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Turning Point in Trump Coverage?; A Rift Between Rupert Murdoch and President Trump?. Aired 11a-12n ET

Aired January 14, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:09] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter. 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.

Right now, we have brand new reporting about the Trump White House calling Rupert Murdoch's "Wall Street Journal" fake news. Boy, I thought Trump liked "The Journal". Coming up, I'll explain what happened.

Plus, does the media have a soft spot for celebrity candidates? We're going to analyze the Oprah Winfrey 2020 buzz.

And on a much more urgent note, "Reuters" editor-in-chief Stephen Adler is here. And he has a message. He's demanding the release of two of his journalists who are behind bars right now.

So much ahead this hour.

But, first, the story of the week.

The weather is cold, the markets are hot and fire and fury is even hotter. President Trump is continuing to fight with author Michael Wolff, calling the book fake. But Trump keeps behaving in ways that back up Wolff's thesis. The book, as you know by now, portrays a White House in crisis and the president incapable of doing the job.

And this week's headlines, they were about rogue tweets, racist remarks, and the president with a shrinking schedule. Now, "The Washington Post" as you see there had no qualms about putting shithole in its headline. But some TV networks decided to sanitize what the president said.


LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Our report includes an expletive once. It may not be appropriate for some of our younger viewers.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: We're not reporting the word right now. I think that's probably a mistake because I don't think it's right to censor the president or to sugarcoat the racist sentiment revealed by how he used that word.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: That was the debate that was going on in newsrooms. You know, broadcast networks had to keep in mind the kids and FCC regulators were watching. Here on cable news, there are no regulations restricting obscenity.

But the curse word, whether you use the curse word, that mattered less than the racist opinion behind the word, and that is what led to this moment in the White House.


REPORTER: Mr. President, are you a racist? Mr. President, will you respond to these serious questions about the statement, sir?


STELTER: What are reporters to do in this situation? We've seen a wide variety of reactions.

I thought it was notable CNN's Don Lemon came right out and said this.


DON LEMON, CNN HOST: The president of the United States is racist. All of us already knew that.


STELTER: Meanwhile over on FOX, Jesse Watters said Trump was telling it like it is.


JESSE WATTERS, FOX NEWS HOST: This is how the forgotten men and women talk at the bar. Is it graceful? No. Is it a little offensive? Of course, it is. But you know what? This doesn't move the needle at all. This is who Trump is.


STELTER: But if this is who President Trump is, who are we? And what is the role of the press at a moment like this?

Let's talk about it with Van Jones, CNN political commentator and author of "Beyond the messy Truth". Also here with me, David Zurawik, a media critic for "The Baltimore Sun".

Van, on election night in 2016, you said Trump's election was in part a white lash. Is that now what we're seeing? Are we seeing what a white lash really means?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I was talking about that part of the Trump base. Not every Trump voter has those views, but part of his base that is not offended or holding their nose but actually is enthusiastic about these racially inflammatory things that he says and he does. You know, part of I think what is important to keep in mind not only

were those comments racist, they are also just inaccurate. When you have 30 percent of Americans have college degrees, 43 percent of African immigrants have college degrees, 10 percent of white Americans have advanced degrees, 25 percent of Nigerian-Americans have advanced degrees.

So, he's just dealing with a stereotype from his childhood that has no relationship or little relationship with what's going on right now. And I think what I'm proud of is that the media just called it like it is. If he said -- listen, I only want skills based people, I only want engineers if they are from Nigeria, if they're from Norway, I only want engineers. That's not racist.

But when you say the whole country is not welcomed, that is the definition, textbook, of racism. And I'm glad that the media just called him on that. He wasn't saying, I want skills based people no matter what color. He said, I want people from this country no matter -- in Norway, no matter how unqualified, and I don't want anybody from these countries no matter how qualified. That's the definition of racism.

STELTER: What I saw on television, especially on CNN and MSNBC, were anchors and reporters standing up for American values, saying, I'm an immigrant, or my family came from so-and-so country. They were almost kind of asserting leadership because the president doesn't assert leadership. They were trying to stand up for what makes America America. That's what I saw.

[11:05:00] Is that what you saw, Van?

