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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Special Report: Donald Trump and the Disconnect; What Did the Media Get Wrong? Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired March 27, 2016 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:09] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good morning and happy Easter. I'm Brian Stelter.
And this hour on RELIABLE SOURCES, we're having a special report: Donald Trump and the disconnect. We're going to hold up a mirror and ask hard questions about why so many individual journalists and their news outlets discounted Trump for so long. What did the press get wrong and why?
Newsroom leaders and Trump supporters and opponents will all join me for a round table discussion. But let's take a trip down the escalator, to last June. That was the day, Trump entered and up-ended the Republican race for president. Now, ever since then, his unpredictable, outrageous comments and his unorthodox views have roiled the GOP and caused an avalanche of news coverage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapist and some, I assume, are good people.
He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, OK?
A total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.
I'm going to bomb the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of them.
Who's going to pay for the wall?
Blood coming out of her wherever.
I don't know what I said. I don't remember.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
STELTER: Trump is good for ratings and good for page views.
But today, let's not just talk about the quantity of news coverage. Let's talk about the quality. For too long, too many editors and TV producers and writers and pundits dismissed Trump's rise and missed what Trump meant to his reporters. We went back and we watched CNN's news coverage from June 16th, from
the day Trump entered the race, and here are a few of the most memorable moments.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, he's going to run until he doesn't run, right? The big question is how long he stays in this race? He will be in this race long enough I think to get on the debate stage.
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is a reality TV show star trying to run to pump his profile even more because he's drunk on pure ego.
ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I can't treat it as a serious Republican platform and I can't treat it as if it's coming from a serious Republican candidate.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Donald Trump is not a serious presidential candidate. I have to tell you that.
UNIDENTIFEID MALE: I don't think we're going to see him in this field for very long.
RICHARD QUEST, CNN ANCHOR: Every political junkie in the United States is drooling at the possibility of Trump versus Hillary, the Donald versus Hillary.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, of course that is not going to happen, Richard Quest, I promise that. If that happens, I'll come on your show and eat my shoelaces. Donald Trump is not going to be the Republican nominee.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Ryan, I did unlace my shoe laces and I have them here and I'm going to put them over my desk.
To be fair, this prediction has not come true yet. We have many months until the convention.
But the truth is when I watch those clips, I'm just glad I wasn't on TV that day. I didn't think Trump would actually head to the race.
So, when I say there's a disconnect, I'm definitely including myself. You can argue that the GOP establishment has been equally disconnected. And to be sure, there's been a lot of incisive and impressive news coverage of what's been going on of this phenomenon, including from people like Ryan Lizza. We shouldn't discount the impressive coverage that's going on.
But I think the dominant narratives -- well, I think we know what the dominant narratives have been. First, it was that Trump was a flash in the pan. Some people have even laughed at him, dismissed him, saying he was a sideshow, swearing that Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio would eventually clinch the nomination. Then, as candidates dropped out, talking heads swore there was a ceiling on Trump's report. They said voters would come to their sense.
Trump supporters, they're just angry. We were told are angry and maybe prejudice.
These days, the coverage is changing. It seems like every news outlet is doing a deep dive, exploring who Trump supporters are. But too often, still today, they're treated like an exotic species at the zoo. So, is this media elitism at work? Is this liberal bias? Is this a New York and D.C. arrogance or something else?
When I asked for feedback before today's show, I got a lot of responses like this one from Monica Collins. She wrote, "The clubby, larded media machine just couldn't see their toes around their stomachs." Is that it?
I want to hear it from you as this hour goes on. Tweet me @BrianStelter. Look me, I'm on Facebook. I'll be looking at your comments.
Let's set the table with this comment from "The New York Times" columnist David Brooks. He recently confessed that we weren't listening carefully enough.
So, let's listen carefully to our panel here for reactions to all this beginning with Katrina Vanden Heuvel, the editor and publisher of "The Nation Magazine", Scottie Nell Hughes, the national political commentator for USA Radio Networks, and a Trump supporter; Will Bunch, not a Trump supporter, a senior writer for "The Philly Daily News", and the author of "The Bern Identity", and Molly Ball, a political writer with "The Atlantic Magazine".
Thank you all for being here.
Will, let me start with you. In your column this week, you said, the factors that create a Trump were hiding in the plain sight of the American heartland for all to see.
[11:05:07] So, Will, why weren't they seen?
WILL BUNCH, SENIOR WRITER, PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS: Well, I think it's just a basic failure of basic journalistic legwork, getting out in the field and talking to people in places like Ohio, places like Kentucky, places that have, you know, seen massive job displacement among the white working class.
