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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Texas Residents Trapped by Catastrophic Flooding; Trump Tweeting on Book, NAFTA, Border Wall & Flood. Aired 11a-12n ET

Aired August 27, 2017 - 11:00   ET

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


MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER, HOUSTON: -- until this storm has clearly passed, please, do not get on the road.

[11:00:07] Do not get on the road. Even if there's a lull today, don't assume that the storm is over. And the lesson we should have learned from yesterday, rain that morning, it stopped for several hours, it started again just before evening time.

We had more rain last night from 7:30 all the way up than we had during first part of the day. It became very difficult to get out there to try to rescue people. So a lot of people were calling because they got stranded.

The best way to keep from being stranded is to stay off the streets. Stay home. I'm going to encourage people, unless water is just coming into your home and it's just totally unsafe, I'm going to encourage you to stay at home.

Now, if you are getting water but it's not life-threatening, I know no one wants water in their home. If you are getting water and it's not life-threatening, I'm going to ask you simply stay put. Do not get on the roadway. Do not try to go someplace if you don't know how to get there. Just stay put. OK? That's what I would ask you to do.

We need you to help us. Because what is happening now is that there are a lot of calls coming in to 911, and many of them are not life- threatening. They are calling where -- I understand the inconvenience. But they're not life-threatening.

At the same time, there are many calls that are coming in that are life-threatening. And our first responders need to attend to them.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: I'm Brian Stelter and you are watching special CNN live coverage of Tropical Storm Harvey.

We have been listening to a press conference from the mayor of Houston.

This is one of the biggest rain makers Texas has seen. This is just the second day essentially of a multi-day crisis. Houston is the fourth biggest city in the United States. Right now, it's under a flash flood emergency.

The National Weather Service in south Texas is using unprecedented language, saying here that catastrophic flooding in the Houston metro area is expected to worsen and could become historic.

Millions of people throughout south Texas from Houston down to Galveston and many points in between are being urged to shelter in place, because the folks who are not doing that, you can see here, are stuck in some of the flash floodwaters. We are getting pictures in. We're getting statements from local authorities, bringing all of that to you in the next few minutes here.

People are trapped in some places in and around Houston, rivers are still on the rise. We heard the mayor just now say flooding has occurred all over. He says more resources are coming in to try to deal with this.

But keep in mind, it's still raining, in some cases, still raining heavily. And this will continue for many hours and days to come. So, the mayor saying, 40 more boats are coming in to assist. We know the U.S. coast guard has at least five helicopters up in the air. They are asking for more resources.

And media note here, one of the television stations in Houston, the CBS affiliate KHOU, has had to evacuate. You can see this video from a little earlier this morning at KHOU. Floodwaters from the nearby bayou have come over into the station.

Now, KHOU has dealt with floodwaters before, but not to this extent. The station had to evacuate. We will try to show you live pictures from KHOU as we get them in. Essentially what's happened is one reporter in the field has taken over while the rest of the staff actually evacuates this building and moved to higher ground.

We are seeing other evacuations in Houston as well. In many parts of the city, many parts of the metro area.

Keep in mind, many millions of people live in and around Houston. We are seeing flooding to the north and especially to the south. Neighborhoods like Pasadena, Deer Park, out to the gulf, farther south to League City, to Dickinson.

Reports of people trapped in their homes in all of the parts of south Texas. We are also seeing that in southwest pars of the Houston metro area, neighborhoods that are also inundated. There are reports of people moving to their attics. Local officials have said, don't do that unless you have an ax. Better to go on the roof and wait for help there.

We're getting more pictures in, more video in. Let's begin with Rosa Flores, CNN's correspondent, in Houston right now, who has had to move to higher ground.

Rosa, where are you? What are you seeing now?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, we're in the historic part of downtown Houston. And, Brian, earlier today, we were doing our live shots from that intersection where you see the red traffic light. Right now, you can see it's completely submerged in water. We were actually standing in part next to the railing next to this

building that has the Spaghetti Warehouse. And as you can see, now, it's a raging river, moving towards the Gulf of Mexico at a good clip.

[11:05:05] Now, I want to pan the camera over a little bit so you can see how this water is testing the infrastructure. Take a look at the cracks that are on the side of this building. It appears to be buckling. We've been monitoring this for the past hour or so. It hasn't opened much wider than it is right now, as you see it. But initially, we could definitely see those gaps widening.

