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Trump's Tumultuous Relationship with FOX News; FOX News Debate Second-Lowest Rated of Season. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired January 31, 2016 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:07] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey, good morning. I'm Brian Stelter. What a week. It is time for a special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They can't toy with me like they toy with everybody else.

STELTER (voice-over): Donald Trump versus FOX News -- a slow burning fire exploding this week culminating in a Trump-free Iowa debate.

MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS MODERATOR: Let's address the elephant not in the room tonight.

STELTER: While Republicans ranked number two through seven sparred on stage, the GOP frontrunner hosting his own rival event just miles away.

TRUMP: When you're treated badly, you have to stick up for your rights.

STELTER: Playing out on the national stage, a battle between the two titans of the American right, Trump and FOX News boss Roger Ailes.

TRUMP: I don't know what games Rogers Ailes is playing.

STELTER: As for FOX, their response was simple, "We can't give into any terrorizations toward any of our employees."

The prize, nothing less than the soul of the Republican Party and caught in the crossfire is FOX anchor Megyn Kelly. She famously clashed with Trump in the first debate.

KELLY: You call women you don't like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.

STELTER: An angry Trump called her bias.

TRUMP: She gets out and she starts asking me all sorts of ridiculous questions. And, you know, you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.

STELTER: It wasn't always like this. Trump praised her in 2011.

KELLY: Do you really think that you're a better moderator than I am?

TRUMP: No, I could never beat you. That wouldn't even be close. There would be no contest. You have done a great job, by the way, and I mean that.

STELTER: But when the feud boiled over this week, Ailes and FOX defended Kelly, needling Trump with this sarcastic statement, quote, "We learned from a secret back channel that the ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president."

For Trump, that was the last straw.

TRUMP: I came here to do the debate. When they sent out the wise guy press releases a little while ago, done with some PR person along with Roger Ailes, I said bye-bye.

STELTER: Bye-bye to the debate but not to FOX.

Trump appearing on "The O'Reilly Factor", insulting Kelly just an hour before her show.

TRUMP: I have zero respect for Megyn Kelly. I don't think she's very good at what she does.

STELTER: Now, the fault lines are drawn. It's Trump verses FOX. And the rest of the conservative media is taking sides.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: This is what it looks like when some guy stands up to the rules in the game and says, "Screw yours, I'm looking out for me first."


STELTER: An incredible few days for the media. The GOP's front runner versus the GOP's favorite media outlet. In all my years covering TV news, I never thought I would see this. But then, again, isn't that what reporters have been saying for seven months about the Trump campaign? We never thought we'd see this?

Finally, tomorrow, we're going to see some voting.

So, this hour, we're going to do something you won't see anywhere else on TV. We're going to drill deeply into this FOX-Trump feud and talk about what it reveals about politics and media in 2016.

We'll try to answer these questions. Whose winning this feud and why?

Let's start out with two of the smartest people I know. TV insider Dan Abrams, a former MSNBC general manager and the founder of Mediaite. And political analyst Jeff Greenfield, a columnist for "Politico" and "The Daily Beast". Thank you both for being here.

Jeff, let me start with you here in New York. You say that this experience between Trump and FOX is actually a key tell about all of Trump's campaign. Why?

JEFF GREENFIELD, POLITICAL ANALYST: Because FOX News has always assumed that it had the support and the enthusiastic eye balls of Republicans and conservatives. When I worked for CNN back in 2004, the convention, the Republican delegates surrounded us and were chanting, "Watch FOX News, watch FOX News".

STELTER: I remember that.

GREENFIELD: But what's happened here is just as Trump is building a base that is not fundamentally conservative, he's broken with conservatism, imminent domain, taxing the rich, single-payer, says he can work with Democrats. His supporters do not take the side of FOX when they go up against Trump. They are Trumpettes, if I can point a terrible phrase.

And anybody who goes after Trump, whether it's MSNBC, CNN, "The New York Times", or FOX, can't be telling the truth. And that tells you how important it is to understand Trump's support is not fundamentally traditionally conservative at all.

STELTER: Trumpettes, I don't think that's a terrible term.

Let's ask Dan Abrams what he thinks.

Dan, do you think Ailes, Roger Ailes, the chairman of FOX News, miscalculated by mocking Trump with that statement earlier in the week, causing him to skip the debate?

DAN ABRAMS, FOUNDER OF MEDIAITE: Yes, I don't. I think if you only view this through the prism of, did FOX want Donald Trump to do the debate? Sure. But FOX is looking at the bigger picture. Again and again, Donald Trump is insulting Megyn Kelly, again and again and again.

And I think it got to the point where FOX did what it does so well.

[11:05:01] It's brash, it's harsh, it's sarcastic. That's how they've gotten to where they are.

I think that if Roger Ailes just sort of sat around and let Donald Trump continue to attack Megyn Kelly, it would have undermined the credibility that FOX has in particular with the particular community.

