: I agree with Ben that this hasn't been a shining moment for the American political press, although I'm not sure if I could point to a shining moment in the recent past --

STELTER: Oh, come on.

COX: -- but it's been especially bad.

I've called this actually that Trump is sort of the media's open mic moment, because we're sort of having to decide how to cover him on the fly because he hasn't fit into any pre-conceived narratives. He hasn't followed any trajectories that people have predicted. The media has had to vamp as they cover him. I think the media has faltered in covering him because they covered him as a personality and his remarks as outrage upon outrage.

I think it's the conservative media -- the conservative media that's opposed to him that's covered his policies and critiqued his policies and critiqued his hypocrisy better than the mainstream media. I think you'll find more comprehensive coverage in places like the "National Review", which is not place I would go to cover the Democratic Party, necessarily, but they are covering Trump pretty well.

As far as the debate performance, I think he definitely faltered. But I'm not sure. I like everyone else is scared to say when the summer of Trump is actually going to be over. We might be in for the autumn of Trump as well.

STELTER: Well, that's the thing, right, every single week on cable news, there's been a risk of predicting this too soon. I was looking at a tweet I want to put up on the television screen. It's from Alex Burns of "The New York Times". He wrote this, this morning, about the new CNN poll.

He said, "CNN poll shows how you don't compete with Trump by nuking Trump. You compete with Trump by being more compelling than Trump. You learn from Trump. You perform more compelling than Trump."

Ben, what do you make of that idea that Carly is learning from Trump, being more compelling than him now and now surging in the poll?

[11:05:02] THRUSH: Well, I think she also provided a contrast in the way people can deal with sort of the public stage. You know, backing up just a bit to the question of how we have covered him, I do think the conservative media has covered him well and the fact checking media has also done a pretty good job.

My issue is, you have a lot of people who are jockeying for access. You know, one of the things I've been concerned about is when have you seen a major candidate literally phoning it in to the Sunday shows. Sunday shows giving him an opportunity to be able to not appear in studio.

The guy gets cut a lot of slack and is given a lot of exemptions that other candidates aren't given. I would just like to see --


STELTER: But do you think that once he's on the phone, though, he's asked tough questions? I mean, I think if Hillary Clinton wanted to call into the show, we'd take her call. But if --

THRUSH: Yes, but she doesn't.



STELTER: If Bobby Jindal wanted to call, and we wouldn't take his call necessarily.

There's a dynamic here about being a front runner, is there not?

THRUSH: Well, there's a dynamic celebrity who wants to do this from his couch. Presidential campaigns, I spent 18 months on the road with Hillary Clinton and she has a cast iron constitution. She was out -- she did six, seven events a day in Iowa. It was terrible for all of us. She showed up.

What's the Woody Allen thing like 90 percent of life is showing up. I think we ought to start noticing this, he isn't actually showing up to a lot of things.

STELTER: Let's pivot to Hillary Clinton for a moment because she is doing her first Sunday show interview show in four years this morning, appearing on "Face on the Nation" a few minutes ago. We saw an interview blitz of sorts in the past few days, including here on CNN with Wolf Blitzer. And I'm told by the campaign the next interview she'll do is the Tom Joyner morning show on a couple of days on radio.

Ana, what do you think this strategy is about, all these interviews from Hillary Clinton? Obviously, the press has been asking for this for many, many months. Will journalists now be satisfied?

COX: Oh, I don't think journalists are satisfied with anything Hillary does. That's the curse of her being Hillary Clinton.

I think as a journalist I'd rather her be more out than not I think putting herself out there. But she actually can do well in these situations. For her, I always feel like it's a little bit of a gamble.

But you know what? The problem and the advantage of being Hillary Clinton is everyone has made up their minds about her. There's very few people that are going to be swayed one way or the other. The people will be reminded why they like her. The people that don't will be reminded why they don't.

But at some point, she has to be out there. So, I think they're just trying to take control of that a little bit earlier than maybe they thought they're going to have to before. But, of course, I welcome her at least taking questions, even if she doesn't answer them as thoroughly as maybe as I want.

STELTER: Glenn, have we learned anything from these recent round of interviews, how they've been effective for her?

THRUSH: I think they have been effective for her. And, frankly, you know, I wonder what took her so long. You know, the characteristic of Hillary Clinton that that I don't think people pay enough attention to is her risk aversion.