Now, what you are looking at right now is actually a parking lot underneath all of this water. Then, it's a hill that rolls down to the banks of Buffalo Bayou. Right now, all you see is a raging river.

Yesterday, Brian, we were actually doing live shots at the bottom of those trees. Now, I can only show you the treetops. That's how much water has inundated here.

Now, normally, you would see Buffalo Bayou rolling through, meandering downtown Houston. There's a running path. People are usually running, walking their dogs. Not the case right now. There's just so much water. And it's still raining, it's still pounding.

You were mentioning KHOU. I worked for that station before joining CNN. It's just by Allen Parkway. Buffalo Bayou which is this bayou that you see behind me, except it's completely overflowed now, flows through that area, through Allen Parkway, where that station is.

And, you know, I'm glad that our colleagues there are taking shelter, going to higher ground. You can see, Brian, how this water has turned into raging rivers. The streets in downtown Houston have turned into raging rivers in these particular areas.

If you look closely, you can see the street signs are submerged in water. That's how much water has accumulated. And, of course, the concern is that there's still more rain coming -- Brian.

STELTER: Possibly more feet of rain. Rosa, what is the beeping sounds in the background? Are those car alarms or something?

FLORES: You now, we have been -- I believe it's an alarm for a building that's over here to my right.

STELTER: A flooded building.

FLORES: I wish I could walk over and show you. We have been hearing these alarms as these buildings are being submerged by water, because like I was mentioning, this is literally probably about I would say maybe 25, 30 feet below -- or deep, I should say. It's a parking lot that kind of rolls down and there's a hill that rolls down into the banks of Buffalo Bayou that right now, of course, you can't see because of just the monumental amount of water that has accumulated here.

It's rushing towards it appears -- towards the Gulf of Mexico, which is what it's supposed to do, Brian. But, of course, right now the infrastructure here is being tested. There are bayous that meander through the city that serve as a drainage for the city.

And normally, it does work. But when you have a combination of continuous rain and this water not stopping from all over the city coming through these bayous that meander through downtown Houston, you can see that the infrastructure is being tested. And right now, tested -- it's a difficult test to pass, because there's just so much water accumulated already. The ground is saturated. And we're getting more water right now -- Brian.

STELTER: Rosa, thank you very much. We'll try to stay with your pictures, but we bring in the managing editor for "The Houston Chronicle", Vernon Loeb.

Vernon, I've been by your newsroom before. Are you on high enough ground there at "The Chronicle"? And how are you all trying to cover the storm?

VERNON LOEB, MANAGING EDITOR, THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE (via telephone): Yes, we're on the fourth floor. So, we got a ways to go before we're in jeopardy. But I'm looking out of our window and I can see the highway access roads are rapidly disappearing under water. There's almost nobody on the highway. Our parking lot is pretty much gone. It's raining really hard.

STELTER: We were showing the cover of this morning's chronicle, basically chronicling the destruction on the coast. This cover focusing on Rockport and other communities that were mostly affected by the winds when Hurricane Harvey came ashore Friday night.

Now, the big story is flooding. This was forecast. You have had days to prepare.

So, I wonder what you are doing in the newsroom to prepare. Do you have staffers spending the next few days there?

LOEB: Yes, we have the entire editorial staff activated. Most people cannot get into the newsroom. We've got a skeleton crew in the newsroom. Most everybody else is editing from home or from wherever they are, directing their teams.

I've got one editor in Taos, New Mexico, in a Starbucks directing her team. I told her, you can do as much from Taos as you can from Houston right now.

[11:10:00] So, you know, open up your laptop and get going.

STELTER: And, Vernon, how does this compare to other floods? The Tax Day flood there, other recent floods in Houston?

LOEB: This has gone way beyond the two, one in 100-year floods we've had in last four years. As I say, this is nowhere near completed. It's raining really hard. The skies are really dark.

And, you know, they're forecasting for four more days of rain. So, where this goes, I have no idea.

STELTER: Vernon, thank you very much for calling in.

Let's check on the radar. Let's go to Allison Chinchar in the CNN Weather Center, who can show us why this is happening.

