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Trump Slams CNN International on Same Day Putin Signs Law Punishing Foreign News Outlets; Trump's Reluctance to Face Non-FOX Interviewers; Fact and Fiction: How Trump Blurs the Line. Aired 11a- 12n ET

Aired November 26, 2017 - 11:00   ET


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

This weekend, big news all courtesy of Twitter. You know, Twitter really reveals the real President Trump. His tweets reveal his real disdain for the press. Two hundred eighty characters at a time, he's promoting his friends, you know, the media outlets that tell him how great he is, while at the same time trying to punish media outlets that fact check him, that report the news and challenge him.

Consider the timing of the U.S. president's latest anti-CNN tweet last night, on the same day the Russian President Vladimir Putin signed this into law.


LYNDA KINKADE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Russia was responding to Washington's requirement that Russian broadcaster RT register as a foreign agent. Russia Sputnik News Service reports that President Vladimir Putin signed a law allowing authorities there to list foreign media outlets as foreign agents.


STELTER: OK, so what's going on here? That's the report from CNN International.

Basically, this law in Russia is the precursor to regulating news outlets that are based in other countries. So, what that means is that the U.S. government funded outlets like Voice of America will probably have to register in Russia as foreign agents. The same way Russia Today had to register that way in Washington.

Now, outlets like CNN, they are not government-funded, but are based in the U.S., are also likely to be targeted by Russia.

Within a few hours of that decision by the Russian president, U.S. President Donald Trump singled out CNN as fake news, quote: Fox News is so much more important in the United States than CNN. But outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of fake news. And they represent our nation to the world very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them. CNN responded: It's not CNN's job to represent the U.S. to the world.

That's your job. Our job is to report the news. #factsfirst.

Now, some observers said they felt this was Trump's way of telling Putin, make sure you crack down on CNN International or maybe it was just a complete coincidence. But either way, Trump's tweet reads like an invitation to un-democratic regimes around the world to harass CNN journalists with the blessing of the U.S. president.

Is this presidential? No. Is it petty? Definitely.

And speaking of petty, let's talk about the president's other tweet this weekend, about "TIME Magazine". This is something involving TIME's Person of the Year choice. Of course, that's coming up in about 10 days. The magazine has to consider who should be on the cover.

It's logical Trump would be one of the contenders. But he tweeted that he does not wanted to be considered because he won't give an interview.

You can see the tweet here. He said: TIME Magazine called to say I was probably going to be named man/person of the year, like last year, but I would have to agree to an interview and major photo shoot. I said probably is no good and I took a pass. Thanks anyway.

I'll tell you what I thought that tweet was so interesting, right, it reveals something about the president's psychology, but it also speaks to his lack of interviews with any outlets not named Fox News. You know, for more than six months now, President Trump's been avoiding major television networks like CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, and only speaking to his friends, really the pro-Trump hosts on Fox News.

Let me show you a graphic we put together to really document this. You'll see his interviews since Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel, nine with FOX News, one with CBN, which is the Christian Broadcasting Network, one with another Christian Broadcasting Network and one with Sinclair and none for any of the major U.S. television networks.

The last time President Trump spoke with "TIME Magazine" was also back in May, right before Mueller was appointed. So, I wonder if his rejection of the person of the year prize or award or honor, whatever it is, is actually just a way to avoid a real news interview.

Let's talk about the president's latest tweets and more with an expert panel. Olivia Nuzzi, Washington correspondent for "New York Magazine", also here in New York, Jon Avlon, a CNN analyst and editor- in-chief for "The Daily Beast", Joanne Lipman, the editor in chief for "USA Today", and the chief content officer for Gannett, and in Washington, David Zurawik, the media critic for "The Baltimore Sun".

Olivia, it seems to me, every so often we have a flashpoint where President Trump's disdain for the press really comes to life on Twitter. Do you think it is because he's vacationing down in Florida that the real Trump is coming out? OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: I think

from the last couple of weeks, we've seen sort of a throwback in his tone, almost 2013 style Trump tweets. He really does seem to kind of tweeting what he thinks and feels in the moment and not thinking too hard about what the effects might be in a way that we saw. I mean, his tweets have always been pretty insane for a politician or --

[11:05:03] STELTER: Insane?

NUZZI: Yes, certainly.

