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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

President Trump's Growing Credibility Problem; Trump's Ties to Conservative Media Taking a Turn?; Voice of the Opposition: Interview with Jon Lovett; When Local News Goes National. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired March 26, 2017 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:05] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter. And 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.

Today's show is coming to you live from Los Angeles, with the Hollywood sign in the hills behind us. But really, we are talking about the political world that is stranger than fiction, stranger than what any screenwriters here can come up with?

Here's the cover of this week's "TIME" magazine asking, "Is Truth Dead?" I'll with editor in chief Nancy Gibbs about her latest cover story and about when to say something is a lie.

Plus, is President Trump making podcasts great again? A former Obama aide Jon Lovett is here, talking about how he's creating programming for the Trump resistance.

And later, a tale of two tragic crimes, and the differences in the way they were covered here on cable news.

But, first, what happens when a country -- no, let's change that. What happens to a country when a leader's words are worthless, when their promises are toothless or utterly useless? Is that where we now with President Trump?

From the collapse of the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, something that Trump said he would do on day one, to the explosive FBI announcement that there is an ongoing investigation into possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign, the common thread here is a White House with a credibility problem that's getting worse and worse and worse.

You know, "The Washington Post" has been counting all of Trump's misleading or false claims since January 20th. And you see here, the number is 317 so far.

"The Wall Street Journal" also weighed in this week, saying Trump's falsehoods are eroding public trust at home and abroad and saying he's at risk of being viewed as a fake president.

Of course, Trump's words do have power, the power to inspire and influence, also power to intimidate and incite fear. But journalists and lawmakers and most importantly voters just can't take him at his word. So, what happens when the president's words lose all meaning?

Joining me now, two White House experts. Here on the West Coast, Carl Bernstein, journalist, author and CNN political commentator, and on the East Coast, April Ryan, White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks.

Welcome to you both.

Carl, I want to get your reaction, first, to what happened in the House on Friday, pulling the Obamacare repeal bill. Was does this mean for the president's credibility? Is it yet another blow to the president?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's more than a blow because in addition to the line that that surrounded his presidency and his incessant lying which Republicans even have now become terribly alarmed at, it shows the level of his incompetence, which is something that was known to many people who had done business with the Trump Organization. It was known to people who worked on "The Apprentice" with him when he would show up on the set without having done his homework, having done no preparation, having no idea of where the script was going.

There's nothing new about this. Read the Trump biographies. He's not a competent leader.

And on top of that, as you have indicated at the beginning of this program, his presidency is a bodyguard of lies. And that is undermining his presidency at the same time his closest aides are under serious investigation and a possible conspiracy that may extend in some way to himself.

STELTER: And Russia, we will get to. I wonder, April, if this is a reporting challenge for you, someone who's covering the White House beat every day. When the president says things like this bill is wonderful and it seems like everybody agrees, whether it's an editorial board or lawmakers or voters, is it harder for you as a reporter to put the president's words in context when they sometimes see him, you know, worthless?

APRIL RYAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORK: Well, you know, it goes back to the basics of journalism, you know, covering the truths and covering the facts and finding out what all sides feel about it. When you look at the end of the day and you listen to everyone, it's not adding up to what the president is saying.

And, you know, going back to what you said earlier, you know, Monday, if I can remember correctly, I asked Sean Spicer about this -- regaining trust with the president. And I asked him something along the lines of how do you change this image of him being viewed as somewhat as a boy who cries wolf. And Sean really couldn't give an answer. And there is a credibility and trust factor that's really in play with

this president. It's not just here at home but abroad as well with our allies and those who oppose us.

STELTER: You mentioned Spicer --

BERNSTEIN: Brian, let me add one thing here if I may.

STELTER: Yes, please?

BERNSTEIN: And that is -- there is almost an impossibility that Trump can regain trust. The reason is --

STELTER: Really?

BERNSTEIN: -- that he is someone who has lied at will all of his adult life.

[11:05:02] Lying has been a key element of his advance in business. He's never been known as someone who tells the truth. There's an almost pathological compulsive element to his lying. We see it since he's been president.

So, the notion that he will regain trust at a time when even Republicans who want to be loyal to him are questioning whether he is competent and whether he is even capable of any kind of truth, it's very doubtful that he can retain trust in a way that he can govern effectively.

RYAN: And, Brian, and, Brian, back on that -- the trust issue. I'm trying to look at the make up of this president, to understand, to get in his head, because that's what we do as reporters, to try to find out who he is.