Allison, are these heaviest bands of rain just still sitting on Houston right now?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, yes and no, Brian. So, the first round is starting to exit out. You can see that here. Follow the purple color. You see it around Houston. It begins to push to the east.

But then you notice, it's starting to what we call backfill, meaning more rain and it's coming back into those areas where the original cluster of rain has begun to exit. And that's where the problem lies, because some of these areas just keep getting rain over the same spots over and over again. In addition to the flooding threat, we also still have tornado warnings active at this very moment, and a tornado watch that's in effect for regions of both Louisiana and Texas through the afternoon hours today. That's going to be something people are still going to have to deal with.

So, keep that in mind. If you get a break in the rain, you want to go outside or maybe the rain starts to lighten up per se, please still be careful if you go outside, because there could be other severe storms in the general vicinity.

Looking at some of the rainfall totals that have occurred, Dayton, Texas, over 27 inches of rain. We're looking at Dixie Farm area, 26 inches of rain. This is just a few of the areas that have already picked up over 20 inches of rain.

The one sort of good news is that we are going to finally start to see this thing move. Not so much in the short-term, but in the long-term. This is where we expect it to be by Friday. Technically, that's still in Texas. But at least you are going to start to see movement.

The concerning part is what it does in the short-term, because as of now, it actually looks like it's going to go back out over open water before making another landfall back over areas of Houston. The question is, when it goes back out over open water, does it have the ability to re-intensify before coming back? That is the big question that we have right now.

In the short-term, here is what we expect the radar to look like as we go through the day. So, again, notice, more yellows, oranges and reds indicating those torrential downpours over the same spots. Namely, Houston, Lake Charles, Galveston, even Alexandria, Louisiana, looking at incredibly heavy rain to come down. Some areas further west, we have been talking about Corpus Christi and Victoria that it had a slight lull. Today, the rain is going to come back in your area.

And, overall, Brian, the key thing to note is we talked about the areas that have had already 20 inches of rain. We are still forecasting an additional up to 20 inches of rain that has yet to fall. So, that's going to be the big concern going forward for a lot of these folks.

Brian, we have been talking about this, other people, you hear the wording. This is potentially a historic storm, things like that. You have to keep in mind, this is not over. We're not near over for at least the next three to five days.

STELTER: We have to be sensitive about comparison to Katrina, because most of the deaths in Katrina were due to the manmade disaster of the levees being topped and being broken into the pieces. But the similarity that I see so far, Allison, are the number of people that are having to leave their homes, and that one TV station being evacuated. Last time I saw that happen in an emergency was during Hurricane Katrina.

Do you think there are any other similarities, anything else we should be aware, or any big differences?

CHINCHAR: Yes, the first thing that comes to mind that people on their roofs. People where their homes are so flooded, the only place they can go is the roof of their home. I remember seeing helicopter video of Katrina, you see house after house of people sitting there waving, hoping to be rescued.

You are starting to see stuff like that out of similar areas around Houston. Again, the big difference with this, surge posts a huge factor with Katrina. I think the bigger concern for Houston is the marathon, if you will call it that, where this storm is literally going to sit for seven days and dump rain. That's going to be a big concern for Houston.

STELTER: And we don't have the pictures right now because there's not choppers up in the air, news choppers. But there are people on their roofs right now in south Texas trying to be rescued.

Allison, thank you very much for the update.

We have heard from the Houston mayor just a few minutes ago, Sylvester Turner, saying there's more than 2,000 calls for rescues but there's actually a lot more than that. It's just that 911 has been overloaded. The mayor of Houston say only call 911 if your life is in immediate danger.

There's also a civil emergency warning from the National Weather Service saying people escaping floodwaters do not go to the attic.

[07:15:03] As Allison was saying, you are supposed to go to your roof, because you might not be able to escape the attic if the attic begins to flood.

Again, citizens being urged to call 911 and stay on the line until someone answers. But this is a major emergency in south Texas. There are people stranded as we speak. And, unfortunately, it will continue to worsen as the rain continues to pour. Up next here on CNN, RELIABLE SOURCES and the week's biggest media

stories. Taking a break. And when we come back, President Trump calling journalists sick people who don't like our country. Some of those journalists now braving the floodwaters in Texas. We'll talk about his tweets and whether the press is properly balancing all of the things he is tweeting about.

