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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

What's Media Role in Knocking Down Conspiracy Theories?; How Obama Fought Back Trump's Birther Claims; Is Media Repeating Its Sanders' Mistake?; White Anxiety Across America; The Decline of Rush Limbaugh; New Twist in Hulk Hogan Sex Tape Case. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired May 29, 2016 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:08] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good morning. I'm Brian Stelter. And it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the story behind the story, of how news and pop culture get made.

Ahead this hour, could the king of pop conservative be dethroned? With Rush Limbaugh's contract about to expire, I'll talk with a reporter who can take us inside the complicated business.

Plus, Bernie Sanders' last stand? A panel of top political reporters will respond to Sanders claims of media bias.

And the shocking twist in the Hulk Hogan-Gawker case. There's a billionaire who's been secretly supporting Hogan the whole time. I'll tell you what it means for the future of media. That's coming up later this hour.

But first, I'd like to let you in on a conversation that's happening in a lot of newsrooms. Reporters and editors and bosses are talking about what to do when candidates invoke, discredited rumors and innuendo and frankly, downright crazy conspiracy series.

Now, the focus is on one candidate in particular, Donald Trump. You could see it here in this clip. This is the intro to CNN's "THE LEAD" earlier this week. You could hear the frustration in Jake Tapper's voice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE LEAD": Once again, journalists are in the unhappy predicament of trying to decide what and how to cover false allegations raised by a candidate for president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Now in this case, Tapper was addressing Trump's latest foray into conspiratorial thinking. This involves Vince Foster. Donald Trump made a comment to "The Washington Post" that the 1993 death of Foster, the deputy White House counsel, was quote, "fishy".

Foster committed suicide. A fact backed up by government investigations, two congressional reviews and independent investigations by CNN and other news outlets. But fringe, right wing websites have been promoting conspiracy theories about Foster's death, claiming it was a murder, falsely, for 20 years, and it looks like Trump has been reading those rumors, those claims online.

So, what's the press to do about this? It's not as simple as you might think.

So, joining me now are three seasoned reporters. Julie Pace, the White House correspondent for "The Associated Press", Jonathan Martin, the national political correspondent for the "New York Times", and Michael Oreskes, the head of news for NPR.

Thank you all for being here.

Michael, I say this is not that simple because, listen, we can stand here, we can sit here and we can directly into the camera: these claims are all false. We can say that all day long. And yet, I do wonder if it still sticks in the minds of people and makes them wonder if these claims are true. What do you think is the proper position for the press to be taking when Trump is asked about these theories or answers about it?

MICHAEL ORESKES, HEAD OF NEWS FOR NPR: I think our role is clear. Our role is to state what's true. So, for example, we did a story earlier this week that actually tried to assemble as many of these conspiracy theories as we could that Trump has passed along or propagated and did whatever we could do to describe what was true and false. But in many ways, it's less about debunking the conspiracy theories because many of them have been around for years and, you know, we'll never settle some of these arguments.

The real issue is that by bringing them up again, he's targeted them at Hillary Clinton, because these were all conspiracy theories that in one way or another involves her or the Clintons or the Democrats, which is kind different for example than when Hillary Clinton the other day said she was going to get to the bottom of the question of whether aliens have visited the earth, she wasn't smearing Donald Trump with that. She may have been pandering a little to those who are curious about Area 59.

But what Trump is doing is propagating disproven or at least heavily debunked conspiracy theories in an effort to use them politically. And I do think we have an obligation to call him on it when he does it.

STELTER: And, Jonathan Martin, I see you chuckling there, but this is a pretty serious issue. You wrote this week in "The Times" that right wing media is getting its wish, why is that?

JONATHAN MARTIN, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Look, I think that if you follow politics closely, you know that what has happened in recent decades is that it's a constellation of conservative media forces, talk radio, the Internet, notably Drudge, and a few other sort of media outlets have effectively become a wing of the Republican Party and have been very powerful in pushing negative information into the kind of mainstream media. And there is a sort of food chain, or there was at least a food chain

here, an ecosystem, where party operatives would feed information to right wing media outlets and then once it was posted on the web somewhere, or on talk radio or on FOX News, then those same operatives would get it in the media.

Well, guess what? Trump cut out the middle man and he now traffics in all kinds of smears and isn't that concerned about the voracity of some of this information. He's happy to do it himself. He doesn't need the staff to sort of send it around, no fingerprints, on background, off the record, what have you.

You know, he himself has become a candidate who's willing to traffic in conspiracy theories and we haven't seen anything like this in national politics.