And this president, from the time he was a young man, all the way up until now as president and even as a real estate mogul, a casino head, what-have-you, he's always wanted to have the winning picture. He's never denied anything. He wants to make it seem greater and bigger than what it is and it's not always necessarily the case.

And there is a trust factor here. And people, not just reporters, they need to look beyond and see where the truth really lies.

STELTER: I thought one of the most interesting exchanges this week was in the White House press briefing room talking about Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman. Spicer was really trying to downplay Manafort's role, saying he worked for Trump for a limited amount of time.

Later in the week, here is what CNN's John King said about Spicer. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I hate to say this, but in a sense, just pay no attention to the man at the podium to a degree. And I hate to say that early in a new administration. But there's a credibility problem in the White House briefing room.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: I thought that was fascinating, April. Pay no attention to the man behind the podium. But that's impossible for you as a reporter, isn't it?

RYAN: It is. But again --

BERNSTEIN: He's paid to lie.

RYAN: He's paid to lie but we have to -- well, I'm not going to say he's paid to lie. He's paid to spin. He's paid -- lie is a big word, and some may say lie, but he is paid to spin.

And the bottom line is, I was there at the convention, at the Republican convention in Cleveland. And I saw Manafort in a significant role. We have seen Manafort in a very significant role. I don't care how long the period was in the administration -- well, when it was campaign.

So, that knocks his credibility. The statement said he had a limited role. That knocks the credibility of who Manafort was and this administration.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: Speaking of spinning and lying, Carl, I heard you jumping in there. It kind of brings us to Russia and this issue about Russia during the hearings that we were all watching on Monday. You tweeted out saying that all these lawmakers complaining about leaking, you were basically saying they're hypocrites because a lot of them have leaked to you and other reporters in the past.

Is that the difference between spinning and lying? Were they just flat out lying about that?

BERNSTEIN: First of all, it's not just about, quote, "leaking". It's about dealing with reporters and disclosing classified information which many of those on the committee, Republicans particularly, have done in the past, and it's known to all the -- to many of the reporters covering those hearings. Look at the Benghazi committee hearings when classified information was disclosed routinely by the Republican members of that committee.

But more important, the whole idea of leaks being at the center of what is happening in this presidency is absurd. It's where the Trump White House, where the president of the United States wants the country to go to think that the issue here is leaks instead of the conduct of the president of the United States perhaps and certainly those who are closest to him in the campaign, his national security advisor, et cetera, et cetera.

This is the most presidential shattering investigation that we have had since Watergate. There's no question about that. And where Donald Trump wants it to go is away from him and his White House and it's being presented by him and his aides as an issue of leaking. That's a lie as well.

Yes, there have been and there's now a discussion going on about some incidental intelligence that was collected in which members, foreign sources -- let me try to explain this. It's a little difficult, but maybe it's time on the air, people get a better idea of what is being claimed.

That the intelligence community picked up some electronic signals of foreign intelligence operators who they had under investigation, who they surveilled, who talked about Trump's entourage. And in their reports, in the intelligence reports, there was disclosed some of those discussions about the Trump people. At no point was there any suggestion that Trump himself was wiretapped as the president of the United States has lied in his assertion about President Obama.

[11:10:10] It's rather complicated subject that he wants us to think is the real issue here. It's as if in leaking the issue in Watergate would say the disclosures by Deep Throat to "The Washington Post" rather than the conduct of the president of the United States. It's a red herring. It's a smokescreen and even the Republicans recognize that in the House and the Senate.

Sorry for the long explanation.

STELTER: Carl, how does -- I appreciate the long explanation. I wonder as someone, of course, who broke Watergate wide open, how does this end? How does this story end do you think?

BERNSTEIN: We don't know. But it looks like it's going to end badly in terms of weakening this president no matter where it goes, whether or not he is found to be part of some kind of conspiracy or having had witting or unwitting knowledge of illegal conspiratorial acts.

There is no question that he has lied about this investigation and does not want the truth disclosed. That is a big problem. But where it goes, it's up to the press to find out what the facts are. It's up to the investigative agencies to find out where the facts are. And we do not know where this is going.

But what is apparent is that the House Intelligence Committee investigation is becoming farcical in terms of the Chairman Nunes trying to be a shill for the president of the United States. It's really necessary that there be a special prosecutor and a 9/11 type commission to investigate this so the people of the United States can have confidence in their institutions, in the presidency.

