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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Trump Is Eroding Trust In The Electoral System; Unprecedented Campaign Coverage During The Pandemic; Interview With Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL); Where The Latest Birther Lie Came From; The QAnon Cult Is Spreading On Social Media; How Fox News Mainstreamed The Seth Rich Conspiracy Theory. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired August 16, 2020 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter, live in New York. And this is RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the story behind the story.
This hour, on the eve of the Democratic convention, President Trump's answering lots of questions, and issuing lots of lies. What about Joe Biden? Is he taking questions at all? We're going to get into the differing media strategies.
Plus, a GOP congressman is here with a message for the people in his party who are tolerating and even promoting the QAnon cult.
Also standing by, Olivia Nuzzi, a first look at her story in "New York Magazine" about the president's dysfunctional reelection campaign.
"Rolling Stone's" D.C. bureau chief Andy Kroll is also standing by. He has an exclusive news story about Fox News.
But let's get to this first. How interested are you in this year's presidential election? Fox has been asking that question several times every election season going back many years. And right now, the results are off the charts.
Take a look at this graph. This is the 2008 response to the question of how extremely excited are you in the election? Are you extremely interested in the election?
You can see every year, the amount of interest grows, but this year, 2020, 62 percent of Americans say they are extremely interested in the election. Most others say they are very or somewhat interested.
People are tuned in, both Trump supporters and Biden supporters. They are paying attention. And you can see it in the polling, you can see it in the TV ratings. People are very, very plugged into this election cycle.
And that means people are also paying attention to the threats against this election -- the threats coming from inside America's own house. From the president's wild lies about voter fraud to his own admission that he is undermining the postal service to make it more difficult to vote by mail, every day, Trump chips away at America's confidence in its voting system.
Here he is yesterday on Twitter saying: Maybe we will never know who won the election.
He is kind of like a hurricane. I want you to picture a beach that's taking a pounding from waves and wind. Inch by inch, minute by minute, hour by hour, the sand erodes, it washes away. And the next morning when you wake up, you look at the sea shore, the sand is gone.
That's what he's doing to Americans' confidence in the voting system right now. He's eroding it inch by inch.
Here's today's "New York Times" front page story: Growing crisis in postal service alarms voters.
And let's go to "The Washington Post" as well. Trump's USPS ire took root in 2017.
Now, that's really important to keep in mind. This goes back to the last election, and the president's faulty, foolish belief that he actually would have won the popular vote were it not for millions of illegal votes.
Now, of course, that's a lie. That's a foundational lie that his first four years in office have been built upon. And now, he's taking these steps, you know, disrupting the 2020 election because of that faulty belief from four years ago.
These stories are all connected, whether it's about the Postal Service or about other threats of the integrity of the voting system, and the press has to keep connecting the dots.
I know somebody who's great at that. So, let me bring him in, the legendary investigative journalist and CNN political analyst, Carl Bernstein.
Carl, we need your wisdom at a time like this. We've been through another week of this really dangerous lies by the president with regards to mail-in ballots. The Postal Service is now national news.
When is the last time that happened?
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: A long time.
BERNSTEIN: We have a tyrant president of the United States trying to act like the king to undermine the very electoral system, the most important element of our democracy, by impeding the postal service and throwing grave doubt among Americans about the efficacy and fairness of the election through lies and subterfuge.
This is a real national crisis, and it requires a Republican Party that has enabled and gone along with this undermining of our electoral process to come to the fore and help save our democratic process at this pivotal moment. STELTER: What questions do you want the press to be asking in the
BERNSTEIN: I think the first thing is, this ought to be, along with COVID, the story that we do not let go of for a moment.
That we're on the air and in -- online with it every moment. But particularly about our history, because remember, the postal service was started by Benjamin Franklin. He was the first postmaster general to be an element of our democracy in 1775. And now, we have a president committed to shutting down, in essence, the ability of the post office to help Americans vote.
This president of the United States is using the post office, crippling it, to make sure that votes are not counted that might go against him and against his Republican allies. This is an unprecedented crisis. We've never seen anything like this.
