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Advice for Lester Holt from Past Moderators; Interview with Janet Brown; Interview with Brian Fallon; Prepping for the Monday Presidential Debate; Late Night Hosts Take on Trump. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired September 25, 2016 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:11] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good morning. I'm Brian Stelter and welcome to the special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES, live from Hofstra University here in Hempstead, New York.

We are inside of the arena has been transformed into a presidential debate stage. This is where Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will face-off for the very first time. And actually behind my shoulder, you might be able to see the stand-ins for Trump, Clinton and Lester Holt who are pretending to debate right now.

I just heard the Trump stand-in make a comment about how many are saying. So, they are playing the roles right now, practicing the staging and the camera angles for the debate 34 hours away.

We're going to talk this morning about the debaters, the format, and the man on the middle, Lester Holt, we have new details about how he is preparing.

Plus, in just a few minutes, the head of the debate commission will be here for an exclusive interview, taking us behind the scenes of how this is all coming together.

Plus, we'll hear from late night host Seth Meyers, Holt's colleague, about why he would never want to be a moderator.

But let's begin with the media's role in this room. We are broadcasters here and we are also the judges. Clinton and Trump are not just competing against each other. They're competing against our and your expectations.

Moderator Lester Holt is also under tremendous pressure. So, let's begin with two people who have been here, who have done this, who have been on this stage.

Jim Lehrer has moderated 12 presidential debates. He's the former news anchor for the PBS "NewsHour."

And Ann Compton, served as a panelist in the debate back in 1988 and in 1992. She's a retired White House correspondent for ABC News.

Thank you both for being here this morning.


STELTER: Jim, I know that Lester is busy preparing, but he is taking a little bit of time off. If he is watching right now, what is your advice for Lester Holt?

LEHRER: Well, two things. First of all, he must remind himself that it isn't about him, isn't about the moderator. Second thing, he should remember that no matter what he does on Monday night, he is going to be criticized for it. And that's because the rules have changed.

The rules are much more wide open than they have been in the previous years and in previous election cycles -- meaning that the candidates can now -- can speak directly to each other, and can question each other. There is more time devoted to each subject, to each question, the moderator's job is to keep the flow going, and make sure that everything is maintained, fairness is maintained, et cetera.

The job is much more difficult, and no matter how he does it, he will be criticized, because somebody is going to be coming out in less -- well, there is going to be a winner or loser declared and the loser, and people say, oh, well, it is the moderator's fault, he let things go or he cut things off, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

But as long as he understands that going in, Lester will be fine, and he probably does, and he will be.

STELTER: He has the best and the worst job in TV right now.

Ann, what do you -- what do you believe about Holt's position as a fact-checker on stage? There is a lot that has been made about whether the moderator should step in if Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton clearly lies. What's your position on that?

ANN COMPTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE PANELIST: Well, you know, there's a reason why broadcast journalists are very often the moderators for this. We hate to leave absolute errors of fact on the table. And while it is true that the moderator ought to give the other candidate the opportunity to check a fact, reasonable adversaries that are trying to tear each other down, and just cause the Democrat says X and the Republican says Y, it doesn't mean that you don't have the truth in there somewhere, that there has to be some kind of check.

It also means -- remember, that the moderator isn't just the umpire. The moderator is the pitcher in the game, and it matters whether he throws a fastball or a curve, and it matters how much time those candidates have to really explore the answer.

STELTER: Jim, NBC sources say to me, Lester will not be a potted plant. That was the quote from to two NBC sources, that he will step in when necessary to fact check the candidates. Do you believe that's appropriate for Holt?

LEHRER: Well, the key question and the key phrase is "when necessary". I happen to disagree slightly with Ann's approach. I think that if a moderator sits at the table and starts moderating with the idea, oh, I've got to make sure that all of the facts are checked, somebody says something, you know, whatever -- that's a different role.

I see the number one function of the moderator is to make sure that the flow is among the candidates. The moderator should be out of the picture as much as possible, and whether he is a potted plant or not, it is irrelevancy. When it's all over, it's about the two candidates. They are the players. The moderator is the facilitator, not one of the players.

COMPTON: That's right.

STELTER: Ann, your response?

[11:05:01] COMPTON: Well, Jim is right about that. The moderator should never be the story at the end of the 90 minutes, but it is also the moderator who has come up with the questions, and so often during the campaign, candidates are out there telling you what they want to do.

