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Trump, The Making Of An Alternative Reality; Trump Claims Obama Wiretapped Him, Offers No Proof; Twitter Trump versus Teleprompter Trump; Life as a White House Reporter; Argument by Anecdote. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired March 5, 2017 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:17] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey. I'm Brian Stelter, and it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES. This is our weekly look at a story behind a story, of how the media really works, how the news gets made.

This hour, from the joint address to those shocking tweets, Trump insider Jason Miller joins me to talk about what makes his former boss tick.

Plus, two White House correspondents are here with a peek inside the White House briefing room.

But, first, the making of an alternative reality.

The real news headlines have been hard on President Trump this week. "The New York Times", "The Washington Post", CNN and other news outlets have been breaking new ground about team Trump's connection to Russia. One of "The Washington Post's" stories calls Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from Russia-related investigations.

Trump was reportedly ticked off about this. He didn't think Sessions needed to recuse himself. So, what happened this weekend?

Well, Trump tried to change the story. In fact, he and his allies have created a brand-new storyline, casting aspersions on former President Obama. They haven't given any proof but they have given Trump supporters a brand-new talking point that Trump's problems are really Obama's fault.

Trump's conservative media allies are working overtime to promote this narrative.

So, let's take a look at what's really going on here and how it started. This morning, just in time for the Sunday morning shows, Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, quote, "Reports concerning politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling."

By reports, does he mean Trump's own tweets? Because early Saturday morning, Trump went on a reckless tweet storm, making allegations that are reminiscent of his birther conspiracy theory and his bogus claims about a rigged election. He said, quote, "How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Obama is a bad or sick guy."

Where did Trump get these ideas? Where is he getting his information?

CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports that this Breitbart story was circulating on the West Wing on Friday and that Trump was infuriated by it. Now, the story asserted that Obama has been trying to undermine Trump at every turn.

As you can see from the headline, it was inspired by a Thursday night radio segment by conservative talk show host Mark Levin. Now, bear in mind this was not fresh reporting by Levin or Breitbart, this was opinion, attempts basically to connect some dots.

OK, so, that was on Thursday. That's how this news story started. Now, it's Sunday. And the White House is calling on Congress to investigate this theory.

Here is Sarah Huckabee Sanders on ABC's "This Week."


MARTHA RADDATZ, THIS WEEK: These are extremely serious charges the president is making. Where is he getting this information?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: Look, I think there have been quite a few reports. I know that Jonathan and others earlier in the program mentioned that it was all conservative media, but that's frankly not true. "The New York Times," BBC have also talked about and reported on the potential of this having had happened.


STELTER: "The Times" and other news outlets did not report that Obama personally ordered Trump's phones to be tapped. There's no evidence of that. Reporters have described ongoing investigations into Trump associates, investigations that began when Obama was still in office.

So, Martha Raddatz asked, was Breitbart the main source for Trump's tweets. Here's how Sanders responded.


SANDERS: I think the bigger thing is you guys are always telling us to take the media seriously. We are today. We are taking the reports that places like "New York Times", FOX News, BBC, multiple outlets have reported this.


STELTER: Wait, "The New York Times." earlier this week, Trump said "The New York Times" was evil. And one of his aides recently called the BBC fake news.


TRUMP: The failing "New York Times".

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You and your colleagues have fallen into this trap of fake news.

TRUMP: The failing "New York Times."


STELTER: OK. So, keeping that in mind, let's go back to what Sanders was saying on ABC.


SANDERS: All we're saying is let's take a closer look. If this happened, Martha --

RADDATZ: If, if, if.

SANDERS: I agree --

RADDATZ: Why is the president saying it did happen?

SANDERS: Look, I think he is going off of information that he's seeing that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential and, if it is, this is the greatest overreach and the greatest abuse of power that I think we've ever seen and a huge attack on democracy itself and the American people have a right to know if this took place.


STELTER: Sanders is doing something that Trump administration tends to do. Take the arguments and the allegations against Trump and turning them on somebody else, trying to do this flip-flop of sorts.

So, we've seen this news story. We presented this news story and started on Thursday. Now, it's Sunday.

[11:05:01] It gives Trump voters a new argument, something new debate, something to respond with.

But what's the real story?

Let's bring in Kathleen Hall Jamieson. She's a director at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and in Washington, Bill Plante, famous former White House correspondent for CBS News.