You saw this manifested in terms of the fact they wanted fewer debates. I've heard from a lot of Hillary people that she probably would have been advantaged by getting into the debates earlier and sooner. There's a lot of fear that Bernie Sanders projects this authenticity

and could really do her damage. Clinton is capable of making gaffes, as we've seen in the past. But I think we're in a point of time her unfavorables are higher than they were at any point in 2008, where she needs to get out there and start taking risks.

STELTER: By the way, Glenn, tell us about this new call for more Democratic debates. We know the first debate scheduled here in on mid-October. There's only six scheduled. There's been increasing calls for debates, including from then Democratic grassroots?

THRUSH: Yes, I mean, we've seen some petitions circulated. This is being pushed my Martin O'Malley who hasn't gained in traction in the polls. But I can tell you, and particularly, you know, there's a report today on "The Wall Street Journal" Biden is considering accelerating his timetable to jump in prior to October 13th. I don't know how true that is ultimately. But I do there is a real sense that this coronation is, in fact, a competition and the number of debates need to reflect that.

STELTER: Glenn Thrush and Ana Marie Cox, thank you both for spending some of your Sunday with us. Appreciate it.

THRUSH: Thank you.

COX: Thank you.

STELTER: There's been a lot of news from the Sunday morning news shows, including on "STATE OF THE UNION" the Donald Trump interview is coming up noon Eastern. So, stick around for that.

Coming up here on RELIABLE SOURCES, we're going to look an extraordinary week ahead in the media as Pope Francis dominates the air waves on his historic visit to Cuba and the U.S.

In a moment, Chris Cuomo will us live coverage from Cuba, and we'll look at how the pope's visit will add fuel to what's already and emotionally charged presidential campaign.

And as the pope preaches redemption, one major media figure is about the find out if the audience is ready to forgive. I'm talking about Brian Williams back on the air this week, after more than six months of silence, heading coverage of Pope Francis' visit for MSNBC.

We'll be back with that in just a moment.


[11:13:43] STELTER: The GOP debates now even bigger than football. A Thursday night Denver/Kansas game has 21 million viewers. Wednesday's Trump/Fiorina matchup had 23 million. That is a record for CNN, this channel's biggest audience in history.

The previous record was set back in 1993. That's when Al Gore and Ross Perot debated NAFTA on this very special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE", in front with 16.8 million viewers. A NAFTA debate, 16.8 million viewers. Go figure.

But now, this debate even bigger. Why do the ratings matter? All those candidates on stage had a huge opportunity to sway tens of millions of potential voters.

Now, the average I just mentioned, 23 million viewers it actually underestimates the opportunity for the candidates, because 23 million viewers is the average of the viewership for every single minute of those 180 minutes. When you consider how many people turned just at some point during the prime time debate reached 37.9 million people. Those are amazing numbers in television. Fox's debate averaged 24 million and reached 36 million.

So, we can now say, this was not just an aberration. This is the biggest show of the fall. So, what is causing all this? Is it all Trump and what does it mean for the candidates and the networks?

Let's ask David Zurawik, the TV critic at the "Baltimore Sun", and David Folkenflik, the media correspondent for NPR.

[11:15:02] David, David, welcome to all of you. Thank for being here.


STELTER: Is it all Trump? Are these ratings entirely thanks to Donald Trump?

FOLKENFLIK: I think it's -- you know, look, you've had for eight years or almost eight years Democratic in the White House, one who's been polarizing, particularly for a lot of conservatives and Republicans. They're looking for this our opportunity to reclaim the White House.

But I absolutely think this is Donald Trump. You look at the monster numbers you had at the debate at night here on CNN, also on FOX, you look at the undercard. You have candidates who are scoring within the margin of error on that stage for the lesser debate. They're about 6.3 million, 6.2 million viewers for that. That's a huge audience as well.

This is a significant amount of the electorate tuning in to figure out more. But I think Trump changes the equation on all of it. I think it hyper charges us.

As much as he's turned this into something of a show, of entertainment, of circus in some ways, he's also energized people into thinking about the political process, which isn't all bad. So, I think he's going to change the electricity in the water, if you will.

STELTER: Wow, David Zurawik in Baltimore, I wonder if this is built in structural advantage for the Republicans and a disadvantage for the Democrats. I don't see any way a Democratic debate is going to get 23 million viewers unless CNN persuades Donald Trump to show up.