So, we need history in our journalism. Particularly over at Fox News where there are real patriotic journalists, reporters, forget about Sean Hannity, forget about Laura Ingraham. Fox news has an unusual obligation here to be patriotic and point out the history of the Postal Service, the history of our free elections, and how this president is undermining them.
STELTER: Right. Once you start to realize entire states conduct elections by mail-in ballot. Once you realize the history of the postal service's incredible accomplishments, you know, and how it's a backbone for the country, you know, you understand the stakes of what's going on here.
You mentioned Republican leaders as well, Carl. Isn't this about moral bankruptcy of the Republican Party, that there's just utter silence when these things happen?
BERNSTEIN: Absolutely. And unless Mitch McConnell, other Republicans, important Republicans step up, this will be the shame of the Republican Party for generations.
Let's look at the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which ended the horrible Democratic Party segregationist whole on a so-called poll tax throughout the south to keep African-Americans from voting. That was -- the Voting Rights Act was passed because of great Republicans. The Party of Lincoln, not the party of segregation, not the party of exclusion.
Today, the Republican Party is returning to the old southern segregationist Democratic Party by allowing this president of the United States, a racist president with a racist appeal, to do this, undermine our electoral system through racism discrimination using the Postal Service of Ben Franklin to do it.
STELTER: We do have a little bit breaking news, by the way, about this postal service crisis. The House Oversight Committee just announced they're going to have a hearing on August 24th, so a little more than a week from now. They're calling the postmaster general in. We will see if the postmaster general agrees to testify.
But this is action by the Democrats to show they are taking this matter seriously.
Carl, I just -- before I let you go, I can't help but notice, you do sound pretty worried about the state of the country in a way that that's not normally the way we talk about the -- on the eve of conventions, these are usually celebratory times for the country, for the political world. But this year, this season is so different.
BERNSTEIN: This is a national emergency. It's a national emergency caused by a despotic president who's unique in our history. We've never had a president of the United States who's tried to undermine our most basic institutions. We've never had a president of the United States who is in public even admittedly trying to hijack an election by excluding people from voting.
This is unique. And that's why the press particularly every day must focus on this story, with the history. The history is part of this story.
STELTER: And briefly, Carl, because everyone knows about you and Bob Woodward from the Watergate days, Woodward just announced his new book about Trump. It's called "Rage." It's coming out September 15th. It's already a best seller on Amazon.
And President Trump who gave many interviews to Woodward went on Twitter saying, I'm sure the book is fake.
What does that tell you about the president's psyche, that he talked to Woodward many times and then says the book is going to be fake?
BERNSTEIN: It tells me that the president realizes that he can't outtalk Bob Woodward. Look, if I know anything this world is the methodology of Bob Woodward. The methodology is you go back time and time again and interview the principals that you're reporting on, and the people around them. As you continue to do that, it becomes obvious to the principal, in this case the president of the United States, some of the dimensions of the story.
And the dimensions of this story clearly now that Trump has called it fake news, from hearing from Bob the questions, he knows that this book is going to upend his easy, happy talking lies.
And that's going to be a fundamental element of the book. And I say this not from inside knowledge of the contents of the book, but understanding the methodology, which Trump thought that he could outsmart. Trump is always trying to outsmart the truth. He's been very successful at it.
In this instance with Woodward, he's not going to be successful at it. And that's why he's hollering again, fake news, the same way he has not been successful in shutting down the American press and our reporting on his presidency.
That's how Americans know. Yes, we are in the midst of a cold civil war, but Americans know from what the press has done and its reporting that Trump has called fake news what this president is about and where we are today in his presidency and his attempts to hijack the congressional and presidential election of 2020.
STELTER: Right. Most people do know. Most people see through his lies.
Carl, thank you very much. Whoever was trying to call Carl, you can call him back now.
We have much more ahead this hour, including behind the scenes of Kamala Harris' reintroduction. The VP contender's press tour is under way. We have brand-new information from her in her interviews, next.
