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What's Fair Media to Trump?; Can Democrats Unite Versus Trump?; High School Civil Rights Seminar Stirs Controversy; The Politics of Oscar Night. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired February 25, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:02] CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, don't go anywhere. Smerconish is coming at you next.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish coming to you from Philadelphia. We welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

The president is at war with both the FBI and media despite saying this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I love the First Amendment. Nobody loves it better than me. Nobody.


SMERCONISH: A few hours after the president spoke those words to CPAC several media outlets including CNN and the "New York Times" were barred from a White House press briefing. We'll talk about the ramifications.

And contrary to what the administration might say, the opposition party isn't the media but the Democratic Party, and they are in the worse shape since Reconstruction. Today they elect new leadership. Who will be in charge?

Plus, one of America's premier public high schools plans a seminar about racial civil rights and gets attacked for supplying in one critic's words racial indoctrination. Can't we all just get along?

And it is Oscar weekend, so here's my prediction, that we will surely hear some political speeches from Hollywood's elite, and I'll ask the "Hamilton" actor who confronted Vice President Pence last fall if he thinks such grandstanding helps or hurts their cause?

Plus, one CNN viewer had harsh words for me this week, and I shall reply to Mr. Rush Limbaugh.

But first, despite his repeated attacks on the media and this network, President Trump apparently thinks that I'm fair. I hope that remains his view at the end of this commentary.

Last Saturday I hosted Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax, and that night Chris spent time with the president at Mar-a-Lago leading Politico to report this.

"CNN makes the president's blood boil, but there's at least one personality on the network who Trump apparently has a soft spot for, as Newsmax CEO and longtime pal Chris Ruddy dished to Police crow's Hadas Gold, Trump recently told Ruddy he thought Michael Smerconish was pretty fair."

Boy, that's quite a change from when I was hired at CNN three years ago.

Yesterday at CPAC the president railed against the dishonest media and fake news, and he singled out CNN.


TRUMP: I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news. It's fake, phony, fake. They are the enemy of the people. Because they have no sources. They just make them up when there are none.


SMERCONISH: Just hours later at a White House briefing his press secretary Sean Spicer denied access to CNN, the "New York Times" and other select media outlets. What set the White House off? CNN's continued coverage of the president's connection to Russia. CNN recently reported that the FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Trump's associates and Russians known to U.S. intel during the 2016 campaign.

Now ironically at the media gaggle that Spicer hosted the primary focus was reporting by CNN and the "New York Times." In the that briefing Spicer explained to the media that the White House was first presented with information by an assistant FBI director that had a "New York Times" report was false but that the FBI refused to communicate that directly to the media or the public.

At CPAC the president continued a strategy that's becoming familiar, focusing on the way in which stories end up in the news, anonymous sourcing, rather than rebutting the substance of those reports. Remember, were it not for the leaks about the Trump administration in its first month, Michael Flynn would still be the national security adviser despite having spoken with the Russian ambassadors about sanctions but claiming otherwise publicly and to the vice president, a situation that could have created a risk of blackmail.

There, too, the president complained more about the fact that Flynn was submarined by intelligence leaks than the fact that his national intelligence adviser had engaged in communications seemingly at odds with the Logan Act.

If this all sounds confusing, keep in mind the common denominator. The president's war with the media is a backdrop for the evolving story about his ties to Russia and what matters most is transparency and getting to the bottom of what, if anything, really occurred. Less important will be the way in which that information comes to light. One other thing. The president is not only at war with the media.

He's now laid down the gauntlet with the FBI. Yesterday he tweeted this.

"The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security leakers that have permeated our government for a long time. They can't even find the leakers within the FBI itself.

[09:05:05] Classified information is being given to the media that could have a devastating effect on U.S. Find now."

That sort of public rebuke by a commander-in-chief is unprecedented. It's been an article of faith for all countries and forever that a head of government or a head of state, and President Trump is both, should never criticize his armed forces or related organs of his government because to do so demonstrates weakness to our adversaries and undermines morale at those vital defense and law enforcement entities. I can't think of any instance anywhere that this has ever occurred.