DAVID ZURAWIK, BALTIMORE SUN: Well, you know, Brian, part of this, though, and I don't disagree that Trump has made a huge difference. But, you know, if you look at his ratings for "The Apprentice", he started with 20 million in 2004. And by 2010, he was down for 4 million.

STELTER: That's good point.

ZURAWIK: The audience for "Celebrity Apprentice" dropped from 11 million to 7 million last year. Those are huge audience losses.

So, when he says, look, 23 million, 24 million it's because of me. No. You've got a show and you're not doing it. You're doing 4 million. You're doing 7 million.

This is not to disagree with David. I agree, he makes a big difference, he really amps up the showbiz component of this. Something else deeper is happening when you get this kind of an audience for this kind of telecast.

STELTER: It's noteworthy the viewership, they're pretty steady throughout all three hours. This is a long debate. There was some criticism of that. But they ended up staying pretty steady, almost 20 million viewers even at 11:15 in the evening.

Let me play a bit of what we heard during the debate. These are series of questions from Jake Tapper that shows that strategy in how he was pursuing the candidates.


TAPPER: Ms. Fiorina, you were CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Donald Trump says you quote, "ran HP into the ground", you laid tens of thousands of people, you got viciously fired.

For voters looking for somebody with private sector experience to create American jobs, why should they pick you and not Donald Trump?

Mr. Trump has repeatedly said that the $100 million you raised makes you a puppet for your donors. Are you?

You as well have raised concerns about Mr. Trump's temperament. You've dismissed as an entertainer. Would you feel comfortable with Donald Trump's finger on the nuclear codes?


STELTER: These were questions designed to have that two shot and have candidates talk with each other. Do you think we learned about the candidates and the relationships with each other?

FOLKENFLIK: I think we learned some things. I think we learned a bit about whether Trump might where fin if other people were given equal standing, even though the break down of the time showed he got the lion's share of the time.

STELTER: Partly because he was attacked the most, he's got to respond the most. FOLKENFLIK: He was attacked the most, got the chance to respond the most, in a sense. That's just basic fairness and sense of decency that Tapper and other folks here at CNN were trying to instill. At the same time, it made it a very tit for tit debate. In some ways, it's a minimizing debate. It makes the candidates a little small to always be responding to something somebody else has said at a campaign event.

People are always going to be criticizing each other on the stump. They're just going to do it. It's a way that allowed CNN and I think the emergence of Tapper's anchor in this channel is one of the better things to happen on cable TV in a long time.

But nonetheless, that particular format meant that people were I think diminished from the opportunity to present themselves in more affirmative and more at times substantive way. It seems like a lot of internecine sniping that was going on.

STELTER: I sensed a lot of substance, though. You didn't?

FOLKENFLIK: There was fair amount here or there. But, you know, if you went through that transcript, if you went and looked at the first hour of the debate, so much was on the question we heard Jake there and it's a legitimate one. Do you trust Donald Trump on the button of that nuclear device? A lot of those things ended up being kind of small board. There was substance offered, but not substance addressed by the candidates themselves. I really feel as though they ally to a lot of things that Tapper I think was hoping to get out.

STELTER: David Zurawik, what I didn't understand is the criticism that said the debate was too long? I'm thinking, as a journalist, I want to hear as much as I possibly can from the candidates. But perhaps from a television or entertainment perspective, maybe some people thought it went too long for that reason.

What was your take on that line of criticism?

ZURAWIK: I really did think it was long. When it moved past 11:00, I was like will this thing ever end?

[11:20:02] But, you know, in fairness, 11 candidates, they brought Fiorina in. That's a big, big number to deal with. And the debate did try to deal with substance.

You know, I kind of agree with part of what David said. I thought with the two shots and the questions where you ask someone about something they said about you that CNN was pushing the conflict angle which makes for good prime time television but maybe too much.

But when I went back and thought about it, I have to say this, not everybody was diminished. Carly Fiorina definitely was not diminished by what happened in that debate. But I did feel that Donald Trump was diminished. I thought Donald Trump looked smaller in TV terms than I had ever seen him.

Now, part of that might have been that there was a very intense conversation going about policy matters like ISIS, Syria and Trump seemed to hang back. Maybe it was his age. Maybe he couldn't do three hours. I don't know. Ben Carson didn't do three hours.

But Carly Fiorina was in her 60s, did three hours, and she was as strong at the end as she was at the beginning. I don't think the format diminished it.

