Return to Transcripts main page

CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Watch Out for "Dumbfakes"; Pelley on Defining Truth in the Trump Era; DOJ Accuses Assange of Espionage Act Violations. Aired 11a- 12p ET

Aired May 26, 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.

This hour, a slew of new charges against Julian Assange have First Amendment advocates bracing.

Plus, in San Francisco a police raid on a reporter is causing widespread concern. We'll go live to San Francisco later this hour.

And later, "60 Minutes" correspondent Scott Pelley joins us live with his reflections from a brand-new book.

But, first, a story that we've all been following for the past few days. Move over deep fakes, look out for dumb fakes. You've heard of deep fakes, right? It's a term for sophisticated technology that makes totally fake videos look real. It is going to be a problem in the future.

But right now, the bigger problem quite frankly are dumb fakes, like that doctored, distorted video of Nancy Pelosi that got everyone's attention a few days ago. It was a dumb fake. You can see here on Facebook where it wracked up millions of views.

The house speaker's voice was slewed down significantly to make it sound like she was slurring her words. It's dumb. It's pathetic, but it was persuasive. Some people were primed to believe it, or at least to get a laugh out of it.

As I said, it racked up millions of views on Facebook, until fact checkers debunked the video and the social network started to reduce its spread. This gained a lot of attention in the news media was it was a crystal clear example of misinformation mire that we're all in.

But stuff like this goes on every day. Dump fakes spread on both the right and on the left. You know, there is this crazy theory out there popular among some liberal Twitterers called fake Melania that claims the first lady has a body double? It's based on ridiculous cherry- picked photos.

But on both the right and the left, this is hyperpartisan content designed to make you distrust or just hate the other side. And the president oftentimes plays right into it. On Thursday, President Trump found a different way to spread that Pelosi might be sick smear. He tweeted a mash up of awkward Pelosi sound bites that aired on Fox Business.

Now, the clips were not slowed down. They were just edited together to make her look really bad. It is two kinds of videos, both advancing the same theme.

This was, for Trump and his allies, a way of hurling Pelosi's concerns about his wellness right back at her. Pelosi bringing up real concerns about the president's well-being and it goes back around.

This is one of the president's favorite rhetorical devices. I'm rubber. You're glue. It's the old schoolyard stand by -- I know you are, but what am I. And we see it all the time.

This week, again, after former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told House lawmakers that Trump was not as prepared as Vladimir Putin during a key meeting, Trump called Tillerson ill-prepared and ill- equipped for the job that he hired Rex for.

Again, over and over again, Trump says I know you are, but what am I? You say I'm crooked. Hillary Clinton is crooked. Collusion, the Democrats colluded. Heck, he even said "Saturday Night Live" was guilty of collusion.

I think the key for journalists when we're tracking this nonstop nonsense is to keep track of the patterns, to pick up on the patterns, to keep track of them and to examine them in context, so we're not just covering every single day, every single tweet, but explaining the tactics behind it.

Let's get to our panel now and talk more about this, including yet another example of this I'm rubber, you're glue behavior we're seeing today.

From "The Atlantic", David Frum is here; from the Center for American Progress, Neera Tanden, and from "New York Magazine", Washington correspondent Olivia Nuzzi.

Neera, we just saw another example of this I know you are, but am I on the president's tweeted today. He was talking about -- the thing about what's happening every day, every peek, there is new stories about Trump profiting from his presidency, helping out his friends, very swampy behavior.

So, what did Trump do? He mocked Joe Biden as the real swamp man and claimed Biden has a low I.Q. while misspelling Biden's name and siding with a dictator, by the way.

So, Neera, what do you call this? What do you make of this?

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I absolutely agree with you that you have to find the pattern, and it's obviously in so many ways projection. Trump attacks other people for what he is doing or accused of or actually conducting. What actually happened this week to me was Nancy Pelosi had a meeting. Chuck Schumer had a meeting with Trump and he in real-time had a meltdown.

We saw all of the meltdown. It was in front of us. He had this press conference. He rushed out of the meeting. He had this press conference.