You know, I think David Brooks admission was stunning but it was also pretty obvious that, you know, too much of our -- at least mainstream elite media news coverage is driven by columnist and pundits who aren't out in the field. You know, they're talking to consultant class, the places like the Capitol Grill, consultants are fighting the last war expecting Trump to collapse just like Herman Cain or Michelle Bachmann collapse in 2012.
The truth is that they've gone out to places like Kentucky, like I did back in 2009 when I did a book called "The Backlash" about the Tea Party, these people are happy to talk and what you'll find a lot is you'll find real stories of people who have their jobs outsourced, they had a good manufacturing job for 20-30 years and it's outsourced to Mexico, outsourced to China.
They have lots of time on their hands and they use that time to listen to Rush Limbaugh. They use that time to watch FOX News or listen to Glenn Beck, and they're very susceptible to getting madder and madder at the establishment. They're very susceptible to the kind of racist and xenophobic ideas we've seen from Donald Trump and --
STELTER: Before we start using words like racist, let me bring in Scottie. I want to get in detail on this, but, Scottie, you live in Texas, you're here in New York today. Do you agree with what Will is saying?
SCOTTIE NELL HUGHES, NATIONAL POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, USA RADIO NETWORKS: I did up until the last few lines right there. I think he has known ahead with -- when he's sitting in there and he's talking about how this is main street, it's all these policies that have effected by the rules and these lawmakers in D.C., the frustration of these folks as their jobs have been shipped across the way, and supposedly, we listen to the media and say that we have this great economic recovery when those of us at home are still paying almost double, triple for our insurance, for our health insurance, our schools. We notice that our children are not learning as well, or being pushed (ph).
All these things on Main Street, these folks have built up this frustration and that's exactly what Mr. Trump has tapped into very accurately.
STELTER: Since we heard, Will, and now, you're talking about this kind of establishment coverage, these comments early on, let's take a look at that from FOX News. This is about Charles Krauthammer early on, last summer, proven wrong now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX NEWS ANALYST: This is the strongest field of Republican candidates in 35 years. You could pick a dozen of them at random and have the strongest cabinet America's had in our lifetime. And instead, all our time is spent discussing this rodeo clown.
GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: As you get close to a decision and people say, do we really want the World Wrestling Federation atmosphere in the Oval Office, I think people will flinch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Scottie, as someone who supports Trump, how do you feel when you watch cable news, especially many months ago and saw comments like that?
HUGHES: I hope those two actually have special VIP seating for the RNC convention this summer when they actually give Donald Trump the nomination, because of comments like that. You can't sit there and throw those words around, because what you're doing, you're not only insulting Mr. Trump, you're insulting the millions that have followed him, the millions that have identified with him.
And I have to tell you, the more you insult him, the more loyal they become. I mean, talk about the lack of strategy the Republican Party has had in the last eight years. It's shown in those two people's comments right there, the reason why they're losing is because those two people have been the front runners and spokespeople for the establishments.
STELTER: Establishments. So, Mollie, is this liberal bias at work or is this establishment bias at work?
MOLLY BALL, THE ATLANTIC: I think it's establishment bias. I mean, as journalists, we're only as good as our sources. And I think Will is exactly right that we have to keep in mind that when you're trying to understand to electorate, your sources have to be the voters. They can't just be the people in the beltways, the consultants and we can't be making predictions based on history when something historically anomalous, like I think Trump is, can come along and shatter all of those preconceptions.
You know, I think the point about the tea party is also a really good point, because there was a lot of attention paid to the Tea Party, that was the last sort of unforeseen uprising of the Republican base. But in that case, it was channeled into the conservative moment.
So, I think a lot of people look at that and expected that the kind of candidate who would do well with that segment of the base was someone more like Ted Cruz or even Marco Rubio, someone who spoke to conservative policies. Trump isn't really doing that. You know, Trump has this agenda that blows off the Republican platform, takes a lot of idiosyncratic stances that aren't in line with sort of the conservative intelligentsia.
And so, what I think we also failed to parse was that there wasn't just one Republican base versus the establishment.
[11:10:01] STELTER: Right.
BALL: There were two. Or at least there were more than one.
STELTER: Let me bring Katrina into this conversation because the banner here says, "Acela corridor bias". We're talking about the train that goes from Boston, to New York, to D.C. This idea that reporters who live in these cities are not really aware of what's going on in the heartland or in the rest of the country.
