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NYT: Trump Could Have Legally Avoided Taxes for 18 Years; Is the Media Trying to Take Down Trump?; Polls and the Presidential Election; "Saturday Night Live" Takes on First Presidential Debate; Editorial Pages Make "Disendorsements". Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired October 2, 2016 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:07] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good morning. I'm Brian Stelter, and it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES -- our weekly look of the story behind the story, of how news and pop culture get made.

This hour, Team Trump versus -- well, the entire media. His latest week of whoppers has some Trump beat reporters saying his lying is getting worse. We'll ask two experts.

Plus, this question, do newspaper endorsements still matter? What about dis-endorsements? We'll look at the red states papers speaking out against Trump.

Plus, Sean Hannity, maybe the most pro-Trump member of the media, he's out front and center in this election. He was even the subject of the jokes of "SNL" last night. We will take a look at that later.

But up first, let's peel back the curtains on this first surprise of October. Trump's taxes are the story of the day. All over television, all thanks to this "New York Times" headline, Trump's tax records could have -- he could have avoided paying taxes for nearly two decades.

Now, this story landed with a huge impact on the front page of this morning's paper.

So, how did "The Times" get a hold of these records? Well, one day last month, September 23rd, reporter Susanne Craig walked over to her mailbox in the third floor, she pulled out a pile of mail and spotted a manila envelope with an unusual return address. It said Trump Tower.

She was astonished and she wasn't sure to believe it. Here to tell us the rest of the story is the woman herself, "New York Times" reporter Susanne Craig.

So, you received this envelope in the mail. What were the three pages inside? And what do they tell us about Trump's records with taxes?

SUSANNE CRAIG, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: There were three pages and they tell us in short there was a very large number with a negative in front of it and it was his net operating loss. And that number told us in short that he had racked up enough losses over the years to essentially move that forward in the future years and be able to reduce his taxable income to zero, so he would not have to pay tax potentially.

We haven't obviously seen the future returns to see what he did it in, but it gave him almost a billion dollars of leeway in which he could have income that he would not have to pay taxes on.

STELTER: Do you have to -- you have to make a lot of assumptions to get to this point where you can say, he may not have paid federal income taxes for many years?

CRAIG: Well, you could say that he had this carry -- this thing, this number that he could carry forward, and unless he didn't use it, it's pretty safe to say for at least several of the years, he did up to a billion dollars in taxable income. It's extraordinary.

STELTER: At first, you weren't sure of these documents were real. What did you do to verify that?

CRAIG: We got a group of people together. I went over and talk to a colleague of mine who had been working on some tax reporting with David Barstow. And we got a group of reporters together and, first of all, we sort of had two tracks. One is, let's try and verify them. And two, let's just see what they are and trying to dissect it. You know, obviously, there were large concerns that they weren't real. We had no sort of solid, where did they come from?

STELTER: So, you thought maybe someone trying to trick you or dupe you?

CRAIG: They could be very much so, and that's why we wanted to verify it and just do some good, old fashion reporting.

STELTER: I've been asking -- and so, eventually, you reached out to his former accountant basically, right?

CRAIG: Yes. Tax returns are hard to verify, there is only a few people who could verify them. The signatories on it were Marla Maples, Donald Trump and Jack Mitnick, his former accountant. And David Barstow, my colleague, one of the reporters that I worked with on the story went down to see Jack and had a long discussion with Jack about the taxes and Jack Mitnick said they're legitimate.

STELTER: In other words, when you see a story like this in the front page of "The Times", weeks of work had to go in to checking this out.

CRAIG: Absolutely.

STELTER: Let me show you what FOX News said about this earlier this morning and then get your reaction.


TV ANCHOR: A bold move from "The New York Times", trying to take down Donald Trump with a front page story claiming that he has not paid taxes in years. But the evidence and how they got it raising a lot of questions this morning.


STELTER: Raising a lot of questions. So, FOX had some doubts about your sources but they're saying that you are trying to take down Donald Trump. Is that what you're doing?

CRAIG: I think that his taxes as he's running for president and whether or not he's paid taxes or not, it's an incredibly important issue. There is pressure on him to release his tax returns. I think it's called reporting. I mean, it's simple as that.

STELTER: You think FOX does not understand that?

CRAIG: I think that -- I guess they have an opinion. I mean, we think that we are doing our jobs and part of that is to look for things like Donald Trump's taxes and to find indications of whether he's paid taxes or not. I mean, this is -- it's an important issue and I think that that's sort of what we do.

STELTER: There was a legal threat from the Trump Organization before you all published this story. I have been asking the Trump campaign this morning if they are going to follow through. They haven't replied to those questions.

Are you expecting legal action?

