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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Pattern of Misleading Statements About Russia Meeting; Pro- Trump Media's Efforts to Discredit Russia News; Trump Claims He Doesn't Watch TV; Are White House Press Briefings A Waste of Time?; Sinclair Affecting Political Spin of Local News Coverage. Aired 11a- 12p ET
Aired July 16, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:15] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey. I'm Brian Stelter, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the story behind the story, of how the media really works and how the news gets made.
We have an all star panel standing by here to separate fact from fiction after a week that changed the course of the Trump/Russia investigations.
Without the press, we would not know about Team Trump's willingness to collude with Russia. Without the press, we wouldn't know. So, it's not surprised that President Trump is tweeting attacks against the media today because real reporting has disproven many of his team's past denials. Watch these.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF PRESIDENT: I mean, this is time and time again, lie after lie. It's disgusting, it's so phony.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Are there ties between Mr. Trump, you or your campaign and Putin and his regime?
PAUL MANAFORT, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: No, there are not. It's absurd and, you know, there's no basis to it.
JOHN DICKERSON, CBS NEWS HOST: Did anyone involved in the Trump have any contact with Russians trying to meddle with the election?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely not.
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: So, no collusion whatsoever between anybody involved with Trump and anybody involved with Russia in the 2016 campaign?
REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: No.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Yes. Donald Trump Jr.'s e-mails confirmed it. So, why should we believe what they say now? Here is how we know for sure. Without the tireless efforts of
reporters following leads and protecting anonymous sources, the last seven days of revelations wouldn't have happened. You know, the root of some of this is actually security clearance paperwork.
Let me tell you the story of the past few weeks. Jared Kushner and his lawyers kept changing his application for a security clearance. They kept adding more and more meetings with foreigners that Kushner failed to disclose earlier. So, when they amended it again on June 21st, word got around.
CNN's Evan Perez was one of the reporters heard about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: We contacted Jared Kushner's lawyers a couple of weeks ago to tell them that we were aware that they had updated the SF86 to note the existence of this meeting that had been organized by Donald Trump Jr.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: That request for comment was on June 26th. Now, what we didn't know at the time was that the very next day, Trump's campaign paid $50,000 to line up a lawyer for Don Jr. Again, the very next day, June 27th.
So, let's go back in time. It's the end of June. Perez is waiting for a response from Kushner's reps. They're stalling for more time while debating internally what to do. Should we go public? Should we release these e-mails we know about? Should we stay quiet?
What happens next is kind of murky, but after the Fourth of July holiday, the president flies to Europe for a few days of meeting. Remember this. While he's there, "The New York Times" catches wind of that secret meeting from last June.
Several of "The Times" top reporters teamed up for the story. And first, they asked Trump Jr., what happened in the meeting with that Russian lawyer.
The White House gets intimately involved in Jr.'s response. According to "The Times", the president signed off on a statement from Donald Trump Jr. for "The Times". It was so incomplete that it required day after day of follow-up statements, each more revealing than the last.
Later, the president's lawyer, Jay Sekulow, denied that Trump was involved drafting the statement. But Sekulow wasn't on the plane when it happened. So -- anyway, Don Jr. originally said the meeting was mostly about adoptions.
But then "The Times" revealed that it was all premised on the promise of dirt against Hillary Clinton. When "The Times" got ahold of the explosive emails proving everything, Don Jr. released them himself ahead of time.
Then, this is crucial, he sat down with FOX's Sean Hannity, not exactly a tough interviewer on this matter, and Don Jr. said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP JR: I just want the truth to get out there and that's part of why I release all the stuff today. I want to get it all out there. They're trying to drag out the story, Sean, in all fairness. They have -- they want to drip a little bit today, drip a little bit then. So, it's like, here it is, I'm more than happy to be transparent about it and I'm more than happy to cooperate with everyone.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: So, as far as you know, as far as this incident is concerned, this is all of it?
TRUMP JR.: This is everything. This is everything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: I go back to the original question, why should we believe them? Does he have credibility?
More and more reporting has revealed that Don Jr. did not share everything. The drip, drip of developments continued on Friday with NBC and the "Associated Press" and CNN identifying another person that was in the room for that pivotal meeting and we still don't know all the names of all the people who were there. The story is revealing itself. The drips continue.
So, let's bring in two heavyweights who have experience with this kind of investigative reporting.