Bill, you've covered Washington for more than half a century. Have you ever seen anything like this?

BILL PLANTE, FORMER CBS NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No. In previous administrations, there was tension between White House reporters and the president, the president staff, but never in this kind of situation where stories have been deliberately set up to take the place of whatever is actually happening and direct attention else where. So, this is, this is new.

But I think it's a very important that we not allow ourselves to become involved in it personally, that we simply follow it to where it leads.

STELTER: Do you see the Trump administration taking the words that are being used against it and try to turn them around? For example, Watergate. Of course, you or one of the reporters in Washington covering Watergate. Trump is using the word "Watergate" on Twitter, trying to turn it around and saying Obama is acting like Nixon.

PLANTE: Yes, this is definitely what he's trying to do. He's trying to shift the attention away from the concerns over his administration, the ties with Russians with other concerns and move it to this new idea that he has put out there. But all we can do, I think, is point out that as Martha Raddatz did, there is no proof that this is actually true. There is no evidence that this has happened.

STELTER: Yes, very impressive interview by Raddatz this morning over on ABC.

Kathleen, how do you view this in the perspective from a communication professor. Does Trump essentially break journalism by saying something that is outlandish that has no evidence backing it up and then causing journalists to report on it like it's any other claim by any other president?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON, DIRECTOR, ANNENBERG PUBLIC POLICY CENTER: Yes, he does, and he creates a dilemma for journalists, because ordinarily journalists would say that president said and looked for the documentation and play through that narrative. But when there's no proof, journalists have to find a way in the headline to say, without proof, Trump alleges, so that we don't put in place the allegation as if it has some legitimacy rather we should be saying where is the proof?

What Trump specializes in is shifting the burden of proof. Making a charge with no evince and then asking for an investigation shifts the burden of proof. Now, someone is supposed to disprove and unprove an allegation.

STELTER: Are journalists getting it right in the banners and the headlines and the framing or are you seeing a lot of screw ups?

JAMIESON: Some of them are doing well. "New York Times" this morning in print said, with no proof, this is the headline, Trump claims Obama tapped. Now, notice before you ever get to an Obama tapped and you lay down that as a possible charge, you have heard with no proof and Trump claims. I'd actually change the word "claims" to "alleges" to suggest that it really has no support so far.

STELTER: But to your point, that headline makes the story not about what Trump is saying but him saying it without evidence. In other words, it makes it about a misstatement or a sort of out of thin air statement that he's not backing up. JAMIESON: But there's also a deeper narrative here, because what was

taking hold in the press was a story about cover up. What were the Trump folks covering up?

Notice what Trump does. He displaces that story with the allegation that no, it's Obama who was Nixon and, as a result, anything that you're going to lie with the cover up is innocent compared to the actual charge. He's actually got a logic here. Instead of a narrative of cover up, we now have a narrative of Nixon engaging in subterfuge to undermine his enemies.

That's a powerful, historic analogue offered without any proof. But there's some logic displacing one story with the other.

STELTER: And to be clear, there's a lot more reporting that we need to do on this topic. There's a lot more we need to find out about what exactly the Obama administration was doing, who was being investigated.

Bill, as someone who covered Washington, who worked at the White House for many years for CBS News, what do you make of this dynamic between Press Secretary Sean Spicer and the press? This morning, Spicer said we're not going to talk about this at all any more until there is an investigation. Is that going to hold up in the briefing room tomorrow?

PLANTE: No, he'll come under sustained questioning tomorrow to offer evidence that there is something going on here, and he will deflect that as he has in the past because so far, they haven't been able to provide any evidence.

But, again, the important thing for reporters covering this is not to get involved personally in disputing this or disputing how we feel about the claim. But simply to drive home that there is no evidence, unless evidence somehow turns up and that this has to be continually investigated and discussed. But not to get involved.

STELTER: It sounds to me like you feel some journalists are taking this too personally, getting too emotional. Is that fair?

PLANTE: Yes, I see tweets from people and no names, of course, but who are offended by what's going on. Well, if you are offended by what's going on, you should keep it to yourself.

[11:10:03] STELTER: On those words, on that note, Bill, thank you very much for being here. I appreciate it.

Kathleen, please, stick around, we'll bring you back later this hour.