STELTER: Political conventions are always staged for the press, mostly for television networks like this one. And this year, that's more true than before, because the conventions are mostly virtual, due to the pandemic and mostly arranged around the schedules of the nature networks. The broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, they will be live each night from 10:00 until 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Cable networks like this one will have coverage all day long, Monday through Thursday.
And it is truly a made for TV event. The Democrats this week, the Republicans next week, with the Dems planning to incorporate, quote, hundreds of live video feeds from living rooms, national monuments and stages around the country.
But as that "Washington Post" story quotes, the news circuit could also flop, especially if the broadcasting cable networks have their on-air talent talk over all the carefully prepared set of pieces and less partisan viewers will decide to dismiss the spectacle as an overlong propaganda film.
Here's the question from "The Post" story: How much of the feed is rebroadcast directly remains an open question? But we know the Democrats are going to put on a big show, celebrities, performers and many speakers. It's kind of a convention for the TikTok and Instagram age, with lots of short speeches in the way people are used to watching viral videos.
So, what's it like to be covering a virtual campaign in the midst of a pandemic?
With me now is NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid, "New York Magazine" D.C. correspondent Olivia Nuzzi and one of the founders of "Politico", John F. Harris, who wrote about what it's like to be covering this.
John, you interviewed a lot of reports about covering it from the couch dynamic. How do you think it's going to change the coverage this week?
JOHN HARRIS, FOUNDING EDITOR, POLITICO: You know, it is -- the conventions, as you point out, always have an enormous element of make-believe but it's usually something that's actually going on and then there's the media story that's taking place in the network booths.
Really, at this point, there's really nothing real going on. It's all a kind of make-believe narrative. You know, probably an hour a night for most people watching the major networks. That's about enough. It's going to be a very concentrated shot for the political junkies like us. You know, we'll probably have the cable on all day, as we do anyway.
STELTER: Right, exactly.
Asma, what about you? I mean, we would be there at the convention now, normally all these Sunday shows would be broadcasting live from the convention hall. What's it like for you?
ASMA KHALID, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Exactly. I was supposed to be in Milwaukee, which clearly I'm not at the moment. You know, as of now, our plan is to head to Wilmington, Delaware, for a couple of days because that's where both Kamala Harris and Joe Biden will be delivering speeches in person.
But, you know, so far, when we see these speeches, they're not really at all anything akin to a convention. I'm imagining typically you go back to 2016, there were giant arenas. You have the balloons, you have just loads of adoring super political fans.
You haven't had that. I mean, to me one of the most stark things when you saw the rollout with Kamala Harris and Joe Biden together for the first time was how quiet the entire event felt. You didn't have the applause. You didn't have any of that.
And I think that it will be really interesting to me to see how the political convention sounds, right? I'm a radio reporter. I pay a lot of attention to sounds. It has just felt so silent compared to what a normal campaign feels like.
STELTER: Right, right.
Olivia, you're out with a brand-new story about the other side, about the Republicans, about Trump's re-election campaign. It's a cover story for "New York" magazine just published on NYMag.com. You say this is the most disorganized, unscrupulous, self-sabotaging presidential campaign since the last one.
What are your main findings about what's going on over with the Republicans while the Democrats are about to hold their convention?
OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Well, it's a long story, and pretty wide-ranging about the state of the campaign but in the context of the conversation we're having right now about how we cover this, when the candidates are house-bound, all the normal things that happen during an election are, for the most part, not happening in a normal way, part of my story, as you say is out now, is that I went on the campaign trail, even though there technically isn't one, and I tried to see up close what the ground game is actually like for the Trump campaign.
They boast all the time they knocked on a million doors, they have an historic number of volunteers.
And so, I started going to some of the events that are supposed to be for potential campaign volunteers or I tried to go to them in Pennsylvania. Every time I went to go, the events didn't exist. Either because the campaign had advertised them inaccurately, they weren't even aware they were -- that they were advertising these events or because nobody had showed up.
And I thought the disparity between the way that the campaign statements about how they're actually doing with their ground game are sometimes covered, the way that reporters, even we're being skeptical will still publish what the campaign is claiming and the reality I saw, at least anecdotally while doing this reporting which was pretty stark.