Carl Bernstein, CNN political analyst, you know him as one-half of "The Washington Post" team, they won the Pulitzer Prize for its Watergate coverage, and Len Downie, his former colleague, former executive editor of "The Washington Post".
[11:05:00] Downie was supervising some of the Watergate coverage back in the '70s. And now, I'm pleased they are both joining me here live.
Great to see you.
Carl, what do we not know? What are the answers after this week of revelations?
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We still don't know what this cover up is about. We know there is a cover up. We know that people in the White House, including the president of the United States, have been lying, that his family has been lying. And at the same time, we cannot make an assumption of guilt of either obstruction of justice or, quote, collusion.
What we have seen in this latest episode is the willingness of Trump's family to be open to subversion of the American electoral process by a hostile foreign power. That in itself is an extraordinary story, an extraordinary acknowledgement really by the Trump family here that it was willing to do this as we see that willingness in the statement itself of Donald Trump in the e-mail. Donald Trump Jr., pardon me, in the e-mail.
So, that's the new ground but we know very little. We are early in the investigations and it's very important for us in the press to let these investigations proceed and to write and go on the air with what we know, but not with what we don't know. And that's what we're trying to do.
STELTER: Len, what about the role of leaks here? I was trying to lay out how in late June, reporters started to hear about this meeting that had previously been undisclosed. Should we be noting the role of unanimous sources here and Don Jr.'s emails confirming what the anonymous sources were saying?
LEONARD DOWNIE, FORMER EXECUTIVE EDITOR AND VICE PRESIDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: I prefer to call them confidential sources. They are sources who do not want their names used in connection with the information they're providing reporters because they can lose their jobs or worse. Things could happen to them.
And so, it's understandable why they don't want their names used. In fact, some of them clearly seem to be within the White House itself. Some of them seem within the other parts of the government. And so, it's important for them to maintain their confidentiality.
And they're very important to the story because they're able to provide information that otherwise cannot be found out because they're inside. They've got -- they have access to documents. They have access to important information.
STELTER: Carl, go ahead.
BERNSTEIN: In Watergate, we did more than 200 stories, not one of them had a named source. They were all based on anonymous sources because people were afraid of being identified in stories that they would lose their jobs, that they could be frank with us if we protected their anonymity.
STELTER: What are the other parallels, Len, between the Watergate days and today?
DOWNIE: Well, one thing, of course, is that President Trump seems to tweet out opinions and things that we only heard Richard Nixon say once we heard the tapes of what he was saying within the Oval Office itself. There are a lot of similarities between the kinds of things he said and the kinds of things that Donald Trump now says on the record, in tweets, which is kind of interesting.
STELTER: Are news outlets now, though, going too far -- maybe playing it too fast and loose versus the Watergate days where all you had to think about was the next day's print paper?
DOWNIE: Well, yes --
STELTER: Now, of course, there's an instant deadline on the web. DOWNIE: Right. That's exactly right. There's so much more media now
than there was then. For a long time, "The Post" was alone on the Watergate story. There were -- it was a whole string of editors, including myself, who vetted all the stories, who would challenge Bob and Carl on whether or not the conclusions they were drawing were the right conclusions to draw from the facts.
And we're able to do that without -- without other things going on. And there was no Internet then. There was no cable television.
And there was no -- there was no competing press of the kind that there is now. There's a sort of a right wing press that is not concerned about facts. It constantly attacks the legitimate reporting that's going on. None of that was present then.
STELTER: You mean like conservative media presenting the counter- narrative?
DOWNIE: Yes. Yes. I mean, you can see that right now in the counter narrative. There was some kind -- that the meeting with Donald Trump was some kind of trap being laid by the Hillary Clinton campaign.
STELTER: Right, right.
DOWNIE: There's a counter-narrative being pursued by some aspects of the right wing press.
STELTER: We have some clips from that coming up later this hour.
Carl, what about the president's claim a few days ago on Twitter? I'm trying to pull it up here because I thought it was astonishing. He said, remember, when you hear the word sources say from the fake media, oftentimes those sources are made up and do not exist.
Tell our viewers why we know that's not true.
BERNSTEIN: Well, first of all, we know that Donald Trump has spent a good deal of his adult life being an anonymous source for the New York press, especially calling things to "The New York Post" and "The New York Daily News" about himself.
