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White House Press Team Becomes the Story; Alternative News Universes on Porter Coverage; Examining Attacks on the Media; A Look at Money and the Media. Aired 11a-12n ET

Aired February 11, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:10] FRANK SESNO, CNN HOST: Good morning.

I'm Frank Sesno, filling in for Brian Stelter. It's time for RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the story behind the story of how the media really worked, how the news gets made.

This hour, President Trump says no way to releasing the Democratic intelligence memo to the public, calling it very political. The story reveals a media chasm and a political gulf. Congressman Eric Swalwell is here to react and talk about a bill he's introduced to protect journalists in America.

Also. Facebook, Twitter and Google execs grilled by members of the British parliament right here in the USA. They're looking into fake news -- that deliberately false, twisted, lying kind. But will anything change?

And what does the purchase of a once mighty newspaper to a billionaire doctor signal? Can he cure an ailing giant?

But, first, President Trump is defending his staff after a series of missteps with the Rob Porter abuse allegations.

Trump called White House communications director Hope Hicks who has come under increasing scrutiny in the last few weeks for her part in the Russia investigation, now her involvement in the Porter scandal and story absolutely fantastic -- he says she is very talented and respected by all.

Now, that's a far cry from just a few days ago when sources said Trump felt that Hicks let her personal relationship with Porter cloud her judgment, and that he is very disturbed by the negative press attention.

The president also came to the quasi defense of Porter, tweeting: People's lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused, life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as due process?

Well, Trump's mention of due process is interesting. Could it be that he's not just talking about his staff but perhaps himself and the media scrutiny he's been subjected to? Joining me now to discuss all this and more is Olivia Nuzzi, Washington correspondent for "New York Magazine", Lynn Sweet, a columnist and Washington bureau chief at "The Chicago Sun-Times", and April Ryan, a CNN analyst who's the White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks, and who happens to be a Terker fellow at the George Washington University School of Media Public Affairs where I also work.

So greetings to you all and happy morning.

Olivia, let -- Olivia, let me start with you. You profiled Hope Hicks and as we pointed out Hope Hicks is in the middle of all of this thing. What does this say about a communications director and whether she can be in the middle of the story and still helping to shape it?

OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE : Well, I would point out that it has taken about three years for Hope Hicks as a Donald Trump aide to find herself really at the center of a public scandal this way. Most, there have been tons of firings, hirings, people resigning in that time from Donald Trump's orbit and she has endured and I think that's pretty remarkable.

But, you know, CNN was the outlet that first reported that Donald Trump was frustrated with Hope Hicks, was questioning her judgment, thought that her relationship may have clouded that judgment, but I would point out that Donald Trump, you know, since day one of this presidency -- something that we have been able to take note of over and over again -- that he kind of throws things out there, he says things casually. He may not mean it and it results in these stories, and then maybe the next day or later that same day he's saying something different in private.

So, I think it's very difficult to know if Donald Trump saying things to his allies, to his staff is truly representative of how he feels. But I think it's bad news for Hope Hicks certainly that she is at the center of these types of stories now, at the center of a palace intrigue story because as history shows, that typically leads to someone making an exit.

SESNO: Lynn Sweet, how difficult has it been to report this particular story -- not that any of them are easy -- but with the White House being all over the place as it has been with the chronology and the response to this?

LYNN SWEET, COLUMNIST & WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Well, it makes this a difficult story to report is that what you don't -- what you need are just facts and basically a timeline. You don't need statements which I know have been the subject of a lot of controversy, maybe we'll get to them here. What is at issue is just the timeline -- what did you know, what did you -- when did you know it, who told you what?

So, that's the difficulty here is that the White House is short on facts and explanations, meaning when -- you know, due process is exactly what Porter has been getting all these months because they decided to keep him on while the interim clearance process was ongoing. So, indeed, he's been getting it and if the White House chose, he could still be there today. All that changed is that now the public knows what the White House knows.

So, I would say the difficulty is in this story and others is just simply getting facts unvarnished, without -- you know, and then if we have questions, we'll go back.

[11:05:05] That's always the essential frustration.

SESNO: So, April, let me ask you about some of these facts, because this is really sort of a through the looking-glass moment, all of this stuff that we're seeing at the White House now.


