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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Trump's Reckless Talk About "Treason"; More Than Two Months Since Last White House Press Briefing. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired May 19, 2019 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:14] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: 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 and how all of us can help make it better.
In this hour, we have breaking news from Alabama, where the state's biggest newspapers making a pretty bold statement about the state's new extreme anti-abortion bill.
Later, we're going to get into the truth about President Trump's wealth and how business beat reporters are leading the way.
Plus, we are keeping track of the administration's briefing room silence, 69 days. Why is it Gene Simmons is the only one standing at the Pentagon podium? Joe Lockhart is here to talk about.
But, first, the new abnormal, and that's involving the T word, treason. The president is continuing to accuse members of the intelligence committee of treason, an idea that only makes sense if you subscribe to the Sean Hannity cinematic universe.
On Friday, Trump tweeted out this conclusive claim that his campaign was spied on, and he said this was treason. He apparently liked the idea so much that he retweeted it, retweeting himself on Saturday.
So, why am I bringing it up now? The news media sighed, shrugged and moved on. It turns out, even cries of treason are not enough to spark breaking news coverage any more. Now, that may be a good thing, or that may be a bad thing. What do you think?
Even on Fox, Laura Ingraham barely took this idea seriously.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: Treason means long jail sentences and this was treason.
Harmie (ph), we're almost out of time, but treason? Yes or no?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it could be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: It could be. Yes or no -0 a yes or no answer for something as serious as this?
Now, I checked out the broadcast networks too, the only coverage of this treason tweet, the only show I could find that mentioned it at all on Friday was a comedy show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY KIMMEL, COMEDIAN: He loves to say that there's a plot to prevent him from becoming president. Who would have bothered plotting that? Nobody thought he had a chance. It'd be like plotting to make sure Papa John's didn't take home the world's best pizza cup, which not something that was on anyone's mind.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Hey, for the record, I like Papa John's pizza.
But let's get back to the point. What is the president's rhetoric doing, how is the news media reacting and what is Bill Barr's role in all this? Why does he sound so much like Sean Hannity?
Joining me now to discuss, "New York Magazine's" Irin Carmon, also a CNN contributor, CNN media guru Oliver Darcy, and "Vox" senior political reporter, Jane Coaston.
Thanks, everybody for being here.
Jane, first to you. Is the press right to shrug off the president's extreme wild claims on Twitter these days?
JANE COASTON, SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER, VOX: I think so, because I think that we've seen time and time again that there's a distinct difference between Trump's Twitter feed and the Trump administration, one of those has the power of law behind it. We've seen in court proceedings in which the Trump administration has basically implied that Trump's tweets don't matter, because he doesn't know anything and is just tweeting.
And so, it's a fascinating move from -- I remember 2016, 2017 where we saw real economic turmoil result from Trump tweeting about a business. But now, it's where Trump airs his grievances, it's like Festivus all the time.
STELTER: As if none of it should matter.
STELTER: There's a lot of rhetoric coming from Attorney Bill Barr that is similar to the presidents, also really similar to Sean Hannity.
We saw Barr give two interviews this week, Oliver. One was to Murdoch-owned "The Wall Street Journal", another was to the Murdoch- owned Fox News.
Let's take a look at how similar Bill Barr's language was with one of the biggest stars on Fox.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: After a near three-year witch hunt, or near three-year witch hunt, was conducted into all things Trump.
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: But I think if I had been falsely accused, I'd be comfortable in saying it was a witch hunt.
HANNITY: We have been uncovering what is the biggest abuse of power scandal in American history.
BARR: We should be worried about whether government officials abuse their power.
HANNITY: Democrats now fear of the attorney general. The attorney general will expose their hoax.
BARR: They may be concerned about the outcome of a review of what happened during the election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: So there we go, Barr/Hannity, Hannity/Barr.
Oliver, is Sean Hannity essentially the attorney general?
OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Well, if you didn't know any better, Brian, you're watching Fox News, you might almost think that watching the interview that Bill Barr is one of the talking heads on Fox News, defending the president, casting everything as a deep state coup and delegitimizing a lot of the work that the DOJ has done. It's stunning.
It shouldn't be forgotten that this came on Fox News. Bill Barr gave this interview to Fox. He gave the other print interview to "The Wall Street Journal", both Rupert Murdoch-owned entities.
So, I think it's clear what he's trying to do. He's trying to send a message to one person who happens to read "The Wall Street Journal" and happens to watch Fox News quite a bit, and he's using the same rhetoric that Trump uses.