JONES: I mean, that's -- it is what I saw and I was actually proud to be a part of the profession. I mean, here's the thing. You know, obviously, it's not the job of the media to lead causes. But the fundamental core and ethic of the United States is this idea that it doesn't matter who you are, where you came from, you can make it here. You don't have to be rich to be worthy. You don't even have to have a college degree to be worthy.

And had you not let, quote/unquote, shithole people come here, you wouldn't have the Kennedy family. You wouldn't have so many great families. So, that's who we are. And to have the president of the United States back away from that and do it in such an offensive and vulgar and low way I think it's objectively the case what he said was racist and I'm glad the media held that line.

STELTER: It's notable that it leaked out and we're going to talk about the role of leaks in a moment.

But, David, what about the idea that if anchors on this channel or other channels stand up for America values, talk about the Statue of Liberty, et cetera, that that comes across to some viewers as if the press is the opposition to Trump?

DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, BALTIMORE SUN: Well, and Trump and -- you know what, Brian, Trump will play that. I mean, Trump and his people --


ZURAWIK: -- will play that -- you know, play that as if he's being attacked. That's the price we pay for doing good down the middle honest journalism when we have someone like this in the White House. And, by the way, usually when do you that it cost us money. In our case people who are doing the best kind of solid, responsible, down the middle journalism, "New York Times," "The Washington Post" are doing pretty good in terms of digital sales and I think CNN's ratings are pretty good.

So, we're not paying a price, we're doing God's work, we're righteous and we're not paying a price when we have someone like this in the White House.

And, Brian, one other thing I want to say. Just beyond American values, standing up for American values, I thought CNN and MSNBC especially did a great job of when they told this story about that comment of showing a pattern of racist comments from this president. They put it in context.

And they had like Jake Tapper's discussion with him about the judge of Mexican heritage who he said could not rule on this case because he was Mexican-American. And Jake Tapper said, is this not the very definition of racism? Just as Van did. And we have continuum now.

So, I think some people who the first time he did something like this said, oh, no, he's not a racist. That just people being something. Now, we have several incidents of this and you see the pattern and it's very hard I think for any reasonable person in this country to deny what he is. And journalism is doing that, yes.

STELTER: Some critics say two years ago, this pattern was already obvious. Why did the press take so long to pay close attention to it? On the other side, you have a lot people defending him, saying -- just calling him a racist is an exaggeration and overreaction.

Van, what about the language here? Look, I've got an 8-month-old daughter at home now. I think about what she's hearing when the television is on. Did we excessively use the actual curse word in the coverage?

JONES: You know, I was very reluctant to use the term at first because, again, you do have that hesitation. It has very little to do with journalistic standards. It just has to do with being a decent person and not wanting to use --

STELTER: Decency.

JONES: Yes, decency. You just don't want to use language that might offend somebody who just turned and watching. They might be shocked.

But at the same time, it's shocking that these words are being used in the White House about whole countries and whole continents. That's much more shocking than some pundit, you know, repeating it. So, I do think it's important we don't sanitize it too much. We have

the opportunity to do so on cable TV to really tell it like it is. And, you know, I think we did the right thing.

STELTER: And I think there's still some situations where people are more comfortable using a curse word than saying something is racist. I mean, look at the broadcast networks. There was barely any use of the curse word, but there was even less talk about racism.

JONES: Yes, I think that's interesting.

One thing I do want to say is, as we're talking about this is, I think that what the other thing journalists have to do, though, is to go even deeper and to point out a couple of things. It's not just African countries are all basket cases and all the African immigrants are just here pulling America down, we just shouldn't use the word shithole.

That -- it was not about making the stereotypes a little bit more palatable. It's about pointing out that African immigrants are coming here in neighborhoods from Oakland to the Bronx, bringing down the crime rate, bringing up the learning rate, bringing up the entrepreneurship and making America great -- same with Haitians and same with El Salvadorians.

In other words, this idea that -- well, maybe they really are shithole places, you just shouldn't say it, and maybe the people who are coming here are not be worthy to be here, that also needs to be challenged based on facts. The educational attainment for African immigrants exceeds the educational attainment for European immigrants.