[11:05:00] Afterwards, in which he literally told the American people he was going to take all his marbles on legislation that affects their lives like infrastructure and go home until oversight was ended. And so, and then he like attacks Nancy Pelosi for basically not being up to the job.

And I think the issue is I agree you have to detect a pattern, but I think the media has a role in finding out why he acts this way? Why did he have this meltdown? Why is he doing these things, instead of covering the fight?

What he relies on is the media doing exactly what it did in 2016 was cover the food fight instead of asking why is he throwing the food?

STELTER: David Frum, you wrote this week for "The Atlantic", that Trump's cover-up is, in your words, accelerating.

DAVID FRUM, TEH ATLANTIC: Yes.

STELTER: Where do you see this happening? On what fronts is cover-up accelerating?

FRUM: Well, the cover-up is both his refusal to cooperate with Congress on the subpoenas at the same time he's launching this one- sided exculpatory investigation where his henchmen have the power to release or not to release documents that Trump thinks will make him look good.

To your question about why he does this, you know, President Obama never found it necessary to tell people that he was smart. President Clinton never found it necessary to tell people that he was smart. Not to be partisan about it, President Nixon never found it necessary to tell people he was smart. We knew they were smart, whether we like them or not.

And the question I always have with Trump's high I.Q. tweets is who he is talking to? He's not convincing anybody. He's talking to himself. He hears it in his head, maybe in his father's voice, you're stupid, you're worthless. That's who he is arguing with.

So, it is not a media strategy. It is a psychological project based on this deeply wounded person.

STELTER: But you are getting really close to playing psychiatrist here.

FRUM: I think many people in America have had close in their lives personalities like Donald Trump and they can recognize behaviors without making anything like a formal diagnosis. Many people have had this in their lives and can see the person who hears the voices, the denigrating voices inside their own mind, tries to turn it on the outside world and it never works. They still hear voices.

STELTER: Olivia, meantime, the big story in right wing media this week has been Bill Barr gaining this unprecedented powers to, quote, investigate the investigators. Fox talk shows have been talking about this for months, wanting to investigate the investigators.

Is that ultimately the most significant story line of the week because of what it might portend in the months ahead?

OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Well, you could argue a number of different stories are the most significant of the week. Donald Trump is taking Kim Jong-un's side against Joe Biden. Obviously, the Nancy Pelosi video investigating the investigators. I think every other week since he took office or since the 2016 election, we are just being inundated with significant story after significant story, and it's very difficult to kind of make sense of it all and stay on track and have a view from 10,000 feet of what's really going on.

I think that Donald Trump tends to benefit from that chaos. So, I think it is difficult to benefit what is the most important story of the week. To David's point, talking about psycho analyzing Trump, I do think there is something funny or interesting about the fact that, as he does, no self-reflection. He does not analyze himself. He seems afraid of doing so.

We all sit around and we try and make sense of what's going on inside his head and spend a lot of time and energy doing so.

TANDEN: Can I just add to all of this? Can I just add to all of this, though?

I think as we are going through this in real-time, the most important thing is that the media do not replicate the mistakes they made in 2016 or what I consider mistakes, many people consider mistakes, which is Donald Trump wants everything to be a food fight drama. At the end of the day, there are impacts from what he does.

If he decides, I'm not going to pass an infrastructure bill, I'm not going to work with Democrats to pass an infrastructure bill until they end oversight, that is the president of the United States saying, you know, my feelings are more important than the results in your lives. And I think -- I think the fact that we have this doctored video which social media seems incapable of still dealing with fake videos and false information after telling us for years that they were ready for this, and also the fact that we have news outlets still using WikiLeaks and other things. These things should concern us at a broad scale.

That we need to be prepared --

STETLER: The doctored video --

TANDEN: Yes. Go ahead.

STELTER: The distorted video lives on a spectrum, right, where it's actual footage, but slowed down, so it lives on this spectrum in between completely made up and completely real. Facebook has been criticized for not removing the video outright. Here is what one of the companies executives told Anderson Cooper the other day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MONIKA BICKERT, FACEBOOK VP FOR PRODUCT POLICY AND COUNTERTERRORISM: If it's misinformation that's related to safety, we can and we do remove it, and we work with safety grounds to that.