[11:05:09] So, you know, it's stunning. And I think one point to make too, is outside the opinion personalities there, there, some of the people on Fox found it stunning. Chris Wallace basically came on and said that it looked like he was, as the attorney general, trying to defend the president.
STELTER: To protect the president.
STELTER: And, Irin, I bring all this up because this is a cinematic universe. Either you subscribe to this conspiratorial view of the world or you don't. And most Americans don't, but the ones who do, they are deeply committed to these theories, that there was an attempt to take down President Trump.
IRIN CARMON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I have to say, Brian, I'm of the opinion that we should be freaking out when we see the word "treason". I'm of the opinion that if we were to take this administration at its word, we should all be running around like chickens with their heads cut off.
And I actually think -- I mean, Jane, I hear you. There is a disconnect between the Twitter handle and what happens in the administration. But as we know also from the Mueller report, that's also because a lot of the president's administration hasn't been listening to him, right, actually just treats him like some kind of nutty figure at times even though he guides all kinds of things like immigration policy.
But precisely because of the dynamic you're talking about, about Barr not being a challenge to Trump, I think we should take it very seriously. We have the president of the United States tweeting about a treason, while having an attorney general who sees himself as the wing man to the president. And I think that adds up to something deeply disturbing and I know we're all tired and the press can't treat everything like a crisis. But it is a crisis, and we often say that words matter, well, the words that the president of the United States is using matter.
STELTER: Well, let's use the example of something that's started on Twitter and has moved on into the administration action. The headline from "The New York Times" here saying, Trump wants your tales of social media censorship. Another headline from "Vox" saying the White House is doing this to try to get your email address.
What happens this week is the White House came out with this announcement they want to hear if you feel you've been censored on social media.
Oliver, what is this really about?
DARCY: I think this is about a broader cultural war. They know that Americans and the middle of the country, they think they're under attack by elitist institutions. Part of that is the media, the mainstream media, and now they're using big tech companies it seems like, big tech companies like Facebook, like Google, like Twitter. They said these guys are out to get, they're out to censor your ideas, you're under attack, and they're using that, effectively, fearmongering, and now, apparently trying to build up some sort of database, to send updates, and whatnot.
STELTER: Yes, I think 2016 was partly about Trump's attack on the media, this media, 2020, Irin, is about on social media, and an attack big tech.
CARMON: I mean, why choose? Why choose, right? I mean, in both instances, it's Trump working the reps, right? It's making media companies defensive when they're told that they have bias against conservatives. And if we're talking about censorship, to me, that's the concerning thing. The only entity that can infringe on the first amendment is the government.
You have the arm of the federal government, I think we should take this seriously too, pressuring private companies that have a right to moderate their forums, under the law, pressuring them in order to stoke the grievance of your voters, and using the government for that, I do think does infringe on people's First Amendment rights.
STELTER: And, Jane, you cover social media all the time. This is your focus at "Vox". How effective did you think these calls about censorship are?
COASTON: Well, I think they've proven to be very effective, I like to point out, there's a difference between conservatism and the GOP because conservatives are -- you're now hearing some conservatives and a lot of Republicans, making their argument, maybe it's time to regulate Facebook and Twitter. And I like to note, as Irin pointed out, because of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, Facebook and Twitter can kick off whomever they want and moderate your content. That is fine, because, you know, that is in the law, they have those protections.
But now you're seeing folks on the conservative side who generally opposed regulation in a kind of large sweeping way, saying, no, no, no, these companies are too big. It's surprising when you hear conservatives start sounding like Teddy Roosevelt talking about Standard Oil.
STELTER: At the same time, there is real legitimate reason to wonder about these tech companies, and how they enact their standards.
COASTON: That's true.
STELTER: It's not just limited; it's not unique to conservatives or liberals. It affects everybody.
COASTON: Right, exactly, and you're seeing that time and time again, who should get to decide what gets kicked off and what doesn't? Whose content gets monitored?
There have been some instances -- some great reporting in "The Guardian" talking about how African-American activists have their work censored. But then those activists had the FBI show up at their home, which goes far farther than some people getting their tweets deleted or shadow ban.
But it's also reflective of how important these tech companies become in every day life, because you hear from people saying like, why don't you get on Gab or use another social media platform? The response is, no, this is how I reach my family, this is how I want to do this.
[11:10:00] It just feels as if I'm being censored.
Again, not really clarifying what they mean by censored.
STELTER: By censored. COASTON: Because sometimes as people saying, I think this should have gotten more reach than it actually did, which is, you know, that's generally not what censorship is.