STELTER: It seems to me his strategy right now is to hold these daily press conferences. There's been six days in a row, these pressers, often times misleading misinformation. But it keeps him out there visible every single day.
And that's a contrast to Biden in some ways. Let's talk about the differing approaches to these two campaigns.
I was called out by the RNC the other day, let's put up on screen, one of the Republican national committee staffers saying, I can't wait for Brian Stelter to call out Biden and Harris for their lack of transparency and accountability to the press.
So, let's talk about this dynamic, right? Trump is very accessible but he lies all the time. Biden is not as accessible. You know, here's Trump, you know, calling into Fox News, giving an interview to Sinclair this week, holding briefings.
Biden, on the other hand, is having very formal events, giving speeches. They're perfectly executed from a campaign point of view. But the press is asked to leave the room. We barely get to ask any questions of Biden these days.
I understand it is savvy campaign strategy to keep him away from questioners.
But, John Harris, don't they have to have a press conference? Aren't they going to get pounded by the Trump campaign and by reporters if they don't make the presidential candidate for accessible?
HARRIS: I think candidates for president should be accessible. So, I thought that was a fair question or fair challenge -- STELTER: Yeah.
HARRIS: -- the Republican Party made not just to you but really to all of us. President Trump's problem has never really been accessibility or profile. And there's no question the Biden campaign, perhaps because they regard him as having somewhat wobbly candidate skills, they're running him as the composite Democrat, and that means they don't want Biden out a lot. They don't want him answering a lot of questions because it's an opportunity to screw up --
STELTER: All right. I understand the strategy. What about the argument that's a false equivalence, John, that there are two things that are bad but one is worse? It's bad that Biden doesn't take questions all the time but it's worse the president does take questions and then spreads disinformation?
HARRIS: Well, I think both things are bad. And I think our job is to correct misinformation and our job is also to press candidates to answer questions that they haven't answered. Incidentally, for all of President Trump's accessibility, he doesn't really get pressed that often on where's your tax returns? He promised those five years ago, four years ago in the campaign and never has.
There's questions for the Democratic campaign. We should press, press, press and make them squirm.
We probably shouldn't overstate our ability to make these candidates -- to throw them off their strategy. They know what they're doing, why they're doing it and we can holler about it. And voters can decide how much they care.
STELTER: And they can decide, yeah.
Asma, Kamala Harris did give three interviews so far this week since being named VP. She spoke on "The 19th," "TheGrio" and "Essence". All of her interviewers were black women. That, I'm guessing was not a coincidence.
KHALID: No, I would say I agree with you. I don't think it was a coincidence, right? I mean, there was -- and there has been much made of the fact she's the first woman of color ever to be selected as a VP pick.
And the fact she decided to give these interviews to black journalists clearly is symbolic and also indicative of the fact that a lot of the activism we saw ahead of the V.P. choice came from any black Democrats, black activists pushing the Biden campaign on this issue.
But let me say one quick thing to agree with John. I cannot overly agree more -- I mean, there is a frustration, I will say, as somebody who spends a lot of time covering the Biden campaign, that he has not been particularly accessible, right? I mean, this past week, he rolled out his vice president. I think many journalists expected there would be some format where we would be able to ask questions and nobody was allowed to ask questions in a sort of formal press conference setting. And, look, there's a couple of months left before election day, but I
would say this is something that is and will continue to be very frustrating for a number of the journalists who cover Biden if it doesn't change.
STELTER: And, Olivia, on the flip side, President Trump is so accessible, we can't barely keep up with everything he says, everything he claims.
STELTER: There's this -- go ahead. Yeah?
NUZZI: No, I mean, to your point, obviously, he says a number of false things. I think it would be a mistake to say these two negative qualities that each candidate has, Biden not being accessible, not speaking to the immediate, and the president being very visible but saying things that are false, that those are equally bad or similar, or entirely similar. Both things can be true, they can both be bad in different ways.
But I keep thinking about this from a strategy point of view from Biden's campaign side. I understand him going out and speaking to reporters, there's the risk of him making a gaffe. He's known for doing that. At the same time sometimes reporters, even if we don't want to admit it, we have a bias towards people who cooperate. We have a bias towards people who speak to us.