We're at a critical point here. We also have a new deputy attorney general coming in who would be the worst nightmare imaginable for the Trump White House because he is known as a really straight shooter. He's a Baltimore U.S. attorney prosecutor. And he could be a real nightmare for the Trump White House and those under investigation.

STELTER: April, last word to you.

RYAN: I'm going to say this. This president has still a lot left to be revealed when it comes to truthfulness, when it comes to credibility. Some of the reason why many Dems are concerned about his claims that he wants to work with them for ACA --

STELTER: Right.

RYAN: -- is because they can't trust him.

And then on top of that, it's just a climate of manic behavior that we've never seen before. I talked to someone else from the Barack Obama administration intelligence, high ranking, high ranking intelligence official who said, you know, this man does not seem like someone who is innocent when it comes to issues of Russia and other areas when it comes internationally.

So, we have to look at the unfolding dynamic when it comes to this president, about his voracity, what he says about things and who he is. And as reporters we continue to cover, we continue to look and ask questions and it's still unfolding.

STELTER: And not get ahead of ourselves, but also not fall behind.

BERNSTEIN: It needs to be factual that if there are exonerating factors here, if it turns out that Mr. Trump is untouched by any kind of conspiratorial actions then he might be able to move on. We need to know what really happened and he needs to keep -- to stop keeping us from learning the truth by his obstructionism and deflecting the issues here.

STELTER: April, Carl, thank you very much. Please come back soon.

RYAN: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: When we come back, some of the biggest critics of the health care bill were conservative news outlets. We're going to talk about that relationship between conservative media and the Republican president, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:18:14] STELTER: When the American Health Care Act was pulled from the House floor on Friday, President Trump's first calls were to "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times", bastions of so-called mainstream media. But on Saturday, we saw again how Trump's alternative realities are sometimes fed by conservative media.

Check out what he tweeted bright and early on Saturday. He plugged FOX's primetime talk show "Justice with Judge Jeanine". Even by Trump standards are pretty, you know, kind of blatant call to action. "Watch Judge Jeanine on FOX News tonight at 9:00."

So, what was Jeanine Pirro going to say? There was intrigue all day.

Well, watch. Here is what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: My opening statement: Paul Ryan needs to step down as speaker of the House. (END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Wow. Was this is a premeditated attack. Trump and Pirro working together to undermine Ryan or was it a coincidence?

Here is the more mundane explanation. Take a look, at a time Trump was posting his tweet, FOX had the countdown clock on screen. You can see it there, it actually pinned on all morning long, promoting Jeanine Pirro's show, saying there was going to be new information about Trump's wiretap claims.

So, maybe that's all this was. Trump seeing a countdown clock, having no idea Pirro was going to say what she said about Ryan.

Let me bring in two great guests talking about this, CNN political commentator and radio talk show host on KABC, John Phillips, and CNN senior reporter for media and politics, Dylan Byers. Both here with me in L.A. this morning.

John, great to see you.

Dylan -- Dylan, you've been writing about this conservative media relationship to the health care bill. Essentially, the Breitbarts of the world were the fiercest critics of the legislation, right?

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR REPORTER FOR MEDIA AND POLITICS: Right. And what you see is the same thing that you're seeing take place in the House. You're seeing that take place in the media. So, you have a Freedom Caucus who is willing to stare down the president, willing to appease its base rather than get in line with the president of the United States on the health care legislation and very likely on future legislation.

[11:20:11] You're seeing the same thing with the right wing media. I think we saw -- we anticipated that a lot of those hard line conservative outlets that helped carry Trump into office were then going to be with him and have his back.

STELTER: Right.

BYERS: And, in fact, what they're doing is they're sticking line, they're sticking to their values. They are coming at him from the right, while he's also getting pressure from the left. The pressure from the left doesn't seem to be nearly as aggressive as the pressure he's getting from the right.

And what's really interesting about that, you know, is that FOX News, which used to be between mainstream media and the far right is now becoming an outlet that is actually one of Trump's greatest defenders, at least in primetime, because he's catching so much fire from the far right.

STELTER: Now, a lot of the coverage from the Breitbarts of the world was against Paul Ryan.

BYERS: That's right. STELTER: Whether it was Drudge or Breitbart.

