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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Learning Lessons from Election Coverage; Nate Silver on What the Polls Got Wrong and Right; Trump Wins Election, Continues to Attack Media; How Will Freedom of Press Fare Under Donald Trump?; Media Versus Anti-Media. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired November 13, 2016 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:12] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter. And it's time for a special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. This is our weekly look at the story behind the story, how the media really works, how the news gets made.
A special welcome to our viewers here in the U.S. and all around the world on CNN International.
First, something little different. Before I get to the tease, before I tell you about the great show we have in store today, let's level with each other.
Tuesday night was the culmination of one of the biggest media failures in many years. Most journalists heading into Tuesday night believing Hillary Clinton would be elected president at the end of the night. And most viewers had the same impression. You can see in this pre- election data most viewers, most Americans believed Clinton would win.
Now this did not occur in a vacuum. The Donald Trump campaign also thought it was likely to lose. Wall Street thought Trump would lose, too.
But chalking all of this up to a surprise victory is not enough. This was a collective failure -- a failure of imagination. In some ways, a mass delusion. And the media contributed to it.
So, now, it's time for some serious soul searching. Look, I don't subscribe to the argument that TV networks gave Trump too much attention and that's the main reason why he's president, nor do I subscribe to the argument that reporters ignored Trump's America. There were outstanding reports and eye-opening cable news debate this is year.
But I know that some of you watching right now are having a very hard time trusting this channel and every other news source. So, we on the other side of the screen over here have to reckon with that, not just for a week or two but for the long term.
I have heard from thousands of you this week on Facebook, on Twitter, on e-mail, all over the place, and some of you feel like the media paved the way for a madman to become president. Others of you feel like journalism is completely irrelevant now. Still, others of you feel like the media bias tilted the race in one direction or the other. Many of you are wondering who and what you can trust.
So, the bottom line is, there are lessons to be learned if we are willing to learn them.
So, let's get started here because we have special guests standing by, including Nate Silver who had strong feelings about how polls should be covered in the future, and famed first amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams also standing by. He is preparing to defend the press against possible restrictions and attacks.
But now, the focus on journalism in the Trump age, let's bring in our super panel. Dodai Stewart, the editor-in-chief of fusion.net. Former "CBS Evening News" anchor Dan Rather, now the host of AXS TV's "The Big Interview". Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at "The Federalist" and political analyst Jeff Greenfield.
Great to have you all here.
Dan, did journalism properly serve the public this year?
DAN RATHER, HOST OF AXS TV'S "THE BIG INTERVIEW": No. Not enough investigative reporting, not enough hard questioning and not enough listening, particularly listening to that part of America which is called "flyover", between the two coasts. It was a failure, (INAUDIBLE).
Ours was not the only failure, but it was a very important failure. And going forward, instability requires, particularly with new nations, and our nation is still a new nation from a broad historical sweep, it drives institutions to help keep the equilibrium.
And the press is a very important institution, but it needs to examine itself -- and I include myself in this criticism -- didn't listen enough, didn't ask enough tough questions, didn't ask follow up questions, didn't do enough deep investigative reporting. We didn't do our job as well as we could have and should have.
STELTER: Dodai, do you agree? Was the work not done, or was the work noticed by some voters?
DODAI STEWART, EDITOR IN CHIEF, FUSION.NET: I believe that there was a lot of work done, and I think right now, we're unfortunately dealing with the situation where people don't trust the media. There's a lot of mistrust out there. When a candidate says the lying media, we have a lot of people who actually believe that.
STELTER: But aren't there other reasons besides Trump's attacks for people to distrust the press?
STEWART: Of course. And I think part of the problem is where people are getting their news from and I think the other part of the problem is that there's an echo chamber created on social media. And so, even if there is an investigative thing, you're really only seeing the things that your friends are seeing and that people that you know are seeing. And if there's something else out there that's more factual, it may never come in front of you.
STELTER: Yes, there's a media and then there's an anti-media, and I want to get into that as the hour rolls on here.
Mollie, I want to ask you a question about this. I want to know from you as a conservative writer at "The Federalist", how much of this do you chalk up to wishful thinking? Because I do believe there were a lot of journalists, most journalists, who were fearful of a Trump presidency, who were engaging in wishful thinking, believing he couldn't be elected.
[11:05:01] And that's partly why so many viewers were in shock on Wednesday morning to wake up to President-elect Trump.
MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, SENIOR EDITOR THE FEDERALIST: Yes, this was a complete failure at every step of the process during this entire campaign. The media definitely -- they clearly and overtly and even told us that they wanted Hillary to win, and they gambled everything -- including their credibility -- on defeating Donald Trump and electing Hillary Clinton, and they lost. And now, where does that leave everybody?
STELTER: Who is the "they"? Who is the "they" you're referring to?
HEMINGWAY: "The New York Times" had on the front page of their paper in middle of August that you couldn't give Donald Trump a fair shake. Nobody with eyes or ears could have any question what the media felt about Donald Trump, what they felt about his voters. Even something as simple as, for some reason apparently, people in Washington and New York newsrooms had a really high view of Hillary Clinton that was unmatched in the entire rest of the country.
So, you had people in our newsrooms, in our major national media telling us things that we knew were not true. I don't know what the media can do now to regain its credibility.
