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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

How Texas Crisis Was Covered, Distorted & Politicized; Reporters Competing With Internet Investigators?; Facebook Stops Australian Users From Sharing News; Fact-Checkers Are Keeping The Focus On Biden; Hysterical Headlines Are Clouding COVID-19 Vaccine News. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired February 21, 2021 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:26]

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

This hour, the latest from Texas, including the role of Twitter detectives in the crowd source to Ted Cruz story.

Plus, is fact checking changing in the Biden years? Daniel Dale will join me with the answer you need to hear.

And these headlines about Facebook blocking news from Australia spreading around the world. But do you know about Rupert Murdoch's role in all of this chaos? We have brand-new reporting about that coming up.

But, first, it is a literal political storm in the South. This week showed that the problem of parallel news universes, the problem with alternative realities of information does not just apply to politics. It even applies to the weather. It even affects the way that natural and manmade disasters are perceived.

Texans were, as "The San Antonio Express News" says this morning, left in the dark and the aftermath is just starting. The full death toll is not yet known and will not be known for sometime.

Thankfully, the power is mostly back on. The weather is warming up in Texas this weekend. But the water crisis is massive. Disruptions in water systems are affecting 14 million Texans right now.

And don't forget about Louisiana or Oklahoma. Both of those states also hard hit as well.

So let's truth sandwich what happened in the past week. Truth sandwich. Start with the truth.

As "PolitiFact" reports, the power outages in Texas were largely due to problems at coal and gas fired plants. Wind farms ran half of what was expected with some turbines frozen. Those are the facts.

I present those to you first because we're now going to show you the nonsense, the B.S that was shared by right wing media. These are some of the banners from Fox News this week, all focused on blaming green energy. They seem so scared of the Green New Deal concepts. They were going and blaming windmills when the power plants failed.

This is the parallel universe of news even when it comes to a natural disaster. And then, of course, the manmade disasters on top of those.

So, pro-Trump media outlets, yes, that's still a thing, pro-Trump media outlets focused on progressives, taking swings at progressives, instead of holding lawmakers of both parties accountable.

So, if natural disasters are not off limits for this kind of politicalization, right, politicization, what is?

Here with answers, CNN media analyst Bill Carter, and in Austin, Texas, Emily Ramshaw, co-founder and CEO of "The 19th", a former editor of "The Texas Tribune".

Emily, most importantly, how are you and your neighbors doing?

EMILY RAMSHAW, CO-FOUNDER & CEO, THE 19TH: We are much better than we were just a couple of days ago. As you can see behind me, we have power back, water. About half of the state has water back. All of us are still boiling water. So, it has been apocalyptic to be sure.

STELTER: Yeah.

Bill, why was there this immediate rush from right wing media to blame green energy, the Green New Deal, Democrats in a state run by Republicans, fueled mostly by natural gas, coal, et cetera?

BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: Well, first of all, Fox's audience, they know their audience. They don't want to hear any kind of criticism of conservatives, and conservative principles. And the Green New Deal is a target for them because it is supported so much by liberals that it has to be wrong.

I mean, the Fox people were literally saying something like, well, yes, there is great coal and oil power in Texas. But in the dead of night, AOC snuck in and changed it all to green -- to the Green New Deal.

I mean, that's sort -- the argument they were making, and it was playing because that's what their audience wants to hear. And, frankly, you know, in conservative circles, oil and gas, that's a big donor. You can't go after them. That's a whole other part of this, I think.

STELTER: Yeah, I wondered if that's a factor here, just now on Fox. Senator Ron Johnson said it is unreliable, wind and solar. They're unreliable.

Emily, has there been a lot of fact checking of this?

RAMSHAW: There has been a lot of fact checking. Local media has been extraordinary in this. If you read "The Texas Tribune", my alma mater, the work they're doing is amazing. But, you know, this idea that we immediately saw this being

politicized, and, you know, this was about renewables. This was about renewables. It's not about renewables.

I mean, the reality is this is a state that has never had to experience this kind of level of winterization. And I do think this is going to further conversations around climate change in a state that has historically been reluctant to have those conversations.

STELTER: Right, it's absolutely right.

You wrote on Twitter this week, Emily, that the Texas officials really failed to communicate in the middle of this disaster.