Katrina, isn't the same is true, that disconnect idea is true when it comes to Ted Cruz and to Bernie Sanders?
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR & PUBLISHER, THE NATION: I absolutely do. I mean, let me step back for a moment if I could. I think, you know, the media is going to extraordinary systemic changes and it has for the last two decades. We've seen the obliteration of the line between news and entertainment. Trump walked very easily into that. He knew the media was in an economically insecure moment. He knew that dependency, the hunger for clicks and ratings and he gave it.
And if journalists have been paying more attention and talking to the crowds, rather than going with the spectacle of the lavish, obscene over-coverage of Trump last summer, I think we would have learned a lot more.
STELTER: It did, sure (ph).
VANDEN HEUVEL: But it is the case that no question, I think we all agreed that there has not been respectful coverage of the economic lives and experiences of millions of Americans in this country. Part of that talking to Acela corridor is the suffocating consensus around certain issues such as trade agreements -- corporate trade agreements are all good for workers and everyone in this country. The economic recovery has helped everyone. Waste stagnation, eh, it's globalization, as David Brooks would have told you a few years ago.
So, I think we need to look hard at how you bring back news values, which have been trumped by profit-making, how you bring back real journalism that speaks to people in this country, as Will said, but the problem is we all know is newsrooms have been gutted, so you don't have a guy or a woman covering economically, you know, laid off factory workers. You have people sitting in New York or Washington making decisions that don't reflect so much of what's happening in this great country.
STELTER: It does (INAUDIBLE), I said on the program, which is the people who you see on the television usually, the people who decide what stories are on the front page tend to make more money than the average person reading or watching. Certainly, there's lots of journalists out there, a lot of beat reporters who are making relatively similar wages to the average American, but the decision makers especially in that New York to D.C. sort of region are making more, that means they might not be entirely connected to the struggles other Americans face. And I think that's what you're touching on when you talk about that divide.
VANDEN HEUVEL: But you do have to under -- the big question I have is why was there essentially a Bernie Sanders blackout? I mean, Bernie Sanders is tapping into, in a much more inclusive, pluralistic, hopeful way the very passion, anger, anxieties Trump is. He didn't because two months before Trump went down that escalator and obliterated news coverage in favor of entertainment, Bernie Sanders appealed to the media and said, can we do some serious coverage here and not descend into soap opera or trivia or worldwide wars or --
STELTER: I think, if you want that, that's there. If you want the entertainment, that's there. There's all of the above. But I hear you that -- VANDEN HEUVEL: There's too much. There's too much. And airways
belong to the people in this country. But there was so little on Bernie.
But what's powerful is that he was able to rise up despite the lack of attention, the marginalization, the attempt to marginalize his ideas and who he is. And I think that is a measure of the insurgency fueling both the Trump and the Sanders campaign in this country. They're going to say, you traditional media, we're going to get what we want. We're going to raise issues we want to hear even if you're not covering us.
STELTER: This is a fascinating moment to talk.
Let's have everybody stick around here. Stand by for me and we're going to come back later in the hour.
Up next, we're going to spend time a chunk of time talking to two key decision-makers in the news business about this. I'll ask "TIME Magazine's" editor Nancy Gibbs about media snobbery, whether that's at the root of the disconnect in coverage of both Trump and Sanders.
Plus, does "Daily Beast" editor John Avlon regrets on the early words about Trump's bid. Stick around to hear his reaction.
[11:17:44] STELTER: New this morning, a confession from one of this country's best read columnist, Nick Kristof of "The New York Times". He says the media's heap attention on Donald Trump, but misunderstood the campaign because, quote, "We were largely oblivious to the pain among working class Americans and thus didn't appreciate how much his message resonated." Kristof says this is an issue of media diversity, that we spent too much time talking to senators, not enough to the jobless.
I want to put these questions to the people in charge, the newsroom leaders. So, where better to start than one of the countries top magazine editors, Nancy Gibbs of "TIME Magazine".
STELTER: Nancy, thank you so much for being here.
NANCY GIBBS, EDITOR, TIME: Nice to be here.
STELTER: I was wondering if you agree with what Chuck Todd said to you at a panel event in New Hampshire a couple of months ago. He said to you that he thought a lot of people in the media were snobs about Donald Trump early on. That we were wrong, the story wasn't Trump. It was about the electorate he tapped into, that that was missed early on.
Do you agree with Chuck?
GIBBS: Yes, it was missed by everyone. It was missed by the media. It was missed by their donors.