But I think during the campaign and certainly in early days of the administration, throughout the transition before that, he was toned down a little bit. And in the last couple of weeks, we really have seen him return to the style that he became known for on Twitter in 2012, 2013.

JOHN AVLON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes, this is YOLO Trump and we've known for a long time --


AVLON: Yes, Twitter Trump is the real Trump. Teleprompter Trump sounds presidential but he's unrelated to the instincts and to the impulses and the thoughts of the real man.

What I think really drills down on this, two things, first of all, the idea that the office would ennoble itself, the idea he would become more presidential by virtue of the responsibilities, that should be self-evidently, you know, regarded as not the case, in the case of this president. That's actually fairly unique. Most presidents do grow into the office. He's rejected that mantle of responsibility.

And I think the second thing is we shouldn't normalize the spectacle because it is a serious, constant attack at our democratic norms, going after the press, going after individual entities, the geopolitics of Russia's move almost aside, the lack of transparency, the resistance to accountability, simply sitting down for an interview. None of that is normal in the context of American politics, let alone presidential politics and we should not be suckered into treating it as such.

STELTER: None of it is normal and I looked at President Trump's tweet from a year ago this weekend, and he was also bashing CNN. In some ways, it hasn't -- nothing has changed to your point about -- hasn't changed in office, and I wonder, John, if it's a challenge for your writers and editors how to keep going back to these same stories and making them feel fresh.

AVLON: Well, I think you need to separate out the style and the substance. You know, if it's simply a stylistic tweet, sometimes you can chase that because it's a fun story about narrative.

But if it's about something deeper, you know, like attacks on the free press and context of Russia signing a new legislation to crack down potentially on foreign entities -- that's serious. I think the issues you got to focus on the substance, and not get distracted by things that are simply style. That's a challenge for all of us, just like the challenge to remain invigorated by those covering the administration and not exhausted by it.

STELTER: Let's get a read from David Zurawik on that tweet about CNN International.

David, I'm a CNNer, you're not. What was your interpretation objectively of his slam against CNNI?

DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, THE BALTIMORE SUN: Yes, I was -- you know, Brian, I'm so glad you constructed that the way you did at the top. I think CNN International is one of the great journalistic institutions in the world. And it is one of the few because CNN has spent the money to have a real infrastructure, with bureaus and with reporters and with photographers at a time when so many other organizations, good organizations, had the cutback or felt they had to cut back and close bureaus.

This is a lifeline to us into the world. This is a global lifeline. When there are massive human rights violations or disaster, CNN International is the one source of information we can rely on to connect with that.

And this is another way that Trump recklessly hurts us in the world. We need a supply of reliable information, global information and nobody, nobody comes close to doing what CNN did, and God bless them for all the years when everybody else was cutting back and they were spending money to keep these bureaus open, and they do great, great courageous coverage. I mean, the foreign correspondents for CNN who stand on the battlefield, I mean, my God, you see them getting hit in the head with those rubber bullets they shoot and their helmet, they're standing there reporting these stories to us.

And this guy wants to mock them, this guy who never served in the military, never got near a battlefield, wants to mock CNN. He doesn't understand what he's doing when he tells autocratic fascist regimes to crack down on CNN International. He does not have a sense.

It's like a 12-year-old school boy talking crap in the schoolyard. And it's really a disgrace to us.

JOANNE LIPMAN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, USA TODAY AND USA TODAY NETWORK: Well, the danger really comes because we know that journalists abroad are under actual physical danger, unlike in the United States. And so, to suggest that the Kremlin should be perhaps cracking down on American journalists is really -- could be potentially extremely dangerous.

STELTER: That's the broader context when you see the president tweeting about any anger, especially international coverage.


NUZZI: And to David's point, you know, I think it is letting Trump off the hook to say that he doesn't know what he's doing here or that he's not, you know, well-informed enough to understand the risks of saying something like that. I mean, he is putting the American press in danger all over the world and I think to say, well, he's just not educated enough to realize that is to let him off the hook.

[11:10:01] And I think we should hold him to a higher standard than that.

STELTER: Now, another piece of this, "TIME", let's put on the response to the president's tweet, saying, the president is incorrect about how we choose person of the year, time does not comment on our choice until November 6th, publication day.

John Avlon, I assume what happened here is someone from "TIME" called up, Hope Hicks, and said, you know what time of year it is, it is person of the year time. Obviously, your boss is going to be a contender. He is available for an interview?