[11:10:01] BERNSTEIN: He knows how to use the press, how to manipulate the press and he knows the process very well. A lot of these, quote, anonymous sources, as Lenny said, are around the White House itself, around Donald Trump himself. We have more than 50 lawyers now involved in defending people around the president, around his family, around his campaign, around his associates. Many of those lawyers also have reason to be in touch with the press.
So, there's a kind of free-for-all going on. And the idea that somehow these, quote, leaks, which really are not leaks, they're really mostly reporters trying very hard to get truthful information and put some context to this story are not coming necessarily and probably not at all from the Mueller investigation, or even the FBI investigation. There are a lot of sources.
STELTER: Let me add this. Len, how did you know during Watergate that Carl's sources were real and not made up? Because that's the president's assertion here, that we are making up sources?
Because reporters must share their confidential sources with their editors. And in the case of Watergate, Bob and Carl had to write up all their notes from every interview, typed them out with the name of the source at the top, with one exception, which, of course, was Deep Throat, whose name did not appear at the top of those notes.
So, we knew who their sources were. We could discuss whether or not the sources had motivations we should be suspicious of. We could discuss with them, how did this source know what they're talking to you about? And we could send them back to find corroborating sources or corroborating documents for what they were told.
STELTER: It's a long process, right? Carl, go ahead.
BERNSTEIN: Sorry, Len.
Yes. Two things. The difference between Watergate and now, one of the big differences is that we are in a midst of a cold civil war in this country, a political and cultural civil war and all of our reporting is taking place in the context of that cold civil war, and nothing quite like that existed at the top of Watergate. And that part of that cold civil war itself is the configuration the media with FOX News, with CNN being perceived by different sets of viewers as representing truths, when in fact FOX has changed American politics as perhaps no institution has since its invention in 1996.
Our politics has been changed inalterably by this right wing counterforce, whatever you want to call FOX News, but also cable news itself is a different from than we had during the time of Watergate. We didn't see reporters on television discussing their stories. We do go further on the air now by having reporters from "The Washington Post", "The New York Times", CNN, expand on their stories on the air so that there is a visual component that listeners and viewers at home are seeing. They're getting more interpretive information.
It is a different media universe and it's a cauldron taking place in this hot house of political debate in which a fact based debate is becoming impossible in this culture, and that's part of the difficulty here. We're just lobbing acquisitions back and forth in which a fact- based environment is almost impossible to maintain as long as the principals are willing to engage in the kind of rhetoric and lying that we have seen in this exchange of late.
STELTER: If you don't mind, Carl and Len, I'd bring you both back later this hour.
STELTER: I'm going to take a break here, because we are talking about the pro-Trump media right on the other side of the commercial. How the coverage from FOX and other outlets is shaping this story.
And later, the president says he doesn't have much time to watch TV. Who is he kidding?
And later, a new rival in that pro-Trump media universe, your local newscast. We're talking about Sinclair, coming up.
[11:18:37] STELTER: Welcome back.
Now to the alternative pro-Trump media universe. For many months, pro-Trump hosts on FOX News have vehemently dismissed or denied acquisitions of collusion with Russia. They said it's a media hoax or fake news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no evidence of any Trump collusion with Russia.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: The media has been running with this lie with no evidence for months and months and months. They have nothing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no facts, no evidence whatsoever that the president or our team had any coordination with the Russians. This is a ridiculous allegation and it's going to be proven false over the summer at some point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: It's the summer now and evidence emerged Donald Trump Jr. was receptive to working with the Russian government. So, we've heard those pro-Trump commentators and defenders shifting their stories.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Collusion is not a crime. You can collude all you want with a foreign government in an election.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Collusion is not illegal either, by the way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As it turns out, the Russia story is starting to fall apart because it look like she was just a lobbyist.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don Jr. is the victim here. HANNITY: Democrats, the destroy Trump media, they have been colluding
the entire time, all in an effort to damage, to delegitimize, and ultimately overturn an election of you, the American people, and destroy the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: The blame game is continuing today with the Trump lawyer, Jay Sekulow, on all five of the big Sunday morning political talk shows.
[11:20:03] On one of them, he said, if this was nefarious, this meeting last year, why did they let, why did the Secret Service allow these people in? A new talking point you might be hearing all over the place shortly.
Let's bring in an excellent for some perspective on all this news. Jeff Mason, the outgoing president of the White House Correspondents Association. He's also a White House correspondent for "Reuters". Another White House correspondent, Tara Palmeri. She's at "Politico". And here with me in New York, Ken Kurson, the former editor for "The New York Observer".