BYERS: And that by the way is so much of Steve Bannon who used to be the chairman of Breitbart news before he joined Trump's campaign and then Trump's White House. He's always had it out for Ryan. Hard line conservatives, far right conservatives have always had it out for Paul Ryan. The strategy here is to use this failure, offload some of the responsibility from President Trump, put it squarely on Paul Ryan. Unfortunately for them, Trump is backing Ryan.

STELTER: So, what do you think of the Pirro exchange? What do you think that was yesterday?

BYERS: That's confusion. I mean, that might just be a coincidence. But I think your point is right. You know, we think there's some sort of collusion or conspiracy with Trump and FOX News.

And the truth is you're right. He's just watching. He's just responding. I mean, he's probably just responding to the news. He's seeing a countdown clock the same way any other viewer would see a countdown clock.

STELTER: And hoping he was vindicated, yes.

BYERS: The difference is they're not the president of the United States.

STELTER: Right, right.

John, what have you heard from your listeners throughout the week? You know, having a radio program, also writing a column for the "Orange County Register" --

JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure.

STELTER: -- were you sensing this conservative backlash to the bill before it would happen on Friday?

PHILLIPS: Well, part of why working in talk radio is to fun is because you're working in the complaint department of life. And whenever people don't like something, you hear about it right away.

This bill was far from perfect. My listeners didn't like it. But I think the conservative media made a fundamental mistake here. And they think if this thing was killed, and if Trump lost, then the result would be that Paul Ryan would lose the speakership, and he's really the target here.

I don't think that's going to happen. I think they fundamentally misunderstand who Donald Trump is and what he stands for. He's a hawk on the border. He's a hawk on crime, but outside of that, he's a pretty moderate Republican. And this was a moderate Republican bill.

I don't think the result from him losing this battle is going to be that Ryan is going to lose his speakership. I think the result could be he could look to build different coalitions, maybe with the Democrats, similar to what Arnold Schwarzenegger did in California, which was a complete disaster. And that could backfire in their faces and blow up like a hillbilly's rifle.

DYERS: That's absolutely right. I was just checked onto that, you know, someone told Axios this morning that the government is controlled by 30 people, the House Freedom Caucus. I think if you're Trump, you are looking to different coalitions. It might be a pipe dream after all the antagonizing you've done of Democrats, to think that you can rope in Democrats on future legislation, and yet I think that is the strategy that the White House is seriously considering.

PHILLIPS: I don't think it can happen with Nancy Pelosi as the leader. If the Democrats ever wise up and put someone competent in, then you could have really good coalitions built.

STELTER: All right. So, have you had to shift your on-air personality at all in the Trump years? Have you found that your audience wants something different from you now with President Trump in office?

PHILLIPS: No. I think people have been able to separate the man from the policies and the man from the party. People understand that he is flamboyant, that he has a certain style of delivery, that sometimes he's going to say things that make you uncomfortable.

But they're with him on the border. They're with him on crime and punishment. They're with him on the important things. And so, I don't think they're going to turn on him as the left is expecting.

STELTER: And what did you make -- what do both of you make of Trump calling up "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" right away, basically announcing that the bill had been pulled by calling Robert Costa at "The Washington Post"? What does that mean, Dylan?

BYERS: The enemy, right? I mean, the dishonest, corrupt media that you can't trust, you can't believe a word they said, in his first major embarrassment as commander in chief, he calls Robert Costa of "The Washington Post".

STELTER: He almost didn't answer the phone because it was a blocked number and thought it was someone calling to complain.

BYERS: This is lesson to reporters, always answer the blocked number calls, always, because it's probably the White House.

And then, he hangs up the phone and he calls Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times". "The New York Times", who he suggested should be out of business.

I mean, look, there's such an obvious discrepancy between what the president says and what he does and how he feels about the media. He loves the media. He lives in the media.

Calling "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" is reminiscent when he was going through divorces in New York and he would pick up the phone and call "The New York Post" and other New York tabloids. He lives in that world.

The reason that media reporters such as ourselves have to keep repeating and highlighting this discrepancy is because his base doesn't get it.

[11:25:07] They don't understand it. And they -- I would encourage people in his base to think about all that anti-media rhetoric and then look at those calls to "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" and think about what that really says about the president.

STELTER: John, is that true about his base?

PHILLIPS: I think Trump goes to where the love is. I think that's why he went to the mainstream media and he was getting killed by the conservative media all week.

BYERS: Oh, it's interesting.

STELTER: Interesting.

PHILLIPS: If you go back to the primary campaign, he was very friendly with the mainstream media. He was on our pal Don Lemon show all the time. He was on "Morning Joe" all the time. He would call in to all of the Sunday shows.