But maybe they wouldn't commit to actually putting them on the cover and thus he got ticked off.

AVLON: Right, which would be totally normal. I mean, you got people in that sort of upper echelon of essays for Person of the Year, the standard always is the person who's had the biggest impact on the news, not good, bad or indifferent. And that's a standard procedure. They're going to call a handful of folks and set it up and do the big reveal.

But Donald Trump, obviously, not only taking a shot at time, saying, look, you don't guarantee me -- I'm not going to participate. Obviously, the real motivation, though, you got to assume is, not wanting to sit down for an interview with a news outlet that doesn't simply offer partisan reinforcing foot massage.

STELTER: Yes, I noticed over the summer, he answered questions from "TIME" but only via e-mail. That was his way of avoiding a real interview. And, like I said, six months now without those interviews.

LIPMAN: But let's be clear, though, so "TIME" does not require an interview to be the person of the year.

STELTER: Two years ago, Angela Merkel was the TIME Person of the Year without an interview.

LIPMAN: Angel Merkel was the Person of the Year without an interview. So was Hitler, right? So, if the person of the year --

AVLON: It goes a way back.

LIPMAN: The Person of the Year is -- could be for good or for ill. But they don't require an interview. They don't tell the person in advance. And so, they ask lots of people for interviews. That issue is full of interviews of other influential people who they request interviews from.

STELTER: So, I suppose, it's the end of the year, I have to wonder, David Zurawik, if the president is going to continue this no real interview strategy. I mean, the Super Bowl is in two months. President Obama always gave an interview Super Bowl Sunday.

I wonder if those traditions are out the window because President Trump does not want to have to address questions about Russia.

ZURAWIK: You know, he's thrown so many traditions out the window. And John is absolutely right. We should not normalize it when he does this kind of thing. We should keep screaming bloody murder about it. It's wrong.

But, you know, Brian, I think in terms of these interviews, I went back and looked at that interview in June of 2016, that Jake Tapper did, about the -- when Trump wanted the judge taken off the case on Trump University. And he said it was because of his heritage, he was Mexican. And Jake Tapper said, if you're saying this man cannot do his job because of his race, is that not the very definition of racism?

I don't think Trump wants to sit down with a real journalist like Jake Tapper and be exposed again that way. It's much easier to be with his Twitter pals over at "Fox and Friends" and with Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham and all the people who play this game with him.

And I'll tell you what --

STELTER: Well, David, they're going to say -- they're not Twitter pals. They hold them accountable from the right. That's what Laura Ingraham would probably say.

ZURAWIK: Yes, after seeing her show, she's not done a very good job of holding him accountable lately from the right. I've been watching.

STELTER: All right. Well, even Bret Baier at Fox has said he's trying to get an interview with Trump. Journalists at Fox have been unable to.

AVLON: That's right.

STELTER: John, last word?

AVLON: That's a really important point, is that, you know, the journalists, you know, Bret Baier and Shep Smith, you know, those folks have not been able to get the interviews. But the opinion side of that network is the one that's getting all the access to the president because it is about sort of mutual circulation of talking points, not real questions to holding power to account.

STELTER: Everybody, stick around.

Much more right after a quick break here, including something we have come up with trying to talk about the difference between truth and a lie, sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle way President Trump blurs the line, right after this.


[11:18:09] STELTER: True or false. It can be a challenge to cover the things President Trump says and tweets because much of it is actually in a murky gray area, somewhere in between a truth and a lie. So, we tried creating a spectrum of all of the ways he shades the truth, through omissions, fibs, half-truths and others.

Now, this could apply to other public figures as well. But let's start by applying it to the president. One of Trump's most common ways of shading the truth is exaggeration.

Here is an example from this week. He was talking about the Coast Guard's truly heroic response to Hurricane Harvey.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Texas has been incredible. You saved 16,000 lives -- nobody knows that -- 16,000 lives.


STELTER: Of course, the Coast Guard deserves respect. But by the agency's own account, it actually rescued 11,000 people. Not 16,000 people.

Now, another example on our spectrum, deflection. Trump's not lying when he changes the subject, but he is evading. Earlier this month, here is how the president responded to a reporter's question about the Russian investigation.


