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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Does the White House Have a Credibility Problem?; Wolff: "The Media Keeps Losing to Trump"; Interview with Evan McMullin on Authoritarianism; New Polls on Media Coverage of Trump Administration Reflect Deep Divide; Trump Staffers Leaking Stories; The Spreading Fallacies and Fake News. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired February 5, 2017 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:16] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter. It's time for RELIABLE SOURCES. This is our weekly look at the story behind the story, of how the media really works, how the news gets made.

We have a packed show for you on this Super Bowl Sunday. Ahead this hour, media critic Michael Wolff says the media keeps losing to President Trump. He'll explain why.

Plus, former presidential candidate Evan McMullin emerging as one of Trump's fiercest critics, calling media attacks from the White House authoritarian-like. He'll be here live.

And later this hour, my essay about sloppiness and why it matters.

But, first, does the age of alternative facts demand an alternative interviewing style? The made up Bowling Green massacre has some of you emailing me, flooding my inbox, saying Trump aides like Kellyanne Conway should not be interviewed on TV at all. Conway said she misspoke one word in a recent sit-down with MSNBC's Chris Matthews. One word.

Watch the full clip here. See if you agree.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: I bet there was very little coverage. I bet -- I bet it's brand new information to people that be Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here and radicalized and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. I know that because it didn't get covered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: By now, you've seen that clip. The press didn't cover this because it did not happen. So, what did Chris Matthews say next?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Let's talk about the major strategic of this administration overseas and here as well, to eradicate radical Islam terrorism. And how does that fit with the executive order?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: A big missed opportunity by Chris Matthews there, not following up on that alleged, made up Bowling Green massacre, instead moving on. That shows the challenge of both a live or in that case a taped interview with an administration official.

Misinformation is also coming directly from the president's mouth. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: As the president, you say, for example, there are three million illegal aliens who voted and then you don't have the data to back it up, some people are going to say that's irresponsible for a president to say that. Is there any validity to that?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Many people have come out and said, I'm right, you know that. Let me just tell you -- let me just tell you --

O'REILLY: I know. But you've got to have data to back that up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: This is birtherism all over again. The president said many people have agreed with his claim that millions of people voted illegally in the election. That's not true. Many people have not supported the claim. We'll see how Bill O'Reilly exactly handled that exchange later today. That was a clip from his sit-down with Trump for the Super Bowl pre-game show.

Now, in the meantime, though, with a pattern of misleading statements from the White House and the promotion of alternative facts, do television networks have to think twice about how and whether they interview Trump aides?

Joining me now to discuss this, political and business strategist, Tara Dowdell, who was, by the way, on season three of Trump's "Apprentice", Errol Louis, CNN political commentator and political anchor for Spectrum News, and "The New York Times" senior editor for politics, Carolyn Ryan.

Good morning each of you. Thanks for being here.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good morning.

STELTER: Tara, do you think the networks have to rethink how these aides and officials are interviewed on television?

TARA DOWDELL, POLITICAL AND BUSINESS STRATEGIST: Absolutely. And I say that as someone who was a former aide, and I've been a spokesperson on various campaigns.

And what we see right now is pattern. This is not -- these are not a series -- this is not isolated incidents. It's a pattern of behavior.

Take Kellyanne Conway for instance. We're talking about her latest. But she started off, the moment she took over, she started off. She said Trump doesn't hurl personal insults. She started off with her own hiring indicating that she wasn't going to replace Manafort. He was fired two days later.

This is pattern of behavior. The number of visas that were impacted by the Muslim ban. All of these things taken collectively undermine our democracy. And as someone who held this kind of position, I can tell you, while certainly people exaggerate and there's some spin involved, these are out and out lies.

STELTER: Errol, do you agree? I mean, live television is particularly hard, even taped interviews are particularly hard. I think Matthews needed to follow up in that case, needed to correct the record and he didn't.

But do we need to give some leeway here? Are all the people emailing saying, getting Kellyanne Conway off TV, are they wrong?

LOUIS: Yes, they are wrong. There's no part of our job that, doing it responsibly at least, that involves shutting out people who are an important pipeline to the center of power in America. That's not what we do. We're not here to pick and choose who is worthy of hearing -- being heard and who's not.

If this is the source of information that you're going to get, even if it's fake or false, or it's spin, you've got to adapt to that. Now, it's very hard.

