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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Is Media Amplifying Message of Hate Groups?; Charlottesville Victim Identified As Heather Heyer; New Anti-Press Weapon: Massive Lawsuits; Did Press React Too Strongly to War of Word with North Korea?; Trump Comments on Raid of Manafort's Home; New Poll: Only 24 Percent of Americans Trust White House. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired August 13, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.
[11:00:00] 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.
Coming up here, exclusive reporting about President Trump and media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
Plus, a look at how big-money lawsuits are endangering newsrooms.
But, first, breaking news: the White House now responding to overwhelming criticism of the president's Saturday statement about the violence in Charlottesville. His speech will be remembered and not fondly as the many-sides speech for not explicitly calling out and condemning the white nationalists, the racists and anti-Semites who came to Charlottesville and protested on Friday and Saturday.
Now, on Sunday morning, the White House attempting to clean up. This is a statement just out from an unnamed White House official.
Quote: The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred and, of course, that includes white supremacists, KKK, there's a typo here, notice it, nephew-Nazi, and all extremist groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.
I assume when they said nephew Nazi, they meant neo-Nazi. I assume that's a typo. But I just want to show you exactly what the White House put out.
There are obvious questions when you read a statement like this. Why did it take so long? And why is the statement unsigned? Is the president himself directly going to address the criticism?
You could make the case that Saturday was the worst day of the Trump presidency, with so many commentators include manager Republican commentators and GOP senators and congressmen criticizing the president for his half-hearted response.
Today, Sunday, the reactions are still withering. Here's the headline on the influential "Drudge Report": Make America Hate Again, reacting to the chaos in Virginia.
And take a look at the front pages from the local newspaper, "The Daily Progress", doing great work in Charlottesville. This is the Saturday headline about Friday's torch-bearing rally, these white nationalists, some of them explicitly racist, rallying on the campus of UVA. "Fire and fury" is the headline.
And now, let's look at Sunday. This is the new headline this morning, "A Day of Death," reacting to woman who was killed when that man charged a crowd of counter-protesters with his car and then two police officials killed when their helicopter crashed in Charlottesville.
Amid all of this coverage, what is the responsibility of the press, especially showing violence and disturbing image, the kind that played on a loop yesterday, showing a nation seemingly at war with itself? Is this constant repetition helpful? Is sunlight the best disinfectant when it comes to racist or is there a better way?
A lot to cover now with our panel. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik is here, along with CNN White House reporter Kaitlan Collins.
But I want to g first to Charlottesville and Larry Sabato. He's the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
And, Larry, I know this is personal for you. You were on campus Friday night. Those scenes of those mostly men, mostly young men carrying torches, trying to express their views, their largely racist, anti-Semitic views. What was your experience Friday night at UVA?
LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UVA CENTER FOR POLITICS: Well, Brian, I live on Jefferson's Lawn, in a pavilion that he designed and it's right next to the rotunda.
And I watched this group of young people, mainly young people, as you said, in their upper teens, 20s, 30s march with their torches lit, and I was shocked first at how many of them there were. There were hundreds. I hate to put an exact number on it, but it went on and on. It was longer than our graduation lines.
And then I -- then they got closer and I heard what they were chanting. And they were chanting, you will not replace us, and that was alternated with, Jews will not replace us. Then, they got to the front of the rotunda, and it didn't take them but a few minutes to this do what they really come to do, get a lot of media attention by attacking the relative handful of counter-protesters who were there.
This was all unplanned, by the way. We didn't know they were going to do it until late in the day Friday when some rumors started coming --
STELTER: Interesting. So, Saturday was planned, Saturday's rally, but not Friday night.
SABATO: Not Friday night. It came as a surprise to everybody.
And I just can't -- as somebody who has been associated with the University of Virginia for 47 year, Brian --
SABATO: -- this was the most disturbing, nauseating thing I have ever witnessed there. And right there on the lawn, which the center of our university. I don't know long it's going the take us to get over this.
STELTER: Everybody who's been so Charlottesville, loves Charlottesville, loves walking the downtown mall. But that's where this act of domestic terrorism happened yesterday, this car plowing into a group of counterprotesters, people protesting the white nationalists. So, now, it's Sunday morning. What is your feeling a day later?
SABATO: My feeling is one of, of course, shock and upset for the lives that were lost, including those two state policemen in the helicopter.
[11:05:06] They had been watching what was going on downtown and sending intelligence.