It -- I think seldom have so many people been so wrong so consistently about so much. And it wasn't just wrong at the outset. It was -- you know, if you think about the first weeks of coverage, it was almost like a continuous obit. Well, he can't possibly survive saying that all Mexicans are rapists, he can't possibly saying John McCain is not a war hero, or the way he talked about Megyn Kelly -- one after another after another.
Yes, it was unrelenting coverage, but it was almost unrelenting negative. And yet, you know, everything that was supposed to kill him made him stronger.
STELTER: A continuous obit. I haven't heard that phrase before. It's just an interesting way to put it.
GIBBS: And, yet, you know, look where -- look where he is. And so, I don't know that it was, Chuck used the word snobbery. I don't know if that it was snobbery so much, as he is unlike anything anyone who covers politics or participates in it have ever seen before.
He resembled characters we've seen. We have seen self-funding billionaires before in Steve Forbes and Ross Perot. We have seen, you know, populist rabble-rousers before. But no one had seen I think this combination of factors.
And so, in a way, I'm not surprised that everyone underestimated the impact.
[11:20:03] STELTER: I'm going to cast you for a moment as the media elite.
GIBBS: Oh dear.
STELTER: Now, one of the biggest magazines in the country, you have a big staff of reporters at your disposable and we're both here in Manhattan.
So, what do the media elites need to learn from this Trump phenomenon and from the idea that maybe it was missed early on?
GIBBS: I think it's never a bad thing for us in our profession, maybe any profession, but our profession, to accept some humility and how we go about our business, partly because it's good to be surprised, it fuels your curiosity. We should be very curious about what it is that has allowed somebody who by no rules that have ever applied before has been so successful up to this point.
So, you know, that to me is the definition of a great story. Something's happening --
STELTER: The definition of news maybe, right.
GIBBS: The definition of news. Something is happening that no one saw coming, no one expected, was consistently underestimated. Let's understand it better. And in that sense, I do believe the bigger story, the more important
and lasting story is less Donald Trump himself, as remarkable of a character he is, than why it is voters have been responding to him in the way that they have. What does that tell us that we need to understand in a more profound way about where our country is?
STELTER: When we think about initial coverage of Trump and how it's changed, how does that happen in your news room and on the cover of "TIME Magazine"? How have you seen Trump coverage progress?
GIBBS: We've been helped, I think. We have a very strong team of reporters in the field. And the writer who wrote the most recent coverage, David Von Drehle, is based in Kansas, is not trying to do this out of, as you say, you know, here in Midtown Manhattan.
STELTER: That seems like the really important detail. So, he's based in Kansas, which is where he happens to live.
STELTER: And he's been on the Trump trail.
GIBBS: And we've had other people who've been following. You know, he has come in and now, we have following all the candidates consistently. And I think that for us, it was so obvious to cover him. In a way, it would have been very perverse. He was leading in the polls consistently from a month after he announced.
Can you imagine the criticism of the elitist media had everyone not covered him, of saying, oh, we just think he's an entertainer, we just think he's a showman, we don't think he's for real, so we're not going to cover him?
STELTER: There's been a lot of calls lately. You've seen this online, right? People saying, don't give him so much attention, don't give him so much oxygen. And some of this is targeting cable news and the amount of time that it spent showing his event. But some of this is also about general news coverage, that he shouldn't be covered.
But you're saying that's irresponsible?
GIBBS: I think we would rightly be criticized for -- if we've made some sort of decision as a guild, not that that could be executed anyway, but we decided that we know better and we're not going to cover someone who is drawing these kinds of crowds at his events. He has massive the turnout in primary voting. We have 24 million people watching a primary debate in August.
The interesting thing with Trump, of course, is that I think it's hard to say that his success in the poll is the reflection of the volume of coverage he's gotten. There was a report at the end of the year that Tyndall did that just compared, I think, "ABC World News Tonight" and the time they had devoted to Trump, which was something like a total of 88 minutes and to Bernie Sanders 20 seconds. And yet at the time, Bernie Sanders was doing very, very well as well. So, there's the entire media platform that both of them, particularly Trump, has been very successful in leverage. His social media platform is extraordinary. So, quiet apart from what's happening in traditional media, whether it's cable or print or online, there's what he is -- the media content that he's creating himself had extraordinary reach.
STELTER: Sanders is the flip side of this conversation. I wonder how you justify having Trump on the cover so many more times than Sanders.