A quick break here. More on this weekend's claims from President Trump and the fact checking of them. Another all-star panel right after the break.


STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter. This weekend, we see President Trump trying to change the story talking not about his own team's connections to Russia, but, instead, President Obama and whether Obama's administration improperly investigated Trump.

Now, let's talk about it with our excellent panel, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of "The Nation" magazine, Molly Hemingway, senior editor at "The Federalist", and Charles Blow, columnist for "The New York Times."

So much to discuss here.

Molly, let me start with you. You have seen a weekend of reactions to President Trump's tweets. How do you feel the press has reacted to this unusual situation?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE FEDERALIST: Well, it seems that the press always react the same way which is very hysterically to every single thing that Trump says. It will be a little bit nice, and not that it's not frustrating to deal with a president who is so infranchise, who says things without proof, that is very frustrating.

At the same time, I think this constant level of hysteria causes people to either tune out or get hysterical themselves, and that's not a great public service.

[11:15:04] There are issues at play. We actually have had reporting for months on surveillance of Trump transition people. We haven't gotten a good digging into that story, about why we have people both surveying these people and leaking in sort of a coordinated campaign.

That is still a legitimate story, even if President Trump talks about it in a way that is less than ideal.

STELTER: The way he uses language is different from the way that past presidents have used language, though President Trump personalizes it and says it in a very shocking way, maybe taking off all the edges or all the caveats, that's different. And reporters are reacting to it.

I wonder, Charles, if you feel like you ever get a little hysterical as Mollie was suggesting some journalists do.

CHARLES BLOW, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think, you know, we have to dismiss with all euphemisms here about whether or not he's using imprecision in language or not. Now, the president is actually lying. And we have to continuously say that the president is actually lying. And that is an assault on the truth itself and it is assault on the legitimacy of the presidency itself.

And what we -- another thing you have to remember is that when we stop believing in the president, you know, that is not just his credibility that's being burned through, that's American credibility that is being burned through. His credibility is inextricably linked to American credibility, when he is the president and we cannot continue to grade him on some sort of curve where we have to translate and sift through the true parts of what he he's saying from the part that he thinks he's saying that are absolute provable, demonstrable lies and --

STELTER: When you say lies, when you say lies, Mollie, is that what turns off some of your readers of "The Federalist." "The Federalist", a right-leaning website, you say the lack of trust in media comes from, well, for example, saying Trump's lying.

HEMINGWAY: Or another thing. At the top of the show, Brian, you said that Sessions recused himself in response to "The Washington Post" story on his testimony. That's actually not true. He recused himself, according to him, because of his involvement in the campaign. He said that explicitly and clearly.

Do I think you were lying? No, I don't. I think it was imprecise and I think you didn't intend --

STELTER: Do you believe, honestly, do you really believe that -- I mean, he was in the campaign months ago. He knew that months ago and only one day after "Washington Post" story, he suddenly decided to change his mind?

HEMINGWAY: I think a question for a journalist is just to report what was actually said. During his testimony, he also --

STELTER: You think that's enough, just to report what they say whether it's true or not.

HEMINGWAY: During his testimony, he also said that he would be going through a review and he would recuse himself at the advice of his staff. He said that the meetings were set up prior.

You can't know what is in people's heart. You can only go by what they say. And so, I think it's very much more devastating to say that President Trump said this. Here's what the facts say and to get into this sort of very emotional state of calling people a liar or whatnot.

And again, we have all sorts of liars throughout government. I mean, Clapper was on the shows today talking about stuff. This is a guy who lied before Congress when the Senator Wyden asked him if the NSA was spying on millions of Americans, he said no. That was not true and he knew that was not true.

You know, Eric Holder was held in contempt of Congress for his lying about his involvement in a gun running scheme that led to the murders of many people. You know, we didn't see the hysteria that we saw over Sessions or these other stories.

So, it would be nice for the media to treat everybody with the same standards rather than get so caught up. I mean, I get Donald Trump sets people off one way or another, but we have to keep hold of our selves.


BLOW: I'm sorry. You cut me off before. That is a tremendous amount of deflection. He actually did lie and, in fact, we are reporting on exactly what he said in his own tweets. He did not say he was responding to reports, which is what Sean

Spicer's statement said after the fact. He did not say that when he was tweeting. He said that Obama himself. Not the Obama administration. Not Justice Department officials underneath Obama.