I mean, I interview people for a living, as do you, and, you know, to tear back the curtain a bit, there's a whole team of people. You've got a producer talking in your ear.

[11:05:00] You've got fact checkers who are supposed to prepare it. You sit down with your team, you're trying to decide what is after all something of a performance, because you've only got ten minutes and a bunch of information you want to go through. What are you going to say? What are they likely to say? What facts do we know and so forth and so on?

Anyone bad fact or false hood or spin can slip through but you're supposed to really be on your game. I think this administration is going to be a particular challenge. You really got to have your facts in order because something outrageous like the Bowling Green massacre is going to pop up. And if you're not ready for the possibility of something like that, it can get past you as that particular one got past Chris Matthews.

CAROLYN RYAN, SENIOR EDITOR FOR POLITICS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I do think -- I mean, you have to be nimble. You have to be urgent. You have to be immediate. I do think, even if we were to say that Chris Matthews missed that opportunity, that the media, in this case, is adjusting and handled that fairly well. I mean --

STELTER: Maybe even overcorrected and overreacted?

RYAN: Well, I don't know. I felt like CNN, for example, Jeff Zeleny just walked the viewers through not just that incorrect fact but the other inaccuracies in that statement. What actually happened and did so in a very forthright way, in a non-snarky way. And it feels like the one thing I'm concerned about as these things keep popping up and that we talked about is proportionality.

OK. So, she makes this error, Twitter explodes. How does she apologize? Not very elegantly, not very encompassingly.

STELTER: Not at all. She said she misspoke, didn't apologize.

RYAN: Right. She didn't apologize, right. But she tried to correct the record.

So, but at the same time, you have major policy changes going on in the United States. You have questions about this immigration executive order. You have some damage to our relations with long time allies and you don't want to become so consumed with her wording in this particular missed opportunity that you kind of lose the wider aperture on this administration.

STELTER: I think it's not about necessarily whether to interview these aides, but how, and then, what questions to ask, what areas to focus.

RYAN: Right.

STELTER: Tara, there were reports the Trump administration has iced out CNN. Some back story for our viewers, the last two episodes, last two editions of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper, which is up next hour, administration officials have declined to come on the program. This morning, Vice President Pence was on the other four big Sunday morning shows, not on CNN. Maybe he was avoiding Tapper because Tapper had a tough interview with him last time on he was on "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER".

So, we see the White House here picking and choosing what outlets to have administration officials on. What do you make of that? Is it a mistake for this White House to be icing out any network?

DOWDELL: I think it's absolutely a mistake to do so. And I say that again as someone who was a spokesperson because it undermines -- first of all, it undermines our democracy because the media is an integral part of democracy. It's an integral part of ensuring that the public knows what is happening, that the public is informed and at its best it educates the public.

So, I think from that perspective, to attack the media and to blatantly say, I'm not going to have certain networks be -- you know, have access --

STELTER: Right. DOWDELL: -- I think it hurts them politically, because it's an obvious -- the reasoning behind it is rather obvious. It's a form of punishment. And I think what the Trump administration is trying to do and why I keep coming back to this undermining of democracy is that they are trying to position the administration a sole voice, as the only voice of accurate information.

And so, by saying that "The New York Times" is fake news, by undermining these institutions, they're trying to position the administration as the only voice of honest information. And that is dangerous. We see that in authoritarian countries. And that is why I think this is a bigger deal and there is a connection between policy and what Kellyanne and other members of the administration putting out these falsehoods.

STELTER: Well, she is sowing fear by talking about a fake Bowling Green massacre, even if she was just misspeaking, she was causing people to be afraid.

One more point about CNN. Kellyanne Conway was offered to "STATE OF THE UNION", CNN pointedly declined to have her on the network today. I thought that was very notable. It doesn't mean she won't be on in the coming days. But I mean, today, she wasn't on. Sebastian Gorka was on CNN earlier in the week.

So, it's not a totally freeze out of CNN but it does seem, is it, Tara, a form of punishment, an attempt by the White House to punish news outlets that does not favor. If the goal is to starve CNN of ratings, I can tell you it's not working.

Let's look at "SNL" from last night. We got to watch Sean Spicer. Really, Melissa McCarthy Sean Spicer last night. So, let's watch this clip and talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MELISSA MCCARTHY AS SEAN SPICER: OK. We'll do a couple questions. Go. Glenn Thrush, "New York Times". Boo, go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I wanted to ask about travel ban on Muslims.