But it's also a fear of dread -- it's threat, rather. It's, Brian, they're talking about coming back again and again. You knew this was going to be a big thing when that snake, David Duke, slithered out from under his rock and showed up, the former grand wizard of the KKK. And he himself --
STELTER: Well, that's interesting, Larry. I just got an e-mail from a viewer who said, what's the responsibility of the press, Brian? The responsibility is, quote, not to broadcast any statement by David Duke.
Do you agree?
SABATO: I think they should be minimized. I think if he says something truly newsworthy, you have to. But I think it should be minimized, and actually, I think the coverage of any future gatherings in Charlottesville should be minimized.
It has to happen. You have to have some cameras and reporters there. You've got to have the police to protect them, but assuming we can keep the violence at minimum or maybe no violence at all, I think it should be, you know, a minute or two package on the evening news. That would be the ideal as unrepresentative and unrealistic as that may be.
STELTER: Let's broaden this out with David Folkenflik and Caitlin Collins here in New York.
David, same question to you on this issue of how to handle violent images, pictures of these protests that turn into the melees. Are cable news channels, television news networks, actually making things worse by playing this on a loop?
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, MEDIA CORRESPONDENT, NPR: I think if you play the image of the car, as you say, it essentially upending these, you know, anti-racist counterprotesters again and again and again, it gives a sense of -- underscores the notion of violence in society and in some ways subliminally I think conveys the idea of this is happening repeatedly. Cable executives say we have to cover the news, I think we can make finer distinctions than that.
My first professional gig --
FOLKENFLIK: -- 27 year ago was as an intern for the "Charlestown News and Courier" as it was called in South Carolina. I was assigned to cover a couple of Klan rallies, one of which through downtown Charleston, one of which the outside of town.
The editor in chief comes to my desk, and he says, David, you're going to cover it, you're going to cover it fairly, if something newsworthy happens, we'll cover it big. We are not going to give these racists, these Klansmen, these other protesters who are there more coverage than they warrant simply because they want to say outrageous things.
STELTER: The counterargument being that the press is doing a service here by exposing what's going on in these people's minds --
FOLKENFLIK: I think there's an obligation to cover this, but I think that you can -- this is not a binary choice, folks, like we may have to make subtle distinction and smart choices in which we convey things.
Should David Duke be quoted? I think some of what he said yesterday was newsworthy. Should David Duke be quoted at length? Should David Duke be represented as though he has a grand movement behind him? I think these are things that we have to also be very clear about and move on.
STELTER: Cover this, but make clear these are fringe folks. There are not a lot of folks that agree to this stuff, but they are out there by the hundreds.
FOLKENFLIK: And, you know, folks -- you know, 1,500 is not a huge rally given the rallies that we've seen in the past year, and yet it is a real presence. It upended a real community. There was genuine violence. I think we have a responsibility to reflect that in the press and responsibility not to somehow foster idea that this is the way in which the country has a whole is moving.
STELTER: And we learned something about the president as a result of yesterday's coverage. Kaitlan, I would argue we learned about something from the president based on how long he took to respond initially on Twitter and then at that event he was having at 3:00 p.m. and we've learned something today from this cleanup statement from the White House official.
What was your reaction as White House reporter about this delayed reaction from the president to these white supremacists meeting in Charlottesville? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We're essentially
seeing the White House drag it out. Obviously, you made the point the president has faced widespread criticism over his statement yesterday that did not specify white nationalists or white supremacists, and did not condemn them. He just said hate from many sides.
And then we get a statement from the White House this morning in response to that, and it's attributed to an unnamed White House official. Why not attribute that to a White House official like Sarah Huckabee sanders or another spokesman or the president himself, if he really does condemn hatred in all forms including neo-Nazism, and the KKK, why not put your name on that statement?
And we know that the president is someone who is very quick to respond to other incidents. He was very quick to respond to pulse nightclub shooting and the Paris attack and what happened in Manila, which wasn't terrorism. And yesterday as this dragged out and these graphic this images were playing out on cable television, which we know the president loves that, he didn't say anything about it until 1:20 in the afternoon.
STELTER: He's caused us to expect instant reactions because of this tendency to reply to cable news coverage.
COLLINS: Exactly, the first lady responded before he did.
STELTER: So, when he doesn't, it's even more noticeable.