That Obama himself had targeted him specifically with wiretaps in Trump Tower. That is exactly what he said. It's not hysteria. Do not try to make that an emotional plea.

Everyone in journalism because what our business is is truth. Without that, without credibility, we don't have anything to sell. There is no business. There is no journalism enterprise without truth. And when we see that the truth itself is being attacked, then we must defend the truth from whomever.

STELTER: I take Mollie's point at the same time, though, that the bar needs to be high for everybody, if we have a high standard for all parties and all politicians. The audience hopefully come along on the ride for us.

Katrina, let me bring you in on something that happened earlier in the week on the 40th day of the Trump presidency, this joint address to Congress. I don't know if you were watching TV that night.

But here's what I saw on TV that night.

[11:20:00] A lot of people saying Trump was presidential.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: So, last night, we got an hour with President Trump acting presidential.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The New Testament Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Praising the president's tone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Presidential Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Presidential tone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Change of tone?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's the tone and it was a presentation and it was presidential.


STELTER: Presidential. Did commentators overreact? Did they set the bar too low? Not have a high enough standard for President Trump that night?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, THE NATION: Absolutely. The hosannas to President Trump being able to speak with a teleprompter, this is not a president that waged war on the media and the pivot of the media was quite extraordinary to watch. Brian, we just put out a special issue at "The Nation" how to cover

media, media in the Trump era and its role is to say whatever the politics left, right or center across the spectrum, the media needs to do a better job covering President Trump than it did candidate Trump. This is a president who hates, who attacks the very media which in many ways helped fuel his win. Media malpractice played a role.

We need to find a way now to restore a blue print of integrity and independence and trust in the media, and that means, Brian, doing our job. You heard from Mollie and Charles. The role of the journalists should be to cover fearlessly, fairly, accurately and remind people why the media is called the Fourth Estate. There's a role we play.

So, I just think on the other news of the day, if I could, Brian -- you know, Trump has debased our political sphere and discourse with trafficking and conspiracy theories, his use of Twitter. We should cover his Tweets less. It degrades and debases our work.

Journalists should go out and do the work. For example, on his allegations now as Kathleen Jamieson said, he's shifting the burden of proof. But journalists should go out and report. Did the FISA court, did the FISA court give a warrant to tap Trump or his associates?

Him trafficking conspiracy theories but journalists need to do the digging and the hard work that makes journalism about accountability. He wants to destroy the infrastructure of democracy and media information. We cannot permit him.

So, I think it's very important, I disagree with Bill Plante. I think you need to jettison Olympian. I think you also need to jettison access for journalism and, instead, replace it with democratic accountability.

STELTER: Access is certainly less useful, less valuable if a person is misleading you systemically. Access goes so far if the person is not telling you the truth.

VANDEN HEUVEL: So, there's also -- you know, you've reported on this. We are seeing a tsunami of leaks in Washington. There needs to be an empty investigation of Russian, you know, whether Russia colluded in this election. We do not know. At the moment, we have unsubstantiated, unverified allegations, and it is vital for our democracy and for the interest, national interest of this country.

We learn about the leaks. We learn through independent investigation about whether there were any ties, because it's polluting our discourse. We are a resilient country. We shouldn't be polluted by this ongoing idea that anyone who questions whether Russia played a role in this election is un-American.

STELTER: I think some of that reporting is happening to your point, Katrina.

Mollie, let me come to you on one more point here. Talking about high standards, also for the press. You know, 'The Associated Press" under criticism this weekend for punishing Vice President Pence and his wife's private e-mail addresses. Pence wrote the "A.P." a letter, his lawyer did write in a letter asking for an apology. "The A.P." is not apologizing, but said it took down the e-mail address when it realized that Pence's wife was still using it actively.

Is this the kind of story that causes folks on the right, some of your readers to have less trust in an outlet with the "A.P."?

HEMINGWAY: I think it does. But I think it also just speaks to the challenge of our current media environment. We had so much coverage of WikiLeaks which was involving stolen information or hacked information. We need to have some pretty clear ethics on how we report and who gets caught up in these leaks.

Now, it's one thing if you're a very public official and the information is of public interest. I'm not saying that excuses reporting on it, but at least a different issue than when you are merely married or a child or something of a public official. I think we should be very clear about what information gets shared and what we protect.