CRAIG: I don't know. I don't think it's a crime to check your mailbox and that's what we did and we did some reporting. So, but we definitely -- they told us that they may sue and we are comfortable with the story and went ahead with it.

STELTEER: Are you sitting on more documents?

[11:05:00] CRAIG: We're doing a lot of reporting around this. So, we're going to keep ongoing.

STELTER: That's a yes. You have more document besides the three.

CRAIG: Maybe a no comment.

STELTER: No comment.

And who do you think sent the documents? The return address was Trump Tower. That doesn't mean they definitely came from Trump Tower, does it?

CRAIG: No, it doesn't obviously. They could have come from any number of sources.

STELTER: Do you know who?

CRAIG: Again, no comment on that one.


STELTER: I appreciate your willingness to at least talk about the story and make us more curious of what you have coming next.

Susanne, good to see you.

CRAIG: Great to see you.

STELTER: Thank you.

Here to talk more and what if anything they mean for the rest of the campaign, let me bring in John Avlon, a CNN political analyst, the editor in chief of "The Daily Beast", and Tim Graham, executive editor of "Newsbusters", a project of the Conservative Media Research Center.

John, let me ask you, do you expect any legal action from Trump as a result of the story? Of course, keeping in mind his organization did threaten to sue before "The Times" published.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. Look, the Trump's first impulse is to threaten legal action and he can file whatever suit he'd liked, but he doesn't have much grounds to stand on. In fact, if you look at Trump's history of failed First Amendment lawsuit from Bill Maher to the reporter Tim O'Brien, to even "The Chicago Tribune" where he sued them because their architectural critic back in the 1980s described the Trump Tower as being aesthetically lousy, generally, these suits get thrown out of court.

It's an intimidation tactic that doesn't seem to be much rooted in legal reality. But it can have a chilling effect and that's its intent. It did not in this case and it should not going forward.

STELTER: Tim, you're a frequent critic of "The New York Times", do you see something in this story that feels wrong, that feels off base?

TIM GRAHAM, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, NEWSBUSTERS: Well, once again, we have all kinds of anonymous sources. This story -- just calling it plain reporting is wrong.

STELTER: What do you mean anonymous sources? They published the documents from 1995 in the newspaper.

GRAHAM: They have the anonymous tax expert. They are on the front page today saying he benefited from his vast destruction, like he was hurricane Donald. This newspaper has all the restrain of a pack of flesh-eating zombies, the idea that anyone would take them seriously when they've announced on the front page that their job is to take him down, when they've done repeated editorials about how he needs to be defeated.

Today, it's all about how the Latino --

STELTER: The editorial pages separate from the newsroom, though. I mean, having worked there in the past, the editorial pages produced way upstairs and the newsroom is downstairs. There are differences between them.

John, do you want to chime in? AVLON: Yes, yes, please? Look, lets have a simple reality check

here. First of all, I mean, I understand the discomfort of many conservatives, because so many historically conservative and Republican papers have had the first time in their history declined to endorse the Republican nominee.

But this story is sourced not only with documents, and that's not incidental to core, but also ended up through good reporting and reaching out to the accountant who filed them, who added both verification and explication and the Trump campaign is notably not denied them. Simply threatened lawsuits.


AVLON: So, characterization they've done is pure partisan spin and has no credibility, unfortunately.

GRAHAM: "The New York Times" is pure partisan spin and the story admits itself that the evidence here is fragmentary. And it's clearly, you're talking about Trump being intimidating. This newspaper is trying to intimidate Trump into releasing his tax returns. That's what they're up. They're out to get him defeated and everyone knows it (ph).

AVLON: That's a tradition in the presidential politics for reason of disclosure and Donald Trump notably in January of 2012 encouraged Mitt Romney to release his taxes for reasons of transparency. So, that's a standard Trump once advocated and then failed. But that's normal for people --


GRAHAM: And Hillary Clinton never violated a standard?

AVLON: She's a deeply flawed candidate --


GRAHAM: -- a story a few days ago about Hillary Clinton and Goldman Sachs. I don't remember the networks coming on that morning and saying bombshell, explosion, story that's really going to damage Hillary's campaign, because everybody's out to destroy Trump. That is their job --


GRAHAM: And that is why the American people are saying we don't trust the media.

AVLON: When did the conservative movement started loving to play victim so much? When did that start happening?

STELTER: I'm trying to find the quote, Tim, in the story where you're referring to anonymous expert. I can't find it in this story.

GRAHAM: Right there on the front page. STELTER: Again, I am looking at right now and I pull it on my computer, I was searching the keywords because I want to make sure I find this and verify it. I don't see it a reference to the hurricane that you're mentioning.

GRAHAM: I'm not --

STELTER: Do you believe that the "New York Times" is wrong to be trying to obtain information on his taxes?