Let's listen in to Antony Scaramucci this morning criticizing the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, I wouldn't have recommended that statement. I think he needed to be much harsher as it related to the white supremacism and the nature of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Scaramucci, of course, only lasted ten days as comms director. Now, the job is vacant. But he's beginning a press tour of his own.
[11:10:01] Kaitlan, on Friday, President Trump was very press accessible. On Thursday and Friday, he had four press avails, answering like 50 questions total, and he promised to hold a press conference on Monday. So, could that be the next opportunity for him to address Charlottesville?
COLLINS: It could be. He has no events on his schedule today, which means reporters will not see the president while he's on his working vacation in New Jersey. But you're right, the president took more questions this week than he had taken in months. He was taking questions from reporters. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, press secretary, holding up a sign that said
one more question, initially directing the president to stop taking questions and he ignored it and kept going and kept taking questions.
But then yesterday when this happened, he tweeted he was going the hold a big press conference yesterday --
COLLINS: -- and then during that, he just delivered a statement and took no questions from reporters and left the room. So, now, he's saying when he returns from Washington on Monday for a brief trip, he's going to hold this major press conference and that might be the only time we've seen him unless he tweets again today about this.
FOLKENFLIK: You know, what struck me in some ways is that there was a bit of a sense of what we had after Katrina, different kind of disaster, different kind of scope of tragedy, and at the same time you saw the press totally turn on the White House in a way that was direct and focused, and you saw it through the tweets and the statements and the commentary of the conservative members of the press. You saw "The New York Post" had a cover today that called it terrorism, talked about white supremacism, which very explicit in the way -- this was Rupert Murdoch's tabloid, right -- very explicit in the way Trump himself would not be.
You saw people basically, reporters who are -- straightforward reporters as well as folks on the left and the right almost beseeching the president and the administration to get in front of this or at least get in the moment and it didn't happen.
STELTER: It's a great point.
FOLKENFLIK: And it was -- it was a fascinating thing to watch play out and it was troubling. You know, reporters don't -- despite what you hear about it, most of the time, reporters don't want to be in that situation.
STELTER: But the expectation of how the president is going to speak -- how any president is going to speak --
FOLKENFLIK: He's created --
COLLINS: Well, Trump set this expectation for himself by criticizing Obama regularly for not calling things what they were. He criticized him for not saying radical Islam terrorism so many times on the campaign trail. And then, yesterday, we saw the president had an opportunity to call this out for what it was and he declined.
STELTER: Final word to Larry Sabato, since you're in Charlottesville, Larry. Does what the president says in the coming days matter in Charlottesville? Will it actually help or affect the community?
SABATO: Thanks for asking that, Brian, because Donald Trump, of course, is very unpopular anyway here, but he missed his moment. He had the opportunity to do something when it mattered yesterday afternoon and any of his predecessors in modern times would have had the good instincts to say the right things.
He wouldn't because he won't denounce part of his base. They're white supremacists. We know what they are. We know who they voted for.
So, listen, Brian, if he wants do something and to help us and everybody else, let him fire all the white nationalists on his staff starting with Steve Bannon. Actions speak louder than words, words written by a staff.
STELTER: You know Bannon would reject being described as a white nationalist. You know that.
SABATO: I don't care. We all -- we've read all we need to read and there are others on that staff too. You know darn well they are.
STELTER: Larry, David, Kaitlan, thank you very much.
David, please stick around.
We do have a bit more news that's just coming into this about this. Virginia's governor now identifying the woman killed in the vehicular attack yesterday, 32-year-old Heather Heyer. She was killed when that car went ramming -- when that driver rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters. They were there to speak out against the white supremacists who had come to Charlottesville.
Right here after a break, more coverage of the president of North Korea as well.
And a new competitive sport in media business, people trying to sue news outlets claiming defamation. Eric Bolling, a suspended FOX host, is one of the people suing. We'll talk to journalist who he is suing for $50 million right after this break.
[11:18:22] STELTER: The media in the courthouse. There are so many pending cases against journalists and media companies right now that it's causing real concern among media lawyers.
You remember in some ways "Gawker" opened the door to this new era of litigation. That's when wrestling personality Hulk Hogan was awarded millions and millions of dollars after "Gawker" published portions of a sex tape he was in. That resulted in the eventual shutdown of "Gawker".
Now, there are a number of other suits we're going to talk about, including this one, suspended FOX News anchor -- host Eric Bolling suspended due to allegations covered by "The Huffington Post," Yashar Ali, wrote about how Bolling allegedly sent lewd, inappropriate messages to colleagues several years ago. Ali had 14 sources for a story. It was published and then FOX suspended him -- suspended Bolling pending an investigation. So, what is Bolling doing? He says he's suing Ali for $50 million.