STELTER: I don't see the need to publish the actual e-mail address. The e-mails were news, the address wasn't news.

Charles, last thing to you, and if I can ask you about this, I'm an ardent reader of all your Twitter feeds. I notice you, Charles, saying you have to rewrite your column all the time now because so much news is happening so quickly. Just on a personal basis, how do you kind of keep up with all what's going on?

BLOW: Well, I have a weird, I have a Monday column which is a weird closing time. So I had to close on Friday. So, of course, there's a lot that happens between Fridays and Mondays very often, so I often have to rewrite.

But, you know, one thing that Katrina said that was very interesting to me is that we have to continue to go out and report this. In fact, James Clapper was on television this morning, director of national intelligence, saying there was no FISA order for a wiretap.

So, now you have to go back to this other point, which is whether or not the president saying that Obama was behaving illegally.

[11:25:02] And if you are saying, that is an incredibly sensational charge and you can't just push that off into the other kind of mound of things that he has tweeted that may or may not have been true. That's an incredible charge.

One president is saying about his predecessor that he has behaved in a way that is so illegal that it kind of adds up to something that Watergate level. I'm sorry. This is so, this is an enormous story. There is no amount of kind of heat that we as journalists can bring to it. There is too much heat.

Something has to happen this week. We cannot have the press secretary now come out and say, well, let's let Congress investigate. In fact, my understanding of this and there are other people who may know this better than me -- my understanding is that if the president actually wanted to know from the intelligence community, he could actually know this himself.

There is no need for the Congress to investigate for him to know. He may not be able to disclose it, but he could know it.

So, this idea that this president has said this, this can't just be one of the other things.

STELTER: At the same time, Mollie was making a point about Clapper's own credibility. So, folks do see it in different ways.

I appreciate all of you being here. Thank you very much.

And up next, here an exclusive one-on-one interview with Trump adviser Jason Miller. We'll be right back.


[11:30:53] STELTER: Welcome back.

Take a look at this tally that we've produced. That after the election, after he won on election day, Donald Trump took to Twitter to attack or at least critique the media pretty frequently. Every day with a green check mark is a media critique. You see much more of the same in December. Never more than a few days off at a time before hammering media outlets he didn't like. January you see much of the same, as one break there around inauguration day, but then the green check marks mean more critiques of the press and much more of the same there in February.

But notice here in March. That's right, about a week without an attack on the media from President Trump's Twitter account. What's going on? Is this part of a new strategy?

Well, joining me now to talk about that is Jason Miller, former senior communication adviser for Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

Jason, great to see you.


STELTER: Back on Christmas Day, you decided not to take a role in the White House. You were going to be communications director working alongside Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Why did you decide not to take the job?

MILLER: Well, ultimately this wasn't my time. I needed to make my family a priority. And I'm glad I made my decision, but obviously still a supporter of the president and do anything I can to help out.

STELTER: Do you think it's made Spicer's job harder? You know, for a while, Spicer was being both communications director and press secretary. And he's had a hard time. MILLER: Well, look, this is a demanding position no matter who is

filling the role. I think Sean has done a very good job. Obviously a tough circumstance. I think you've seen particularly of the past week or two Sean's really become more comfortable behind the podium and really, I think, has good command of what the job entails and how to advocate for this administration.

STELTER: You've been staying in touch with Spicer and other aides, right?

MILLER: Well, I catch up with folks every now and then. And like I said, I'm still a strong supporter of the administration and so I keep track of the news pretty closely.

STELTER: How do you think Spicer -- how do you think Spicer is channeling his boss? How has that relationship going? Because it's been all sorts of press stories. Some saying that Trump isn't very happy with Spicer, other saying he's supportive.

MILLER: Well, again, you know, I love that we're on RELIABLE SOURCES but in some of these cases I think you can call it unreliable sources. The fact of the matter with President Trump is that if he doesn't want you there, you're not going to be there. And I think that's simple and so the truth of the matter is that the president thinks that Sean is doing a very good job. And I think Sean's -- again, his performance behind the podium and the job that he's done communicating the president's message has been very good lately, I should say.

STELTER: Just you and me talking, when President Trump wakes up and posts a bunch of tweets about wiretapping at Trump Tower. Are you secretly happy, secretly relieved that you're not working at the White House?