STELTER: Let's ask Jeff Greenfield. Jeff, you have been studying the press for decades. What's your assessment of what went wrong and what went right?
JEFF GREENFIELD, POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't have a unified field theory but I'll just point out a couple things. Four years ago, we learned that data trumped impression. Forget the long signs of Romney crowd sizes, look at the data.
This year, if you looked at it carefully enough on Election Day, all of the state polls that helped feed the narrative that Clinton was going to win were like one and two points. And I think there was an enormous overreliance on data.
But to the broader point, I do think part of what happened was this -- once the election season kicked into high gear and the hour-long uncritical open mike for Trump was changed into very tough scrutiny.
STELTER: Right. GREENFIELD: I think what we didn't realize was that for people beyond our world, the distrust in the media was so high that even when Trump's liabilities were accurately reported, people who wanted Trump for all kinds of reasons said, no, you're part of the problem. You're part of the system we want Donald Trump to upend.
So, those are just two points. I think it goes way beyond that. But, again, I don't think there is one unified explanation for what happened here.
STELTER: Many different factors. Is one of them, Jeff, a false equivalence, the idea that Hillary Clinton's e-mails and other controversies were treated as the same as Trump's many misstatements and offensive remarks?
GREENFIELD: I certainly think in terms of coverage that's true, but I think the other part was that the normal way that I've always assumed the press worked -- it's described in a book called "The Gamble," rise, scrutiny, decline", the press reveals fact that damage a candidate, the public says, no, we can't accept that candidate.
I think to some extent what a lot of us -- me -- thought were disabling aspects about Trump, his supporters said, no, that's him and we're so desperate for change that we're going to go with him.
So, I'm not -- I'm not sure I buy the false equivalency except in terms of the quantity of the coverage.
STELTER: Mollie, what do you think?
HEMINGWAY: The term "false equivalency" should die in a fire and the proof is that Donald Trump has been elected president.
This is another thing the media kept pushing, the idea that to talk about Hillary Clinton compromising national security for her own personal gain was some false equivalency with all these horrible things that Donald Trump had done.
The people aren't buying what the media are selling anymore, and it's something that goes r quite beyond just the coverage of this campaign, but going back to previous elections where people have so clearly put their fingers on the scale, media people have put their fingers on the scale in support of one candidate over another, and I just -- it alarms me to even hear this term used again after what we learned on Tuesday.
STELTER: Can I add a word to what you said? You said people don't trust the media. I would say some people do not. There's a divide in this country and it mirrors the electoral divide. This was a 50-50 election.
HEMINGWAY: No, liberals do definitely trust the media and why shouldn't they? They get everything they want to hear from liberals.
Conservatives don't and the media in general have lower approval ratings than both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. So, to talk about how unliked these candidates are, when we ourselves are loathed and detested for what we're doing and for how we bully people. We take people's views and we bully them.
And people are sick of being bullied. They don't want to hear it anymore, and they're having to shout to get people to listen. And the really alarming thing is that a lot of people in the media aren't listening. They're deciding to quadruple down on everything they got wrong, disparaging people who they don't understand, don't even seek to understand, and continuing to avoid dealing with, you know, the fundamentals of this race, what people were motivated by, they're not even interested in it.
This is alarming and the media need to wake up because it's actually a very important time to get our credibility back.
STELTER: Dan, you're smiling, tell me why.
RATHER: Well, I'm smiling because a lot of things said here.
[11:10:00] For example, that most of the people don't trust the media -- I think most people have a skepticism about the media that's very healthy. That's number one. Never cynicism but skepticism.
Secondarily, I would challenge something you said earlier that, well, you didn't agree that the cable networks helped create Donald Trump. I don't think they created him alone, but they gave him an awful lot of free time, maybe a billion dollars worth or more free time and that was a factor.
There was a period particularly during the primaries when Trump could get on this or any other air simply with a phone call immediately because he meant ratings. There's a lot in this --
STELTER: I would say to you, Clinton could have it any time as well. She could have called in any time and gotten on the air.
RATHER: Exactly, and one of the reasons she lost the elections because she had this wariness of the press. She didn't hold a news conference for a year and a half, almost two years, I think. Still hasn't held --
STELTER: About nine months, a full-fledged press conference.
But, you know, where we are here, this is the time when the whole country needs to be steady. We're going to be all right.
On the one hand, you don't want to be Pollyannaish and say, well, it doesn't matter. In the other hand, you know, you want to be cynical instead (ph). But other thing -- Donald Trump, his problems with the press, he threatened "The Washington Post" saying in effect, if I get elected president, you, "The Washington Post," I don't like your coverage and I'll make you pay the price, is -- should come to no one as any wonder that journalists including myself tried to stand up and say, wait a minute, that's not right and that's a new low in campaigning.
So, there's a lot in this, but I do think that the press can overreact to this. Our job now is to stand up, look him in the eye, ask the tough questions, don't be intimidated. Trump prides himself on being an intimidator.
And in many ways, particularly early in the campaign, he was an intimidator of the press. We should hope he wouldn't try it now that he's president but I wouldn't bet the double wide on that.