[11:05:04]

What went wrong from a public communication perspective?

RAMSHAW: I mean, everything is the answer to that question. It has been extraordinary. Just trying to get basic information, you know, there was no information in the lead up to this of how bad this might possibly be and what to might be able to expect.

You know, we got a notice that we would lose power maybe for 10 to 40 minutes rotating blackouts. When that happened in our household, you know, I have a 5-year-old in our house, we never got power back. We didn't get power back for five days after that first rolling blackout.

Then there was no information letting us know things like, you know, it would be a good idea to fill your bathtubs because we're about to lose water for a week or two weeks. So, no straightforward information on that. A whole lot of finger-pointing.

I have to be honest, you know, if local media weren't doing their jobs here, we would have next to no information. "The Texas Tribune", "The Statesmen", "The Dallas Morning News", you know, "Houston Chronicle" have been extraordinary and so valuable in this moment in history.

STELTER: Yeah. Let's show some of the local news front pages. Let's show how local news rose to the challenge in Texas in recent days. Some newspapers that lost power lost the ability to print but stayed online and stayed in touch with customers that way.

And, Emily, your former outlet, "The Texas Tribute", as you mentioned, you know, it set up a text messaging system to give updates to readers who are in need. What is the takeaway here all across the country about local news?

RAMSHAW: The takeaway here is that you can't count on anybody else in a crisis like this. These were journalists, our journalists to date who are still doing their jobs by plugging in their devices, in their cars, by tethering, by, you know, picking each other up in four-wheel drives to sleep on the floor in newsrooms.

I mean, this is when, you know, "The 19th", I'm so lucky my staff is very distributed around the country. Over the last couple of days, I have had employees sleeping, you know, on mattresses and air mattresses in our home. You know, I have reporters coming to my house to shower with this limited water trickle we have.

I mean, these are dire straits and these local journalists are doing the Lord's work under these circumstances.

STELTER: Yeah, for a while, it was hard for some national outlets to get into the Texas because of the roads and the flight cancellations. It's also a reminder that news rooms of all sizes need disaster plans in the same way that every family needs a plan for where to go in an emergency. Newsrooms need those backups as well.

Hey, Emily and Bill, just standby for one minute. I want to bring you back in a moment because we have to talk about Ted Cruz. This week, Senator Cruz became a symbol of every fat cat politician who ignores the citizens when they need him. But it's worth examining how this happened because not too long ago, Cruz could have run off to Cancun and almost no one would have known.

The people on the plane would have had no real-time proof he was there. But in the digital social media crowd sourced age, the photo proof started popping up on Twitter before he even boarded the plane. This photo is from JuanGomez18 on Twitter. And that was just the start of the digital sleuthing. Others shared pictures too and triangulated Cruz's location, try to confirm he was in Cancun.

And then reporters starting asking questions, forcing Cruz to book a return ticket to Texas. People could even see he was on the stand by list for a better seat.

Crowd sourcing turned into crowd shaming in some ways. And Cruz tried to do damage control, blaming his kids. But the truth could not be controlled. Cruz wanted to help his family, right, so he fled to Mexico. Someone in a group chat with Cruz's wife even leaked the text messages to prove it.

As "The Washington Post" put it, this story had the ample opportunities for crowd sourcing, amateur sleuthing and vicious mocking while Americans, quote, spent another day trapped in front of their screens.

To me, this was a story about inequality, right? Cruz had the money to fly his family out of the cold. Many Texans did not. And perversely, if Cruz had spent more money, right, he could have flown private and avoided the prying eyes of his voters. This is all about equality.

All right. So, let me bring in Emily and Bill back, and let's unpeel more layers of this story with Carol Leonnig. She's a national investigative reporter at "The Washington Post" and coauthor of the best-selling book, "A Very Stable Genius", which is coming out in paperback with more reporting this Tuesday.

Carol, thanks for coming on.

When you are working on an investigation these days, do you feel like you are competing with Internet investigators, the kind that figured out where Cruz was going this week?

CAROL LEONNIG, NATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Brian, thanks for having me back.

And, of course, everybody is a competitor, right? This is a pretty tough, cut throat business. We all want the story first. We all want it accurately.