[11:10:00] Nobody was aware of that.

So, if you want to have the conversation about what's going to make America great again, let's have it.

One last point I have to make, if you close the door to immigration as severely as Trump wants to, shut it down, you know who gets hurt the most? Trump's older, white retiring voters who are going to then be living in a country where we'll be like Japan. We don't have enough young people in America. We're going to have a bunch of older people in America.

We need immigration to keep the economy going, so that their retirements can be secure. So, it's not just racist. It's not just counter factually. It's also politically stupid to keep out the younger part of the world that wants to come here and make our economy work.

This is just dumb and wrong and racist across the board. Let's have that conversation, and not only have the conservation about the vulgarism. The vulgarism is just the additional harm to the country.

STELTER: Van, thanks for being here. And, David, please stick around.

One more note about this, we're seeing new denials just this morning from some of the Republican lawmakers that were with Trump when this meeting happened. I just have one thing to say about that. If there was a news report that said that I personally insulted an entire continent by using a racist remark, I would deny it at the top of my lungs from every possible medium within about 10 minutes. The fact that the White House did not deny this right away, other news outlets confirmed it right now, and then later the president half-hearted denied it, it kind of speaks for itself.

Think about it. If at home said something like this, you know, how would you react?

Anyway, up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES, someone is playing that childhood game, I know you are, but what am I? Yes, President Trump is calling Michael Wolff mentally deranged. Hear Wolff's response right after this.


[11:15:13] STELTER: Hey, welcome back.

Let me tell you a story about the president and one of his favorite newspapers. It starts on Thursday when President Trump invited four reporters to the White House.

But, first, you have to know what happened one month before Election Day, back in October 2016. At the time, Trump's campaign was reeling from "Access Hollywood" tape. He was denying stories alleging sexual misconduct in his past.

And producers at ABC News were thinking, we might have a big scoop. ABC was pursuing an interview with a porn star who goes by the name Stormy Daniels. She apparently had a story to tell about an alleged encounter with Trump.

Now, other news outlets, including slate and "The Daily Beast" were also chasing the story.

But the interviews fizzled out. Now, maybe she just had second thoughts. But a source at ABC News told me they have a different theory. They thought she was paid to stay silent.

Then, on Friday, we learned this.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that a woman was paid $130,000 a month before the election to keep quiet about a sexual encounter with Donald Trump.


STELTER: "The Journal's" story cited people familiar with the matter. The White House called the story old and recycled, and Trump's attorney Michael Cohen said Trump vehemently denies the encounter. Cohen did not address the issue of payment. He also provided a statement attributed to Stormy Daniels, which said: Rumors that I have received hush money from Donald Trump are completely false. He was a complete gentleman.

CNN has not been able to reach her directly. The reality here is that Trump might not have even known about a $130,000 payment.

But this brings to our timeline, OK? So, Thursday, on Thursday, Trump gave his first interview of 2018 to "The Wall Street journal". He wanted to talk and talk. It went on for 45 minutes.

When aides tried to wrap it up, he kept answering questions. He said he was having fun. He even told the reporters that he loves the paper's top editor, Gerry Baker. Every month we'll do one of these, he said, promising more interviews to come.

"The Journal" interview came out Thursday at 4:00 p.m. The main headline was Trump saying, quote, I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un.

OK. So let's fast forward to Friday afternoon. The next day, Friday, "The Journal" posted its story about Stormy Daniels. It was yet another embarrassment for the White House.

My heart went out the Melania. Imagine how it felt for her to read the story.

So, to recap, on Thursday, the Rupert Murdoch-owned "Wall Street journal" scores an Oval Office sit-down, the interview everybody wanted. On Friday, "The Journal" then reveals a payoff to a porn star.

And on Saturday, let's just show the press secretary's tweet, "The Journal" gets labeled fake news. The White House said, "The Wall Street Journal" misquoted him.

So, let's listen to the audio for yourself. Did he say, I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un or did he say I'd have? Let's play it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un.


STELTER: OK. That's "The Wall Street Journal's" recording. They are standing by the quote saying, "I have", not "I'd have".

Now, let's listen to the White House's version. Same sound.