And later, Steve Bannon back at the helm at "Breitbart News". What can we discern from the headlines on "Breitbart"? What's Bannon using his right wing echo chamber for?

We'll be right back here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:20:24] STELTER: Hey, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. We're staying on top of the rescue efforts under way in Houston and throughout south Texas. We will continue to follow that throughout the hour and all day here on CNN.

President Trump also tweeting about the situation in Texas for Tropical Storm Harvey, repeatedly posting about it on Twitter in the past few hours. In one of his messages he said: I will be going to Texas as soon as the trip can be made without causing disruption. The focus must be on life and safety.

But the president's focus seems to be divided. If you look at what else he has been posting about, what else he has been sharing. He's also promoting Sheriff David Clarke's book. Clarke, a regular on FOX News, perhaps a fan of the -- definitely a fan of the president, who said the president also a fan of his.

Trump also talked about his Wednesday event to promote tax reform he is holding in Missouri. He wrote, I won there by a lot in 2016. Dems, CM, that's Claire McCaskill, is opposed to big tax cuts. Republicans are going to win, he says, in Missouri.

Now, the president has also tweeted about NAFTA and the wall. Here's a tweet saying: With Mexico being one of the highest crime nations in the world, we must have the wall. Mexico will pay for it through reimbursement/other.

Now, we have seen the president repeatedly -- almost hijacking the news cycle in recent days, most notably on Friday evening. Think back to the news dumps, as they were described on Friday evening, as category 4 Hurricane Harvey was literally making landfall, near Rockport, Texas. If you can think about the announcement of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's pardon, but also Sebastian Gorka's resignation/firing. It's still murky what happened, but it seems like a firing. That happened on Friday night.

The president also issued a directive about his transgender ban affecting the military. A lot of news on Friday evening as this hurricane was baring down.

So, how should the press balance these news stories? How should it react when the president is tweeting so many things at once?

Let's try to talk through it with an expert panel of decision makers. I'm joined right now by Lydia Polgreen, the editor in chief of "HuffPost".

Joanne Lipman, she's the editor-in-chief of "USA Today" and the chief content officer for -- I'm blanking on the name, remind me.

JOANNE LIPMAN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, USA TODAY: Gannett.

STELTER: Gannett, Gannett, of cou8rse, running all the papers in the Gannett empire.

And joining us remotely is Jeff Greenfield, long time political analyst, veteran of CBS, CNN and other networks.

Great to have you all here.

I wonder, first, for you, Joanne, you are directing the coverage in so many newsrooms, including in Corpus Christi, which is dealing with the aftermath of Harvey. When you have President Trump tweeting about so many topics, do you think journalists are the ones setting the agenda or is the president increasingly setting the agenda, maybe too much?

LIPMAN: So, the job for us as journalists, obviously, is to report on the news and to separate what is news from what is just chatter, right? So, with "USA Today" network, that's "USA Today" as the flagship, and we have 109 local news organizations like the "Detroit Free Press" and the "Cincinnati Enquirer" and "The Arizona Republic".

So, what we're able to do is to really focus on the news where it counts. So, for example, on Friday night, Corpus Christi, which we own, was all over leading our coverage of the hurricane. We own "The Arizona Republic", which has had a long relationship with Sheriff Arpaio and was actually with him on Friday and able to report on that.

So, we're able to sort of choose the news that actually counts. It really is our job as journalists not to get distracted by shiny objects and really to focus on what's important.

STELTER: Is that what the president's tweets are sometimes, shiny objects?

LYDIA POLGREEN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, HUFFPOST: You know, earlier today on "FOX News Sunday", Rex Tillerson said that, effectively, the president speaks only for himself, he doesn't speak for the country. When I heard that -- when I saw that clip, a penny dropped for me, because I think about the events of the past couple of weeks where you had a president essentially decline to show any kind of moral leadership in the wake of Charlottesville, a president who is tweeting about this storm as if it was a reality show that was unfolding. Wow!

STELTER: Do you think that's what he is doing?

POLGREEN: I mean, his tweets seem totally, completely outside of what you would expect from a president dealing with a disaster. Now, look, you know, during Katrina we had someone who ran the Arabian Horse Association running FEMA, Michael Brown. You know, Brock Long, the current FEMA director, is I think a very well-respected and highly qualified professional running FEMA.

