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Trump Links Shooting to Russia Probe; Trump's Media Allies in Denial. Aired 11a-12n ET

Aired February 18, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:06] 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, how the news gets made.

This hour, the Mueller investigation is tight as a drum. No leaks while the White House is leaking like a sieve. Why is that?

And later, the playmate and the president. Ronan Farrow is here with this latest reporting about "The National Enquirer".

But, first, I think "Wired" magazine Editor Nick Thompson summed up this week best. He wrote this. He said: America is where the high schoolers act like leaders and the leaders act like they are in high school.

Unfortunately, two stories have merged this weekend. The pain that we all feel after the latest mass shooting and then the confusion we all feel about the Russia probes. These stories have come together. While these grieving students in Parkland, Florida, are asking politicians to protect them and announcing a march on Washington, the president of the United States is making it about himself.

President Trump tweeting overnight: It's very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable.

He is right about that. But he continued by saying: they -- they at the FBI -- are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. There is no collusion.

It's clear the president is feeling the heat of Robert Mueller special counsel and he is lashing out, implying that the FBI might have failed to stop the shooting because it's too obsessed with Russia.

Let's be clear, the president is insulting your intelligence. Let's full up It says right there, the FBI employs 35,000 people. There are a small number of FBI agents working on the Mueller probe, but they have nothing to do with the investigation of tips like the one that was missed before the Parkland shooting.

So, where in the world --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At least we know what our federal agents had been doing recently. Why they were too busy to stop school shootings. They've been chasing down bad Facebook trolls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the FBI that spends all their time, all their manpower, and all the resources going after a failed Russian conspiracy that never existed and they should be going after bad guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many agents have been taken off the duty of investigating terror and domestic terror to follow these political dead ends?


STELTER: Aha. So, that's where President Trump got the idea. Yes. This has been a talking point from pro-Trump media ever since Friday that there is a link between the FBI's failure and the ongoing Russia probes. Again, this is nonsensical, but I want you to see what's going on behind the scenes. Geraldo was said that on TV on Saturday morning, and then on Saturday evening, what did Geraldo do? He was at Mar-a-Lago. He had dinner with President Trump. That's according to new reporting from "The Washington Post".

Now, when did Trump tweet that nonsensical claim? Eleven p.m. Saturday. You tell me there's a connection there.

But the tweets have continued all weekend long. Here are just some of the tweets from the president. You look at what he is doing here. He is undercutting his own national security adviser. He is ranting and raving about the fake media. He has got tweets riddled with misspellings and profanity.

I don't know, maybe down in Mar-a-Lago, maybe in person, President Trump is cool, calm and collected, but on Twitter, he sounds deeply troubled. He sounds unhinged. This is why questions about his fitness for office are so urgent. This is the biggest story that I see happening right now.

So joining me to talk about this and other issues, David Gergen, CNN senior political analyst. He was an adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton. And Dan Pfeiffer, CNN political commentator and former senior adviser to President Obama.

Both of you at one time or another been communications directors for presidents. You have both been inside the White House, so I want to try to assess what we learned from this presidential tweet storm.

David Gergen, first to you. Is this unhinged?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It reminds me very much of the last days of President Nixon when he became deeply, deeply insecure, lashed out in all sorts of ways and didn't remain focused on the job at hand. And this I'm afraid has been President Trump's pattern now for some time.

I don't know why he is so insecure. It certainly suggests as Mueller closes in more that there is he very much does not want us to know, and he is very afraid that Mueller is going to get there.

But I also think, Brian, and Dan can speak to this as well, the way the White House runs and people and staff take their cues from the top, from the president. And if he is deceptive, if he is dishonest with the public, then what you find in the White House is a culture of deceit and deception.

[11:05:04] And they can't get their story straight, because there hasn't been a history of trying to be straight.

STELTER: Is that what you see today?

GERGEN: That's what I see today, yes. I think that we have an extraordinary situation where that tweet you just showed from Mr. Thompson I thought put it just right. We're under assaults in all sorts of ways as we've seen in this past week and the press has been chronicling and our nation is under -- obviously now under assault from the Russians on our elections, not just 2016, but as we head into 2018, our children are under assault in their schools. Dreamers are under assault from law enforcement officers.

