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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Should TV Networks Air Wednesday's Objections?; Apocalyptic Rhetoric In Georgia Runoff; Growing Numb To The COVID-19 Death Toll?; Covering The Vaccine's Chaotic Rollout; Voting Tech Companies Stand Up To Right-Wing Media. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired January 3, 2021 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:08]

BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter live in New York, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES, where we examine the story behind the story, and figure out what is reliable.

This hour, how the media bunkers in Georgia are affecting the Senate runoff races there. We're going to go live to Atlanta and Savannah in a few minutes.

Also, Fox and Newsmax facing legal threats. Will election tech companies sue over the damage to their reputations?

Also, from the hope of the vaccine to the reality of the delays. How the media is helping China spotlight on the flaws of this COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Juliette Kayyem, Dan Abrams and many more are minutes away.

But, first, what a way to welcome 2021. A cult is attempting a coup in America. In the home of the free, the land of the brave, the biggest story right now is about cowards feeling captive to a lame duck president, pretending he won an election that he lost.

OK. How was that? What did you think of that? Was that the proper way to frame this story? Is it accurate to call this a coup attempt? Are these the plotters?

Is President Trump betraying his oath of office? Are the lawmakers supporting him seditious?

These words matter a lot right now. With Congress set to certify Joe Biden's election win on Wednesday, the framing is really important. How the nation's news media tells this story is a critical factor.

For example, should TV networks show the proceedings live when the GOP objectors are baldly lying on the floor of the Senate? They're going to make up stuff. They're going to be engaging in this deception campaign. Should it be aired or should they be ignored?

Maybe it's like the hijacking of a plane. The criminals are claiming they are heroes, that their cause is just. The press has little choice but to cover big news like a hijacking, but the press can't fall for the hero narrative. The coverage has to keep reiterating what is true, what is real.

In the case of the election, the Trump's gambits have been laughed out of court, that his voter lies have been debunked, that he can't keep his story straight. All of this "New York Times" story did a very good of right at the top saying, here are the facts, here is the truth. Even the Supreme Court has seen through this.

But let's also be honest, that truth telling can only get you so far in America these days. Facts are no match for delicious fiction now that America lacks a shared reality.

Trump and senators like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are exploiting this. Trump's lies and the senators' objections, they're like debris left downstream after a flood rips through a town. It's muddy, messy residue that wrecks the environment.

Let's go upstream to see where it came from. These lawmakers -- they don't want to end up like Trump, out of a job. They are trying to satisfy their voters. As Senator Hawley said on Twitter, he is listening to his constituents.

So, let's go further upstream. He is listening to voters who are those voters listening to?

Well, you know the answer. Broadcasters like Rush Limbaugh and Jeanine Pirro have the power in the party because they have the microphone.

Each person is different. Each talk show host's narrative is a little bit different and distinct, but for decades, the right-wing media has been telling a story about evil elites, idiot politicians cheating Democrats, godless kids trying to take over America. Before Election Day, they said Trump would win and only lose if it was rigged. So, now, they insist it was rigged and they have filled up Trump and his fans with so much false hope that there are now fears of violence in Washington on Wednesday.

You should listen to these radio shows or webcasts for a few minutes between now and Wednesday. They turn the English language upside down. They say they are defending democracy when they are attacking it. Every word is what-aboutism, claiming that Democrats are worse.

Just listen for a few minutes and you can start to imagine, you can start to convince yourself that Trump won because in this MAGA bubble, the safest of spaces, the only people you hear from are Trump supporters and experts who sound really smart and they say voter fraud is everywhere. Fraud, fraud, fraud. Listen for a while and you can get whipped up into a frenzy.

And then you look at Facebook and you see memes and posts from your friends. They say the Democrats didn't treat Trump as legitimate. So, why should you treat Biden as legitimate? The Democrats are worse.

You say that again and again, and you stick with your tribe and that's how you get radicalized. You see a tiny little piece of possible fraud that's already been explained away and you imagine the entire national election was hijacked. That's radicalization. And it's the result of decades of bombastic talk about real America

and law and order and patriotism.

[11:05:02]

That is what's led the GOP to this unpatriotic place.

Trump consumes all of this talk and he parrots it on Twitter here this morning, crediting One American News with some lie about Georgia.

And then the lawmakers jostle for a turn on these TV shows and podcasts and then they say, hey, the polls show that Americans don't trust the results after they told everyone not to trust the results.

And they take jabs at the big bad media for calling out their conspiracy theories and then they make it out to be a plot, everyone's against them.