GIBBS: Well, he has so far been winning more than Sanders has. We did put Sanders on the cover and obviously will again if he -- if that race tightens up more. But what's happened in the Republican Party, when you're seeing a party having a civil war in front of our eyes, that is just a remarkable thing. And the coverage of it I think reflects the fact that we're seeing something we've never seen before.
STELTER: Is this a teachable moment for your journalists and for other journalists? Do you think you'll be telling this story years down the line about how important it was not to dismiss Trump, or more importantly his support early on when he entered the race?
GIBBS: You know, I think what's interesting and what we'll be thinking about years from now is he paved a new road. And it was a combination probably of timing and talent and technology and any number of factors that I'm not sure anyone else will be able to replicate.
[11:25:01] But what he's proven is that a new road can be paved. Someone else is going to come along and run for president in a way that's completely different than anyone has before. And we have now seen that that's possible.
And it won't be the same way that Trump has. But it will be different from anything we've seen. And I do think that future journalists, again, it's a reason to go into this with a certain assumption that you don't know everything that is going to happen before it happened, to be very cautious about making predictions. It would be probably be good for all of us as both consumers and producers of media to be a little less in the prediction business.
So, I think that we -- this is something that we will learn from, I hope, in a good way about letting events unfold and being -- expecting to be surprised.
STELTER: Nancy, great to see you. Thank you so much for being here.
GIBBS: Nice to be here.
STELTER: This morning, up next, from so-called old media to new media. Are sites like "Huffington Post" eating their proverbial shoe laces? "Daily Beast" editor John Avlon has surprising answers, right after this.
STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.
Some new media giants have been among the most dismissive of Donald Trump's candidacy.
Last summer, for example, The Huffington Post covered his campaign as part of the entertainment section, saying -- quote -- "Our reason is simple. Trump's campaign is a sideshow. We won't take the bait. If you're interested in what the Donald has to say, you will find it next to our stories about the Kardashians and 'The Bachelorette.'"
Well, that didn't last. The site now covers him in the politics section, but attaches a warning label to all of its stories, calling him a racist.
And they aren't alone. BuzzFeed's editor in chief released a memo a couple months ago telling its staff it's OK to call Trump a racist.
Let's take a look back at some of the months of coverage with John Avlon, editor in chief of another new media giant, The Daily Beast, and a CNN political analyst.
We went back in time a little bit to the day that Donald Trump announced his candidacy. We wanted to see what kind of predictions were made on the air that day. And we did find one from you, John, so let me play it and then get your reaction to it.
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, good. Thank you, Brian.
I look forward to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AVLON: I'm not writing off that some people -- as P.T. Barnum said, there's a sucker born every minute.
And there would be enough that show in the Republican primary to make him poll. But let's offer just a reality check. This is a reality TV show star trying to run to pump up his profile even more because he is drunk on pure ego.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Trying to pump up his profile any more.
So, John, tell us, do you think you were right on that day? Do you maybe wish you could take it back a little bit?
AVLON: No. NO, I think that holds up pretty well I think what happened is, the dog caught the car.
(LAUGHTER) AVLON: What began as a marketing exercise ended up being a massively successful presidential campaign because it reflects the fact that the Republican Party has RINO-hunted to such an extent that its base is narrow and not representative of the nation at large.
So, they were really susceptible to this kind of celebrity demagoguery.
STELTER: Well, you're saying that you didn't think he had been plotting to actually run for years. You're saying it started as marketing.
But there have been some news reports that he was really, truly planning on running for president for many years.
No, and, look, we have reported as well, from his early flirtation in the late 1980s to the birther comments in 2012, this has clearly always been an ambition. The phrase make America great again, which he lifted, but still trademarked, occurred after Romney lost in 2012. That had been fairly well-obscured.
But his flirtation with public office had been public for a very long time. The question is whether it was driven simply by sort of a YOLO moment in which he said, you know what, this is my time to do this, I have always wanted to, or whether it was deeply planned.
We know he doesn't have a very deep political organization, but it's been enormously effective because of the emotions of economic and cultural resentment he's tapped into with the added alloy of celebrity. And I don't think you can discount that in this campaign.
STELTER: I have seen very aggressive coverage of Trump from your publication the very beginning last summer.
AVLON: A core part of our mission at The Daily Beast is to call B.S. on bullies, bigots and hypocrites.
And at any given time, Donald Trump has committed any of those sins, sometimes at the same time. So, rather than giving him breathless coverage as a phenomena, it's important for us to try to hold him to account, to be aggressive. When certain of his aides have threatened our reporters, we have published those threats.