[11:05:09] And so, I think it is incumbent upon us in the media when this does happen to step back and say, this is not normal. And what he is doing is remarkable and if he is telling mistruths or passing along mistruths, we should say those things are incorrect.

STELTER: Yes, the question I don't want to ask here and, Julie, to you, the question I don't want to ask is, is this effective? Right? That's what the political shows talked about. I think it probably is effective. But this is a show about media.

So, Julie, what do you do? Because one option is to not quote him at all, to not share when he recites a debunked conspiracy theory. Is that really an option though?

JULIE PACE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: I think it's increasingly less of an option given that he is now the presumptive Republican nominee. If we chose to ignore what he was saying, that would almost be worse, we would be selectively keeping information or trying to keep information from the public, and that's not our job either.

I think what we do have to do in all of these cases is put as much context around what Trump says as possible. It's irresponsible if we just simply put out his quotes or we just show a clip of what he says, we have to put in the political context, especially when it comes to things he's saying that involved Hillary Clinton, what is he trying to say about her? What message is trying to get across to the public about Hillary Clinton?

And the to Jonathan and Mike's point, we really need to put as much fact about what happened in these stories as we can. And I actually think that one of the smartest things we can do is use Trump's words, use the questions that he's asked, his answers in full, because that is sometimes more effective than anything else, showing exactly what he was asked and exactly what he says.

STELTER: Michael, do you agree with Julie that we don't have an option of ignoring it, of ignoring what he posts on Twitter or Instagram, or ignoring what conspiracy theories he brings up?

ORESKES: Yes, I absolutely think it's important -- STELTER: I know it's an awkward thing to ask, but I think we have to

at least to put it on the table because, you know, journalists do -- you know, I don't want to use the word "ignore" -- but journalists do choose not to cover certain subjects, we choose not to pay too much attention to protests that might be about 9/11 truthers, for example.

ORESKES: Right. We make decisions and choices all the time. I mean, that's what editing is. That's what journalistic choice is. But in this case, I think what Julie said is the most important point, which is this is a major party candidate for president of the United States, the public needs to hear what he has to say. We then can do things to try to expand or put context or just call it as untrue.

STELTER: Right.

ORESKES: You know, when Donald Trump the other day said that Hillary Clinton wanted to repeal the Second Amendment -- well, that was false. She's never said that. She's never proposed that.

On the other hand, he may have been trying to get at something that he could have said that might have been a truth, which was that they have different views on how much guns should be regulated. But that's a very different idea. And it's really important for to us help people understand that. But there's no way we can shield the public from this or should.

STELTER: Let me play another sound bite from CNN earlier this week. This was on Don Lemon's program, talking about other conspiracy theories that Trump has brought up in the past. Watch the reaction from a Trump supporter when he did this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR, "CNN TONIGHT": Vince Foster's suicide, Trump calls it fishy. He links autism and vaccines. He says that he saw people cheering in New Jersey after 9/11. He suggested Ted Cruz's father was involved in JFK's assassination. And he still doesn't know if Obama was born in the U.S. He was, by the way.

Is Trump a conspiracy theorist?

TRUMP SUPPORTER: No, he's not. He just likes to get people thinking and doing their own research to find out the facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: "He likes to get people thinking" was the answer there.

I do wonder, Jonathan, if this comes down to Googling? Is the answer here for viewers, for readers, that's to take a more active role in checking what every candidate says, particularly Trump's, given his past reference to conspiracy theories?

MARTIN: Yes. I mean, this election puts an added burden on the voter because they're going to have to spend a little bit more time getting to the bottom of some of these questions and controversies and statements.

But we should be helping the voters by being straightforward with regard to what these candidates are saying and if it's true or if it's not true. If we don't do that, we're being irresponsible, frankly.

STELTER: Jonathan, Julie, Michael, stay with me, everybody.

We're just getting started this morning. We're going to bring the panelists back.

And we got a surprising new report about Rush Limbaugh coming up.

But right after the break, I want to tell you an untold story about the original Trump conspiracy theory, untold until now, when Trump brought up the birther conspiracy and questioned President Obama's birthplace. How did the White House fight back? Hear from one of the aides who was in the Oval Office when it happened, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:13:24] STELTER: Hey, welcome back.

We've been talking about Trump's penchant for conspiracy theories and unreliable sources. And in our planning meeting for today's show, we wondered, who has first-hand experience with this?

And then we realized, the answer is President Barack Obama. As we mentioned in the first segment this morning, he's been dealing with Trump stoking the conspiracy theory fires over his birth certificate ever since 2011. That's when Trump was thinking about presidential run and making allegations that the president was not American, despite being challenged in interviews like this one with ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a real question about the birth certificate. There's a real question about the -- his own citizenship.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: There is no question. He's got a certificate of live birth that's recognized by the State Department.