Look, this is a win-win. This was a win for FOX in the end, because Roger Ailes got to stand up to Trump and he got to defend Megyn Kelly. And on the other hand, I think it's also a win for Donald Trump because he gets to, in my view, sort of pretend he's taking on Megyn Kelly in saying, "No more, I'm not going to take this anymore."

STELTER: Win-win's lead to the conspiracy theory this was all made up by the two of them. I don't believe that. I think there's a lot of animosity on the two sides here. But I see what you mean by win-win.

Don't we have to also look at this, Jeff, from a deeper level which is that Trump maybe did not want to be at this debate, he did not want to face Cruz, he need an excuse, he needed a reason to skip it, FOX gave him a reason to skip it, and this wasn't about Megyn Kelly at all?

GREENFIELD: If that's the case, then while agree with most of what Dan said, Roger Ailes and the FOX people did overplay their hand with that insulting suggestion that Trump is a paranoid.

STELTER: Basically saying he couldn't be presidential, that he would use his Twitter polls in order to see what he should do.

GREENFIELD: That notion of, you know --

ABRAMS: But this is cable.

GREENFIELD: I'm sorry, just one second in. That it was -- if you've ever gone up against FOX, you know this. They will smack you across the face with --

STELTER: They've smacked me before, yes.

GREENFIELD: But I think this was a case where they've overplayed their hand. And you know what? At this point, after seven months, I don't think we can say whether Trump wanted or not wanted. This guy is marching to his own drummer in a way that I've never seen before.

STELTER: We have to remember what he said in the "Art of the Deal", almost 30 years ago. He said, if you do something a little unusual, a little bit outrageous, the press will cover you.

But, Dan, you said this is cable. What are you going to say there?

ABRAMS: Well, understand, this is the rough and tumble of cable -- meaning Donald Trump is the great gladiator for cable, for a network like FOX to battle with. Meaning, that in the world of cable, people have to remember, the rules are totally different than broadcast. I see people saying, you know, this is not what ABC News or CBS or NBC News would have said or done, yes, that's right.


ABRAMS: Absolutely right. They never would have done anything like this, nor should they have.

But when you're FOX News and you've been in the rough and tumble of the political media landscape as long as they have, I think this just adds to the respect that many will have for them, which is to say, you know, you can only push us so far. You can say the language, oh, did he have to be that sarcastic, et cetera? Maybe.

But I think that we should give them some credit for saying to Donald Trump at some point: Stop. We're not going to listen to this anymore. If you want to make fun of us, we're going to make fun of you right now.

STELTER: And they did not remove Megyn Kelly from that stage. She did moderate the debate and she had great reviews for it.

Let's talk about the polls from last night, because according to the highly respected "Des Moines Register"/Bloomberg poll, Trump's debates did not hurt him in Iowa. Most Iowans didn't care.

Let's look first at the Republican results from this poll. All these numbers show Trump leading Senator Ted Cruz with 28 percent support among likely caucus-goers. Cruz at 23 percent. Marco Rubio has 15 percent.

And let's look at the Democrats, too, because the poll shows a very tight race. Hillary Clinton has a three-point lead over Bernie Sanders, well within the 4 percent margin of error.

Dan, is this exactly what news executives like to see, a tight race on both sides which creates a lot of interests and a lot of ratings?

ABRAMS: No question. I mean, no question, the closer to race, the bigger the win for them. But what I don't buy is this notion that it's the media's fault for making it close. Meaning, I hear people blaming the media for making Donald Trump.


ABRAMS: Well, then, how did Bernie Sanders happen?

I mean, the bottom line is what we're seeing is not the media being able to sort of impact all of this, but social media, individuals having the power to be able to get together on more partisan blogs and more partisan communities, et cetera being able to gather and say you know what, we're not happy with our mainstream candidates. And that's what the Trump folks are doing on the right and that's what the Sanders folks are doing on the left.

STELTER: Jeff, do you disagree?

GREENFIELD: I don't disagree up to the last point. You can't -- absolutely, it's not a media creation that Trump has done so well or Sanders. These are real political impulses.

What I'm sure you're going to be able to blame the media for is overstating the consequences of the caucuses. You're going to talk about the race in which maybe 500 people decide whether the blaring headlines will be Cruz on life support because he lost Iowa or Trump suffers serious setback, first loss in his life, and it may amount to as few as -- remember what happened in 2012? Thirty-four people.


GREENFIELD: Trying to use the caucuses, these highly unrepresented --


GREENFIELD: -- unrepresentative events as hugely important down the road is a mistake.

[11:10:03] You aren't even going to know, by the way.

ABRAMS: It's a great point. GREENFIELD: You will not know how many people voted for Sanders or Clinton. Nobody will, because the Democrats don't tell you. They have these cockamamie state delegate equivalent formulas which I defy anybody to explain in less than an hour. I'm not going to do that for your show.