But I think the version of what's been shared here has happened many times before, and you have seen it too. I mean, in this case, there were internet sleuths, but there was also somebody leaking the United passenger information, which was pretty striking. And I gather there is an investigation into that. Those kind of leaks have been happening for a long time, electronica that's not supposed to be shared.

You might remember when Donald Trump was accusing his Treasury Department of something, somebody actually faces criminal charges now for leaking information that they shouldn't have to show that the president wasn't telling the truth.

[11:10:10]

STELTER: Wow.

LEONNIG: And this happened when we covered Guantanamo. I mean, we were literally watching flights of prisoners being taken to dark sites.

So this has been happening for a while in different forms, and that kind of competition is going to happen on all platforms.

STELTER: There are all these conversations about the ethics of leaking a group text chain, right? All these people worried their friends will leak on them. Does it matter to you as a reporter what the motive of the leaker is, or does it just matter if it's accurate?

LEONNIG: I totally love that question. I think it's really important that the information, first and foremost, be accurate. That's what you care about.

But you've got to shift through the motives, too. I've had sources who have had bad, if you would call them, attack motives, but when their information is verified and true and you know what those motives are, you're not flying blind, the most important thing is that it's accurate.

Your point, though, is so fascinating that people are worried about their group chats being shared. I still remember Brett Kavanaugh's remark to his friends when they went out boating. A bunch of guys, remember, we're not sharing any of these texts and details of our trip. This stays on the boat.

STELTER: Bill, this broaden out, you know, beyond the story this week about Texas. The Texas crisis was unfolding while the conservative media world was mourning. Rush Limbaugh died Wednesday at the age of 70. He's been remembered as a hero to some. He's remember as a hate- monger on the left. He was clearly a harbinger of many political changes in this country. Now, the Florida governor says he's going to fly the flags at half- staff in Florida in the coming days. Whenever the funeral is scheduled.

What's your reaction to that decision?

CARTER: Well, it's kind of shocking because, I mean, first of all, you know the governor of Florida is playing for conservative attention in doing that. But the justification is really questionable.

I mean, look, Limbaugh had a huge following and it was very popular among, you know, a group of right wing listeners. But he wasn't a heroic figure. I mean, he had a lot of incidents that were extremely questionable and his views were pretty ugly and they hurt a lot of people. They hurt some people personally.

And I think -- you know, a lot of people are justifiably saying why are you celebrating a guy who attacked Barack Obama on race, who sang Barack the magic negro and all kinds of extremely outrageous things that, frankly, the conservatives loved. They loved him for that.

And he established the brand. He did. It was a brand. But to make it a heroic thing that should be celebrated like, you know, a war hero, yeah, I find that pretty questionable.

STELTER: Carol, for your book, a very stable genius, you spoke with hundreds of sources about Donald Trump. He came out of Mar-a-Lago hibernation to pay his respects to Rush on Wednesday, doing a right wing TV trifecta, calling to Fox, OAN, and Newsmax for the first time. He did all three channels on the same day.

Now, the company that distributes Limbaugh's show is trying to squash speculation that Trump could take over for Rush on the radio, right? They said to "The New York Times", no, we're not considering Trump as a replacement.

But do we have any sense that, you know, that is possible down the road, you know, maybe months from now once -- you know, once Trump is looking for a new media megaphone in the months ahead?

LEONNIG: Based on my, you know, experience reporting on Donald Trump and many advisers that stay around him right now, I find that's something we should probably bet against.

STELTER: Ah.

LEONNIG: There is no question that Donald Trump is going to be a voice in the -- after he comes out of this short period of wilderness. He wants to be center stage, and he will reclaim that stage again. As we know how, he's going to be at CPAC in a couple of days, I'd say maybe eight days down in Orlando, the Republican gathering where he's going to kind of tend to his conservative flock.

There is no question he will do that. But this is a visual guy, Brian. We all know what he likes is the television. And so, it's hard to imagine him as really a radio man.

He likes television. That's always been his favorite place. It's where he analyzed his own presidency, where he rated his own cabinet secretaries, where he decided who should represent him or not based on their visual presentation. That's what he cares about the most deeply.

So I find his ideas about going to work with Newsmax, creating his own television channel much more likely.