So, he's not a guy that hates the mainstream media. I think he knows how to use them to his advantage.

BYERS: But there -- you must acknowledge that there's a discrepancy between that rhetoric that you see at his campaign rallies, where he's naming "New York Times" reporters, "Washington Post" reporters by name as the enemy and then he's going on those shows, calling those people.

I just -- you know, for me, he's sending one message to the base. He's sending another message to the mainstream.

PHILLIPS: Well, he lives in a world of gray. I mean, no one is all evil or all good. So, when they're useful to him, that's when you give him a call.

STELTER: It's fake news until it's real news.

PHILLIPS: Reach out and touch --

STELTER: Right, right. John, great to see you.

PHILLIPS: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: Dylan, thanks so much for being here.

BYERS: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: Right after this break, "TIME" magazine calling the president -- asking if President Trump can handle the truth? A fascinating interview with the president with Michael Shearer, where the president said, hey, I must be doing something right because I'm president and you're not. We'll talk to the editor of "TIME" right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:30:57]

STELTER: Many Americans believe the president has a credibility problem, but does Trump actually agree? Does he see it as a problem?

According to "TIME" magazine's Michael Scherer, who had the president on the phone for an interview a few days ago, the answer is not really. Check it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL SCHERER, "TIME": I also asked him about whether he thinks this sort of behavior will hurt his credibility over the long term, which is something I think a lot of people do think.

And he basically gave no ground there. He said, did you see I had 25,000 people in Kentucky this week at a rally? I think, at the end of the interview, he said, I'm president and you're not, basically restating the same thing, that the proof of my success, the proof of my credibility is the fact of the election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: For more on why the president would even agree to talk to "TIME" about his credibility, I went to the source.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: Nancy Gibbs, the editor of "TIME," joins me now.

Nancy, for your most recent cover in bold red letters, it asks, "Is Truth Dead?"

What is your conclusion to that question?

NANCY GIBBS, EDITOR, "TIME": That it's fascinating that we are even having that conversation right now, which we have been having for quite some time around this president, but particularly this week, a week that began with an FBI director saying that the completely incendiary statement that the president of United States had made was simply not true.

And that comes on the heels of course of so many statements that were demonstrably false that we have been having this meta-debate. In addition to the incredible debate over the policies and the politics of what we've seen this week, we've been having this other debate about what does it mean, what are the implications of having a president whose relationship with truth is unlike any we have seen in a public figure probably in our lifetimes?

STELTER: In your editor's column this week -- let me put part of it on screen -- you said, "Like many newsrooms, we here at 'TIME' have wrestled with what to do, what to say when someone is lying. We can point out, as we often do, when a president gets his facts wrong. We can measure distortions, read between lines, ask the follow-up questions. But there's a limit to what we can deduce about motive or intent, the interior wiring of the whopper, as exposed to its explosive impact."

The word that oftentimes comes up in these conversations is lie. Before we go any further, when you have all decided to apply the word lie or not to the president's claims?

GIBBS: We're very careful with that language, because it's certainly true that we, as all journalists do, it's our business to say when any public figure has their facts wrong.

But to say that they are lying requires an additional level of knowledge that's very difficult to have of what their intention was. And the reason I think it's important is because in the case of President Trump -- and this came through with our interview with him over and over again -- some of the things that he says that have been disputed and completely disproven, it seems very clear he continues to believe.

And so there's these sort of -- there's almost the philosophical, theological question of, if you believe what you're saying, even if it's not true, is that still a lie? I will leave that to the academics.

The more important thing for citizens is that what a president believes really matters. Their beliefs through history have led presidents to take the country into war or to sue to peace or to create alliances or destroy them.

And so if President Trump actually does believe many of these things that he continues to say, it has tremendous implications for the way he is going to conduct his presidency. And I think only judging on the truth of the falsehood of the statement and not whether he is knowingly speaking a falsehood or actually believes what he is saying is an important distinction to make.

STELTER: I just think some viewers think we're being too careful, being too sensitive. If we know someone has a pattern of behavior, pattern of telling falsehoods, even when the information is right in front of his face, then at some point, I think some viewers on this program, some readers of "TIME" just want us to say, hey, he's a liar. He lies all the time.

[11:35:04]

GIBBS: There's many ways of saying that.