Fairness, Mr. President, is a subjective assessment, but facts are not.

What do you think? Tweet me your thoughts at SMERCONISH. I will read some throughout the course of the program.

Now to discuss the president's latest anti-media assault as well as the Democratic Party's choosing of a new leader is Jonathan Martin of the "New York Times."

Jonathan, what's the political calculus by the White House in laying down, drawing this line in the sand for both "The Times" and CNN and other outlets?

JONATHAN MARTIN, NEW YORK TIMES NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Replacing Hillary Clinton with a new enemy or a new foil at least, Michael. Thanks for having me on. Look, I think that the president is used to sort of non-stop combat, controversy, feuds, keeping this show going. This is how he lived his life in the private sector when he was in business and became be a tabloid fixture. It's what he did when he was on a reality show and he's sort of like -- he's kept that in politics and what he has not done, though, is made the jump from that kind of showmanship to being the commander-in-chief in a way that I think a lot of folks in his own party were hoping for.

He does not have a political opponent any longer, and so now what he is doing, he's trying to create a new one out of the news media. Can that work in the short term? Yes, absolutely and especially when you're a Republican and your voters are disposed to not like the media in the first place. Is it a sound strategy for the medium to longer term? I'm skeptical.

SMERCONISH: It plays well with 46 percent of the country, right? I mean, to have the door slammed on CNN and the "New York Times" in many of the red states I'm sure is music to their ears. MARTIN: Sure it is, but ultimately the stories about his

administration are going to be about the underlying substance of his policies and his conduct, and it's not going to be about the -- the nature of the coverage itself. This is not a nation of Brian Stelters. This is not a nation of media critics, and people ultimately are going to care about his job performance, and so he can keep this going for a while but ultimately this is not a sort of long range plan, I don't think, and the -- the stories themselves are going to be what shapes public opinion about him.

SMERCONISH: A final --

MARTIN: But look he sees -- yes, please, go ahead.

SMERCONISH: A final question on this issue. Do you believe this is an attempt at inoculation so that as the Russian story continues to evolve he'll be able to say, look, I told you, that's all fake news, we've already been there and done that?

MARTIN: Look, I think it's not just the Russia story, I think it's critical coverage general, Michael. I think -- you know, what he and his advisers want to do is set up a construct where people don't have faith in facts as portrayed by the mainstream news media, and if you constantly criticize the media and raise doubts about their coverage then when they are tough stories it's easier to try to rebut them, not on factual grounds, just on, you know, saying, well, you know, it's not true because they are never true, so, yes, that's absolutely what he is thinking and trying do. It's smokescreen politics.

SMERCONISH: Yesterday page one of "The Times" above the fold you wrote about what's going on within the DNC and the vote that will take place about an hour from now. Are we seeing in Perez v. Ellison Clinton versus Sanders redux?

MARTIN: I think there's elements of that, Michael, but you know, I think given what's happened in this country over the last month or so, it's been overwhelmed. This race, and by the way, as you know, party committee races after losing presidential races are pretty high- profile affairs. The future of the party is debated. The way forward.

Michael, this thing has been so overshadowed by both President Trump's first days, and also the backlash to President Trump that it has been kind of reduced to almost sort of a faculty club type campaign. The stakes don't seem as consequential given what's happening in the country and the conversation that we're just having a minute ago about what President Trump is doing. That said, yes, broadly, Keith Ellison from Minnesota, the congressman, is basically from the Bernie wing of the party, more of an insurgent candidate, more of a progressive.

Tom Perez, though ideologically, not terribly different from Ellison, there's no question he reflects more of the establishment wing of the party, has the support of a lot of governors, the Obama folks to some extent support him.

[09:10:13] That's generally how it's fallen. It's not totally that way but that's generally how it is and the question today is this party committee, the DNC, which just largely comprised of Clinton and Obama folks, party regulars -- is there enough support there from that traditional wing of the party to get Perez over the top on the first ballot? If that doesn't happen this thing could go for a while.