Welcome to you all.
Ken, I'd like to start with you. You formally run "The Observer", a paper owned by the Kushner family. You know Jared Kushner very well. Do you think all this coverage this week has been, you know, fake news?
KEN KURSON, FORMER EDITOR, THE NEW YORK OBSERVER: I want to start by giving you a cigar. I haven't seen you since the birth of your daughter.
STELTER: Oh, well, thank you. She's watching right now. Thank you.
KURSON: That's real news.
STELTER: Real news.
KURSON: As far as fake news goes -- no, I think the news has been accurately covering some of what's going on.
But I'd like to remind your viewers that the reason we know about this meeting is because of the form that Jared filled out. He filled it out and submitted without being asked. He submitted it properly. And when Don Jr. was asked about it, he put it out himself. I don't think there's a need for the fake news acquisition here because the story is not so bad.
STELTER: When the president tweets the Russian story is a hoax, doesn't that just confuse and sow doubt among his fans?
KURSON: You know, I think when the president says that the story is a hoax, what he means is that the business of the United States is a lot bigger than this one story. If you turn -- if you go on to AOL or "The Washington Post" or "The New York Times", there's going to be five, 10 stories about this Russia meeting that happened a year and change ago, and virtually nothing about the actual news that's affecting real people's lives.
STELTER: But what did the White House accomplished this week? Wasn't it mired in this scandal?
KURSON: I think it's true that it's hard for them to get their story out. But as far as what they're actually accomplishing, I would argue that they're accomplishing quite a bit. Their fans are happy about the things that are being accomplished. And their opponents should be focused more on the regulations that are being pulled back, the health care plan, the tax reform is being planned, instead of this constant drumbeat of scandal.
STELTER: Let me here, Tara, about your new reporting this week about what's been going on inside the White House. Jared Kushner, reportedly, he wanted a more aggressive response to these stories about last year's meeting and about the allegations involving Russia and the willingness to collude. You reported that some senior White House officials even want communication staffers to be calling up cable news and complain about that banner on the bottom of the screen, the chyrons?
TARA PALMERI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. They did this very aggressively during the campaign and they think that this tactic is very useful in terms of changing the messaging, because a lot of people do watch cable news on mute, whether they're in transit, airports. So, they realize how effective this is.
Jared also was saying, we should be placing op-eds in "The New York Times" and "The Wall Street Journal" in defense of the administration, and he was also calling for the surrogates to get talking points. A lot of the people on cable news who are talking in behalf of the president were talking without information about what they should be saying, and he was saying to them, listen, I know you work in the press shop and you say everything has to refer to legal counsel, but this affects the president of the United States. Therefore, you should be take taking a more aggressive, combative response.
Their response was, hey, we don't want to know too much, because we don't have to have get lawyers and get too involved in this.
STELTER: While we're talking about an aggressive response, Jeff Mason, you revealed this week as the head of the association that represents White House correspondents and lobbies for more access, that at one point, the White House wanted you to come out as the head of the association and criticize or attack one of your reporters' stories? What happened?
JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Well, to be more specific about that, it was regarding a story that had been written about the press, and the White House called and was upset about that story and asked me on behalf of the correspondents association to release a statement essentially defending the White House. And that would have been, in my view, the same really as criticizing the reporter and criticizing the story and I said no. That's just not something that we do. That's not a role that we play.
STELTER: Is the reporter here with us?
MASON: She is, and we talked about it before the segment, since we happened to be on the show together. It was a story that Tara wrote and I hadn't said that at the town hall where this came up earlier last week, out of, you wanting to respect the privacy of the reporter and of that conversation.
But, yes, I talked to Tara ahead of time, and it was about a story that she had written about media access.
STELTER: It was a coincidence based on our booking this week. But, Tara, since you're here, what's your reaction to finding that out this morning?
PALMERI: Well, I'm not surprised because I had heard from my editor that they had threatened to try to remove me from the White House Correspondents Association, which don't have power to do. They're an independent association.
And they were upset because I wrote a story that was completely factual, that over the course of the trip, the president had not given a press conference. That is plain and simple.
[11:25:00] And we also did not get access to senior administration officials regularly until my story came out.
After that, we had so much more access to them. Otherwise, it would have literally been the same as watching the president's trip on state-owned television. We were getting our information from foreign officials before we were getting it from White House officials, hours were passing.