STELTER: All right. Now from the former occupant of the White House to the current administration. President Biden reached a big audience with a town hall on CNN this week. Vice President Harris, too, with a visit to "Today Show".

But I want to point out part of the VP's media strategy that's been happening a little bit under the radar. "The Los Angeles Times" that Harris recorded a call-in interview with KJLH-FM.

[11:15:05]

It's a Black-owned and operated radio station in L.A.

So, Harris is doing outreach on the radio to, quote, counter resistance to the COVID-19 vaccine among Black Americans. And, Emily, before all these other interviews, the VP's very first national sit- down interview was with your website, "The 19th".

So, what does this tell us about the Biden administration's media outreach?

RAMSHAW: That they're looking for a bigger tent and they think there is a true strategy in not going after, you know, the big dogs, the major news organizations that have sort of had a monopoly on these kinds of exclusives. I mean, it's telling in particular with the VP that she is trying to reach women, that she is trying to reach underserved marginalized communities, the LGBTQ community.

So I think it's really been fascinating to watch their rollout in this regard and I think you should expect to see more of it.

STELTER: Yeah, it is important to see where they're doing these interviews and what questions they're taking on. Bill, do you feel like the country is still juggling the past and present president? You know, Trump or Biden, are we at the point now where Trump calls into Newsmax and reaches a small base audience and, you know, the rest of the country forgets he's there?

CARTER: I don't think anybody is forgetting he's there. Obviously, that will -- you know, there is a long-standing issue with his presence in American culture, so I don't think he's going away that way. I do think there are a lot of people who want to move on or trying to move on. I think it is interesting looking at the late-night lineup of what the monologues are doing. That Trump is still going to do things and they're going to get riled up about it. But Cruz now takes over. Cruz was hugely the subject on "Saturday Night Live" last night. That was the target last night. And you could see they will move on to whoever is, you know, most

prominently making a fool of himself. But I just think Trump is going to continue to make noise. When he makes noise, people will pay attention.

STELTER: And how much did the mayor American news outlets, not OAN, right, but CNN, "Washington Post", how much coverage does Trump merit when he goes to CPAC? How coverage does Trump deserve when he calls into OAN?

LEONNIG: Brian, I totally agree with Bill. I mean, this president, the 45th president as he likes to call himself now on letterhead is not going anywhere. We're going to hear from him again. And the important thing is his relevance, right?

He wants to be center stage, but the issue becomes the coverage is determined by whether or not he is the force he thinks he is. He's got a huge following. If he's still the guy controlling the levers of a huge portion of the Republican Party, if he's still the guy making people in Congress make decisions based on his wishes, if he still is instilling fear the way he was when he complained that those 17 Republicans who voted against him during impeachment should watch out for their back, if he's still that force, then he's still relevant to all of us in the news business.

STELTER: He's still a story, just not as big a story as the current president.

Emily and Bill and Carol, thank you all for being here.

Coming up, the media mistakes that are peppering COVID vaccine coverage.

And Mark Zuckerberg turning off the news in Australia. This is a stunning move by Facebook. It's never happened before. We're going to tell you what it means for the rest of the world, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:23:00]

STELTER: Now, a history of digital news in -- let's see if we can do it in 45 seconds.

Publishing was once about scarcity. One city had one or two newspapers. Then, the Internet changed everything. Abundance, one city, a million blogs.

Google sorted the world's links, Facebook let everyone connect, and they made more millions, billions, fortunes, by being the go-betweens -- connecting you to me and you to news.

News owners like Rupert Murdoch watched that their relationships with readers get blown up by Facebook and Google. So they are trying to take back power and profits. Enter this week's big headline from Australia. Facebook banning news

publishers from sharing links and banning you no matter where you are in the world from posting links to Australian news outlets.

This is a retaliatory move against the Australian government's proposed legislation, looking to force tech platforms to pay up, to pay news publishers for the right to link to content. This means something dramatic not just in Australia but around the world. There are other proposals like this in other countries. And all eyes, all regulatory eyes are now on Australia to see what happens next.

Facebook's move to ban news, basically, had a global impact. You can see what happened right away. News traffic dropping on these Australian websites.

Now, according to "Reuters", there's so much interest in this that leaders of the G7 Summit discussed the issue days ago.