SMERCONISH: We're going to find out soon. Jonathan Martin, thank you so much for being here.

MARTIN: Thanks for having me, Michael.

SMERCONISH: So the president regards the media as the opposition party but, of course, that would be the Democratic Party and, today, as I've just discussed with Jonathan the party elect's new leadership.

Joining me now, Jamie Harrison, chair of the South Carolina Democrats who had been running but dropped out and is endorsing former labor secretary Thomas Perez and someone who had supported him, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan. You'll remember he challenged Nancy Pelosi for the minority chair.

Jamie, let me begin with you. I said that the Democratic Party is in the worst shape since Reconstruction. And what I based that on is you don't have the White House, you don't have the House of Representatives, you don't have the Senate. Republicans control 33 governor mansions, and 31 state legislatures. Am I being simplistic if I say today a choice that has to be made is should the party be more progressive or more centrist to win?

JAMIE HARRISON, FORMER DNC CHAIR CANDIDATE: Listen, Michael. We've been in this situation before, a similar situation in 2004. I remember when we lost all of these Senate seats in the south and George W. Bush won re-election and -- and they kept control of the House and the Senate. But guess what happened two years afterwards? We won back the House, we won back the Senate, and then two years after that we won the White House, and in 2009 when Barack Obama put his hand on that bible and took the oath of office, at that point we had the majority of governorships, statehouses, attorneys general and secretaries of state.

We can get back to that point again but the common thread in all of that was we had a 50-state strategy where we poured in resources into every state party in the nation and was able to build a capacity to reach out to voters and to get the vote out. That's what we have to return to. And if we do that I think this party is going to be in a good shape.

SMERCONISH: Hey, Congressman, there's a fundamental decision I think that needs to be made here by Democrats in the House and in the Senate, and that is how do we handle President Trump? Do we oppose him full bore or do we try and work some things out? Maybe it's infrastructure, maybe it's preserving elements of the Affordable Care Act?

There's a poll from Pew Research that said that 72 percent of Democrats are concerned that the party won't fight enough, won't do enough in terms of its opposition. What's your thought on that issue of how to deal with him?

REP. TIM RYAN (D), OHIO: I think you've got to fight him hard, Michael, when he violates some of our basic fundamental values like what we're talking about with a ban on a certain religion and giving preference to a certain religion for people who are fleeing a war-torn area. We need to step up and fight that and any of those issues like that we need to fight like hell against him.

I think we need to remain open to any opportunity that may present itself that will help our constituents that may put our people back to work. Now, let's remember, Trump said, and I'm from Youngstown and Akron, Ohio, he was going to open up the steel mills. Well, that's funny because there's no glass furnaces left around so there's nothing really to open up.

He said he was going to open up the coal mines and he hasn't done that, so we need to also have a progressive economic agenda where we're going to put people back to work right now, and if Democrats don't have an alternative economic and a robust economic message, all the other stuff is going to fall by the wayside because that's what people are thinking about in swing congressional districts, in swing Senate districts and across the country.

What's on their minds is, will they have a solid pension? Will they have a job that's increasing their wage year to year? And do they have secure health care for their family? And if Democrats don't fight Trump and push a robust economic message for them we will continue to be in the wilderness and we need to make sure we understand that right now.

SMERCONISH: Jamie, I saw a poll that shows that Donald Trump even though his numbers have declined since coming into office still beats Elizabeth Warren should there be a head-to-head, and what that brought to mind for me is the fact that your problem within the Democratic Party, just as Republican Party has this issue, is passion resides, you know, in those outliers. The more liberal individuals I believe are the more passionate, you've got to keep them in the tent, but whether you can sell that brand of progressivism nationwide I think is -- is a big question mark.

HARRISON: Yes. You know, Michael, I think the big thing that we have to do -- I was a former high schoolteacher and I used to teach my students the best way to persuade someone to your side is to show and not tell.