You know, I wasn't crazy about one Jake Tapper by himself who I thought did a good job overall and two people off to the side, but CNN has done that before. So, it's nothing new.

I like the three people from FOX in that sense. But there's a sense of you get a choppier product with that. People don't follow up on discussion. But I thought it was substantive and I don't think they were all diminished in my way by it.

STELTER: You know, the next GOP debate is October 28th on CNBC, and CNBC has said nothing about who will moderate or what the criteria will be. By then, we may only have one debate, not two.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, that's right. I mean, there should be an incredible winnowing that goes on and I'm sure that the networks would like that very much. I think it's very awkward for them to do it. In some ways, if there are going to be two debates, you almost wish that it were top 11 that were broken into two, so you could really drill down and do some things.

I think one of the real differences to the CNN debate and FOX debate was that Fox was willing to take on its own authority to challenge the candidates directly. In this, I thought it was an interesting gambit, an interesting choice by CNN to put it in the words of other candidates.


FOLKENFLIK: It wasn't personalized. It wasn't the journalist doing it. But ultimately, the journalist pressing the candidates is what they're supposed, respectfully, but nonetheless firmly.

In this case, I though that Jake did a decent job of trying to address some of the elements including, look, medical authorities do say the vaccines have no link to autism. And yet, there's a number of statements that went by the way side and weren't able to be fact checked.

STELTER: Yes, I think it's probably impossible to real time fact check, but we're seeing a lot of coverage in the last couple of days following up at least, trying to dissect what was --

FOLKENFLIK: And yet not in front of that enormous audience.

STELTER: Well, right. Right.

FOLKENFLIK: There's no way to win on that, but nonetheless, at least they'd been making that effort. STELTER: David Folkenflik, David Zurawik, please stick around. We want to preview Brian Williams return to the airwaves with you both later this hour.

Up next here, the pope just celebrated a historic mass in Cuba. But here in the U.S. he's the subject of a red news/blue news divide. Pope Francis, a radical, a Marxist. We will get past the name- calling, next.


[11:27:34] STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.

It sure does seem that Pope Francis has captured the attention of the world and the media in a way his predecessor never really did. Much of the coverage has been laudatory.

There's also been a schism of sorts between the pope and some conservative media stars here in the U.S.

Take a listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He sounds like a left wing professor at London School of Economics.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST: The pope has gone beyond Catholicism. This is just pure Marxism. And to hear the pope regurgitating this stuff, I was profoundly disappointed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seems to me that the pope is preaching politics from the pulpit. That's something I'm not too keen on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I'm Catholic and he could stay home. Some of his comments have no place. He's in the wrong country.


STELTER: Just a sampling of recent rhetoric we've heard on FOX News and heard on radio as well.

So, joining me now with more about this, journalist Paul Vallely, the author of the acclaimed pope biography, "Pope Francis: The Struggle for the Soul of Catholicism".

Paul, thank you so much for being here.

PAUL VALLELY, JOURNALIST: Pleasure to be here.

STELTER: This has been a wonderful read. Very educational as we get ready for the pope's visit to the U.S. I'm wondering why you think we're hearing that kind of rhetoric from the conservative media in the U.S.

Why is it so important for the Rush Limbaugh's of the world to try to paint this pope as a liberal radical?

VALLELY: Well, previous popes have been critical of capitalism. They were also critical of communism. But, of course, communism is not in the picture anymore. This pope carries on with that, but he's also a Latin-American and he has the kind of ambivalence towards the United States and, you know, resentment and admiration that you find in Latin America.

And the third thing is that he worked for 20 years in the slums. So, he's very focused on looking at the world from the bottom up from the point of view from poor people. So, he presents a kind of -- there's a ferocity to his rhetoric which wasn't there with previous popes. I think that's what rattled the cage of the conservatives.

STELTER: We're looking images of him from Paraguay. Today, he's in Cuba. HE just recently few minutes ago completed a mass in Revolution Square in Havana.

I wanted to pull up on screen something I was struck by in "Rolling Stone" magazine. It was talking about what the media coverage of this trip represents. We can put it on screen and I read for you. It says, "Consider the 24/7 global media coverage Francis' U.S. trip will receive. When else would an economic message that's critical of capitalism as Francis's be granted such a stage?"


An example of this is the way that the pope has decried the excesses of consumerism. That, of course, touches on advertising, other elements of media.