GREENFIELD: And so that, you could actually have a situation where more people show up at the caucuses to support Sanders, and because of their insane system, Clinton will get the higher percentage of these events.

STELTER: And to that point, Dan, let me bring this to you, this is so much about perception, isn't? So much about narrative, not necessarily about the reality on the ground.

ABRAMS: No, and it's a great point from Jeff because on that issue, that really could have an impact, right? Because we in the media and the public also get -- do tend to get caught up on this issue of what's trending. Every day, we have a new poll. Why? Because we're looking for a new story about a new trend, about a new storyline to take.

And Iowa is a real opportunity to find of blow that out of proportion and to suggest, oh my goodness, look what happened, a stunner out of Iowa. Just as Jeff lays it out. And as we know from history, as much, you know, as we like to follow Iowa and New Hampshire in the media, the reality is, very often, they have very little impact on what ultimately happens in terms of which candidate ends up getting elected.

GREENFIELD: One small point. Because Iowa insists on being first and holds its caucuses in Midwest, there's a snowstorm heading for Iowa.

STELTER: A big blizzard.

GREENFIELD: It may arrive at midnight. If it arrives five hours earlier, you may have 503 people show up and decide who wins the Iowa caucuses, because everybody else won't be able to get there.

STELTER: And then we'll be on to New Hampshire, won't we?

Jeff, great to see you.

GREENFIELD: All right.

STELTER: Dan, thank you so much for being on the program this morning as well.


STELTER: Coming up here, some new reporting I've got about Donald Trump's decision to counter-program FOX's GOP debate with this own one-man show. Many people are asking, did Trump successfully outfox Roger Ailes? We have the panel to talk about that in more detail right after this break.


[11:15:38] STELTER: Will he or won't he? Will he or won't we? For days, we wonder, would Donald Trump really skip FOX's GOP debate, an almost unprecedented move? Well, he did, risking the fury of FOX News boss Roger Ailes.

So, how did it work out for both sides? Well, without Trump, Thursday night's debate had 12.5 million viewers, which is huge, but which is the lowest rated debate of the season on the GOP side. That fails in comparison to the other debate you see on screen there. More than 24 million viewers for FOX's first debate with Trump back in August.

Now, the Donald jumped at the chance to note the ratings drop. He tweeted this, "They say that if I participated in last night's FOX debate, they would have 12 million more and would have broken the all time record." He reiterated that belief in a tweet this morning.

But that statement really needs a reality check. Take a look at this. These are all the debates before the one this week. The debates were on a downward rating path already. Nobody in the TV business believed that the new debate could have possibly beating that 24 million mark. But that's what Trump is telling his pants.

Here's my new reporting about what's going on here. I've been digging into this all week, with sources on all sides. Above the surface, there might be sort of a tenuous truce now between FOX and Trump. He was on "FOX News Sunday" this morning.

But under the surface, there is a whole lot of animosity, a lot of bitterness on both sides. And, of course, Trump continues to use Twitter to take swings at the network.

Joining me now to talk about this, Marisa Guthrie, a media reporter with "The Hollywood Reporter", David Zurawik, a media critic with "The Baltimore Sun", and CNN senior reporter for media and politics, Dylan Byers, who's on Des Moines this morning.

Dylan, what's the buzz there? A lot of FOX people there where you are. Do they believe they come out ahead by having this debate without Trump?

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR REPORTER FOR MEDIA AND POLITICS: Well, look, each side is trying to spin it their own way. You know, you just showed the ratings. It's hard for me -- look, maybe 12 million more, maybe not. It's hard for me to imagine that this wouldn't -- the debate on Thursday night would have been a much bigger media event especially with all that build up between Donald Trump versus Megyn Kelly, all of that, had Donald Trump actually shown up.

So, look, if you talk to some of these people from FOX News privately on the trail, what they'll tell you is, yes, look, no question it was a blow for us. It was a ratings blow for us.

And then there's the larger issue about the sort of reputation of FOX News. On one hand, it's a boon for FOX News to be standing against Donald Trump, saying, look, we don't -- we call the shots. We don't let other people call the shots.

On the other hand, it doesn't look very good when the front runner in the Republican Party can stand up to the FOX News network and actually seem to do quiet well, draw away ratings and maybe even come out of the caucuses Monday night with a victory.

STELTER: Yes, it is clear that Trump did take away some audience from FOX. I just don't think he took 12 million.

Marisa, you profiled Ailes last year. It's hard to get access to him. So, I wanted to hear from perspective, having written the "THR" cover story about him. What do you think he's thinking today about this feud?

MARISA GUTHRIE, MEDIA REPORTER, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: Well, I think that he -- obviously, he wanted Trump to be at that debate. Trump's still been on the network, as you pointed out. He was on this morning with Chris. He was on O'Reilly show the night before the debate.

So, they understand that they are good for each other. Trump knows that as much as Roger knows that.