MCCARTHY: Yes, it's not a ban.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry.

MCCARTHY: It's not ban. The travel ban is not a ban which makes it not a ban.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just called it a ban.

MCCARTHY: Because I'm using your words. You said ban. You said ban. I'm saying it back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president tweeted and I quote, "If the ban were announced with a one week notice" -- [11:10:00] MCCARTHY: Yes, exactly. You just said that. He's quoting

you. It's your words. He's using your words when you used the words and he uses them back, it's circular using of the word and that's from you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What?

MCCARTHY: Seriously, Glenn, are you going to start with this right out of the gate, Glenn? I mean, what do you want me to take my nuts out so you can get a better kick at them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You had to have known I would ask that question.

MCCARTHY: OK. Sit down, Glenn. Who here, by a show of hands, who here hates Glenn? Right, everybody. One to three, infinity. Let the record show that everyone raised their hands because everybody hates Glenn. So, print that. That's your story.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: The D.C. press corps loves Glenn. That's part of the joke.

Carolyn, you work with Glenn Thrush. There's a serious point here, which is that Spicer is becoming a punch line. Is there a credibility problem for this White House?

RYAN: I think, you know, there was certainly a very rocky start. I do think that Sean Spicer has relationships that pre-date this particular role that might be a little bit of a cushion.

STELTER: Right.

RYAN: I think he recognized very quickly, very early on that he had some mending of relationships to do. I think it's worrisome. I don't think the credibility is entirely shattered or has cratered, no.

I do think Melissa McCarthy should get an Emmy.

(LAUGHTER)

STELTER: I think she'll probably be back on "SNL".

Panel, stick around. By the way, I heard from Spicer this morning. I'll share what he told me later this hour.

After the break, though, we're talking about a brand new poll from CNN/ORC about the media's view of covering Trump.

Also up next here, a top media critic on why the press keeps getting it wrong when it covers the president, and why he thinks I'm part of the problem.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:15:25] STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. Taking a look at some of the magazine covers from the past week, really striking images including one from the "New Yorker" out tomorrow, protesting the travel ban with this image. But that's nothing compared to Germany's "Ders Spiegel", showing Trump beheading the Statue of Liberty, asserting that he's an extremist like an ISIS fighter. "The Economist" went almost as far, suggesting he's an insurgent here. I guess that's a Molotov cocktail in his hands, tossing it.

Trump continues to denounce the press as fake news and media types continue to debate how best to cover him.

My next guest says there's a mutual obsession here that's actually bad for both sides.

Joining me now is Michael Wolff, columnist for "The Hollywood Reporter" and writer for "Newsweek".

Good to see you.

MICHAEL WOLFF, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: Nice to see you.

STELTER: You wrote in your most recent column that the media keeps losing to Donald Trump. How so? Is it a trap that the journalists are falling into?

WOLFF: Yes, I think it's certainly is a trap and I think they we're in this unusual position of what we think is covering Donald Trump turns out to be, you know, in a sense -- actually what we think is debunking Donald Trump turns out to be supporting Donald Trump.

STELTER: So, when we fact check misstatements he says, it helps him?

WOLFF: I think it does. I mean, I think we're doing -- he in every situation seems to be provoking an overreaction. So, we go into a fit of apoplexy. And what we set up is as we try to go after his credibility, our credibility becomes equally a problem.

STELTER: I've heard other people made this argument that there's hysteria from the national news media right now. I don't see individual journalists acting hysterical, but maybe the abundance of coverage comes across that way?

WOLFF: Well, first thing, I think that's not true. I think individual journalists are in many cases having a nervous breakdown. Good example, "The New Yorker". "The New Yorker" has 100 years had one style of journalism, very detailed, very close reporting.

Since the election, David Remnick, the editor of "The New Yorker" has gone off in fits of bloviation never seen in "The New Yorker" before. No facts. No nothing he knows. He knows nobody in this new administration, has done no reporting, and yet the world is coming to an end in his view.

STELTER: Remnick, if you're watching. Come on the program, debate Michael Wolff. But let me channel him for a moment. He said to me on a recent panel discussion, this is an emergency. Journalists have to act differently.