TRUMP: And I'd probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong- un.

(END AUDIO CLIP) STELTER: OK. So you let me know what you think. I heard "I". Other people heard "I'd". But this all leads me wondering about Trump's relationship with someone else, with Rupert Murdoch, and whether the White House decided to whip up a fake news attack because of Friday's porn story. It even leaves some wondering if somehow the interview on Thursday was designed to stop the Friday story from happening.

There's a lot of intrigue here so let's get into it with Norm Pearlstine. He served at the top of "The Wall Street Journal" and of "Bloomberg", and at "TIME", where he's now a contributor.

And also with me, Steven Brill, the founder of Court TV and "American Lawyer Magazine".

Norm, first your interpretation of this "Wall Street Journal" back and forth, this battle that's going on.

NORMAN PEARLSTINE, CONTRIBUTOR, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, I think it's a short term problem for "The Journal". Trump's M.O. always is to be on the attack. And this will fade in a few days and then back to business as usual.

STELTER: What is the connective tissue between the Stormy Daniels porn star story and the shithole story from earlier in the week and the "Fire and Fury" book? To me, the connection is the use of anonymous, confidential sources.

PEARLSTINE: Well, they are certainly an important part of covering Donald Trump.

STELTER: You wrote a piece for "TIME" this week, the new issue of "TIME", arguing in favor of leaks.

PEARLSTINE: Well, I think that leaks are one of the ways in which we as a country learn about how our leaders are behaving, what our leaders are thinking, what our leaders are doing and anonymity has been a part of the American fabric since the Constitution was vest.

[11:20:06] STELTER: But even the word "leaks", it sounds like a bad thing, right?


STELTER: No one want as leaks.

PEARLSTINE: But people like plants. It's a question of which way you want to think about it.

STELTER: Right, that's good.

Steve, I want to get your interpretation of another of week's developments, Donald Trump talking about libel laws. It seemed to be a response to Michael Wolff's book "Fire and Fury". Trump repeated this common press attack. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: We're going take a strong look at our country's libel laws so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts.


STELTER: He wants to, it seems, strengthen the libel laws. Now, these are state level laws. They are already on the books in every state. Does the president misunderstand how libel laws work, Steve?

STEVEN BRILL, BRILL JOURNALISM ENTERPRISES: Well, he does among other things. But first, obviously, what he's saying when he says he wants to take at that look at the libel laws, he's saying he wants to take a look at the Constitution. And I would warn him about two things.

The first is that he is, if anyone, he's the primary beneficiary of our country's relatively rather liberal libel laws, because if there was anyone who repeatedly says things that he knows are false, that are defamatory to people, it has to be Donald Trump. You know, if you think about it, the single best potential plaintiff in the world is President Obama, who luckily has the good grace not to think about things like a libel suit. But the fact is that president Trump repeatedly said that he knew was false or that he reckless about, which is that President Obama wasn't born in the United States and wasn't entitled to be the president.

The second thing I would say is that the one reform we do need with regard to libel laws is a reform that would make anyone who has a lawyer write a frivolous letter threatening litigation or who threatens litigation, make that person pay the legal fees of the potential defendant who as frivolous as it might be has to hire a lawyer to read those lawyers and defend the potential threat when the threat is completely bogus. That's a reform of libel laws that needs to happen.

STELTER: Is there any reason to be worried, Norm, about the president bringing this back up? I know he talked about it a lot on the campaign trail. But it's relatively -- you know, he's only mentioned it once before as president, to hear him talking about legal action against people.

PEARLSTINE: Well, the specific complaint is probably not worth worrying about, but if you think about it in terms of a bigger attack on the media and on credibility of media, then certainly worth thinking about and taking seriously.

STELTER: Yes. In meantime "Fire and Fury", the number one on Amazon for 10 days, number one on "New York Times" list.

Steve, we saw a new back and forth between Trump and Wolff. Wolff tweeted overnight, sorry, Trump tweet this overnight. Let's put it on screen if we can. He called the book a fake book by a mentally deranged author who knowingly writes false information.