[09:15:09] It's really, really important we do that. For years now the Democratic Party has been telling working people that we are for you. Now we actually have to show that to them. We have to do that not through our words but through our deeds and we can do that in states in which we do have the Democratic majorities. Use those as testing places for our Democratic progressive agenda and then showcase that to the -- to the nation and say we've done this in this state, we will do this the next time that you give us the authority and the power to be in the majority again. That's what we have to do. We have to have a progressive agenda that is showing and not telling. SMERCONISH: Well, final comment from you, Congressman. You know,

Kenny Rogers said you got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them. Sometimes you need new faces. I mean, you stepped up to the plate to run against Nancy Pelosi and I think the message was, hey, you've had your shot and it's time to step aside.

RYAN: Well, I certainly did make my case. I do think we need new faces in the party. I think we need, you know, faces that are from the Midwest. If you look at a lot of our leadership around the country, the Midwest is forgotten. The Great Lakes states are forgotten. The south is forgotten in so many ways, and if we don't have ambassadors from the Democratic Party convincing people in Tennessee or southern Indiana or Mississippi that we can pull working class voters from those communities, then we're going to continue to be in the wilderness where we are today, and so having new leaders -- and in a big tent party, and this is why I love Jamie because Jamie was talking about how we need a big tent party.

We're not going to agree on everything, but I will tell you, Michael. If we all agree on a progressive economic vision for the country, then we will pull those rural voters. We will pull those voters from maybe southern Ohio and southern Indiana.


RYAN: Into the Democratic camp, but our message has got to be economic. We need new faces. We need new leaders, but we also need that robust economic message about working class people. Not white working class people, Michael. Working class, black, brown, white, gay.

SMERCONISH: I heard you.

RYAN: Straight, everybody.

SMERCONISH: I got it. Jamie Harrison, Congressman Ryan, thank you both. We appreciate you being here.

To everybody else, keep tweeting me your thoughts on Smerconish. Here are an early two. Hit me with it.

"Smerconish, thank you, President Trump, for your nice words about Michael Smerconish. He is the only one of the media that's fair." You know, Bobby, you'll get me fired with thoughts like that.

Hit me with the second one, please. "Smerconish, it's not at badge of honor, when Trump thinks you are fair, shaking my head." You know, Real Gold Standard, that's the truth. Because people who are supportive of Donald Trump they say, Mr. President, Smerconish, you must be joking, and then the people who are antagonistic to Trump they say, always had my suspicions about that guy Smerconish.

Still ahead, racial indoctrination day, that's what one "Wall Street Journal" columnist labeled a daylong seminar on civil rights at one of America's premier Midwestern public high schools. Parents and teachers find themselves deep in the swamp of our national political polarization.

Speaking of which, tomorrow night Oscar night but will people be talking about the winners, the dress or the politics? And do political speeches by celebrities convince anyone to help those they seek to criticize?

I'm going to talk to the "Hamilton" actor who confronted Vice President Mike Pence from the Broadway stage.


[09:22:25] SMERCONISH: This morning one of America's most esteemed public high schools got dragged into the swamp of our polarized national politics. New Trier in suburban Chicago is holding a daylong seminar this coming Tuesday. They call it "Understanding Today's Struggle for Civil Rights," which has ignited a battle among parents, activists, teachers and administrators. The syllabus includes topics such as "Microaggressions, Voices From Literature," "Black Lives Matter or All Lives Matter, "Take a Knee? Colin Kaepernick, Activism and Symbols of America," and "White Privilege in the College Admissions Process."

Now a "Wall Street Journal" opinion piece referred to this as "Racial Indoctrination Day." The Winnetka School has too many famous graduates to list, look at them all.

What does this high school seminar and the reaction to it, that which it engendered, tell us about the times in which we live?

Well, joining me now two parents of New Trier graduates, Susan Berger who also went there, supports the seminar day, Tony Duncan, he's got some concerns about the format of the seminar.

Tony, let's start with you. What issues do you have with what's going to take place on Tuesday?