TRUMP: George, I know exactly what you're getting at.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The facts.

TRUMP: For some reason -- no, they're not facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: This was a quandary for the White House. This birther conspiracy has been circulating online for years. But now, a prominent Republican was talking about it on television. So, the White House presented the president's long-form birth certificate. And then, at the White House correspondents' dinner just a couple of weeks later, the president responded big-time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight for the first time, I am releasing my official birth video.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[11:15:02] STELTER: So, President Obama's response was, simple, effective and it was pretty funny. Some people say that White House correspondents' dinner actually caused Trump to want to run for president for real, because he was humiliated by Obama on stage.

Let's talk about the White House sort of tried to defang Trump in this situation. I'm joined by one of President Obama's former advisors, a man who worked with him very closely for many years in the White House, Dan Pfeiffer.

Dan, good to see you. Good morning.

DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: I'm really curious if you can take us back to 2011, because this birther conspiracy had been in feverish swamps on the web for years, and yet, Trump talking about it made a different, why?

PFEIFFER: Well, you know, in 2007 and 2008, there were these e-mails chains going around alleging the president was educated a madrassa, born in Kenya, not eligible for the presidency, but they never sort of reached critical mass where the public was talking about it.

And the figures who were pushing these conspiracy theories were very discredited figures the press wouldn't take seriously, and they certainly didn't have the capacity to get on George Stephanopoulos' show, as in the clip you just showed.

When Trump picked this up in 2011, he used his huge megaphone in his very aggressive media strategy, he was on the morning shows and the Sunday shows making the case, and even when reporters like George Stephanopoulos in that clip pushed back very hard, what people were seeing headlines, or saying things in Twitter and Facebook, that make it unclear and we felt we had to respond, if we were going to put this in the box and we can begin to focus on the very serious issues we were facing in 2011.

So, the goal was to be aggressive, it was fortuitous that the correspondents dinner was just a few days later. So, we had this big stage to handle Trump in the way that we always thought was the best way which was ridicule.

STELTER: Do you believe the theory that that's what caused Trump to actually get serious about running for president, the ridicule that he experienced at that dinner that year?

PFEIFFER: As much as I would like to blame Jon Favreau and the rest of our speech writers of the Trump presidential campaign, I don't think so. He could have run in 2012 and chose not to after he was humiliated in that speech.

STELTER: You're saying that should be the tactic, perhaps of the Clinton campaign when it comes to dealing with more recent conspiracy theories that Trump brings up?

PFEIFFER: The challenge for the Clinton campaign is we had it much easier. We were able to go to the state of Hawaii and present a piece of paper that said exactly what Trump said was not true. The sort of conspiracy theories he's alleged about, Vince Foster and things like that are much more challenging because it's impossible to prove a negative.

But I think you have to take him on and arm your supporters and your surrogates with talking points that they can be sharing on social media. So, there's two conversations happening, there's the Trump supporters pushing the conspiracy theory and there the Hillary Clinton supporters and hopefully the media pushing back with what the truth is.

STELTER: More recently, Trump has been asked about this birther conspiracy. He tries to avoid answering. He tries to say he doesn't talk about that subject anymore. Do you think that's because you all effectively defanged him or because everybody believes it by now already believes it and he's not going to convert anybody else by seeing it again?

PFEIFFER: I never try to ascribe too much strategy to things that come out of Trump's mouth. I think that there's about a nanosecond between when he thinks of them and when he speaks them, I think he's got humiliated --

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: You don't think he's been really successful strategically in the past 11 months?

PFEIFFER: I think he's been very successful. I think that maybe more gut instinct than some sort of plan. And he deserves real credit for beating a lot of really good Republican politicians. He had the advantage of being the candidate with the highest name ID in the positions most consistent with the Republican base, that candidate usually wins, this is a much different game that he's in now.

STELTER: When you look at how the press handles these conspiracy theories, the most recent one you mentioned about Vince Foster, but lots of other ones. Is there something you wish that journalists will be doing differently? I know you talked to a lot of journalists in your role today, do you wish there was something that was being done differently?

PFEIFFER: Well, I know journalists struggle with this, because Trump is changing the norms of campaigns. Despite what the public thinks, most politicians do not lie. Sometimes they're misleading, sometimes they cherry-pick their facts, but they don't lie. And so, this is not something reporters are used to. Now we're on CNN, you work for CNN, I'm a CNN contributor, but I think

the reporter who deserves a lot of credit for handling this in the most aggressive and effective way is Jake Tapper. He does not treat Trump's -- he takes them on specifically and aggressively and he doesn't treat them as -- oh, as sort of a traditional misleading fact- check type statement. He does it very aggressively in ways that get attention. And I think more journalists should follow Jake's lead on this.