TRUMP: Don't remember much about it. All I know is this, there was no collusion, there was no nothing, it's a disgrace, frankly, that they continue. You ought to look at Hillary Clinton and you ought to look at the new book that was just put out by Donna Brazile.


STELTER: So, there it is. Trademark deflection.

But further over on the spectrum, toward lie, there are flat out falsehoods, like this claim, that the passage of large scale tax cuts will be the biggest in the history of our country. Now, "The Washington Post" gave four Pinocchios to that claim and the Committee for Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan policy group, says the GOP plan would actually be the eighth largest tax cut since 1918.

No, we're almost all the way over on this scale, on this spectrum, all the way over to lie.

[11:20:03] That's in some ways the most controversial piece of this. People debate when is he lying and when is he not?

Well, here's an example. This is from "The New York Times" just in this morning's paper. Apparently, the president is now casting doubt on the veracity of this "Access Hollywood" tape which he previously admitted was real. Quoting the reporting here, he suggested to a senator earlier this year that it was not authentic and he repeated that claim to an adviser more recently.

Now, that is a peculiar kind of lie, lying to yourself.

Let's talk through this spectrum and the weekend's news. Back with me here, Olivia Nuzzi, John Avlon and Joanne Lipman.

So, this "Access Hollywood" revelation I think is fascinating. "The New York Times" shared this overnight, makes me wonder what the president is saying in private and whether he actually believes these things. To me, that's a lie no matter what, because we all know the tape is a real document.

NUZZI: Right. I think Donald Trump knows that for his supporters, Donald Trump is a feeling. And nothing that he says really is going to change the way that they feel about him. They think that everything that he does is for their greater good.

And so, I don't think he worries about that. I also think everything has taught him, everything has reinforced since the campaign that nothing that he says really matters in the end. He won anyway. He was lying --

STELTER: Should I bother creating a spectrum everything from truth to a lie?

NUZZI: We should bother. The press should bother, certainly. But I think everything has reinforced for him if he lies, it doesn't matter at the end of the day as far as he's concerned. He doesn't care about us calling out his lies, even though he wants approval and he wants the establishment to like him, I think deep down.

LIPMAN: CNN itself actually has shown that he says something like, calculated 5 1/2 mistruths per day. And I love your spectrum, but I have to say that I think it's a really dicey question to even raise. I think it is controversial to say lie because lie suggests intent, right?

I think it is our job as journalists to point out when things are not true, to point out when they are exaggerated, but to say something is a lie --


LIPMAN: -- I think is a very different thing.

STELTER: Yet, a lot of viewers at home are screaming at the TV saying he's lying, say he's lying.

AVLON: I respectfully disagree. Part of our job is to call a lie a lie and a fact a fact. We need to insist on a fact-based debate. And that doesn't require always being soothsayers and figuring out intent. Sometimes, it's very clear, if he's reversing himself on the "Access Hollywood" tape and this belief that other people won't remember what we have seen and what he said, that goes to intent or at least a distension from reality. What I think we need to understand is that for Donald Trump, the

baseline is what he called when he was a real estate magnate truthful hyperbole.

STELTER: I was going to put that on the spectrum.

AVLON: Truthful hyperbole is his baseline. He is a master marketer. Whatever else you think about him. The problem is that instinct, that impulse, which is apparently served him rather well in life is utterly incompatible with the responsibilities of the presidency where words matter, where they have life and death weight.

So, it is our job to call that out and insist on a fact-based debate, and that means calling a lie a lie, but also recognizing their gradations.

STELTER: An example of gradation is President Trump's tweets about the NFL, right? He continues to talk about this kneeling issue and he says, the league is hemorrhaging, he says the ratings are way down. Now, I would call that a distortion, because ratings are down but they're not way down. But gain, that is open to interpretation.

NUZZI: But, Brian, I think we get into semantic debates among ourselves in the press. And I think it doesn't really matter if we say mistruth, we say falsehood, we say lie. At the end of the day, what we're saying is what the president is telling us is not true. And I think whether or not we say lie specifically or we just say falsehood, we say inaccuracy, I don't think that really matter so much. I think it's something that, you know, we like to make a big deal about, but the effect is the same if you read a newspaper or an article in "The Daily Beast".

LIPMAN: What is fact and what is not fact. But also, it's really, really important, gets lost in the discussion, including about the "TIME Magazine" cover, is a lot of it is simply distraction, right? What we need to do in the press is keep our eye on the ball, right? We got the Mueller investigation going on.