Yashar Ali is joining me now on the phone.
What is the latest in your case? You've hired a high-profile attorney, Patty Glaser, who has responded with a letter to Bolling. Is that right?
YASHAR ALI, HUFFPOST WRITER SUED BY ERIC BOLLING (via telephone): That's right. Patty sent the lawyer -- the letter on Friday and we have not heard back from Eric's attorney yet, and we'll see what happens. You know, he's -- if he wants to get into a fight with me, I'm happy to take it on.
STELTER: He is suing you for defamation. Why is he wrong?
ALI: He's wrong because I spent three months on this story. As you said, I have 14 sources. I've spoken to the victims and that's on a factual basis.
[11:20:01] I know he's wrong.
He's also wrong in the sense that, you know, we've got -- we've got a First Amendment and as my lawyer said, you know, the best defense of defamation is the truth. He is trying to intimidate me. He sees me as a young reporter that may be scared by big lawsuits.
But if he wants to wade into this pond, I'm happy to go in with him. And as I said on Friday, I look forward to Patty deposing Eric, and I look forward to discovery process.
It's really important to note, Brian, that he's suing me personally for $50 million. He did not include "HuffPost", which is owned by Verizon in this lawsuit. If he wants $50 million, if you feel that you've been aggrieved and you deserve damages, you go after the multibillion-dollar conglomerate, not an individual reporter.
STELTER: Interesting. Yes, FOX News has nothing do with this suit either. It's just Bolling personally suing you personally. So, you think he's just trying to intimidate you to silence you?
ALI: Yes. And, you know, that would normally be a good strategy, right? You know, as I said, I'm a young reporter and, you know, most people would be scared by this. My life history has given me a lot of experience to not be scared by these things, and in fact, I relish the opportunity to see and being deposed and to stand up for not only my First Amendment rights, the first Amendment Rights of many reporters who messaged me after this came out, saying that they would be scared by this kind of action.
And, you know, I'm not trying to turn myself into a representative for the media here, but I feel like I have to really fight this because of other reporters who would be frightened by this kind of action.
STELTER: Mr. Ali, thank you so much for calling in. I appreciate it.
ALI: Thank you.
STELTER: FOX's only comment today is that Bolling remains suspended. He's been on the bench now for a week while an outside law firm investigates the allegations against him.
Let me bring in NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik back with us now to talk through these various cases involving newsrooms and media companies and journalists being sued.
First on the Bolling case, what's your interpretation of it?
FOLKENFLIK: I think Bolling is trying to decide that a strong offense is one of his best defenses. He's made, you know, a big, blustery essentially a summons to say that he's going to file a suit. We haven't seen a text of the suit yet, so we don't know precisely what his claims are going to be.
But $50 million is a huge price tag. He's trying to essentially intimidate those who would perhaps investigate this further. It's worth nothing that "HuffPost", which wrote the -- commissioned and published this story by Ali says they stand by him and "HuffPost" is owned by Verizon. So, that's a deep-pocketed supporter that Ali has in his corner.
But I think Bolling is trying to -- Trump-like, he's a Trump friend, a Trump supporter, Trump-like, trying to say, you know, brashly, this isn't true, and I'm going the bring the pain to you for inflicting this reputational damage on me.
STELTER: And on the campaign trail, the president talked about wanting to loosen the libel laws to make it easier to sue news organizations. Is that what we're seeing now?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, look, there's this great documentary out I was briefly interviewed for called "Nobody Speak" about this.
STELTER: It's on Netflix. It's great.
FOLKENFLIK: It's on Netflix, right. And it takes us its point of departure that Terry Bollea, the Hulk Hogan lawsuit against "Gawker", just as you mentioned. There are some lines that are connected here. Peter Teal, a strong Trump advocate, spoke at the convention, really turned out to be behind the scenes funding Bollea's suit against "Gawker".
You've seen elements in which Sarah Palin, another, you know, sort of Trump supporter and sort of a pre-Trump figure in some ways in terms of her bashing
FOLKENFLIK: -- the press in her vice presidential run in 2006. She's suing "The New York Times" now. Their editor in chief -- excuse me, editorial page editor, James Bennett, will be testifying.
STELTER: Yes, that's going to be remarkable to see that in a few days.