STELTER: In that clip we played in the last segment, that's a blueprint perhaps for other journalists going forward.

Dan, thank you so much for --

PFEIFFER: Absolutely. Absolutely.

STELTER: Thank you so much for being here.

PFEIFFER: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: Coming up next here, Bernie Sanders, a lot of media types underestimate his appeal this time last year.

[11:20:04] Has the press learned from that mistake or is he making the same mistake all over again? We'll discuss that right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK_

BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Don't count Bernie Sanders out, that's the message from his supporters. And it's a message aimed at two groups, the Democratic Party and the media. While Hillary Clinton is on the cusp of becoming the Democratic nominee, Sanders says he still sees a way to win the nomination if he wins in California on June 7th.

But I'm more interested in what his fans say and there are lots of them. Listen to the crowds at his rallies, listen to his supporters on social media, and you hear a widespread belief that the media is biased against him, that the corporate media is coronating Hillary, that there's a Bernie blackout.

Now, there has not been actual blackout of Sanders, but many campaign reporters now do say they underestimated his strength this last year.

[11:25:03] So, I wonder if the same mistake might be being repeated right now.

Let's bring back our panel. Julie Pace of the "A.P.", Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times", and Michael Oreskes of NPR.

Julie, do you look at what's happening right now with Sanders, with his increasing criticism of the media, for the way he covers, the way he is covered, excuse me -- do you look at all this and say this is always what happens when a candidate is down on his luck and about to lose a primary and about to lose the race? Or is there some legitimacy here to the argument that this is still a competitive primary?

JULIE PACE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, candidates argue about their media coverage, whether they're winning or losing frankly. I think the thing with Sanders is it is definitely true that the media as a whole underestimated him last year. But the reason we focused on him, that he begun to get more attention is because he started winning.

Politics, presidential campaigns in particular, you hear a lot about momentum, and the narrative and crowds at rallies. But, really, this comes down to math, how many states are you winning, how many delegates are you winning from those states? And right now, if we look at the history of this Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton has a lead in delegates that is insurmountable unless Bernie Sanders is able to drastically flip superdelegates. And we have not seen evidence of that.

So, while I do understand that he is frustrated as he continues to win states if not delegates and he does see these big crowds, the math is the math, and that really is what this comes down to in primaries.

STELTER: I wonder, though -- I agree with you, but I wonder, Michael, if there's a risk of alienating Sanders supporters, some of them, if they feel that the press is on this, right? They say the process is rigged and that the press is part of the problem. Should we be doing more to explain how this really works in order to win those supporters over?

MICHAEL ORESKES, HEAD OF NEWS, NPR: Well, we have an interesting moment here, politically, which is well worth covering, and I think a lot of political reporters in fact are covering, which is the relationship between Sanders and Sanders supporters and Clinton's campaign is a very crucial one and a very important one.

STELTER: Right, right.

ORESKES: You know, how well that comes back together in the next few weeks and months is goings to be a crucial piece of this campaign. So, there is a real story there.

STELTER: Yes, I think it's this issue of not seeming too dismissive perhaps and ticking off supporters.

Jonathan, let me ask you about one other candidate in the race that's starting to get attention. Sanders has said that he will not run as a third party. But there are, of course, other parties, the Libertarian Party, we have seen more of the candidates, Gary Johnson, recently, also his V.P., his running mate pick, William Weld.

Do you think this uptick in press attention for the Libertarian Party could actually have a significant effect in the summer and the fall by letting more people know that they're in the race, so to speak, could it tip the scales in some way?

JONATHAN MARTIN, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think it could be significant, absolutely. It's a question of how you define significant. If they do get ample press coverage this summer and fall, and there is

no other viable third party candidate that emerges in the Johnson-Weld ticket, which, by the way, hasn't been formalized yet.

STELTER: Right.

MARTIN: But the Johnson-Weld ticket becomes the de facto alternative for, you know, conservatives and Republicans who can't bring themselves to vote for Trump, yes, the coverage is going to be a huge factor. It could determine what they get 3 percent in some places or 7 percent to 8 percent in places, or even higher.

STELTER: Right now, the banner on screen, I was just looking here, it says, "Should media pay attention to Libertarian Gary Johnson?" You know, certainly I think voters need to know that there are other options besides the two primary partners.

MARTIN: They're two former governors of state. I mean, these are not marginal people, Brian.