But I think it seems to me the president is not really defining the news cycle, he is just outside of it.

[11:25:04] What's actually happening, he is not speaking to. And you heard his own secretary of state essentially saying that he doesn't speak for the country.

STELTER: That was in the context of Charlottesville and the aftermath of Charlottesville. Does the president speak about race on behalf of the entire country? And the quote was, the president speaks for himself. So, you are saying that's a pretty big story that Tillerson commenting on the president not representing the United States?

POLGREEN: I think it's a huge story. I think it's a reflection of the fact that the president has in many ways abdicated leadership. I mean, moral leadership is a key part of the presidency. He has essentially said -- his quote was, I'm not going to put anybody on a moral plane. What is the presidency if not that?

STELTER: Jeff, are some journalists going to be guilty of the situation where they criticize the president no matter what? You know, no matter what he does, journalists can't be satisfied. That's what the president said two weeks ago -- almost two weeks ago when he was being lambasted for his response to Charlottesville. Now, he is tweeting a lot about the hurricane. He is also posting about NAFTA and about David Clarke's book, and about all these other matters. Are situations where journalists maybe are going to be too critical of the president at a moment where it's not appropriate?

JEFF GREENFIELD, POLITICAL ANALYST: I would put it in a broader context, which in a way is almost like Groundhog Day because we keep saying the same thing again and again. This is simply not normal.

You wouldn't be talking about any other president's tweets because no other president would have been tweeting in the middle of a natural disaster like what's going on down in Texas. I do think that there are among some of Trump's biggest critics an instinct to say he is wrong. But part of that comes from the fact that every time you look up, there's a head-snapping event. I mean, the idea of tweeting about how much you won a state by in the middle of this natural disaster would have been unthinkable with any other president.

And it's in that context that I also think the point about distraction is important. I think one of the things I would fault particularly the cable networks with is that every time Trump makes news -- and it is news -- it's another way of not focusing on what is going on in the country and the kinds of changes this administration is making from the courts to consumer protection to the environment.

I think those stories persistently have been under-covered because it's so much more interesting to focus on the really bizarre way Trump is handling the presidency. STELTER: Joanne, Lydia, Jeff, please all stick around. Quick break

here. I want to ask you about the president's -- one of his worst media attacks yet. We haven't heard language like this from any past president, calling journalists sick people who don't like our country.

Reactions from the panel right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:32:14]

STELTER: So much has happened in the past week, President Trump announcing more troops to Afghanistan, holding a prime-time speech about it.

But, then, the next night, he went to Phoenix and held that unforgettable rally with poisonous words about the news media.

Look, we have heard him attack the press at every rally. This was his eighth as president. But the words at this rally were the harshest yet.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are sick people. These are really, really dishonest people. And they're bad people.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: And I really think they don't like our country. I really believe that.

If you want to discover the source of the division in our country, look no further than the fake news and the crooked media.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Back with me now, Joanne Lipman, the editor in chief of "USA Today" and the chief content officer for Gannett, Lydia Polgreen, editor in chief of HuffPost, and longtime political analyst Jeffrey Greenfield.

Jeff, I think of these words as poison, meaning that they're like a slow-acting poison, gradually hurting the country by causing more and more distrust of the media. We all know distrust has been very high for a long time. But it's getting even worse.

Do you agree with me that it's a kind of poison when the president talks this way?

JEFF GREENFIELD, POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it is a quite deliberate tactic and one that he has been using from the time he ran for president. And that is to inoculate his supporters against believing whatever is

said about Donald Trump in the mainstream press. The idea is -- and he said it in so many words -- whatever you hear from those sources, whether it's CNN or "The New York Times" or ABC, don't believe it.

And I don't think it takes a conspiratorial mind to understand the strategy. So, the next time a news outlet comes out with a story that puts Donald Trump in a very bad light, I think the idea is his core supporters will have been taught to say, fake news, don't believe it.

The idea that the press doesn't love our country, I mean, you know, I don't how many reporters have died covering wars, trying to bring stories to the attention of the people. You can say that the press is elitist. You can say that we make a lot of mistakes. You can say that we're biased.