You know, per times, we got diplomats who are fleeing from the State Department. We got sexual harassment charges that are swirling around, not just a lot of media and political figures, but around the president himself.

NUZZI: I disagree.

LIPMAN: A lot of serious issues that we should be focused on.

NUZZI: The president is the ball. I mean, we are -- we have to follow what he's saying, what he's doing, I don't think it's fair to say it is a distraction because we are reporting on it accurately. We're reporting -- it is newsworthy. The president is talking -- having a fight with "TIME" magazine or with the NFL.

And I don't think that -- I think we can do multiple things at one. We can cover Russia. We can cover the sexual assault stuff and we can also cover his fight with the magazine. AVLON: But to the extent we need to make choices, right? And these

are all choices we can individually as news organizations. I think the bigger point is this, sometimes he's trying to distract and deflect intentionally by saying something outrageous, and therefore, you won't cover, you won't see adequate coverage over policy decisions that actually impact people's lives.

[11:25:04] And I think that's where there needs to be a degree of discipline because he can distract by saying something outrageous. But if there's really meaningless and ephemeral, we should be focusing on the policy decisions that will actually impact people's lives.

LIPMAN: And there is some evidence that it is actually -- that it is starting to back fire with his own supporters. So, "USA Today" and USA Today Network, we have -- you know, "USA Today" is the flagship and the 109 local papers, like "The Des Moines Register" and "The Arizona Republic" and we're half red and half blue, and we are very, very much in touch with all of our audience, including those who are deeply red, who are deep Trump supporters. And we go back to them.

One of the things that we see in our panel of Trump supporters is that they have found that even though they still support him, they find that the tweeting is a distraction and that it is preventing him from actually executing on the promises that he made to better their own lives.

STELTER: Joanne, stick around for me.

Olivia, John, thank you for being here.

AVLON: Always.

STELTER: Quick break. I just want to get to the sexual harassment tipping point. This week, one journalist fired, another suspended. All the latest right after this.



STELTER: Within 24 hours of a "Washington Post" story about sexual harassment allegations in Charlie Rose's past, Rose was fired by CBS, PBS and Bloomberg.

I was keeping a close eye on how CBS News covered this story.

Here is a sampling of how it was addressed on air.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This will be investigated. This has to end. This behavior is wrong, period.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At least three women who asked not to be identified said they experienced unwanted sexual contact from Rose while working at CBS News. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As personal as the story is, we will continue to

cover it here diligently at CBS.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now we are all part of the story. But I also think we're not shying away from reporting it.


STELTER: A difficult situation for CBS.

And it is not the only news organization having to cover harassment allegations against one of its own staffers. "The New York Times" is facing the same issue. White House correspondent Glenn Thrush now suspended in the wake of accusations of sexual harassment in his past, covered by

He issued an apology, and "The Times" says it is now investigating.

Back with me now here in New York, Joanne Lipman, the editor in chief of "USA Today" and the USA Today Network. She is the author of the forthcoming book "That's What She Said" on closing the gender gap at work. And back with me in Washington, David Zurawik, media critic for "The Baltimore Sun."

David, you wrote this week for "The Sun" about this challenge, having to have news outlets covering their own scandals. We've seen this at NPR, "The New York Times" and CBS now.

How would you judge the coverage?

DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": The coverage, you know, it is varied.

I thought CBS did a wonderful job in its coverage. And I wrote about Norah O'Donnell and Gayle King. Norah O'Donnell said, we will not have equality in the workplace or society until there is a reckoning and a taking of responsibility.

She recognized the magnitude of this, Brian. This is a cultural change. This is a moment presented to us. And I think they really -- listen, you and I both know how hard it's been for CBS to find somebody who could gain traction in the morning, going back to 1954, when Walter Cronkite was interviewing the puppet Charlemagne in the morning.


STELTER: CBS has always been an also-ran in the morning, yes.

ZURAWIK: It's been a graveyard for them.

Charlie Rose comes along and, in his five years, they go from 2.4 million to 3.5 million. That's huge. That's huge money for the network. Instead of losing money for CBS, they're now going to make some money with him. So for them to act as swiftly as they did, and to make that call as cleanly, sends a signal this won't be tolerated. I really admire CBS. And I can't say enough about how King, Gayle King, and Norah O'Donnell handled that on the air. I thought they were outstanding.