TONY DUNCAN, CHILDREN ATTENDED NEW TRIER HIGH SCHOOL: Well, first, thank you so much for having me, Michael. It's a pleasure to talk to Susan about something this extremely important. I want to make my position very clear. First off, you'll be hard pressed to find anybody who actually is against seminar day. What it is that most are against is the politicizing of a very non-partisan issue.

Racial equality is something that should not be left or right. It should be something that we approach for one simple value, and that is access to equal education and economic opportunities. So that is what I think is really missing from this seminar is that we need to get away from the band-aid and start looking at an opportunity to make a real cure.

SMERCONISH: Does that mean that conservative voices should have been given more of an airing?

DUNCAN: I think that conservative voices make up the fabric of America and why shouldn't they have a voice? I think that when we start to politicize things we take away people that are very, very meaningful for this push for equal equality. I think that when we look at the issues right now the issues are not racially stimulated. They are economically stimulated. What it is that we need equal education in our communities and we need economic opportunities. These things are not racial. They are economic and we need to focus on that. Yes, racism is a major issues. My kids deal with racism right now in our community, but it's not what's holding us back. What's holding us back is the economics and the equal education.

SMERCONISH: Go ahead and respond to that. I know you're eager to do so.

[09:25:03] SUSAN BERGER, NEW TRIER HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE: Well, I'm -- I real think, you] know, what makes New Trier New Trier is the intellectual curiosity that they are really known for. When I was a junior back in 1968, I participated in a summer seminar of community affairs that was an entire summer with 10, 20 kids from the city, inner city and 20 kids from New Trier put together for the entire summer and we learned about each other, we learned about each other's neighborhoods, we did projects in the city where we built a playground.

We did role playing and it was -- it was really -- it was life- changing for a lot of us who ended up with careers that had to do with either community service or in my case I'm a reporter, but for most of us who participated that summer it was -- it was really something.

SMERCONISH: And Susan, you know, one of our children, a son of mine participated not for a full summer, in exactly -- they called it cross bridge, in exactly the kind of interactive program that you were apparently so positively affected by.

I guess my question, Tony, is this. Can you address these subjects without them getting political? Here from the syllabus, this is -- this is what it says for "Black Lives Matter or All Lives Matter, History Context and Critique."

"This workshop is designed to provide the historical context for both the Black Lives Matter and all lives matter movements and examine the implications of both these movements in our lives, schools and United States."

Holy smokes, Tony. You put that on the syllabus and you know people are going to have a beef without even hearing more about the way in which the issue will be presented.

DUNCAN: And that I think is the real issue, and to Susan's point when she was in high school it was an entirely different situation. Right now the situation is that there are economic challenges. We have the wrong ideas when it comes to helping blacks and others minorities achieve racial equality. We need to come together and we need to say that this is an issue that's not about racism. It's about old racist practices that need to be uplifted to the 2017 change status, and that is economic opportunities and equal education.

Our kids are not failing because of racism. They're failing because of inadequate schools that are almost criminal and the fact that we don't get economic opportunities --


DUNCAN: -- we get low-wage jobs in our community.

SMERCONISH: Susan, you get the final word.


BERGER: You know, I would say --

SMERCONISH: Here's my solution. My solution is that Tony ought to be a speaker because I like the idea of what's about unfold Tuesday but I think viewpoints like his should be a part of it. You get the final word.

BERGER: I think all of it makes the kids think and question and debate, and I think that's all really good. I also think what's really good is the whole community came out, I mean, every seat was taken at a board meeting when they voted on this. 5,000 people signed a petition for the seminar day, it got people thinking and it got people talking and I think that's always a good thing.



BERGER: Yes. There was one speaker --

SMERCONISH: Go ahead, Susan.

BERGER: Who said that she was embarrassingly uninformed as a New Trier graduate and she's now a teacher in Boston and she said she wished she had had this experience.

SMERCONISH: Susan, Tony, thank you so much.

DUNCAN: And, again, this is because we put band-aids on the cure.

SMERCONISH: Good luck on Tuesday.

DUNCAN: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Coming up, it's Oscar weekend, the culmination of an awards season that's already been very political. One can only imagine what some of tomorrow's winners will say in an acceptance speeches.