And you know what flows right downhill, right downstream, to the point that pollsters ask, hey, which news outlet do you trust the most? And 83 percent of those who trust Fox News say Biden was not elected legitimately.

That's such a sad chart. The vast majority of other news consumers, folks who trust CNN, NPR, ABC, CBS, NBC, they acknowledge that Biden was legitimately elected.

So this stunt coming up on Wednesday, this flood tearing through town, it's a show. It's a show for the Fox audience. It's to satisfy Newsmax fans. It's it pacify OAN junkies. It's to serve Rush listeners.

But it won't just be seen on right wing TV. It won't just be heard on right wing radio. This episode of democratic erosion is going to be witnessed live by the entire world. This show for Fox has real-life consequences, real life stakes.

Let me talk with Timothy Snyder about this now. He's the Levin professor of history at Yale University and the author of numerous books, including the bestseller "On Tyranny," "On Tyranny" is a book that I learned a lot from.

Professor, so thank you for coming on. You, of course, came out with this years ago and it's been newly relevant every year.

So, tell us, what you see at the start of 2021 as we head into this GOP objection show that's not going to amount to anything except, you know, embarrassment around the world.

TIMOTHY SNYDER, AUTHOR, "ON TYRANNY": Well, I think one way to think about it is we're moving from the territory of the medium-sized lie into the big lie. Mr. Trump came to power saying a lot of things that weren't true but weren't that big. Like, for example, that Mr. Obama was born in Kenya or what have you.

But we are now moving dangerously towards the territory of a big lie. The idea that Mr. Biden didn't win the election is a big lie. It's a big lie because you have to disbelieve all kinds of evidence to believe in it. It's a big lie because you have to believe in a huge conspiracy in order to believe it. And it's a big lie because, if you believe it, it demands you take radical action.

So, we -- this is one way we have really moved forwards towards authoritarianism and away from democracy. It's coming to a peak right now.

STELTER: So, Democratic erosion, Democratic back sliding. These are fair terms. What about the word coup?

SNYDER: Oh, I mean, I have been using that word for months now. I mean, Mr. Trump essentially announced that he was going to carry out a coup. He has been doing this for six months.

The only real difference between Mr. Trump and other coup attempts is basically he announced it in advance. Because he announced it in advance it numbed us all and then we are scared to use the word or scared to imagine it could happen in America and so on and to forth.

But when you say you are not going to respect the outcome of an election and then when you use all the means that you have to try to overturn that election, you are trying to carry out a coup. The fact that he made mistakes or it might or might not work, I mean, that's beside the point. He is trying to change the system.

And by extension, Senator Cruz, Senator Hawley are taking part in this. What they are doing on Wednesday isn't just about Wednesday. It's about a process which Mr. Trump has begun in which they will probably continue in 2024.

STELTER: The outgoing chief of staff Mark Meadows is on Twitter saying it's time to fight back, which in this context means fight the American democracy.

How should the press, the reality-based press cover the next few days?

SNYDER: I think there are some deep breaths to be taken. I think it's important the next few days not just to cover the next few days. I think it's very important to cover basic facts like turnout 150 million Americans voting, like the success of the election itself.

I mean, unlike previous elections, we actually did have an election 2020 that people around the world could admire. We should be covering the thousands of poll workers who did a difficult job. We should be giving air time to the state and local level election officials who actually did something as opposed to making allegations about allegations. Those things have to be there.

Then we have to take a deep breath and think about the context, right? The context we just talked about, which is Trump trying to change the nature of the American government.

The deeper context, you know, Senator Cruz refers to 1877 in his announcement.

[11:10:03]

1877 is the beginning of a long era of voter suppression and discrimination against African Americans. That's the deep context. The deep context is when you say fraud, you mean black people voting and you don't want that to happen.

We should also be covering the future. Mr. Cruz, Mr. Hawley, these are presidential aspirants in 2024. What they are trying do now is set a precedent that if you lose as a Republican candidate for president, you can lie about it, claim you won and have a plan B. It may not work this time, but if you make it look reasonable in 2020, then you have a plan B in 2024.

STELTER: You are making me think about how to cover these lawmakers, including Hawley.

And here's what CNBC's Steve Liesman said along these lines yesterday. He said, I have a question for reporters. How do you treat the Republican Party and those members who have shown they oppose democracy? I mean, would you interview Jefferson Davis about taxes or health care? Does any position they hold matter more than rejecting the election?