STELTER: Yes, whether the algorithm like more.
COASTON: Yes, exactly.
STELTER: In the middle, I have --
CARMON: It would make me have to have fans.
COASTON: Precisely, like no, no, my Instagram fans can't reach me.
DARCY: It's actually an incentive now almost to say that you were suspended or banned, because then you get a whole bunch of Fox News appearances, and your engagement actually shoots up. That's what happened with Diamond and Silk, remember?
STELTER: I see. That's very interesting.
DARCY: One point too is that these are very serious issues like you bring up. The problem is that they're being exploited by bad faith actors to suit their own political agenda. And I think that's what we're seeing, is it would be great if Congress, when it had people in front of the committees, they ask serious questions. Instead they bring Diamond and Silk to come on and mislead the committee and they're citing outlets like the Gateway Pundits, right wing blogs, to make these claims that will fall apart when you actually look at them. That's the problem.
COASTON: Exactly. And you have someone like Senator Ted Cruz who should know better, saying that Section 230 requires platforms to be neutral. It doesn't. Look at the law. There's no requirement that Facebook or Twitter or any means that uses third party information which could be the comments on the Infowars' article. There's no requirement that these platforms be neutral, it's just not in the law.
DARCY: Infowars says, unless it used to say in their own terms of services, that if you do not abide by the rules, we will kick you off and civilization has rules, expect to follow them or face the consequences. This is --
COASTON: Exactly. Precisely, exactly.
STELTER: Let me ask you, quickly, Oliver, about one other story, and that is the headline that you and I published this week on CNN.com about Elizabeth Warren rejecting Fox News, saying she's not going to show up for a town hall, she'd been invited, but she's kind of the only one right now, right? Just her and Kamala Harris have said they are not interested in appearing on Fox.
DARCY: Right, and Pete Buttigieg came out the other way and basically really released this letter saying that he wants to talk to the Fox News audience. And his argument was that if we don't talk to the Fox News audience, the hosts are going to color us and characterize us, and that's not something we should want.
I personally find that argument to be a bit naive -- Buttigieg saying that if we don't go on fox and talk to them for an hour the audience isn't going to know what we're standing for. I think that Fox News, you know, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, these people are going to misrepresent and provide misinformation to their audience about these candidates no matter, no matter if they go on or they don't go on. So, I don't know if one hour of a town hall is going to --
STELTER: Makes a difference?
STELTER: Look, Mayor Pete is on tonight. Other town halls are scheduled.
Irin, in 15 seconds, is Warren right that Fox is a paid for profit racket that Democrats should not help?
CARMON: This is a Democratic primary and she's speaking squarely to the Democratic primary audience. I think accepting the argument that Fox News is the way to reach conservatives, is insulting to conservatives, because if there's anyone who's persuadable, they're not watching Fox News.
All right. Oliver, thanks for being here. Irin and Jane, please stick around.
Quick break here, and then dust on the briefing room podium. I'm serious. I want to ask what questions the White House is avoiding and why?
And later, winter is coming for "Game of Thrones". We're going to talk with Brian Lowry about the importance of this program and how it changed television, coming up.
[11:16:50] STELTER: As a symbol of the Trump White House's allergy to accountability, this is pretty perfect. Early this week, the briefing room podium was, to quote CNN's Meagan Vasquez, quite literally gathering dust. Someone has come in and dusted the podium.
But the briefing room still isn't getting any use. This is an unprecedented drought, 69 days, more than two months since Sarah Sanders last held an official press briefing. Sometimes, she does answer a few questions outside the White House after on Fox, but she's stopped doing what used to be a big part of the press secretary's job.
Here with me now the press secretary from the Clinton White House, now the host of "The Words Matter" podcast, Joe Lockhart.
Joe, I think our viewers might be thinking, but Sarah Sanders just lies anyway, what's the point of a briefing?
JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, even if she just lies, she will lie on camera and she will lie on tape. You will have it for history and posterity.
But also, the questions matter. You know, the White House has been able to cancel -- through cancelling the briefings, just slide by on a lot of things. For instance, the president tweeted this morning about the Republican congressman who basically called for his impeachment.
STETLER: Justin Amash, yes.
LOCKHART: Saying if he read the report, he'd know this. Well, no one's asked the president's press secretary if the president's read the report, and whether -- and been able to go into questions, well, what does he think about page 123?
So the questions do matter and it does matter. I think in a much better sense, the briefing was a way for the public to stay engaged with the White House. If they wanted to, they could tune in every day and say, the White House has an answer for not just what the president's doing, but what the entire administration is doing and the rest of the administration is getting away with a lot of stuff that doesn't get surfaced because the briefings don't happen any longer.