Now, that is what Facebook has done. Google has taken a very different approach. Google has actually started to cut deals with publishers, including Rupert Murdoch's news corporation. This means that Google is paying undisclosed sums of money to big news publishers.

But what about the little guys? What about the upstarts that want to with the next Rupert Murdoch, the next News Corporation? What is the right way to rebalance the relationship between these technology companies that have gobbled up the world and news publishers that are trying to keep everybody informed? Can the relationship be rebalanced?

How can the news be financed? That's what's at stake in this conversation.

[11:25:01]

With me now is Steven Guilbeault. He's the minister of Canadian heritage and a member of the Canadian parliament.

Minister, thank you for joining me.

You're coming on because you are watching this like your fellow leaders all around the world.

STEVEN GUILBEAULT, MINISTER OF CANADIAN HERITAGE: That's correct.

STELTER: Is Canada going to follow Australia's lead?

GUILBEAULT: Well, first, thank you for having me, Brian. Real pleasure to be here.

Second, I have announced publicly that Canada will be tabling -- I will be tabling legislation in the coming months to do in essence what Australia is trying to do.

Will we follow the exact same model? Probably not. It's going to be a made in Canada approach because our institutions, our laws, our regulations are different. But in essence, yes. STELTER: What is the argument for why Google and Facebook should pay

news publishers? You know, look, they invented a better mouse trap, right? So, why should they now have to pay up? Because a lot of tech execs say this feels like a shake down by news publishers.

GUILBEAULT: I would echo what your own House of Representative, Cicilline, or Senator Warner have said. This battle is at the very heart of democracy. Without a healthy media and news sector, they cannot -- we cannot have sustainable democracies.

And what we're doing is just to ensure that Google and Facebook compensate fairly the media for their use of their content. That's what -- that's what we're talking about.

STELTER: Do we really want to get into the business of taxing links, though? I mean, Facebook is not -- they're not hosting the news. They're just, you know, providing a platform to share it. And then people click the links and they go off to a website and they view the news and they view advertisements there, too.

GUILBEAULT: Both of these companies make a lot of money out of the news content that they use. And there's a debate arguably about how much money. And I have seen all sorts of figures floating around.

And what Australia and France and us in Canada, but other countries -- just last week, I was -- I was on a call with Australia, Germany, France, Finland, and soon -- soon, many other countries will join this initiative that was started by Canada to figure out how -- how do we do this.

And every country will go about it in its own way. But the essence of what we're trying to do is to ensure that we continue to have a healthy media sector. And that -- I mean, it's not about overtaxing or some kind of tax graph. I mean, if these companies are making money out of the news content from publishers, then just like copyright for artists or musicians, they should be fairly compensated now (ph).

STELTER: There has been a lot of debate about the Australian model, how they're doing this. You're saying you're going to look at a different model, right? Because some people are saying, hey, the idea here is right. Facebook and Google, technology companies should pay up.

But the way Australia is doing it is wrong. You are saying there will be a different Canadian model, is that right?

GUILBEAULT: Yeah, that's correct. But -- I mean, I -- I should say something about what we've seen in Australia. I mean, Facebook didn't just cut link to news outlets but also to government -- to government websites, including websites -- it's forest fire seasons right now in Australia -- information on COVID, suicide hotline.

And I saw a Facebook spokesperson say that it was an oversight. Hold on a second here. An oversight?

I mean, if we needed a clear example of why these companies need to be regulated, Facebook just handed -- handed this to us on a silver platter.

STELTER: Hmm, very interesting.

Minister Guilbeault, thank you so much for being here.

GUILBEAULT: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: For another view of this debate, because everybody in the entire news industry is watching what's happening in Australia, Jeff Jarvis is here with me. He's a veteran journalist reporting online news, blogging the news business models for many years. Also, the creator and founding managing editor of "Entertainment Weekly" magazine. He's currently the director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the Craig Newmark School of Journalism at CUNY here in New York.

Jeff, thanks for coming on the program.

You helped give me my start in my career almost two decades ago by linking to my blog. So this is all about links, right? Google and Facebook, that's what they do. They link. They send us off in different directions.

So is the Australian idea right or wrong?