I wonder what you make of that, that the press in the next few days is going to be forced to talk about income inequality and injustices that generally doesn't get much of a hearing in mainstream media.

VALLELY: Well, the reason they get a hearing is because he sees them as rooted in the Gospel, which is something which a lot of people who disagree with him politically do accept.

So, if he's arguing from the Gospel, he says, this isn't Marxism. This is classic teachings of Jesus. And it's as -- for the past hundred years, the Catholic Church has had something called Catholic social teaching, which tried to tread a middle way because communism and capitalism and find a way of having a kind of responsible wealth creation.

STELTER: We should mention there's this setup that we see in the press sometimes, liberal and conservative, right and left. The pope doesn't line up quite that way, does he?

VALLELY: No, that's a political template.


STELTER: It's almost like some commentators don't know how to describe him. I'm thinking about on the issue of gay rights, for example. The

Catholic Church is not where many Americans' heads and views are. And when we think about views about gay marriage, how they have shifted in the United States, they haven't shifted within the church.

VALLELY: Well, they have shifted actually with Francis, because what you see with Francis is that he's in favor of gay -- equal rights for gays. He's in favor of civil unions. He's against gay marriage.


STELTER: But not gay marriage. That's what I mean.

VALLELY: No, marriage, he thinks is sacramental. It's between a man and a woman, and it's not appropriate to talk about same-sex couples in that way.

And, interestingly, he's against gay adoption, because he says gay adoption is seen as an equal rights issue. It's seen from the parents' point of view: I have a right to a child.

He says nobody has a right to a child and gay adoption should be viewed from the point of view of children. And children have the right to a mother and a father. So, he just kind of turns the thing upside-down a bit. It's more nuanced than you might expect.

STELTER: Much more nuanced than that kind of red/blue divide we sometimes see.

Paul, thank you for being here. Great talking with you.

VALLELY: It's been a pleasure. Thank you.

Let's go to Havana now. Let's to CNN's Chris Cuomo. He's actually at Revolution Square, where Pope Francis has just delivered his mass before a crowd of many thousands.

Chris, good morning.

What does it feel like just as a journalist and as a person to be there in that square?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, there's no question that we have been in the midst of history being made on so many different levels. Those who believe in the promise of better here in Cuba said that Revolution Square will become evolution square with the pope here, the obvious manifestation of that him giving mass here, Catholic mass, in front of thousands, tens of thousands.

The big icon of Jesus that was put up on equal status with the revolutionary icons of Cienfuegos and Che who are here ringing this and the big monument to Jose Marti. Those are the obvious manifestations.

But in listening to your conversation, you have to remember you can't examine the pope through a political lens. You have to look at him through a religious lens. He's a pure Catholic. What you see as an inconsistency between a hard line on let's say gay marriage in terms of the dogma of the Catholic Church, even though he used some language of forgiveness and tolerance, and then on the other side he seems to be sympathetic to the communist cause, that is politically inconsistent in the United States.

It's not religiously inconsistent certainly within Catholicism. He is toeing the line of dogma. What has made Pope Francis different are two things, one, that he is doing inflection points. What do we care about? Not what the rule is, but what do we care about and how do we focus? That's been different.

And, two, that he has become what we calls himself in his motto, a missionary of mercy. He's trying to focus people on taking care of the needy in a way that is more aggressive and that seems more political than we have seen with popes past, at least since John Paul II.

So, being here today, all of that really resonates. This is the perfect crowd for him. These people need on so many different levels. They have been starved on so many different levels. Yesterday, Castro said that religious freedom is a central tenet of the constitution. There's an obvious hypocrisy to that for many people here who believe they can't practice faith or practice anything the way they want to.

The Wi-Fi being offered up as a concession to the Vatican.


CUOMO: Brian, you're so technologically savvy in following new media.

Internet here is spare and rare. And the idea that they had Wi-Fi this afternoon, that they provided Wi-Fi here, everybody holding up their smartphones like we were in America, that doesn't happen here in Cuba because the service is so spotty. You can't get on the Web.

Those are the obvious manifestations that signal what Pope Francis wants to see happen. But, remember, he can only promise so much. How will his message change when he goes to the United States? There's no question that he sees capitalism and dynastic industries, as he borrowed from Jose Marti, as a problem and that they cause suffering. How will he finesse that message in the United States? Will he be as subtle as he was here with the Castros, at least in his first two blushes of expression, when he got off the plane and then here in his homily and his after-blessing at the end of the mass?