STELTER: And other parts of the government are becoming less accessible as well.
STELTER: The Pentagon has not had a spokesperson stand at the podium and answer questions in nearly a year. We did see KISS front man Gene Simmons stand on the podium though the other day, taking pictures.
In light of all the concern about Iran, and I think we can put up some of the headlines about, you know, talk of attacks, concerns about Iranian behavior, it's all the more reason why it's worrisome not to have this kind of access on camera.
LOCKHART: Well, I mean, it was highly unusual that the national security adviser made the announcement on Iran about moving the carrier group and not the Pentagon.
I saw a high ranking, former high ranking military official who made the excellent point that military families depend on the Pentagon briefing to know what their family members are doing. So, even if you don't think the press matters, the Pentagon has basically cut off access to all these families in the United States who have loved ones who are deployed. It creates confusion.
And as "The Wall Street Journal" reported this week, we almost went to war based on a misunderstanding. You don't have -- when you're out there answering questions, being transparent, you don't have misunderstandings.
STELTER: How would you size up the coverage this week of the concerns, the heightened tensions with Iran, was -- were there too many parts of the American media helping contribute to this war drum beating?
LOCKHART: Well, I think there were no facts, so what you had was, speculation, and what the White House briefing allows you to do is put facts out there, and to say, here's what the president believes, here's what he doesn't believe.
[11:20:09] It isn't just what John Bolton is leaking.
And there's a second piece for to why the briefing is important, it enforces discipline in the White House. If you have a briefing every day at 1:00, you are forced to make decisions.
LOCKHART: You can't just continue to kick them down the road.
STELTER: Right, it's interesting.
LOCKHART: I can't tell you how many times there was a dispute, and I'd say that there are two different policy people, well, if you want me to decide at 1:00, I will.
STELTER: Yes, need some answer.
LOCKHART: So, it enforces a discipline and forces that discipline across the government which they don't have.
STELTER: There hasn't been a briefing. There hasn't been a briefing since the Mueller report came out.
STELTER: You know, it's been almost two months, it's been more than eight weeks since Mueller handed in his report.
STELTER: We still haven't heard him on camera. I think it's ridiculous.
LOCKHART: No -- listen, I can understand why Sarah Sanders can no longer going to the briefing room. She admitted under oath that she lied.
STELTER: To lying to the press. Yes.
LOCKHART: But there's no reason, the job isn't about Sanders, the job is about the person who represents the president to the public. They can get someone else. They -- and doing it in the driveway doesn't cut it. You can't -- you know, people can't prepare for that they can't take it live and put it on --
LOCKHART: -- the way you can at briefing.
So, you know, the -- whether it's Sarah Sanders or not, they ought to be doing these things. And again, it's -- from my experience, you know, someone sent me the statistic last week that during 1998 when the president of the United States was being impeached, the Clinton press office did more briefings than any briefing at any time in the history of the White House.
One of the reasons we did that was because we had an agenda, and we wanted to stick to that agenda and get our message out and we did it every single day. The White House now responds, all they do is respond to whatever the media drives every day, so it's not only a -- something that the public has lost, it's something the White House has lost.
STELTER: Has lost.
Joe, great to see you. Thanks for being here.
STELTER: One more note about upcoming books, "The Mueller Report" still number one in paperback. In two weeks, a new book comes out. Michael Wolff's sequel to "Fire and Fury". It's called "Siege". The publisher says it will be equally explosive as the first, and I have a feeling the White House is going to want to respond to that book.
All right. Quick break here, and then President Trump. The hunt for his tax returns, and other information about his financial records and his past. We're going to talk to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Susanne Craig in just a moment.
[11:25:54] STELTER: As Democrats reached for Donald Trump's tax returns and asked more about his business dealings, his financial past, present and future is one of the best beats in journalism right now. Of course, Trump the businessman has been a big story for decades. There's been great journalism and also some big mistakes.
Back in 1990, Trump made his first solo appearance on the cover of "Forbes" magazine. But the inside story was far from glamorous. It detailed his growing losses and debt, leading Trump to publicly slam the publication.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
INTERVIEWER: It says that you have a debt about $3.2 billion and that you're losing money at the rate of $40 million a year. True?