GRAHAM: No, I'm saying nobody believes that when they are looking at this information, that they're nonpartisan or disinterested journalists. We all understand, yes, anybody who's running for president, you want to look about their background and in this case, the candidate's business record. That's fair.

But everybody understands "The New York Times" declared in the front page, we're not here to be fair this year, we are here to beat this man. They're basically suggesting that he's a threat like Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein. That's the levels of restraint we're seeing in this campaign.

AVLON: No, this is simple taxes, stats and facts. It is objectively news that a nominee --

GRAHAM: It's not objective at all.


[11:10:00] AVLON: -- tax reform has failed, not only declared a nearly billion dollar loss but is potentially paid no federal income taxes for more than a decade in its wake, which is not denied by the campaign, rooted in documents that are there in black and white.

I know that's uncomfortable for people with ideological agendas.

GRAHAM: Well, you don't have one, John. You are as much of a Republican as Lester Holt, you know, to come on here and say you're not ideological.

AVLON: I'm an independent --

GRAHAM: Nobody buys that.


AVLON: What I am not is a right wing ideologue who profits from polarization.

STELTER: Lets take a break here, both of you, stick around for me, please. We are dissecting the debate, Donald Trump's week of whoppers, and this feeling of Team Trump versus the entire media that Tim is talking about.

We'll be right back after a quick break.


STELTER: Donald Trump says so much that he overwhelms news cycle, normal journalistic practices. We really cannot keep up, as if he goes on media benders with rallies and FOX interviews and tweets. But we're the one who can barely stand up straight at the end of the day.

So, last weekend, several of the country's best known newspapers tried to study a week of Trump's statement and all the newsrooms concluded the same thing, that Trump lies more often than Hillary Clinton. Yes, lies. "Politico", "The New York Times", "L.A. Times", they all use the L-word.

Trump's whoppers about Iraq and birtherism were a theme in Monday's debate as well. No wonder people doubted him when he was complained that the microphone he was using was defected. Now, it turns out the debate commission said on Friday there were issues regarding Trump's audio that affected the sound level in the debate hall.

[11:15:04] It did not affect the TV broadcast though.

This weekend, Trump is taking a truth that there were audio issues and spinning it into a conspiracy theory, musing that the debate commission is rigged against him.

Trump keeps telling his followers that every institution is rigged. First, the commission, you know, and all these other issues. Well, now even, Google.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In a new post-debate poll that just came out, the Google poll, had us leading Hillary Clinton by two-points nationwide and that's despite the fact that Google search engine was suppressing the bad news about Hillary Clinton. How about that? How about that?


STELTER: In 22 seconds there were at least two falsehoods. Number one, Google did not conduct a poll. Number two, Google's algorithm is not biased against him.

Mr. Trump, just Google "Hillary Clinton lies" and you'll see all the stories that Google is not suppressing.

So, let's dispel with one more Trump myth. In the wee hours of Friday morning, he tweeted his frustration with all the recent stories about his aides telling him to shape up and study for the next debate. He wrote this, "Anytime you see a story about me and my campaign saying sources said, do not believe it. There are no sources, they're just made up lies."

He says if we don't name our sources, our anonymous sources to insist on anonymity, the sources don't exist.

This is untrue. It's flatly untrue. It's actually troubling to say because CNN and "New York Times", all these news outlets have really important anonymous source policies, where we have to tell our editors, our bosses, who our source are, even when they're Trump aides who are trying to communicate with Trump through news stories.

Bottom line is, these false claims by Trump has serious consequences.

Back with me now to talk about, John Avlon, a CNN political analyst, editor in chief of "the Daily Beast" and Tim Graham, executive editor of "Newsbusters".

Tim, I believe your position is here anonymous sources are, you know, are what, are not acceptable or not appropriate to be using for stories?

GRAHAM: Anonymous sources are for important information, when you have information you can't get any other way. What we see too often in political news media today as I just suggested in the previous segment is you use anonymous sources to say incredibly nasty things, often from political consultants who have clients they're to be friends of, like I cannot say nasty things about other Republicans because they might hire me later this year.

What you are saying when you're a news sources, trust us, this person does not have an agenda. When the newspaper or the network has a partisan agenda, then you're not going to tend to trust their anonymous sources either.

STELTER: John, what do you make of Trump telling people not to believe the media? It's been a theme for 15 or 16 months, ever since he entered the race. But it seems to be heightening in recent weeks.

AVLON: Absolutely. Look, I mean, he's been very clear that attacking the media is a core strategy fro his campaign. It's been expressed by surrogates like Newt Gingrich and expressed other surrogates in particular. And Trump has a twisted relationship with the media, right, because he simultaneously craves media attention and attacks media when it attempts to hold him accountable which is our job.