It sounds like you just disagree with that --

WOLFF: Totally. What's -- what is the emergency other than the fact that he is personally offended and upset and worried?

STELTER: You also made the point about reporting. You've been doing reports on this administration, interviewing Kellyanne Conway most recently for a "THR" profile. What did you takeaway from your conversation with Kellyanne?

WOLFF: Well, I mean, I think actually, I mean, I'm a famous bloviator for many years, and I think that one of the things about this new circumstance and this new administration is that you got to get in. You got to meet these people. You've got to talk to these people. You have to see what's going on.

STELTER: Are you just sucking up to get access to the White House?

WOLFF: If I'm sucking up a bit to get access, but I'm also trying to -- I am the only person, it would seem, who is actually having this conversation and then my conversations with these people then get retailed throughout the media chain.

STELTER: Your columns do get a lot of pick up, that's true. But is it appropriate to be writing these pieces that are attempting to maybe go a little easy on them in order to gain access?

WOLFF: Well, I don't think they are necessarily -- I don't know what that "going easy on them" means in this case. I'm going to them and saying, what do you think? What do you believe? Tell me. This is what we want know. What's going on here?

STELTER: It's valuable to have those quote, to have that information.

WOLFF: This is what we have done in every other administration.

STELTER: Yes.

WOLFF: This is the time, through the transition in these first several weeks in which the media is in all past instances, in all past administrations is asking should -- has asked the questions which I'm now trying to ask. Who are you? What do you stand for? What are you going to do?

STELTER: Talking about this, this war with the media, that's what Trump calls it. You seem to think the media is also at war with Trump. Is that fair?

WOLFF: Absolutely.

STELTER: That's what you see. Can I read from your --

WOLFF: Yes, I mean, I don't think there would be anybody who would credibly disagree with this.

STELTER: Many journalists say absolutely not. This is not a war against Trump.

[11:20:00] WOLFF: You know, the -- it's just like preposterous.

And also, the interesting thing is then, you can follow them on Twitter where they are having a very personal war with Donald Trump. But very clearly --

STELTER: Or a war against lying and falsehoods.

WOLFF: Very clearly, at the center of this is this new grail that we have. How are we going to take this guy down?

STELTER: Let me read from your "Newsweek" column. Let's put part of it on screen here. You said, "The media strategy is to show Trump as an inept and craven sociopath. The Trump strategy is to show that the media people are hopeful prigs, out of touch with the nation."

And you mentioned me. You said, "The media correspondent for CNN turns to the camera every Sunday morning and delivers a pious sermon about Trump's perfidiousness." I hope I pronounced that right.

Tell me about that particular issue. Do you feel that my style is wrong or my substance is wrong, trying to fact check the president?

WOLFF: I think it's -- and I mean this with truly no disrespect, but I think you can border on being sort of quite a ridiculous figure. It's not a good look to repeatedly and self-righteously defend your own self-interest.

The media should not be the story. Every week in this religious sense, you make it the story. We are not the story.

STELTER: There's room for one hour a week on CNN for this?

WOLFF: Listen, I love your show. I just wish you wouldn't turn to the camera and lecture America about the virtues of the media and every one trying to attack it. The media will be fine.

STELTER: The media doesn't need defending at this moment?

WOLFF: The media does not need defending by the media certainly.

You know, and so far, the media is -- I mean, "The New York Times" front page looks like it's 1938 in Germany every day.

STELTER: No, it does not. Give me a break.

WOLFF: "The New Yorker", as I say, has left all of its standards behind and now become, you know, an opinion vehicle constantly.

STELTER: You either think this is an unusual presidency or you don't, right? Isn't that the divide? You either think this is a highly unusual and fact-free world or you don't? It seems that you think this is sort of normal like any other presidency.

(CROSSTALK)

WOLFF: I think all presidencies -- all new presidencies are unusual. I think this is unusual and I think it's actually a great story, which is why I'm like, all of us, spending every day on it.

So -- but there's a very interesting distinction here to make. And many people are not making this. We spend time on this story because it's so interesting.

STELTER: True. True.

WOLFF: Everybody else is saying we spend time on this story because it's so appalling. So, where is the -- where is the reality there?

The truth is, we really like this. We really want to be on it. We are really -- it's a kind of golden media age right now.

STELTER: That we can agree on for sure.

Michael, good to see you. Thank you for being here.