And there is nothing -- there is no moral leadership from Washington, from the Congress or the White House frankly, and where is the moral leadership coming from? I'm hearing Broward County as we speak just a few blocks away from where a thousand people gathered and the moral leadership came from those young 18-year-olds.


GERGEN: Yes, Emma Gonzalez, wonderful, compelling speech.

STELTER: Absolutely.

So, Dan, I guess I'm left wondering, why hasn't someone taken away the president's cell phone? Why are these tweets still coming out? Why isn't there a support structure at the White House to save him from himself?

DAN PFEIFFER, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, for two reasons. One, Trump doesn't want it and he won't allow it. Even if you take General Kelly, someone who had a lifetime of experience in the military, he said his job is not to read the president's tweets, he doesn't pay to Twitter.

STELTER: Yes, right.

PFEIFFER: Which is sort of like a chief of staff saying, I don't care what the president says because this is President Trump's form of communication. And the people who -- there is a selection of bias and the people who ended up working in this White House. The top tier of best known, best experienced Republican operatives, people who worked for George W. Bush or Mitt Romney or others have chosen not to be in this White House because they don't trust Donald Trump, so the people who are there are people who have come from the Fox News set and are sort of people who are willing to risk career suicide, risk legal jeopardy for the glory, I guess, or infamy of serving Trump. And so, the president's inexperienced and incapable of the job is

doing the people he surrounded himself are inexperienced and incapable of the job they've been assigned to do.

STELTER: In the press office, one of the deputy press secretaries, Hogan Gidley, has been on a Fox News interview kind of tour recently. This is from one of the interviews where he essentially said it's the media's fault. You all are worse than a hostile foreign government.


HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: There are two groups that have created chaos more than the Russians. And that's the Democrats and the mainstream media.


STELTER: No surprise Russia Today ate that up. We can put on screen the tweet from Russia Today. This is the Kremlin-controlled media outlet that was promoting what Gidley said.

Dan, your reaction?

PFEIFFER: Well, look, this is the incentive structure for Trump's staff. I'm sure Hogan Gidley who is a mid-level staffer there, got a high five from the president for saying that. And whether they are unwitting or witting, they are being tools of the Russian propaganda machine because while I think what they're essentially doing is they have an audience of one in Trump and future career prospects at Fox News, and that is what is driving this.

And it is -- it all goes back to the president because this is what he wants from his staff. These are the kind of staff he wants, and -- you're doing what he wants them to do.

STELTER: To that point, I thought the most interesting quote that I read all week-long was in a Michael Louis piece in "Vanity Fair." Actually, yes, it was in "Vanity Fair," it was an interview with Steve Bannon, and let's put on screen what Bannon said. There's a profanity here we had to excerpt out.

But he says: The Democrats don't matter. The real opposition is the media, and the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with -- you know what.

David Gergen, is that what you see happening? That there's all the tweets, you know, all the messages, all the confusing counter- narratives, it's just an attempt to flood the zone like that?

GERGEN: Absolutely. I think they flood the zone in a way that discredits other institutions that may become critical to him, starting with Bob Mueller.

STELTER: Like the FBI or the media, or Mueller? Yes.

GERGEN: Yes, discrediting Mueller, discrediting what may come out through the Justice Department from Mueller, discrediting the press on what we're reporting on what Mueller does, so that a third of the country will believe it's all overblown or it has been made up or whatever it may be.

I think there has been a very clear pattern right from the beginning that has actually in some ways worked because it has kept that base together, but it's eroding the trust in the presidency, the trust in this president around the rest of the country, and it has been extremely damaging, I think for our sense of being a single people, that we have some sense of unity about our country, and the Russians are laughing at us because they are getting away with this. They are fomenting a lot of this, and there is no sense of urgency, especially ahead.

We have an election that's just around the corner later this year.

[11:10:02] What if the Democrats, you know, take the House back? Are they all -- is that all going to be blamed on fake news? What if they fall short? Are Democrats going to think, you know, it was all that meddling, and they have won a few seats that they wouldn't have otherwise won.