You know, look, I think we also need to confront the fact that part of the reason that Trump's line of attack works for his supporters is that trust in media has been on the decline for decades, and that is a real problem. Prime culprit of that I would argue is the rise of partisan media, which allows people to segregated themselves in separate political realities.

But that's a larger and different problem. It's deeply serious. It's the ground on which Trump's success with this line of attacks that his supporters run. But in the long run, it's about trying to diminish the idea of truth itself. And that is incredibly dangerous to democracy.

You know, my favorite quote from Daniel Patrick Moynihan. "Every one is entitled to their opinion, but not their own facts." That's what is being intentionally muddled here by the Republican nominee.

STELTER: On Monday, after the debate, Donald Trump praised Lester Holt. But later in the week, he had some pretty choice words for the moderator. Lets look at what he said later in the week.


TRUMP: You know, when I first did it, I thought he was fine, I wasn't thinking about it. When I reviewed it, and when I saw a lot of commentary because a lot of people thought he was terrible, and I looked at all of the commentary, I realized he was much, much tougher on me than he was on Hillary. It was a day and night.


STELTER: Tim, why do you think Trump is bringing this up repeatedly? Do you feel that working the ref is a smart strategy for him?

GRAHAM: Working the refs is a terrible analogy. If Lester Holt was refereeing a football game, he would have gotten thrown out of the stadium.


GRAHAM: I think the "Saturday Night Live" skit, I would have done, if I was running the show, would be Lester Holt, it would sort of be like the end of "Top Gun" where he lands on the flight deck after beating the Russians and everybody applauds him.

Obviously, the whole news media spent before the debate was telling Lester -- truth squad Trump, truth squad Trump, no truth squad Hillary.

STELTER: He fact-checked both of them.

GRAHAM: And he heard the lesson and he obviously did this in a way that --


STELTER: It's not Lester Holt's fault when Donald Trump lies more than Clinton on the stage.

[11:20:00] AVLON: Correct.

GRAHAM: But the whole assumption of liberal media is Hillary somehow never lies, right?

STELTER: Who's saying that? Who's saying that?

GRAHAM: PolitiFact, everybody cites PolitiFact, it says Hillary never lies.


GRAHAM: The fact the matter is, Hillary is -- why do people -- why is her trustworthy level is so low? Because people have watched her over decades lied about everything, including, "I gasped for air, I had no idea he cheated with me -- cheated on me with Monica Lewinsky." Nobody buys that. And for everybody to pretend they do is amazing.

AVLON: Yes, look --

STELTER: John, yes, go ahead.

AVLON: Look, a couple of things here. You know, PolitiFact's ranking of the lies by respected candidates is as close as we are going to get to an objective tallying of this year's sum in total.

We know that Donald Trump is at the end of the day a hyped man. He admits freely he exerts -- you know, engages in the hyperbole. The problem is that crosses into demagoguery in a political context.

Hillary Clinton has problems with honesty and trustworthiness. We know that from polls, in part because for 25 years, she's been demonized by partisan media. And so, it comes back to partisan media and the role it plays. It is the job of journalists to insist on the facts-based debate.

It is increasingly, we are recognizing that it is also our job to call out lies and to call them lies without and not default to this on the one hand or the other, more relativism. And those of you on the side of partisan media who say that the explicit beating of biased mainstream media over the years can only be corrected by explicit biased. Well, you carried the day for a while, but now, people are hip to your tricks and it's a fundamental problem that's undercutting trust in media, freedom and democracy writ large.

GRAHAM: Nobody buys this whole pretense that somehow John Avlon and "The Daily Beast" are the soul of objective media coverage when you sat in a studio and you all made fun of Dick Cheney's heart trouble and how you would take his heart in a train --


AVLON: Go back and look at your own clip because you're exquisitely sensitive about things when it perceived slight, you'll see actually I defended Dick Cheney --

GRAHAM: That's a perceived slight?

AVLON: -- in that particular clip you're referring to, which is ancient history. But I'm happy to engage in it. Look, the bottom line is that you guys have a real credibility problem and there is a need for a place like you to call out whatever implicit or explicit bias exists on the left. But you sacrifice your real credibility because you're only going to focus on one side of the problem and that perpetuates the polarization.

We tried to be nonpartisan --


GRAHAM: In a show in which we're all focusing on Trump.

STELTER: Let me --

AVLON: And what that means is that we will hit the left or the right as the facts indicate. We'll report without fear favor and you have explicit favor, your donors and your ideological from day one.

GRAHAM: "The Daily Beast" does not --

AVLON: That's why your credibility fails.