STELTER: And yet at the same time, let's look at this poll from March. This is Monmouth University, one of the few polls that we found that involves the Libertarian Party. You see Gary Johnson, they're getting 11 percent in a hypothetical match up with Trump and Clinton. That is, of course, not nearly enough for him to be a viable candidate for the presidency. But it is enough to make him a spoiler, right?

MARTIN: Absolutely, and, by the way, 11 percent for someone who is not known really at all, and was just thrown on to a questionnaire? I think it tells you something about the dissatisfaction with the two nominees.

PACE: That's exactly the right point, I think, Jonathan, that there is a real hunger out there.

I was in Pennsylvania most of last week talking to voters. And I talked to about 30 voters. Every single one of them was dissatisfied with their choices, all 30 voters. That is really amazing and I think that for some of those people, a third option, just another alternative, almost no matter who it is, is very attractive at this point.

STELTER: It's such an interesting issue, you know, to think about how a third candidate in the race could make a difference, of course, and the press -- you know, let's be honest, right, TV networks, websites, it would be interesting to write about more than just two candidates. So, I even wonder if that's a factor.

Michael, would that be a factor for a newsroom like NPR?

ORESKES: There's a long history of third party candidates effecting the outcome of American politics, you know, from Ross Perot --

STELTER: We're kind of back to the '90s again, right? We're talking about Trump and bringing up Clinton stories.

[11:30:02]

ORESKES: Right. And you can all -- you can argue that Abraham Lincoln was a third-party candidate. This is not -- this is not actually that unusual a situation in American politics. And so not to cover it at all would be as arch and bizarre as to overcover it.

So, it will be interesting to figure out. It will be one of our challenges this year, is to figure out, what is the right level of coverage? I very much doubt that there will be newsrooms that give all three candidates equal coverage, but I imagine that there will be a lot of interest.

STELTER: Michael, Julie, Jonathan, thank you for all being here this morning. Great talking with you.

MARTIN: Great to see you.

PACE: Thanks.

STELTER: Up next here: the role of race and racism in support for the Trump campaign. Why do so many journalists have a hard time talking about it? We will talk about that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

I don't know about you, but I have heard the following phrase about 100 times: economic anxiety. Whenever experts are on TV and they are asked what explains Trump's rise, they seem to say economic anxiety.

What they mean is the loss of manufacturing jobs, the impacts of globalization, the aftershocks of the 2008 financial crisis. And these are real factors, as Trump promises jobs and better days ahead.

[11:35:19]

But are the talking heads missing something when they pin it all on the economy? What about racial anxiety as a factor? I think this piece of the Trump story has been overlooked, maybe because, I mean, let's face it, it's a lot more difficult to talk about.

But as Slate's Jamelle Bouie has noted, among white voters, higher levels of racial resentment have been shown to be associated with greater support for Trump. Jamelle Bouie's view is that white America's backlash to a black support is something that helped to spawn Trump and to get him to the point where he's now the GOP nominee in a presumptive way.

Now, he and others have asserted that make America great again, that slogan we see on those signs, is really about restoring whites to a preferred position in an increasingly multicultural America.

"The Atlantic"'s Derek Thompson has also written about this. And here's something he said. He said: "Many racists are not poor, and many poor whites are not racist. But for many voters, race and economics are not separate issues."

So, when reporters and commentators do separate them, aren't they failing to tell the full story of what's going on?

Tim Wise, an anti-racism educator who's the author of several books on the topic, and W. Kamau Bell, the host of CNN's "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA," join me now to discuss this.

And, Tim, let me first go to you. Do you think that journalists are doing a disservice to the audience when we don't put the racial context here of Trump's support?

TIM WISE, AUTHOR, "WHITE LIKE ME": Well, of course.

If the only reason for Trump's support was economic anxiety, then people of color should be flocking to Trump, because black folks, for instance, are twice as likely to be out of work as white folks, three times as likely to be poor, 1/15th the net worth, nine years less life expectancy, in large part due to economic inequality.

So, if it were just economics, people of color should be rallying to him. But it's not. There's a link between the kind of economic anxiety that white folks are feeling and this larger political or racial anxiety.

Really, what it comes down to is, if you think about it, it's the same way that Southerners -- and I am a Southerner -- will say, well, the Civil War wasn't about slavery, it was about states' rights. Yes, but the right you were fighting for was the right to own people.

So, when folks in the Trump camp say, well, it's not about race, I like the fact that he says what's on his mind, yes, but you like that he says about Mexicans and about the Chinese and about black activists in the streets protesting police brutality, and he says things about Muslims.