Just this morning, Wolff responding saying, it seems my book is helping push the president to a crackup. If so, what happens? Let's deal with Trump's tweet. Is it -- we're talking whether Trump -- you know, the libel laws, is it possible when the president is calling a reporter a mentally derange, would Wolff ever have a legal case against the president?

BRILL: Well, sure, he would. But the most accurate and uncharacteristically undiplomatic thing I could say about all that is that with Trump and Wolff, you have the perfect pairing of a subject and author.


STELTER: You haven't been the biggest Wolff fan over the years?

BRILL: Well, that speaks for itself.

STELTER: All right. Norm, what about you? I mean, we've seen 10 days now of coverage of "Fire and Fury." There's been some details pointed out that are wrong. Wolff has basically blown that off, saying, read the book, decide for yourself.

PEARLSTINE: Well, I think that Steve has a point but that Michael really in all of his work, there are facts that you would quarrel with. But the big picture, the big themes, I think he usually gets right.


BRILL: I mean, there are those of us --

STELTER: Yes, go ahead, Steve.

BRILL: There are those of us like Norm and me who actually, you know, worry about the facts, even the small facts, and don't necessarily think it's enough to paint a big picture that everybody knows is probably accurate, but -- and I think that over the years, he's had those kinds of problems.

[11:25:02] STELTER: Steve, yes, one last word?

PEARLSTINE: Michael wrote a book called "Burn Rate" that was about his experiences in the Internet. That was his first book. In it, he has an episode where he has me giving a speech in Laguna Beach, a place I've never been. But the -- what I said was probably correct.

STELTER: That's perplexing.


STELTER: Norm, great to see you.

PEARLSTINE: Great to see you as well. Pleasure to be here.

STELTER: Thank you for being here.

And, Steve, as well. Great to have you here. BRILL: Thanks.

STELTER: Up next, the executive producer in chief. We're going to go inside the cabinet-room-turned-TV-studio.



STELTER: So, how is the stable genius tour going?

This week, President Trump did put on a show, eh, partly in response to the claims in Michael Wolff's book "Fire and Fury."

This 55-meeting on immigration open to the cameras, having Trump reprising his role as CEO of "The Apprentice" sort of, journalists seemed to love this. They said, we should see inside these meetings more often.

The following day, at a Cabinet meeting, President Trump took a victory lap. He acknowledged he had watched the coverage of his 55- minute-long meeting. He said he had heard the rave reviews.

Here's how he introduced the meeting the next day.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Welcome back to the studio. Nice to have you.


STELTER: There it is.

I think that is the Trump presidency right there in a sentence. "Welcome back to the studio."

Now let's bring in TV critic David Zurawik back for more now, and joining us as well, Lynn Sweet of "The Chicago Sun-Times." She's a columnist and the Washington bureau chief for the paper.

Lynn, your reaction to these on-camera moments this week?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": My reaction is that it was very good that he allowed cameras in because we got to see some of the process of making the negotiation.

When former President Obama campaigned in 2008, he promised to put on TV all the health care negotiations that became -- that led to Obamacare, and he one session and never did, because they are not real negotiation sessions.


STELTER: He blames the Republicans, right? He said the Republicans didn't want to be on TV. SWEET: Well, but it didn't happen. The point is, it didn't happen.

STELTER: It didn't happen, right.

SWEET: So, it happened. And it was interesting.

And then the next day, when he called it a studio, though, it showed how he was approaching it, not as much as a negotiation he wanted to share it with the public, but, as you said, more of a show, with this just being the latest episode.

STELTER: Now, sometimes, I'm watching TV, I hear about the optics of something, I roll my eyes. I don't want to spend more than 60 seconds on the optics.

But, David, I'm going to give it to you, 60 seconds. The optics worked, didn't they? Let's be honest. It worked. Visually, it sent a message to the public.

ZURAWIK: Yes, you're absolutely right -- 58, 57, 56 -- I'm talking fast here, Brian.


ZURAWIK: Listen, in terms of the way in terms of the way I think after all these years that we watch television, what happens, especially with cable news when it's on all day, you dip in and out.

And when I looked at the screen, looked up at my desk on the screen in this meeting, I thought, well, I thought exactly what he wanted me to think. He looks in control. I haven't heard him repeat himself.