AVLON: Let me play a referee here and say, I want all media to exist. I want "Newsbusters" to exist and "The Daily Beast". I just want people to know what they are and what they stand for.

Gentlemen, thank you both for being here.

And John has written a perfect companion to this segment on His essay, "What news needs to do now" in these weeks ahead of the election. Check it out,

Up next here, how polls are used and abused. Two prominent pollsters, one a Democrat, the another, Republican, are here for a segment you have to see right after this.


[11:27:09] STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

There's a rare clear media consensus after Monday's debate. Most commentators in every poll from CNN's instant poll on Monday, here it is, to a new ABC poll released this morning, showed the same result -- Hillary Clinton prevailing over Donald Trump.

But this is an example of Trump seeking an alternate reality. All week-long, he cited these online surveys showing that actually he won the debate by huge margins. He tweeted a bunch of them. He called them polls. He put them all in a screen here, "TIME", CNBC, Fortune, Drudge, Breitbart and others.

But these are not really polls at all. He's misleading you when he says they are polls. They're actually kind of informal, unscientific surveys.

On Thursday, MSNBC's Chuck Todd had enough. He was visibly frustrated by Trump's communication adviser Jason Miller and the Trump camp for using these surveys to claim a win. Watch this.


CHUCK TODD, MSNBC: You know those are bogus. You know these are bogus. There's nothing -- they're beyond non-scientific. In fact, you have evidence, there's some evidence that they are computer program that is help refresh, all you have to do is like enter your history and you get to vote again. They're not real again, Jason.

JASON MILLER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Chuck, the energy and enthusiasm of this race is all with Mr. Trump.


STELTER: The surveys do perhaps show enthusiasm but nothing more than that.

Let's ask the two perfect people about this. Let's cut the B.S., as John Avlon would have just said. These are the co-hosts of a podcast called "The Pollsters", Kristen Soltis Anderson, who's also a columnist for "The Washington Examiner" and a Republican pollster, and Margie Omero, executive vice president of public affairs with PSP Research. I don't want to miss it up.

You're a Democratic pollster. So, Margie, let me start with you. I want to get both of your assessments of this. Why should people, when they hear Trump talking about these online surveys not take to mean that Trump won the debate in the eyes of the American people?

MARGIE OMERO, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Right. The fact that they're online is not the issue because there are a lot of outlets that are experimenting with online surveys, news outlets. There are a lots of great online survey work out there.

The issue is whether or not you have a representative sample, whether you're asking people to participate or whether people are going on themselves to participate. And when people go online to take one of these quizzes or reader engagement tools at these various websites, you don't know what kind of samples you are getting. And they are -- there's a self-selected bias to participate based on whether or not you want to be, you want to give your input. And that's different than making sure you have a poll sample that looks like America.

STELTER: These are also vulnerable to manipulation, meaning people could vote thousands of times if they want to via computers and robots and things like that.

Kristen, let me ask you as a Republican prominent pollster, should Kellyanne Conway, Trump's campaign manager and a prominent pollster, step in here and tell her candidate to knock it off and stop citing these B.S. polls?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CO-HOST, "THE POLLSTERS" PODCAST: Well, this is always one of the big challenges you have as a pollster working in a campaign is, on the one hand, you have a deep understanding of how the data works.


You have a deep understanding of what it means. And there is always this sort of debate about how much do you put yourself in the position of -- sometimes, people want to shoot the messenger.

If you push too hard, if you try too hard to get folks to be sort of statistically correct and understanding the data in the right way, a candidate like Trump might just bulk and say he does not want to listen to you anymore at all. So, is it better to kind of soft-pedal some of this, try to keep and make sure that he is still listening to you, so that you can try to influence him if you are on the inside?

I would certainly love to see Kellyanne come out and say, yes, I understand that these polls are wrong, because I think that she knows that those polls are wrong. But certainly I think Trump is the kind of candidate that is very hard to control.

STELTER: I have asked these news outlets like CNBC and "Fortune" if they're going to keep doing this, keep posting these surveys. So far, it seems they will, which I think is part of the problem.

It's not just Trump. Part of the problem is news outlets giving their credibility over to these incredible, un-credible polls.

Kristen, do you see the Clinton campaign or Democrats doing the same kind of misleading things with polls?

SOLTIS ANDERSON: You know, I think the big story right now is still the Trump campaign touting this stuff.

And I think part of it is because Trump's brand is all about being a winner. If he's down in the polls, if he's anywhere, if there is a perception that he has not won, that really undercuts of a core piece of what he is trying to sell to the American public.

So, at the moment, most of the sort of fouls that I see happening out there are coming from the Trump campaign, rather than the Clinton campaign.

STELTER: Margie, let me ask you maybe a provocative question.