I think what our audiences want is -- I think they don't care much what we think. I think they care what we can find out. And so it's our job to find out when a statement is true or not, when there's evidence to back up a statement or not.

Our opinion of his motives or intent or what's going on in his head, that's much more subjective territory. STELTER: Why do you think the president grants an interview to "TIME"

about this subject? I would think normally someone who was going to be asked about their credibility or lack thereof would definitely not want to talk to the interviewer.

GIBBS: I would think so too, except that I think he honestly -- again, it comes through in the interview -- take him at his word that he believes that he's not given credit for things he has said that have turned out to be true.

And he cites this over and over and over again in the interview, that he was ridiculed or dismissed on everything from certainly the Brexit vote to whether or not he was capable of winning the presidency.

I don't think it's an accident that he ends the interview saying, I can't be doing that badly because I'm the president and you're not.

And that's where he ends up. Everything else is sort of a transaction.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: By the way, that's why I think publishing transcripts is so vital. By publishing the entire transcript, we had a real sense into the president's mind.

GIBBS: I think it is critically important.

And in this case, where every time Michael Scherer, who conducted the interviewer, pushed back, what about this, what about this, he came back with either part of that was true or that proved later to be -- it wasn't true at the time he said it, but it turned out to be true later.

So, partly, he's claiming some prophetic powers. But in every case, he had an answer. And I think the reason he wasn't dodging the interview is that he believes he has a persuasive, defensible answer to many of these charges, which, again, I think is very important for people to hear and understand.

STELTER: Nancy, thank you very much for being here.

GIBBS: Thank you, Brian.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: And we will have more from Nancy tonight in our nightly newsletter, all the day's media news. You can sign up right now, RELIABLESOURCES.com.

When we come back here, a voice of the outwardly really liberal media opposition, Crooked Media's Jon Lovett, his critique of Trump and cable news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:40:38]

STELTER: Welcome back. I'm Brian Stelter, live from Los Angeles today.

The podcast "Keepin' It 1600," one of the breaking podcasts of the past year, started as a form of therapy for anxious Democrats, several former Obama aides assuring their listening audience that Donald Trump would not take the White House.

Well, now with President Trump in office, the podcast has become a business. They call it Crooked Media. And it really is sort of a voice of the opposition.

Joining me now, one of podcasters, Jon Lovett. He's the host -- co- host of "Pod Save America." Now he has his own show called "Lovett or Leave It."

So, Jon, great to see you.

JON LOVETT, HOST, "LOVETT OR LEAVE IT": Good to see you.

STELTER: You guys are creating an empire of sorts here.

LOVETT: Yes.

STELTER: What are you trying to build with "Pod Save America"?

LOVETT: Well, we have -- we have a sort of simple mission. Our goal is to create -- create shows and videos and podcasts that entertain, inform and inspire action, right?

STELTER: Is it sort of the Rachel Maddow of podcasting, not in MSNBC prime time, but in audio form?

LOVETT: I don't think so.

I mean, look, I love -- I love Rachel's show. I think we're trying to do something a little different, which is -- I think that show informs. I think we're trying to be a little bit looser than cable news.

I think we're also trying to be more directly activist. I mean, we're connecting people with organizations like Indivisible and MoveOn and things like that. But, yes, so, I mean, it's its own thing.

STELTER: "The New York Times" gave you all a profile this week. You had your up-close story at "The Times."

LOVETT: Sure.

STELTER: And it said that, what, you have 1.4 million downloads for every episode of the main show.

LOVETT: That's a good one. That's a good number.

STELTER: A good number. (CROSSTALK)

LOVETT: It goes up and down.

STELTER: OK. OK.

LOVETT: Like, I think -- I don't want to get into the numbers, but anywhere from, you know, 800,000, sort of something like that.

But, yes, there's -- it runs the gamut, but that is a good number.

STELTER: I bring that up because you have built all of this out of scratch.

LOVETT: Yes.

STELTER: A bunch of former Obama aides. You were a former Obama speechwriter.

What is the goal? What are you all trying to do?

LOVETT: I think we started this because we were frustrated, as people who had been in politics, but also frustrated as news consumers, right, that that -- that cable news, with some present company excepted, sort of speaks in a dead language and...

STELTER: A dead language?

LOVETT: A dead -- the dead language of cable news, right? The tone, the tenor, the substance, the people, it's a completely -- it's inaccessible. It's alienating for millions and millions of young people. Right?

It's literally called cable news. And millions of young people are cutting that cable. Right?