And our press -- the press officers from the White House weren't even in the meetings with the president. So, they were waiting for hours to get readouts (ph). We had very limited access on the nine-day trip. And after that story came out about midway through, we started getting more access. At the end of the day, we never ended up --
PALMERI: -- speaking with the president. But I can see why they were angry, but it was a factual story.
MASON: I would quiver just a little bit though with what Tara saying there. I don't -- I'm not sure that I would draw a direct line between her story and then the increase of access that may have happened on that trip. The point that I wanted to make was, it's not the role of the correspondents association to issue a statement about any reporter's story --
MASON: -- or to be defensive of the White House. STELTER: And this week, talking about access, we saw the president
come back to the press cabin on Air Force One and talk with reporters for over an hour. Originally off the record. Meaning we couldn't use the quotes, and then some of the quotes were put on the record, revealing about what the president was talking.
Let's get into that right after a quick break, if you all can stick around. Quick break and we'll be right back.
STELTER: Hey. Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm back now with Ken Kurson, Jeff Mason and Tara Palmeri.
Ken, you were out in Jersey yesterday. You saw the president, where, Bedminster?
KURSON: That's right.
STELTER: And any news from your conversation?
KURSON: No news.
But he was watching the Women's Open, like millions of other Americans. And I think that that's what people don't get about why this president resonated, is, he is a normal person. He watches golf. He enjoys it. He connects with people.
People come up to him for an autograph or picture. And he connects with them. And that's what we in the media just can't get through our heads, is that people like him.
STELTER: Maybe we need to see that more often. Maybe better access for the press would allow us to see that side of him?
KURSON: Well, you just described how he came to the front of the plane and spoke for an hour, and the aides were all saying, let's make this off-the-record.
KURSON: And he was saying, no, let's make it on the record.
I think he's quite accessible. He talks to everybody. People come up to him. And to the degree with modern security that you can be, the guy just really connects.
STELTER: Well, on this subject of access, the question I wanted to ask in this segment was whether the White House briefings are officially a waste of time. And this gets into the issue of access and answers from the White
House. You know, whether the briefings are off-camera or on-camera -- this week, they were entirely off-camera -- we are also not getting a lot answers to questions that are asked.
Here is an example, or actually a series of examples from Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders answering questions with -- well, a nonanswer.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not aware of that, but the State Department would probably be best suited to answer that question.
I haven't had a chance to dig into that, but will certainly circle back with you on it.
Again, I haven't had a chance to have that direct conversation. I have been a little preoccupied with other things, Major, but I certainly will check on that.
I'm telling you I'm just not sure. I don't know the answer. I will have to check and let you know.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
STELTER: So, an update now on access.
The president has not had a formal solo press conference in four months -- actually, five months at this point. But he was accessible to reporters on the plane, as were talking about.
He also sat down for an interview with Pat Robertson for the Christian Broadcasting Network. He took questions from a Reuters reporter. And he had this joint press conference in Paris.
He did surprise people by calling on a Chinese journalist, instead of an American journalist, when he had the chance.
So, we're talking about the various degrees of access.
Back now with Jeff Mason, who is the head of the White House Correspondents Association.
Certainly, Jeff, you're about to hand over the reins to another journalist who will run the group of -- the association. But you have been pressing for better access, trying to get these briefings on- camera.
Is there any indication that's actually going to happen? Or is this accepted now, that the briefings will usually be off-camera, not allowed to be televised?
MASON: Well, it's not accepted by us. We are certainly continuing to push for that. And I have no doubt that the next board will continue to fight for
that. I mean, it is very important to the numbers of the White House Correspondents Association and to White House reporters to be able to ask those questions at the daily briefing.
You asked whether the briefing is worthwhile or not. I think it's important, whether or not the answers are satisfactory to the American public or not, that that chance to ask those questions and hear the answers from the representatives of the American people's elected officials takes place.
So, -- and we think that it should be done in the transparent way. And if there's a mix of sometimes it not being on camera or televised and sometimes being televised, a mix is OK, but the trend of all of them not being televised is not something that we, as the association, are in favor of.
STELTER: Is there anything more you can do?
MASON: Well, we can keep pushing for our rights that we believe are protected under the spirit of Constitution and the First Amendment.
STELTER: Hasn't worked yet.