Different people are covering it differently. But I really think they need -- each of the news institutions needs to stand up and acknowledge. When she says a day of reckoning, we have to acknowledge how deeply sexist even our finest news organizations were.

Women from my generation didn't have a chance. And it took me a long time to understand how much harder and how much better they had to be in an all-male environment and how many of them, when they tried to blow the whistle, were run out of the business. And it was all done silently with an all-boys hiring network that said, oh, she's a problem, she's a troublemaker, she can't handle the pressure, she's crazy.

I heard that about women in the business. Now I look back and I wonder how many of them, it was somebody slammed them into a booth and tried to start kissing them and then said, if I made you feel uncomfortable -- you know, of course you made her feel uncomfortable. You slammed in a booth and stuck your tongue down her throat.

I mean, this is outrageous, where we are today. And...


STELTER: Yes, I was going to say, you wonder how much talent was lost in various industries because of moments like that.

ZURAWIK: That's exactly it, Brian.

On Alisyn Camerota's excellent town hall for CNN on "Tipping Point," I think it was Gretchen Carlson who said that. Instead of worrying about the men who are going to lose their jobs now, let's go back multiple generations and find some of the women who never had a chance at a career or had their careers shortened.


And God bless her for giving voice to those women for even a moment on a show.

STELTER: And you mentioned "Tipping Point."

And, Joanne, you wrote about this, saying -- in journalism, talked a lot about tipping points and defining moments, but very rarely do these moments last.


STELTER: Is that what it feels like to you right now?

LIPMAN: Well, I would love to see this moment last. But, first of all, in terms of this situation, I do think CBS did handle it extremely well. But what we have to do is keep the focus on the victims, right, as opposed -- we keep talking about these guys, these guys who are losing their jobs. What about all of the women, right?

So, let's keep the focus on women.


LIPMAN: But also on the collateral damage.

There is a ton of collateral damage here, in that, when you think about a Charlie Rose, who has a production company that has given, you know, young women and men employment, what happens to them? What happens on a program like "Transparent," one of the few programs that actually was hiring transgender actresses, right?

STELTER: Tambor electing to leave that, yes.

LIPMAN: Exactly. So, there are so -- there is so much damage that continues here.

I do think that, you know, everyone thought that Anita Hill, in 1991, would be a tipping point. And apparently not, right?

So, I do have some concerns about that. But, yes, the -- I think that the larger issue here, though, and the reason we're seeing this enormous outcry right now isn't because every woman has been slammed into a booth and had a tongue shoved down her throat.

It is because every woman, every woman -- and I would gather that every single woman watching this program today knows what it feels like to be interrupted, not taken seriously, or her ideas not heard until they're credited to a man.

And that is something that I found in the heart of my reporting for my book, "That's What She Said," was this lack of respect that sort of has been a through-line. And so I think one of the major, major issues that we're seeing is, there has been this pent-up frustration among women, who -- despite all the gains that we have made, there are still every day 1,000 tiny little things that women experience that men don't and men aren't aware of.

STELTER: We will have you back when the book comes out.

ZURAWIK: Brian...

STELTER: Great to see you.

LIPMAN: Yes. Good to see you.

STELTER: David, I'm out of time.


STELTER: But thank you both for being here.

We have got a big story coming up next, AT&T vs. the government.

The elephant in the room is this network, CNN. We will have the very latest in the lawsuit right after this.



STELTER: Two days, two very different messages about the future of media, but both messages came from the Trump administration.

So, let's try to clear this up, if we can.

On Monday, Trump's Department of Justice sued to block AT&T's proposed takeover of CNN's parent company, Time Warner. The court fight will take months, unless the two sides settle.

Now, the lawsuit sparked concern throughout the business community, because it signals a new hard-line approach to vertical mergers. That is not something Wall Street was expecting from a GOP administration.

You know, Rupert Murdoch has been an opponent of the AT&T deal, but even his "Wall Street Journal" editorial board sided with AT&T.

In this piece, "The Journal" said the Justice Departments' lawsuit "misconstrues markets and undermines the rule of law, whether or not it was inspired by the White House."

Now, we will come back to that White House issue, but the DOJ lawsuit was just the first of two big moves.