The real questions for me are, how are you going to get it done? Why do you think that should be done? And the moderator has to take some leadership.

It also occurs to me, Brian, look at how long these moderators for this year have had to prepare. I think Jim and I had literally --

STELTER: Interesting.

COMPTON: -- 36 hours between now and the debate, and I think that, Jim, we didn't have much more time than that when we were chosen to get our own questions ready.

LEHRER: That's true in most cases, but -- in the last few debates, I had much more time in terms of notifying me.

But, see, the way these rules have evolved, it is not so much about questions for the moderator to prepare, it's for the moderator to prepare to do his or her homework enough so that you can listen, and move on, and decide to -- this is something that is important, this is not so important, but you have to have all of that information in your head, so that you can be comfortable enough to do this under the most highly pressured situation that could possibly be for Lester Holt for instance on Monday night. He's got to make a lot of the quick decisions, and he's got to have all of the information in his head.

There's no place to look. There's anybody in his ear to help him. He is solely responsible.

STELTER: That's a big change from the primaries. There's nobody in Holt's ear except for the man timing the debate.

Let me ask you both about the X-factor here, and that's Donald Trump. We have never had a television star like Trump on the stage like this, and the closest is Ronald Reagan who was an actor. But Trump's expertise really comes from "The Apprentice", from his business days.

Let me play for you what Trump said about Holt earlier in the week.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: And, by the way, Lester is a Democrat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't know that.

TRUMP: Look, it's a phony system. Lester is a Democrat. I mean, they are all Democrats, OK? It's a very unfair system.


STELTER: Actually, Lester Holt is a registered Republican.

But that's an example of Trump working the refs. The Clinton campaign has been as well. Clinton not herself directly, but the Clinton campaign also working the ref.

Jim, does a unique candidate like Donald Trump require a different kind of moderating? No, no, absolutely not.

Remember, the debate for 90 minutes, people are going to see the candidates, are going to see Donald Trump. Whatever he does and says, everybody is going to see it. And the whole -- there is going to be hundreds, thousands of people ready to jump on what he says, to fact- check what he says, and that fact-checking is going to go on and on and on right up to Election Day.

And nobody is going to be, including -- I mean, Donald Trump is not going to, quote, "get away with anything". It's all going to be there for everybody to see. More people are going to watch this debate, most probably everybody who's going to vote in this election will see some part of this debate, and huge portion are going to see the entire debate. And it's all going to be there.

And the moderator's job, and Lester's job, and he knows that, is to facilitate the revelation of this man and Hillary Clinton as well. Who are these people? Who are they? And you will see them side by side for the first time in a campaign and the only time during a campaign is during the debates.


LEHRER: You want to take the measure of the person, you can do it.

COMPTON: I think Jim --

STELTER: Ann, quickly, does the gender factor here matter? The number of women who have moderated debates is a small field. Martha Raddatz among them this year.

Does it matter that there's a woman on stage debating for the first time a presidential campaign? COMPTON: I think that the gender factor is pretty well over. She's been in the public eye for 24 years. I've covered her during that public spotlight.

I think what's really important here is the viewers, millions of them, who haven't really decided which way they're going to go. This is for them. This is for the viewers who want to know how Donald Trump would comport himself dealing with somebody for whom he is a clear adversary -- how Hillary Clinton will address and behave in a presidential manner.

I think the fact that the current debate format allows so much oxygen, the fact that they can really talk at length about an issue and to each other makes a world of difference, and important difference.

LEHRER: I agree with that a hundred percent.

STELTER: Jim Lehrer and Ann com Compton -- on that note, thank you both very much.

LEHRER: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: Standing by here, inside the debate hall is the head of the debate commission. I'm going to ask her to lift back the curtains here, talk about why their format matters and how all this came together. Was there a chance that Clinton or Trump wouldn't show up? We'll get the answer right after this.


[11:13:48] STELTER: Welcome back. We are live from Hofstra University, the site of Monday night's presidential debate. We are here inside of the hall where the cameras are in place and the pretend stand-ins are actually practicing behind us.

What you may not know is that although you can watch the debate on CNN and pretty much other network and website, the debates are not produced or sponsored by any television network. They are actually run by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonprofit group lead by both Republicans and Democrats

So, just what has the commission had to contend with this extraordinary year?