So, all four of you, if you could stick around for me, take a quick pause here and talk about the polling failures because as we've been saying for a majority of the country, Tuesday night's results were a shock. That's partly because of what Jeff Greenfield was describing, the different polling result, especially on the state level, that showed Clinton the likely victor.
Now, FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver's website, now owned by ESPN, put the odds of a Clinton victory at 70 percent and a Trump victory at 30 percent. That was actually one of the more optimistic projections for Trump. FiveThirtyEight may have gotten it less wrong than other forecast models.
So I talked to Nate Silver about what he learned from his experience and what's going to happen going forward.
STELTER: Was this the greatest polling failure of modern times?
NATE SILVER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: No, I mean, again, this is why we think the discourse before and after is a little bit irresponsible. The national polls are going to wind up being off by only two points, which is less than they were actually in 2012. In the states, you see bigger polling errors in the Midwest. You also see Clinton beat her polls in New York, in California, in Oregon, in Washington.
STELTER: Now, that's interesting. I've been focusing on how some state polls underestimated Trump's support --
STELTER: -- by 7 percent, 8 percent. That's way beyond the margin of error.
SILVER: Clinton beat her polls by 5 points in California. That means you rack up a huge number of popular votes and maybe almost match Obama's margin in the popular vote, but lose the Electoral College pretty decisively.
So, it's not simply a matter of the polls underestimating Trump. It's not catching up to the demographic changes that are under way in the country.
STELTER: So, is there a bigger failure among journalists then, among television anchors, among editors when we boil down the numbers into just a very simple portrayal?
SILVER: So, there are a couple things. One is that you can have a lot of polls say the same thing. At some point, it doesn't tell you that much more, right? To have 100 polls showing Clinton two points ahead while she's still two points ahead, for example.
STELTER: Too my polls. You know --
STELTER: Joel Benenson of the Clinton campaign said to me there's an epidemic of poll. There's too much data out there. Sounds like you might agree.
SILVER: It lets people confirm their biases over and over again. And, again, there always were polls. "The Des Moines Register" poll in Iowa showed Clinton losing by seven points, maybe the best poll in the country in Iowa. People said, oh, she doesn't need to win Iowa, which is true, but it was a sign of how bad things were falling apart for her in the Midwest and people tended not to look at data that didn't confirm their beliefs.
But the other thing, too, is that, you know, if you had gone to the average newsroom here or "The New York Times" or "The Post" or, I don't know, right, and asked people could you take a 30 percent chance of Trump winning, they would say no way. The buzz throughout the final few days of the campaign was that Clinton was going to beat her polls because of early vote, because of ground game, you know, the momentum was with her.
And so, you know, it's not as though the conventional wisdom was on the Trump side of the bed. We're in huge fights with people for weeks who didn't want to believe -- I mean, this has never happened before.
[11:15:02] I'm used to people when their side is trailing in our forecast to get in arguments with us, right? But Clinton people and some mainstream media people were shocked that we gave Clinton only 70 percent chance. And that was a sign --
STELTER: Let me underscore what you just said. You've gotten into fights you never have before, this has never happened before.
SILVER: We've always had fight, right? But I've never had a fight with the side that was ahead in our forecast. You know, usually, the side that fights with us is a side that winds up cherrypicking the data a little bit more, being a little bit more smug I think at times. I just think that if we had shown or the polls had shown John Kasich or Marco Rubio in a three-point race with Clinton and with Clinton losing Ohio, tied in Florida, yes, ahead in Pennsylvania -- I just think the perceptions but would have been a lot different.
STELTER: This data is so complex. What we're describing is so complicated, and yet, you now, I have trouble with algebra. You're talking about calculus. I wonder if for the average viewer, even for the average journalist, if this stuff is just overwhelmingly complicated, maybe too difficult to parse. SILVER: Well, you know, I do think people should go back to the old
school method of when a poll is within the margin of error, you should tend to characterize it as being a very close race. You can say which candidate is ahead, but, you know, that's more of a true conception of how polls work, because on the one hand, it's true that if you take ten polls instead of one poll, you reduce that margin of error. On the other hand, the polls often always miss in the same direction. As they basically did on Tuesday night.
And so, therefore, you know, if the race is within the margin of error, report that as a close race if you're a voter, treat that as a close race. Go out and vote, because the polls aren't as perfect as you might think.
STELTER: What now? Does polling an image rehab?
SILVER: I think polling has to get better about describing the uncertainties inherent in the polls and I think -- you know, I worry about things getting too commoditized.
STELTER: What do you mean?
SILVER: Well, look, there are a lot of sites now that put forecasts. And, look, when I left "The New York Times," when FiveThirtyEight left "The New York Times" a couple years ago, I told my editor there, make sure you don't hire someone who's gong to build an overconfident model, because there are a lot of ways to make models overconfident and not to understand the complexities of something like the Electoral College, where a lead might not be as safe as it appears in some circumstances, and that can potentially lead to people being less well-informed.
STELTER: I think what you're saying to Clinton supporters is, polling is not designed to make you feel better.
SILVER: No, it's not designed to make you feel better. I mean, again, the polls are still probably a better indicator than anything else. Remember, the buzz based on the early vote and whatnot, the sentiment from people like us in the bubble was that Clinton was safer than the polls might assume, but, you know, whenever you take a piece of data or a piece of information, the second step has to be telling people how accurate it might be and how wrong it might be.