We don't know what he will do when he meets the Castros later or when he meets the people later, Brian.

STELTER: I was going do ask about the Wi-Fi, because in this day and age with this pope, it's not just us that can tell his story. It's all the people in that square. And of course the pope can also via Twitter -- he has that Twitter account -- can also tell his story directly. Chris, thank you so much for coming on the program today.

CUOMO: It's good to be with you, Brian.

STELTER: And CNN will have continuing coverage of the pope's visit to the U.S. in the coming days, all this week here on CNN.

When we come back, new developments this morning about a lie that's followed Barack Obama throughout his presidency. Donald Trump has been right smack in the middle of this story. And you got to hear what he said this morning about Obama's citizenship.

Stay tuned.


STELTER: President Obama is a Christian. He was born in the United States. But many Americans say they don't think so. And this issue is back in the news because Donald Trump is defending his, well, lack of defense for the president.


Now, at the Thursday night Trump town hall, a questioner said to Trump that Obama is a Muslim, and Trump didn't correct him. Now, this morning, as you can examine, it's the big topic on Sunday morning shows.

We have collected up Trump's comments from NBC, ABC and CNN. And notice what Trump says.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: For the record, was President Obama born in the United States?

TRUMP: Well, you know, I don't get into it, George. I talk about jobs. I'm talking about the military. I don't get into it.

CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": Can you imagine supporting or being comfortable if a Muslim ever became president of the United States?

TRUMP: Would I be comfortable? I don't know if we have to address it right now. But I think it's certainly something that could happen.

TODD: You said you had no problem putting a Muslim in your Cabinet.

TRUMP: Some people have said it already happened.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you not have a responsibility to call out this hatred?

TRUMP: Well, you know, we could be politically correct, if you want.

But, certainly, are you trying to say we don't have a problem? Because I think everybody would agree. We certainly do have a problem. I mean, you have a problem throughout the world.


STELTER: It feels to me like Trump is treating facts about the president's past like they are debatable points.

Joining me now to talk about this, Steve Malzberg, the host of "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV in the evening.

Steve, thank you for being here.


STELTER: I'm curious to explore this strain within the conservative movement and frankly within conservative media at times.

What do you think it represents when polls show that a significant minority of Republicans, I think 43 percent, according to one poll, say they don't believe that the president is Christian?

MALZBERG: Fifteen percent in your own CNN poll of Democrats thinks he's a Muslim.

Almost a majority, about 48 percent, and in previous polls, it was over a majority, when you combine, think he's a Muslim or don't know. Right now, it's about 48 percent in your CNN poll. Are they all racists? Are they all fanatics? Are they all hate-mongers?

The president can be perceived and has been perceived by many as being an Islamist sympathizer by his actions. Most of his Middle East policies favor the Muslim Brotherhood. His really rocky relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu...

STELTER: Favor the Muslim Brotherhood?

MALZBERG: Yes. He was very upset when the Muslim Brotherhood got kicked out of Egypt. He tried to remedy that.

He's gone to bat for them in every way. Look at the Middle East. The Middle East is a disaster. Look at Libya. Who is in charge in Libya? Who is in charge in Syria?

STELTER: But those are -- some of those are debatable points.

MALZBERG: But there's more, yes.

STELTER: Whether he sympathizes with Islamists is perhaps a debatable point. It's not debatable about his citizenship or about his religion.

MALZBERG: Well, nobody is debating it.

He says he's a Christian. That's good enough for me. He said -- and he's a citizen. Until somebody shows he's not, that's good enough for me. But when your policies both abroad and at home -- Look, he used a prayer breakfast in February to bring up the Crusades right after Muslim terror attacks, as if to say, hey, these Muslim terror attacks aren't so bad. Look what the evil Christians did.

He's a very strange devout Christian by his actions and his policies. And I think that's fair to say.

STELTER: Isn't there enough to criticize about the president without invoking his religion, however?

MALZBERG: Who invoked his religion? Donald Trump -- listen, when Hillary Clinton was asked about this in 2008, she said, of course he's a Christian, of course, as far as I know.

Now, doesn't that raise a whole bunch of doubt and leave it open- ended? Why isn't the media scrutinizing her and asking her now, because she's criticizing Trump?