FOLKENFLIK: That's astonishing to learn of, and he's going to be held accountable --
STELTER: Let's put the graphic on screen of those other cases. Palin versus "The New York Times" is one of them. Another is John Oliver and HBO being sued by a coal company CEO for some stuff Oliver said on "Last Week Tonight."
And this week, we learned Disney had to pay at least $177 million --
FOLKENFLIK: It's a huge amount.
STELTER: -- in this "pink slime" case. This was a lawsuit -- this was a court proceeding up in the Dakotas. It was settled by Disney before it could reach its conclusion. So, Disney I suppose paid that money because they believe the jury might force them to pay even more.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, they're extraordinarily favorable state -- and I believe there are essentially food defamation laws up there that made so that the exposure for Disney, for ABC News' parent company, would have been enormous had they not paid. Nonetheless, $177 million.
STELTER: Right, it could have been billions.
FOLKENFLIK: A staggering, staggering sum. I think in some ways, we have to disaggregate FOX News from the others.
STELTER: Right, FOX is being sued by Rod Wheeler. You broke the news about Rod Wheeler's suit alleging that he was misquoted in a Seth Rich conspiracy story.
FOLKENFLIK: Right. And basically, being misquoted in a way that propelled to seeming credibility these completely discredited so far conspiracy stories involving Seth Rich and leaks of DNC e-mails to WikiLeaks.
[11:25:07] What happened in FOX in some ways is that specific story but it's also an outcrop of the scandal that has reverberated ever since July 2016, the sexual harassment claim filed against the late Roger Ailes, then the chairman of FOX News. There have been a series of lawsuits, some of which are still pending against the network --
FOLKENFLIK: -- against the late Roger Ailes, but also against some of the executives who were there at the time, some of whom are still there. So, you know, I don't think Donald Trump went on the campaign trail to say, I want to loosen the libel laws, I want to take it to the press, as a way of punishing FOX News.
STELTER: Yes, that's right.
FOLKENFLIK: But, you know, which has turned out to be one of his strongest corners of support as his public popularity has eroded.
STELTER: Right. David, thanks for being here.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
STELTER: Some breaking news on reliablesources.com. Logon for my story about Rupert Murdoch and President Trump, a private dinner they had earlier this month. It's intriguing because Murdoch's "Wall Street Journal" is becoming increasingly critical of the president. Details on reliablesources.com.
Up next here, the president unleashing that war of words this week against North Korea. But is the press taking his bluster too seriously? We'll talk about it in depth right after this.
STELTER: Fire and fury. Locked and loaded.
Are these hot-headed tabloid headlines, bombastic cable news banner? No. This week, they were presidential statements, tabloid-friendly, TV-ready threats from President Trump to North Korea.
And, of course, the North Koreans have been making lots of threats as well. The takeaway from all the coverage was basically nation on the brink, nuclear escalation.
But despite the president's rhetorical posturing, the war of words between the two countries, there is no indication that the U.S. military is actually at a war footing, preparing to launch an attack against North Korea.
So I wonder if the press maybe took these threats too seriously, if that's possible.
We have an all-star panel standing by.
But let's begin with CNN international correspondent Will Ripley. He's live in Beijing. Will has been able to cover Pyongyang and to enter North Korea many times and spend time in Pyongyang and other parts of the country.
So, Will, I wonder, how difficult is it to know what the North Koreans are actually thinking? How do you break through the propaganda and know what's really going on?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, when I'm outside the country, often, our only source of information is the state-controlled media.
And so you have to look, you have to read the statements that are coming out and look where they're coming from. So, for example, this week, when there was that very detailed, highly technical description of how North Korea might launch four intermediate-range ballistic missiles over Japan landing within 20 miles of Guam, that statement came from a Korean People's Army general, which gives you some insight into what some factions in the military are probably telling Kim Jong- un they think he should do in response to the rhetoric from President Trump.
But then, for example, today, North Korea's leading newspaper, which is the mouthpiece for the ruling Workers' Party, so the more political factions in the country, they were talking about how the nuclear arsenal is a great deterrent that is actually keeping the peace on the Korean Peninsula. That's North Korea's spin.
It sounds counterintuitive to the rest of the world that North Korea having nukes would actually keep the peace, but that's their view of reality from inside the country.
I have to say, the most meaningful and valuable conversations are the ones that I have when I'm actually inside Pyongyang sitting down with government officials when they can be much more candid and you're not trying to read between the lines.