Are we all paying too much attention to the real polls that are out there, the CNNs, the ABCs, the Foxes, the real poll data about this election?

OMERO: It is funny to say as a pollster maybe we are paying too much attention to polls.

STELTER: You think so?

OMERO: They're obviously fascinating.

We talk to pollsters on our show who say, well, it is like the game is always on 24 hours a day and people just want to check the score. But I think the thing to remember is that there is a lot more to polling and a lot more to understanding public opinion than simply -- than horse race questions.

Private polling, internal polls, practitioners like myself and Kristen, we do a lot more than just test the horse race. It's message testing. It's qualitative focus groups. It is really hearing respondents in their own words, hearing what people think of the country. There is a lot more than just who's up two points and who is down one. STELTER: I wish I could see all that data.

Kristen, in the minute I have left, what should viewers keep in mind for the next 37 days? They're going to continue to see a lot of these horse race polls. What should we all know and keep in mind as we hear about them all the time?

SOLTIS ANDERSON: Follow the trends, follow the trends, follow the trends. It can be easy to see an individual poll come out that that seems to change the narrative, disrupt a news cycle. It gets everyone all excited.

I always encourage people, look at how an individual poll, say how has ABC's poll changed month to month? How has CBS' changed month to month? Look at those trends within polls, rather than panicking every time an individual new poll comes out and seems to change the game.

STELTER: All right, Kristen, Margie, thank you both for being here and cutting through some of this clutter.

And do check out their podcast, weekly podcast. It's called "The Pollsters." You can find it on iTunes and just Google it.

Up next here, the highly anticipated season opener of "SNL." Maybe Donald Trump should be thankful for it. We will explain why after the break.



STELTER: Monday was the most watched debate in American history TV; 84 million tuned in on TV. Millions more streamed it on the Web. And it was historic for other reasons too.

It was the first debate with references to Rosie O'Donnell, Howard Stern, and Sean Hannity.

Last night's "SNL," the new Trump impersonator, Alec Baldwin, had some fun with the Trump-Hannity relationship.


ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: I was against the war. Ask anyone in the world named Sean Hannity. I told Sean Hannity. Call Sean Hannity.


ACTOR: You told Sean on his show, and there is proof?

BALDWIN: No, I told him in private.


BALDWIN: It was just me and Sean late at night. I leaned over and I whispered in his ear, "Sean, I am against the war in Iraq." (LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: And then he whispered in my ear, "I'm against the war too."

And the next thing I knew, I was kissing Sean Hannity.



STELTER: There you go.

Let's talk about "SNL" and Hannity and FOX and Trump with Margaret Sullivan, the media columnist for "The Washington Post," and David Zurawik, the media critic for "The Baltimore Sun."

David, you wrote this morning that "SNL" came out blasting.

What did you like and what disappointed you about the cold open with the debate?

DAVID ZURAWIK, TV CRITIC, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": Nothing really disappointed me, Brian.

The most interesting thing to me about that opening was, I remember when I first saw Tina Fey's Sarah Palin. I had to put down my notebook and just enjoy it as a fan. It was this liberating experience.

I didn't feel that. I thought they did everything fine. I think Baldwin was good in performance. The writing was good. The makeup was great. All of that worked. And then I started thinking, what changed?

And here's what I think changing. In 2008, late-night comedy and particularly "SNL" was saying the things mainstream journalism could not say, that Palin was one of the dopiest, goofiest-looking candidates we ever had. And, oh, by the way, she will probably be dangerous and a disgrace to us if she's elected.

We could not say that. They could. It was liberating. Now everybody, from editorial writers to people on the campaign trail, are saying all things about Trump that were sort of revealed in Baldwin's satirical take on him. And that's a big change in the media.

So, it is not anything that "SNL" did. I thought they did a great job. I thought their weekend update was really funny in terms of nailing how disappointing each of the candidates is to many Americans.

STELTER: Well, this gets to something that the conservative like Tim Graham are saying, conservative like Sean Hannity are saying.

Margaret, they feel all of the media, to the extent that media is a singular thing that can be summed up in a word, is trying to take down Trump. Do you feel there is some truth to that, the idea that most

journalists are inherently afraid or concerned by Donald Trump as president?


MARGARET SULLIVAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": You know, I don't think that "Saturday Night Live" or the media write large is trying to take down Trump.

But I do think that there is, you know, a kind of way of thinking that many members of the media share. And it does creep into the -- it creeps into comedy and it creeps into certainly commentary and sometimes it creeps into news story. Yes, I think it does.

STELTER: Is that a bias or is that kind of a reaction from the fourth estate whenever it senses a threat to democracy?

SULLIVAN: Well, Brian, I think one of the ways that we can look at this is in the recent ways in which mainstream media has begun to call out lies and to actually use the word lie.