And we think that's part of the role of journalism, that this is not simply to chronicle the spectacle, although that is an important thing, and do so with an area of -- with an aura of humility and curiosity about the underlying phenomenas, but to go in and be aggressive and to hold people to account.
And Donald Trump needs and deserves that as much as any political figure on the spectrum we have seen in recent decades. STELTER: Do you think that that has a risk, though, of alienating, frustrating or turning off Donald Trump supporters, his many supporters who believe the media is not trustworthy?
AVLON: Yes, so be it.
I mean, look, everyone's entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. And that's an idea which has come under attack because of the rise of partisan media in recent years. And we're not going to fall into that trap.
And I think we do ourselves a disservice when we sort of breathlessly wait for the latest controversy, rather than calling out the ones that have already occurred.
There's a lot of debate about whether media has a liberal or conservative bias. And partisan outlets aside, I think the truth is that we have a conflict bias. And Donald Trump has been able to use that enormously effectively in the course of this campaign.
And so we need to own the fact that he to some extent has discovered the Achilles' heel of our coverage. But, look, this Trump phenomena also didn't come out of nowhere. I wrote a book called "Wingnuts" five years ago. And what this is about as much anything is the combination of the polarization of the Republican Party and the appearance of a celebrity demagogue.
And so while Trump couldn't have been predicted -- and I agree we shouldn't get too deep in the predicting business -- there are deeper trends that have led to this moment. And those, we should have been covering for a long time. And I think, at the Beast, we have attempted to, and other people have as well.
STELTER: You know, that's interesting about the larger trends.
I was curious for your point about that, because around the time you were writing that book, it was early on in the Obama administration. FOX News was vehemently against Obama, as it has been day one.
And conservative media in general has taken a very anti-Obama position. Now, the president has recently argued that that contributed to the rise of Trump. He argued that by creating this sort of environment that was very toxic, that it created an atmosphere and an environment for Trump to thrive. Do you believe that's true?
AVLON: I absolutely believe that's true.
You see right now it even in the divide within FOX News, where Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier, the journalists over there, are constantly trying to defend each other from Trump's attacks, while the opinion anchors on the other side are busy giving him sort of backrubs on national TV.
This is what happens when you try to get in the business where you appease people -- you appease the crocodile, hoping it eats you last. That's what happened in the Republican Party right now. And the state of conservative media is a reflection of that as well.
STELTER: I think, at the end of this Trump story, whether it ends in November or whether it ends four or eight years from now, every journalist has to ask themselves, am I proud of the way I covered Trump? Am I proud of what I said and...
AVLON: That's right.
STELTER: ... what I reported about him? And from that clip, you're saying you're proud of what you said on day one and you're saying it again today.
AVLON: I am. And I'm proud of the way we cover Donald Trump at The Daily Beast. We're tough. We're aggressive. We hold him to account. And that's consistent with our mission to stand up to bullies, bigots and hypocrites.
STELTER: John, thanks so much. Happy Easter.
AVLON: Thank you, Brian. Take care.
STELTER: In a moment, our all-star panel back to talk about the consequences of this Trump disconnect.
Plus, "The Washington Post"'s Dana Milbank testing out recipes. See why he's planning to eat his words next.
STELTER: Welcome back.
This hour is all about accountability, about exploring how well the press did or didn't cover the rise of Donald Trump and his hijacking of the GOP.
What I'm about to how you is the ultimate example of accountability. Liberal "Washington Post" op-ed columnist Dana Milbank is ready to eat his words.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANA MILBANK, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Six months ago, in a rash and reckless moment, I said I was so sure that Donald Trump would not win the Republican nomination that I offered to eat an entire column of newsprint if proven wrong.
Trump still hasn't won the nomination, but it's now a very real, if unappetizing, possibility. So it's only prudent to be prepared, newspaper-lined tacos, ground newspaper falafel, and the well-done Trump Wagyu steak with newspaper.
(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: I hope that I haven't ruined any of your Easter brunches today.
We're still a long way from the convention and from Election Day. Ted Cruz or John Kasich or someone else could wind up becoming the GOP nominee. But I think Milbank is smart to be trying out recipes.
Let's bring back our panel here, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of "The Nation" magazine," Scottie Nell Hughes, the national political commentator for USA Radio Networks and a Trump surrogate, Will Bunch, a senior writer for "The Philadelphia Daily News," and Molly Ball, a political writer with "The Atlantic."
Molly, I think you have foreshadowed what happened here pretty well last August. Let's take a look at what you said about pundits.
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BALL: Pundits like me are terribly clueless when it comes to predicting how Donald Trump's going to do.