STELTER: I feel like you had to say several times this week in your coverage, I know that this threat sounds insane, terrifying. However, it's actually pretty common for the North Koreans.
It's like you had to provide that kind of context for their bellicose words.
RIPLEY: Right, because for certainly the American audience who's relatively new to this story, when they hear North Korea putting a statement saying they're going to turn Washington into a sea of fire, the mainland U.S. will be the staging ground for a nuclear war, that sounds very frightening.
But North Korea makes that kind of statement all the time, and that's rhetoric they of been saying for years. It's not as troubling, from my vantage point, as what we saw when there was that highly detailed plan from a general that was going to be presented to Kim Jong-un.
And we need to keep in mind that we're not out the woods just yet in terms of what North Korea may do here. Tuesday is a big holiday in North Korea, Liberation Day, marking the end of colonial rule by Japan. Holidays are when they often try to show military force.
And then a week from tomorrow, the U.S./South Korea annual joint military drills are due to kick off. Those always enrage Pyongyang. It was a week after the drill ended last year that Kim Jong-un ordered their fifth nuclear test.
STELTER: Let's bring in our panel, the rest of our panel.
And stay with us, please, Will, because there's been conflicting messages from officials in the Trump administration about what's going on.
We even say Jonathan Chait of "New York Magazine" put up this headline. He said, "Hey, Ignore Our President, U.S. Government Tells North Korea."
Some have said this is some sort of wag the dog distraction by President Trump amid the whole Russia investigation. There's been a lot of that, even some conspiracy theories about that.
Let's talk with John Kirby and Ann Compton about this, John Kirby, former Pentagon spokesman of the Obama administration, Ann Compton, longtime White House correspondent for ABC.
John, do you think that the tenor, the tone of the press coverage actually influenced the president this week, caused him to talk in a certain way about North Korea?
JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, I kind of do, Brian.
I'm not bemoaning good journalism. And Will is right. These things have to be taken seriously. The North's program is obviously advancing faster than anybody wanted it to.
But I think there was this almost ever-escalating feeding itself of an echo chamber here in terms of the coverage. He got asked about the story in "The Washington Post." The one that started all this, don't forget, was a Tuesday morning story about their ability, the North's ability to miniaturize a warhead.
He got asked about it in an opioid meeting and that's where we got fire and fury. And then, for the next two to three days, we escalated all the way up to the point where the North Koreans were saying we're at the brink of nuclear war.
And I think that in some of the tone and tenor of the coverage, as well as social media chatter on this, I think it just helped feed the sense of frenzy. Now, again, this could all be part of a strategy by the president, right, to go to brinksmanship, to force the Chinese and Pyongyang to back down.
But it's a dangerous thing to do, because, as Will rightly says, we don't have perfect visibility into how Kim Jong-un thinks and how he makes decisions.
STELTER: Ann, you actually have been the DMZ, traveled there with past presidents. I would love to hear your reaction to this week's rhetoric.
ANN COMPTON, FORMER ABC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think, Brian, is it possible that we're still struggling with how to interpret President Trump's words?
Remember, after his election, people would say his supporters take him seriously, but not literally. His critics take him literally, but not seriously.
Diplomacy has always been covered with a certain reading between the lines, a kind of language of its own. And to have the blunt words like locked and loaded come out with such rapidity, that it puts a special burden on reporters, the professional reporters, the editors who are covering the White House to make the stories not only clear, but in context, so that Americans can get the bigger picture, the kind of information they really need.
STELTER: So, August 13, and we're still trying to learn as a country and as a world how to interpret the U.S. president. It's an amazing thing you said. And I think you're right, but it's an amazing situation.
COMPTON: There's no question that the burden on reporters, not only those at the White House every day, but the larger news organization from which the rest of the media world get their information, have a real responsibility now to -- with a maturity and good judgment and with a real responsibility to explain very complicated stories.
North Korea is a long story and a complex relationship, to make sure that the voices that are heard and the greater context, the clearer picture is not only reported, but reported in a way that people in busy lives today get it in more than 140-character tweets that are on the screen of their smartphones.
STELTER: The phone alerts, the alerts on your phone can seem so menacing.
John, were you jumping in there?
I just want to say, I would also -- I completely agree with Ann here. And I think it also puts a special burden on the president's national security team to try to provide context after the fact. And we saw that all during the week after fire and fury.