And I think one of the critiques I have of the way so-called data journalism has evolved and we try to avoid this, is that people just present the data point and don't talk about the meaning, the context, alternate interpretations, problems of logic and inference and, you know -- so, going a little bit deeper I think is really key.
STELTER: Will the news media learn this time around or will we fall victim to the same mistakes in the past?
SILVER: I think they will learn from 2020 and 2018. But then what will happen is let's say they have a really accurate year for the polls in 2020, then they might be overcompensating for 2024.
STELTER: Nate, thank you so much. Good to see you.
SILVER: Thank you.
STELTER: Really interesting stuff from Nate Silver there.
And now, we want to look forward with Silver. What about future coverage? What about a Donald Trump presidency and its effect on the media?
This morning, Trump is gloating. Take a look at his Twitter feed. He says, "Wow, 'The New York Times' is losing thousands of subscribers because of their very poor and highly inaccurate coverage of the Trump phenomena."
We have fact checked this with "The New York Times." "The Times" just now in a statement to me says, "Since Election Day, the paper has seen a surge in digital subscriptions, three times what is normal."
Yes, there's been cancellations on the digital side, when you factor that in, the rate at which "The Times" has added net new digital subscriptions since Election Day, they say is since times the normal pace. Essentially, what "The Times" is saying is, Trump is wrong.
Now, the paper is counting its print cancellations in addition. It believes the numbers will be the same on the print side, but it is challenging Trump's claim.
Trump also went against "The Times" in another tweet. I think we can put this second tweet up on screen. He also said that he believes the paper, you know, apologized for its coverage last week and that he believes they'll make the same mistakes in the future.
[11:20:06] So, we'll get into that now. The panel is back with me. Dodai Stewart of "Fusion", Dan Rather of AXS TV, Jeff Greenfield and Mollie Hemingway also back with me.
So, let me ask all of you to react to this and talk about how Donald Trump is using Twitter to his benefit.
Mollie, he says in a "60 Minutes" interview coming out later today that Trump, he says he'd be restrained with Twitter but will continue to use Twitter and Facebook. Do you believe he's stepping off on the wrong foot by, you know, making these comments against "The Times" and against the media on Twitter?
HEMINGWAY: Again, I would say after this week, the question about whether Donald Trump is doing things right or wrong is much less interesting than whether the media are doing things or wrong. And this kind of attack on the media is very common in presidential history. Just because we may like President Obama, we might forget he spent much of his presidency attacking FOX News. Bill Clinton attacked right wing media --
STELTER: He did not spend much of his presidency attacking FOX News. He occasionally pointed out what he believed was unfair coverage from FOX.
HEMINGWAY: OK. I guess what maybe you need to realize is that for a lot of people who don't share your political opinions, that's what it feels like. What you're going through right now is what it felt like for the last eight years.
And so, to go to our fainting couches when Donald Trump points out "The New York Times" completely crafted the bed this cycle, they should be apologizing for how they covered it, their headline the day after the election was a joke, saying that it was all about foreigners and allies, Democrats very concerned about the victory after Donald Trump won the presidency -- I mean, this is -- this is a joke. I felt like it's a joke to not be taken seriously how bad the credibility problems for the media are, and how openly hostile they have been to the current president.
And now, they need to cover him and they need to have people believe what they're saying. And why would they? Why would they believe what the media are saying after this cycle?
STELTER: I'm with you that we need to take the credibility crisis seriously.
But let me go to Jeff Greenfield with more on this about "The New York Times". Trump on Thursday criticized the press saying the media was inciting professional protesters, essentially mocking and ridiculing the protesters and blaming the media and then this morning after the "New York Times." Is he sending a message to t entire press corps, maybe a message of intimidation?
GREENFIELD: You know, the proof is going to be in the pudding. He followed up the first tweet about the protesters by complimenting them on their passion. And this I think is one of the central questions we're going to have to ask.
I absolutely agree that one of the things that happened here is that the media had lost so much credibility, it's -- you know, not just from the right, a lot of people on the Bernie Sanders left were equally critical, that when they performed their traditional role --
GREENFIELD: -- it was not taken seriously.
And what I'm saying is, if Donald Trump and the Trump administration makes the media into an adversary or if the media beyond the normal adversarial relationship between the media and the press, I think it's going to be tougher for the media to fight back because I don't think they have -- they may still believe, we may still believe we are the tribunes telling the public the truth about the powerful.
But there's an awful lot of people out there who are encouraged by politicians to say, "Whatever they tell you, you know who they are, they're part of them. Don't believe them." And that's, you know, that's I think where we're going to be navigating over the next year. I don't know the answer to this yet. STELTTER: I'm full of questions and empty with answers.
So let me ask Dodai about this, because, Dodai, you wrote this week that "Fusion", owned by Univision, a website for young people, for millennials, for Hispanics and other minorities, but for all young people, will be resistance to a Trump presidency. A, what does that mean? And, B, are you concerned about what Jeff is saying that many people aren't interested, don't want to hear it from the press?