It's an interesting question from Liesman. You know, I read a quote from Arlie Hochschild, the acclaimed sociologist, who talked about how the press cover Trumpism. And she says, we kind of do it all wrong, even, you know, five years in, four years in.

Here's what he told the Atlantic. She said, if there's one thing I think the mainstream press still gets wrong about Trump, he said they are comfortable talking about economics and personality, but they don't give primacy to feelings, to feelings.

Well, should the feelings matter? I know they do matter. They matter enormously. This is all about feelings. Not about fact.

But I think she has a point, right? The press is not used to talking about the feelings of voters and that's what's driving this, or in the case of the president, the president's narcissistic feelings about losing.

SNYDER: Yeah, I mean, Professor Hochschild wrote a wonderful book. I would make that point slightly differently. I think what we can't do is focus just on feelings because Mr. Trump has the most important feelings. It's always the rich and the powerful whose feelings get a lot of attention, right?

And we are getting that right now, right? This is a privileged, very privileged minority whose feelings and beliefs are getting a lot of attention. What I would say is missing is something that Professor Hochschild covers very well in her book, which is local reality, right? What we miss in this country is local news.

If local news were stronger, we'd all have a stronger sense about how the elections actually happened. If local news were stronger, people would have an easier time talking to one another about the issues that actually matter to them instead of everything becoming a national spectacle. I mean, part of what is happening now, this spectacle we will have on Wednesday is a result of the fact that everything has to happen nationally when a lot of things should really be happening locally.

STELTER: Professor Snyder, thank you so much for being here.

SNYDER: My pleasure. Thank you.

STELTER: That national spectacle in Georgia is what we are getting the after the break, going live to Atlanta and Savannah with three reporters on the ground covering the Senate races there and the apocalyptic rhetoric that we are hearing. We're going to get to them in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:16:08]

STELTER: Are we covering the Georgia Senate race or the apocalypse? Seriously, the rhetoric is so far over the top, I can't even see the top anymore, so is the ad spending, upwards of $500 million being spent in this battle for control of the U.S. Senate.

Ad Age (ph) says the spending on campaign ads is out of control and the winners are local TV stations, especially in Atlanta, reaping millions of dollars each. This story notes that the airwaves are so saturated the nasty negative ads probably have diminishing returns. A professor comparing the ad war to a real war, two sides in their bunkers firing off shells not is persuading anybody.

And in the final weeks of the campaign, what we see from the GOP is very clear. It's a fear the Democrats stance in the messaging. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AD ANNOUNCER: If they are in charge, America will never be the same. Save America.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he is stuck on this socialist agenda that would defund the police. That kind of radical talk is a cancer that would destroy our community.

SEN. KELLY LOEFFLER (R-GA): This is about saving America from socialism.

SEN. DAVID PERDUE (R-GA): If the radicals take total control, we will never get our country back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Saving America, saving America, that's the drum beat.

Now to the Democrats. Jon Ossoff taking a lighter tone in some ads, focusing on getting out the vote. But Reverend Raphael Warnock is focusing on what he says is a life and death vote. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REVEREND RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D), GEORGIA SENATE CANDIDATE: Elections as we have learned tragically this year are a matter of life and death.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Let's go live to Georgia. With me now are three journalists in the state covering the runoffs there. Rana Cash is the editor of "The Savannah Morning News". Emma Hurt is a political reporter for WABE News, one the NPR affiliates in Atlanta, and Astead Herndon is a national political reporter for "The New York Times".

Thank you all for being here.

Rana, first to you. You run the paper there in Savannah. These ads, are viewers just -- are they sick of it? Are they over it? Do you -- do you even turn on your TV at this point?

RANA CASH, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, SAVANNAH MORNING NEWS: I think that's an understatement, Brian. The rest of the country has been able to move on, but day in and day out, no matter which program you are watching, you are inundated with ads. Your mailbox is full.

It's exhausting and some of the ads are kind of scary, to be quite honest. But it's overwhelming what we are seeing. It's constant.

STELTER: It really is.

Astead, I'm thinking to myself, if you see these crazy nasty ads, you either freak out or you tune out. You are either panicked about the election, or you are numb to it and you don't carefully more. That's just me looking from afar. What are you hearing from voters in Georgia?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's numb. I think they have completely gotten overwhelmed with ads. This did not just start during the runoffs for Georgians. They were having this in the months in the lead-up to the general election.

And so, you know, as I have traveled around the country over the last year, you have these moments for a little bit, right? Des Moines, Iowa, folks are in that last week in the early primary states and some of the battlegrounds.