Well, I'll talk to the actor who knows a thing or two about political speech, Brandon Victor Dixon, who famously confronted Vice President- elect Mike Pence after a performance of "Hamilton" this fall.


[09:33:00] SMERCONISH: The Oscars are tomorrow night. The only prediction that I'm going to make is that things will surely get political. They have been all awards season, including a pointed Golden Globes speech by America's most decorated actress, Meryl Streep, which drew the ire of the president.

How political should an evening be that's supposed to be about awarding artistic excellence?

I have the perfect guest, the actor from "Hamilton" who started a national debate this fall when he confronted Vice President-elect Mike Pence from the stage after a performance of "Hamilton."


BRANDON VICTOR DIXON, ACTOR IN HAMILTON, THE MUSICAL: We are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir, but we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us, all of us.



SMERCONISH: Besides playing Aaron Burr in "Hamilton" on Broadway right now Brandon Victor Dixon starred in "Shuffle Along," "The Color Purple," "Rent" and "The Scottsboro Boys." He's currently appearing on the Star series "Power," and I spoke with him earlier.


SMERCONISH: Hey, Brandon, congratulations on all of your success. I have to tell you that soundtrack is a constant in my house and in all of our family cars, so I appreciate you being here.

DIXON: I appreciate you having me. How are you?

SMERCONISH: I'm well. Now in full disclosure, I have to tell you something, and that is I did not support your commentary when you delivered it the night that then Vice President-elect Pence came to see the show, and I remember so well being on the air that day because it had happened the night before. I respect your right to say and believe the things that you offered. It was the timing and the place. As my parents would say, time and a place, time and a place, time and a place.

DIXON: May I ask why?

SMERCONISH: Yes. I thought he came to see a show.

[09:35:03] Folks who were there came to see a show. They didn't come to hear a political speech, and it reminded me of a night that I spent a lot of money to go hear Roger Waters at Madison Square Garden. I wanted to hear all the music from Pink Floyd and instead he delivered this speech about Habeus Corpus rights for Guantanamo prisoners, and I thought that's not why I'm here. DIXON: I understand that. I think one thing to understand is that,

you know, we oftentimes use the opportunity at the end of the show to talk about causes or organizations that we support. It's a time when we do step outside of the show and we speak about causes, particularly for Broadway Cares/Equity Fight AIDS, so us taking the stage and saying something to the audience is not out of the ordinary for us or for Broadway at all.

And we thought it was important enough to make a statement, really try not to make if politicized but just make a unifying to these individuals who have run to really to hear from their constituency. I mean, the point of running for government is so that you can stand in front of the people that you are going to be leading and hear how they feel and hear their thoughts, and I think it's important to seize any opportunity one has to speak to their elected representatives, no matter the situation.

I think the way that we handled it actually was -- went over very well and I think everybody was -- was fine with how it took place.

SMERCONISH: Look, he apparently was cool with it, and I have to say that I think that you -- you voiced your opinion with dignity. As a matter of fact I just again watched that tape and you shut down any prospect of booing at the outset.

DIXON: Absolutely, absolutely.

SMERCONISH: It was just the issue of whether -- you know, whether it was expected that folks who are coming to a show are going to hear that at the end. But, now I have to draw a contrast because tomorrow night with the Academy Awards we have come to expect that there will be political speeches by some of those who win.

DIXON: Absolutely.

SMERCONISH: What do you anticipate tomorrow night?

DIXON: I mean, I anticipate we'll see more of the trend that has been building in Hollywood and I for one am very happy about it. I mean, I think it's more important, it's imperative that anybody who has a platform, anybody who has a voice right now, that they stand up and they speak their mind particularly about a lot of issues that are affecting people who do not have a voice, who do not have a platform.

I hope that they do take their opportunity and then I look forward to seeing it and hearing it. The more that our -- excuse me, our entertainment figures can participate in our discourse, and I know a lot of people say, you know, you're an athlete, you're an actor, so or so and you shouldn't speak up. I think that makes no sense. No matter who you are, no matter what you do in this country, you're a part of our democracy, and if you have a voice, you need to use it.