[11:10:05] But when we're talking about political discourse and misinformation around that, we think the right approach is to let people make an informed choice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: So she's distinguishing between misinformation that threatens someone's safety versus political propaganda. Is that fair distinction, Neera?

TANDEN: I actually don't. I mean, Facebook has said authenticity is a value that they share. They're taking down fake identities. Apparently billions of fake identities they have taken down. The fact that they know about fake information and they're not taking that down, whereas, you know, there is information -- there are -- there are conservatives who criticized liberal critiques of Trump.

They make value judgments every single day. And if authenticity is a value, then they need to be clear that this is fake information that's communicating that there is something wrong with Nancy Pelosi. I sat across from Nancy Pelosi in one of these videos. She was far more coherent than the president of the United States.

And I think that Facebook has a responsibility, just like YouTube did. YouTube took the video down. Facebook should follow suit.

FRUM: We should all --

STELTER: Sitting there making judgment calls every day. Look at this from "The Hill". The title is: Artist banned from Facebook for turning MAGA hats into symbols of hate speech. Turning the MAGA hats into KKK hood.

TANDEN: Absolutely.

STELTER: Again, Facebook making these choices every day.

TANDEN: Absolutely.

STELTER: David Frum, last word to you in this block?

FRUM: Let's remember that misinformation is a supply -- demand problem as well as supply. As you said, these are dumb things. People are choosing to believe them.

I don't think the people who repeat them are fooled. I think they enjoy the lie themselves. They are co-producers. It is the demand for false information, maybe a bigger problem than the supplier.

TANDEN: You know, to me, it's both. I think both have responsibility. We as consumers, and the platforms as well.

STELTER: All right. First to you, Olivia, in our later blog. Everybody, standby.

Quick break here and then we're going to look ahead to two stories with First Amendment implications you need to know about. One involving, of course, Julian Assange and the other involving a freelance journalist in San Francisco whose home was raided earlier this month.

Later, veteran journalist Scott Pelly, he's going to join me as well. Hear what he has to say about journalism versus junk.

Much more coming up here on RELIABLE SOURCES.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:16:01] STELTER: Hey, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.

The quality of our democracy is bound to the quality of our journalism. That's what CBS News veteran Scott Pelley says in his new work, "Truth Worth Telling: A Reporter's Search for Meaning in Our Stories of Our Time."

You can normally see Pelley on Sunday evenings on "60 Minutes". But he's with me a little earlier right now.

Scott, thanks for coming on.

SCOTT PELLEY, AUTHOR, 'TRUTH WORTH TELLING": Brian, great to be with you on RELIABLE SOURCES. Thank you.

STELTER: Here in chapter 19 of the book, you write you believe the fastest way to destroy democracy is to poison the information. How poisoned do you think our information environment is right now?

PELLEY: This is the thing that worries me the most about our beloved country. We have gone from the information age into the disinformation age. And as you were discussing earlier in the program with the Nancy Pelosi video, I think our viewers and our readers now have a responsibility that they have never had before, and that is they have to be careful about how they choose their information diet.

This is going to be a problem for the rest of our history, and it's a problem in particular for democracies.

STELTER: Do you see the CBSes and CNNs of the world as living up to the challenge, or are we way too far behind?

PELLEY: No, I think we are living up to the challenge and this program this morning is a great example of that. You just dismantled the Nancy Pelosi video, and that's what we have to do as journalists. We have to tell the truth, tell it again, tell it again and tell it again because the American people have to have reliable information to make decisions about our country. There is no democracy without journalism.

STELTER: And what are you hearing on your book tour from readers, from people? Do you hear the population just completely confused about what to believe?

PELLEY: Yes, very much so. What are we supposed to do, people ask me? And what I tell them is, and it is a little bit self-serving, but I tell them to go to brand name sources of journalism, CNN, CBS, NBC, "The New York Times," "The Los Angeles Times", whatever you want to do.