STELTER: Well, that, you're saying, was seven years ago, when that was said.

MALZBERG: Well, they should bring it up.

STELTER: Trump is doing it this morning.

MALZBERG: I understand that. But he never said something.

What he said now is there's a -- by the way, the cut that you cut off at the end where Trump said, there's a problem all over the world, he said specifically to Jake Tapper with radical Muslims, radical.

STELTER: That's right.

MALZBERG: And that wasn't portrayed in this cut. So, that was not fair to Donald Trump.

I'm not his defender, but I'm an expert in media bias.

STELTER: I'm wondering what it means when we see a significant plurality of the country expressing doubt about the president in this way, and it's been happening for seven years.

Do you think most of the people that say that actually believe it, or is it a way of saying no confidence? Is it a way of voting against the president? Or do you think it's actually a believed thing?

MALZBERG: I think there are a lot of people who believe that there's a lot of doubt about this president.

Remember, Donald Trump wanted to give $5 million to the charity or charities of the president's choice if he simply released his college records, his transcripts, and all that went with it?

STELTER: But that's about sowing doubt. That's about sowing doubt about facts.

MALZBERG: Yes, yes, yes, but the president said no. Why wouldn't he -- release his college transcript for $5 million to charity? And Trump was the brunt of the jokes back then. Why not the president? See, the media's all messed up. Now, again, I don't think he's a Muslim. And I believe he's a citizen. But there's enough room where people would have their doubts, as evidenced by your own poll.

And it's not just Republicans and Trump supporters. It's almost a majority of Americans either think he is or don't know. So, I don't know the exact answer why. But here are some reasons that I have just outlined.

STELTER: Doesn't every responsible journalist and every responsible opinion analyst type have a responsibility to say loudly and clearly every time they talk about this the president was born in the U.S., the president is a Christian?

MALZBERG: No, not every time. I mean, no, Hillary...



STELTER: No? Because, otherwise, it sows doubts. It raises, right, these kinds of suspicions.


Well, Hillary referred to -- said that the Republican presidential candidates have a lot in common with terrorists. Does every journalist have a responsibility going forward to say...

STELTER: I think that should have gotten more coverage, by the way.


MALZBERG: And so should Joe Biden have said -- back in '08, when he said the president was the first clean, articulate black person ever to run for president. He got a pass on that.

Bernie Sanders, I know it was 40 years ago, but he wrote a piece, an opinion piece, a story, a fantasy, if you will, that women liked to be raped. They think of being raped by three men at the same time when they're having sex with their spouses.

Why don't these things get the coverage? Why?

STELTER: Do you think there's any such thing as a false equivalency?

MALZBERG: I think there's a double standard, a horrific double standard.

STELTER: Not a false equivalency when you're bringing up 40-year-old comments about Bernie Sanders?

MALZBERG: Well, or Joe Biden's or Hillary's, which you admitted should have gotten more coverage.


STELTER: That was a recent story.

MALZBERG: Right, or Barack Obama in '010 saying...

STELTER: I think it does damage to our country, damage to the views at home when Trump sows doubt in this way, doesn't just explicitly answer the question.

We saw other candidates this morning on Sunday morning shows saying, yes, the president is a Christian. Yes, he was born here.

MALZBERG: Barack Obama in '010 told a Hispanic audience that you don't reward your enemies, meaning the Republicans. And it goes on.

Barack Obama said if you're against the Iran deal, the Republicans who against the Iran deal, are like the hard-line Iranians and their crazies. Is that good? Does that sow good feelings throughout the country?

STELTER: I don't think it's the same as delegitimizing the president of the United States.

MALZBERG: But Trump didn't do it. This questioner did. And he addressed the second part of the questioner's question.

Again, I'm not defending Donald Trump. I just think we're making a big deal here about nothing.

STELTER: Steve, I appreciate you being here this morning.

MALZBERG: My pleasure. Thank you.

STELTER: Good to see you.

MALZBERG: Thank you.

STELTER: And coming up next here, Brian Williams, his seven-month exile coming to an end, but his battle to regain viewer trust is just beginning. Find out when he's back and where as soon as we come back.

Stay tuned.



STELTER: Welcome back.

After seven months off the air, Brian Williams' redemption tour is about to begin. He's reporting to work Tuesday morning in his first role as breaking news anchor for MSNBC. He will be on the air Tuesday afternoon.