I think in some ways it is a self-sabotaging strategy on the Biden campaign's part to have him so hidden and so in inaccessible to reporters, reporters are inclined to talk to people who talk to us. I think that sometimes explains some of Donald Trump's coverage. And I think it would be helpful to everyone, anyone running for office, to be very accessible to the press. Obviously, that's my point of view because I want everyone to talk to me, as all reporters do.
STELTER: (INAUDIBLE) call me. Yeah, yeah.
NUZZI: Call me.
But if you're hiding from the press, I think it makes people wonder, you know, what else you're hiding and why you're not comfortable talking to the press if you're campaigning to be the leader of the free world. It doesn't really reflect well on what people think within your campaign about your strengths as a candidate.
STELTER: One clip to button this up, it's from one of the president's many press conferences. S.V. Date of "Huffington Post" has been calling out the president for this serial lying and he had a chance to ask Trump about it to his face. Here's what happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Do you regret at all the lying you've done to the American people?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All the what?
REPORTER: All the lying, all the dishonesties?
TRUMP: That who has done?
REPORTER: You have done. Tens of thousands --
TRUMP: Go ahead, please, please. Please, go ahead. Go ahead.
REPORTER: All right. I wanted to ask about payroll tax --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Trump just moved right along, he moved right along to the next question there and ignored the comment about why he lies so much.
Thank you, everybody, for being here.
I want to move onto those press briefings and talk about what's been going on with the White House inviting friendlies into the room. The president of the group representing White House reporters is speaking out about this outrageous new tactic. We have more in a moment.
STELTER: Now to the roots of the newest birther lie. Honestly, I hate to even start a segment that way because the selection of Kamala Harris is a big deal and the smear is about her shameful. But the smears do show the crazed 2020 media ecosystem works or doesn't work. So, let's do it. Let me show you how this works, OK. The initial claim came from a Newsweek column written by a law professor John Eastman, who it is worth noting ran for California Attorney General the same year that Harris won that race.
The Daily Beast says it took Newsweek three days and a staff revolt to finally come around and apologize for publishing that op-ed. Now, Newsweek initially defended it and said it wasn't about birtherism. But come on, it started this domino effect which caused President Trump to be asked about it at a press briefing. He kind of kept it going by not rejecting it, you know, by kind of saying he would look into it at first.
Now, this weekend, the Trump officials have rejected it and admitted that Harris is of course eligible to run. But this is how it started. It started with a column on the Newsweek Web site, and it's been going ever since. What a racist way to waste four days of our time.
Now, Harris is calling it out in new interview this Morning with the Grio. Here's what she said about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They're going to engaged in lies, they're going to deception, they're going to engage in an attempt to distract from the real issues that are impacting the American people. And I expect that they will engage in dirty tactics, and this is going to be a knockdown drag out. And we're ready.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Let's talk more about it with Senior Media Reporter Oliver Darcy, my CNN Newsletter companion. Oliver, we've been covering this in our nightly newsletter. First of all, what the heck happened to Newsweek Magazine?
OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Yes, well, Newsweek Magazine initially came out, Brian, you know this, and they defended running this op-ed from this conservative law professor. But you know, a couple of days ago, they backtracked. They said they apologize, that they didn't really see how it was going to be used to perpetuate this racist birtherism lie. And so now they're backtracking.
But you mentioned too that the campaign is apologizing for -- not apologizing, but saying that she is eligible to be vice president. We haven't heard the President say that though. You know, the president came out and he praised this law professors and said he was a very talented law professor and kind of floated this birtherism lie. And he hasn't apologized, or at least to my knowledge, backtracked on that and said, you know, Kamala Harris, I disagree with her policies, but she is eligible to be vice president.
STELTER: Speaking of these briefings here, here's one of these briefings where this question was asked. We've noticed something lately where representatives of President Trump's fan Web sites, like super-duper pro-Trump sites are being invited to these briefings as guests of the White House. Tell us why this is such a problem.