But if you see something on the internet that you wonder about or that outrages you, then do what has never been possible before, look at a variety of other sources. Spend ten minutes figuring out whether that story is true. I wonder what CNN is saying about that? I wonder what the Chicago tribune is saying about that? And triangulate your information.

Like I said, our viewers have never had to do that in history, and today it is going to be mandatory.

STELTER: How much do you think president Trump has contributed to this confusing climate? How much blame do you put?

PELLEY: Well, you know, I wonder whether this climate that we're in made Donald Trump possible rather than Donald Trump making this climate possible, if you see what I mean.

STELTER: Yes, yes.

PELLEY: People have begun to worry. We live in a time today, Brian, as you well know, where what is true can be made to seem false. And what is false can be made to seem true.

And that allows our national leadership to start saying things like fake news and the media is the enemy of the American people. We are the American people.

Madison said that freedom of the press is the right that guarantees all the others. He knew that as long as we could say what we wanted to say, write what we wanted to write, read what we wanted to read, then all of our rights would be protected. It is just that important.

STELTER: And, Scott, while I have you, a question about CBS, your day job there. Eighteen months of scandals and shakeups at CBS News and the rest of the company, what has been like for you and your colleagues?

[11:20:06] And now, of course, there's a new news president. A new boss at "60 Minutes", everything has changed.

PELLEY: Well, we have been through a dark period in the last several years of incompetent management and sort of a hostile work environment within the news division. I lost my job at the evening news because I wouldn't stop complaining to management about the hostile work environment.

But as you say, now everything has changed. We have a new chairman of CBS Corporation, Joe Ianniello, a visionary leader.

We have the first woman president of the news division, Susan Zirinsky. And I have known her for 30 years. She's been at CBS more than 40 years. She has CBS News DNA.

And now, we have a new executive producer, Bill Owens at "60 Minutes". And it is all blue sky from here. I'm very excited. I know these people, and I know that we're on the right track.

STELTER: You were replaced by Jeff Glor on evening news. Norah O'Donnell is replacing him.

You say you lost your evening news job because you were complaining about hostile work environments?

PELLEY: That's true. Several years ago, four or five years ago, I went to the president of the news division and explained to him that this hostile work environment couldn't go on for women and men. He told me if I kept agitating about that internally, then I'd lose my job.

I went to his boss who told me that he didn't share my concerns and, so, having exhausted the possibilities in the news division, I went to the chairman of the CBS Corporation who listened to me very concerned for an hour, asked me some penetrating questions about what was going on. I didn't hear back from him. But in the next opportunity in my contract, I was let go from the evening news.

STELTER: And that chairman, Les Moonves, is no longer there either. Of course brought down by sexual harassment scandal himself.

So, you look ahead, Scott, you are feeling much more positive, it sounds like, about the news division.

PELLEY: Absolutely. Like I said, I know all of these new people. I have known for them for decades. They are people of the highest principles. They are people of public service. And I couldn't be more excited about the future of CBS News than I am right now.

STELTER: Public service. We need more -- two of those words we need to use more often, public service. That's what it is.

Scott, thank you so much. Best of luck with the book.

PELLEY: Great to be with you. Thank you.

STELTER: And the book is "Truth Worth Telling" by Scott Pelley.

Quick break here and new indictments about Julian Assange. Hear why so many First Amendment advocates are concerned about what this could mean.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [11:26:08] STELTER: Journalists across the nation are sounding the alarm bells about this case. This is the new indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

You remember Assange was previously charged in April with one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for allegedly helping Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning leak top secret information in 2010.

This week, Trump's Justice Department charged Assange with an additional 17 counts under the Espionage Act. And that is a significant change. It is why top editors of "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" and elsewhere are all concerned about the First Amendment implications.

So let's get into this with acclaimed First Amendment attorney, Ted Boutrous. He's joining me now. Boutrous, you may recall, represented CNN and Jim Acosta in the case over the White House taking away Acosta's press pass. But he's been on the frontlines of a lot of different cases for many years.