And you have talked about that and written about that a lot. That's a break from what has been done in the past. You know, I think it is fine to call what it is.

STELTER: When it is very clear, when he is saying Google is suppressing news.

David, what about Trump's FOX-centric strategy? We have seen him cloistering himself on FOX, giving more than a dozen interviews there in September, almost none, almost no other national TV interviews off of FOX.

Do you believe this is a problem for journalists that we can't directly question Trump?

ZURAWIK: I don't think it is a problem for journalists. And he is certainly entitled to try that strategy.

But I have to tell you something, Brian. When I was thinking of Sean Hannity in connection with this, I went back and I found the piece where Hannity interviewed Sarah Palin on September 18, 2008. And in it, he is serving up softballs. He never follows up. He is servile.

And they made the set with this china cabinet and American flags look like it might be an executive office building, so that she would look normal in this setting. And it was so pitiful to see the way this was going. And you remember, she was only doing those interviews.

Last line of my review was, look, she could not even handle the softballs from servile Sean Hannity. Next week, she is supposed to talk to Katie Couric. Maybe they better rethink that, because she's so much in the bubble, she can't deal with real stuff.

And I'll tell you what. You saw this in the debate. When Trump kept saying, I don't know why the media won't call up Sean Hannity, they should call up Sean Hannity, I'm siting there going, who would care what Sean Hannity said?

If I went to my editors and said, hey, you know, Sean Hannity said Donald really did say Iraq, they would laugh me -- they would threw me out the window in the newsroom. But he's in that bubble.

He's in the FOX bubble where he believes that Sean Hannity's opinion or Sean Hannity could actually verify your story and anybody would believe it. He's already too far in that bubble. And it really hurt him in that debate. When he...


ZURAWIK: ... Sean Hannity, it was a strange, strange moment.

STELTER: Isn't that the problem, Margaret, that Hannity does not have credibility across a vast swathe of the country, so it does not matter what he might have been told by Trump years ago?


SULLIVAN: Well, Brian, I think we all understand that Hannity is kind of an arm of the Trump campaign who happens to be in sort of an island on FOX.

But I don't know the extent to which the FOX audience or the general public really knows or sees that. I think we have a different view of it. And we don't see him as a journalist. And I think he has actually said that. He does not see himself as a journalist.

STELTER: Right. Definitely.

SULLIVAN: And there are variations on this theme.

There are hard news reporters and there are commentators. But I think Hannity in this case is in sort of a class itself.

ZURAWIK: Even folks at FOX see him as a kind of a party apparatchik, you know?

I mean, I think he even makes some of them uncomfortable. That's what has been expressed to me that way.

STELTER: I am curious to see, as we get to Election Day, how Rupert Murdoch is going to be feeling about Hannity's role in this election.

David, Margaret, thank you both for being here.

Up next here, death threats against a major newspaper over a presidential endorsement, while one of the most prominent papers in the country launches a series of editorials on how a President Trump would harm the country.

We are going to talk about that with the editorial page editor of "The Washington Post" right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


STELTER: A new word this week, disendorsement. That's what several major papers are doing, disendorsing Donald Trump, warning against his presidency.

And these are not just blue states papers, "The Dallas Morning News" recommending Clinton for president, "USA Today" going further and saying that Trump is unfit for the presidency, and "The Cincinnati Enquirer" saying it has to be Clinton.

"The Arizona Republic" is another example, a paper in a red state that has never endorsed a Democrat before, endorsing Clinton this time, saying she's the only choice to move America ahead.

Now, that is a move that was met with subscription cancellations and alleged death threats.

This morning, "The New York Times" is out with a Spanish-language editorial. It's specifically targeting Latino voters and urging them to exercise their right to vote.

And that's not all. "The Washington Post" this weekend starting a new editorial series aimed at looking at the harm they say Trump would do and would cause if elected.

The first one is titled "The Clear and Present Danger of Donald Trump."

It says this: "If you know that Donald Trump is ignorant, unprepared and bigoted, but are thinking of voting for him anyway because you doubt he could do much harm, this editorial is for you."

All these papers all making move to distance themselves Trump and support Clinton, perhaps an activist role we haven't seen before.

Let's talk about it with the editorial page editor of "The Washington Post," Fred Hiatt. And he joins me this morning from Washington.

Great to see you this morning.

FRED HIATT, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Hi, Brian. STELTER: Do you view this year as fundamentally different for

editorial pages like yours and many others that are supporting Clinton and going a step further and warning against Trump in very explicit ways?


HIATT: I think it is fundamentally different, because this election is fundamentally different from anything any of us have ever known.