SESNO: Let's just point out that Hicks -- Hope Hicks, the communications director, has been dating Rob Porter who's now out and has been accused of this abuse by his ex-wives. Hicks has herself hasn't said anything about Porter's hiring or resignation.

RYAN: Right.

SESNO: But you reported, helped craft John Kelly, the chief of staff's initial comments that referred to Porter as a man of true integrity and honor, which are the comments that stood until they didn't, and Porter was gone. So, have you been able to establish the facts and the timeline that Lynn was talking about?

RYAN: Well, Lynn is right about a timeline. But here's one thing we have to remember -- Hope Hicks is in the communication shop, but the problem is, Frank, is that what do you do? You know, does she recuse herself? And someone say she should have and that really could have been one of the best scenarios for her if she were to have recused herself.

But at issue, she did write this, and we also have to look at the timeline as well as this president. You never want to show that there is weakness, so they're going to say -- they're going to talk about his stealth efforts and organization and how he kept things going. They're going to also talk about how who he was is the person that they knew, not necessarily what has been accused of presented against him.

So, the issue is this White House trying to show the American public that we were still able and capable to do the people's business even in the midst of this. But does it make it right? No, it doesn't. Lynn is absolutely right about this time line.

And also another piece is that what is been said about the security issue, that this man could have been blackmailed and it could have jeopardized his job and also the issues that he dealt with. He touched top secret and classified materials with an interim security clearance. He never had a full, total security clearance.

SESNO: Let me jump in here too and bring us back to the president's tweet because he said something essentially that where does someone go to get due process. What about what he's saying here? Does he have a point? And it's ironic that he's raising it for all the reasons that I'm sure you'll point out. But does he have a point that the press and others may be too quick to jump on on these types of stories, Olivia?

NUZZI: Well, I think he's using the term due process not in the literal sense but to mean that people are jumping to conclusions and not waiting to really assess the information, I think that's wrong in the case --


SESNO: Which is something that you in journalism have to do all the time when you put a story up.

NUZZI: Right, I think that's incorrect in this case. I think, you know, there's been a lot of evidence, a lot of testimonials coming from Rob Porter's ex-wives. I want to point out really quickly to Lynn's point about not having the facts and you know this is a difficulty with this White House, which it is consistently. We don't have the facts about how these statements were really created, who was saying what behind the scenes, who was dictating what.

And I think this timeline has emerged, this narrative has emerged that this was definitely Hope Hicks' doing, that she certainly was dictating John Kelly statement. But we don't have any confirmation about any of that, and that's what makes reporting on this so difficult is that we cannot get the White House to just give us the truth and confirm details for us that I think in any other administration would be pretty simple.

SESNO: Lynn, how about that due process?

SWEET: OK, I just want to underscore this is a very cunning use of the term "due process" by President Trump. It's a diversionary tactic and due process is often referred to in a judicial proceeding.

There is no judicial proceeding. We're on your show talking about the press. This is -- we're talking about the court of public opinion, which is it's news. You -- "The Daily Mail" had a news story, "Intercept" had a news story, the White House had decisions to make how they reacted to it.

When you talk about due process, due process usually in a civil or criminal case has a conclusion.

SESNO: Lynn, I think you said something very important to that I think is worth pointing out. One is that -- you know, he's using the term due process. Due process that you use and making an editorial judgment as to when something as a story or not, or when you put a name out there is a separate matter. Due process in what an HR department decides or any place decides as to what is a hireable or a fireable offense is something altogether different.

So, I think we have to be really mindful as you say with that term. SWEET: Absolutely, because they had time. They were giving -- I mean, I want to give the White House their due. President Trump, you gave Robert Porter due process. That's why you let him remain on the job and as a practical matter you could have said, well, we are going to continue -- we think there's still more due process to run out here, so he will stay on the job and until I as the president think otherwise.

[11:10:07] That could have happened.

SESNO: April, what is -- what is left to the story?

RYAN: Yes.

SESNO: What are the question still unanswered and that the public needs to know about do you think?