But this has been the largest investment in these types of advertisements for such a consistent period. I feel for Georgians who are ready for this runoff, in many cases, to be over.

But it speaks to the kind of base motivation strategy for both parties. They are telling those messages to their camps. They are not really looking to persuade fully. They are looking to get out their respective bases.

STELTER: It's just to win. Everything is a catastrophe, nothing is, and I wish somebody could turn the temperature, turn the volume down, but there is no one in charge of turning the temperature or the volume down.

Emma, you're in Atlanta looking at this locally and nationally. I want to show you some of the rhetoric on Fox News in the past month talking about what would happen if the Democrats are able to hold control, to take, you know, have control of the Senate. Let's watch these clips and then talk about them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: It would mean a packed and politicized U.S. Supreme Court.

[11:20:01]

It would abolish the legislative filibuster. Expect D.C. and Puerto Rico to have four new Democrat senators.

LARA TRUMP, TRUMP 2020 CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISOR: They want to abolish the Electoral College. They want to make Puerto Rico and D.C. states, Jesse, which means that, look, America will never be the same.

TOMI LAHREN, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: We are faced with a choice. It's either we're going with American values or we're going to go with socialism. We're going to go with extremism and radicalism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: So, that's the national narrative. It's certainly echoed by the local candidates.

My point, though, Emma, is none of that actually is going to happen in a 50/50 Senate. If the Democrats do take control, they are not going to be able to add Puerto Rico as a state. Nothing's going to get done. Isn't there a lot of exaggerating going on in the right-wing media and by the Republican candidates?

EMMA HURT, POLITICS REPORTER, WABE NEWS: There is exaggerating on both sides saying this is life and death, saying that this could be the end of freedom in America. But that's the stakes for the parties right now. And that is reflective of the amount of money and investment that they are dumping on the heads of 7.7 million Georgia voters.

And it's really overwhelming, as Astead said. A lot of people have tuned it out at this point. A lot of people have made this decision months and months ago. But they are stuck with it, and we are days away from it being over, maybe.

STELTER: To your point about both sides, this really is a both sides situation. We can debate what side is worse. Look at the fact check of Jon Ossoff, CNN pointing out he made a false claim about Kelly Loeffler. When Ossoff was asked about that by Jake Tapper today, Ossoff just tried to double and triple down, even though we said it was false.

Let's talk about how accessible these candidates are. Ossoff on CNN today, Warnock going over the weekend. Perdue and Loeffler mostly appearing on Fox.

Is that a fair way, Rana, to describe what's going on? The Republicans mostly sticking to Fox News?

CASH: I think that's accurate, particularly on the national scale. They are where their base is, right? They are talking to people, trying to motivate those who are already in their camp. At this point, it's not trying to persuade people one way or the other about who to vote for, but more so get out and vote.

I think from a local standpoint, Kelly Loeffler has been more accessible than David Perdue, and Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are both approachable and accessible and are conducting interviews, but Perdue is primarily staying in that very conservative centric circle.

STELTER: Yeah, Emma, what's that about? Perdue has held campaign events and not even told the press until afterwards.

HURT: It's true. Since the runoffs, he really -- I can't remember the last time he has taken questions from a group of reporters. He has done very limited interviews, nationally mostly on Fox News. You know, you can hear him kind of explain why on the trail when he says, I already won this thing. He did outperform Ossoff by nearly 90,000 votes. He outperformed President Trump.

And so, there seems to have been a decision let's not rock the boat. We did it in November and let's just keep doing what we are doing.

But I have heard off the record from Republican operatives around here that they are dismayed by this strategy, particularly from the Perdue camp because they are saying this is not the time to hunker down. We need you to debate. We need you to be out there fielding whatever you can field.

STELTER: There is also an episode with Loeffler yesterday, CNN, let me put up the picture of this guy at the door that was stopping reporters from entering. Here is the tweet saying CNN and a few other outlets were denied access to the Q&A with Loeffler.

Astead, have you experienced situations like that with the candidates?

HERNDON: You know, I was following Senator Loeffler the last couple of days and I got to say that at those events, which were mostly smaller, there was very easy access to the senator and she was taking questions at every turn. She is kind of running that backlash strategy.

And so, for particularly outlets in which conservative and right-wing media want to vilify places like CNN and "The New York Times," those can oftentimes be fundraising chips. I remember Martha McSally and the way she treated Manu Raju out on Capitol Hill, and immediately sends a fundraising pitch after months ago.