Ted, thanks for being here.

TED BOUTROUS, FIRST AMENDMENT LAWYER: Thank you, Brian. I'm glad to be with you.

STELTER: What makes this historic, this use of the Espionage Act to challenge and prosecute Assange?

BOUTROUS: This is the first time the government has ever invoked the Espionage Act to go after someone who received classified information and then disseminate it to the public. It's really been a rarely used statute in the hundred years it's been in existence. But when it's been used, it's been used to go after people who engaged in espionage or the government officials who leaked the information. That raises troubling questions itself sometimes, but this is a whole new realm, and it is very dangerous for journalism in multiple ways.

STELTER: But DOJ prosecutors are saying Assange is not a journalist. They're trying to get into the labeling business and say, he's not one of us. Does that matter?

BOUTROUS: It doesn't matter at all. And, in fact, that itself really poses grave risks to the First Amendment. Whatever you think of Julian Assange, you don't have to recognize him as a journalist to see this indictment with a couple of edits, could be invoked against journalists who do this every day of their careers. It would criminalize the encouragement of leaks, the gathering of information from a government official who does leak information and then the publication of it.

That would be criminalizing journalism.

And so, it's the activities that the indictment focuses on. It is good to hear the Justice Department was expressing concern about intruding on journalism, but their words don't match up with what's on the indictment. The focus of the indictment goes to the essence of journalism, and it would really create a terrible situation where the government could pick and choose people who it wants to prosecute, depending on whether they like the content of what those people are saying by saying you are a journalist, you are not a journalist.

STELTER: And, look, the Espionage Act has been controversial for a very long time. It dates back to 1917. Tell us the proper use of the Espionage Act would be.

BOUTROUS: So, a classic example would be if someone -- a foreign government or an individual here in the United States stole national security information and then gave it to a hostile government. And, so, that's more along the lines of what you see in the Russian interference situation. You know, it is a criminal statute meant to go after hostile acts against the government, the stealing of information and the use of it to attack the United States.

But what happens in journalism is journalists go to government officials, talk to them, sometimes cajole them to get information. They get information that belongs to the American people and they report it.

If you let the government start bringing criminal prosecutions for that, that will hurt democracy. It will hurt the American people's ability to know what's going on in the government and act accordingly.

STELTER: And fundamentally, we deserve to know what's happening in our name as American citizens.

Ted, quick break here. Please stick around. I want to talk about another case, this one out of San Francisco. It is a police raid of a local freelance journalist and why there has been national outrage.

[11:30:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: We've been talking about the new indictments against Julian Assange. Now let's turn to a local first amendment violation that deserves more national attention. Earlier this month, San Francisco police raided the home of a freelance journalist named Bryan Carmody. He had obtained a copy of a police report relating to the death of a prominent public defender.

He was able to help publish the report, provide more information on this person's death. He refused to reveal his source to the Police Department's Internal Affairs Division. Of course, he was keeping his promise to his source that's something that is traditionally protected by California's shield-wall.

So what happened next, the police showed up with a sledgehammer, knock down the door, searched his home for hours, seized lots of property, and only now two weeks later as the police officers apologized and vowed to review the matter.

Joining me now from San Francisco is Audrey Cooper. She's the Editor in Chief of the San Francisco Chronicle and Attorney Ted Boutrous is also back with me. Audrey, what are these past two weeks been like?

AUDREY COOPER, EDITOR IN CHIEF, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: Well, they've been pretty crazy from our point of view. I mean I think the initial outcry that came from the journalists in San Francisco was one thing. Our elected leaders, our police department, they were pretty quiet until we just you know honestly badgered them with weeks of coverage about this issue which really goes to our fundamental rights as a local media organization to be able to critically cover our government.

[11:35:08] STELTER: Did the fact that Bryan is a freelance journalist, he's a stringer who works for multiple outlets gathering video, gathering material, sharing it with local stations and outlets, is the fact that he's freelance a factor here? You know, I guess what I'm asking is if one of your reporters of the Chronicle and had their front door knocked in, would that have ever happened if they you know, freelancer versus a full-time staffer?