But the idea that we're sick people who don't love our country is at a level that exceeds anything I can remember in discourse with a president of the United States or anything close to it.

STELTER: Joanne?

JOANNE LIPMAN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Yes, I have got to point out the deep irony here. Right?

So, just hours after he made those remarks, we had a hurricane, Category 4, making landfall in Corpus Christi Texas, where we own "The Corpus Christi Caller-Times."

STELTER: Yes.

LIPMAN: Our reporters, every single person in that newsroom, while the rest of the city is being evacuated and going to higher ground, was going into danger to cover danger, to cover it, to bring this to the rest of the world.

[11:35:03]

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: At one point, your team had to go into an inside room away from windows, out of fear the windows were going to be shattered.

LIPMAN: Their homes were all at risk.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: But President Trump is not talking about them, right?

He's talking about me. He is talking about you. He is talking about the leaders in newsrooms or the anchors on CNN that he doesn't like.

LIPMAN: The point is, I think there's just a deep irony to think that reporters, who are the ones who put themselves in danger's way, are the ones who are at fault here somehow. I mean, we also own the paper in Guam, which is 14 minutes away from

nuclear destruction. What happened when North Korea made that threat? This small newspaper in Guam, every single person there was activated, fanning out across the island. They weren't running away.

STELTER: Lydia, HuffPost has a left-leaning reputation.

You are about to go on a bus tour to listen to the whole of the country. Are you trying to change that?

LYDIA POLGREEN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Change our left-leading reputation?

STELTER: Yes, trying to gain trust by trying to appeal to the mass of the country.

POLGREEN: I would say that we have a progressive reputation. And I think that left and right are frankly not very useful descriptors anymore.

STELTER: Here is why I bring it up.

POLGREEN: Yes.

STELTER: Let me show that recent Quinnipiac poll. This just came out a few days ago. And the data is remarkable in the division you see in the country.

If you ask people to choose between Trump and the media, which is obviously a false choice, but if you ask them, who do you trust, Trump or the media, most Americans say the news media.

But if you look at Democrats vs. Republicans, you see this dramatic split, the vast majority of Republicans trusting Trump, the vast majority of Democrats trusting the news media.

That's why I bring up the left-right division.

POLGREEN: No, I think that's fair.

I actually think that -- I think that, to Joanne's point, it's kind of ironic that, in a moment of disaster like this, that you have reporters from -- it's not Sean Hannity, it's not Breitbart that is out there covering the destruction in Houston and Corpus Christi or in Guam, for that matter.

It's actually their colleagues at the local FOX News affiliates who are actually in harm's way doing the work. For us at HuffPost, I think that we have a really, really big task ahead of us, which is essentially to try and reengage with the country in a fundamentally different way than the national news media has in the past.

And the reason that we're doing this bus tour is that we feel that, by partnering with local news organizations that are on the ground in places all around the country, that we can restart this conversation about our identity, who we are as Americans, what are our values. And I think there's a really big conversation happening about that

right now. And that's what we're -- that's our goal. We're not going to parachute into these locations. We're actually working with local journalists in order to get the real story of what's happening.

STELTER: On this theme of the president vs. the media, the most interesting column I read this week, Jeff Greenfield, was by Rich Lowry.

He wrote this for Politico. He said: "For most Republicans, what matters most about Donald Trump is that he has demonstrated resolve against the enemy, not the Islamic State or the Taliban, but the media. The media has become for the right what the Soviet Union was during the Cold War, a common, unifying adversary of overwhelming importance."

You covered the Cold War on television. Do you subscribe to that analogy?

GREENFIELD: Yes, he may be overstating, but not that much, particularly as it relates to the way that the president and his supporters are framing this argument.

Look, the idea that the mainstream press tilts liberal in terms of the beliefs of the people who practice it, I think that's true.

I think the question is -- and it's been true for a very long time. And it's silly not to acknowledge that. The point is, does that mean that the coverage Donald Trump is getting is necessarily biased?

When you put down the facts about his business relationships, about the dissembling, if not outright lying, the delusional way that he approaches reality, the incredible narcissism, is that a product of being left? Because some of the most conservative people in America believe that.

Take a look at "The New York Times"' op -- news of the weeks today. So, the point is, yes, Trump now is saying, because the press, you know the press is liberal, don't believe anything they say, no matter how factual it is, because they are your enemy.