MILLER: Well, look, I'm, like I said, big supporter of the administration. And you know, I very much miss some of the action that goes with that. But the one thing that I don't miss are the hours. You know, that's one of the things that really cuts in the ability to spend time with family and do other things.

But, you know, one of the other things, Brian, I want to go back in a second when you showed the calendar.


MILLER: And you showed the days in which the president --

STELTER: Is something new going on there, you think?

MILLER: Well, I think a couple of things. I think, number one, the president gave a fantastic speech this week. And so I think that we came away from Tuesday and I think the president saw what total messaging victory looks like. That when he gets up there and gives a speech like that, there's no reason to go and step on it. And for a better part of 24 hours, he had fantastic news coverage.

Now the unfortunate part is then we started having these leaks and anonymous sources coming out the day later to attack the president and that's really what's kind of put us into the last couple of days here. But this was a -- this was a very good week for the president and I think this speech really shows how unifying force he can be.

STELTER: I thought that was an insightful comment. You said that those leaks were attacking the president. Typically a journalist sitting here, or the anchors, I would say, those leaks were trying to inform people. Maybe they were whistleblowers trying to inform what's going on inside government. But the Trump team does view these leaks as attacks, don't they?

MILLER: Well, they are. I mean, the whole reason why these leaks were put out there was to try to step on the president's momentum coming out of the speech.

I mean, and Brian, I don't think that you would disagree with me on that point. And I think that's one of the --

STELTER: I don't know. I don't know what the sources were thinking.

[11:35:01] MILLER: Well, in a personal level, one of my biggest frustrations is when I see criticism of the president, saying that maybe he's not using a unifying enough tone, which obviously we saw Tuesday, I think he does use a very unifying tone and brings people together. But he's constantly being faced with these attacks from these nameless, faceless anonymous sources and expected to respond and defend himself.

And so I think there's a real responsibility from the media is to where do we draw the line on these leaks and these attacks that are coming out of the president. But you can't also then turn around and say well, I know they're off defending themselves. But we have to take a different tone. And I think that's something that the media really has to take a close look at.

STELTER: Will you pledge not to be an anonymous source yourself?


MILLER: Well, I do my job and that's my job is -- my career and also I'm a strong supporter of the president and I'm a communications professional. So I'll do whatever I can to help out.

STELTER: Do you think he's wise to not be posting those tweets calling journalists the enemy of the people and attacking so-called fake news? Is that a wise change and approach this week or would you recommend it continue to avoid doing that?

MILLER: You know, I had a conversation with the president when he was still the president-elect before I left the team and went out to the private sector. And he asked the question, I think it was maybe a front page story that day, talking about Twitter usage and it's a question I frequently get. And he asked my opinion. And I said, Mr. President or Mr. President-elect at that time, keep tweeting. Not only does it remind people to have an authentic voice with 22 people don't have to go through and check off on every single tweet that you're putting out there, but also you have the single biggest mega phone of anyone on the planet.

And so if you need to set the record straight or you want to get your positive message out there, he's going right to the people. And there's a way of bypassing the entire media filter I think too frequently is put on a message from anyone in the leadership particularly the president of the United States.

STELTER: Well, I'm glad you're not bypassing the media filter.

Jason, thanks for being here this morning.

MILLER: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: Up next here, can it be exhausting not just being the press secretary or comms person? But maybe covering the White House on a daily basis? Hear from two White House reporters, right after this.


[11:41:22] STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

We were just talking about White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. He usually has a glass of wine when he gets home from a long day at the office, his West Wing office, but he's giving up alcohol for Lent. That's according to one of my next guests.

Joining me here in New York, Kaitlan Collins, White House correspondent for the "Daily Caller," and Sabrina Siddiqui, political reporter for "The Guardian."

Kaitlan, you spent some time with Spicer this week in his office in the West Wing. He shared with you what he's giving up for Lent. What else did you learn about how he's feeling about his job nearly two months into it?

KAITLAN COLLINS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE DAILY CALLER: I went in there to ask a lot of questions from Sean Spicer and what I came away with was really telling of his relationship with the president. It was Ash Wednesday which is how I found out that he's giving up his daily glass of wine, which he might need over the next 40 days. He might regret that decision. But I learned a lot.