RYAN: There are a lot of questions. You know, what is the vetting process number one for this administration? You know, there are high standards that were in place for other administrations in bringing people on. Also, you know when you consider someone who has a blemish on their record, personal record, their criminal record, what is the standard for that, you know, because not only was it Rob Porter, we had a speechwriter in the Environmental Quality Office counsel who also had to resign because of allegations that he had abuse issues against his then wife, his ex-wife?

So, there are a lot of questions going around as to how this administration really handles personnel and who is qualified, and what are the qualifications? What's the criteria to be able to get in and also to have a security clearance or to be able to touch top secret and classified information that really could be a serious issue with blackmail and other things that could come up if indeed you are put in a situation where you just really have a questionable background and that could come in and be thrown in your face?

SESNO: It's always a question at the White House as to how people are hired and what the vetting process is and what the public and the Congress gets to know about all of that?

RYAN: Yes.

SESNO: I want to switch gears for just a minute before we run out of time here to talk about another of the stories that came up this week, and that is the military parade that the president wants. Very quickly, to each of you, how will you write that story? Olivia?


NUZZI: I would write it unhappily and probably sarcastically.


NUZZI: Well, I mean, look, I think it's a very serious thing and I -- but I -- it's just an example, you know, of Donald diverging from the standard that that we've had in previous administrations. SESNO: Lynn, let me ask you. Isn't this a case then maybe that

liberal media is going to be left behind by the parade because plenty of people would like to celebrate the military in this country?

SWEET: Well, let me tell you if I may answer your other question.

SESNO: You prefer that question?

SWEET: I would prefer to do that because I have a better for you in respect of everybody.

SESNO: OK, go ahead.

SWEET: What I did -- because I did a story on it and I chose to focus on an interview with Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, who is a wounded Iraq war vet who is of the military, who knows what it's like to want to be celebrated as a veteran and as active-duty troops.

And she thought it was a monumental waste of taxpayers' money, and I thought her viewpoint was an informed one, and it's one where because she is of the military, it is -- she says that when you're in the military, you're -- you can't speak out if your commander had to do a parade, you're going to do a parade. That's why she's there to speak out.

So, if you wonder how you do the story, that's how I did it. And I don't think it's the matter of left or right. I think it's like any big undertaking, what does it cost? What's the cost-benefit analysis?

And then if Trump wants to do this, he is -- knows going into this that in this case he might have unified opposition from members of both parties who just don't think this is good. But he's a president. He can order it.

SESNO: April, last brief word to you. How will you write the story?

RYAN: Is it the id and the ego over really the military and also the fact that George H.W. Bush spent about $12 million the last time that there was a parade and the cost will probably be much more than that if there were, something along those lines.

SESNO: OK. Olivia Nuzzi, April Ryan, and Lynn Sweet -- thank you all very much. Have a great weekend.

Up next, how competing news narratives are taking us to alternative universes.


[11:17:56] SESNO: And welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Frank Sesno, filling in for Brian Stelter this week.

It is the tale of two narratives once again, red news versus blue news when it comes to one of the biggest news stories of the week, alternate universes that leave us scratching our heads if we think this is supposed to be about journalism in search of truth. Here's what networks like CNN, ABC and the BBC covered when it came to

the Porter story.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of President Trump's top aides has resigned after two ex-wives have come forward with abuse allegations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: An aide to President Trump has stepped down over allegations that he beat his wives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The big headline out of Washington this morning, the resignation of one of the president's closest aides.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is now the second top aide to the president of the United States who has been accused of abuse towards women.


SESNO: And here's what Fox News chose to cover instead of the Porter story.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, we have even more text messages from Trump-hating FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Those new messages now raising even more questions about what the FBI knew about the Clinton investigation and when they knew it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are they talking about the president of the United States? Are they talking about Barack Obama? Does that mean he was involved in whatever they were doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have two very simple questions for Barack Obama and frankly everyone else involved in the scandal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did the president know and when did he know it?


SESNO: Fox barely mentioned Porter. So, it leads to the question with the types of stories they reported deliberately meant to muddy the waters. I mean, Obama hasn't been president for quite some time, yet it's not what Fox is putting into this narrative.