We know that this is part of the strategy that is coming particularly from Republicans trying to vilify open press and media. And so that is definitely part of basically their political agenda at this moment and a way to drive that support with the base. STELTER: So, on Tuesday night, of course, you're going to see wall-to-

wall coverage everywhere of these Senate races.

Rana and Emma, since you both live in Georgia full time, I want to tell us, you know, what's the one sentence, what's the one thing that you want the rest of the country to remember, especially the rest of the news, the news world now that they have descended on Georgia, what should we keep in mind on Tuesday night?

Emma, first to you.

HURT: I hope everybody realizes we are very unlikely to know who's going to -- have won Tuesday night and probably not for several days.

[11:25:00]

And so, while we all have our election night specials, election night as absentee balloting has ramped up, it's more and more meaningless because not all of the votes will have been counted. So, just everyone take a deep breath, it's going to be -- it's going to be a long haul.

STELTER: Election week, the sequel.

All right. Rana, last word to you.

CASH: Yeah, I agree with Emma on that.

I would add to keep in mind while this race has enormous national implications, obviously, as you mentioned, there have been hundreds of millions of dollars poured into the state and things like that. Senators from all over the country have descended upon Georgia to support these various candidates, but at the end of the day this is a vote by Georgians and it's a Georgia election.

And so what is going to be important is how much they have reached, how well they have reached out to people right here in these 159 counties in this state.

STELTER: Yes, indeed.

Rana, Emma, Astead, tank you both. Thank you all for being here.

We are going to have complete coverage in our nightly RELIABLE SOURCES newsletter. You can sign up for free right now at reliablesources.com.

After the break, New Year, new COVID denialism by the outgoing president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: Hey, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

So many of the people affected by COVID-19, so many of those hospitalized, so many families affected, they are essentially anonymous.

[11:30:00]

We don't know their names. We don't see their faces. But it was big news to hear on Saturday that CNN legend Larry King has been hospitalized with COVID-19. He is at a hospital in L.A. and he's been there for more than a week.

We know, of course, Larry King a CNN icon, hosted Larry King Live for 25 years. He's remained active in his decade since leaving CNN and he was working just a few weeks ago. Hopefully, he will be back at work soon broadcasting from home like so many others during the COVID-19 crisis.

But the numbers, the hospitalizations, the death toll, it continues to have a numbing effect on people. You can see it in the news coverage as these weeks turn two months, and now we hit into the second year of the pandemic. Remember in May that front page of the New York Times. It said an incalculable loss at the 100,000 dead mark, a front-page we've never seen before. In September, Time magazine captured the 200,000 dead mark.

Well, in mid-December, it was 300,000 and overnight 350,000 dead in this pandemic. The numbers are coming more quickly this winter. New terrible round numbers more often. And most are just numbers. Most are anonymous, faces names we will never know. My grandfather joined that tally just before New Year's, which is why this new tweet from President Trump caught my eye.

He said a couple of hours ago, the number of cases and deaths of the China virus is far exaggerated in the United States because of the CDC's ridiculous method of determination compared to other countries. What sick, sad lie. Some of his friends have died. Some of the President's friends have died. Where's the compassion?

I guess we'll be asking that question for a couple more weeks before new administration takes over. And the challenges that new administration is facing on the vaccine rollout are so stark. So, I want to bring in two experts to talk about the news coverage of this split-screen pandemic.

Dr. James Hamlin is here. He's a staff writer for The Atlantic, a lecturer for the Yale School of Public Health and the host of the Social Distance podcast. And Juliette Kayyem is here, former Assistant Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, a CNN National Security Analyst and a lecturer at Harvard.

Juliet, James, thank you both for being here. I want to dig into the numbers that we cover every day, these gutting new records all the time. James, you're with me six months ago back in June. And here's what you said on this program six months ago about the death toll.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES HAMBLIN, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: We can't get acclimated to losing 800 to 1,000 Americans every single day, which is what's happening right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: We can't. You said we can't get acclimated. But we have, haven't we?

HAMBLIN: Yes, it seems we have. In fact, we've gotten acclimated to far worse. We've broken 2,500 on the seven-day average right now four deaths per day. And that has become -- it's such a large number that we have coping mechanisms to guard against having to deal with that. We become numb, becomes meaningless because it's too tragic to deal with.

And so, while I think it's important that we keep following the numbers, I think they're proven to be an ineffective motivator for some people to continue caring and continue taking the actions that are needed in order to stop this, this pandemic, which we need to remember is entirely preventable.