And that -- if he can keep that message in the forefront of his most intense supporters, that's the base he means to hold on to as his popularity continues to decline.

STELTER: And, Jeff, the questions we brought up here on CNN in the past few days about the president's mental fitness, about his fitness for office, have journalists gone too far? I'm one of them. So, be honest with me. Have we gone too far?

GREENFIELD: I would be very hesitant as a journalist to weigh in on the mental state of anybody. I'm not a psychologist, and the people who write about him aren't

What I do think you can do is judge his record, his words, his deeds, and compare that to what your sense of reality is, and say that this is a president whose relationship to reality is casual at best.

[11:40:05]

STELTER: Jeff Greenfield, Lydia Polgreen, Joanne Lipman, thank you all for being here.

After the break: Steve Bannon, we know he has been ousted from the White House, but now he is back at Breitbart. So, how is the site's tone changing? And how much does Breitbart really matter? We will talk about it with a former spokesman for the site right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: Hey. We're back here on RELIABLE SOURCES, continuing to monitor the effects of Tropical Storm Harvey along the coast, portions of Houston now experiencing dramatic flooding. And we will have continuous updates.

Talking about the week's biggest media stories now.

Steve Bannon has been back at Breitbart for a week. So, what is the site actually telling its readers? We looked at the headlines from Monday through Friday to see whether Bannon is really going to war against the people he thinks are standing in the way of realizing Trump's campaign promises.

And the answer looks like yes.

Here's a few examples. The site has targeted Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Jared Kushner, and Gary Cohn. And the site also spoke up about Trump's Afghan -- Afghanistan speech, calling the troop surge a flip- flop that makes Trump's America first base unhappy.

Now, Bannon in a new interview told "The Economist" late in the week that "The harder Trump pushes, the more we will be there for him."

What does that mean? And how important is Breitbart really?

We're joined now by Kurt Bardella. He's a political commentator who served as the former spokesman for Breitbart News. And David Zurawik, media critic for "The Baltimore Sun."

Kurt, there's word that Sebastian Gorka, who seems to have been forced out of the White House on Friday, is going to rejoin Breitbart. That's what he said on Breitbart's radio show yesterday.

This time last year, I think he was a writer or columnist for the site. What's the significance of Gorka now possibly returning to Breitbart?

KURT BARDELLA, FORMER BREITBART NEWS SPOKESMAN: Right. Yes.

He was the national security editor is what they called him over at Breitbart and, like Bannon, left to join the Trump White House and, also like Bannon, after being fired, is going to rejoin Breitbart. And a part of it is, where else was this guy going to go? His

credentials are questionable at best. The responsibilities he had in the White House were undetermined, other than him going on TV acting as a pundit really for the White House.

[11:45:10]

So, it's not surprising at all. I think what Steve is doing is just kind of getting the old gang back together, hoping lightning strikes twice and they can be just as impactful as they were perceived to be during the 2016 election as they are right now.

I think, in a lot of ways, what you are seeing also is Steve trying to recalibrate the relationship with Trump. When Steve was with Breitbart, and the Trump relationship began, their dynamic was more of a peer. Trump saw Steve as a media enterprise who has been very successful. Trump was obviously a candidate.

When Steve moved into the White House, he then became an employee of Trump, a subordinate. And I think that in a lot of ways, while Steve viewed Donald as the same person, Trump viewed him as an employee. Now that he's out of the White House, Steve is going to try to recalibrate that relationship and realign it, so that it's more peer- to-peer.

STELTER: I see. That's interesting.

I wonder -- let me ask both of you this.

David, first to you. Do we make too much of Breitbart's power? I ask this because of these traffic stats we can put on screen. Breitbart had previously bragged about this data from Alexa. I think it was ranked number 45 earlier this year. Breitbart is now ranked 60 in the most recent Alexa stats.

And you can see on screen that CNN, "The Washington Post," "New York Times," all the big news outlets, they rank a lot higher than Breitbart does in the most recent data. Do you think, Zurawik, that we make too much out of Bannon's power and Breitbart's power?

DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": I think, Brian, in some ways that we totally do that.

And thanks for those statistics, because they're better than mine. But I knew they were around 60, and "The Times," "New York Times," was around 30.