SMERCONISH: The night that Vice President Pence came to watch "Hamilton" you said that you were alarmed and anxious and you were speaking on your own behalf and on behalf of the cast, so I get I think politically where you're coming from. Are you concerned that you -- that Hollywood actors, those who are not

supportive of the president overplay their hand and you create, you know, a boogie man for the president to beat up on? All of a sudden you're now those Broadway actors, you're the Hollywood elite, and in red state America that actually helps him.

DIXON: Who is calling an actor -- a theater actor the elite? Do you know what some of these people make? I think that -- I think that as actors and performers, again, and you know, look, everybody is different. You know, everybody has their own views. They have done their own research so who knows who has what ability to say the things that they have to say but I think that it's important. I think it's important for entertainers, for athletes, for political figures, I think it's important for everybody to set an example, particularly for young people that you have to stand up and you have you to express your opinion.

Now if you engage in positive discourse, maybe you will come across some information that helps you to change your point of view so you learn something about the feeling or the thoughts that you had about the issue you were talking about. But we need to encourage people to speak up, to speak out because the more people who participated in our democracy, the more our democracy grows.

SMERCONISH: I hear you, but let me talk to you, Aaron Burr, for just a moment. OK. You're a smart -- you are a smart guy. Politically speaking do you understand the point that I'm making that you may be playing into his hands if it becomes a pile-on?

DIXON: It's possible, but I -- I think the fact of the matter is this -- this currently I think we're in fairly uncharted territory and so, you know, you calibrate as you go along but I think you have to take the first step and the first step is standing up.

SMERCONISH: Advise someone who today is preparing two speeches, one if I win, and this is what I say to thank folks and potentially here's what I will say about the president. You were very effective on that "Hamilton" stage so what are the dos and the don'ts for an actor who does want to make a political statement?

DIXON: I think the dos to make sure that whatever you say, that you lead with positivity, that you lead with love so that you can continue to invite people into the conversation. You know, a lot of the times we want to -- particularly with President Trump and individuals who voted for him, or elected him, a lot of times we want to demonize the opposition, you know, in our country where we get into this process of winning and losing. And I think if you --


[09:40:05] DIXON: It's important to make criticisms of the government as a whole and criticisms of the policies, but to do so in a way that you can invite the individuals who maybe were on the opposition before or who voted for somebody whom now you are in disagreement with that you opened the door for a conversation with those people because we have to be able to come together. We have to be able to speak with one another, and that is how you -- you also -- that's how you grow coalitions, that's how you grow consensus.

SMERCONISH: Any predictions, Best Picture, Best Actor, anything that you want to say? Here's where I think it's going?

DIXON: You know, I really don't know. I think it's a real tossup. There's a lot of great work out there this year. You know, I'll tell you, though, just selfishly I'm pulling for Mahershala Ali. That's where I'm at.

SMERCONISH: I share your wishes. I saw "Moonlight" and it was fabulous.

Thank you so much for being here.


SMERCONISH: As a matter of fact, I saw three of the 10 nominated this year which is a lot for me. What are your thoughts? Tweet me @smerconish.

Katherine, hit me with another one. "Most Americans watching the Oscars want to see the stars, not hear their political diatribes, we don't care what you think." Hey, JMWolverine, I think in a nice way I just said to my guest I didn't agree or approve of him calling out Vice President Pence, although he did it in a respectful way because you go to a Broadway show, that's not what you expect to see but tomorrow night, if you're not expecting to see political speeches, then, you know, you haven't watched the Oscars. That is what it has become for better or worse.

Still to come, Rush Limbaugh criticized something I said this week on CNN, but he's not getting the story right, and I'm going to help him understand in just a moment.


[09:46:06] SMERCONISH: Despite complaints from the president, there is another conservative leader who watches CNN, Rush Limbaugh, who earlier this week took umbrage at something that I said on "NEW DAY." Here's the comment that got his goat.