DARCY: Well, Brian, President Trump is really the conspiracy theorist, Commander in Chief, right. And Mike Pence says that he's a Christian first, a conservative second, a Republican third. I think for President Trump, he's really a conspiracy theorist first. And so, he wants his conspiratorial outlets in this briefing room.
And he likes following on OAN which is a conspiratorial outlet. He likes falling on the Gateway Pundit, a conspiratorial outlet, and we're seeing this in the briefing room. It matters because --
STELTER: It help him out, right? It helps them out. They can throw softballs --
DARCY: Right, it helps him out.
DARCY: And these outlets are giving special treatment in the briefing room. They -- there are restrictions, social distancing restrictions right now implemented by the White House Correspondents Association. The White House is inviting these outlets in, you know, in contradiction to these guidelines, and allowing them into the briefing room because the president likes the kind of coverage they offer.
STELTER: And here's what the head of the White House Correspondents Association, Zeke Miller told me about this. He said it is outrageous the White House continues to invite guests to press briefings, putting the health and safety of everyone in that workspace at greater risk.
He went on to say the social distancing guidelines were crafted in consultation with the White House based on the recommendations of the CDC and other public health professionals. Trampling on these guidelines endangers the critical work of journalists, of reporters who have maintained independent press coverage of the presidency throughout the pandemic. It's a perfect way to sum it up there from Zeke Miller.
Let's talk about the COVID-19 crisis in the coverage, Oliver. Looking at today's front pages from Idaho to Michigan, COVID-19 remains front- page news. The Idaho Statesman, for example, pointed out there are still delays and shortages in getting test results. We are likely to see the 170,000-mark cross today confirmed deaths from COVID-19.
But you know, the researchers have looked at the actual number of excess deaths in this country. The estimated death is above the norm. And they say it's closer to 200,000 so far this year. So the real actual death toll from COVID-19, around 200,000. For example, in Houston and in Texas has been noticed. Today's Houston Chronicle front page calls these deaths unaccounted.
I guess the point, Oliver, is as we cover COVID-19 to make sure we don't get numb to this reality and we have to constantly remind viewers that It's even worse than we know, it's even worse than the data indicates.
DARCY: And, Brian, if you pay attention to conservative media, you know that the opposite is being told to them. You know, on talk radio and some of these right-wing sites, there's this conspiracy theory that the deaths are being over-counted. So, it's even more important for news outlets to stress these are -- you know, these are very likely undercounted numbers. We don't really know the toll of this virus has had on the country.
We know that there are, you know, 160,000 plus directly linked cases of coronavirus deaths, but it's like you said, probably much higher. And one other point to make is we talked about a lot of positive tests and how the cases are going up. I think the death toll is probably a thing that the media should be emphasizing more as well as the hospitalization rates because the president keeps going on with this lie that the cases are only because we're doing more testing. Well, that doesn't account for the increase in deaths or the increase in hospitalization rates.
STELTER: Yes. And not just in the U.S., but around the world. There was a shocking study earlier in the week that found that about 800 people have died based on drinking a form of alcohol hoping it would cure them. And then that was the result of disinformation that was being spread on the internet. This was in other countries where you've got, of course, this information about COVID spreading around the world in 25 different languages and their deaths attributable to that disinformation.
Oliver, thank you for being here. I mentioned the Newsletter. Folks can sign up for free right email@example.com/reliable. That's to get on the list for our nightly RELIABLE SOURCES Newsletter. After the break here, why this republican congressman is speaking out against QAnon.
STELTER: QAnon is a virtual cult that casts Democratic politicians and celebrities and other targets as evil child abusers, satanic pedophiles, that sort of thing. QAnon believers seem to be gaining and more and more power. There are groups on Facebook that have millions of members and we are seeing some of these believers creep into Congress.
One of these candidates won a primary runoff in Georgia this week. She's in a heavily Republican district which means she's almost certainly going to win and be elected to Congress this fall.
Keep in mind if you talk about QAnon, this is not happening in a vacuum. This is not a game. It's not fun online.
An FBI field office described QAnon as a potential domestic terror threat last year. And we have seen acts of violence perpetrated by QAnon adherence.