Now, one of -- Fox isn't the only one. One of "Breitbart" stop stories yesterday had nothing to do with this White House at all. Poll, the story said, Americans overwhelmingly believe Obama improperly surveilled Trump campaign.

My reaction is one thing, but what effect is any of this having on people consuming this kind of information? According to the most recent Gallup Poll, while percent of Americans seeing news media as -- seen news media as important to our democracy, 43 percent think the news media did very poor job accomplishing that goal.

[11:20:02] And when it's broken down along partisan lines, we see just how far apart we are. Fifty percent of Democrats think the news media is doing very well, supporting our democracy, while only 10 percent of Republicans believe the same.

News should serve to inform to seek truth to hold the powerful whoever they may be to account. Instead, what we're seeing is news is just another disputed battleground in a polarized America filter on what people see and believe.

So, joining me now, Bethany Mandel. She's a conservative columnist at "The Forward" and editor at "Ricochet", a conservative website. And Oliver Darcy, senior media reporter for CNN.

Oliver, let me start with you fascinating dual universes here.


SESNO: How do you read that?

DARCY: It's really remarkable. I was watching Jeanine Pirro show last night and the amount of conspiracy theories that were being floated to protect Rob Porter or not Rob Porter, sorry, General Kelly and his handling of the Rob Porter scandal was remarkable. I mean I said I think that Infowars -- Alex Jones of Infowars is probably looking at Fox News and a little worried that they're infringing on this territory. It's insane.

And that some of the stories that we were talking to you was showing on air earlier where it says, they were saying that these text messages instead of Rob Porter scandal was a big story of the day. Well, that ended up really be not being true, we've kind of debunked the story here at CNN. "The Wall Street Journal", Murdoch owned paper, effectively debunked it as well, and then Fox sort of moved on to the new thing without even correcting their initial story online.

So, not only are they muddying the waters with stories that are not related to the big story of the day but the stuff is not even true.

SESNO: Bethany, I mean, conservative media have a very important audience and a very important mission,


SESNO: Credibility matters no matter where you're coming from, it would seem to me.

MANDEL: Yes, absolutely.

SESNO: How harmful is this to virtually ignore a huge story at the White House?

MANDEL: So, I think that what is to me as a conservative journalist most troubling about the fact that they don't want to talk about the Porter story is that it's not just the fact that there is a wife- beater in the White House that is susceptible to blackmail, it's that he was walking on without security clearance and there are a lot of people in the White House there walking around without security clearance.

And if we want to talk about national security and the importance of the FBI and the importance of keeping our country safe, that's a major story.

SESNO: And at what point does that actually harm the brand of any conservative or any other media to ignore a story that doesn't fit your narrative.

MANDEL: So, I think that --

SESNO: I mean, isn't this actually dangerous business for a "Breitbart" or a Fox or anybody else? I mean, you're a conservative columnist.


SESNO: But you're a legitimate journalist working for legitimate news organization.

MANDEL: Yes, but I think the problem and why we're seeing this polarization is that it's not going to harm their credibility because these folks that are consuming Fox News are only consuming Fox News. So, I mean, a lot of the examples that you use were opinion column -- their opinion shows like "Fox and Friends" --

SESNO: Hannity.

MANDEL: -- and "Hannity". Those are -- the folks who watch those are devoted partisans and they're not necessarily going to hear the true story.

SESNO: So, Oliver, is there any indication that this is hurting their ratings or circulation or anything like that? Quite the contrary?

DARCY: They're doing great. They're living in another universe is what it is, and they're being told that CNN and "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post", that these guys are the ones not telling the truth, when in fact it's quite the contrary.

SESNO: Bethany, I want to ask you about a tweet that you offered up this last week as well. Every journalist should mention Michelle Fields to Corey Lewandowski on air if they insist on having him talking about hitting women. What's this about?

MANDEL: Yes, I mean on Bill Hemmer show, they had --

SESNO: On Fox.

MANDEL: Yes, on Fox, they had watched Corey Lewandowski on to talk about how problematic it is to have Porter in the White House and they did not mention Lewandowski's private relationship with Hope Hicks and now she's in a relationship with Porter, because that is relevant information that that nobody seems to be talking about.