All the things -- it was obviously an attempt to knock down "Fire and Fury" and to say I'm in control.

But two things about that. One, I didn't even -- dipping in and out, I didn't hear his clear misunderstanding. It's not misunderstanding, his clear ignorance of what a clear bill is.

And here's the thing. If you just watched that, as probably what a lot of average viewers did, it was a success in terms of the optics. But then cable news and network news and all the newspapers gave us more context and deconstructed the performance. And as Lynn said, that's what it was, a performance.

You have to really be wary when they let you into a room with cameras on and you have a performer sitting at the head of the table. It's artifice, it's constructed, it's a campaign ad. And then they turn the cameras off or make the cameras leave, and then they do the real business.

I'm not impressed with that. But in terms of P.R., in terms of image- making, it was good. But, Brian, the good news is we're doing a better job across the board and as journalists in explaining, hey, folks you might not have noticed, but he doesn't know what the hell a clean bill is. That's pretty basic in Washington. STELTER: Lynn, I see you disagreeing?

SWEET: Well, not -- I just want to supplement and amplify to what you guys are saying, because I think even when you use the term clean bill right now, a lot of people, if I could just tell people what we're talking about, that means an up-or-down vote on one topic, such as saving the dreamer youths who are here in the United States illegally, through no fault of their own.

What you saw in this exercise, whether or not -- however you want to label it, and let's leave the label alone for a minute to understand that what you saw unfolding was a president who was kind of agreeing with the last person who he talked to.

And when Senator Dianne Feinstein says, can we just have a vote on dreamers up or down, that never happens in the Senate. So when he seemed to agree with it for a moment, until I think it was Representative McCarthy who said, no, no, you don't want to do that, do you, that was instructive.

That was kind of capturing a moment that otherwise we would not see that might have happened behind a closed door, whether or not the camera was there.

STELTER: Yes. Every day, we see a different White House P.R. strategy, to the extent that there is a strategy.


The "Wall Street Journal" interview on Thursday is the latest example. He lets in these reporters. It seems to go well. But now the White House is warring with "The Journal."

SWEET: Oh, wow.

STELTER: The latest reporting we have, David, is that Sara Sanders a asked for a correction on Friday. The White House wanted a correction.

ZURAWIK: Wow. Wow.

STELTER: They wouldn't give it.

And, finally on Saturday night, she went out and called "The Journal" fake news.

What does it tell you about sort of the Murdoch world relationship with White House, that we have a president who live-tweets "FOX & Friends" every day, who ends up in trouble for contradicting his own administration's views by live-tweeting FOX, but on the other hand lets in "The Journal" and now calls "The Journal" fake news?

SWEET: May I jump in on this one?


STELTER: Yes, Lynn, maybe it doesn't make any sense, and that's the point, yes.

SWEET: Well, no.

So this is an argument over a contraction. Did President Trump say I have a great relationship with the North Korean leader or I would have one?

Now, I listened to the White House tape and the "Journal" tape. And for the moment, I think, if you really want to maybe be conclusive, have forensic audiologists on it, because it sounded to me like he said "I have."

Now, I don't know if maybe a dropped diphthong there somewhere. But you have now this dilemma, in addition to his turning on a "Wall Street Journal" interview where he couldn't get enough of it.

When you read the transcript, which they have posted, he's saying, oh, I don't want to go to my next meeting, we're doing a great time, we should do this all the time.


SWEET: So, now, instead of just saying maybe there's a mistake -- and that's the core of what -- so much what you write and talk about, Brian.

People make mistakes, government officials. It's not so much if you make a mistake. It's what you do when you find that out. If let's say the contraction was there, you don't then deplore all "The Wall Street Journal" and call it fake news.

You fix it. And if you think and after listening to the tape you realize you did not say what you thought you said, you have to live with it.


STELTER: David, I will come to you first after the break on Oprah, on the topic of Oprah, Oprah vs. Trump on 2020.


STELTER: We're going to talk about what this hype says about the media and about America right after this.



STELTER: Oprah 2020, you heard the stories, you saw the reporting this week.

Now "SNL" is weighing in. Here's how the show reacted last night.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Are you running?