In fact, all of those things that people say Trump is about, economics, the straight-shooting, the straight-talking guy, all of that still comes back to his perspective on othering other people, and saying they're your threat, they're the ones who endanger your jobs, they're the ones who are to blame for your lack of safety in the streets.

It's very much about racialized scapegoating. And economics of course make it possible to combine those things, but at the end of the day, it's still very much about identity.

STELTER: Kamau, I was wondering if you picked up on this during your travels for your show here on CNN, "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA." I was thrilled you were able to join us, because you have been traveling to so many states for the series. Have you picked up on what Tim is describing here?

W. KAMAU BELL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: America was built on racial anxiety, so it's no surprise that it's still here right now. And I think we try to do with the show is actually have conversations

with people and not just shout slogans at them the way Trump is doing. And I think that if you get to have conversations with people, you can reach sometimes a new level of understanding or at least making more space for the humanity.

But Trump is capitalizing on people's most base fears.

STELTER: Why do you think -- if that is the case -- let's take that as true for a moment, if you believe it. Why do you think we don't hear it more often here on television? Why don't we read got it more often? Why isn't it a more integrated part of the analysis about Trump's rise to the GOP nomination?

BELL: I will take that one.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: I'm sorry. That's what I meant, yes.

BELL: And then I will pass it lovingly back to Tim. Thanks for bringing the facts and figures. I appreciate that, Tim.

But, yes, America is always afraid of a race conversation. Not all of America. If you read Jamelle Bouie or TheRoot.com, there's lots of media covering it, but mainstream media, which is in large part owned by white people, it's always afraid of an honest and open race conversation.

WISE: Right.

And the media is very afraid -- Trump actually bashes the media in a very specific way, right? And so the media gets very intimidated by the thought that if they accuse his supporters of somehow being motivated by racial anxiety, that then Trump will say, see, they think you're all racists.

And then that would actually potentially fuel his support. So, I get some of the trepidation, but we have to start being honest. The biggest mistake, how many media folks have actually asked Donald Trump or any of his key supporters, hey, what does that hat mean? You're wearing this hat that says make America great again.

When exactly was America great, and not just for white men with money like Donald Trump, but when it was great for people of color? When was it great for LGBT folks? When was it great for women as women?

[11:40:03]

No one has asked. I want Donald Trump to name a year for me. I want to know, because let me tell you what. Back when the Tea Party was saying they wanted to take America back, I asked a Tea Party person, what year do you think we want to go back to? And she said 1957, which of course made perfect sense, because that was the year "Leave It to Beaver" premiered. And white folks love that. But it didn't probably actually translate to a very good time for black people. So, I want somebody to pin Trump down. Here's a slogan. It's right on his head every day and no one asks him what it means.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: I have heard interviewers ask him. What I haven't heard is a specific answer, a specific date. It's something he has not provided.

And you think he should provide a specific year in order to answer it?

WISE: I want a year, a decade, an era, something, because any year you pick is going to not be a really great one for anyone but the dominant group.

And I think that's the important thing to remember. If someone could just nail it down, then we could have a conversation, because any year that you pick is going to be a nostalgiazed version of America. It's going to be a version that some people can remember fondly, but an awful lot of people wouldn't. And we need to then ask, why is it that so many white folk want to go back to this figment of time? And that's what that racial anxiety is about.

STELTER: You point out that the mainstream media, yes, is mostly run by white men.

And I wonder if there's something here about why networks don't have full-time race and ethnicity correspondents on TV, why there is relatively small coverage of these topics in mainstream media.

Certainly, I would say your show is part of the solution to this. But are there other recommendations that you have, as someone who lives this every day, who thinks about these issues for your program?

BELL: I think maybe it would be great to have like a race conciliation person in everybody's office.

But you also just need more people of color and more LGBT and more different types of people, because even on my show, "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA," I was the only person of color on that show during production, which meant sometimes I would say things and everybody around me would look at me like I was crazy, and I would be like, can I go get a black person to step into the room right now, so you guys know I'm not crazy?

And I think it's not just about having one person. It's about having a bunch of different types of people, so there's more ideas in the room, because that's when you get great ideas. You don't get great ideas from one -- from everybody when everybody who is the same. You get great ideas when everybody is different and has different ideas.

STELTER: Yes. I keep thinking about how to make these conversations happen on TV and how to make it comfortable to have them. It's not about saying all of Trump's supporters are racist or even that many of them are racist, but it's about the racial undercurrents of what's happening in this campaign.

And I guess that gets to your point, Tim, about some of the rhetoric we hear, the us vs. them rhetoric.

Trump, unlike many other candidates, speaks in a way where he's speaking to his supporters vs. them, the others who are not his supporters.