And they all sort of mentioning the fact that you might have a little bit of a credibility issue if you are on television as a man who has on camera assaulted a woman on the job -- Michelle Fields was a reporter for "Breitbart" -- and Corey Lewandowski assaulted her on camera and you have the audacity to have Corey Lewandowski on air to talk about how problematic it is that the White House isn't taking this seriously. It's like you had Kim Jong-un on they're talking about how problematic it is for human rights abuses in America.

It is an -- it's the gaslighting of America all over again.

SESNO: Take that, Corey Lewandowski. You've just been compared to Kim Jong-un. I mean, that's pretty serious stuff.

MANDEL: I mean -- but the problem, it's the comparison that he is an expert in anyway on abusing women. He has physically assaulted a woman on camera.

SESNO: Oliver, I want to ask you about another story and I don't mean just to be focusing on Fox this week, but they certainly put themselves in the crosshair with a lot of what was going on. A remarkable column by John Moody who is one of the top news execs at Fox News and a vice president, posted a column slamming the focus of this Olympics as saying and -- this would be his words -- darker, gayer and different. Fox had to withdraw that column at the end of the day.


SESNO: But that seems an extraordinary editorial freedom shall we say for someone to take and out of bounds even for Fox.

DARCY: Yes, and Fox is not answering any questions. They put out a statement, a very short statement.

SESNO: Did you reach to them?

DARCY: I did, multiple times, they're not they're not getting back to me. John Moody, the executive is not getting back to me either. But they put out a very short statement to media outlets saying it didn't represent the values of Fox News, which is extremely perplexing because this is an executive vice president's and executive editor at Fox News who apparently if we're to believe Fox, you know, who doesn't understand his own company's values. It's quite strange, and it's also odd is that you would expect him to be leading others in the newsroom. You know, showing them what the company values are and apparently, you know, he doesn't know himself.

SESNO: We'll keep watching. Bethany Oliver, thank you both very much.

MANDEL: Thank you.

SESNO: I appreciate the conversation. Up next, President Trump refusing to release a memo drafted by

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee as it's written now. I'll talk to one of the members of that committee about what he feels the American people need to know and about the new legislation he's introduced to protect journalists right here in America, after the break.



SESNO: Welcome back. I'm Frank Sesno, in for Brian Stelter today.

When President Donald Trump took the oath of office 13 months ago, he swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, all of it, including the First Amendment, which protects free speech and a free press, among other things.

But repeatedly throughout his presidency, he has attacked news organizations individually and the press institutionally.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A few days ago, I called the fake news the enemy of the people, and they are. I'm not going to give you a question. You are fake news. It's frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it.


SESNO: During Trump's first year in office, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, which is led by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Committee to Protect Journalists, recorded 34 arrests of journalists and 44 physical attacks against journalists.

In March 2017, an "O.C. Weekly" and two photographers were assaulted by demonstrators at a Make America Great Again rally in California. In May 2017, Greg Gianforte, now a U.S. congressman, body-slammed a reporter to the ground.

In November, a campaign staff member for then Senate candidate Roy Moore shoved a FOX News camera at a rally in Alabama.

And just last month, a Michigan man was arrested for making several phone calls threatening to kill CNN employees.

My next guest says the current environment toward the press is so toxic and so dangerous that he's proposed something that until now would have been unthinkable in this country, a federal law to protect journalists.

Joining me now, Representative Eric Swalwell.

Thank you very much for coming in today. Before we get to this -- and this is huge and very important -- I do want to ask you. You're also on the Intelligence Committee, and you have been trying to get this whole memo business straightened out. The president is calling for the Democratic version of the memo to be rewritten before it can be put out.

Are you in the process of rewriting it or redacting portions of it?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: You know, Frank, we believe it's time for the president to come clean with the American people, to release this memo.

He is now showing a concern about sources and methods that he was not willing to show just two weeks ago, when he released the Republican memo and acknowledged that he was supporting its release before he had even read it. And so we're open to working with...

SESNO: Right. But he's saying -- he's reviewed the memo. The White House reviewed your memo, said redact parts of it. The indications are from some of the committee that that will happen. Is that under way? When will it be released?