Who better to ask than Janet Brown, the executive director of the commission, who joins me now for an exclusive interview.

Janet, great to see you.


STELTER: Is everything ready? This is a brand-new set. Is it ready?

BROWN: Everything is ready. It is a brand-new set. We're very proud of it. STELTER: How hard has it been to get Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

onto the stage tomorrow night? You know, because there was speculation all summer that Trump might try to back out of this debate.

BROWN: We have been having productive and civil, progressive communications with the campaigns. Everything is going very well -- all of it is focused on exactly what you're looking at behind you, which is bringing everything together in time for the debate tomorrow night.

STELTER: Had there been any giant issues behind the scenes, any complaints from the campaigns?

[11:15:02] BROWN: No, I'm happy to say that there is agreement on almost everything. It's been very productive.

STELTER: What about who's going to be sitting in the front row? We know Clinton campaign invited Mark Cuba. Trump threatens to invite Gennifer Flowers. Now, the campaign says that's not happening.

Is there anybody who wouldn't be allowed to sit in the front row?

BROWN: The first several rows are generally the close family and friends of the candidates. It's up to them to decide who is in those seats.

But the most important thing, Brian, for everyone to understand is that there is a very small audience behind us, a live audience will be here tomorrow night. The big audience, the important audience is the home audience in this country and abroad. And the job of everybody in this hall is to be respectful and silent and to make sure --

STELTER: Silent?

BROWN: Silent, and to make sure that all of the time any attention is given to the candidates and their positions.

STELTER: Some people on Twitter have asked me, why have an audience at all?

BROWN: You know, we've held the debates on college and university campuses, almost every single one since we got started in '88. This is a great opportunity to involve the young people in what is at the end of the day, the biggest civics education forum that's going on.

A huge number of these seats will be given to the students of Hofstra University, which I think is just a great opportunity for them to be involved and to see this firsthand. A live audience makes it different in terms of what the candidates are doing to whom they are speaking, and I think that it warms it up, but unlike the primary debates where there was audience participation, there is to be none here, and I think whoever is in those seats will respect that.

STELTER: You mentioned the audience at home, what's your ratings prediction? One hundred million? BROWN: I don't know. That's what -- you guys are the pros.


BROWN: And the networks are saying they think in that range.

STELTER: What makes this debate different? Why does the format matter?

BROWN: The format matters, because the 90 minutes without any commercial interruption are the only chance that the public gets to see the leading candidates in the same situation answering the same questions which are not known to the candidates nor to the commission. The moderator is in charge of picking those.

This is a unique opportunity to learn more about the candidates and the formats are designed to get away from any kind of time interference. There'll be six 15-minute blocks of time, each of which is devoted to a major question.

STELTER: What about the issue of fact checking that has been talked about so much in the past few weeks? Does the commission want Lester Holt to fact check?

BROWN: The commission asks independent, smart journalists to be the moderators and we let them decide how they're going to do this. But I have to say, in our history, the moderators have found it appropriate to allow the candidates to be the ones that talk about the accuracy or the fairness of what the other candidate or candidates might have said.

I think, personally, if you are starting to get into the fact-check, I'm not sure what is the big fact, and what is a little fact? And if you and I information, does your source about the unemployment rate agree with my source?

I don't think it's a good idea to get the moderator into essentially serving as the Encyclopedia Britannica. And I think it's better for that person to facilitate and to depend on the candidates to basically correct each other as they see fit.

STELTER: What's the hardest part for you during all of this preparation?

BROWN: The hardest part maybe just to -- given the long to-do list, is to be able to keep perspective on the fact that we are really lucky that we can see civil substantive debates in this country. This is a remarkable facet of our democracy and it's an incredible privilege to work on it.

STELTER: I always wish that we could have more than three, and how about you?

BROWN: Yes, we're game. We're game.

STELTER: You like to do more -- if the candidates would be willing? BROWN: It's a short period of time, and three and one, three

presidential, one vice presidential seem to be enough. But it's a great thing to work on together as you know.

STELTER: Janet, thank you so much.

BROWN: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: Good luck tomorrow night.

BROWN: Thank you.

STELTER: And up next here on the program, the debate expectations game, it is serious business. Both sides are working the refs.

So, how is Hillary Clinton preparing? What is her campaign saying to reporters? Hear from her campaign spokesman right after the break.