We don't spend time obsessing about what Marty Baron is thinking or Dean Baquet, maybe because we assume they're doing journalism's work. They are going to cover the stories that matter.

I think we do. And part of it is this. We sometimes create these scary media and political figures on the right. We did it with Karl Rove to some extent. Oh, he's a Svengali who is going to manipulate all these things. And I really think we're overstating Bannon's importance. Now, it's

not that he is not very important. You know, he told "The Economist" this week, "I'm going to light up members of Congress," I think was the language he used in terms of defending Donald Trump.

And then, yesterday, we see a headline -- or today -- that says Paul Ryan throws in with leftists in criticizing President Trump's pardon of Sheriff Joe.

It's a great headline for Breitbart, but throwing in with leftists is trying to really throw a hard punch on Ryan with this.

STELTER: Yes.

ZURAWIK: And that's what he is doing. So, he is telling -- so, he has influence.

But, Brian, this whole thing about somebody -- and here is the other part of this that worries me. Here is somebody who is saying, we're weaponizing our platform. We call our site Breitbart News, but we're a weapon, we're a killing machine.

STELTER: It's revealing, isn't it?

ZURAWIK: That goes against -- that goes against everything I believe about journalism.

And so, in one sense, he is important because of what he says, but I think he's not that important in terms of their widespread influence. We overestimate, I think, his influence to some extent.

STELTER: Kurt, your reaction?

ZURAWIK: Right now especially.

STELTER: Yes.

Kurt, your reaction?

BARDELLA: Yes, there are really two sides to this coin.

There is one, the audience size. I always felt that Breitbart was never going to be more read and broadly appealing than on the day that President Trump was inaugurated, that it was only going to be downhill from there, because their lens and their editorial bent only appeals to a very specific segment of the population, the so-called -- quote, unquote -- "alt-right universe."

Anybody else who voted for Trump because of other reasons, whether not liking Hillary Clinton, not liking Congress, just wanting to have kind of that protest vote, they're not necessarily going to be aligned with supporting the KKK.

STELTER: Right.

BARDELLA: So, their audience had nowhere to go but down. However...

STELTER: I don't know who is -- I don't know who is actually supporting the KKK.

But I hear your point about audience, that the site is more powerful for its D.C. readers perhaps?

BARDELLA: Well, and that's the thing. It's about -- it's an influence play.

STELTER: OK.

BARDELLA: If Donald Trump is reading Breitbart and supports Breitbart and retweets things that comes from Breitbart, regurgitates stories that come from Breitbart, then it's incredibly impactful, because it's a window into what's shaping President Trump's policies or rhetoric.

STELTER: Right. I see.

(CROSSTALK)

BARDELLA: And that's very impactful.

STELTER: Kurt, David, I'm out of time, but thank you very much, both, for being here.

BARDELLA: Thanks, Brian.

ZURAWIK: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: After this, quick update on the storm. We are continuing to monitor the flooding in Houston, and we will take you there live in just a moment.

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[11:53:56]

STELTER: Back now here on CNN with continuing coverage of the flooding in Houston and throughout South Texas.

A quick update before we get to the top of the hour and "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JAKE TAPPER."

There are ongoing rescues throughout Houston, throughout the metro area, and also all the way down toward Galveston. We're seeing reports of people having to leave their homes, some people on their roofs, hoping to be rescued.

We know the U.S. Coast Guard has five helicopters in the air conducting search-and-rescue missions. They're trying to bring in more resources.

The Houston mayor is trying to bring in more boats right now. And, in some cases, we have seen local residents out in their own vehicles, their own boats trying to help neighbors.

These pictures extraordinary from the areas in and around Houston. And it will continue to flood because the rain is continuing to pour in many areas. Tropical Storm Harvey will be sitting over this area for days to come.

Quick note about the TV station I told you about earlier, KHOU, great CBS affiliate down there in Houston. They have evacuated this building, their newsroom evacuated, as a result of the floodwaters that have poured in.

[11:55:02]

This station has seen floods before, but nothing like this. KHOU now off the air, according to one of its news directors, posting on Twitter that their staff, their reporters have taken cover. They have been taken off the air, at least temporarily, due to the emergency there.

And we will continue to bring the latest from Houston, from South Texas all day long and in the coming days here on CNN.