SWALWELL: Yes. It is under way. And our staff worked hard throughout the weekend, because the redactions required looking at classified information that they're reviewing back in Washington right now.

And if the redactions are simply to support sources and methods, we don't want to expose that. That's a discretion that the Republicans weren't willing to show. But if there was political pressure put on the department by the president or if these redactions would take out of context what the FBI was trying to do in seeking its application against Carter Page, we can't support that.

So, we are going to work with the department.

SESNO: When do you think this will go back to the White House?

SWALWELL: You know, hopefully, it can go back as soon as tomorrow.

But we are back in Washington on Tuesday, when our committee next meets again. But, again, our committee members want to end this memo charade. Every second we spend working on this memo is a second we're not interviewing witnesses or doing all we can to protect the ballot box at the next election.

SESNO: And every minute we spend on it is a minute I'm not talking to you about the Journalist Protection Act. So, let me talk to you about that too, which is this bill that you have produced.

What is it, and why now?

SWALWELL: Well, it protects journalists in every corner of our country if they are attacked physically while doing their job.

I really wish I didn't have to introduce this. But we have seen rhetoric from the president declaring the media as the enemy of the state, and I'm afraid that many journalists will continue to come under attack.

And I want to make sure that if it's politically unpopular in a particular part of the country to prosecute someone who abuses a journalist, that there's a federal backstop.

And also, as you know, Frank, journalists investigate people in power like the police and prosecutors and city hall. And we want to make sure that if they were ever attacked, that the decision locally would be not to prosecute the person who attacked them, that you still have a federal backstop.



SESNO: What would this require? Would this be about physical attacks only? And many states say, we don't need this, and this is state business, not the federal business at all . How would this actually work?

SWALWELL: This would only allow prosecution if a journalist was physically attacked.

It doesn't limit anyone from criticizing the press. Donald Trump can go along his way and continue to declare the press the enemy of the state. That's not good for democracy, but that wouldn't be a crime here.

It just allows a federal prosecution of any journalist -- we believe that the First Amendment is a fundamental right, and it should be protected everywhere.

SESNO: All right, let me ask you about this.

Amy Swearer, who is a writer The Daily Signal, which is published by the Heritage Foundation, conservative organization, pushes back on this. And she has some good and interesting points.

And she points out that a number of the attacks that you mentioned do not come from -- they don't all come from the right wing by any point, by any means.

And then she says: "It's irresponsible to suggest either that America is a dangerous place to be a journalist or that Trump is responsible for this danger, disrespectful of those journalists who are actually risking life, liberty and property on a daily basis."

She points out: "In 2017, some 70 journalists were killed worldwide, 262 imprisoned in connection with their journalistic work. Not one of those deaths or imprisonments occurred in the United States," she says.

What is your response to that, that we just don't need it, there's a lot of noise, but the threat doesn't come anywhere near what it is in other places?

SWALWELL: Things changed dramatically in the United States in 2017, when we elected the first president who's ever declared so consistently that the media are not only the enemy, but who has put on his social media a number of times posts of violence against the media, or suggestions that we would be better off if he could stomp on the media or clothesline the media in a ring.

And so we're starting to see increasing amounts of attacks. And you have pointed out some of them in the lead to the show. And so with this legislation, hopefully, this crime is never prosecuted because the local authorities protect the journalists. But if it becomes politically unpopular in parts of our country to protect a journalist who has been a victim, we want to make sure that they still have an avenue to justice.

SESNO: Congressman Swalwell, before you go, very quickly, so far as I understand it, this bill, your co-sponsors are all Democrats.

Do you have any Republicans who are lining up and are prepared to sign on to this thing as well?

SWALWELL: I have been reaching out to Republicans. And it would protect a conservative journalist just as much it would protect a liberal journalist.

And so I hope we all can agree that the freedom of the press is essential in our country.

SESNO: Do you have any Republicans signing on with you at this time or saying they're going to?


I hope the next time you and I chat, I can tell you that they have stepped up and they want to do the right thing.

SESNO: Well, Congressman, I want to thank you for putting this issue in front of the American people.

There's plenty of room to criticize the media and coverage of one sort or another, but, institutionally, this is a pillar of our democracy, and freedom of the press and the security of the press is something that we have taken for granted. I hope that we can continue to do so, but putting this in front of folks is very helpful.