JEFF JARVIS, PROFESSOR, CUNY'S NEWMARK JOURNALISM SCHOOL: Oh, it's very wrong. This is blackmail by Rupert Murdoch and it breaks the web --

STELTER: Blackmail?

JARVIS: -- as inventors, Tim Berners-Lee, has actually said.

The problem here is that Google and Facebook are not paying for news. They're sending audiences, as you said earlier, to these publishers. If anybody should pay anybody, the publishers should be paying the platforms for the value that they get.

What happened here is that Murdoch who owns 70 percent of the newspaper industry in Australia is cashing in his political capitol to get protectionist legislation to try to force the platforms to pay him money and also disadvantage, as you also said earlier, startups that may compete with him.

STELTER: So, now, I don't know who to root for here -- Rupert Murdoch, Google, Facebook, all these behemoths. Isn't the bigger concern about smaller news outlets that actually are in the worst financial position? What about them?

[11:30:03]

Isn't the bear concern about smaller news outlets that actually are in the worst financial position, what about them?

JARVIS (via Cisco Webex): Exactly. This might -- this law might go to Denmark, and one of my former students has a successful small operation in Denmark. I just saw her on Twitter moments ago saying, Why punish me? And let's remember, Brian, that if you look at, let's say, Canada, let's say the minister is successful.

Well, the largest newspaper company in Canada, by far is Postmedia. And with, I think, 35 newspapers, and it is owned and controlled by Chatham Asset, a hedge fund that also owns the National Enquirer. Here in the U.S., our newspaper chains are all controlled by hedge funds or exhausted families. So, would the money go to journalists, or would it go to hedge fund owners?

STELTER: About that, there was a lot of news about the news this week. Alden Global Capital is a hedge fund that already is the biggest shareholder of Tribune Publishing. Now, it wants to take over the rest of Tribune, which means taking over the Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News, Orlando Sentinel, et cetera. Alden is notorious for dramatically slashing funds and cutting staff.

Here was -- may be a sign of good news, though, Jeff, the Baltimore Sun might be able to escape Alden and be taken over by a local businessman who wants to buy the Baltimore Sun and preserve it as a nonprofit. Is this the future of news, either get bought up by, you get financialized by hedge fund, and you get cut to the bone, or you become a nonprofit newspaper? Are these the models?

JARVIS: Well, we could -- we should all hope that local news, which is vitally important, could have 1,000 Jeff Bezos who've done wonderfully with The Washington Post. But look at The Los Angeles Times where its owner took it away from Tribune and promised to standby it, and this weekend, the reports that it was going to sell. He denies that, but we'll see what happens. It depends upon the local owner you have. And some of them are better, and some of them are not.

STELTER: What about this idea that, you know, there should be some way to have apple and apple, Facebook and Google, specifically, support the local news ecosystem? That it shouldn't just all be hedge funds or nonprofit status? Is there -- I know you're against the what you say is the Rupert Murdoch blackmail, but is there some model that would work?

JARVIS: If you want to tax Google and Facebook straight out, fine. But who is to say that newspaper owners are the entitled recipients of that money? If you're going to tax the platforms more because they make a lot of money, fine. But why wouldn't that money go to education or to Black and Latino-owned publications, or to internet access for people, or to our health care?

Why are newspaper publishers so entitled? You and I have watched this industry for many years. And I'm a journalism professor; I've worked in it. But I've also seen how the newspaper industry has failed miserably to update for this current reality. It's their fault.

STELTER: Interesting. Jeff, thank you so much for coming on.

JARVIS: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: For more, check out this week's "RELIABLE SOURCES PODCAST." My guest is Report for America co-founder and president, Steven Waldman. He has a proposal for refundable tax credits to help the news business.

Coming up, a stunning cover of The New York Times. A big announcement about my book, "Hoax." And we are going to fact check all the false claims about, well, the future of fact checking.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:35:00]

STELTER: Hey, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES, I'm Brian Stelter. Now, this should be a simple question, What's the future of fact checking now that Trump is out of office? But the question is actually fraught with complexity, and allegations of bias and shouts of false equivalence. So, let's fact check what you've heard about fact checking.