[11:23:30] STELTER: Hey, welcome back.

The mock debate continues here behind me at Hofstra University, the site of tomorrow night's actual presidential debate. These are the stand-ins for Trump and Clinton who are on stage right now. There is also a stand-in for Lester Holt.

And what they are doing is to rehearse the lighting, the staging, the microphones and the placement of everything on this stage. You know, this has been under construction for weeks inside what is normally a sporting complex of Hofstra University and now turned into the debate stage, and we are going to see the fireworks here for less than 36 hours.

Let's talk for a moment about what each campaign is doing try to work the refs. There is the working of the refs involving Lester Holt, the debate moderator. There's also the working of the refs, meaning the rest of the media, journalists who are going to be talking about the debate before and after it happens.

So, let's talk with one of the campaigns about that right now. Brian Fallon, the Clinton campaign press secretary, joins me from New York.

Brian, great to see you this morning.


STELTER: You all have released a list of what you say are Trump's seven deadly lies. You've released the multi-page briefing for reporters, detailing what you all see are lies from Trump and his campaign that you believe Lester Holt should rebut if they come up on stage. Why are all taking this pro-fact-checking position?

FALLON: Well, we've never seen a candidate like Donald Trump in the history of presidential politics. Just today, "Politico" has a new story out. They assessed his claims on the trail over the last week and they judged that he told a lie approximately every three minutes.

[11:25:01] This is somebody who PolitiFact last year anointed the liar of the year and said that 75 percent of the claims that judged were lies from Donald Trump.

And so, our point is, if you're going to have Donald Trump on that debate stage for 90 minutes and a moderator who takes a hand's off approach and says that they are not going to fact-check the candidates, that they're going to sit there and close their ears to Donald Trump's lies, it will extend an unfair bias to Donald Trump. It will be the equivalent of giving him more time to speak.

STELTER: You would agree with me, though, that Clinton sometimes also shades the truth? You may not agree with me on that, but would you agree that Lester Holt should hold both candidates accountable for any misstatements or falsehoods?

FALLON: Absolutely. We are not asking Lester Holt to do anything to Donald Trump that we don't think that he should do to Hillary Clinton. Hold both candidates accountable.

But, look, Donald Trump is somebody who lies about his own record. He has said that he was opposed to intervention in Iraq, that's just not true. If he says that on the debate stage tomorrow night, Lester Holt should follow-up. He should read him his own statements to Howard Stern back before the Iraq war happened.


FALLON: And that's all we're asking. If he does that to both candidates, then the American people, the audience of that debate, will have an honest opportunity to judge them.

But a lot of the 100 million or so viewers tuning in will be doing so for the first time. So, even though you and Brian know that many of these statements that Trump has made are lies, a lot of the viewers won't. And it's up to both Lester Holt on the debate stage to fact check Donald Trump, and it's also to the media that's going to be judging the debate in the hours afterwards to not look past the lies when they're grading his performance.

If he tells lies like his --

STELTER: That was my next question for you. Are you trying to make sure reporters and the commentators set the bar at an equal level for both? Tell me what you're doing to make sure that happens?

FALLON: Well, Hillary Clinton is taking this debate very seriously, and she is setting a high bar for herself. You know, one of these two people on the debate stage is going to be the next commander-in-chief, and they should be both be judged by the same standard. I think during the primary, Donald Trump's campaign was covered as a bit of a novelty act. I don't think people took seriously the prospect that he would win the nomination.

And so, he was on a very crowded debate stage, he picked his moments, and then he's flair for the dramatic -- this is a guy that made a career on television -- carried the day and he won a lot of those debates based on style. But I think the American people are going to be demanding more tomorrow night --

STELTER: But because he hasn't been a political before, why shouldn't the bar be set higher for an experienced politician like Hillary Clinton?

FALLON: The bar needs to be the same for both candidates. They are both going for the same job. In the Oval Office, there's not going to be any grading on the curve. The decisions that they make in the Situation Room will have the same impact regardless of whether it's Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

And so, he needs to do two things tomorrow night. He needs to come with detailed plans explaining exactly what he would do as president of the United States, and he needs to give honest, straightforward answers to the American people. If he fails to do either of those two things, and I think that it's impossible to grade him a success.