Thank you very much for being with us.

SWALWELL: My pleasure.

SESNO: Up next: Executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter faced a grilling this past week for their role in Russian media meddling. Can we expect anything to change?



SESNO: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Frank Sesno, in for Brian Stelter today.

Facebook, Twitter, Google were in the hot seat this week, as members of the British Parliament, a subcommittee, conducted an unprecedented hearing in the U.S. to dig deeper into the problem of misleading and deliberately false news.

The M.P.s grilled top execs from the world of social media.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has Facebook ever done an analysis of how profitable fake news or the deliberate dissemination of disinformation has been to the company?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sorry. I can't answer. I know we have done -- we have looked to understand how false news is manifesting itself. I can't say that we have looked specifically at how much money that would have been gained, because it wouldn't be a relevant factor in our decision to remove the content.


SESNO: The social media execs acknowledged the problem, but made it very clear they still think of themselves as technology companies, not media companies.

But M.P.s pushed back hard and served up a stark reality check.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What actually happens when the journalistic landscape is so decimated, and that basically people don't know what to trust? Is there a central responsibility that you have in order to ensure that we have that trusted means?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have all of this information. We have none of it, because you won't show it to us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Doesn't this just indicate just how powerful you have become and what a Pandora's box, to use my colleague's -- that you have opened up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, the deliberate use of your platform to distribute absolutely false and defamatory information can continue in election time, according to what you have just said?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you wanted, from what you said, to spread a lie halfway around the world before the truth got out, Twitter would be a pretty good medium to use to do it.


SESNO: Now joining me, Hadas Gold, CNN media politics and business reporter.

Hadas, great to see you.


SESNO: Well, full disclosure first. You were there covering the story. I was there because it was at George Washington University. And I was also somebody who testified in that group, mostly talking about the sort of credibility and the stake of traditional media in all of this.

But as far as the social media execs, Hadas, were concerned, it was extraordinary testimony and quite far-ranging. What was your main takeaway?

GOLD: The main takeaway was the obvious frustration you could hear from the M.P.s.

You heard these -- in those clips you just played, what they see the social media companies, the Internet companies as responsible for does not align with what these companies think they're responsible for.


There was a really explosive moment where the chair sort of yelled at a Facebook executive who said that he did not feel as though they were responsible if foreigners were buying political ads to try the influence elections, which is illegal in the U.K.

And the chair, Damian Collins, just went, if this was a bank, a bank is held responsible if there's money laundering through the bank. You can't blame just the person who did the money laundering. The bank is the platform.

And you could feel the tension between the two of them, that the social media companies don't feel that they're as responsible as much as the M.P.s do.

SESNO: Well, one of the other things that was really interesting too that was emphasized is that in the United States -- these are all American companies, and so they're based here, and they reflect American culture and American law, to include the First Amendment, freedom of speech.

But there's a different sense of that, with more restrictions in Europe and elsewhere in the world. And there's this collision of cultures in many ways.

I thought that was a very interesting thing as well.

GOLD: It's very true.

And in Europe and European countries -- and I spoke to several of these M.P.s. And they know that because they have you could say more power to regulate in Europe, they know that U.S. often looks to them and sees what kind of regulations they have put through.

Now, the U.K. hasn't really issued any sort of really harsh regulations on social media companies, like Germany has, which has these really harsh hate speech rules, that they charge the social media companies if they don't take down hate speech in a certain period of time.

But they seem to be heading that way. And the social media companies recognize, I think they do now, that they need to start acting in conjunction with what the governments are looking for, because, otherwise, they're going to face some harsh regulations, because these M.P.s see these social media companies as these sort of wild, unruly, unresponsible -- irresponsible types of places that fake news and dangerous, honestly, content they see it as is just spreading like fire.

SESNO: Hadas, some of those from the social media companies that were there at least acknowledged their concern and said, we're looking into it in one form or another.

And they are taking steps, some of the social media companies. But was there any indication, any glimmer that anything is going to change as a result? Because, as you say, the concern is growing.

GOLD: The social media companies are starting to take certain steps.