You had Tillerson come out and say, look, everybody can sleep fine, we are going to work this diplomatically. You had Mattis come out and say catastrophic consequences of war.
So, it's putting his national security team, which quite frankly, Brian, has been handling, I think, this North Korea problem with measured, deliberate policy-making thought, it puts them in a difficult position to help provide the context to the media, just like Ann said.
STELTER: Will, I have to let you go, so last word to you.
Let's put you in an assignment editor role, even though you're a correspondent there in Beijing at the moment. What's a story we should be focusing more on when it comes to the North Korea situation?
RIPLEY: Well, I think we get to watch very closely what's happening.
Oh, I'm sorry. Were you talking to me, Brian?
STELTER: Yes. Go ahead, Will. Yes, go ahead. Sorry for the satellite delay. RIPLEY: OK.
So, I think what we need to really watch is what is happening behind the scenes here in Beijing, where I am now, because China does have an important role to play here. They have agreed -- they voted in favor of that seventh round of U.N. Security Council sanctions, the first time they have ever approved sanctions after a missile test.
Normally, they might abstain, but they have never actually said, OK, we disapprove of this. So, clearly, China indicating they're more concerned about North Korea's ICBM program than they have been in the past.
We also know there was an editorial in "The Global Times" this week where China called to remain neutral if North Korea were able to fire the first shot. This is an editorial, not the official government line, but it gives you some insight into at least what some more hawkish views inside the government think.
They said China stays neutral if North Korea fires the first shot. But the United States and South Korea launch a preemptive attack, that China may actually step in get involved. That's pretty significant here, because a lot of the calculus is what would happen if it was direct matchup between North Korea and the United States?
But when you factor in China, that obviously changes the whole dynamic for all of the stakeholders. And then, economically, China still has a lot of firepower they have yet to use.
Yes, they are going to restrict trade with North Korea, things like iron and coal and seafood, and they're going to further limit their access to financial institutions, but China could really cut off the regime economically. They could stop the flow of oil. They could completely stop trade.
And at least right now, China has indicated they're just not willing do that, because they don't want to see anything destabilizing North Korea. They want North Korea's regime to remain in power as a strategic buffer with the United States.
And this phone call between President Trump and President Xi on Friday, did that change the dynamic when President Trump talked about this trade investigation? Could China be motivated to do more? That's what we need to really watch here in this part of the world.
STELTER: You're in the right place, in Beijing.
Will, thank you so much.
Ann and John, please stick around.
Quick break here. More with the panel in a moment.
STELTER: Remember, this week started with reports scrutinizing President Trump's vacation. He denied it actually was a vacation. He said he was hard at work.
And then he started holding events on camera, perhaps to give TV networks something to show. At one of the Q&As he had with the press, Trump was asked to comment on special investigator Robert Mueller and The "Washington Post" scoop that Mueller's team and FBI agents raided former Trump campaign manager's Paul Manafort's home.
Here is some of what Trump said in response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought it was a very, very strong signal or whatever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: So many folks on TV try to figure out, what did he mean, strong signal? To me, it sounded like -- well, like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It certainly shows that Mueller's team is not afraid to make a big statement.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sends a pretty strong message that it's a serious investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The raid could have been a signal to Paul Manafort that they have something and they're trying to zero in on him.
TRUMP: I thought it was a very, very strong signal or whatever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: See what I mean? I think the president was saying what he heard on television, talking like a cable news talking head.
Back with me now, two more people that are much more than just talking heads, Ann Compton, former White House correspondent for ABC News. And Rear Admiral John Kirby was Pentagon and State Department spokesman, now a CNN military and diplomatic analyst.
Ann, is it possible I'm on to something here, the idea that the president, he hears something from cable news, he picks it up from television, and then he shares it, as if he's just a removed, passive observer?
COMPTON: Well, I will tell you what worries me about the press coverage and the news coverage of this whole very complex and interrelated story. There has been a move by the administration to crack down on leaks.
And while you can understand an administration wanting to protect secret information, I hope there's not a chilling effect on not only the reporters working in Washington, but working on all aspects of this story, because the more the American people know about the elements going into this, the clearer picture and the better context Americans will have to decide for themselves where the story is leading and who has been who has been -- who they believe.
STELTER: And new leaks every day.
John, when you were at the Pentagon, didn't you have to chase down leakers?
KIRBY: Sure, we did at the Pentagon and the State Department somewhat, not so much.