Joining me now is Daniel Dale, CNN's resident fact checker, and Angie Drobnic Holan, she's the editor in chief of PolitiFact. Thank you both for coming on. We're scrolling through your recent fact checks, Angie, and I see a lot of things have nothing to do it Trump or Biden. Has the -- has the end of the Trump administration freed you up for other factchecking?

ANGIE DROBNIC HOLAN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, POLITIFACT: Well, it's an interesting time whenever you transform from one administration to the other. Certainly, Trump was a very distinctive president and personality in the news scene. And his endless cascade of words has freed us up to fact check other things. Like this week, we spent most of our time fact checking the power outages in Texas. And I'm not sure we would have gotten as much work done if Trump had still been in office making the false claim that the election was rigged.

STELTER: Yes. Which he's still doing, by the way, and we'll get to that in a minute. Daniel, here's a viewer question from Kevin in New Haven. He says, Do you have it any easier now that Biden is POTUS compared to Trump?

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: I wouldn't say easier because there's still so much nonsense, so much misinformation, disinformation in the world. But there is less from the president. We know that Biden speaks less, he tweets less, and he lies less when he talks in tweets. Trump was a unique case. But that doesn't mean Biden is perfect. He sometimes exaggerates. He sometimes embellishes in the past. We know he's occasionally just --

STELTER: Well, hey, look at what's on screen right now? We've got three of your recent fact checks. There were mistakes, for example, at the town hall on CNN this week.

DALE: That's right. So, what we see from Biden, it's basically more like a smattering of falsehood than the daily avalanche we got from Trump, but he's not perfect. And again, there's other people to fact check. So, in February, I fact checked -- for example, this week, there was a fake Twitter screenshot purporting to be from Ted Cruz. That wasn't. It was a hoax. So, I did a fat check of that. I did a

fact check of false claim that a liberal super PAC was making about Senator Marco Rubio. I fact checked, claims being made by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and against her about her account of the Capitol attack. So, there's so much to fact check. I'm not going on vacation. I'm not going to be unemployed. There's a lot to do.

[11:40:03]

STELTER: Yes, there is a lot to do. And it's the number one priority it sounds like is to check Biden, right, is to hold him accountable.

DALE: That's right. And so, you know, people saying you're not, you know, people accusing me of bias, suggesting I'm not going to do that. I'm reading his every word intensively. He is the focus. But the fact is, because he talks less, because he lies less, there is simply time to do other people in addition to him, not instead of him, but in addition to him

STELTER: Right. In addition to him. Angie, here's the Associated Press looking at Trump's interviews on the right-wing T.V. this week. The story says that Trump repeated his false claim about the election being stolen 10 times. Each instance unprompted and unchallenged. So, obviously, his friendly interviewers are not fact checking him. But the rest of the press still is, right? He's still -- is there still a follow up about Trump's lies?

HOLAN: We will still fact check former President Donald Trump at PolitiFact. But the fact of the matter is, when you're not the president anymore, you get less scrutiny. Now, I think we're going to see a very unusual post-presidency from Donald Trump. He said he intends to stay active in Republican politics. And when he says something that is provocative and sounds wrong in a high-profile setting, PolitiFact will fact check him.

But that's not going to be the case all the time. For example, he put out a statement against Mitch McConnell, and we reviewed it, and we found a lot of personal attacks and a few factual claims, but they just didn't seem to rise to the level of PolitiFact fact checking him. So, we're going to be judicious about our choices.

STELTER: Here's another headline, Angie, this is from CNN this week. Governor Cuomo in New York saying, "He should have been more aggressive against COVID death misinformation." He's suggesting misinformation. Kind of blaming the media for the newfound scrutiny about nursing home deaths. Do you think Cuomo has been given an easy break by the media, and is that changing?

HOLAN: I think the situation in New York is really complicated. Certainly, there are things to criticize about how the Cuomo administration handled data. But the heart of the matter goes back to last year when the state was asking nursing homes to take in patients, COVID patients who are ready to be discharged from the hospital.

We don't see hard evidence that that made a significant difference in COVID deaths. If you look at the statistics, New York is about having the same numbers as other states around the country. And the issue was employees, workers in the nursing homes who didn't realize they were bringing COVID-19 into the nursing homes. So, it's a really complicated situation. There's not clear-cut answers here.