You know, first, I think we should just remind your viewers that what we do on the editorial side is completely separate from what the news side does. So, when we're writing our editorials -- and this is true for most of the papers that you just cited -- we're not speaking for the reporters who are covering the campaign or the news side.


HIATT: But, on the editorial side, "The Post" already did something which we never did before, which was, back in July, right after the nomination of Donald Trump, we wrote an editorial saying, no matter what happens in this campaign, no what happens in the debates, we are not going to be able to endorse this Republican nominee for president, because we look at him as an unprecedented danger to the country, to the democracy, and in a lot of ways to the world.

STELTER: When we hear comments like that, which we're hearing from many corners of the media, do you interpret it as media elites obviously criticizing Trump and potentially bolstering him, potentially supporting him among his base, which is just as opposed to elitism as he is?

HIATT: You know, I don't really -- I don't think it's my job to kind of think about, what are the politics of what I do?

We have an editorial board that is quite diverse ideologically. We're not on one team or the other. Over the years, we have endorsed people from both parties. And our job is to give people the arguments as we see it and let them evaluate it.

You know, that editorial I referred to back in July was certainly the most-read "Washington Post" editorial in history. So, there a lot of people who are paying attention. I'm sure there are a lot of people who dismiss it. We don't expect to convince everybody in the world.

But what we try to do is present arguments, particularly for people who are still thinking about it, that may be useful as they make up their minds.

STELTER: Trump tweeted over the weekend, saying that: "People are very smart, really smart in canceling subscriptions of the Dallas and Arizona papers, and now USA Today will lose readers. The people get it."

Have you lost readers, Fred? Have you had subscriptions canceled as a result of this anti-Trump stance?

HIATT: Well, first, I would say I admire these papers like "The Arizona Republic" that are following principle as they see it, without regard to what the business consequence might be. I think that's to be respected.

In our case, no, I mean, we have certainly gained readers this year. We have -- as a newspaper, as a digital publication, we have more readers than we have ever had. And that's definitely true for the opinion side and it's definitely true for our editorials.

STELTER: Let me ask you about something I'm worried, honestly. I'm worried about it here at CNN, at "The Washington Post" and everything else in the media, so much conversation about Trump.

You look at "The Washington Post" home page, which is mostly news, not your part of the building, but mostly news, there's like 26 mentions of Trump this morning and like six mentions of Hillary Clinton.

And if you ran the numbers for this hour of CNN, you would probably find the same thing. Do you feel that's a form of bias? Do you feel that the press is maybe focusing too much on the person who is likely not to be president, according to polls, and not enough on the woman who is likely, according to polls, to be president?

HIATT: I think that's a good question.

I mean, we have -- we said in July that we'd continue to cover Hillary Clinton honestly and criticize her when called upon. And we have done that editorially. We still have not written our endorsement. Traditionally, we would do that in the middle of October or so.

And so we're covering both. The series that we started this week is aimed at people who, you know, might realize that Trump is -- they might not agree with everything he says, but they might think, well, how much harm can he do?

And we felt that one thing an editorial page can do is be substantive, be thoughtful, look at, what could a president do unilaterally, without Congress, without the courts interfering, that people might not have thought about?

And so I think that's a useful journalistic exercise. I think we have to continue to keep covering both campaigns. And we do.

STELTER: Fred, great to see you this morning. Thank you very much.

HIATT: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: And we will be right back with more RELIABLE SOURCES in just a moment.



STELTER: Finally this morning: rhetoric that is not just overheated; it's fully on fire. And we're all inhaling the smoke.

Cue up Sean Hannity saying America is on the brink of death.


SEAN HANNITY, HOST, "HANNITY": And I know I'm out on a limb here, but I don't care, because it's the right thing to do. You have a choice. America lives or dies in 39 days. That's how I look at it.


STELTER: It would be easy to make fun of this. In fact, it would be too easy.

So, just for a minute, let's take it seriously instead. There's a straight line from this end-of-America rhetoric to the rise of Trump. There's a straight line from Hannity saying America lives or dies straight to the hate that pollutes Facebook feeds.

Now, don't get me wrong. Polarization is polluting all sides of this race. Some, not all, but some supporters of Clinton are also saying stuff they are going to regret.

The nation is on edge about this election. And the more you're paying attention, the more fearful and anxious you probably are.

So, I keep wondering. I keep asking myself, what can we in the media do to make things better, not worse? I think it starts with empathy, sympathy, sympathy for the other side, whatever the other side is to you, attempts to understand and to listen, attempts to build trust.

I know what doesn't help, death threats, name-calling, dismissive attitudes.

For the next few weeks, I want to keep exploring what we can do in the press to help heal some of these wounds.

So, send me a tweet. Let me know what you. I'm @BrianStelter.

And I will see you next week.