We're all totally clueless. And maybe this is why so many people like Donald Trump. American voters really don't like pundits. They think we're all stupid. Maybe when Donald Trump can come along and makes us all look like fools, people think he must be doing something right.
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STELTER: Molly, is one consequence of sort of the early wrong-headed coverage of Trump that it feeds into Trump's complaints about the media and gets supporters to distrust the press even more?
So much of the Trump phenomenon is about the loss of trust in institutions and people's alienation from the media, among other things. I think the most important thing that any journalist can have is humility.
And it became very clear to me very early on in this campaign that something was happening that I didn't understand. So the response to that has to be to go out and investigate, to have your eyes and your ears open and to be curious and try and figure it out, instead of trying to shoehorn a new reality into your old preconceived notions and pretend that you saw it coming, pretend that it doesn't surprise you, which I think is the tendency of a lot of people on television.
I think also, though, this whole conversation about did the media enable Trump on the one hand or are the media trying to -- out to get Trump on the other hand, it's all very flattering to the media to think we have that much power.
But what Trump shows us and what I think Bernie Sanders shows us on the other hand is that it doesn't matter what we say or what we do. The voters have their own sources of information. They can go around and over and under us and find the things that they're looking for. STELTER: Let me ask Katrina and Scottie, who are here with me on set.
Katrina, the coverage I'm proudest of from this program -- I went back and read every transcript we have had since last June. The coverage I'm proudest of is I went to New Hampshire and talked to Trump voters and journalists there. The coverage I'm least proud of is when I think I overreacted to the Trump slam against John McCain.
Everybody kind of thought, oh, it is over for Trump at that point, that time last Sunday back then. I think it was in July.
I wonder for you, is the same true for you? Is the coverage that stands out the most in your mind from the past nine months coverage that actually spoke to the voters on the ground?
VANDEN HEUVEL: Absolutely.
But I think, Brian, Molly is so right. Humility is needed at all times. And I think Americans would value media more. But the media is at a crossroads. We were talking about it earlier. This is beyond us. There's a systemic crisis confronting media.
Will journalists be able to do the kind of reporting, going into the field, spending the time talking to people, or will there be that kind of relentless race for ratings and clicks which will distance the media even more from people on the ground who want to see more coverage of their lived experience?
STELTER: Scottie, do you find the same thing? I said earlier you were from Texas. Actually from Tennessee, from Nashville. Sorry about that.
HUGHES: Not much of a difference. We still fry our food and have big hair. So, it's OK.
HUGHES: I think it's interesting that she said the word "and clicks."
That right there speaks volumes, because I think social media has played a huge part both with the traditional broadcasters, but as well as you're seeing this rise of conservative media outlets with their stories and their journalists. They're getting their stories.
Those numbers are just as high as probably traditional media has been. That I think what has shaped more of this election than people are giving it credit for, because now you don't get your media just when they give it to you. You get it whenever you want.
You can get it from whoever you want and whoever you choose. It's not that you have only two or three limited choices. Now you have hundreds. And so now it's been this competition amongst all these journalists. OK, how do I get this demographic? How do I get this base? How do I get these numbers?
STELTER: If we think about the media as a tree, let me go to Will on this question about another kind of branch of journalism. And that's data-driven journalism, predictive journalism, the kind that Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight and Nate Cohn of "The New York Times" and many others do.
Will, do you think Trump shows the limits of that kind of data-driven journalism based on polls and what's happened in the past?
BUNCH: Yes, absolutely.
Look at Nate Silver from FiveThirtyEight, who, when he was at "The New York Times" in 2012, was the guru of predictive journalism, using data and using analysis. He said there was no way Donald Trump could get the nomination.
Clearly, as I said before, I think people fighting the last war, the numbers they were seeing for Donald Trump in the summer of 2015 didn't mean anything because they were comparing them to Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann and those type of candidates.
So, no, I think clearly data journalism had its limits here, absolutely.
STELTER: And bottom line, this has sort of been an emotional election. Right? People's emotions are at the fore here.
I think reporters, too often, we are slow to recognize that. Sometimes, we were trying to cover a rational election, when it wasn't.
Katrina, do you have a quick thought before I take a break?
VANDEN HEUVEL: I do.
I think we would all do well to use some history in our coverage. Gore Vidal, our longtime contributor, used to say things it's like the United States of amnesia. We have been here in views of the media, Nixon, his vice president, Spiro Agnew, Pat Buchanan, George Wallace.