DONALD TRUMP, BUSINESSMAN: Forbes has been after me for years, consistently after me. They took properties and devalued the properties. They say the Plaza Hotel is not worth what everybody knows it's worth. It's a total hatchet job. (END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: So, even back in 1990, Trump's true net worth is something journalist was trying to crack. Well, this month, "The New York Times" not only confirmed "Forbes'" reporting from back then, it also exposed a lot more, revealing Trump lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer between 1985 and 1994.
And that's just one of the recent explosive reports we've seen across the press. "The Washington Post" has been covering Trump's misuse of charity donations, now there's more foundation. ProPublica and WNYC had been exposing Ivanka Trump's relationship with Donald Trump's finances. There's been a lot of great investigative work going on, countless reports about Trump's reliance as well on hiring undocumented immigrants, to work at his hotels and golf clubs.
Just this week, CNN spoke with 19 undocumented immigrants who say they work for Trump and believe he had to have known about their status.
So, stories about Trump and his businesses come from many different angles. There's a lot to report on. Of course, at the same time, there have been a lot of times the -- a lot of cases over the past few decades where the press has lifted Trump up, has made him seem richer than he actually was. This is not just on 'The Apprentice". This was on the covers of magazines, this was on the covers of magazines and pages of newspapers.
Some news reports failed to check the false perceptions surrounding Trump's wealth. They just took his word for it. In 1994, Trump tricked the press into reporting that British royals, the Princess Charles and Princess Diana were joining Mar-a-Lago, a way to boost his club. News outlets are reporting that Trump handled the paperwork himself, relying only on his word and the word of a membership director.
This is just -- Buckingham Palace actually had to come out and slam the report as utter rubbish a week later. But let's go back even further in time, "The New York Times" was guilty of Trump's images. This was back in 1976, in an article profiling Trump as a budding developer, touted him as tall, lean and blonde with dazzling white teeth. He looks ever so much like Robert Redford. I mean, he kind of did back then.
And famously, in 1984, Trump pretended to be a Trump Organization official and lied about his finances to a "Forbes" reporter so he could be in the Forbes 400 list. And it worked.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JONATHAN GREENBERG: OK, what's your first name, by the way?
JOHN BARRON (TRUMP): John.
JOHN BARRON (TRUMP: John Barron. Mr. Trump, bought -- first of all, most of the assets have been consolidated to Mr. Trump, you know, because you have down Fred Trump. But I think you can really use Donald Trump now, and you can just consolidate it.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
STELTER: From accepting his claims as fact to now exposing Trump where it hurts him the most. The financial beat time and time again is where this action is.
With me now is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Susanne Craig. She's been on the team covering Trump's tax returns.
And, of course, you were famously once slipped one of those tax return documents.
SUSANNE CRAIG, GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I was.
STELTER: Most recently your investigation "A Decade in the Red" has revealed more about his past.
STELTER: Why do you think there's so much focus on this topic now?
CRAIG: Well, I think the main inflection point was the Democrats are now in control and they've got subpoena power, they're requesting his taxes, we actually have motion. So, things are moving. And I think that's been in the last six months really critical in terms of, he's now fighting, it appears he's willing to go to court to stop his tax information coming out. I think it's created a motion that we didn't have before when Republicans were in control.
STELTER: How much do you think -- right.
STELTER: Going back decades and looking at some of those examples in the past, how much do you think the press is at fault for building up Trump's image as a billionaire businessman?
CRAIG: I think they're very complicit. I think four years Trump's wealth was sensationalized and it wasn't seen and it allowed for you know, him to create this myth. It started when he was really very young and it's -- there's been people who've questioned it along the way.
STELTER: Right. That's --
CRAIG: -- and you even noted our article that we wrote in 1976 from the New York Times. That article said he was worth -- he repeated his claim $200 million. Everything he was claiming in that article, pretty much everything was owned by his father. We now know looking back his -- he reported taxable income that year of $25,000, the same year he was telling the truth New York Times he was worth $200 million.
And it was a spectacular con. And over and over and over it was repeated and that lie was sewn into history.
STELTER: So there were people all along questioning his wealth --
CRAIG: There definitely were but --
STELTER: But there were many, many other reporters kind of contributing to a narrative that was inflated.
CRAIG: Yes, I think you see that there was the exception and not the rule. And I think that people loved the glamor. We've gone back and looked at interviews he's done and people were interviewing him in his helicopter, in his penthouse, and they just they loved the dazzle of it and there wasn't a lot of information about his companies -- on his company because it's privately held.
CRAIG: So nobody really did know what was there and now it's starting to come out as we're getting a lot of this financial information.