Up next, from interested to maybe someone who is appalled, a different perfective, from Evan McMullin who remember ran for president against Trump. He got about a quarter of a million votes in Utah. Hear what he is saying this weekend, right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:27:36] STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

President Trump's response to a federal judge blocking his travel ban order was to call it outrageous, ridiculous and to call the George W. Bush appointee a "so-called judge".

Evan McMullin says this language is a threat to the republic. McMullin is a former CIA operative who mounted a long shot independent bid for president last year. Now, McMullin is emerging as a media darling, a favorite of cable news bookers. Maybe because he's going further than most Republicans are, calling out Trump, even saying the president is an authoritarian.

McMullin is now the co-founder of a group called Stand Up Republic and he joins me now from Washington.

Evan, good to see you today.

EVAN MCMULLIN, CO-FOUNDER, STAND UP REPUBLIC: Good to see you, Brian. Thanks for having me.

STELTER: You're saying Trump is an authoritarian and it's time for everyone to accept that. How so? Defend that claim.

MCMULLIN: Well, authoritarians routinely attack checks on their power and sources of information that threaten to hold them accountable. Donald Trump does exactly that. He scapegoats different races and religious groups for the challenges that some people in our country are facing, the real challenges. So, there are a number of signs that he is.

But with regard to this executive order, he's a attacking the judge or the judicial branch that is trying -- that is restraining his policy. That is a problem because we depend in our country on the separation of powers between three co-equal branches of government that check each other and make sure our rights are protected. And so, when you have one branch trying to undermine the legitimacy of another, that's a big problem.

STELTER: He's not sending his thugs to the federal courthouse though.

MCMULLIN: Well, no, he's not, but it doesn't -- it doesn't take that. We'll see where this goes. To suggest that another branch is illegitimate or so "so-called judge" -- and it's not just anyone saying this. This is the president of the United States of America.

Now, this is perhaps a small thing but this is where it begins. And actually Donald Trump has a history of attacking the judicial branch and suggesting that he doesn't support or agree with its independence and that's a problem. And that's something that we all need to watch very carefully and oppose.

STELTER: I was looking to see if the president has tweeted this morning. So far, he hasn't. You know, every day this week, he's woken up, he's weighed in on Twitter, in some cases about this judge this weekend. So far, nothing from the president.

I'm curious to dig down deeper on this issue of authoritarianism, it's on the cover of "The Atlantic", the issue coming out this week.

[11:30:06]

It's starting to be talked about on television and in print. Do you think the press is coming late to this issue, this concern?

MCMULLIN: No, I don't think they are necessarily coming late.

I wish there would have been more coverage of his authoritarian-like tendencies during the election. But even I tried to hold back in calling him an authoritarian until he was actually elected and started governing like an authoritarian.

But that's, unfortunately, what I have seen in the past two weeks. Now it's time to acknowledge that.

And "The Atlantic" is -- has published a piece, at least online, by David Frum that I recommend all Americans read. It's an extremely important piece that talks about this very issue.

And we need to educate ourselves here in America about what this actually looks like and what it means for our basic rights and for our system of government. STELTER: Certainly, some of the things Trump has said about the

press, calling the press fake news, it is troubling.

But Michael Wolff, who was here a few minutes ago, would say you're being hysterical.

How do you try to persuade people that this is a real issue?

MCMULLIN: Well, I know it's difficult for a lot of people who haven't lived under authoritarian regimes to identify them when they emerge.

This is part of the challenge that all countries face when an authoritarian pursues power and takes power. But I have had the benefit, I suppose, in this case of living under authoritarian regimes overseas during my time with the CIA. And I know what this looks like.

I see it coming from a mile away, except that now it's happening in my own country. And I'm deeply concerned about it. And I'm doing what I think is important for us, for our system of government and for the protection of our basic rights.

We need to make sure that our president respects our system of government, will respect the powers that are vested by the Constitution in the legislative branch and in the judiciary. And that's just not something we can compromise on.

STELTER: Evan, thank you for being here. Good to see you.

MCMULLIN: Thank you. Good to see you.

STELTER: This is the journalistic story of a lifetime. I have heard that from many reporters in recent weeks, a pivotal time.

So, why is it that one of Politico's top columnists, really one of the top political columnists in the country, is suddenly retiring? I will ask him right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:36:18]

STELTER: This morning, brand-new polling data from CNN and ORC about how the public rates our coverage of the new administration.