I think with that statement, the mocking statement, Roger was just fed up. He was fed up with Trump mocking Megyn.

STELTER: And he was trying to take some heat off of Megyn Kelly.

GUTHRIE: He was, he was.

STELTER: Clearly, was never going to remove from that stage.

GUTHRIE: No, of course not.

STELTER: Do you think Megyn had a good night?

GUTHRIE: I think Megyn had a great night. And I thought those video questions were really effective.

STELTER: David Zurawik, don't you wish we could have seen the video that they had prepared for Donald Trump. I mean, that debate framing seemed to be ready for Trump and yet he wasn't there to actually listen to the questions.

DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, THE BALTIMORE SUN: Yes, I wish we could have. I tell you what, Brian, I can't agree with Dan Abrams earlier saying a win-win for FOX.

Look, you and I both know, all of us on this panel know that maybe, certainly not 24 million, but the expectation was 18 million. Twelve- point-five million was a very small audience. So, obviously, they're hurt that way.

But I think they're hurt in a deeper way and it's this -- Donald Trump has been hammering away at their core brand identity. They've built this ratings juggernaut on fair and balance. He is saying on Twitter relentlessly, FOX is not fair. FOX is not fair.

Now, some of the people who set their dial to FOX at 8:00 with Bill O'Reilly and ride it all the way through until they go to bed, which gives them this giant ratings, are also people who are responding to the anger that Donald Trump is attacking.

[11:20:11] STELTER: So, he's driving a wedge.

ZURAWIK: Exactly. And he's threatening their core identity. I think that's much of what this is about.

And the statement -- the statement I think really hurt them because it's the statement of a political operative. Not a journalistic institution.

And I tell you how you can tell they were rattled. By Bill O'Reilly when he begged Trump to come on that show. You know, I've written that he is the Johnny Carson of cable, prime time television. He's flawless in terms of his performance.

He was not only off his game, he looked kind of pathetic. Donald Trump was the adult who said, you know what, Bill, we can't have anymore milkshakes. Something happened here and we have to behave like adults and you have to be punished. I'm not coming on.

STELTER: The milkshake was strange, wasn't it? Actually, a Trump fan sent milkshakes to "The O'Reilly Factor" staff the next day as a sort of reward.

Dylan, you actually wrote a must-read story on about this, this week. It was about how some conservatives think Trump -- think FOX is not conservative enough anymore. Tell us what this argument is and what you've heard from people about that.

BYERS: Sure. Well, let's pull back and look at the last 20 years.


BYERS: You have FOX News sort of being the voice for the Republican Party, the voice for conservatives against this sort of mainstream establishment media that, you know, is sort of secretly in cahoots with the Democrats, right? That's how the narrative goes.

Well, that doesn't work if you have a large body of conservatives for whom FOX News isn't far right enough. And as we've seen this sort of fisher in the Republican Party, between the sort of ultraconservatives on the far right and the more establishment GOP folks, what you're seeing is a lot of conservatives growing really frustrated with all of these establishment voices, this sort of Bush era voices on FOX News.

And what Donald Trump was able to do by going up against FOX News is he was able to tap into a lot of that anger and sort of capitalize on a lot of that anger, and go with the folks who are going to go to Trump and not go with the folks, you know -- and tap into the folks who really don't feel like FOX News speaks for them, and I think that's a wake up call to a lot of us in the mainstream media who've sort of associated FOX News with the entire right wing.

STELTER: Yes. It's so interesting. You know, some of the fledgling channels that want to beat FOX News, Newsmax and OANN, they broadcast Trump's event live in full, you know, as they gave people access it, so did C-Span. Unfortunately, none of those have ratings. We don't know how many people watched it but it's interesting to see that counter-programming.

Marisa, let me ask you one other question about this, about Megyn Kelly, in particular, because I think we have to acknowledge something very strange in the past six months. Trump beating up on this female reporter, some people have said he seems like he has a stalker-like crush on her.

Do you think there's an issue with Trump and female journalist that's specifically about gender?

GUTHRIE: I think it could be a problem for Trump in a general election if he gets there, because -- and that is what Megyn was trying to get at with her original question, is that the Democrats are going to bring this up, at these past statements, misogynist statements. I mean, let's be clear. They were misogynist statements.

And the fact that he was encouraging his Twitter followers to bash her, -- I mean, that I think -- you know, if you were a woman, you have a problem with that, and you should. I mean, everybody should have a problem with that.

STELTER: You also have to wonder. You know, we're sitting here on a rival network against FOX. But I have to wonder if this happened with any other network, instead of FOX News, if more journalists would have rushed to FOX's defense. FOX after all did decide to keep Megyn Kelly on that stage, it did stand up to Trump. I do wonder if there's a double standard in the press because FOX News, I believe, is a political machine, as well as a news organization, if it didn't get as much defense from other journalists as it would have otherwise?

GUTHRIE: Oh, I think there's definitely a double standard.