So, we wanted to do something different. We wanted to speak the way we actually speak about politics, the way actually -- human beings actually talk when there's no cameras rolling, and that we thought there would be an appetite for that kind of more intellectually honest, less self-serious conversation.

And I think we have been sort of rewarded for that.

STELTER: Well, on your new show, "Lovett or Leave It" -- the first episode came out on Friday.

LOVETT: Yes.

STELTER: So, some of the cable news critique was in that episode.

LOVETT: It does -- it did come up.

STELTER: So, if you could change one thing about this, about this format, what would it be?

LOVETT: So -- so I think...

(LAUGHTER)

LOVETT: Well, look, I think that you have been a great bulwark against the kind of...

STELTER: You don't have to say that. Skip that...

(CROSSTALK)

LOVETT: No, I'm skip -- I will skip it.

Look, here's an example. You go after Hannity on this show, right? You say he's intellectually dishonest, he doesn't care about the truth, he doesn't care about what his audience cares about, right?

Then you turn on CNN, and Hannity has got a little beachhead on half the shows on this network. You turn it on, and there's a big, giant panel. And you have...

STELTER: You mean Jeffrey Lord and Kayleigh McEnany and other Trump supporters.

LOVETT: Absolutely. And you look at that giant panel, and it's smart person, smart person, smart person, stupid person, smart person, smart person, smart person, bullshit...

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: Why does it help to insult Trump supporters like that?

LOVETT: I'm not insulting the Trump supporters.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: You just called them stupid people.

LOVETT: I'm not calling the Trump supporters stupid people. I'm calling the people that CNN puts on television are terrible representatives of the views of conservatives. They're terrible representatives of the kind of politics we should have.

I mean, these are not intellectually honest people. These are people building a brand. These are people willing to say anything.

And the same criticism you direct at Hannity, you could direct at the people that CNN puts on the air. I mean, I have said this before, but I think it's true. So often on CNN, there's a world-class journalist interviewing campaign rejects and ideologues and silly, craven people who do not care about informing people, that aren't there to kind of help people understand what is going on in the news.

And the thing is, there are millions of people who say every day, we don't like this, right? You look at every single poll, every single poll.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: But millions are also watching it.

(CROSSTALK)

LOVETT: Oh, we're all getting a ratings bump. We're all getting a ratings bump.

STELTER: I wish I had Jason Miller here to react to you right now.

You're saying these people aren't intellectually honest.

LOVETT: I'm -- what I'm saying is, over and over again, you have polls that say people hate the news. And it's not sustainable to have an entire -- look, and some of that is partisanship, right? That is liberals saying that our side is not represented well, and conservatives saying, our side is not represented now.

[11:45:02]

But how is it sustainable that we all cannot stand the way the news comes at us, right, and not just the substance of it, but the way it's delivered?

And I think what we have found with this company is that there's an appetite for something different, for something that is at times serious, but doesn't take itself seriously.

STELTER: Is it anything more, though, than preaching to the choir? Because the point of those bookings all across cable news is to have a variety of opinions.

LOVETT: No, and I understand that.

Look, we have conservative guests on. We have had Republican guests on. And we hear all the time from people that are either people that haven't been involved in politics before or maybe thought they were more conservative or they still are Republicans, but they like listening to us, because we're -- we're -- I think sometimes we probably are -- we're biased all the time, but we're honest about our biases.

We talk about what we care about.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: Biased all the time, but honest about it?

LOVETT: We're honest about our own biases, right?

We're trying to have no B.S. -- I said it once -- I'm not sure if it's even allowed -- a no-bullshit conversation about politics. Like, that's what we care about. And we welcome anyone, conservatives to come be a part -- Nicolle Wallace came on the other day. We want to have senators like Ben Sasse come on the show. But what we don't want is just to check a box, right? So often, on these giant CNN panels, it's checking a box, like, here is the liberal, here is a conservative, here is the Trump conservative.

And I just -- I just don't know what the value is of that conversation. Who comes away from a 10-person...

STELTER: Well, I think we need to hear what all of them are thinking.

LOVETT: Who comes away from a 10-person panel on CNN thinking, wow, I really understand that story, and I feel super, super, super pleased with my experience? I don't think anybody.

STELTER: All right, next time you come back, I'm going to try to book you with seven other people.

LOVETT: Please.

STELTER: And we will try to make it work.

LOVETT: I can overwhelm seven other -- seven people.