As you probably remember, Williams lost his "NBC Nightly News" anchor job after a series of exaggerations and fabrications were found in his reporting.

Williams' path to redeem his reputation and career will begin with the coverage of the pope's first visit to the U.S., again, Thursday afternoon. The pope lands around 4:00 p.m. I'm guessing that's when Williams will also come on.

But can Williams really shake his credibility problem? He was even accused of embellishing stories about how he met Pope John Paul II. That was back in 1979 at Catholic University of America.

Here's how Williams described meeting the pope in an NBC blog post in 2005. He wrote that: "I chatted up a Secret Service agent who spilled like a cup of coffee and told me that the pope would be coming our way."

But he gave a different version to "Esquire" magazine that same year. And here's what he said then: "I met Pope John Paul II on his visit to the campus simply by positioning myself at the top of the stairs of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. I just figured that's where he would be stopping."

There was no mention in that version of the story about the Secret Service agent.

That's obviously a small detail, but it hits at a very big question of his credibility. Those pope stories were covered quite a bit back in February.

And now that Williams is coming back, let me bring back David Zurawik, TV critic for "The Baltimore Sun," and David Folkenflik, media correspondent for NPR.

Gentlemen, all three of us, I'm sure, will be tuning in and be very curious to see how viewers react on Tuesday afternoon.

David Zurawik, to you first.

You didn't think he should be returned at all to NBC or MSNBC. What do you expect the audience's reaction to be?

ZURAWIK: You know, I don't know.

I -- you know, I have seen stuff on social media already mocking him in this last week about the return with the pope, people saying, oh, I thought he was the pope or I thought he was the secretary to the pope...

STELTER: Oh, geez.

ZURAWIK: ... making fun of his exaggeration.

I don't know. With millennials, I think that's going to be -- continue to be a problem. And it's the nature of social media that I think he's going to continue to get beat up in that realm.

Look, Brian, you know I do not believe he should be coming back. I think he -- he violated the fundamental sin of this business, which is to tell the truth. He did not tell the truth. He lied on multiple occasions. How do you bring him back?

STELTER: They do say, though, these were minor league offenses, not major league offenses.

And to give the other side, what I have heard from NBC executives is, we think we have one of the biggest stars in television. Now we get him on MSNBC, a channel that's been struggling in the ratings.

To David Folkenflik.

My prediction here -- and I'm sort of nervous to say this on TV -- is that a lot of audience members are going to be thrilled to see him back.

FOLKENFLIK: Oh, I mean, America is the home of the second act.

I think that, you know, this is not a decision taken on journalistic grounds. This is a decision taken because Brian Williams is actually an excellent studio performer, and he can present the news very well.

And they can argue, look, most of what's been found that he did wrong was sort of chiseling minor stuff, embellishment and were in ways, largely, although not in the case of being attacked in Iraq, happened off the air, weren't part of his newscast, part of his main broadcast.

In that case, it can work. I think that -- and this also plays into MSNBC being re-branded in the daytime as more of a hard news entity, kind of more competing with CNN, than trying to mimic from the left what FOX has done well from the right.

And I think, in this case, that they're making a non-journalistic decision on one of their best-known names, even if one of their more tarnished ones at the moment.

STELTER: A source said to me this week...


ZURAWIK: Brian? Brian?

STELTER: Sorry, go ahead, David, real quick.

ZURAWIK: No, no, I was just going to say, in saying it's minor, how do you base that?

I mean, he lied about war. And people die in war.

STELTER: Yes. I know that.


ZURAWIK: But, Brian, you're appropriating -- you're appropriating the honor from those people who fought honorably.

STELTER: I'm saying, over a 20-year or 30-year career, some people would say it's minor.


But, listen, the viewers and their remotes will ultimately -- will decide this.

Both Davids, Zurawik, Folkenflik, thank you both for being here this morning.

ZURAWIK: OK. Thanks, Brian.


STELTER: And stay with us.

We will be right back on RELIABLE SOURCES.


STELTER: Before we go, looking ahead to tonight, prime-time television's biggest night, the annual Emmy Awards, airing live at 8:00 p.m. on FOX.

And we could see history being made, as Taraji P. Henson of "Empire" and Viola Davis of "How to Get Away With Murder" vie to become the first African-American women to ever win a lead actress Emmy Award.

Check out our extensive coverage online,, and our coverage of media all week long,

That's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.