The next day, Tuesday, the Trump FCC released a plan to repeal Obama era net neutrality rules. That is what you would expect a GOP administration to do.

Net neutrality advocates, like the Obama appointees who now have been taken over at the FCC by the GOP appointees, say the existing rules are needed to ensure equal access, to preserve a level playing field for everybody on the Internet.

Companies like AT&T say these rules are not needed at all, so they are cheering what Trump's FCC chair, Ajit Pai, is doing.

Let me go back to the "Journal" editorial board here. They say he's doing a public service by rolling back Internet regulation.

So, what explains the mixed messages?

David Gelles is here with me. He's a reporter for "The New York Times" who wrote about this very subject.

The headline here, David, you say it is a tangled message from Washington.

What are the conclusions about why we're getting these mixed signals?

DAVID GELLES, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I don't know if there are conclusions yet.

What we have is one administration, two agencies, and two very different messages about just how much power big companies like AT&T should be allowed to amass. On the one hand, you have the Department of Justice saying that, in fact, AT&T's proposed acquisition of Time Warner would just make it too powerful. It could stifle innovation. They could yield too much influence over other content companies.

On the other hand, you have the Trump FCC saying, in fact, Internet service providers, just like AT&T, should be allowed to wield the power that they already have more freely and should be allowed to, in fact, use that muscle to potentially, you know, wield that influence more forcefully over their competitors.

STELTER: Sometimes, with net neutrality, we hear about fast lanes and slow lanes. Is that what it comes down to?

GELLES: It is not only that. It is really the ability of Internet service providers to also block, throttle and jack up rates on consumers and companies potentially like Netflix.

Netflix streams its movies and TV shows to consumers. But AT&T, with these rules rolled back, could actually say, well, if you want to do that and ensure that your movies are coming just as fast as you want them, you are going to have to pay a little more.

STELTER: Now, the idea of those mixed messages here is, again, it feeds into the suggestion that the Trump Department of Justice is trying to punish this network, CNN, for its coverage of the presidency by suing in court.

Is that what experts have suggested to you?

GELLES: There, again, are no clear signs that that's what's happened.

Makan Delrahim, the chief antitrust man, enforcer at the Department of Justice, has said that, in fact, that's not what's going on here. And yet you have Randall Stephenson in this weekend's "New York Times" saying, well, we have a pretty suspicious timeline here.


STELTER: I was just pulling up that quote from Stephenson. And it was in the Bret Stephens column for "The Times" this weekend.

He says: I don't have any concrete evidence of interference from the White House, but there is a peculiar timeline.

GELLES: And, again, John earlier said the Trump Twitter feed is in some ways the most clearest indication of his policy.

And for more than a year now, he's made it very clear his displeasure with this network. STELTER: Now, here is what AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said at a

press conference on the day the lawsuit was filed about this very issue.


RANDALL STEPHENSON, CHAIRMAN & CEO, AT&T: I do want to address the elephant in the room here.

There has been a lot of reporting and speculation whether this is all about CNN. And, frankly, I don't know. But nobody should be surprised that the question keeps coming up.


STELTER: So, there it is, David. That's the issue, right?

Stephenson saying we don't know, but isn't the idea of this court battle that AT&T is going to try to prove or try to show that, somehow, the Trump administration has interfered in the DOJ and that that's why there is a lawsuit?

GELLES: We will see what comes out in discovery, if it gets that far.

You mentioned earlier that vertical mergers historically haven't been challenged, for decades now, really. What is interesting right now is, we're seeing some people say that, yes, that may be the case. However, there is good reason to, on its own merits, consider blocking AT&T-Time Warner, that, in fact, the Justice Department's case could have some merit, that a combination of this size could stifle innovation, could raise cost for consumers.

So I think, though it is unprecedented in some ways, we are going to see a much more nuanced debate, irrespective of whether or not we know if CNN is actually at the issue here.

STELTER: Yes, so AT&T and Time Warner, their deal is on hold while this court fight progresses.

Meanwhile, on the net neutrality front, the FCC vote is basically a formality, isn't it? In a couple weeks, the three commissioners, the Republicans, will vote to repeal these regulations?

GELLES: That's right.

You have Democratic members of the FCC actually encouraging people to raise their voice, to stoke a debate. And yet you're right. The ship has essentially sailed.

STELTER: It is a 3-2 vote. There's three Republicans. So, I would be very surprised to see a sudden change here.