STELTER: Julia, you're the one that told me this is a split-screen pandemic now because we see the suffering on one side and the vaccines on the other side. What does the press need to do in this new year to cover the split-screen pandemic?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So, I think -- I think you're going to cover both, absolutely. We cannot forget the devastation that is ongoing with the news story of a vaccination discovery and more manufacturing, the good news, and then also some of these issues related to vaccine distribution.

One of the things on the second piece which I'm really focused on is to refrain from sweeping judgments about where we are at any given moment. This is a rolling vaccine distribution with manufacturing coming on board, quickly new vaccines including the Johnson and Johnson one likely to be approved in January.

So, you're going to have a supply issue and then, of course, the distribution issue. So, you know, these early hiccups are not -- I'm not defending them, they are fixable. They're fixable in real-time. This is something that we need to monitor, the press needs to expose.

But I think we're going to start to see really good numbers, you know, after this first real week back after vacation, and then we fix both the small challenges logistical ones, which are really local ones. And then with the new administration coming in, begin to look at the surge in April, May, with the general population and resources.

So, we're -- we just have to just as a single day is not a disaster and it's not a course correction, and we don't need the military to take over. Unfortunately, we need a little bit of patience. This is really hard to do 50 state rollout strategy.

[11:35:36]

STELTER: Well, let's dig into that more in a moment. Let me fill in a break here and bring Juliette and James back on the other side talking more about these vaccine questions. Look at these front pages from this morning. When will you get the vaccine, a slow messy start, are these headlines getting it right? We're going to have more in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: News outlets have shifted from celebrating the COVID-19 vaccines to covering the chaotic rollout in the United States. Doctors and nurses, pharmacists and hospital reps seem to be sounding alarms, citing delays in distribution, gaps between the number of vaccines delivered and administered as well as general disorganization, confusion, and frustration.

Juliette Kayyem and Dr. James Hamblin are back with me. There's a headline from the New York Times editorial board, Juliette, that says "We came all this way to let vaccines go bad in the freezer?" But I'm getting the impression from you that might be overstated, that we're not actually seeing vaccines run out.

[11:40:03]

KAYYEM: No. And that editorial rightfully sounds the alarm. This is -- this is one of the hardest places for someone like me to be. Slow and messy is accurate, right? It's not like it's perfect. But you know, we never promised you a rose garden in logistics. This is really hard to do. It is going to get fixed on the local and operational level. And then the strategic channel challenges will be addressed by the Biden administration.

That editorial did not tell its readers that the vaccine, if frozen, lasts at a minimum of six months. So, you don't want people to believe that if they don't get in line now, they're completely out of the loop. We, the media, commentators need to build confidence in the vaccine itself, because we're bumping up against a lot of vaccine hesitancy.

So, that was my take on that editorial. I think that we will start to see, as I said, some of these logistic challenges addressed. We are going to have a surge issue which is going to have to be addressed by the new administration. And as for Donald Trump, why did we believe him on the 20 million? I'm not forgiving it, but no one thought that you would deliver 20 million in December, given that the first approval was right before the holidays. But I think we'll start to see better numbers relatively soon.

STELTER: You mentioned vaccine hesitancy and news headlines can certainly have an impact on that. James, look at this headline from the New York Post the other day. It says, Israeli man dies of heart attack hours after getting COVID vaccine.

Well, you know, sadly, a lot of old people are being vaccinated. Older folks are more likely to die as they get older. This was one of those situations where he just -- the man happened to have a heart attack. It wasn't related to the vaccine. But when news outlets put up entire stories about it, it can be kind of scary, James.

HAMBLIN: It absolutely can. And as you know, journalists are obligated, first and foremost, to present the facts and tell the truth. But the ways in which certain facts and certain stories are highlighted will shape a narrative, a public narrative. So, right now, there's a lot of demand for the vaccine and that's great.

But as the supply grows and grows, we're going to see people who are coming into the option to get vaccinated with certain feelings and opinions about the cost and benefit to themselves. And they're being molded right now in a very delicate time by certain outlier anecdotes where people appear to have had allergic reactions or a bad coincidence, like you mentioned, and when we're not mentioning, you know, the many, many, many people individually who had fine experiences.

STELTER: Juliette, are you worried about this as well?