This is what split the country apart, and it is a beginning and many other countries it's the beginning of an authoritarian rule, and that's the larger threat hanging over us now.

STELTER: That's a pretty frightening picture you just painted. Are you personally afraid of that, David?

GERGEN: I find it -- the threat is growing. There is this new book out about how democracies die written by two Harvard professors and it's quite striking, Brian, about the number of countries that were led by democratically elected leaders, but they turned more and more authoritarian. A dozen countries have flipped from democracy to authoritarianism since the end of the Cold War.

We're not immune to that. I think we have strong checks and balances. Thank good we have long traditions and norms, but we have to protect those norms in a bipartisan way. We must come together. Those of us who care about the way the country has been run historically, and why it's been successful historically must rally to the kind of standards and the respect for rule of law, the respect for a free press that has made this country great.

STELTER: And, Dan, last word to you. You certainly have a point of view on your podcast "Pod Save America" coming from the Obama White House. You're a vocal critic of Trump. But what do you want to see journalists doing in the environment that David just described?

PFEIFFER: Well, I think they need to keep doing what they have been doing and aggressively hold Trump and his administration accountable. I actually think the problem here is not a failure of journalism. It is two things. One, this is not just Trump. This is the entire Republican Party has decided they are OK with Trump's behavior, the rampant corruption within the administration and doing essentially nothing about an attack on our democracy. And it's not -- the mainstream media, as we call it, CNN, "New York Times", ABC, whoever else, are out there doing their job reporting. The problem is, is there is a propaganda infrastructure led by Fox News that is a willing participant in covering up crimes and misleading the American people about a very dangerous situation.

I agree with David. Our democracy is under assault and that assault is coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And we think our democracy can survive anything, but these things happen slowly, and then suddenly. I think we are in a very dangerous place, but we need both parties to step up here and do the right thing. And right now, the Republicans have decided not to do that.

STELTER: David and Dan, thank you for being here.

After the break, we're going to look at the right wing media narrative, what Dan was just referring to. The talking points we're hearing about the new Mueller indictments and how it's all Obama's fault? Stay tuned.


[11:16:38] STELTER: You know that old Watergate adage, it's not the crime, it's the cover-up? That does not apply to Russiagate. There were crimes and it looks there were cover-ups.

On Friday, Robert Mueller addressed just one part of the crime. A grand jury indicted 13 Russians with interfering in the 2016 election. Now, Mueller is still investigating other crimes and potential cover- ups, but the pro-Trump media is pretending not to know that.

Let me show you why these new talking points are so dishonest and pathetic. Here's the first one.

This is a talking point that journalists and pundits were saying on Friday and all throughout the weekend. They're saying, hey, there's been no wrongdoing by Americans. Trump world is off the hook.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm reading this. There's just nothing here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No American knowingly took part in the meddling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were no Americans involved in this, at least as I understand this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No Americans wittingly aided the Russian effort.


STELTER: But Rod Rosenstein did not say that. Fox news anchor misquoted him. Here's what Rosenstein actually said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity.


STELTER: Did you catch that? No claim in this indictment about this activity. He is leaving the door wide open for further indictments and further revelations. And he has to because he knows Mueller is still investigating.

That's why Sean Hannity is being so disingenuous when he says, hey, look, the indictment doesn't prove collusion.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: It does not say that Donald Trump colluded with the Russians. It does not say that anybody on the Donald Trump campaign colluded with the Russian.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this process, there was no collusion as you pointed out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no collusion now. There was no collusion yesterday. There was no collusion last year, and there was no collusion that's going to happen tomorrow. There's no collusion. Read the indictment.


STELTER: Well, he is right that everyone should read the indictment, but these hosts and talking heads are doing a disservice to their viewers when they pretend like the probe is over. It's just plain dishonest.

Here's the thing, if more indictments are handed down, if Americans are implicated, these guys are just going to move onto a whole new talking point. They're going to say something like you can't prove Russians swayed a single vote or they'll say, this is all Obama's fault. Actually, they are already saying that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are these indictments proof that the Obama administration failed when coming to meddling?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did the Obama administration do exactly to stop it?