I know that from Kellyanne Conway's perspective, that's his campaign manager, she is probably hoping -- she'll breathe a sigh of relief if he gets through 90 minutes without a meltdown, but the American people should demand more.

STELTER: And taking a little elbow there to Trump and Kellyanne Conway.

Let me ask you about what your expectations in terms of viewership? Sometimes Democrats benefit from high voter turnout. Do you believe the Clinton campaign would benefit from abnormally high viewership on Monday?

FALLON: We certainly think that the more viewers that turn in, the better. We think the more that participate in this election, the better it will be for our democracy. So --

STELTER: What's your prediction for the ratings? Give us a number, what do you think?

FALLON: Oh, I leave that to the industry experts like you and Jeff Zucker. But estimate for the millions?

But I've seen a lot of people suggest that it's going to approach "M.A.S.H" territory, and if it does, I think that will be a good thing. But again, that puts an important premium on fact-checking candidates, because even though you and I know that Donald Trump has been going around saying that Hillary Clinton wants to take away the Second Amendment or that her 2008 campaign started birtherism, those are things that had been debunked time and time again by independent fact-checkers.

But a lot of those people, those hundred millions that might be tuning on Monday, they haven't heard that before. It's up to the moderators and the media to help hold Donald Trump accountable.

STELTER: I predict 85 million, by the way.


STELTER: But you're talking a lot about Trump. What about Clinton? Does she have her prepared answer about emails? Is she going to level with the American people about what went wrong?

FALLON: Well, I think e-mails is a subject that she has been answering questions on for over a year now, and she's expressed regret and admitted it was a mistake. I think if the subject comes up again, she'll say that again.

And I think that especially in recent weeks, what you have heard her say is, when she's been pressed on this or that aspect of her decision to set up the e-mails, she has said, look, there's no excuse for it, and the lesson she has learned over the last few months when she's had interviews on this, that the more she intends or expects to try to explain it, it comes across as trying to make excuses for it, and she admits there's no excuse for it. So, I think she'll be very accountable for that.

Donald Trump needs to be accountable for his failure to release his tax returns. He needs to be accountable for his failure to disclose the true extent of his financial holdings.


Just this past week, we learned about troubling connections between a campaign adviser to him, Carter Page, who has been having meetings with Russian government officials. And that is apparently being looked at by U.S. intelligence.

So, I expect all those things to come up on the debate stage tomorrow night, and Donald Trump needs to have answers.

STELTER: Kellyanne Conway responded to that, actually. It will be coming up on "STATE OF THE UNION" at noon Eastern time.

Brian Fallon, thank you very much for being here this morning.

FALLON: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: We asked Fallon's counterpart on the Trump campaign to be here as well. We would love to speak with them in an upcoming week.

I think it is notable the Clinton campaign is setting expectations in public, and so is the Trump campaign. So, we're going to talk about this expectations game with an all star panel right after the break.




I'm Brian Stelter live here at Hofstra University, where Monday's debate will take place in less than 36 hours.

It is going to be most likely the most watched political event in history. The entire Trump-Clinton face-off will last only 90 minutes. I wish it would go on longer, but only 90 minutes. But it will generate 90 hours of coverage.

A lot of the coverage is going to be about the expectations that are set for each candidate, before the debate, and then analyzing which candidate failed to succeed those expectations after the debate.

But as you are watching the coverage surrounding the face-off, this matchup, we will take you behind the scenes and show exactly how these expectations are set and how they're managed. You heard some of it just there from the Clinton press secretary, Brian Fallon. The Trump side is doing the same thing.

So let's dissect it with an all-star panel.

I'm joined by Eleanor Clift, a political writer The Daily Beast, Frank Sesno, the director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, and here at Hofstra, Dylan Byers, CNN's senior reporter for media and politics.

Dylan, being here on set at Hofstra, what stands out to you about the setting in this room?

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR MEDIA AND POLITICS REPORTER: It is small. It is a very intimate setting, and I don't believe that it is something that the viewers at home are really going to understand.

You and I have been to so many primary debates where there are sort of these like big venues. You have got a lot of applause. You have got a audience participation. Here, the lights aren't even going to come up on the audience. The audiences aren't miked.

It is really a television event. And it has been a television event since Kennedy and Nixon in 1960. I think having people here is important, but, fundamentally, it is going to come down to those three people in the room.