ZURAWIK: Brian --

GUTHRIE: And there's a double standard I think with sexism in the media in general. I think that if it had been on a broadcast network, a female reporter --


GUTHRIE: -- other women would have come to her defense.

STELTER: I heard David chiming in here as well.

GUTHRIE: There weren't a lot of people that came to Megyn's defense.


David, go ahead. ZURAWIK: Brian, yes, you know, I'm not on a rival network. And back in August, I started hammering FOX from the other side, saying they should have been much stronger in their defense of her. They had the journalistic high ground and Trump was a hot dog and they should come at him.

And the way they did when Juan Williams was fired by NPR, it was tribal (ph) the way they came out in his defense, they didn't do that. Trump in fairness, Ailes put out a statement. But they didn't rally around her that way because they -- and I believe, it was because they didn't want to alienate Trump. They wanted him on their other shows for ratings, and it was a big mistake.

And for, you know, Dan and some of these people now to say, oh, Trump made -- Ailes made this big statement on behalf of journalism, no, he should have done it in August, September, October, November and December, just as right now --

STELTER: You don't think he gets credit for doing it now, thought? Doesn't he get some credit now?

ZURAWIK: I think now he had no choice and he took the wrong tune.

[11:25:03] He should have come out journalistic high ground, saying, you know what, remember when Barack Obama said we couldn't cover events at the White House because we weren't a journalistic institution and we fought him -- and by the way, I fought on behalf of FOX for that. Well, now, Donald Trump can't tell us who our moderators are going to be. Same principles, same journalistic principle.

He didn't do it that way. He did it with a snarky, sophomoric, dinky, little doofus remark thing they put on their press office, and you didn't even know if it came from him or from the press office first.

STELTER: I think it did come straight from him.

BYERS: Brian --

STELTER: So, you're right.


STELTER: It did come from the spokesperson.

I'm out of time here, unfortunately. Dylan, Marisa, thank you for being here. David, stick around. I want to come back later in the hour.

Coming up here on the program, Trump's actions seemed to have divided conservative media, just as Dylan was saying, to the point that it's hard to know who's with whom, and who's against Trump. We'll talk about that with one conservative media host right after this quick break.


STELTER: Hey. Welcome back to a special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

Let me read this to you. It really struck me a couple days ago.

It says: "In a democracy, politicians and presidential candidates should not dictate what is or is not good reporting. Donald Trump has brought his grudge-match with the media to an extremely dangerous level for freedom of the press."

That is a statement from the group Reporters Without Borders. It usually advocates for journalists in war-torn countries like Syria and Iraq, but it's now advocating for journalists in the U.S., because Trump's media bashing has not spared any outlet.

But the reason why his feud with FOX News is different is because it exposed a conservative civil war of sorts. Listen to what some usual allies of FOX have been saying.


ANN COULTER, AUTHOR, "GODLESS: THE CHURCH OF LIBERALISM": I think Trump is shaking up the way people look at FOX News as maybe not always our network.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Trump has come along and for whatever reason flushed out the not-quite-so-conservative conservative media types.

PAT BUCHANAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS: The Beltway right has a bit of a problem here. They have to realize that Donald Trump is walking off with Middle America.

GLENN BECK, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: He's teaching everyone a lesson. Don't mess with me.


STELTER: Joining me now, Steve Malzberg, host of "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.

Steve, where do you stand in this divide?

STEVE MALZBERG, NEWSMAX TV: I think that it's perfectly legitimate for members of the media, conservative media to have differences with Donald Trump.

I think they're going way, way overboard and I think they're doing harm that is not going to be easy to repair.

STELTER: Whose doing harm?

MALZBERG: I think "National Review."

STELTER: With their anti-Trump issue. MALZBERG: Yes, with their anti-Trump issue, the editorial and then having 22 writers on to trash Trump.

I had two of them, Andy McCarthy and Bill Kristol, who I love and respect greatly, on my show that next day. Neither one was willing to say that if Trump was the nominee, they would support him. All indications are that Donald Trump is going to be the nominee of the party. At least that's what I believe.

STELTER: Is it fair to say your pro-Trump?

MALZBERG: It's fair to say I will support whoever the nominee is.

STELTER: Do you see an opening for networks like Newsmax TV and shows like yours to take advantage of the fact that FOX might be perceived as not so pro-Trump?

MALZBERG: Absolutely.

We get e-mails every single day. I take calls on my show, live calls. I think I'm the only network show to do that.


MALZBERG: Risky, but we have great callers.


MALZBERG: And nine out of 10 of them say we switched from FOX because we're tired of the way they treat Trump. And we're tired. They say they're not really conservative.

But I want to get back to this. I think that was the conservative media this active and outspoken at this point against Mitt Romney or against John McCain? And you could argue they are not true conservatives. They were classified by many people as RINOs.