COOPER: If you had asked me that a month ago, I would have said there's absolutely no way. We have some of the strongest laws in the nation in California protecting us. Now, to be honest with you, I'm not so sure. We had the same information that this freelancer had. The police department didn't choose to come after us. I think that's wise on their behalf but they very easily could have.

And I have to tell you, it scares me to death to think that the police department would put so little intellectual thought into what they were doing in this case and that they -- if they're going to apply that to a freelancer, they could just as easy apply it to me or any of the 200 journalists that work at The Chronicle.

STELTER: Right. I see. Ted, tell us that the definition of shield law for viewers who don't know how this shield law concept works. And was it violated in this case?

TED BOUTROUS, FIRST AMENDMENT LAWYER: Brian, the shield law, the California law was clearly violated in this case. The -- it's meant to shield the reporter's confidential sources and unpublished information of any type. It bars the government from getting search warrants, to go storm a reporter's house like they did in this case, and it precludes the courts from holding a reporter in contempt for not providing that information if they're subpoenaed.

So this was just a blatant violation of shield law. And I think it's part of a culture hostility towards journalism that is emanating from the president through the country and I think we need to focus on what's going on in local newsrooms and with local reporters because they're feeling the same effects and I think this is -- this is an example of that.

And I'm glad that the city that they're turning around and recognizing, the police are recognizing it was just absolutely wrong.

STELTER: They say this should not have happened but they only said that two weeks after the fact. Audrey, to your -- to Ted's point about the president, this shows that it's not just Republicans, not just conservatives who are you know willing to wage an assault on First Amendment values.

COOPER: Right. I think that's absolutely true. I mean, in San Francisco, if you don't know, we don't have liberal and conservative. We have liberal and more liberal and there's not a single politician in town who would say they have anything to do with the president at all on any policy issue so I think it's really true.

And it's not just this case. We've been covering abuses and attacks on the local press from our transit agencies, from the politicians, from the police union itself which is now suddenly outraged by this. So this is a long-standing problem here and everywhere else in the country and it's now just -- it's -- I think it's just now becoming a national discussion point.

STELTER: Better late than never. Audrey, Ted thank you both for being here. A quick break and then the Pentagon, why it's not holding on-camera briefings anymore and what Fox News host Pete Hegseth isn't telling his viewer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:40:00] STELTER: Hey, welcome back. Fox and Friends weekend the co-hosts Pete Hegseth is one of Trump's biggest boosters on the air and he also gives Trump advice off the air. The Daily Beast reported this week that Hegseth was lobbying for the President to pardon members of the military who've been accused of war crimes.

And it seems like Trump is at least considering that. Here is what the President said before jetting off to Japan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a little bit controversial. It's very possible that I'll let the trials go on and I'll make my decision after the trial.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Once again, the Fox-Trump feedback loop is in action here so I spoke with the Founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Paul Rieckhoff, now the host of the Angry Americans podcast and asked him about this idea. I asked him if he was shocked or surprised to hear about Hegseth lobbying Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAUL RIECKHOFF, FOUNDER, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: I wasn't surprised at all. I mean, Hegseth is an incredibly influential media personality. He's definitely got Trump's ear. He's had dinner with him. I know him from the veterans community. We've actually worked together in the past on some issues, but I think this underscores the power of this influence journalism that's coming out of certain parts of the media Fox in particular. It's unprecedented.

On the issue, in particular, I think that's what should alarm all Americans. I'm actually having a conversation with you about why it's a bad idea to pardon war criminals. It's a crazy idea. It's bad for our national security. It's bad for our troops. It's bad for our global standing. But right now apparently, it's an idea that the president is considering.

So I hope that you know, just the same way he's getting pressure from the media to consider this, I hope he hears the echoes of just about everybody I've spoken to in the media whose prior service military and everyone in the active-duty military and in the veterans community that pardoning war criminals would be a catastrophically bad move.

STELTER: Bad move because -- and again, unfortunately after explaining this, but go ahead give us an explanation.