YouTube announced that they're going to start labeling content that comes from state-funded outlets. So you think of a place like R.T., but that also ropes in places like PBS and BBC.

Facebook did announce that they are going to start doing more labeling for political advertisements just to give some more information. But it's clear that the only changes are coming because they're feeling pressure from government and from the public.

SESNO: Hadas Gold, thanks. Great to see you. Appreciate it.

GOLD: Thank, Frank.

SESNO: Well, coming up, humiliating public departures, confounding management changes. What is next for the futures of two major media institutions, you may have heard of them, "Newsweek," "The L.A. Times"?

After this.



SESNO: Welcome back. I'm Frank Sesno, in for Brian Stelter.

In this nonstop news cycle we're in, it's just longer and busier and more consequential than any, any of us can remember. Chalk it up to a chaotic and precedent-busting White House, nonstop media, a public more connected more than ever thanks to social media. Yes, in some ways, it's good for business in some ways.

"The New York Times," which said on Thursday that total revenue for last year was over $1 billion, in large part due to 2.6 million digital-only subscriptions, that's incredible.

But other major media companies, well, they are on the dark side of the moon. Major turmoil have routed "The L.A. Times" and "Newsweek."

Remember "Newsweek"?

Joining me now is Ken Doctor, media analyst and the founder of He just wrote about all of this for Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab.

Good to see you.

KEN DOCTOR, NEWSONOMICS.COM: Good to be with you, Frank.

SESNO: Let's start with "The L.A. Times," the sale of "The L.A. Times."

Patrick Soon-Shiong, $500 million, he gets the paper. Does he want to be the Jeff Bezos of the West Coast? Bezos, of course, bought "The Washington Post."

DOCTOR: I think he definitely wants the esteem.

And the question is going to be, is he going to follow the Bezos playbook, which is fairly basic? Reinvestment. Hire talent. Hire people who know the business and take that long-term view.

Bezos promised runaway. And he has delivered it five years ago. And there are others who have entered the business as billionaires and multimillionaires who haven't.

SESNO: Ken, "The L.A. Times" was once a powerhouse in journalism. It remains the fourth largest daily newspaper and news organization in the country. What is left of it?


Well, a lot is left. It's still the fourth biggest newsroom. It still has 430 people.

And you compare that to someone like "The Mercury News" up in the Bay Area that used to be a peer, and they are down to fewer than 50 in the newsroom. There is a lot to work with, but clearly "The L.A. Times" has fallen five to 10 years behind "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" that were once peers.


SESNO: If it wants to have millions of digital subscribers like "The New York Times" does, how does it do that?

DOCTOR: It invests in content.

What kind of journalistic content? And, also, what's it's going to focus on? Is it going to focus on L.A. News, entertainment news, technology news?

And then all product kinds of innovations that we've seen, when we each use "The Times" and "The Post" apps. "The Post" now has a million subscribers digitally, and only had 100,000 2.5 years ago. So it can be built.

SESNO: So, I mentioned this other news organization that bought "Newsweek." I grew up getting the magazine every week.

DOCTOR: A lot of us did, yes.


SESNO: It comes once a week, right? Is "Newsweek" done?

DOCTOR: It is spiraling down.

And we can see, even, you know, the "TIME" magazine sale, the Time, Inc. sale, that was another sign of that. It is. And it fell into the hands -- as the old boys club of who owned these publications changed, it fell into the hands of people who didn't know what to do with it.


So, they didn't invest well, and they haven't proven to be trustworthy owners. And so, unfortunately, it is another spiraling down.

SESNO: What is the bottom line and the takeaway message, in a line, that comes out of these two stories?

DOCTOR: To me, it is, we have a bunch of new owners that can enter the trade and it is a question for them.

Are they going to grow it? Are they going to invest and believe in their journalistic mission and get the reader subscriptions, or are they just going to milk it and close the doors in 2022?

SESNO: And where will be the future of information and news for people all across the country and in local and state markets?

DOCTOR: That's right.

SESNO: Thank you so much, Ken Doctor.

DOCTOR: You're quite welcome.

SESNO: Appreciate your insight on that. Appreciate it.

That's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. Brian will be back next week.