SMERCONISH: Donald Trump is the embodiment of a 30-year trend in the making, an embodiment of empowering Rush Limbaugh, the "Drudge Report," FOX News, Breitbart, Newsmax.


SMERCONISH: They exert control over primary voters in a way the traditional conservative leadership used to do.

CUOMO: Right.

SMERCONISH: And that's why Milo (INAUDIBLE) would even be extended an invitation to come to a gathering like CPAC but the problem is that that comes at the expense of reaching a much more middle-of-the-road audience that you need in a general election.

CUOMO: Right.


SMERCONISH: On the radio later that day Rush took particular offense at my use of the word empower. Watch.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Who the hell empowered me? What does that mean? And who empowered FOX News? And who empowered Matt Drudge? Who are these mysterious forces that are empowering us? Who is it setting the table so that we can come in and dominate the way we have? Who made that happen?

"Donald Trump is the embodiment of a 30-year trend in the making, an embodiment of empowering Rush Limbaugh, the "Drudge Report," FOX News."

I don't even understand if I define these words as I know their meaning, this doesn't make any sense. Who empowered me, Mr. Snerdley? What does this mean? What is he trying to say?


SMERCONISH: Rush, let me try and help you here. I was explaining that Donald Trump would never have been elected president without a climate that you helped create. Among other things, he fostered and seized upon a distrust of the mainstream media and a dislike of all things Clinton that have been your mantra for years. He was the nation's first nominee to mirror the populist brand of talk radio which you, Rush, have championed, one in which compromise is the new C word, and civility is perceived as weakness.

When he hired Steve Bannon, the former executive chair of Breitbart, first as his campaign manager and then as senior White House adviser, the process you began whereby provocateurs have supplanted traditional political leadership was now complete, and it continues.

What could be better fodder for an a.m. talk radio audience than the blocking of media access for both CNN and the "New York Times"? Man, that will make the phones ring on Monday. It's all high on entertainment value, but the societal question is at what cost?

See, your job is to attract listeners and you do it well. Your talent on loan from God provided you with influence over primary voters who now wield disproportionate control over politicians, but those politicians are not supposed to be entertainers. Media personalities have a different agenda than those who are actually tasked with governing. Their job is not to attract ears or mouse clicks but to get things done and where the climate that you've built is based on confrontation, not compromise, the American people get gridlock.

That was my point, and I'll underscore it with mega dittos. Still to come, your best and worst tweets. Hit me with another one.

"Show me, don't tell me. No when to hold them and fold them. Wow, Rush and Kenny Rogers references in the same bit."

[09:50:04] Yes. And Polymer, last week I had the George the Animal steel reference. Stick around, I'm back in a sec.


SMERCONISH: Hey, if you missed anything, watch us on demand or see clips on the show's Web site. It's

All right. Here's some tweets that just came in. I don't see them until you see them. What do we got?

"Smerconish may be an ass but he knows it, talks about it, and doesn't let it affect his balanced take on issues." Really? I am? OK. Thanks, Eric.

Next. "Smerconish, you act like Trump supporters were told to vote for. Limbaugh had nothing to do with my vote."

[09:55:05] No, Wendy, you might not even recognize what has taken place. My point is that the climate has been 30 years in the making. This climate of vitriol and stirring the pot and demeaning anybody who wants compromise and solutions. They're the weaklings. They're the ones we kick sand in their face. And where did that all come from? It came from the provocateurs who have influenced primary voters who are in Republican caucuses and primaries. That's what I'm saying and the table was set beautifully for a guy from New York who comes along and fits that bill. He'd be a great talk show host if he wasn't president.

One more? Real quick. Real quick. "Smerconish, the White House did shut out CNN. They shut out the millions of Americans that trust CNN for their news." You know what, that's a -- that's a really good way to put it. I mean, because what are we except a mirror, a reflection of the people that we seek to serve? So I think going forward I'm going to say it wasn't CNN and "The Times" who were shut out. The American people were shut out.

Follow me on Twitter and I'll see you next week.