We have seen right-wing, populist, dog whistle demagogues. We have seen insurgent campaigns. This is not 1968, but, you know, the rallies have some overtones of that. I think history, rather than big data, predictive, lack of humility journalism would be a great thing and help us all.
STELTER: I love that you said that, because after the break, I'm going to talk a bit about history. Please, all of you, stick around.
We will be right back in a moment.
STELTER: Welcome back.
Donald Trump's domination of the GOP is hardly the first story the press was slow to recognize. Think about the coverage of the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003, or the financial collapse of 2008, or, most recently, the toxic water disaster in Flint.
Most journalists assumed Trump would follow a pattern. He didn't. And that is what makes his victory so newsworthy. But it's almost a moment for self-reflection in the news business.
Let's bring back our panel for a few final thoughts.
"The Nation" editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel, USA Radio Networks commentator Scottie Nell Hughes, "The Philadelphia Daily News"' Will Bunch, and Molly Ball of "The Atlantic."
And, Scottie, I wanted to ask you first about this.
Hadas Gold at Politico wrote about this topic this week of Trump surrogates or Trump supporters on TV. Virtually all the paid Republican commentators on this network and others are anti-Trump. CNN went out and hired people like Jeffrey Lord in order to represent the Trump side.
And you have been appearing on cable news all the time supporting Trump as well. Has this been strange for you? What does it say about television news that they have had to go out and recruit Trump reporters?
HUGHES: I think it shows the true diversity of the Republican Party right now.
I think everybody thought they had Republican consultants or Republican commentators on their staff. And that would do it well. They didn't realize how much divided our party is and how people were very disenfranchised on Main Street from those folks that they had hired here within the newsroom, as well those that were elected on Capitol Hill.
All Mr. Trump has done has put the people above the media, above the politicians. As a Trump surrogate, it's been a wonderful experience when I'm with the people, not necessarily sometimes within the media, just because it has not been one where I have gone on to a set and I have had friends on the set necessarily.
STELTER: I hear what you're saying.
Katrina, this has been an anti-media campaign that Trump has been running. We saw David Brooks say he has to change the way he does his job if he's going to accurately report on the country.
Do you think that's true for many others besides David Brooks?
VANDEN HEUVEL: I do. I think we need some humility, as Molly said. We need some history.
But I think this campaign has forced the media to understand that it's not covering the full diversity of ideas and issues in this country.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Bernie Sanders, millions of people are meeting him and his ideas for the first time. It's broadening the spectrum. It's busting open a downsized politics of excluded alternatives.
I think that there is great value in that. I would say I don't think our real problem, Brian, is left/right bias. I think it's a corporate media system that's been rigged against the public interest by failing to listen to the voices and people whose lives are not fully reflected in often what passes for spectacle in much of the news.
People would much prefer to have more respectful coverage of their communities, economic lives than more wife wars or Trump-Cruz insults.
STELTER: I could definitely do with less of the wife wars.
Will, I think you agree with Katrina, but give me your closing thought.
One thing, I think, if we had taken Trump more seriously in the summer of 2015, I think you would have seen more investigative reporting of Donald Trump earlier on. There have been some great pieces that have come down the pike about Trump University, for example, which has massive allegations of fraud against it.
We have seen more reported about Trump's bankruptcies. Earlier on, I think if we had realized the seriousness of Trump's appeal, that those stories might have influenced some voters. Not a lot of voters, because I think there's a hard-core conservative base that distrusts the media, thinks we're too liberal.
As Katrina said earlier, this goes all the way back to Spiro Agnew and the nattering nabobs of negativism. And so some fact-checking is not going to be trusted. But I still think it's an endeavor that should have been done. And I think would have been done if we had taken Trump more seriously at the beginning.
STELTER: And, Molly, what about you? You are our reporter here, have been writing about this phenomenon for months.
I just -- I love all this discussion that we're having of all the underlying forces shaping Trump. It has been fascinating. It's changed a lot of my conceptions of American politics, these discussions about socioeconomic anxiety, and fear, and anger, and resentment, and displacement by social change and globalization.
That's all well and good. But I think we also have to remember that it's Donald Trump who has done this, right? All those larger forces in society didn't make this happen. It was one person in particular who was uniquely capable of tapping those forces that I think have been with us for a long time.
STELTER: That's the perfect note for us to end on, that this was a once -- sort of a one-of-a-kind story that's still unfolding.
Molly, Will, Katrina, Scottie, thank you all for being here.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Thank you.
STELTER: We will be right back in just a moment.