STELTER: It makes you wonder who's being built up right now the way that Trump was built up in the 80s. It makes you wonder who's you know, who's being inflated right now. You know, you and I were both in Phoenix at this business conference over the weekend. What do you share with student journalists and young journalists who want to be doing what you're doing?
CRAIG: I think just really to question claims. It doesn't matter who they're from, but question it and just be really skeptical of things. I mean, I think Donald Trump is a real lesson that these -- you can have somebody who sets the tracks down for a narrative and you know it can get repeated over and over, and it's wrong and it just becomes something that is assumed when it's wrong and you see now.
It's incredible when you look at the -- even the last story we did. We looked at ten years from 85 to 95, the year that he wrote Art of the Deal, this master of the universe book about what a great deal maker he was, he had $42.4 million in core business losses that year. Like if there was any period if I would have guessed not having seen his taxes when I first saw them, I would have guessed, well maybe the year he wrote that book.
STELTER: Right, right.
CRAIG: You know, I don't know. I grew up in the prairies and there's you know, a saying all hat and no cattle for guys who do stuff like this, and you sort of see that with him and just how this has continued. It's -- really it's amazing when we've gone back and tried to unwind it.
STELTER: And as you obtain documents, primary source documents, those are more powerful -- CRAIG: Yes -- no, and we have now -- and we have we've had now tax
returns, transcripts, and as well we've had a huge amount of tax and banking information on his father that's given us just this incredible look into Donald Trump's own finances in a way and that was a story we did last year.
STELTER: Still a lot more to learn though. Susanne, thanks for being here.
CRAIG: Thank you.
STELTER: Great to see you.
CRAIG: Great to see you.
STELTER: Up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES, a voice about the abortion debate that you might not be used to hear.
[11:35:00] STELTER: Women's reproductive rights were a lead story this week all across the media world, doing part to Alabama's watershed abortion ban. These bills are spreading mostly across the south trying to spark a Supreme Court review of Roe v Wade. I think the press has done a pretty good job of explaining that this week, but as you watch the coverage in the weeks and the months ahead, listen to the voice as you hear and try to notice what you don't hear as well.
I want to show you a few clips from religious broadcasters and how this abortion issue is being covered.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Many Americans regard this procedure as murder.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Abortion is more important than life.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It perpetuates this culture of death.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: I'm joined now by Catherine Hadro. She's the host of Pro- Life Weekly on Catholic Network EWTN, the Eternal Word Television Network. and Catherine, thanks for being here. One of those clips is from your show. Frankly, I think a lot of yours are going to be surprised to hear that there is a program, a weekly program devoted to pro-life issues and that's what you host.
CATHERINE HADRO, HOST, EWTN: Yes. And just some context, EWTN is the largest religious media network and our -- you know, our network feels it's so important to dedicate an entire show solely dedicated to the pro-life issue.
STELTER: Do you see a distinction between what I would call conservative media led by Fox News and religious broadcasters or Christian media? Is there a distinction? HADRO: Absolutely. And even a distinction between Christian media and Catholic media.
HADRO: You know, we are not beholding to any political party. We're beholding to what the Catholic Church teaches.
STELTER: Yes. What are you focusing on your program that you think is lost in the -- I'm going to use the word mainstream although I hate the word, the mainstream news coverage of this topic, you know, the nightly newscast coverage of this topic.
HADRO: Right. I know. We will be full of lots of things we need to cover. This week I plan to welcome a woman on the program who actually was conceived and raped. I've not been seeing a lot of coverage, any voices like hers. So we will be bringing those kinds of voices on to EWTN.
And I do want to highlight one thing that I think is an egregious mistake I've been seeing in a lot of mainstream media. And again, I don't mean to belittle or bully mainstream media. I don't think they are the bad guys if you will. But there's this egregious mistake that Alabama would incriminate women and that is just not right at all. This is being pushed in groups like Business Insider, Glamour Magazine, but it's not true.
STELTER: So do you think they're miss reading the bill?
HADRO: I think they're missing the bill, maybe not reading it at all. I mean it's only three pages and it states that perfectly clear that women will not be incriminated, it would only be abortionist.
STELTER: What do you see from your audience about what they want to know more about? I mean, I was looking at a poll from Pew from last September asking whether abortion should be legal in most cases -- I mean, n all or most cases. Even among Catholics is split there. 51 percent of Catholics saying it should be legal in all or most cases, overall in the United States 58 percent. Do you sense that divide within your broadcasting world?