HANNITY: Where the hell was the Obama administration?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why is there a full on scale investigation of the Obama administration, of Barack Obama, of John Kerry and before him, of course, Hillary Clinton? It's their scandal.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: Obama's actions have been scrutinized, rightly so. His government did try to alert the public about the Russian attack, as it was happening, but there's widespread agreement that he should have done before.

Let's get in to this further with Karen Tumulty. She's an opinion columnist with "The Washington Post". Lachlan Markay is a reporter at "The Daily Beast". And Sam Vinograd, a CNN national security analyst and a former National Security Council adviser in the Obama administration.

So, Sam, first to you. Now we know through this indictment that these activities by this Russian troll farm started in 2014. Do you have regrets personally the Obama administration did not do more?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I have left the Obama administration by 2014, but certainly I think all Americans have regrets that we didn't do more to counter Russia's attack.

[11:20:02] But at this point, we have to look at the post game, but we also have to look at what's going on right now. And, Brian, my best advice from a national security perspective right now is, sadly, to unfollow President Trump. His Twitter feed which is arguably --

STELTER: Wait, to unfollow the president on Twitter? Why?

VINOGRAD: Indeed, his Twitter feed, which is arguably U.S. policy is filled with gross inaccuracies, misinformation, disinformation and lies, and that makes Vladimir Putin very happy. Remember, Vladimir Putin's whole goal here is to spread misinformation and to divide the American public.

STELTER: But there's an argument now in both sides that we're hearing from you on the left and from Trump on the right to say, the Russians are trying to sow discord. Don't let it happen. Unite as a country.

That's the new talking point that we all have to unite as a country.

VINOGRAD: Yes, and we do, and we need to look at the external enemy which is Russia, and the president should maybe start there, and in his tweets not attack the FBI, not attack Democrats, not attack the media, and maybe for once say, Vladimir Putin is attacking our country. Here's what we're going to do about it.

STELTER: Let's go a little deeper on what we learned on Friday through this indictment, and also how the news broke.

I mean, Karen Tumulty, why isn't that the only office in D.C. that doesn't leak is Robert Mueller's office? How is it possible that every time he has caught the press by surprise?

KAREN TUMULTY, OPINION COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, it was extraordinary, and it was also extraordinary to see Rod Rosenstein himself out there talking about these indictments. The fact that the immediate reaction of Trump and his allies is to not talk about what the indictment does say, but to talk about points that it doesn't say and, in fact, doesn't even address, tells you how they were all sort of set back on their heels by this.

And you think about the obvious reaction is to look at what the indictment says, and then to say, how are we going to deal with this? How are we going to address this?

You look at the president's tweet this morning and try to imagine if Franklin D. Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor gotten on the radio and said that Tokyo was laughing at us, to use a little crude phrase that he did that.


TUMULTY: That is not what a president is called upon a president to do right now.

STELTER: You know what's going to happen, though, Karen. Someone on FOX News is going to take what you just said, they're going to say, how dare you compare this to Pearl Harbor?

TUMULTY: It is an attack on our country. It is an attack on our country with use of 21st century means and it is definitely a national security threat which is something that the commander in chief is supposed to be dealing with.

STELTER: And it is ongoing, which we'll get into later this hour.

Lachlan, what are you hearing from your sources in the White House? One of the things I really am struck by, at "The Daily Beast", CNN, "The Washington Post", "The New York Times" is that we see every single day, new, shocking leaks from the White House. You're one of the beneficiaries of those leaks.

So, what do the aides -- what do people close to the president say when he goes on these unhinged tweet storms?

LACHLAN MARKAY, REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: I mean, it's exhausting for folks working in the White House, especially for folks who are in charge trying to keep the president in the White House on message.

STELTER: So, it's not just exhausting for journalists. It is for them too.

MARKAY: Us too.

You know, I think a lot of -- I think Chief of Staff John Kelly actually had been fairly successful in tamping down on some of these leaks. Obviously, they haven't stopped completely, but, you know, taken together with some folks leaving the White House who are sort of known to be good sources for reporters, there was a bit of a stemming of the flow of leaks for a few months.