Still that woman who won the primary runoff, she was congratulated by President Trump. She's been celebrated by other GOP leaders as well. Most Republican leaders have just kind of remained silent about QAnon, just tried to avoid it, even though there is a disturbing amount of overlap between Trump support and QAnon belief.
But let me tell you about one Republican congressman who is speaking out. Adam Kinzinger is with me right now for his first interview about this topic because -- Congressman, thank you for coming on. You just posted a YouTube video I thought was outstanding where you discuss QAnon. And you have a message for people who might have QAnon believers in their family.
So, let's start with what you want people to know about what QAnon actually is.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): So, you know, we don't necessarily know where it comes from, if it's one person, if it's a basement dweller where this started as a joke, if it's multiple people now, if it's Russian intelligence even. We don't necessarily know.
But it started with basically (ph) in October of 2017, it's what they're calling Q drops. Like -- it's very vague conspiracy theories about this satanic network in the government that Trump was sent to basically tear out. They've had predictions about this thing called "the storm", which is a mass roundup and arrested everybody and executions of thousands of people. And people have adhered to this.
And, you know, again, what happens is, if it -- it kind of confirms what you already believe and it's dark, it's really attractive in some cases.
I haven't addressed it for a while but it's started making into the mainstream. And now, I think it's when it's important for leaders to come out and push back on it because it's already had the attention, frankly, that it doesn't deserve.
STELTER: Yeah, I hope your video goes viral because you point out, the initial precisions made by "Q" were bogus. Of course, they didn't come true. So, they've been disbelieved -- disproven again and again and again.
When it comes to -- there's a lot of families that are -- that are torn apart by this stuff, where you've got some people that believe in conspiracy theories and others who don't. And you make the point, it's not about hating other people, it's not about looking down on folks who buy into crazy theories. It's about recognizing each other's humanity.
How do you think we should talk with each other about this?
KINZINGER: So, I think that's the key, is if anybody buys into a conspiracy theory, whether it's on the far left, far right, you know, we never landed on the moon, whatever it is, it's out of an interest of if only the truth is known, life would be better for me and other people.
And so, everybody thinks they're the good guy. Everybody wants to do right. And I think understanding humanity from that perspective and then engaging them in that perspective through love and understanding is far different.
You're never going to offend somebody onto your side. You're never going to offend somebody away from something they believe. In fact, it emboldens them. So, I think it's understanding that they're still human.
And if you believe in this conspiracy theory stuff, especially QAnon, do some independent research. There's a lot of stuff debunking it, including all the predictions that didn't come true, and now, the new Q stuff reads league be a tarot card reader who gives you something so vague that it will absolutely fit into something that happens in the next months.
STELTER: Right. Are you disappointed in the politicians that are not denouncing this, that are not speaking out?
KINZINGER: I think time is going to tell. So, I think up to maybe about a week ago, there wasn't a reason to denounce it because it didn't need the attention, but now that it's made mainstream, we have a candidate that embraces it that won a primary. I supported her primary opponent. The president hasn't fully denounced it or denounced it at all. Now, it's time for leaders to come out and denounce it.
The key here isn't this -- it's not Democrats denouncing it. It's Republicans denouncing it. Democrats and Republicans have to denounce extremism in their own party, because that's where it's effective.
It's not going to be effective from the other side denouncing it. It again just emboldens them and says, see, that's exactly what we told you. They don't like us because --
STELTER: But you've got a Trump campaign official --
KINZINGER: -- you know, they have their constituents at heart.
STELTER: Congressman, you even have a Trump campaign official hitting you, punting at you for denouncing QAnon. What's your reaction to Matt Wolking's tweet?
KINZINGER: It was pretty surprising. You know, to that point, obviously, they haven't since, so I think that was not a campaign decision. It was a decision by that staffer.
The campaign has to, you know, deal with that and I'm sure they are. But it was probably not a really good political move on that staffer's part.
STELTER: Congressman, thank you very much for being here. What you said about, you know, how to reach out to folks I think is vital. I'm glad you're talking about it. Yeah.
KINZINGER: You bet. Thanks.