WISE: Right. Right.

Well, and part of the reason we do not do very well with these conversations is, we don't realize, many Americans, I don't think, realize that the game that Trump is playing by blaming working-class -- by blaming black and brown folks for the problems of working-class or struggling middle-class white people is a very gold game.

STELTER: Now, just to be clear, he doesn't come out and say, I'm blaming the black people. He doesn't say that explicitly.

WISE: No, no, of course not.

But what he says is, he says, they're coming in as rapists and drug dealers, the Muslims are terrorizing you, the Black Lives Matter people are making the cities unsafe, and the Chinese are screwing you on trade. So, he doesn't have to say it.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: Those aren't direct quotes, but I hear you.

Kamau, you're laughing at me. You think I'm being too careful here?

BELL: I think -- well, I understand.

There's a thing -- I guess what you're trying to do, I respect you when you say that, but I think there's a fear of even calling Trump supporters racist, when, in my circles, we're like, yes, a lot of them are racist. There's a fear of that word in this country, that we can't even apply it when it actually makes sense.

When you see black people getting beat up at Trump rallies, I feel like I can some of his supporters racist. But we're so afraid of that word, that we won't use it even if it applies sometimes. Racists is something like when somebody drops the N-bomb. We go, oh, that's racist.

But we won't apply it to other situations, where it clearly to me and my people -- even when you say we aren't having these conversations, what you really mean is white people aren't having these conversations, generally, except Tim Wise and his white people.

(LAUGHTER) BELL: But you're saying -- but black people, I just had that conversation before I got here. You know what I mean? So it's like, there are people in this country who are having these conversations. It's just not getting...

STELTER: It's a great point.

BELL: Yes.

STELTER: And to be blunt about it would perhaps go a long way towards having more of those conversations.

Tim, Kamau, thank you for being here this morning. Great to see you.

WISE: You bet. Thank you.

BELL: Thank you.

STELTER: Coming up next here, is the king of conservative media about to be dethroned? A story about Rush Limbaugh you have got to hear in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:48:28]

STELTER: Who is the king of conservative media? I would say it's that man over my shoulder right there, radio host Rush Limbaugh.

But a new article in "Politico" magazine says Limbaugh's radio power may be waning. Almost no one has thought of this, but Limbaugh's contract is about to expire, less than two months from now actually. His current deal, a landmark eight-year commitment, was valued at $400 million.

But times have changed since there. And here's what writer Ethan Epstein wrote for "Politico" magazine.

He said: "In recent years, Limbaugh has been dropped by several of his longtime affiliates, including some very powerful ones, like WABC in New York, WRKO in Boston and KFI in Los Angeles, for example. In many cases, Limbaugh has been moved onto smaller stations with weaker signals."

So what's going on here? Shouldn't Rush be benefiting more from the rise of Trump?

Let's ask Ethan. He joins me now from D.C. He's an associate editor with "The Weekly Standard" and a contributor to "Politico" magazine.

Ethan, when you were writing about this, did it surprise you that Trump hasn't really had more of a ripple effect for Rush, that Rush Limbaugh hasn't benefited more from this incredible moment in conservative politics?

ETHAN EPSTEIN, POLITICO: I think, in a way, he has. Talk radio has actually seen a ratings boost, thanks to the Trump -- they're actually calling it a Trump bump among radio insiders.

STELTER: The same ratings bump that television has seen, radio has seen as well, you're saying?

EPSTEIN: Exactly.

But I think what differentiates Limbaugh's case from places like CNN, I hope at least, for CNN's sake, is that Limbaugh hasn't been able to monetize it in the way television has, because his main problem is an advertiser boycott, which really -- no matter how many listeners he has, the advertiser boycott is still hurting him.

[11:50:12]

STELTER: And that's why I thought your article was so interesting.

Why is this happening? Two words. Sandra Fluke. People might remember this case from four years ago. Let me put on screen what you wrote about this situation.

You say that: "Four years after Limbaugh called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a slut on the air, spurring a major boycott movement, reams of advertisers still won't touch him."

This is a rare sort of ad boycott that's actually had a long-term effect.

EPSTEIN: That's exactly right, Brian.

Four years ago is an eternity in the media universe. I'm sure most people haven't even thought of the name Sandra Fluke.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: Honestly, I had forgotten about the case entirely. Yes.

EPSTEIN: That's exactly right. And I think you're not alone in that.

But what is amazing is that, after all of those companies came out and announced they were going to boycott Limbaugh's show, they stuck by it. They never came back for the most part.