But lately, it feels like we have sort of gone back to the early days of the Trump administration when it was sort of a free for all. Everyone against all, you know, people just sort of trying to win favor and improve their standing in the White House through selective leaks to the press, and I think a lot of that was fueled by the Rob Porter domestic abuse scandal which really shook faith in Kelly's regime, and brought out some of the latent elements in Trump world that really have used leaks to the press and misinformation campaigns and so on to great effect, to sort of influence internal politics.

STELTER: Well, that's the thing, Lachlan. Until Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. when gunshots rang out in Florida, the Porter abuse scandal was the biggest story that was being covered by the press. There's been obviously less attention on it since Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. But kind of update us on where things stand. Is there is a sense that there were still lies that have not been explained by this White House?

MARKAY: Yes, the sense is there is another shoe to drop. And, you know, people inside the White House are shocked this has gone on as long as it has. You know, it's now a 10-day story or so given everything else that's happening, the indictment, a major school shooting. But, you know, there have been whispers for sometime now that the president is eyeing potential replacements for John Kelly.

It's not clear that that other show will drop. The president has been known to change his mind on a dime on these sorts of issues. So, you know, we're just sort of watching and waiting right now, but certainly, you know, internally there are a lot of whisper campaigns and, a lot of -- like I said, you know, faith has been shaken.

[11:25:02] So, I think everyone is just sort of trying to ride it out, see if they can ride it out, see if the president actually decides to act on some of these internal threats that he's made. So, at this point, it's just wait-and-see.

STELTER: And, Karen, one more point I want to make about what it's like inside the White House, the dysfunction that journalists are trying to cover. This is something that Reince Priebus, Trump's first chief of staff said in an interview with Chris Whipple. Whipple is in expert in chiefs of staff. He has a book about this subject.

And he said -- Priebus said to Whipple, Priebus' account of his tenure as chief of staff confirms that portrayal of a White House in disarray, driven by conflict. Here's the quote by Priebus: Take everything you've heard and multiply it by 50.

Karen, how did you -- what did you think when you saw that kind of comment? To me, it said, all the leaks we get out of the White House, it's still just scratching the surface.

TUMULTY: And it also -- it also speaks to a real challenge to us as journalists because if the news flow out of this White House, if the flow of scandals and mini-scandals and controversies was anything that was resembling normal, I think the media would have time -- more time to sort of stand back and analyze each one and try to deconstruct it. But the fact is, as you said, we were, you know, right in the middle of being fixated on Rob Porter and there was a school shooting and then there was a massive set of indictments.

I think in some ways, it's just coming at all of us so fast that you don't have the opportunity that you might have had in other administrations to really go back and do the deconstruction of how things happen.

STELTER: Karen, Lachlan, thank you both for being here. Sam, stick around please.

Up next after a quick break here, what we saw since Wednesday. The president reading off an all too familiar script in the wake of the Parkland killing. But this time, you know, even Murdoch's "New York Post" is calling for change. Dare we ask, is this time different?



STELTER: If today is like every other day in America, roughly 92 people will die from gunshot wounds.

Almost two-thirds of those deaths will be suicides. The rest will be homicides.

Some of those murders, some of those killings, they might warrant some local news coverage for a day, but the deaths that get by far the most attention are the spectacle murders. These are the shocking crimes that take over the front page, headlines like high school massacre.

This was the headline almost 20 years ago in "The Denver Post" in the wake of the Columbine killings, but it could describe the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, from just a few days ago. We see the same headlines over and over again.

Let's look at a couple of them. This is "The Miami Herald" in the wake of the shooting in Parkland showing the faces of the 17 students and teachers who were killed.

Here in New York, "The Daily News," which has been on a gun control campaign for many years, it placed a giant gun on the cover and said, this is us. This is our country, 17 dead. This is our country.

Maybe more surprising than "The Daily News," though, was its rival, its hometown rival, "The New York Post." This is a Murdoch-owned paper that implored President Trump, saying, Mr. President, please act. We need sensible gun control to help stop the slaughter.

I was most struck by this one, though. This is "The Boston Globe." It looks past Parkland. It looked at what is going to happen next. It says, we know what will happen next. It pre-covered the next killing and said all we need to find out is how many are dead next time and where is it going to happen.