(LAUGHTER)

STELTER: Oh, OK.

All right, Jon, great to see you. Thank you for being here.

LOVETT: All right, great seeing you.

STELTER: Up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES, we were talking about FOX a couple minutes ago, coverage of one specific story on FOX, what they left out and what they included.

We are going to analyze that right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:51:12]

STELTER: Rapes and assaults murders are local news stories on a daily basis. But when do they break through to become national news, and when do they not?

This week, the health care bill, the talks in the House dominated cable news coverage all over the place. But FOX News also focused heavily on another story, and sometimes tying it to the president's immigration story. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: Two alleged assailants, Jose Montano and Henry Sanchez Milian, both arrived in this country just a few months ago.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: This terrible crime is just the latest in a long list of Americans who are victims because of illegal immigration.

JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS: This shocking case of a 14-year-old girl allegedly raped by two illegal immigrants in a Maryland school got me thinking. Do you know who's in school with your children? If you think that your school administrator, principal has your back, think again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: A sickening story from Rockville, Maryland, about an alleged rape at a school.

Now, on FOX, all roads lead back to media bias. So, Tucker Carlson called out channels like CNN for not covering this story thoroughly, for not covering it extensively. He also pointed out NBC, CBS, ABC's nightly newscasts did not cover this alleged rape.

Now, FOX chose to focus on that, partly trying it to Trump's immigration agenda. That was a story in Maryland.

But there was another story with Maryland ties that got little to no coverage anywhere on FOX or other channels. This was a story that crossed state lines from Maryland to New York. But you may not have heard about it.

This was about an Army veteran, an alleged white supremacist who drove to New York and attacked a 66-year-old black man with a 26-inch knife, killing that man.

Now, there's much still to be learned about this story. You can see surveillance footage from the incident here. But this story received almost no coverage on FOX or CNN or anywhere else for that matter, another example of a crime, but not a crime that fit the political agenda of those pro-Trump hosts on FOX.

Joining me now, talking more about those cable news coverage choices and the latest with a FOX commentator, CNN's Brian Lowry.

Brian, we have talked in the past about coverage choices on cable news. To me, this is an interesting example, because this rape case was covered virtually every hour, according to a "New York Times" analysis, on FOX, but not on other big news channels.

BRIAN LOWRY, CNN MEDIA CRITIC: Well, one of the things that TV news does is, it does an excellent job of connecting individual stories to larger themes.

And in this case, it really doe dovetailed with the theme FOX wanted to push FOX's immigration agenda.

STELTER: Right.

LOWRY: And I also think the fact that they could use it to buttress their point that this is the kind of coverage you won't get on other media, that's just a win-win for them.

STELTER: That's a benefit. That's interesting.

What is the latest on Judge Andrew Napolitano? He's the commentator, the legal analyst who went on and said that the Brits were -- his sources said the Brits were spying on Trump for Obama. He's been off the air now for over a week.

LOWRY: Well, I think it's interesting.

I think if Roger Ailes were still running FOX, I think Napolitano would have taken off because it was an embarrassing situation, and then he would have just as quietly slipped him back onto the air.

Rupert Murdoch has some bigger irons in the fire. He has some deals he's trying to make in the U.K. And this story ended up embarrassing and angered some U.K. lawmakers.

To the extent that Murdoch is calling the shots, instead of Ailes, this might play out differently. But if this were FOX of year ago, you would see Napolitano back I think very fairly soon.

STELTER: Interesting.

Yes, no word from FOX on when he will be back. They say he's not suspended or fired. He's just kind of taking a time-out.

Real quickly, here's a headline from Politico a couple -- I believe the story was yesterday, saying Napolitano told friends that Trump told him he was on the Supreme Court short list.

Whether that is true or not -- and I'm thinking it's not true -- it's an interesting connection between a FOX commentator and the president.

[11:55:03]

LOWRY: I keep coming back to sports with Trump and his relationship with cable news commentators, which is every now and then, an owner takes an analyst from ESPN and makes them a coach.

And they sound brilliant when they're talking about the games on the halftime show. And, sometimes, things don't always go so well once they actually are put in the position of running a team.

And it sort of feels to me like he has in some respects misread that, you know, the fact these people can sound brilliant analyzing from the sidelines. It's very different from actually going in and getting your fingernails dirty.

STELTER: Right.

Brian, great to see you.

LOWRY: Thank you.

STELTER: Thanks for being here.

And thanks for watching today. We will be back next week.