And that has had a seriously deleterious effect on his business. What is also important to remember is that Limbaugh, as you mentioned, too, at top of the segment, had a guaranteed contract. He had an eight- year contract. So, you know, every advertiser could leave him.

And he was still going to get $38 million to $50 million a year. What makes now different is that the contract is about to expire. And he needs to renegotiate it. So, this is where his personal finances could be on the line.

STELTER: You reached out Rush. You reached out to Premiere Networks, his syndicator. You didn't hear anything back from them about what's going to happen to his contract in the future?

EPSTEIN: I didn't. And I also talked to a lot of people that are involved in talk radio in writing this piece.

They all think that Premiere does want to resign him. He's still the marquee name in talk radio.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: He's not going away, right? Rush Limbaugh is not going away.

EPSTEIN: No.

He's going to be talking somewhere. The question is how people are going to listen to him. And Premiere, all things being equal, would prefer to keep him. But the fact is, they simply will not be able to afford the same amount of -- the same salary that they gave him this time around. If he stays with Premiere, he is going to get a pay cut.

STELTER: Does that say something about conservative talk radio more broadly, that the medium is not as strong as it used to be?

EPSTEIN: I think there's some truth to that.

And part of that as well is the case of -- the effects of Sandra Fluke, because the advertiser boycott ended up affecting basically all of talk radio. What a lot of companies did, take J.C. Penney, for example. They loudly announced they were no longer going to sponsor the news and traffic updates during the Limbaugh show.

But not only did they do that. They pulled their advertising from all talk radio just to be on the safe side. In that way, what Limbaugh did really hurt all of his colleagues. And that actually includes liberal hosts as well. The whole news talk format became a no-buy zone for al to of companies.

STELTER: I feel like when I hear about advertiser boycotts, I usually roll my eyes, because I don't think they are going to have an impact, but in this case, it actually did.

And the fact that you're saying it actually has affected other shows as well is really interesting.

Before I let you go, you mentioned in your story that Trump has not been endorsed by Rush Limbaugh, nor has he been attacked by Rush Limbaugh. Right? So, Rush has taken this sort of middle approach of not going all the way in for Trump. Is that right?

EPSTEIN: That's right.

I think now that the primaries have wrapped up, you know, he will be pulling for Trump, particularly against his hated Hillary Clinton. In the primaries, he was agnostic. And I think that actually spoke to his business sense. He knew that about half his audience loved Trump. He knew about half hated it, so he kind of went down the middle.

STELTER: He is a smart businessman, but it does seem like the ground has shifted underneath him. And we will see what he does in July when his contract is up.

Ethan, thank you so much for being here.

EPSTEIN: Thanks so much.

STELTER: Up next here on the program, does Peter Thiel's bankrolling of lawsuits against Gawker pose a challenge to other news outlets too? My thoughts right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:57:54]

STELTER: Finally this morning, one of the strangest trials of the year, Hulk Hogan's invasion of privacy lawsuit against Gawker Media, just got even stranger.

This week, Forbes.com reported that a Silicon Valley billionaire has been secretly funding the lawsuit. Who? Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, a famous figure in Silicon Valley.

Gawker founder Nick Denton had suspected Thiel's involvement for a long time, but he had no proof, until Wednesday, when Thiel confirmed it, telling "The New York Times" that Gawker is a bully that deserves to be challenged.

Almost 10 years ago, one of Gawker's Web site, Valleywag, wrote a blog post about Thiel being gay. At the time, this wasn't completely a secret, but it wasn't well-known either. Some accused Valleywag of outing Thiel, and a couple years later, he was blunt about his hatred for the Web site, equating its reporters with terrorists.

He says some of his friends have been bullied by Gawker's sites as well. So here's the thing. Thiel is also bankrolling other lawsuits against Gawker. We don't even know exactly how many.

It's perfectly legal to fund someone else's litigation, but this news sends up a chill up the spines of a lot of journalists. Is this a new way for wealthy men and women to attack the media? Paying for litigation to punish, to even bankrupt news outlets?

And is it already happening and we just don't know about it?

"You may not like Gawker," Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall wrote this week, but he said, "If this is the new weapon in the arsenal of the super rich, few publications will have the resources or the death wish to scrutinize them closely."

He believes there could be a chilling effect on journalism.

There's connections here between financing lawsuits and financing elections. The same questions about transparency apply to each. So, I will leave you with this question. Should the jury that found

Gawker liable for $150 million have been told about Thiel? Should they have been informed that a billionaire who despises Gawker was footing the bill for the suit? And should they be informed the next time this happens?

We're out of time for questions here on TV, but make sure you sign up for our nightly newsletter at CNNMoney.com/media.