MASON: Yes, I mean, it hasn't worked in terms of the trends that we are talking about. That trend is not going in the direction that we want, no.
But we are an organization that represents television reporters, as well as print reporters, radio reporters, online reporters. We have a lot of interests that we have to represent.
And the White House also is working on its own calculations about how it wants to deal with the press. So, it's a sometimes slow and sometimes unsatisfactory process, but we're working hard on it.
STELTER: Ken, do you agree or disagree? The White House briefings, are they a waste of time?
KURSON: I think they are a waste of time because they're so canned.
I think that it's -- the reporters come -- I really believe that...
STELTER: Do you think that is the fault of the Trump White House? If they're not answering questions, that's not the reporters' fault.
KURSON: Right. So, the idea here is that the media has become the opposition to Trump.
I mean, they're -- just listening to intro to this show...
STELTER: That's your idea.
KURSON: Just listening to the intro to this show, listening to Fareed's show before it, it's that -- it's no longer that the Republicans' point of view holds forth and the Democrats hold them accountable, and the media covers it.
It's that the president and the White House put forth their point of view, the media argues with them, and the Democrats have become like totally irrelevant to the discussion. It's a stunning thing to watch unfold during this presidency. And I don't know if...
STELTER: It's about the irrelevancy of the Democratic Party?
KURSON: Totally, the way that the press has assigned itself the chore of undoing the results of this election, which they simply don't accept.
STELTER: Who do you think has assigned themselves that?
There's not some secret cabal of people in the journalism world.
KURSON: Did you read "The New York Times" editorial page at all this week? Do you see even David Brooks, the faux conservative they've got in there, says, I brought somebody without a high school -- with only a high school diploma to work, and, insensitively, she couldn't pronounce the sandwiches.
STELTER: It was a stupid column. What does that have to do with the president's lies and misstatements?
KURSON: OK. Gail Collins -- Gail Collins says, let's rate how bad all of the president's children are.
One of the president's children is 11. These are the people we're rating for how bad they are? It is a ludicrous thing.
STELTER: These are people paid to have opinions, just like Eric Bolling or someone at FOX.
KURSON: You're talking about a newspaper that holds itself out as the most dignified place for American thought in journalism today.
And this is what they put forth. It's unprecedented. Whether you agree with it or disagree with the point of view, I'm saying that there's something in the air right now that makes these personal attacks, these relentless, ongoing attacks palatable to the American people.
And I think the shame of it is, we no longer have even a two-party system, which many think is too few. We have a one-party system, and the media is the other party.
STELTER: You're talking about editorial people, though, people that write opinion columnists for a living. "The New York Times"' reporting staff has been breaking stories left and right, holding Trump accountable. You think that's the opposition?
KURSON: I think that they've been breaking stories like crazy, "The Washington Post" as well.
KURSON: And "The Wall Street Journal" got into the mix in a big way a couple weeks ago with some important stories.
And I think that's a critical function of journalism. But I think that the way -- you know, during these breaks, when I watch you go on Twitter...
KURSON: ... the way journalists reward each other for stabbing and needling, there's a new system of reward that is out there for journalists that has very little to do with policy and very little to do with advancing this country.
STELTER: When the president says things that are untrue, should we sit here and ignore it?
KURSON: No. You should report it. You should hold him accountable.
STELTER: ... where do you go from that to the media is the opposition?
KURSON: Because when I look at the tone and the way these attacks are launched -- and I cited a couple examples for you -- and or the way that whenever there's need for the appearance of balance, NPR will hire some conservative who hates the president, or "The New York Times" will go get Bret Stephens, whose main contribution is that he hates the president.
Whenever there's a need for the appearance of fairness, there's no real effort to -- you know, where are the pro-Trump journalists in the mainstream media? They don't exist, because the entire mainstream media is against Trump. And that is, I think, is not just bad for American policy. I think it's bad for journalism.
STELTER: I think a lot of journalists are against lying, against deceit. That's where we are right now.
KURSON: I'm against lying, against deceit. I think that the function of the journalists the hold the administration accountable is a critical function enshrined in the -- in our Bill of Rights.
But when you have a system where the most outrageous attack is what is rewarded with likes on Facebook and followings on Twitter, you are setting yourself up.
STELTER: Those are opinion columns.
KURSON: No, it's not just opinion columns.
STELTER: They're opinion columns.
KURSON: It is reporters.
KURSON: And they audition for each other and they audition for popularity.