HADRO: So I think EWTN viewers are particularly loyal Catholics and are attending mass regularly and know that they need to prioritize life. When I hear back from viewers, they keep me on my toes. They are closely following pro-life legislation. And if I'm not able to cover one specific bill, they ask, hey, how can you even cover this? So they really do keep me on my toes and they do prioritize life in a voting booth, absolutely.
STELTER: When you say prioritize life though, I think what other -- what other hear of that -- about that is they're so focused on the 40 weeks of pregnancy and now on 40 or 80 years of a person's life after that.
HADRO: No -- I mean, there is this misconception that the pro-lifers are only pro-birth and that is absolutely not true. We want to uphold the sanctity of every life which brings me back to this point too, the AP Stylebook. If you look at the way that they define pro-life, they refer to us an anti-abortion whereas they describe pro-choicers as pro-abortion right as opposed to abortion advocates.
So they paint those who perpetuate abortion in the positive light whereas those who uphold the sanctity of light in this negative light as anti-abortion. And while I'm certainly anti-abortion, I believe in the sanctity of every human life, especially definitely those in the womb.
[11:40:20] STELTER: It's interesting at CNN we're discouraged from saying pro-life or pro-choice. People can describe themselves however they want but for us, it's abortion rights advocates, right. There's other language around this to avoid pro-life and pro-choice as the two terms.
HADRO: And so, of course, mainstream media if you will, is going to follow at the AP Stylebook says, but I think that speaks to all the more views and wise shows like EWTN Pro-Life Weekly are so important so that we can give a voice to pro-lifers.
STELTER: I noticed you recently had Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on.
HADRO: That right.
STELTER: So you certainly have a decent amount of access to the Trump administration.
HADRO: You know, one thing I've noticed is that they have been very -- in some cases, not always, responsive. Recently Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made some major pro-life announcements. We put out a request and he was pretty responsive which to me indicates that they realize the importance of having religious media, you know covering what they are doing and especially in the life issue.
And I do also want to point out. There are more Catholics in the world than there are American citizens. So it's not like this is -- this snitch network or anything. There -- we have a huge mission that we need to serve.
STELTER: That you're speaking beyond the U.S. --
STELTER: -- and including on YouTube, I've noticed. Catherine, thanks for being here.
HADRO: Thanks for having me, Brian.
STELTER: Great to see you.
HADRO: Thank you.
STELTER: More on this in just a moment including some local papers in Alabama, what they're putting on their front page this morning. We'll show you right after this.
[11:45:00] STELTER: We are back talking about coverage of anti- abortion legislation. And this reader letter to the New York Times says it best. The headline here, I don't even know how to talk to the other side about this.
Well, today, the three biggest papers in the State of Alabama are banded together to put this on the front page. You'll see this is the same front page in all the papers. The editor telling me that what they've done is they've elevated women's voices in Alabama because they feel the debate in the legislature was so male-dominated. So the voices of 200 women in Alabama on the cover of the big papers is there.
Let me bring Irin and Jane back here with me from our panel earlier. Irin, how would you size up the coverage in the past week of these bills and you know, we're talking about this happening suddenly but it's been slow-motion story that's picking up steam lately.
IRIN CARMON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. So I have been covering the debate, the political, and the grassroots and the access questions around abortion for the better part of a decade. And it's obvious that the last two weeks people have started paying attention to it. I think it's a tricky story to cover accurately for anybody because these are -- the stated intents of these laws are to ban abortion in 100 percent at all times, but in the short term they're not going to go into effect.
And so I think that there's a tension between showing the true impact of the laws which would be to cut off abortion access entirely, and to show that the short-term reality that it's not going to happen. So you actually had a lot of abortion providers talking about how their patients are calling them and they're so worried that they have to cancel their appointments.
So as journalists, obviously, we don't want to spread misinformation but we also want people to know what the stakes are too.
STELTER: There was a headline from BuzzFeed that we can put on screen trying to track misinformation that's spreading about abortion. What is perhaps the biggest point of misinformation that's out there? Is it that these bills are not actually going into effect right now?
CARMON: So there's a few things. One, I think a point of misinformation is even when we use phrases like the abortion divide, it implies that there's a 50-50 situation. You cited in your previous segment, in fact, a majority of the country supports legal access to abortion in every single poll.
If you put aside fuzzy words like pro-life and pro-choice which are sort of 50-50 but people don't define the terms, you actually have a majority of Americans supporting Roe v Wade, supporting access to legal abortion, not wanting to see it. You can slice and dice it any way you want but that is -- that's the fact that comes out. What you do have instead is a very engaged minority that has figured out --
STELTER: Is this asymmetric intensity -- asymmetric intensity, the idea that one side much more passionate and intense about an issue than the other side?