But President Obama was very tough on leaks. And they're dangerous. And, look, I'm very -- and I wrote about this Friday night. I'm worried about the leak that led to the "Washington Post" story on Tuesday. Again, it's a good story. Nothing against "The Post" moving forward with it, but leaking details of a classified assessment about North Korea's ability to miniaturize put it in motion a lot of what we saw over this last week, this frenetic energy and all this heated rhetoric.
And I think we need to all sit back a little bit and think about that for just a moment. But, yes, look, leaks are never OK, at least classified leaks. There's all kinds of different types. But when you're putting out confidential and classified information, that's against the law and the president is right to be angry about that.
And his attorney general is right to launch an investigation on that. I think with we do need to look at that seriously. But I am concerned that -- Ann's right. You also don't want to stifle whistle-blowers who have legitimate complaints about government and processes either.
STELTER: Thank you so much, both of you, for being here. I appreciate it.
Up next: a new poll that really stunned me. Maybe it surprised you too. We have two top fact-checkers standing by to react to trust and the president's trust deficit.
STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.
Do Americans trust the information coming out of the White House? The latest CNN poll says no. I was really amazed by these numbers. This shows that nearly three-fourths of Americans -- you can see it here in the first two sections -- say they trust almost -- most -- sorry, let me back that up. Look at the numbers here. Most Americans don't trust most of what
they hear the White House. You can see on the page here only 24 percent of Americans say they do trust most of what they hear. The rest say they do not.
This is a Trump trust deficit, a problem for the president. But is it a bigger problem for America?
Joining me to discuss this, two of the country's top fact-checkers.
Glenn Kessler of "The Washington Post," he's the fact-checker columnist there. And Angie Holan, she's the editor of PolitiFact, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.
Angie, I admit this is a softball, but does this poll show the strength of journalism, that, yes, the public may be skeptical of our work, but they are paying attention to our reporting and they are learning about Trump's fibs and falsehoods?
ANGIE DROBNIC HOLAN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, POLITIFACT.COM: I think that's right.
There's more fact-checking going on now in American journalism than I have seen in my professional career. We fact-checkers are doing it, but traditional political journalists are also putting corrective information in their reports. When a politician says something that's factually inaccurate, it gets corrected.
STELTER: Glenn, you said to me earlier in the week the president's always -- as a businessman, always twisted the truth. It's just that he wasn't held accountable the way he is now.
GLENN KESSLER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Right.
When you're a real estate investor and you lie to banks, the banks don't put out a press release saying, this person misstated his assets.
KESSLER: They simply say, we're not going to loan -- make more loans to him.
So, what has happened now is that people are holding the president to account for his words and cataloguing exactly what he says, how he's inconsistent, and how he has flip-flopped, how he makes misstatements and false statements.
STELTER: The banner on screen says -- a minute ago, said, the president, can he regain the public's trust?
Angie, do you think that's possible?
DROBNIC HOLAN: I think if he started speaking more accurately, it would be possible. One thing that I have noticed is, President Trump had a lot of
problems during the campaign with exaggerations, misstatement, errors. I haven't seen that change much since he took office. Some people thought he would become more presidential and pay more attention.
But I haven't seen it. We still get a lot of Falses/Most Falses, Pants on Fires for his statements while in office. But if he spoke more accurately, I think people would trust more.
STELTER: Journalists have a trust problem as well. I don't want to hide from that. Journalists have a trust crisis.
But it seems the president may have an even bigger one, Glenn.
One of the striking things about President Trump is that when we give a four Pinocchios or Angie gives a Pants on Fire to a politician, they will tend to stop saying those false facts.
President Trump instead repeats over and over many of the same false claims. And we know that he's aware of these ratings because he's talked about getting Pinocchios.
So, I think if he wants to start closing that trust deficit, what he needs to do is actually stop doubling down or repeating false claims and, instead, if he's called out, say, you know, that's not working for me. I have got to be more accurate.
STELTER: And gain credibility, which he will need in a crisis, like, for example, involving North Korea.
Glenn, Angie, thank you so much for being here today.
KESSLER: You're welcome.
DROBNIC HOLAN: Thanks for having us.
STELTER: On RELIABLESOURCES.com, you can check out all of our media news, including this week's departure of Jeffrey Lord from this network, CNN, CNN severing ties with the conservative commentator.
All that and more on RELIABLESOURCES.com. When you're there, make sure to sign up for our nightly newsletter.
And we will see you right back here on TV this time next week.