Check out how closely this data lines up with Trump's approval ratings. As you know, he's at 44 percent in our latest poll. In that same poll, this new data out this morning finds that 42 percent think the coverage of his presidency has been too critical; 36 percent say the treatment has been fair overall, while 22 percent say that it's not been critical enough.

If you add up people who say it's fair and the people who say it hasn't been critical enough, you get it up to 58 percent. That's roughly the number that disapprove of Trump.

The country's deep divide over the election translates to a deep divide over the news coverage.

Let's talk about this and more with Roger Simon, who was until this week the chief political columnist for Politico.

Roger, great to see you.

ROGER SIMON, FORMER CHIEF POLITICAL COLUMNIST, POLITICO: Great to see you.

STELTER: You're retiring at a pivotal moment, as you said yourself in your column.

You wrote: "We're told today that truth no longer matter. But it does."

How do you think journalists need to defend the truth in this period of time?

SIMON: It needs to defend the truth as it should have been doing from the beginning, which is every day.

We're not here to give politicians a break. We're here to review and comment upon when need be the actions of politicians. You give Trump a free ride, and he will take that ride all the way to reelection and beyond.

Here's a man who has never done a day of public service, whose first actions were to insult Mexicans, to insult Muslims, to insult Jews,and on and on.

Now, are we supposed to pretend this is an ordinary president and the times are ordinary? They're not.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: That sure is the tension.

But some of what you're saying makes me wonder, is it our job, do you think, to stop Trump? Is that what you're saying?

SIMON: Our job to -- I'm sorry?

STELTER: Do you think it's the job of journalists to actually be stopping the president? Is that what you're saying?

SIMON: Well, I don't mean they ought to hit him over the head with a bottle.

I mean they ought to do what some of them are now doing, which is checking the truth, dividing truth from fiction, pointing out how ridiculous some of his, in fact, almost all of his statements are.

And, overall, his personality is just that of a big baby.

STELTER: Clearly, you come at this from a point of view.

It seems to me, in that CNN poll, you would have been saying the coverage has not been tough enough, not critical enough.

SIMON: I don't think it has been.

I think it's getting there, if we don't grow bored. It's only three weeks in, right?

STELTER: Two.

SIMON: And I'm already a little bored with this.

STELTER: Really?

SIMON: How long is this story going to last? Forever? Quite possibly.

Monica Lewinsky lasted every day for more than a year. So, I guess this one could too.

But I really think we haven't examined fully what we should have done in the beginning, which is due diligence to examine Trump the man. After the Nixon era, we all promised we were going to take a harder look at the personalities of these men and women who wanted to be president.

[11:40:02]

How hard a look did we really take at Donald Trump, besides the usual personality profile? How much did we really print about the guy, know about the guy, find out about the guy?

And I'm willing to say, had we done all of it, the result still might have been the same, although let's keep in mind his opponent got two million more votes than he did.

So, you can hardly ask Hillary Clinton to do better than that. We're locked in a terrible system that produces presidents that the public does not want.

STELTER: Roger Simon not mincing words, as you prepare for retirement.

Enjoy it. And thank you for being here.

SIMON: Thank you.

STELTER: Coming up here: Is this already the leakiest White House ever? And what does that mean for Trump coverage?

Our A-list panel will be right back right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:45:11]

STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. Two weeks into the Trump presidency, and we're seeing leaks about leaks. As a Trump staffer said to Politico, people are just knifing each other.

Look at this. In the past two days, we have counted well over a dozen stories from "The New York Times," "Washington Post," CNN,Reuters, the AP and other outlets citing anonymous Trump world officials, sometimes criticizing each other, sometimes slamming the president, and sometimes, much more seriously, sharing phone calls with foreign leaders.

A leaky government can be a field day for reporters, but it can also be a mine field.

So, back with me now, political and business strategist Tara Dowdell, Spectrum News political anchor and occasional leak beneficiary Errol Louis, and the woman leading "The New York Times"' political coverage, senior editor Carolyn Ryan.

Errol, we're pro-leaks, right, journalists generally, pro-leaks?

LOUIS: Absolutely. There's no other way to do it.

And, look, there's a positive side to this. People should not always think of this as a negative kind of a development. There are times when an administration wants to sort of float an idea, but kind of has some deniability, kind of get it into the bloodstream, put it out for public discussion, but not in a formal way.