LESLIE JONES, ACTRESS: Colin, I thought about it for a while.


JONES: And I would love to give you and answer.


JONES: But I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Now, no answer today.

JONES: This is America. Running for political office is tough.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: So we're not doing it.

JONES: But it would be worth it to serve my country.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Which is why we're going to do it.


STELTER: All right, I think Leslie Jones is going to be pretty busy playing Oprah in the months, maybe years to come.

Here's what I know for sure. When Winfrey stepped out on that Golden Globes stage on Sunday, she knew exactly what she was doing. I immediately started calling, reaching out to her friends, her business associates. And it became clear to me pretty quickly that she's thinking about running for president in 2020.

No, she's not made her mind up. No, she's not definitely going to run, but she's thinking about it. And some of those friends who called me back, three close friends who I used as sources, some of them are encouraging her, urging her to make the run, to challenge President Trump.

So, let's discuss this back with our panel. David Zurawik and Lynn Sweet are here with us.

David, I know that pre-Donald Trump this might not get so much attention, the idea of a TV star running for president, using their TV platform as a launching pad. But now isn't it pretty serious?

ZURAWIK: Oh, I think it absolutely is.

And I will tell you why I think it is so serious, Brian. In that nine minutes or whatever it was of that speech, she caught two tremendously powerful cultural currents in this country.

And I don't want to sound like all media stories go back to Trump, but one of them is the moral vacuum in leadership. She was someone -- this country really wants to hear someone speak about morality in the White House, instead of how much money they can make now that they are being sworn in. When she spoke, I went, yes, moral authority. She turned a Sunday

night awards show from the Golden Globes into a Sunday morning almost religious service by tapping into that need, number one.

Number two, this tremendous, epic, cultural, historic women's moment in this culture, she spoke to that. Listen, that's a jaded crowd. They not only came to their feet. They were yelling and screaming, it was so moving what she said. It was something positive. It spoke to our better angels, instead of the worst part of it.

It spoke to public service, instead of private gain. She's the anti- Trump. If she wins, she's there. I mean, if she enters the race, she is going to win it.

STELTER: If she runs.

ZURAWIK: Yes, I really do.

Now, will she run? Listen, I don't think it -- I think it's possible.

STELTER: Lynn, what about you there in Chicago, where "The Oprah Winfrey Show" was produced for so many years?

Does the week of coverage here, the week of chatter about this reflect a bias among journalists that they have a soft spot for celebrity candidates?

SWEET: Well, I think it -- Brian and David, I think it shows journalists like news, and not a soft spot.

STELTER: Well said.

SWEET: And when Oprah gives a speech like that, I call that news.



SWEET: So, let's look at what is happening here.

And, yes, I'm sitting in a chilly Chicago a few blocks from where Oprah went from a local talk show in Chicago to become a global figure. You could say -- and one of her -- someone who is in her circle said maybe she's better in terms of being a moral authority to say where she is now than to be president.

STELTER: Interesting.


SWEET: That said, that said, when her pal Gayle said the morning after on the Golden Globes that she's thinking about it, I take that in a few ways.

The door could have been shut, but there's a rule in politics that I learned from the late Mayor Harold Washington of Chicago. And that is, you always keep them guessing.

So, just think from the psychological operation view of this. The question now is not whether or not Oprah runs. The question is whether or not this gets into the head of President Trump.



SWEET: So, you take this step by step. And by leaving it open, it doesn't hurt from the perspective of people who know Oprah.

A lot has to happen. And one other point, right now, there's a vacuum in the Democratic 2020 field. There's no overwhelming figure that we think is a front-runner, as Hillary Clinton was in 2016.

And the Democrats are about to change their rules, diminishing the roles of superdelegates. So, even if -- so the rise of a so-called insider candidate, who comes from the Democratic establishment, is going to be -- that possibility is diminished in 2020.

So, with all these factors, it makes sense for Oprah just to be there.

Also, take note, because I covered this from when she did become a political figure in 2008 to help her friend Barack Obama in the primaries, that was not a decision made lightly. And even though she was friends with the former president and his wife, former first lady Michelle, for her to use the chits from her brand to go out in a Democratic primary, running against a woman, people who watch her show, buy her magazines and everything else, that was a big step for her.