STEWART: I believe that there are many people, millions, who resist the narrative that this candidate was running on. There were aspects of racism, aspects of xenophobia, aspects of misogyny, and I believe that the there are -- young people, it's a more diverse generation than ever and believe that there is an audience that wants to hear a more tolerant, a more cohesive message that's not about division, that's about hope and coming together, and that is really, you know, there for them in terms of, you know, covering undocumented immigrants, covering women, covering people of color, covering the LGBTQ community and that's where we're trying to reach.
STELTER: But are you thinking about essentially preaching to the choir or trying to persuade people who don't already have those views, because it seems like you're describing a situation where you'll just continue to write for people that already agree?
STEWART: Here's the thing, though, the mainstream media has traditionally ignored these voices. So, providing a platform to them, I believe maybe there's preaching to the choir, but there's also shining a light on people who deserve that.
STELTER: Let's talk about one other thing that's happened since Tuesday, Dan. You know about this very well. The press pool is something that travels with the president, usually the president- elect, a small group of journalists meant to know where the president is at all times in case of a crisis or just in case he falls over or something.
[11:25:11] On Thursday, Trump traveled to D.C. and did not bring a press pool with him. The administration, the incoming administration, says they will resolve this as they will incorporate a press pool. But what does it mean that on one of the first days as president- elect, he did not have journalists traveling with him. How concerning is that or is it not?
RATHER: Well, first of all, I think it should be noted. But we're early in the Trump administration. These kinds of logistical problems I think probably will get smoothed out. The more important thing, though, is that Donald Trump is off -- now that he's the president- elect, clearly, he's off on a strategy of trying to intimidate the press, trying to keep the press's head down, what he said about the "New York Times", and the only reasonable professional reaction from the press should be -- get a gut check, this is gut check time for the press.
Our role, the press is an institution of the country. Our role is to be honest brokers of information, to be as accurate as we can be, to be as fair as we can be, but to be independent, fiercely independent, bitingly independent when necessary. And again, to get back to, if the press gets its head down, not only is Donald Trump's presidency going to suffer but the country will suffer, and I do think most people --
STELTER: With journalists, you're saying? Better off with tough journalism?
RATHER: Absolutely. Well, journalists who take the view -- my job is to ask the tough questions, knock on doors and say, what's going on and be skeptical and never cynical as I said before which I think is a very important point.
But I think most people, generally speaking, Americans understand the role of president. What they want is the press to do its job better, and there's a lot of improvement that can be had.
But, you know, we're in the very early stages of this, that somebody around Donald Trump must be at least thinking whether they express it to him or not, you know, the history of presidents who try to be adversarial with the press, try to intimidate, try to cower the press, those presidencies don't turn out very well. And after all, the issue here is not what we have a successful Donald Trump. Do we have a successful country?
And we need a vibrant press that's independent and not afraid to ask the right questions, but to get that press we need the heads of the big corporations who control most of the mass distribution of the media to also have some spine. It's not good enough just for reporters to have the spine or for the bureau chief to have the spine, it's the head of these big corporations.
Now in the early going, a Trump presidency figures to be pretty good for people who have money and have big corporations. So, where is the head of a big corporations or big news organization to say, I want my reporters to ask the tough questions, I want my reporters to do deep drilling investigative reporting, I want my reporters to take the case. Listen, I play no favorites, I pull no punches, we're going to -- and the president of the United States after all is not a descendent of the sun god. He got the most electoral votes, he didn't get the most popular votes.
And there's a tendency for the Trump campaign to want to convince people that this was a wipeout, a total blowout election. No, he won the election but it was a very, very close election.
But again, I come back to having said all that, it's time to have a little bit of calm and see how the Trump presidency shakes out. I am concerned about these early signs which you have ticked off here that he intends to use the press as a kind of whipping boy. And what the press needs to say to the president is, Mr. President, we respect the office of the presidency, we respect you but we ain't anybody's whipping boy.
STELTER: To the panel, thank you all very much for sharing your thoughts this morning. We have plenty more ahead this hour on how journalists plan to navigate a Trump White House. Up next, standing by, Floyd Abrams, the famed First Amendment lawyer here who discuss whether the president- elect poses threats to press freedom.
Stay with us.
[11:33:02] STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter. Before Tuesday, journalism advocates said Donald Trump would be a threat to press freedom. That's why today there is palpable fear among many journalists that a Trump presidency will be restrictive, litigious, and downright dangerous for the fourth estate.
Maybe they are overreacting. But already some journalists are receiving threats and hate mail at home as a result of pro-Trump trolls who have published their addresses online. And we've seen the president-elect himself criticizing "The New York Times" as we were just talking about.
The big question is whether Trump is going to follow through on statements like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The media isn't just against me, they're against all of you. That's really what they're against. We're going open up the libel laws.
We should reinstate libel laws so that you can go after people nowadays when they make really egregious statements.
Right now they can say anything they want to say. Someday in the not too distant future if I win they're not going to get away with this stuff.
I'm a big believer, tremendous believer in freedom of the press. Nobody believes it stronger than me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Here with me now, famed First Amendment lawyer, Floyd Abrams. He's also the author of the upcoming book, "The Soul of The First Amendment."
Floyd, let's start with the conversation about libel laws. Many months ago, Trump saying he wants to loosen up the libel laws. Can he?