Donald Trump has not only done great for the Republican Party and energized the base that is out there. Call it conservative. Call it whatever you want. People are going to come out and vote for Donald Trump that would otherwise sit home.

And let me point this out. Hillary Clinton doesn't mention she's the champion of women anymore. She doesn't say the word women anymore because of Donald Trump. Her poll numbers with women are way down because of Donald Trump who has exposed and brought up the topic, thanks in part to Roger Stone as well, of Bill Clinton and his women and Hillary as an enabler.

And Bill Clinton's approval rating, according to the last CNN/"New York Times" poll, 39 percent. When he was campaigning for her in '12, it was over 60 percent. Donald Trump. Donald Trump. Donald Trump.

STELTER: You're pivoting to the general election already.

(CROSSTALK) MALZBERG: Yes, but I think it's very important.

STELTER: Even though Trump has very, very high unfavorables as well. Do you think there's any way for him to improve that?



MALZBERG: I think he will tone it down and become more mainstream and more polished once he wins the nomination. I think that goes without saying.

STELTER: You think he will also stop demonizing reporters so damn much? I read that statement from Reporters Without Borders because I'm really concerned about the way he's continuing to sow distrust of the press.

MALZBERG: I think Reporters Without Borders should have better things to do than to criticize Donald Trump. Let them really fight where freedom of the press doesn't exist.

And let me point something out about the liberal media, if I might. If Hillary Clinton -- if Donald Trump were under FBI investigation, his last name every time his name was mentioned would be, who is under FBI investigation.

STELTER: As far as we know, Clinton has not been interviewed by the FBI.

MALZBERG: But she is under FBI investigation. I think that goes without saying. That has been brought up to her.

So, the fact that her name gets bandied about in the media hundreds of times a day and the tag line isn't who is under FBI investigation...

STELTER: And you see a double standard there?

MALZBERG: They would trounce Trump on that. Every time they mention his name, that would be his last name.

STELTER: Let me go to one sound bite. I want to show you Bill O'Reilly and Donald Trump the other day.

MALZBERG: That was good.


STELTER: This moment was amazing. Look at this.


BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": I have bought you so many vanilla milkshakes, you owe me. Will you just consider -- I want you to consider. You owe me milkshakes. I will take them off the ledger if you consider it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: I was just curious, Steve, as a broadcaster, what you thought of that. Was that desperate on the part of O'Reilly?

MALZBERG: I went on the next day and I said he begged. I tweeted out that he begged before I even saw the headline on Drudge.


He was begging. It was the next worst thing. I thought the worst thing I ever saw O'Reilly do was interview President Obama during halftime of the Super Bowl, where I thought he was catering to Obama's every whim.

This was pathetic. On one hand, Roger Ailes and FOX says we're not going to be intimidated. We're sticking up for Megyn Kelly. But Trump trashed Megyn Kelly to Bill O'Reilly and he didn't say boo.

STELTER: I thought that was inappropriate.


MALZBERG: I don't think it was inappropriate. I think it was inappropriate for O'Reilly not to respond.

STELTER: That is what I meant, for O'Reilly not to respond.

Steve, good to see you.

MALZBERG: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: We're going to get into more debate actually in a couple of minutes, because who better to talk about these moves than people who used to be at FOX News? Behind the walls of the mighty FOX machine.

When we return, two former FOX News hosts join me to assess if the network can bounce back from this current feud.

Stay tuned.


STELTER: Welcome back.

We're talking about FOX News, the cable powerhouse built by Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes. It launched 20 years ago yesterday. It has never found itself in a position like this.


How well is the channel doing, given all the headaches it has endured at the hands of Donald Trump these past, well, few months, but especially this week?

Let's talk about this with two former FOX insiders, Bob Beckel, a former co-host of "The Five," and Laurie Dhue, a former anchor at the channel.

I appreciate you both being here today.


LAURIE DHUE, FORMER FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Thank you so much, Brian.

STELTER: I would like to know what you think happened this week. Do you think FOX or Trump came out ahead?

DHUE: I would have to say it's a win/win for both. I think I'm probably echoing what Dan Abrams said earlier.

But the truth of the matter is that Trump and FOX News both won. Trump won because he was able to hold his ground and say I'm not coming on the debate no matter what.

STELTER: He got to avoid Ted Cruz.


DHUE: And he got to avoid the genius of FOX News playing those videos that ended up sort of biting Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in the butt. Trump got to avoid that.

I also think that Roger Ailes and FOX News won because they decided to call Trump's bluff on this. And so it seems to me that FOX News continues to have a lot of attention on it and Trump has a lot of attention on him.

STELTER: Bob, do you agree?

BECKEL: Yes, I do.

First of all, I have got to look at this thing from the standpoint of somebody who has done caucuses out there seven times. And listen to Trump and making the decision not to go on was a calculated -- because he didn't want to get himself hurt in the last debate. Maybe some of that, although Trump is not known to do calculated things.