STELTER: Right.

LOUIS: Assess the feedback, and then make a decision about where to go. So, leaks work. That's why we have a First Amendment. Leaks are good.

The negative side, the toxic side of it is when you have people playing office politics and feuding and putting out rumors and putting out frankly false information and character assassination. That's when it really starts to go off the rails.

And sometimes it's a matter of perspective when it's sort of a good, positive, public discussion-oriented leak, and when it is just office politics.

RYAN: Well, I think this is quite jarring, partly because of the comparison with the previous administration.

In this case, you have a very leaky campaign around Trump following the candidate into the White House. And I think we're going to have the leakiest White House that we have seen in decades, partly because of colliding agendas among the Trump factions, partly because now they are also colliding with a permanent government.

And now you also introduce Congress and congressional aides. So, there are all these ears and mouths now that can participate in these leaks. And it's just going to intensify. STELTER: Should we be concerned? Are you concerned about leak

investigations by this White House?

RYAN: Well, given their posture on the press, it would not be surprising. But, remember, Obama was -- initiated leak investigations.

It would not be out of line or would not be something new for the White House more generally.

STELTER: Yes. The Obama White House was no friend of the press when it came to leaks and trying to ferret out anonymous sources.

The concern, I think, now is whether the Trump administration will try to use the Espionage Act not against the leakers, the alleged leakers, but against the journalists. We've not seen that yet, but it's a concern.

RYAN: Right. Right. Absolutely.

STELTER: Let's bring up something else about the rhetoric from the Trump White House.

We're doing a new livecast on CNN.com Thursdays, RELIABLE SOURCES livecast, talking with guests, more time than we have on TV. This week, I talked to Matt Taibbi, the author of a new book, an anti-Trump book. Here is what Taibbi told me about what he says is brilliant about Trump's rhetoric.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT TAIBBI, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: One of the things that Trump does that's actually kind of brilliant is, he has this way of turning everybody in his orbit into a reality television character.

And he's made the press a character in sort of almost like a WWF drama, what is Bannon's way of describing us now as the opposition party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: I thought that was a fascinating insight from Matt Taibbi.

Tara, you were on "The Apprentice" season three. Does that ring true to you?

DOWDELL: Absolutely, 100 percent.

Donald Trump has spent the past 40 years basically perfecting and honing his leveraging of the media to his advantage. He senses vulnerabilities. And what he does is, lying Ted, crooked Hillary. He senses these vulnerabilities that already exist amongst people, and then he boils it down into some sort of moniker, some sort of reality TV moniker, that he knows will stick.

And they stick because he's able to ferret out what that vulnerability that already exists is and exploit it.

And so I think that people underestimate him. They often refer to him as being stupid or dumb or things like that. And I think that's a mistake. I don't think he should be underestimated.

He's a master marketer. And he's taking essentially the best practices of reality TV and applying them to his presidency.

STELTER: Case in point, this week, a successful rollout of his Supreme Court pick. There was some buzz about whether two finalists were on the way to Washington.

Carolyn, your reporting in "The Times," your reporters indicated that maybe this was intentional. The White House wanted people to think both judges were on the way to D.C., when in fact the person who was not nominated stayed in Pennsylvania the whole time.

RYAN: Remember Trump sort of -- there was a tell during the campaign where he talked about how he liked to be surprising, how he liked to be unpredictable.

[11:50:01]

And that speaks to his theatricality in his sense of drama. And you sort you saw that on display that evening. You're looking over here thinking that it's going to be "Apprentice" like. And instead you get something that is like a classic, traditional presidential announcement.

STELTER: Exactly. Looked like any other announcement.

So, Errol, do we need to have even more skepticism when it comes to moments like that?

LOUIS: I think we need to have more professional discipline, frankly.

Stick to your sources. Follow the money. Stick to what is true. Don't get swayed by whether or not it seems as if the media is unpopular.

The president spent every day on the campaign trail calling individual journalists and journalists as a whole scum and dishonest and so forth. Let him do that if that's what he wants to do. It will give you more time to sort of set up your investigations, follow the money, work your sources, tell the truth.

That's our job. That's what we're paid to do. That's what we're supposed to do.

STELTER: Perfect end note for us.

Panel, thank you very much for being here.