FLOYD ABRAMS, CONSTITUTIONAL AND FIRST AMENDMENT ATTORNEY: No, he can't do it. He can't do it by himself as president. And he can't do it if Congress passed a law.
We have no federal libel law, first of all. Libel law is state, state, state -- 50 states. But they're all subject to the First Amendment. And so when he says that he wants to loosen it or change it, what he's got to do is to change the First Amendment. What he's got to do is to persuade the Supreme Court to abandon the level of very high protection for free speech that we have in this country.
So, no, he can't do it. But you could try to do it and who's to say, if he gets enough appointments to the Supreme Court, if they have views which are entirely different from where the court has been, it could help.
[11:35:11] But it's very unlikely.
STELTER: Now, you're no friend of Donald Trump, we should make that clear to our audience at home. But I -- I want you to share with me as objectively as possible what you think the possible threats are against individual journalists and against news outlets in the Trump age.
ABRAMS: Well, many of them are sort of extra-legal. That's to say, it doesn't have a legal angle to it at all. President-elect Trump has full First Amendment rights, so he is certainly entitled to denounce the press, to criticize it even in ways which lead people to behave as you were talking about earlier -- writing...
STELTER: Anti-Semitic messages...
ABRAMS: Yes. Yes.
STELTER: -- the doxing that's happening.
STELTER: A lot of journalists are (INAUDIBLE)...
ABRAMS: I mean there...
STELTER: -- this kind of harassment, hate.
ABRAMS: -- there's no legal limitation -- and there shouldn't be -- on what he can say about the press.
That said, the real threats are that as president, A, he could lead the public to be so anti-press that -- that it would, if not destroy it, greatly limit its ability to do its constitutionally protected role.
Second, he could take steps as president to try to pressure it. One Republican congressman has recently said that the FCC ought to do an investigation of the coverage of the campaign with the possibility of license revocation.
STELTER: Let's talk about that momentarily. The local stations that broadcast on NBC, ABC, CBS, etc. They all have FCC licenses from the government.
ABRAMS: Yes. Right. STELTER: Normally, they just got approved every four or eight years, whatever it is. But you're saying something like an FCC license could, theoretically, be targeted.
ABRAMS: That's right.
STELTER: And what about IRS audits. That's another way that government can use power against individuals.
ABRAMS: Yes, I mean we -- we sound now as if we were talking about the Nixon administration, where that happened. It was...
STELTER: So should we be talking about this?
ABRAMS: -- with IRS.
STELTER: Is it -- is it -- is it a risk to -- to talk through these scenarios or is it -- is it prudent?
ABRAMS: Look, I think it's prudent to discuss these possibilities. We can hope -- look, I didn't vote for -- for Mr. Trump. I don't wish and I -- and I certainly don't hope that he goes down these roads. He -- he may decide that as president, he can take a different stance, or at the least, as president, he shouldn't do things which violate the First Amendment on -- on its face.
We'll have to wait and see. But we have to be thinking now, certainly as a lawyer, I have to be thinking what -- what could we do by way of defense?
Suppose he goes down the anti-First Amendment road. Suppose he doesn't just criticize "The Times," which he has every right to do, but tries to take steps -- suppose he expels "The New York Times" from a presidential press conference.
STELTER: Yes, let's play that scenario out. During the campaign, Trump rejected some news outlets from receiving press credentials for his rallies. These reporters could still attend the rallies as members of the general public, but they couldn't be in the press pool. They weren't given the benefits and privileges of having a press pass.
Is that possible in the White House?
ABRAMS: We don't have a lot of cases. I think that would violate the First Amendment, that is to say, I think one could persuade a judge that -- that punishing the press because of the content of what it runs by leaving out or expelling members of the press from full ability to cover him violates the First Amendment.
STELTER: But this would have to go to the courts?
ABRAMS: But that would have to go to the -- go to the courts, I mean, unless and until it happened, I mean he has the Secret Service. He's the one who can say get them out of here.
STELTER: And we can't have a President-elect Trump conversation without having a President Obama conversation.
President Obama set a new record in terms of the administration's use of The Espionage Act to prosecute, to convict whistleblowers who leaked information to the press.
Tell us about the reality check of how severe that was and whether we could see more of that with President-elect Trump?
ABRAMS: Yes, there are really two sorts of ways a president can go after the press in terms of covering national security issues. One is to go after sources. And President Obama's administration did that more vigorously and more consistently than any prior president, more charges against more sources of the press.
The -- the more direct threat is bringing an espionage action against the press for publishing that sort of information.
STELTER: So against "The New York Times" or "The Washington Post?"
ABRAMS: Yes. Yes. You know, we have an Espionage Act passed in 1917 that is so opaque, so -- so vague as to make it quite unpredictable how it would be applied in a number of different possible circumstances.
[11:40:02] I mean the press, to do its job, reports on classified information with regularity.
Now, will a President Trump -- and I hate to give him ideas about this, but will a President Trump think of -- of having, what, Attorney General Giuliani bring some sort of action against the press?
That's -- that's possible. That would be a major direct threat to the ability of the press to do its job.
STELTER: So we must be on guard?
ABRAMS: We have to be on guard and we have to be thinking about the down side as we hope that it won't happen.