GELLES: I think that much is going to happen.

And yet this may also go to the courts. We may see the FCC have to defend its decision in court, and not only its decision -- decision to roll back the 2015 rules passed under the Obama administration, but also potentially the 2005 rules, which were, of course, passed under President Bush, which essentially established those baseline net neutrality principles that big Internet service providers should not block, should not throttle.

STELTER: Meanwhile, I think most viewers at home are sitting on their phone thinking, you know, my Internet service seems fine right now. What is all the fuss about?

GELLES: Well, it may seem fine, but how many options do you have? How much choice do you have about where you get that Internet service provision? The answer is probably not that much at all.

We have essentially regionalized monopolies when it comes to Internet service providers. And that, in some ways, has let these big companies get to a point where net neutrality laws are even necessary.

So, there is this school of thought that, had antitrust enforcement been working as it should, had there been a meaningful enforcement of competitive landscape of these big, important companies, then there today might be enough competition where we wouldn't even need net neutrality.

But, of course, it is very hard to put the genie back in the bottle.

STELTER: Right. More to come on this.

David, thank you for being here.

GELLES: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: Great to see you.

After the break, a guest who is a world-renowned expert in debunking fake news. But she would like us to all stop using that term.

I will ask her why right after this.



STELTER: It's time to retire the term fake news. That's what my next guest says.

Claire Wardle is executive director of First Draft. It's a nonprofit research based at the Harvard Shorenstein Center.

Claire, we've talking about this before. I want to share it with our viewers. If we never use the word fake news again, what should we say instead?

CLAIRE WARDLE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FIRST DRAFT: So, we should think about we're actually talking about.

So, are we talking about misinformation, just mistakes that people make? Are we talking about disinformation, when people are actually trying to cause harm and they are disseminating false information? Or are we talking about malinformation, genuine information that is shared again to cause harm? So, that could be revenge porn. It could be a leaked e-mail.

So, we just need to be much more specific about what we're talking about.

STELTER: And is that because President Trump and others have co-opted the term fake news and basically redefined it?

WARDLE: So, two reasons. Firstly, a lot of this stuff isn't news.


WARDLE: And, secondly, it's been co-opted by politicians around the world as a label for things that they don't like. And it's being used as a weapon against organizations like CNN and others.

And so when it's being used as a weapon against the news industry, and it's just being co-opted, we have to think much more carefully about the power of language. And it's damaging the industry. The free press is what we stand for. So, we have to be much more careful about our language.

STELTER: Let's look at an example, and you tell me how to define this, and this is something President Trump tweeted on Saturday afternoon, Saturday night evening while at Mar-a-Lago.

He tweeted at length from a Web site called MagaPill, Make America Great Again Pill, explaining a list of his accomplishments. And he said here that this is what the media should be reporting.

He said he wished the fake news, the media, would report it this way -- quote -- "I wish the fake news would report it."

Now, if you look closely at this Web site and their Twitter feed from MagaPill, you will conspiracy theories and then things like this, a flowchart suggesting all these conspiracy theories.

The Web site Mediaite even says there's anti-Semitic content on MagaPill and on MagaPill's Twitter feed.

So, do we call this misinformation, a bunch of kind of confusing, conspiratorial information the president is touting?

WARDLE: I mean, it's misleading. A lot of these sites are powerful because there's a kernel of truth. Some of that stuff on there is true.


STELTER: Right. When they tout his unemployment rate, that part of the Web site is accurate.

[11:55:01] WARDLE: Absolutely.

And what that means is people can say, look, it's not false. It's not fake.

But, actually, when you look at it, a lot of it is conspiratorial. A lot of it is demonstrably false. And so that's the problem here. There's very sophisticated attempts to undermine.

And when we use language that isn't sophisticated, we are undermining ourselves by not looking carefully at what is happening and how it's being used to manipulate the media.

STELTER: I see what you're seeing. When we paint with a broad brush, it actually confuses the issue more.

WARDLE: Exactly. Yes.


Claire, great to see you. Thank you for being here.

WARDLE: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: We have a podcast. You can check it at We go into detail on all about of these different categories and what they mean.

And while you're on the Web site, sign up for our nightly newsletter. It comes out six nights a week, all the day's media news recapped for you. And it's free, so sign up right now at

I'll see you right back here next week.