STELTER: Let me get Tara Palmeri's reaction at Politico.
Tara Palmeri, Politico, also a CNN analyst, your reaction to Ken's comments?
PALMERI: I -- honestly, I think, as a print reporter, it doesn't matter to me as much if it's on air or not.
But I do know, from some of the White House officials that I have spoken to, that they think by taking the White House briefing off- camera and just in voice, it brings down the temperature. They think there's lot of grandstanding going on, on both ends.
But, also, if they say something damning, there isn't a clip on the Internet and on all the TV shows.
I think, at the end of the day, we're supposed to be balanced. We shouldn't be pro-Trump or anti-Trump. We should just be all about the facts and the issues. And I think that there is a prerogative to say, oh, they're being anti-Trump.
No, we're being critical. That's our job, to be critical, regardless of who the president is.
STELTER: And, Jeff Mason, last word to you.
Tara said earlier in the hour that a staffer at the White House once threatened to kick her out of the White House Correspondent Association, to go to her editor -- went to your editor and said that, right, Tara?
STELTER: Am I getting that right?
So, Jeff, your point you wanted to make was that the association itself never heard that from the White House?
And I appreciate your giving me a chance to say that. We have obviously had times where we have disagreed with the White House and they've disagreed with us. But that's never something that anyone from the White House has ever asked me to do or approached the association about.
STELTER: Lots to discuss here. Thank you all for being here this morning.
PALMERI: Thank you.
KURSON: Thank you.
STELTER: Up next, David Zurawik standing by, talking about Sinclair, one of the biggest owner of television stations in the country, and perhaps its conservative bent?
We will be right back.
STELTER: Hey. Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
Now to an undercovered story in the media world, a story about local news coverage.
Here is a map of Sinclair-owned and -operated stations all across the United States, dozens and dozens of stations owned by this company. If you're in one of these areas, chances are you will be seeing a lot more of this former Trump White House official, Boris Epshteyn, offering his commentary as chief political analyst, now nine times a week on the local stations.
He was a Trump campaign aide and then briefly a White House official.
So, it's no surprise that his "Bottom Line" segments parrot the administration's talking points or spin stories in the president's favor.
Here is an example.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BORIS EPSHTEYN, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: The bottom line is this. CNN, along with other cable news networks, is struggling to stick to the facts and to be impartial in covering politics in general and this president specifically.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: This is something that has not gotten enough attention, I think.
So, joining me now is David Zurawik, media critic for "The Baltimore Sun."
And you wrote about this, this week, David. You said that Sinclair is taking a perilous path by increasing what they call must-run segments with Boris across all of its affiliates.
Why is this perilous?
DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": Well, it's -- first of all, Brian, it's -- the pieces that Epshteyn has done -- and I have looked at them -- come as close to classic propaganda as I think I have seen in 30 years of covering local television or national television.
They are outrageous. Whatever the White House says, you know, President Trump believes there was voter fraud, and he sets up this commission to get data from the states, and the states rightfully push back, because it's very intrusive data. Yeltsin's -- Boris Epshteyn's piece on it ends with, the states should cooperate with President Trump.
And it's not just that. It's the imagery of some of the pieces as he speaks. In one of them, it says how he is delivering on his promises during the campaign, and what you see is Trump walking triumphantly on a stage, with American flags flanking him on both sides. And it's shot from behind with a sea of people cheering with their arms raised and applauding him.
And here is what's more dangerous about it with Sinclair, is people are getting this within the context of their 30- or 60-minute local news. So, they are getting -- where they get their high school sports scores from, where they get their local weather from, where they get it in the context of these people they have come to trust, because one of the narratives of the right is, you can't trust anything nationally; it's only local you can trust.
This is an incredibly powerful movement, that you have 173 Sinclair stations now, and they are poised to take over 42 more from Tribune Company, if the FCC approves it, approves the deal. That is unbelievable.
And when you think about the movement by the right -- Jane Mayer wrote about this in "Dark Money," this brilliant book about what happened after President Obama was elected in 2008, and rich people on the right said, look, let's go local. Let's win statehouses. Let's win state legislatures.
That was in 2009. By 2010, you had Scott Walker in Wisconsin busting unions. This is the perfect infrastructure to deliver that centralized message at a local level, which will make it more powerful. And that's a very power political tool. That's what matters, Brian, I think.