But, on balance, here's a guy that says the most outrageous things about people, and he gets upset by that? I now think that tongue-in- cheek statement may have something worthwhile to say about it, because is this guy going to be the commander in chief, he's going to get that upset over being said he's going to be intimidated by Putin and the ayatollah?

STELTER: And he is still tweeting this morning about why he feels good about skipping the debate, Laurie.

DHUE: I think it was a matter of timing between the statement and whatever kind of communication was going on back channel between Donald Trump and Roger Ailes.

It's interesting that Roger Ailes and FOX issued this statement which got so much attention, which I think personally was brilliant and was vintage FOX News Channel.

STELTER: It was. It was.

DHUE: And then I think there were possibly some phone calls that happened, because we then saw Trump go on CNN and talk to Brianna Keilar and say, well, FOX News apologized. They were very apologetic. They were too nice with me.

But I just wonder if there had been phone calls made between the two of them, would Mr. Ailes have issued that statement? I don't know.

STELTER: Tough interview by Brianna Keilar, by the way. Trump seems to fear Megyn Kelly's questions, but he does take them from others.

Let me ask you both about this Megyn Kelly dynamic. FOX has never had something like Megyn Kelly before, someone on the cover of "Vanity Fair."


DHUE: I think Trump wanted to be on the cover this month.

STELTER: Well, maybe Bill O'Reilly -- Bob, there is some animosity between Bill O'Reilly and Megyn Kelly, right? I thought it was so unusual that O'Reilly didn't stand up for Megyn Kelly when he was interviewing Trump the other day.

BECKEL: Yes, I don't watch O'Reilly on a regular basis, so I didn't know that.

But, look, he came after me because I said that there was some tension between the two of them.

STELTER: Yes, let me play that, actually. Let's watch this from O'Reilly.

I want to hear you react.


O'REILLY: CNN was strange. They used their usual hatchet men to attack FOX News. But Anderson Cooper was fair.

The worst, old Bob Beckel.

BECKEL: O'Reilly is scared to death of Megyn Kelly, because Megyn Kelly has been beating him in ratings, the first time that has happened since it's been on, FOX been on -- News Channel has been on the air.

O'REILLY: Of course, that is absolutely false, false, not true. And that's why Beckel doesn't work here at FOX anymore. He could not care less about facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: Bob, it is a fact. Bill O'Reilly does have some animosity toward Megyn Kelly, because she is doing well in the ratings, but he is still number one.

What is your reaction to Mr. O'Reilly?

BECKEL: It's kind of sad, to be honest with you.

I think what I said was something that anybody who follows television knows, that there is going to be that kind of tension, particularly with someone like Bill O'Reilly, who has sat on top of that network for so long. It's no big deal.

I don't know why he gets so upset about it. He can call me out. But he calls me out on the facts. That's a fact that he's not right on. I don't -- just -- I was surprised, to say the least. Got a lot of e- mail on that.

STELTER: I bet you did.

One of the subtexts of this story is that Megyn Kelly's contract is up next year. I think O'Reilly's might be up next year too. FOX wants to hold on to Megyn Kelly at all costs.

DHUE: Of course they do.

STELTER: But they have had to defend her aggressively. Even to people who think they were half-hearted about it in August, they had to defend her aggressively this week.

DHUE: Well, they were going to defend her aggressively anyway.

Critics of FOX News have to actually look at what the company has done and say, you know, they were defending their anchor. They did the right thing. They said we're not going to take the pressure from Donald Trump to pull Megyn Kelly from the debate just because he doesn't like it.


And of course FOX News wants to keep Megyn happy. I would argue that she is the brightest star on television right now.

STELTER: On all of television?

DHUE: Well, I think TV news. Absolutely, I do. No offense, Brian. I think you're a bright star too.


STELTER: But I agree with you. Megyn Kelly's star is very hot.


DHUE: And I will tell you that Bill O'Reilly helped make her a star.

And he's certainly giving her an excellent lead-in every night between 8:00 and 9:00.

BECKEL: That's for sure.

But I don't -- in the end, what were they supposed to do? Did Trump really think that they were going to take Megyn Kelly and take her off that show?


DHUE: Magical thinking.

STELTER: That's why I think he just wanted a way out of this debate, and he used Megyn Kelly and FOX as an excuse. But there's another debate in a few days. And if he doesn't show up to that one...


BECKEL: He's going to show up. His biggest fear right now, 24 hours out, a little bit more, is that people are going to show up in Iowa.

And I was out there. And I know that state well. It may be that Trump -- this was not such a skillful move on his part.

DHUE: I disagree. I think Trump is a very calculated guy. I think he's a highly intelligent guy. And I think that this is going to end up possibly reaping big rewards for him, just as it has I think for FOX News.

And actually the biggest winner in all this is Megyn Kelly.

STELTER: One-word answers. Is Trump going to win Iowa, Bob?


DHUE: Yes. For sure.