RIECKHOFF: So think about it this way. If the president said OK, mass murders, Jeffrey Dahmer or someone like that can just walk free, OK. There's no accountability if you -- and that's an extreme example. But we're talking about people who have been convicted of murdering civilians, people who have been convicted of violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

So if the president comes in and pardons those people, what it basically says is our troops are not bound by any rule, they can do what they want. So he has to let the Uniform Code of Military Justice run its course. If you really do support the troops and you support the military, you have them to take accountability for their own people. And that's usually what they do.

So for the president that come in and blow that up would really undermine the very -- the very good for in discipline of the military. It would also put our troops at risk. Because right now they're in Iraq, they're in Afghanistan, they're in countries all around the world. And if people in those countries think that we can commit war crimes without accountability, they won't trust them.

We instantly go from being the good guys to the bad guys. And that puts America's sons and daughters at risk. It's an upside-down world. It's like bizarre land but unfortunately, I think as you've covered over the last couple of years, it's become kind of our new normal.

[11:45:00] STELTER: And the idea that the president hears this stuff from Fox News personalities sometimes on the air, other times privately on the phone or in meetings. That's part of what makes this world upside down. Does it bug you, the idea that Fox News feedback loop can actually do damage to the military?

RIECKHOFF: Yes, absolutely. I mean, if the president is listening right now which I doubt he is, don't do this. Bad idea, bad for America, bad for our troops. And I don't care what Pete Hegseth or any other talking head says. This is -- this is bigger than a quick political win that it might afford you with your base. This is about America's sons and daughters.

And that's the bigger picture. We need to move toward a more strategic perspective, and I think it also cuts to how the president handles the media. He's got to be more responsible in the way he sets the command climate, his tone because that does cascade not just across politics but across our military.

How our president is viewed is how our military is viewed. And right now they're already in harm's way, they're already in tough situations, they don't need the president making it any harder.

STELTER: And we are coming up on the one-year mark since the Pentagon spokesperson came out and held an on-camera press briefing. What are we missing, what are we losing by not having Pentagon briefings?

RIECKHOFF: Think back to the Gulf War where you had Schwarzkopf and Powell doing these briefings you know, with slideshows talking about where bombings were happening and what buildings they had blown up. There was a degree of transparency that was expected in the modern age, expected with the modern media coverage.

And now they've completely stonewall the likes of which we've never seen in America. This is what you see from despotic countries. And that again, it undermines not just a trust with the political leadership, it undermines the public's trust with our military.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: Yes it does. All right, hear more from Paul on this week's RELIABLE SOURCES podcast on this Memorial Day coming up. We talked about news media coverage of war and peace. Check it out from your Apple or your favorite app. Frum, Nuzzi, Tanden, the panel is right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:50:00] STELTER: President Trump is tweeting more and more. Is he trying harder and harder to get your attention? You know, these days media executives like to say that attention is the greatest currency of them all. Attention is scarce. Everyone wants it whether its views, or shares, interactions, or engagements, whether it's your data or your vote.

And the president seems to understand this. I mean, he's always been savvy about manipulating the media's attention and he's been obsessed with the ratings especially for his favorite network. So I bet he's noticed that the attention on him is waning a little bit, flickering out a little bit.

Check out this timeline of Google searches for "Trump for the past 12 months. Google calls this interest over time and you can see the downward trend. We looked around and found some other data backing this up as well.

According to Andrew Tyndall's research, and the number of Trump sound bites on the big three nightly newscasts is down. It's dropped by more than a quarter in the past two months. And this all backs up what I hear anecdotally that people are over Trump. Whether they support him or they oppose him, they're just not as interested as they were say two years ago.

These days when Fox interviews Trump or airs his rallies live, the ratings barely go up. When he tweets, people mostly shrug. So what's Trump doing to win back attention? Well, he's swearing in public more often. He's picking more fights. He's enlisting government officials to sing his praises in a single-file line. And he's tweeting more and more and more.

Check out from street activity this year against the last year. This is a comparison each month this year versus last. In the last 30 days, he has tweeted or retweeted 664 times compared to a total of 226 for the same time period last year.