STELTER: And Sinclair is based right up the road from you in Hunt Valley, Maryland. It's a station and is a company owned by prominent Republican donors. There has been some programming in the past on these stations that has
had a clearly conservative bent. But these segments, "Boris' Bottom Line," it's a big increase to what the stations are doing when it comes to a pro-Trump agenda.
Let me ask you this, David. The Trump presidency, of course, was made by TV. It's been shaped by TV. But we saw the president make a claim this week that I was baffled by.
Let's see if we can put it on screen. He was reacting to reports from Tara Palmeri and others that we was watching lots of TV amid all this scandal coverage. And he wrote on Twitter, actually, no, he has very little time for watching TV.
Does he think we are idiots, David?
ZURAWIK: You know, Brian, I can't answer whether or not he thinks we are idiots. He probably does.
But for him to say he watches very little TV, there has never been a more media-steeped presidency. I think we never will have one.
STELTER: And that could be a good thing. That's not all a bad thing. I don't think all his television viewing is automatically a bad thing.
I -- listen, I have been writing about television my whole life. I think television is still a principal storyteller of American life. It's profound. Television is profound. It's not the boob tube.
Unfortunately, I think some of the stuff that President Trump watches, like Judge Jeanine and that, may not be the high end of this medium. I wish he would watch a little more high-end television and get a larger view and open himself to other viewpoints.
STELTER: If he's watching right now, what's the one drama the president should binge?
ZURAWIK: Oh, I would like to see him watch "The Americans." I have been bingeing "The Americans" back through all five...
STELTER: The Russia plots.
ZURAWIK: I would love to see him watch "The Americans."
STELTER: You know, this week, in "The New York Times Magazine," Mark Leibovich wrote about a visit with the president.
And he said: "It was 12:30 when I came in to visit the president, but he wasn't eating. He was instead watching a recording of 'FOX & Friends' from about four hour earlier on a large TV mounted on the wall."
Isn't that the story right there in a nutshell, David, that the president is watching on the DVR a pro-Trump talk show that kind of provides him a lot of positive reinforcement amid a lot of critical coverage elsewhere?
ZURAWIK: You know, Brian, that is actually -- that is a profound insight, I think.
And, really, outside of maybe "Hannity," you couldn't find more of an echo chamber. It's like reading positive tweets about you on Twitter and getting addicted to it.
ZURAWIK: That's what he is doing. It's like -- it's looking in the mirror, in the water and saying, oh, aren't -- am I not beautiful?
That's what he's doing when he watches "FOX & Friends."
STELTER: Hey, now.
ZURAWIK: Because that's the only time he...
STELTER: That's not a cheap shot?
STELTER: That's not a cheap shot at the president?
ZURAWIK: How? It's nothing but praise for him, Brian. It's nothing but praise for the president. It's ego-inflating. It's, you are a great president, sir. That's the message from "FOX & Friends."
That's narcissism, isn't it?
STELTER: David Zurawik.
ZURAWIK: If you limit -- if you limit yourself only to that, if you limit yourself only to that.
STELTER: That's an important point.
David, thanks as always.
STELTER: Coming up after the break: important new polling showing the partisan divide in the country and how it's caused by the press.
We will be right back.
STELTER: Welcome back.
Before we go, a final thought about President Trump's media bashing. Does it stem from rage or real-world strategy?
Maybe that doesn't matter, because, either way, the effect is the same, to turn his base of voters against the press, inoculating himself from the kind of hard-hitting reporting that we're now seeing about the Russia investigations.
Today's brand-new ABC/"Washington Post" poll shows that it is sort of working.
Here is one of the questions. "Given what you have heard and read, do you think the Russian government tried to influence the outcome of last fall's U.S. presidential election?"
Eighty percent of Democrats said yes. Only 60 -- sorry -- 61 percent of independents said yes. Only 33 percent of the Republicans said yes. So, most Republicans don't think it's true.
And here, about last year's fateful meeting between team Trump representatives and a Russian lawyer, "Do you think it was appropriate or inappropriate to attend this meeting?" Only 9 percent of Democrats said it was appropriate, 27 percent of independents, but 48 percent of Republicans, roughly half of the respondents, said, yes, it was appropriate.
Perhaps they've heard all the spin from conservative media.
My advice, don't fall for Trump's tweets. If a public official tells you something is fake, check it for yourself.
We will be back this time next week. See you online, RELIABLESOURCES.com.