It's true. There is a familiar, an all-too-familiar script to how mass shootings are covered, but I think we should notice that this time did feel a little different.

Instead of just seeing the haunting aerial images of students streaming out of their classrooms, just like Columbine almost 20 years ago, we also saw something new. We saw up-close video of the shooting and its aftermath from the perspective of these students, of these terrified students, as the SWAT team comes into their classroom.

Notice the shaking arms of the terrified students. It is new to see these crimes from the vantage point of the victims. That's thanks to their cell phones capturing the footage.

Of course, it also raises ethical questions for newsrooms.

And one more thing that's different this time, we're hearing from survivors in a new way, these high school students on CNN and other networks this morning announcing a new organization, a new movement they are calling Never Again.

Joining me now is David Zurawik -- he's the media critic for "The Baltimore Sun" -- to try to analyze what is the same and what is different this time.

David, there is always an argument after these kinds of mass killings that the press should actually cover them less, not be excessive in the wall-to-wall coverage, because it might inspire future killers. Where do you come down on that?

DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": Well, I don't buy into this is going to inspire future killers, because there are all sorts of messages in our media that might inspire future killers.

And so we have to. We have to cover them as intensely as we can. But, Brian, I do think there is something to be said when minors are involved, and there are certain ways I think we can protect them.

When we interview them, we should try to talk to their parents first. I saw CNN doing that on two occasions. Anderson Cooper and Brooke Baldwin both told viewers that they had gotten clearance from the parents before they interviewed.


That's very important, that we do that, and not exploit these children.

But I couldn't agree with you more. The biggest difference, I think, in this coverage is the way social media and new media have in some ways empowered these students in telling these stories.

We had a freshman live-tweeting the event while it was going on. We had another student, a senior, interviewing people who were -- recording interviews with people who were hiding in a closet.

And this one really encouraged me. The Internet troll, social media troll that FOX News has, Tomi Lahren, was out there right after, just like she's always out there after these kind of events trying to exploit it.

And she said, this isn't about guns. And a 17-year-old student at that high school said, excuse me. I was hiding in a closet yesterday. This was about guns. I was so happy to see that 17-year-old senior take her down. That's

the level of discord. That's how deep Tomi Lahren and that kind of trolling is, that a teenager took her down. That's really empowering. I'm very glad for that.

But, again, you know, we had excess on the other hand. "The Today Show" interviewing a student, a survivor whose best friend died overnight, and asking her how her friend was doing. Maybe that's a mistake of the interviewers or the producers. Who knows. But that shouldn't happen, especially on a show like this.

I think we have to rein ourselves in, but we also have to communicate to our audience the horror of this. And I think some of the social media...


STELTER: Well, about that. Yes.

The videos are one way to do that.


STELTER: Another way is this headline from Slate that I found really provocative.

It says, show the carnage. Actually show the dead bodies. Show what gun bullets do to people, to human beings.

Again, that is just another view of this. One view is cover these less, be careful in how much you cover these. Another view is, go further. Show people what it looks like.

ZURAWIK: Brian, I have always felt that way about combat and war coverage.

Show it, because we have to know. Most Americans don't get involved in it. You can stay out of the military. We have to know what people in the military go through. We should also know what police and people and first-responders deal with in this country. It's important.

But, again, when you are dealing with minors, when you have...

STELTER: Right. Right.

ZURAWIK: ... children being killed, you have to be careful. You have to respect a lot of other things.

And I think you almost always have to go through the parents. That has been my policy. I interviewed a protester, a young woman who was very important in a protest after the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. I lost time because I went to her mother first to get clearance. And her mother and her had different views on whether she should be in the paper.

But I wouldn't even print her name in the paper, let alone put her on camera, without her mother's permission.

STELTER: And one piece of this that I thought we would share with the viewers, we have been hearing the name of the school quite a bit, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Who is she? She's a real person.

Let's put her picture on screen, if we can, just to understand this. I think it's notable. This is a journalist-turned-activist. Marjory Stoneman Douglas was a journalist with "The Miami Herald" a hundred years ago writing about Everglades.

She wrote a book about the importance of the Everglades, trying to provoke the environmental movement. She then became more of an activist than a journalist.