STELTER: Floyd, good to see you.
Thank you very much.
ABRAMS: Thank you.
STELTER: A lot of what we're describing here are possible chilling effects, something I'm very concerned about. Whether Donald Trump takes any action against the press in the next four years, there's already a cloud hanging over the White House press corps because of his actions during the campaign.
Up next here, my essay on media versus anti-media. Plus, how should journalists approach the Trump presidency? A great panel from all aspects of this world, from all across the country, right after this.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [11:45:02] STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.
As president-elect Donald Trump prepares to take power, journalists have a lot of questions about Trump and about our profession. Did fact-checking matter in this election? Did investigations matter? Did newspaper editorials matter? Did the accountability function of journalism matter at all?
Well, yes, it did matter to some people, to some readers and viewers -- but maybe something else mattered even more, something I would call anti-media. Breitbart is anti-media. Much of Fox News is anti-media. Fake news websites and some right-wing blogs are anti-media.
These outlets provide a different audience with a different set of facts about the world, but too often what they are selling is opinion and conspiracy theory masquerading as fact. These sites, these outlets, they present themselves as the opposition of traditional news sources, the antidote to mainstream media. Andrew Golis of Vox recently said Facebook feeds into this sense of unreality. I like to call it choose your own news. But whatever you call it, the arguments we're having as a country are a result of this media versus anti-media clash.
In the coming months, I hope researchers will hone in on how anti- media persuaded voters in this election, because today I cannot sit here and tell you that I have all the answers or even many of the answers. But I can tell you all journalists, all real journalists, have a responsibility to the truth. And it is not elitist to value the truth. The truth is not in a bubble. It is not elitist to reject conspiracy theories or fact check obvious falsehoods. It should be done equally, but truth is the word we can keep coming back to.
Don't cower before the truth. Don't tell half-truths. Don't shade the truth. Don't fear the truth. And then we can focus on the other T word -- trust. Winning back the trust of people who right now prefer anti-media.
With that in mind, let's ask how will journalism change in the age of Trump? How should it change? Joining me now is a perfect panel. Dodai Stewart is back, editor-in-chief of Fusion.net; John Avalon, CNN political analyst, editor-in-chief of "The Daily Beast"; Liz Plank, senior correspondent and producer for Vox; and John Phillips, CNN political commentator, talk show host, and political columnist at "The Orange County Register".
John. you wrote this week that "The Daily Beast" will be part of the loyal opposition. What does that mean in the next four years?
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Brian, what I think that means is that we don't hope President Trump fails like Rush Limbaugh said after President Obama was elected. We hope he succeeds. But we recognize that we -- our job is more important than ever before, to hold a president to account. Our job is to inform. It's to separate truth from lies, and to insist on a fact-based debate that illuminates and hold power to account. That job is more important than ever before, because maybe Donald
Trump will be the first person in human history to campaign as a demagogue but not govern as one. But we need to keep in mind the experience we've had a country. We need to try to unify the country. We need to hope for the best but we need to prepare for the worst. And the job of journalists is more important than ever before right now.
STELTER: Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. You've just described a hurricane.
AVLON: Sure. I mean, I think we need to keep in mind that this election is not a -- the election of Donald Trump is not a complete reset. The past 18 months are prologue for what we might expect. And maybe the office will ennoble, and I hope it will. Maybe he will be able to unite the nation in more than just the rhetoric of it. But the policies he's put forward represent a real fundamental challenge to that effort.
And, look, journalists need to learn from these election results as well. There's a degree of humility and empathy we need to understand to try to understand what Trump supporters saw in this messenger. We need to do that job as well, but we cannot shirk our fundamental duty to insist of a fact-based debate without fear of favor. That's our job and that's critical to the country going forward.
STELTER: Dodai, Liz, let me go to the west coast for a moment to John. Because, John, it's been a really interesting week thinking about what it means for what it means for people like you, you know, Trump supporters on television. On Friday, Corey Lewandowski resigned from CNN. Seems like he'll be taking a job in the Trump administration.
You've been with us here at CNN fr a few months as a pro-Trump commentator. I wonder what your takeaways about the media have been on this week.
JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I have a theory on your essay and I think there's a lot of agreement actually that you and I have with what you just said. The media in this election picked a side. They tipped their hand, and it was across all platforms. It happened in print, it happened in broadcast, it happened in entertainment mediums.
Let's not forget what happened. Jorge Ramos wrote in "Time" magazine that journalists have an obligation not to be objective in covering Donald Trump and he was celebrated for saying that. Jimmy Fallon had Donald Trump on "The Tonight Show" and he treated him like he would treat any other politician. He was excoriated for that. "The Huffington Post" covered Donald Trump in the Entertainment section and had that ridiculous editor's note on there.
So at a certain point, media criticism of Trump, whether it was legitimate or illegitimate, just became background noise. [11:50:04] And people were sent looking for news agencies that provided confirmation bias.
I'll give you a story. I grew up in a Republican family here in California, and we grew up getting three newspapers daily delivered to our house. We'd flip back and forth between the "Today" show and "Good Day L.A." every morning. My family now gets all of their information from Fox News, talk radio, and the Golf Channel. My liberal relatives think that Donald Trump is this cartoon villain that the mainstream media projected. And they think that the mainstream media doesn't go far enough. So where do they get their news? "The Daily Show" and Cher's Twitter feed, which is why a lot of them were shocked that Donald Trump won the election because nobody told them that Donald Trump could win the election.