Twitter is his playground. Sometimes the news media is his playground too. And I'm struck by some of the ways the Democratic contenders are dealing with this. So let me bring our panel back to wrap this hour up. Olivia Nuzzi and Neera Tanden, and David Frum were all back with me.

Guys, we heard from Pete Buttigieg le judge this week saying the president wants and needs our attention. He means the public's attention as well as the media's and the Democratic fields. David Frum, how are you seeing the Democratic candidates handle this?

DAVID FRUM, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Well, I think the thing we all need to understand -- and this is all dissent a little from what you said in the wrap-up, this is not rational or adaptive behavior by President Trump. The economy is strong, rates of military casualties are low, any other president with Trump story would have an approval rating somewhere in the low to mid-50s.

Even Donald Trump with his history, if he had just been silent since inauguration day would probably be a pretty strong candidate for re- election. The noise hurts him, but he can't help doing it. It is not rational behavior and that's maybe the beginning to understanding how to cope with it.

Pete Buttigieg made a very smart point when he said, this is fuel or food for Donald Trump. You need -- this is a supply to him. That explains his behavior, not a strategy or a tactic.

STELTER: Olivia, do you agree it's irrational?

OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Well I don't know if it's -- if I agree that it's irrational. I think that he -- when he feels -- it's like in -- at the rallies, right. When he feels the crowd no longer really engaged, he starts a chance that they're going to build the wall. And I think he does that in a different way when it's just a news cycle, when it's a week where maybe he feels like other people are getting attention, he starts to lash out in a way that his base will respond to.

I think one of the interesting things if you look at the 2020 field right now is how the different candidates are trying to deal with this. You have Pete Buttigieg saying that you can't let him suck up all the oxygen, you know, you can't just be reacting to Trump all the time. I'm paraphrasing. You know, it has to be about something besides Donald Trump. And then you have other candidates, someone like Kirsten Gillibrand

who really is attacking Trump. That's kind of how she approaches speaking to a crowd as she contrasts herself with Trump and talks about him a lot.

Buttigieg, he's talking about him a bit more I think adds Donald Trump is attacking him personally, but he doesn't really use the name, Donald Trump. He doesn't say it very much if you're with him out on the trail which I think is pretty interesting.

And I don't know long-term you know, what will be really effective strategy, and I think once they're sharing more space with Donald Trump and he is attacking the candidates by name more regularly maybe it'll be different. But I think that because there is some Trump fatigue, some of the candidates are afraid of talking about Donald Trump too much because Donald Trump's fatigue may mean that people are fatigued by anyone talking about Donald Trump.

[11:55:17] NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I guess --

STELTER: And you mentioned the rallies, Neera, at the rally most recently, the President didn't like the fact that Fox News has been running town halls with Democrats. He criticized the Pete Buttigieg town hall. It's as if he wants even more attention from his favorite network.

TANDEN: I guess I would disagree with what's been said here because I think -- I think this is all a strategy to distract from other news. I mean, just to say this. It was what, a week or two ago that the New York Times had a blockbuster report about Trump's taxes and how he was actually one of the biggest losers and business. That story seems like it's months ago because of all the news Trump has made over the last week fighting with Pelosi or fighting with this group or fighting with that group.

I mean, maybe he's tweeting more because there is more oversight over him and he feels more concern about what the news is. And he is consistently trying to move the news off of him. I totally --

STELTER: That's interesting. Well, he is. Look, he is tweeting a lot more. Whatever the reason is, he's posting a lot more.

NUZZI: But Brian, I think -- but I think both of those things can be true.

STELTER: I'm sorry, I've got to fit in a break -- right, yes. I've got to fit in a break. Thank you, everyone. Just a quick note here before we go. CNN is trying something new on Memorial Day. It's a television presentation of Colin Quinn's off Broadway show Red State Blue State. It's must-see T.V. Monday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time here on CNN.

Let us know what you thought of today's show. Send me a tweet. I'm @BrianStelter on Twitter and we'll see you right back here this time next week. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)