I mentioned a message from Sean Spicer. That's coming up right after the break here in my essay about how we all need editing, even the president. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:55:13]

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

Before we go, a look at the president's Facebook feed.

"Smart," that is what Trump wrote on Facebook a few days ago, linking to this story by a Middle Eastern blogging site.

The headline says, "Kuwait Issues Its Own Trump-esque Visa Ban for Muslim-Majority Countries."

Now, this is what the president might call fake news. The president or one of his aides posted the pro-ban story to his official Facebook feed with the caption "Smart." A quarter-of-a-million people have liked or commented on it.

This idea about some sort of Muslim ban by Kuwait has been a popular rumor for a while. But Kuwait -- quote -- "categorically denied the reports that it planned to stop issuing entry visas for some nationalities."

If you don't believe Kuwait, well, here's a headline from Pakistan, one of the countries allegedly affected, quoting a local embassy official saying, "There's no truth to it."

Now check this out. This is one of the Russian government's own news sites. It's called Sputnik News. It jumped on the rumor originally, saying, "Kuwait has ripped a page from the playbook of U.S. President Donald Trump,"

But then Sputnik News had to post a correction, saying, "The following news article proved to be untrue."

Now let's go ahead and reload the president's Facebook page. Yes, the baseless story is still racking up likes and comments.

This raises a question. Does sloppiness matter? I mean, do you expect Trump's aides to catch screw-ups like this, or do you just shrug it off?

And here's another one. Do you care that the White House press release on Saturday said that Trump spoke with the president of Australia, when, in fact, he's the prime minister of the country?

Maybe I don't care. Maybe you don't care. But Australian newspapers and TV networks cared a lot.

So, sloppiness does matter for the White House, the same way it matters for teachers, truck drivers, chefs, and carpenters.

A few typos, fine, but a pattern of sloppiness, well, that is when your employer starts to notice. This week, there were a couple of times when reporters had to correct

Press Secretary Sean Spicer. And, at one point in one of the briefings, Spicer accidentally said that the Iranians had taken hostile actions against an American warship.

Listen to him say "our Navy vessel."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So, I think General Flynn was really clear yesterday that Iran has violated the joint resolution, that Iran's additional hostile actions that it took against our Navy vessel are ones that we're very clear are not going to sit by and take.

MAJOR GARRETT, CBS NEWS: A Saudi vessel.

SPICER: Sorry. Thank you, a Saudi vessel, yes.

GARRETT: They thought it was American, but it's a Saudi vessel.

SPICER: Right. That's right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Now, as you see there, CBS reporter Major Garrett corrected him, since the Iranian-backed rebels were the ones attacking a Saudi -- Saudi Arabian ship, not an American ship.

Now, I don't think anyone is saying this is a huge deal, in and of itself. But it's another example of sloppiness, of an inattention to detail.

And attention to detail matters when, for example, the Pentagon releases jihadist video recovered from a raid in Yemen to show the value of the raid, but then later realizes the video was 10 years old and has already been widely seen. It does matter.

Reporters covering the White House cannot afford to be sloppy either, if we're going to hold this administration accountable.

Here's an example. Saturday, "The Washington Post" columnist and CNN analyst Josh Rogin posted a very newsy column. It was shared all over the place about a battle between Steve Bannon and DHS Secretary John Kelly.

It said Steve Bannon traveled in person to confront Kelly over a key aspect of the travel ban. But Rogin didn't call the White House for comment before publishing. He called DHS, but not the White House.

Spicer, Sean Spicer, later denied that Bannon traveled to Kelly's office. And "The Post" published multiple corrections.

This kind of sloppiness hurts the media. And "The Post" knows it. And Rogin knows it. Spicer now says Rogin owes readers and the White House an apology. And here is what Spicer told me in a text message this morning. He

said: "'The Post' printed a false story, didn't follow basic standards, and then covered it up."

Now, I don't think I agree with his assertion that "The Post" covered it up. But, as Spicer is fond of saying, this is a two-way street. Conway's errors about the Bowling Green massacre and press office's typos and Trump's fake news on Facebook, it all shows sloppiness straight from the White House.

I think the public should hold both the press, us, and the president to the highest of standards.

That's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. But I would love your feedback on today's show. Look me up on Facebook and Twitter. My handle is @BrianStelter.

Also, sign up for our nightly newsletter. It is going to come out early today, so we get ahead of the Super Bowl.

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