You know, the president has never been in his office but he calls Sean Spicer a lot. And on a day I was visiting him, he hadn't even seen the president, which he said was an outlier, but we talked a lot about how the president has been pretty critical of Spicer in public. You know, the day before he had an interview on "FOX and Friends" where he criticized Sean Spicer for conducting a phone check of his staff and also he gave himself a C plus for messaging, which isn't really a criticism of himself, it's a criticism of his communications team.

STELTER: Let's look at that actually. We have that sound bite. Here's what Trump said about messaging.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think I get an A in terms of what I've actually done but in terms of messaging, I'd give myself a C or a C plus.


STELTER: OK. Not a very high grade. Sabrina, what did you read into that statement?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, look, I think that that is a slight at his own communications team to an extent because they are the ones whose job it is to translate the president's agenda to the American public. But it actually harkens back to the coverage surrounding the president's Joint Address to Congress on Tuesday where I think even in the immediate reaction to it, there was a lot of emphasis on style over substance.

STELTER: Too much?

SIDDIQUI: And I think too much emphasis because in essence what that interview with Donald Trump confirmed is he hasn't actually shifted his agenda with respect to policy. His speech was very much centered on the same nationalist agenda he campaigned upon. And for him, the challenge is not whether or not he needs to change his actual policy approach, but whether or not he's selling it effectively. And I think the media should focus on the fact that substantively his promises with respect to travel bans, immigration, nothing has changed in a meaningful way.

STELTER: Now that's been a critique of Washington press corps for decades, hasn't it, Kaitlan? The idea that there's too much attention to style and not substance.

COLLINS: Right. But why would he change his -- the promises he's made over the last 18 months during the campaign? He promised the travel ban, he promised all these things. And when he actually did them, a lot of people were surprised because he followed through on what he said he was going to do. That doesn't make it right or wrong, but he did do what he said he was going to do.

SIDDIQUI: And I actually think that that's part of the point here where we should have taken him at his word. And I think there is some desire within the media, especially in Washington, because he is so unconventional and he is proposing policies that even some members of his own party are uncomfortable with where they want to see a pivot. People are expecting that. Surely he's going to shift his tone now. But as we learned, especially with the tweets around the wiretapping, I think Donald Trump has shown us who he is and how he operates and it's -- you know, probably better to not look for those changes in tone and try to frame it as now he's being softer and sober. We've seen Donald Trump turned a new page when as we've seen I think on any given week, you don't fully know what to expect but I think you see the same Donald Trump that you saw on the campaign trail.

STELTER: We were on a panel in Columbia on Friday and you made the point that we need to focus more on who is affected by these policies. And you've talked about your family as an example of that.

SIDDIQUI: Well, look, I think that the point of that was to say that there are a lot of communities who are fearful of some of the proposals that he campaigned on especially because he is following through when it comes to deportations.

[11:45:10] We've heard press reports where they're not just focusing on violent criminals. There are families who are being separated. There is a travel ban that targets Muslim majority countries and it doesn't just sweep up people who are potential terrorists. Certainly millions and millions of people who come from these countries are not.

STELTER: No, I don't mean to make it personal for you, but you wrote about what it was like to cover this campaign.


STELTER: As a Muslim American, did you feel that there's not enough of that kind of diversity in newsrooms to reflect the impact of policies?

SIDDIQUI: Exactly. And I think that that's what happens when people do focus on style over substance because they are missing how the policies that are being implemented will actually affect entire groups of people. And sometimes it's because there is not that diversity in the newsroom where you have individuals who are able to say, well, I'm steeped in these communities and I can tell you what these voters' concerns are.

The takeaway of course in this election was that we really ignored the rural American vote, white working class Americans, not just in rural areas, but industrial areas. I think that we should not make the mistake of now leaving behind other communities who similarly feel like they don't have a voice in the press.

STELTER: Interesting. Kaitlan, the "Daily Caller," a conservative news site, I think I could make the case that conservatives are also not represented sufficiently in newsrooms. What are you experiencing in the press briefing room? Are you finding that there is more diversity ideologically and otherwise nowadays?

COLLINS: Well, I think there is more diversity. And Sean Spicer does make the effort of going around the room and calling out a lot of outlets, and he doesn't call on the ones who have been called on for the last eight years. And that has created a lot of outcry from those the people who were expecting that access, you know, as a privilege.