And it is so overwhelming. You predicted 85 million, 90 million, 100 million people watch this thing. It is amazing just how few people are actually going to be in the room.

STELTER: That is a great point.

Eleanor, let me go to you on the issue of the expectations game. Do you believe these candidates should be judged exactly equally on Monday night?

ELEANOR CLIFT, THE DAILY BEAST: I think that they each have to be judged from the point of view of the opportunities that they had going into the debate and the perils they encountered.

And so I don't think that there is an exactly equal scoreboard that you can apply the each of these characters. And I think of them -- this is really a drama. And it feels like the small theater setting, and you have a country that is absolutely saturated in sound bites and insults.

And this is a chance for each of them to present themselves as three- dimensional human beings, for Trump perhaps to look like he could have the temperament to be president, for Hillary Clinton to connect with the voters in a warmer way than she has.

And so I think that will be the first test. And then you drop down, there will be many other tests. I don't think you can ever have a complete equality in how you score these two people.

STELTER: These are two very different candidates.

Frank, let's think about what has happened in the last couple of days. "The New York Times," "The Los Angeles Times" and "The Washington Post," Politico have all come out and essentially said Donald Trump lies more than any other candidate, Donald Trump lies more than Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump lies more than pretty much every other presidential nominee in history.

Does that need to be on Lester Holt's mind as he is up on the stage tomorrow?

FRANK SESNO, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well, he needs to know what Donald Trump is all about, and he does, and what Trump's past has been. He knows that. He knows what Trump did at the primary debates, whether it is name-calling or anything else.

And the most important thing Lester Holt can do with both Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton -- and this is exactly what the Presidential Debates Commission wants, which is to keep them focused, keep them talking on topic, keep them in these 15-minute blocks, so that there is some detail, and most importantly, so there is interaction between the two of them.

This is the big show where we're seeing them side by side for the first time.

CLIFT: Right.

STELTER: And we want to see them interact. That is what we have not seen all year long.

SESNO: Exactly.

STELTER: Dylan, how important is it that we have seen these newspapers come out, and be very explicit about saying Donald Trump lies? Birtherism is one example.

It was very clear in the coverage when he made his birther reversal that he had been lying for a long time and that he introduced new lies by saying that Hillary Clinton started it. How unusual is this for the American press?

BYERS: Well, it's very unusual. Donald Trump is sort of an unprecedented candidate in that way.

And if you are thinking about it from the position of the moderator, you know and the Commission on Presidential Debates has told you it's not your role -- you are not running for president. It is not your role to step up and fact-check the candidates.

Now, that said, it's also true that, in many ways, Donald Trump does not just lie. He sort of brutally assaults the truth.


BYERS: And so for the moderator on that stage, it is sort of your -- it is going to very hard, as a journalist, as someone who works in the business of pursuing truth, to let him say anything and not get away with it.


But, again, I would stress the onus is so much on Hillary Clinton to do that. And I imagine in all this debate training that she has been doing this week, she is thinking about, OK, when he says something is not true, when do I jump in and say something and when do I sort of hold back?

And like your own reporting has shown, Lester Holt is not going to be a potted plant. And so the question is, what does that mean? How forceful is he going to be in terms of fact-checking the candidates?


And, of course, we have to keep in mind the whole time -- and, Eleanor, let me ask you about this. Do Trump's voters care that he has a tendency to misstate the facts more often than Clinton? And should we care that his voters don't care?

CLIFT: You know, he has got a base of voters that are going to vote for him no matter what.

I think this debate is not necessarily about reaching them. And I think Hillary Clinton has to pick her battles. She can't go after every little nitpicking fact, but she has to call out the whoppers.


STELTER: Not all lies are created equally, right?

CLIFT: And if there are some...


CLIFT: ... I think it's -- right -- then I think it is up to Lester Holt to intervene.

He has got a reputation of being a bulldog as a reporter, so he is going do his job. STELTER: Final word to you, Frank. Should we care? Should we in the

media care that Trump's supporters tend to not care about his misstatements?


We have a job in the media, which is -- in this particular case, Lester Holt's job is to conduct a well-moderated, tough, tough questions, focused questions, debate. There is huge interest.

I am going to be hosting tomorrow night a debate watch party at George Washington University; 500 people are there, doing it with College Democrats and College Republicans. It filled up in seconds. There's a big waiting list.