STELTER: A quick break on the program, and then we'll talk more about this twisted appeal, right, what it is about conspiracy theories that are so appealing. Remember this one? Fox News promoted these lies about Seth Rich. And there's brand new information about that case next.
STELTER: Sometimes I feel like this program is all about unreliable sources, and I'm sorry for that, but there's so much noise and nonsense in the world that's got to be debunked. In order to understand how real news is made, you got to see how this fake stuff happens. The Seth Rich conspiracy there is a prime example.
Today, Rolling Stone Magazine is publishing a brand new article about how Fox News mainstreamed the ludicrous theory that this slain DNC staffer, Seth Rich, was a secret source for WikiLeaks. This theory was all about letting Russia off the hook for attacking the U.S. election in 2016. And there's never been true accountability at Fox.
Let me bring in Rolling Stone's D.C. Bureau Chief Andy Kroll to discuss his new reporting which just went live at RollingStone.com. So Andy, this crackpot theory, it comes out in May of 2017. It distracts from President firing James Comey. And three years later, what did you find in your new reporting?
ANDY KROLL, D.C. BUREAU CHIEF, ROLLING STONE: Well, three years later, Brian, there hasn't been any real form of accountability at Fox News, which, as you well know, is arguably one of the most influential media organizations in this country. Fox News, really amplified, mainstreamed, as you put it, this conspiracy theory about a slain DNC staffer.
Sean Hannity promoted it, Lou Dobbs promoted it, former Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Fox and Friends that Seth Rich had been assassinated. These were huge errors. These were comments made without any evidence, without any factual basis from these Fox figures, and yet three years on, Seth Rich's family hasn't gotten an apology, Sean Hannity hasn't retracted anything that he said about Seth Rich, neither has Newt Gingrich.
And so, that accountability, in this case, closure for Seth Rich's family is still nowhere to be seen due to how Fox has behaved in this instance.
STELTER: Right. So the Rich family loses a son, loses a brother, and sees his name dragged through the mud. Millions of people still believe this craziness. And now it's being fought about in court. Why is that important?
KROLL: It's important because this is one of the earliest tests that we have for whether victims of these viral conspiracy theories, the kinds of conspiracy theories you've been talking about in the show today, can get justice, can get this accountability that they haven't been able to find in the court of public opinion.
Seth Rich's parents, Seth Rich's brother have tried to correct the record. They have asked Fox. They have asked people who have promoted this conspiracy theory to apologize, to retract it, and they haven't made any headway when it comes to Fox. And so really the last venue that they have to try to restore Seth's reputation, to try to restore his memory is to take these people to court.
STELTER: You are writing a book about conspiracy theories, Rich and more, it's just been announced as well. Why do you think so many people want to believe whether it's QAnon or the Seth Rich theory? What explains America's attraction to this stuff?
KROLL: Well, if you had half an hour, we could go into every facet of this. But if I were to put it in a pithy way, I think it would be a polarization in this country where we see two different camps of people who really believe not just different interpretations of what they see in reality, but different versions of reality. And Fox News plays a big role in creating one of those sort of
alternate realities for its viewers. You see it every night on the primetime lineup, you see it with Sean Hannity shows. And they're this inability to sort of meet in the middle and agree on facts and go from there has really led to a rise in these alternate theories, whether it's about Seth Rich, whether it's this super QAnon conspiracy theory, that sort of refusal to sort of deal with reality and deal with the facts that are in front of you.
STELTER: Andy, thank you so much for being here. The article is up on RollingStone.com. A quick mention of my book, it is called Hoax. It comes out in a week. I just received copies of it in the mail. So let me read you a line from Hoax.
"Having a Fox News president left the rest of the country without a properly functioning chief executive from 2017 to 2020." When he took office, Trump needed help. Instead, he was done a disservice by Hannity and all the rest. That is one of the themes in Hoax. It comes out in one week. You can buy it right now at buyhoax.com.
We will see you back here next Sunday. But reminder, convention coverage kind of gets kicked off tonight, Sunday night, with a special edition of "ANDERSON COOPER 360." It's at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time here on CNN.