KAYYEM: Yes, I think these anecdotes will make people believe that the vaccine overall is not safe. The vaccine so far in both the protocols and now out in the real world is showing itself to be safe and durable and we need to just reiterate those numbers. These outliers are exactly that. The same is going to be true with the distribution issues. We need to cover them because that makes agencies change and respond. On the other hand, let's look at the overall numbers.

I think I said to you early on, you know, this is a hard story, because you're going to measure in bulk at this stage, right? Did we get to four million, five million, 20 million? Those are numbers that you know -- that's how you measure success with a logistical challenge like this.

STELTER: I'll show you a headline that actually got it right. This is an ABC News headline that says, hey, there was a nurse who got vaccinated, and then they tested positive for COVID, but that's not unexpected, right? Put the real relevance in context right there in the headline where people are likely to see it. And that's true on the distribution as well.

Juliette and James, thank you both for being here. After the break, right-wing media could be facing legal battles over election denialism claims. My next guest, Dan Abrams, says we should take these threats seriously.

[11:45:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: President Trump's bids to overturn Joe Biden's win were rejected by courts across the land. Now, there's talk of a new set of lawsuits going after the Trump allies who told scary stories about voter fraud. Now, were those scary stories defamatory? That might be the key question.

Because just before the Christmas holiday, Dominion Voting Systems send 21 letters to a wide variety of right-wing media personalities and Trump lawyers warning that litigation related to their false claims about the company is imminent.

Among those who received the letters, Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and the heads of Newsmax, OAN, and Fox News. It was also reported that a defamation law firm representing Dominion sent letters to the White House Counsel, and the President's Personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, instructing them to preserve all records relating to the company.

Now, at this moment, those letters from the two companies are the only threats of action. But there is one lawsuit that has been filed by Eric Coomer, Director of Product Strategy and security at Dominion. He is suing the Trump campaign and a number of campaign surrogates and pro-Trump media outlets. He is alleging defamation personally.

The lawsuit states that Trump and various pro-Trump outlets knowingly circulated and amplified a baseless conspiracy theory to challenge the integrity of the presidential election. While this theory has been thoroughly rejected, its immediate and life-threatening effects remain very real. He has said he's been in hiding.

Now, that's Dominion. There's also Smartmatic, another company that suggests it may have also been defamed. So, how serious are these suits? Let me bring in the one, the only Dan Abrams, a lawyer, the founder of Mediaite to get some answers about this.

So, Dan, we're in a holding pattern here to see if these lawsuits are filed by these companies. Do you think this could be a serious threat to right-wing media outlets?

DAN ABRAMS, FOUNDER, MEDIAITE: Absolutely. And they've already indicated that it's a potential serious threat by actually putting on their air fact checks or clarifications or whatever you want to call it, literally on Lou Dobbs' show, on Jeanine Pirro show. Newsmax is doing the same.

That tells you we're taking this really seriously because what they're in effect doing is having a segment which is fact-checking or correcting things that have been said by their own hosts or their guests. And that tells you the lawyers got involved, the lawyer said this is serious, the lawyer said we've got to do something. And now, we're going to have to see if any of these lawsuits, these further lawsuits get filed.

STELTER: Yes. Do you think that these -- the corrections, by going on the air and basically admitting fault, doesn't that weaken the position of the network's and basically admit they know they were up to no good?

[11:50:06]

ABRAMS: Well, look, they're not quite admitting fault, right? They're saying, look, we just want to make sure the record is clear. And they're going to say, we never said it was true. Our reporters never claimed this to be the case. There's going to be a lot of arguing about exactly what did they say. But in the end, as a legal matter, it's going to come down to was it true.

And I think that that's going to be the interesting question here because the President's allies are insisting to us again and again, it is true, this happened, no one's looking at it. Well, this will provide them an opportunity to potentially explain that. But we know the answer already, right, because we've seen the lawsuits filed in court about Dominion. We've seen the lawsuits filed in court where they've mentioned Smartmatic, etcetera.

I've read through these lawsuits. I've read through the affidavits. And as of today, it's not just that they're unsubstantiated, it's that they're totally unfounded.

STELTER: Whenever I hear about media companies being sued, newsrooms being targeted by lawsuits, I get worried. I get worried about a press freedom. Is that relevant in this context in this case?

ABRAMS: It's always relevant, right? You should always be thinking about that when a media organization is being sued. The difference here is it wasn't a single report or a single statement. This is really a narrative of these companies being portrayed as the villains, and not just sort of random stuff, they've stolen American election. What more serious allegation can you make than that and repeatedly making that allegation?