STELTER: Daniel and Angie, thank you both for coming on. For all today's media news, sign up for our nightly Reliable Sources Newsletter. You can sign up for free at reliablesources.com. Up next, amid heartbreak, there is hope about the Coronavirus, about vaccines. We're going to talk about how that vaccine news should be covered with Dr. Leana Wen, next.

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[11:45:00]

STELTER: How will you measure the year of COVID-19? Well, as is so often the case, popular culture, mass media can help us process the news that is right in front of our eyes. The United States is about to surpass the 500,000-mark, half a million deaths from COVID. That's going to happen in just the next day or two. It is a new and devastating milestone, so we turned to popular culture. We were reminded of a song from "Rent."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SINGERS: 525,600 minutes. 525,000 moments so dear. 525,600 minutes. How do you measure, measure a year? In daylights --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: A musical from the pain of a different virus. The words now apply here, one death per minute. That will be one way to measure the first year of the pandemic in the United States. When the -- when the numbers are added up in March, we're going to be probably right around that figure, 525,600 deaths from COVID. Now, this grim tally is paired with increasingly hopeful news about the future.

This continues to be a splitscreen pandemic. We are learning about more and more vaccinations, dwindling infection rates and hospitalizations. Talk about herd immunity. And this is all good news that we are hearing even as the death toll rises.

Now, I want you to know, though, these headlines, we're putting them up on screen just once. These are really misleading headlines. There's a lot of this stuff still going on. That story is about flukes, vaccine one-offs, people that get sick or die after getting the vaccine. This information out of context is scaring folks.

So, let's take it off screen and talk with Dr. Leana Wen about it. Former Baltimore health commissioner and CNN medical analyst. We'll put it up again, Dr. Lena, but this is an issue that I'm continuing to see. There's a New York Post headline that talked about a local news anchor who died after getting the vaccine. These are coincidences. We have -- we have all the reason in the world to believe these are -- it's very sad coincidences. And yet, when you put it in a headline, it can mislead people.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I agree with you, Brian. And I also think that the media should do a lot more when it comes to talking up the extraordinary benefit of the vaccines. We are talking about numbers like 95 percent effective, which alone is extraordinary when it comes to Pfizer and Moderna.

But then, these vaccines are also almost 100 percent of preventing severe disease, enough to cause hospitalization or death. And ultimately, that's the endpoint that we care about. Because I actually think that we have a real chance with these vaccines of turning COVID- 19 from the deadly disease that it currently is into something like a bad cold or the flu if people are vaccinated. That's how well it can protect them.

[11:50:03]

That will give us back our lives and our economy and our kids getting back to school. And I think the media has a major role here because what's going to prevent us from reaching herd immunity? Ultimately, it's not supply. Supply is an issue right now. But ultimately, the problem is vaccine hesitancy, and that's where the media's role is going to be so critical.

STELTER: And here are some examples of good headlines. Let's show the way to frame these stories. When there are flukes, when there are heartbreaking coincidences that occur, that can be framed in the headline, and say, "There's no sign of a link." "The shots are safe." That would be a much more appropriate way to do this. DR. Wen, I'm short on time, but thank you very much for being here.

WEN: Thank you.

STELTER: Again, hope and heartbreak, pain and progress hand-in-hand, side-by-side. That is the story every day now. Look at this morning's New York Times front page, trying to depict every American death from COVID. One dot for each person. The concentration of dots showing thousands of deaths a day this winter.

One of the lives lost this week was a member of the extended CNN family, Gary D Respers. Gary was 69. He would have celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary with Patricia this year. Gary and Patricia's daughter, Lisa Respers France, CNN's senior entertainment writer, a friend to all of us here at RELIABLE SOURCES, an amazing colleague of ours, and we want to send our condolences to Lisa and her mom. We'll be right back.

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[11:55:00]

STELTER: Last but not least today, some news about the new edition of my book, "Hoax." The paperback edition is coming out on June 1st, and we are revealing the cover to you right now. Now, this is not your typical paperback with just a new ending, this book has a brand new beginning. I've updated the entire text and added 12 new chapters, really

finishing the story of the Trump presidency and exploring Fox's new struggles in the Biden era. The paperback edition of "Hoax" is available for pre-order at buyhoax.com. We will see you back here this time next week for more RELIABLE SOURCES.

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