CARMON: So I know many very intense abortion rights activist. However, it is the case that in states like Alabama and Georgia and Missouri, the political process has been such that people have taken over their local parties, they have been in the grassroots, they've been running crisis pregnancy centers, they have been creating their own media like Catherine.
So you have a political process that doesn't reflect public opinion and that is in part a function of the fact that anti-abortion voters -- and by the way, they're also anti-contraception in many cases are voting on this. The other piece of misinformation I think that happens is that a lot of these laws have misinformation embedded within them and I think that as journalists we should be really careful.
For example, even fetal heartbeat. What your doctors will tell you that at six weeks, there is no heart. There is, in fact, electric pulse that sounds like a heartbeat. There are laws that make claims that abortion causes cancer which have been disproved by every single medical establishment.
So again -- or that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks. These are all completely disproven fact so I think it's journalists when we're reporting on them, we have to make it really clear that these are political claims are not factual or medical ones.
STELTER: Right, not factual claims. Jane, you wrote for Vox about how even some conservatives think that this Alabama law has gone too far, and that's going to be a big storyline going forward.
JANE COASTON, SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER, VOX: Well, I think that it -- you know, I think we need to separate going too far morally and going too far strategically.
COASTON: Because you're hearing from a lot of conservatives and there are a number of conservatives who support abortion rights and I think you've heard from a couple of them this week. But you know, I would say the vast majority think of themselves as opposing abortion.
And so for both Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, the support that that's gotten has been largely in the basis of believing that these bills are morally correct. I've heard -- the example though, I think Ben Shapiro, the conservative pundit use the example of talking about the abolition of slavery and saying that you cannot -- everyone can be William Lloyd Garrison going as hard against what you know, these groups or people believe to be the evil of abortion when you actually need to think about the strategic elements.
For example, there are concerns that the Alabama bill with the lack of exceptions with regard to rape and incest, and also for how the lawmakers behind the bill talked about it. For example, when someone raised the point of like what would happen to a fertilized egg at a fertility clinic, and the response was well, that doesn't count. It's not a woman, she's not pregnant. Which the response being like oh this is starting --
[11:50:08] CARMON: It's about targeting women.
COASTON: -- this is -- yes, it starts to look -- even if you are any pro-life voter it starts to look like this has less to do with protecting life and more to do with targeting women who might be wanting to you know, take care of their own bodies.
But I think that how did this issue -- you know, it's really important to -- and I've been explaining -- my spouse is from outside the United States and where this issue is not as big a deal, but I've been trying to explain it this has been a near 40-year debate that we've been having in the United States and especially pro-life voters having conversations with each other.
You know, you heard that during kind of the partial-birth abortion controversy and you've heard that sense, but there are some conservatives or concerns that even if this is morally correct, it strategically a bad idea especially if you're hoping to get it before the Supreme Court.
STELTER: Right. Jane, Irin, thank you both for being here. Great to see you. A quick break here and then much more on RELIABLE SOURCES in just a moment.
STELTER: All right, I have a confession. I've never seen Game of Thrones, but I think I'm the only one left. I mean, look at these ratings. 43 million people are watching all these episodes in the final season.
So tonight is the final episode, the final season, so I'm giving it over to you Brian Lowry. You've got a minute. Tell us what I'm missing. What's the significance of Game of Thrones?
[11:55:17] BRIAN LOWRY, CNN MEDIA CRITIC: Well, I think -- I think Game of Thrones is really kind of the perfect show in a way for this age of television. The analogy I've used is that if The Sopranos and Star Wars had a baby it would be Game of Thrones.
So it would -- it's a show with a serialized storyline that people can get into and the passion at fan base of a Star Wars movie or the Avengers franchise that gets people talking about it at a moment where everybody is on Twitter making you feel like you have to watch.
You know, the one misconception there Brian is that you are not in the minority, obviously. It's just if you're on Twitter tonight at about 10:20, you're going to feel like you're in the minority.
STELTER: Right. That's a very good point. So I have 15 seconds left. Is it too late for me to start binge watching it from the very beginning?
LOWRY: Well, the episodes will be there forever.
LOWRY: So no tonight is the 73rd episode. If you -- if you don't care if you've heard a few things, you can start now and you'll be done in about three or four weeks.
STELTER: All right. Maybe I'll try it. Brian Lowry, thanks so much. Good to see you. We'll have full coverage after the finale on cnn.com. Thanks for joining us and we'll see you right back here this time next week.