If the media are going to maintain -- or regain their relevance and regain their good name in this country, they're going to have to play it straight moving into this administration, which they haven't done in the campaign.
STELTER: Dodai, is John right about that? Is he right that a lot of liberals could not foresee a possibility of a Trump presidency because they were in their own echo chamber?
STEWART: Listen, I think the problem is that when it comes to situations of injustice, of course you're hoping for the best, because we have a situation where there is so much hate that it's, like you said, you want to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
STELTER: So you're saying it was fine for Jorge Ramos to speak out the way he did because he was speaking out for his community.
STEWART: Of course you know I love Jorge.
STELTER: You work for Univision.
STEWART: No, and I believe -- I mean, I believe he said this before. He's quoted Desmond Tutu, which is saying if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you are on the side of the oppressor. And we have people whose voices are not heard -- all of the undocumented immigrants, women, people of color -- and we have to be on their side. We have to give them a voice.
STELTER: I'll give you another line. You afflict the comfortable and you comfort the afflicted. But, Liz, a lot of conservatives would say then why weren't you doing that for eight years during President Obama's administration?
ELIZABETH PLANK, VOX: Letting people speak for themselves is not actually social justice. It is journalism. And one of the biggest mistakes or one of the things that have been exposed through the last 16 months, one of the biggest failures of the media, is that it is one dimensional. And the perfect example is that we missed that disability is one of the most important issues and important stories in this election. And we did not put a single person with a disability on TV.
I watched panel after panel of able-bodied commentators, pundits, speak about Donald Trump mocking a disabled reporter. According to most Americans and most polls -- according to most polls, most Americans thought that that was the most egregious thing that Donald Trump had done. And yet we didn't put anyone on with a person with a disability to speak about how that made them feel, what that means to their community.
AVLON: Charles Krauthammer.
STELTER: Yes, I would agree with John. Charles Krauthammer is on Fox, for example.
But you're making an important point on media diversity.
STELTER: And disability is one example of diversity. Another example is hearing from Americans who are in rural America who may not feel represented by these cable news conversations, which is where somebody like John comes in. Because, John, you're on the radio all the time hearing from your listeners. So you maybe have a better sense of what the whole of the country is thinking and talking about.
PHILLIPS: That's right. And at a certain point, they just tuned out the mainstream media. They just stopped paying attention. They made the determination that they had picked a horse, the horse was Hillary Clinton. They were out to defeat Donald Trump. They became advocate journalists. And when they made that change, people just flipped the switch and they said, all right, we're going to our side and we're going to stay in the talk radio and Fox world.
STELTER: All right, to the other John.
AVLON: I mean, look, John Phillips is speaking to -- speaking from an L.A.-based radio station. And, you know, and a center right perspective and he's a reverend and he's done a good job advocating for perspective.
But I think the bigger divide isn't even just, you know, the media self-flagellating. There is an urban/rural divide that we saw in this election that I think bleeds over. When only 10 percent of Manhattan, Donald Trump's hometown, votes for Trump, that's an indication of a problem that's much more profound than a media bubble.
And that's something to keep in mind as well. That's an old division in American politics. So this is not newfound territory. What's different is we've never had a candidate like Donald Trump. And so we need to resist the normalization while also keeping in mind our obligation to try to reach out and reach beyond and question our own assumptions and insist on independence, which means being able to congratulate president-elect Trump when he does things good, as well as holding him to account and hitting the left when it's appropriate as well.
The main obligation that goes to Brian's opening essay is this -- it's the old Daniel Patrick Moynihan quote more important than ever before, "Everyone is titled to their own opinion but not their own facts." That's our job as journalists right now in the Trump era.
STELTER: In the last 40 seconds I have left, Liz, we've talked a lot about Trump voters and their views of the media. You were at Clinton's event on Tuesday night. How do you interpret Clintons' voters view of the press now five days later?
PLANK: I think that, you know, to your point at the beginning of the show, everyone is distrustful of the press right now.
[11:55:04] Everyone rethinking what the role of the press is, what the role of the media is, and sort of what we got wrong and how to do it better.
STELTER: So we shouldn't lose sight of the Clinton voters' anger and fear and discomfort right now.
PLANK: Absolutely. Our job is, to your joint, to scrutinize, never normalize. Donald Trump is not our assignment editor. We can decide to cover the things that we want to cover, and he has rewritten the rules and we get to rewrite them too.
STELTER: Donald Trump is not our assignment editor.
PLANK: No. We don't need to cover --
STELTER: An interesting phrase.
PLANK: We do not need to cover the top news of the day and then stay on that issue. We can choose to cover the things that voters care about and put the cameras on the voters instead of the candidate.
STELTER: The beginning a four year-long conversation here.
Thank you, all four of you, for being here this morning.
That's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES but our newsletter will be out later today. Sign up for it, cnnmoney.com/media. It'll be out -- probably, I don't know, maybe 12 hours? I'm going to start writing it now.
Thanks for tuning in. We'll see you next week.