And I think it's really good to change and get opinions from different people because that's the reason so many people missed that Donald Trump was going to win the election because they were asking the same people the questions and not asking real Americans.

You know, I'm there not to ask the same questions that CNN or MSNBC is going to ask. I'm going to ask the question that my readers want answered. STELTER: And worth noting this week, there was no blockade of any

reporters from any briefing, remember that about a week and a half ago. Did not happen this week so that was a good sign, I think, for newsrooms.

Sabrina, Kaitlan, thanks for being here.

COLLINS: Thank you.

SIDDIQUI: Thank you.

STELTER: After a quick break, more thoughts from Kathleen Hall Jamieson. She'll be right back after a quick commercial.


[11:51:26] STELTER: Argument by anecdote. It's a fancy way of saying you use a personal story to make an argument, to prove a point, to make policy, instead of using scientific data or rigorous research, argument by anecdote.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson says President Trump has surpassed the use of this method, once a popular technique of President Ronald Reagan. Hall Jamieson is back with me now. She's the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

So, Kathleen, you were commenting on this recently saying, Reagan was very effective at using anecdotes to advance his agenda. You think Trump has now improved upon that kind of use?

JAMIESON: There's no problem with taking some specific instance and learning something from it. The question is, is it generalizable? And so when you take into the jewels who've been victims of crimes committed by people in the country illegally and you feature them with dramatic narrative under them and then you attach the label criminal alien to these kinds of activities. You increase the likelihood that people over-generalize the extent to which that kind of activity actually occurs.

Now if you make policy based on that over generalization you create a section of a government to just going to monitor those sorts of things and make it even more vivid and evocative, the problem is the evidence isn't consistent with the generalization. We may be addressing a need that doesn't exist to the extent that the stories would suggest.

STELTER: That is what the president announced this week in front of about 50 million people. Here's the sound bite from his joint address.


TRUMP: The office is called VOICE, Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement. We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media and silenced by special interests.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: So that office will be doing what you're describing, presenting these anecdotes essentially. Really tragic, in some cases sickening anecdotes, actual crimes that have been committed. The concern I think you're describing is if the data doesn't back up the idea that immigrants are committing crimes at a higher rate than the American citizens then it may confuse or mislead Americans.

HALL JAMIESON: It may also justify policy interventions that aren't warranted particularly when we have a definitional problem. So during the campaign, the label criminal alien was used but it was associated with language about rapists and murderers and drug dealers. Well, technically when people come to the country illegally, they've committed a crime when they use false papers in order to work, false Social Security, they've committed a crime, but that wasn't the rhetoric surrounding it during the campaign.

Now you take these individual instances of abhorrent crime but nonetheless serious crime and you amalgamate it to the concept of criminal alien and now you start to generalize out to a broader immigration policy, you've got a problem because you're generating a policy out of atypical evidence.

STELTER: We've talked a lot on this program about fake news, and I know that's a term that you detest. Why is that? What should we be calling made-up stories instead?

HALL JAMIESON: I'd like to call them viral deception. And I'd like to use the VD acronym because I'd like to associate it with venereal disease.

STELTER: Venereal disease.

HALL JAMIESON: We don't want to get venereal disease. If you find someone who's got it, you want to quarantine them and cure them. You don't want to transmit it. Now in virtue of saying of fake news we ask the question well, what is real news and you invite people to label everything they disapprove of fake news. As a result it's not a useful concept. What we're really concerned about deception and deception of a certain sort that goes viral.


HALL JAMIESON: Much of that deception isn't actually imitating news. It's imitating news-like structures, it's narrative in form. But nonetheless, if we say we're only concerned with fake news, we may be missing a lot of things that are going viral that are disruptive.

[11:55:03] And then it claims what are found in quasi fake news sites that is there appropriated in the credibility of news trying to look like the CNN Web site, for example, aren't only found there, sometimes aren't found there at all. They're found in other kind of channels.

I'd like to also say that when you appropriate the credibility of news you pretend you're the CNN Web site or Web site when you're not, that's identity theft. So now we have VD, venereal disease, viral deception, but we also have identity theft, IT. We can flag it as VDIT as it's both.

STELTER: Viral deception. Let's see if it catches on. Thanks for being here. Appreciate it.

HALL JAMIESON: You're welcome.

STELTER: We're out of time here on TV but sign up for our newsletter. And I'll see you right back here next week.