And she doesn't take these steps lightly.


STELTER: Lynn, David, thank you both.

I have a feeling we will be talking about this in the future.

One more note. Oprah appeared for the first time on CBS in the wake of the Golden Globes speech. You know she's a correspondent for "60 Minutes."

She also was on "CBS Sunday Morning" today speaking with a group of female Hollywood A-listers about the Time's Up initiative.

As she thinks about taking on Trump, CBS is giving her a powerful broadcast platform.

So far, CBS has no comment Oprah's possible, possible running for president. It would have to get a lot more serious before they would think about cutting ties with her.

Up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES: These two Reuters journalists in Myanmar could face up to 14 years in jail. Hear the story and hear from the top editor of Reuters right after this.



STELTER: Fourteen years in prison, that's the potential fate for these two Reuters journalists if they are found guilty of violating Myanmar's Official Secrets Act.

They were arrested one month ago. They remain behind bars. And time is of the essence.

Joining me now is Steve Adler, the editor in chief of Reuters, to tell us about this case.

Steve, there is a hearing coming up on January 23. What is the reason why your two reporters were detained?

STEPHEN J. ADLER, EDITOR IN CHIEF, REUTERS: Well, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were just out reporting on December 12.

They were asked by a couple policemen to go see them at a restaurant. They went to see the policemen and had a conversation. And as soon as they left, they were surrounded by many police, they were handcuffed and spirited away.

We didn't even know that for a couple of days. They were completely incommunicado. But the prosecutors have since said they're bringing charges under the Official Secrets Act, which is a colonial era law under British India in 1923 to try to combat anti-colonial activity, being used against journalists in 2018 who are working for an international news organization and abiding by trust principles of integrity, independence and freedom from bias.

They weren't taking sides. They were just reporting.

STELTER: Is this an attempt by the authorities there to stop coverage of what's happening with the Muslim population?

ADLER: Well, I can't say what their intent is, but the effect is both to stop these reporters, who are very good reporters, reporting on something of huge importance, and it also clearly deters other people from taking that risk, because they face potentially 14 years in prison.

STELTER: And the prosecutors are alleging that your two reporters were in possession of secret official documents.

But I think the response is, those -- the police officers gave them those documents as a pretext to arrest them.

ADLER: Well, it's been reported that their families told them that. We haven't had contact with them, so we can't give you firsthand knowledge on that.

STELTER: OK. So, you have not had any contact with your reporters? ADLER: They have a lawyer. And the lawyer has had some contact with


But in terms of confirming that specific fact, I would much rather just focus on the fact they were out there reporting. They weren't doing anything wrong. They weren't breaking any rules. They were reporting just the way you or I would report a story. And they were arrested in the course of their work.

And they were reporting on something that everybody should want to know about.

STELTER: So, what now, Steve? This must be quite scary for you and your colleagues. What is happening behind the scenes?

ADLER: Well, there's been tremendous diplomatic support.

Secretary Tillerson made a statement, the U.K., the E.U. the U.N. Former President Clinton gave a very strong statement. Senator McCain just gave a great statement. So, there's quiet diplomacy going on as well.

But we also want to keep public attention on this. We think that broad public attention globally in a sustained way -- very difficult with news cycles so short. There's always some noise out there that gets in the way of an important sustained story like this.

So, I appreciate your taking interest, and I hope other people will take interest. These are two young journalists with families out doing their jobs in what we all support, free and independent journalism. And for those people to get arrested and potentially imprisoned for 14 years is a terrible story.

And we're looking at more of this going on around the world. In 15 countries, journalists have been attacked using the framework of fake news in the past year.


More than twice as many journalists in 2017 were arrested for supposedly presenting false news than were arrested in the previous year.

So, this whole idea of fake news and false news is spreading around the world. And it's creating a real danger for journalists everywhere.

STELTER: Steve, thank you for being here.

ADLER: Thank you.

STELTER: We will stay in touch.

ADLER: Really appreciate it.

STELTER: That's all for this televised version of RELIABLE SOURCES, but our coverage keeps going online at

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