And, David, we see the same thing today. This line between journalism and activism, some people feel journalists have crossed that line in the wake of Parkland and are advocating for change.

But I think back to Marjory Stoneman Douglas from 100 years ago. She was using her pieces in "The Miami Herald" and her books in order to effect change.

ZURAWIK: Brian, that's an act of conscience by each journalist.

I think if you are anchoring coverage of this, or you're involved in live rolling coverage -- and that can be for hours after the event. You keep it straight. You present information.

We know rock-core legacy values, give citizens information it, it has been verified that they can make decisions about their own lives with. And, you know, if you are a parent or anything, you need this information. Keep it straight.

Later, you can go into opinion. I see a lot of anchors right in the middle of it going into opinion, and that troubles me. Keep it later.

And, listen, this is the crisis we had with this election. Remember when had the piece in "The New York Times" during the 2016 election that said, if you are a journalist and you feel Trump is really bad for this country, should you remain objective or should you become an activist, essentially?

And I think a lot of journalists have decided in a way to become activists. That's a big decision. Maybe you leave journalism or you go to a platform where you can do that kind of activist journalism.

But whatever you do, you have to be clear with the audience. Tell them where you are coming from. Tell them what your values are, because, unfortunately, people are confused now about where the information is coming from.


STELTER: Right. Right. Definitely.

David, thanks so much for being here.

If you are at home, you're curious about Douglas, Google her. Look up her life story. It really is fascinating.

David, thanks so much.

After a break here: why a story about the president and a Playmate has everyone talking about something called catch and kill. I will explain this tabloid tactic right after a commercial break.


STELTER: All right, catch and kill, this is what tabloids do to bury a story.

They catch it, meaning they buy it from someone, and then they kill it. They bury the story, so it will never be published.

It's a key part of this new expose in "The New Yorker" by Ronan Farrow. He is describing an alleged affair between now President Trump and a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal. His story is full of new details about the alleged payment and this system he says that exists.

And I'm joined now here in New York by Ronan Farrow. He's a contributor writer for "The New Yorker" and also now working with HBO.


So, Ronan, this piece came out on Friday. It had been anticipated for a while. You have added a lot of new details about this alleged affair.

How did you get ahold of these documents that describe the affair? It's her handwritten notes about what happened.

RONAN FARROW, "THE NEW YORKER": A friend of Karen McDougal's, John Crawford, was present when she wrote those notes, and ultimately did give them to us. And the reason she wrote those notes was in the course of selling the story.

And, look, like so many women who sign into those contractual situations where they have to be silent, she now feels a sense of regret about that, especially since it's now the president. And she feels very constrained in what she can say.

And I think she did a difficult thing, at considerable risk of legal retaliation, because she believes this exposes a system of contracts to keep women quiet through trusted intermediaries like "The National Enquirer" and this company, AMI.

And, look, there are national security implications when that system works in the favor of the president.

STELTER: Now, American Media is the company that owns "The Enquirer." They say that your assertion is laughable, the idea that "The Enquirer" could have any influence over the president is laughable. That's what they say.

What do you say?


And, look, we, as always, gave them a very ample window to give their input. Those comments are in our story, so people can see them and judge them as they wish.

Look, we talked to six former AMI employees in the course of reporting this story. Several of them are quoted on the record on this piece. And what they said was, this is a common tactic, and that the way that it plays out, Brian, is that when this company has dirt on a celebrity or, in this case, the most powerful man in America, it is used for leverage, was a term that they used over and over again.

It is used to influence those people.

STELTER: And to help their friends, maybe, and hurt their enemies, is the point.

FARROW: So, in practice, it would appear that this is what happens in the relationship between David Pecker, the head of this company you're talking about, and Donald Trump.

And Pecker has on the record said, you know, that he is loyal to Trump, you know, that he does work on his behalf in some ways.

Now, you know, they talk about a negative side, too, that this company knows where the bodies are buried, so even when they're working in a friendly way to bury a story for someone, there's always the implicit threat of, we have the dirt. We could release it.

STELTER: Right. I see what you are saying.

So, after your story came out, we followed up with Stu Zakim. He's a former American Media executive, a former spokesman for the company.