STELTER: Confident.

Laurie, Bob, thank you for being here.

DHUE: Thank you, Brian. Good to see you.

BECKEL: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: Thank you.

Coming up here: new data showing, when it comes to Twitter at least, Trump really is in a category all by himself. I will explain after the break and tell you how that impacts candidate coverage.

Stay tuned.



STELTER: One of the many reasons this election is so unpredictable is because the media environment has changed so much.

Consider that, during the last Iowa caucus, in 2012, Donald Trump was still the star of "The Apprentice," Bernie Sanders was still a relatively obscure senator. No one had ever heard of Snapchat. Live video streaming services like Periscope hadn't been invented yet. In fact, flip phones were still more common than smartphones in the U.S. And most polls were still conducted the old-fashioned way with calls to landlines.

But now, four years later, polling is a whole lot more complicated. Internet surveys are becoming more commonplace on a national scale. Bernie Sanders' campaign is running a nine-day ad campaign right on Snapchat to drive young people's turnout.

Last night, I watched his big Iowa City rally on Periscope, an app that did not exist four years ago.

And my phone buzzes every time Donald Trump tweets. He did it five minutes ago. Actually, he did it two minutes ago. I can't help but wonder if his Twitter account is more effective at this point than a TV ad.

And so to look ahead to the caucuses and talk about how much has changed, let's bring back political analyst Jeff Greenfield, and David Zurawik, the media critic for "The Baltimore Sun."

Jeff, one of the issues here is that these polls, it has been pretty consistent. Trump has been ahead for many, many months. But so much has changed in polling these past few years that we don't really know how reliable they're going to be until tomorrow.

GREENFIELD: And that's especially true in a caucus state, because it's so much harder to participate than it is in a primary, where you can show up any time and click a vote.

And the other part about this is, the enormous expectations that have been built up for Marco Rubio to come in a -- quote -- "strong third," whatever the heck that means.

That, much as I dislike the caucuses, could have a real impact eight days later in New Hampshire, where you have four relative moderates, if that's the right word, contesting for that slot. And we have seen in the past that a big showing in Iowa can have an impact and may make the non-Trump, non-Cruz voters in New Hampshire say, well, maybe that's the alternative.

STELTER: Meantime, all people are talking about is Donald Trump, as much as Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz might want the attention.

David, new data from Twitter shows that he has been the most talked- about man on Earth for the past 30 days, except David Bowie the one day that David Bowie's death was announced. Same is true on Facebook. He's so far ahead of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or any of his GOP rivals.

Do you think that, from now on, in every other election cycle, candidates are going to learn from what Trump has done here?

ZURAWIK: I think one of the things that Trump hasn't done is, I don't think Trump has been on the ground in the same way that other -- some other candidates have.

He has been much more on Twitter, on social media in other ways.


ZURAWIK: You know, he's not -- he's the candidate who didn't dress up in blue jeans and put on a checked shirt like he was trying to get in the chorus line of "Oklahoma" and look at this for the fair and put a stalk of whatever in his mouth, play Curly.

He didn't do that. He was remote in a way. So, I think it's a much more mediated campaign in that way, and I think that's, in some ways, a bad thing, Brian. Also, Jeff had this excellent piece in Politico that really got me thinking about how Iowa is given this false importance and all the things wrong with that.

But one of the things that he made me think about was, when I applied it to my own beat, was we cover Iowa, just like we did 20, 30, and 40 years ago, from the state fair to the snowy bus rides to all of that. And that's probably -- it's surely not the best way to cover it anymore.

Even though we have all these revolutions in media in terms of distribution, in terms of lifestyle consumption, in terms of business models, we're still using the same coverage model that we did many years ago. And I don't think it's appropriate anymore.

STELTER: Let me ask about one more change, David, in the 30 seconds I have left.

One year ago yesterday, Brian Williams embellished a story about Iraq on "The Nightly News." It was noticed. Then other questions were raised. He left the chair. And tomorrow he is anchoring Iowa caucus coverage on MSNBC.


You have been highly critical of Brian Williams. So, I was just curious. Will you give him a chance one year later?

ZURAWIK: Brian, I will absolutely give him a chance.

And, you know, he doesn't need me to give him a chance, number one. But I do have to say, it wasn't, and it is not -- I am very, very -- trying to be protective, I think, at this stage of my career of us as a profession having any integrity.

Our credibility has eroded on every side by all sorts of forces that we can't control. One force we can control is to behave honorably and be honest and truthful and fact-based as we can.

I thought -- this is where I was critical. The person who is the managing editor of NBC News and the anchor should not be telling lies. And those were lies.

STELTER: On that note, I have to leave it there.

Jeff and David, thank you so much for both coming back today.

ZURAWIK: Thank you.

STELTER: We will be right back in just a moment here on RELIABLE SOURCES.


STELTER: We're out of time here. I will see you on Twitter and see you back here this time next week.