If that is the lawsuit, and they've got nothing to back it up, I don't think there's any long-term danger to the First Amendment. I don't think there's any long-term danger for media organizations. Look, anytime the media gets sued, there are legal rulings that are made that could be used in the future, so we just have to see.

STELTER: I have 30 seconds left. I wonder, Dan, if the press has been too wishy-washy about what's coming up on Wednesday. We say things are baseless or unsubstantiated. Is that language strong enough?

ABRAMS: Well, look, unsubstantiated, I don't think is. Unfounded and baseless, I think is a little bit stronger, and I think that that's really important. But remember, you know, even the Republicans themselves, Ted Cruz, isn't saying there was voter fraud. He's talking about the allegations of voter fraud. There's this cloud that needs to be resolved.

STELTER: Right.

ABRAMS: And that's very different from saying there was voter fraud because we've seen the documents. We know that thus far there is no proof of it.

STELTER: That's absolutely right. Dan, thank you.

ABRAMS: Sure thing, Brian.

STELTER: Coming up, some wishes, some resolutions for the New Year from some of CNN's very own media reports. That's next.

[11:55:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: So, what will we be covering in the year ahead? I asked CNN's reporters and editors on the media beat about their hopes for the year ahead, their predictions about their beats. So, first, here's reporter Kerry Flynn and CNN Business Senior Media Editor An Phung.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY FLYNN, CNN REPORTER: My hope for 2021 is that it's not a year of devastation for local news. No more layoffs or buyouts, no more losses of physical newsrooms and other resources, but rather we see investments. I hope that local newsrooms can continue to build products to make it easier to subscribe to share news and information through new tools like newsletters and podcasts.

I hope that there's just more investment so that we see more accountability journalism for local communities.

AN PHUNG, CNN SENIOR MEDIA EDITOR: My big prediction for 2021 is that newsroom leaders will finally start to make good on the promises of nurturing diversity in journalism. The wave of leadership changes that started last year, I think it's going to continue. And we're going to keep seeing editors look for meaningful ways to cover and serve their communities.

After a year of covering multiple crises, most of which is deeply affected communities of color, I would just be shocked if rank and file journalists and newsrooms continue to accept the status quo.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Yes, she's absolutely right about that. The reckoning in newsrooms is not over. And 2021 is about making good on 2020's commitments for inclusion. Other big behind the scenes stories in the media world include the ongoing push to unionize newsrooms, the proliferation of nonprofit news outlets, and the importance of subscriptions of all sorts from substacks to your local paper.

Now, from reliable info to disinformation, here are Donnie O'Sullivan and Oliver Darcy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN REPORTER: I think in 2021, Trump is going to still wield enormous power online on Facebook and on Twitter. And I think one of the big questions is going to be what are those social media platforms going to do about Trump if he continues to peddle misinformation and to sort of stoke hate and anger across the United States. And will Trump turn to other alternative social media platforms we've heard from the likes of Parler.

But I think, for journalists, it's going to be, you know, if you're covering online misinformation, impossible to ignore Trump because he sets so much of that online misinformation agenda.

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: I think in 2021, it's going to be interesting to pay attention to Fox News and the challenge they're seeing from the right, outlets like OAN, Newsmax, perhaps even a Trump TV. I don't think these outlets are going to challenge Fox's dominance, but they're certainly going to have an effect perhaps in forcing Fox to stay in this hard-right, often conspiratorial network with an emphasis on right-wing programming versus telling the actual news.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: That is going to be a huge story in the coming months, so will the work of storytellers across stage and screen as the pandemic hopefully recedes and live entertainment hopefully resumes. On the business side, here's Chloe Melas and Frank Pallotta.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: When it comes to Hollywood, film and TV productions were completely rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic, with numerous productions having to be shut down or put on hold, and eventually quarantine bubbles were formed. But with COVID-19 numbers on the rise, it'll be interesting to see if networks can safely continue to create new content.

FRANK PALLOTTA, CNN MEDIA REPORTER: If 2020 was the year where Hollywood changed, 2021 is going to be the year to see if those changes become permanent. Will more major blockbusters go to streaming and follow Warner Brothers' plan, or will we see a resurgence in movie theaters? Will Netflix continue to be the king of streaming or will Disney take over its spot?

Those are the questions that we're going to have to answer this year and whatever the answer this year. And whatever the answers are, are going to give us a map to Hollywood's future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Thanks to our reporters and editors for those forecasts of the year ahead. And thanks to all of you for tuning in. We will be back with more RELIABLE SOURCES this time next week.