Here's what he told me about catch and kill.


STU ZAKIM, FORMER SPOKESMAN, AMERICAN MEDIA INC.: As far as these stories being killed, bought and killed, it is something that has been going on for a very long time at not only these magazines, but other publications.

What it really means is, it takes the story out of the market, so that it won't see light of day.


STELTER: In that case, in that catch-and-kill case, how common is this? How many other stories has "The Enquirer" caught and killed to protect President Trump?

FARROW: Well, so, broadly speaking, the former AMI employees we talked to said that this is a fairly routine practice. And they mentioned a number of celebrities.

We give two examples in the piece of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had a close relationship with them, and they caught and killed a story for him, was one of them. Tiger Woods was another that they mentioned.

STELTER: And Harvey Weinstein, someone you have written about, of course. You helped break the Weinstein scandal open. And he had a close relationship with Pecker as well.

FARROW: That's right.

And the chief content officer of this company, Dylan Howard, who is in your banner there, your graphics, also worked with Harvey Weinstein. And we have e-mails between them. And, obviously, that was part of our reporting, that he was calling women that Harvey Weinstein was targeting.

STELTER: Is that partly how you were able to score this story about Trump and his alleged affair? Because of your reporting about Weinstein, people trusted you to talk about this?

FARROW: Certainly, I was moving in a world of sources that had ties to the players involved in both.

And, you know, that's not accidental, Brian. These are both stories that reveal a system that, in some cases, is deployed to silence women with difficult stories about powerful men.

STELTER: And, at the end of your piece, you talk about how every woman who is no longer silenced, she makes a difference. She makes progress.

FARROW: Well, so, right.

And I don't say that. It's Karen McDougal who says that. And, you know, people will judge her in a lot of different ways. And she knew that going into this. But she told me she felt braver after seeing women come forward and speak truth to power. And she hopes that her speaking about this contractual situation that she's in will cause other women to think twice before signing into the same vow of silence.

STELTER: People always want to know if you have more stories like this in the works. Do you?

FARROW: I'm a reporter. I will keep reporting.

STELTER: So, more on Trump?


FARROW: I don't comment on stories that haven't run yet, but, look, I think that...

STELTER: And there's been a rumor that you are looking into major media executives, other people like Weinstein who may have engaged in harassing behavior.

Is that true?

FARROW: I think, if you subscribe to "The New Yorker," you will see.

STELTER: I was afraid you would say that.


STELTER: Ronan, good to see you.

FARROW: Always a pleasure.

STELTER: Thank you for being here.

FARROW: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: And I understand why you want to keep it private, even though we would like to know.


After a break here, we're going to try to tie back the stories we've been discussing this hour involving Parkland and the aftermath there, also the Russia probe.

Another connection between the two -- right after this break.


STELTER: On page 24 of Robert Mueller's newest indictment, one of the Russian defendants, a woman named Irina, brags to her friend about how easy it was to fool Americans.

The indictment quotes her e-mailing a friend, saying, "I created all these pictures and posts, and the Americans believed that it was written by their people."

Now, a confession here. I fell for a little bit of it too. During the campaign, I sparred with an account called @TEN_GOP, which suggested it was a Tennessee Republican Party account.

Now, Mueller's indictment confirms that it was actually part of the Russian propaganda machine.

And this effort is continuing to this day.



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: In the hours after the shooting in Parkland, it was Russian bots that were pushing out points and talking points about gun rights, et cetera.


STELTER: I was struck by something Senator Mark Warner said in the wake of the Mueller indictments.

He said: "We each bear some responsibility for exercising good judgment and a healthy amount of skepticism when it comes to the things we read and share on social media.

And that is becoming more and more true every day.

Evan Osnos, writing for "The New Yorker," says: "At the heart of the Russian fraud is an essential, embarrassing insight into American life, that large numbers of Americans are ill-equipped to assess the credibility of the things they read."

The Russian probe is about a lot of things, but one of the things it's about is news literacy and tech literacy. Facebook has a role. Twitter has a role. The government has a role. Newsrooms have a role. And so do we.

This plague is going to get worse before it gets better. And the challenge is on all of us.

Now, we are out of time here on TV. We will see you online at