The interest and the appetite in country is enormous. And it's not just those hard partisans. It's also people in the middle who may be undecided or wavering and people who are not super strong in their support. Will this reassure them? Will this fuel sort of voter intensity?

And, by the way, the two people up there, what do they say about income inequality or climate change or China or Russia or any of these things? Maybe, maybe we will actually hear the two of them engage over the issues and the public will be also getting serious about one of these is going to be commander in chief.

CLIFT: Yes. Maybe it is the turning point to a more serious campaign.


STELTER: I love that. I want to pray on that.

Eleanor, Frank, thank you.

CLIFT: Thank you.

STELTER: Dylan, one more question for you since you are here with me in Hofstra.

There's also high stakes here NBC, for NBC News. Even though they are not producing the debate, Lester Holt is up on that stage on Monday. Brian William was the anchor of "Nightly News." Holt only took over because of the Brian Williams scandal. What is the pressure for NBC?

BYERS: Look, a lot of things are at stake tomorrow night, really, important, significant things.

Somewhere lower down on the totem poll, there is a great deal at stake for NBC. And here's why. They had to deal with the Brian Williams thing last year, which was a huge embarrassment. Lester Holt is indirectly sort of a reminder of that.

The CNBC debate was, bar none, the worst debate of the primary cycle.

STELTER: Very badly...


BYERS: Matt Lauer, at least in political circles now, is sort of shorthand for how you do not conduct a presidential forum.

So much -- look, NBC, MSNBC, they do great journalism on a day-to-day basis. So much of that has been overshadowed by the sort of inability to register a win when it comes to these big political media events. They need a win. Lester Holt needs a win. They need to come out of this election, at what could very well be the most watched event of the entire election, with something that they can be proud about.

STELTER: Dylan, thanks so much.

BYERS: Thanks a lot, Brian.

STELTER: We will have full coverage on today, tomorrow and Tuesday, including the ratings on Tuesday.

Coming up next, one of Lester Holt's colleagues, Seth Meyers, we will talk with him about joking about Trump and Clinton.



STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

And we are inside the debate hall here at Hofstra University, the Commission on Presidential Debates putting the finishing touches here on the stage and on the seats, and it's all coming together in here. And tomorrow night, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will stand behind those podiums.

Some late-night TV hosts are taking Donald Trump very seriously. And there is a kind of divide within comedy. On the one hand, there's NBC's Jimmy Fallon, who may have messed up Donald Trump's hair, but did not ruffle Trump with any uncomfortable answers during a recent interview.

And then there's Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver and Seth Meyers, all of whom have been highly, highly critical of Trump. And Meyers and Fallon share an NBC late-night schedule. And Meyers says it is fine to have both kinds of shows, but to him, Trump is no laughing matter.

So, I sat down with Meyers and asked him, is Trump the best or maybe the worst thing to happy to late night?


STELTER: Would you call what you are doing now investigative comedy?

SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": I feel like we are pulling from the journalists who are actually doing investigative work.

We don't have people out there on the street getting information that otherwise would not be out there. But we do try to bring out information that you could not get out in a monologue joke, so we try to do a longer piece, which is what the closer looks are, where we can sort of have a little more freedom to explain the story and get out those details.

I would say it is more explaining than investigating.

STELTER: But it might be explanatory journalism sometimes?

MEYERS: Sure. I think we try very hard. Explanatory comedy, again, I'm always...

STELTER: You are afraid of the J-word, aren't you?

MEYERS: Well, I feel like it is doing a disservice to people who actually practice journalism to say that I'm doing it as well, because there is a whole different skill set, of which I am not -- I don't have.

STELTER: You never want to cross over?

MEYERS: I don't know if I ever want to cross over.

I love doing comedy the most, so that's what I would like to stick with.

STELTER: But you had a 10-minute closer look this week about Trump and birtherism, basically saying he doesn't get to decide when this is over. The media gets to decide when this is over.


MEYERS: Yes. Yes, the media and the public get to decide, I think more importantly the public.

And, yes, we felt very strong about that.

STELTER: When you call Trump words like racist and liar, do you worry about alienating potentially after of your audience, turning off any voter who might be interested in Trump and interested in watching you?

MEYERS: I'm aware that that probably happens.

But, at the same time, we try very hard when we call him a racist or a liar to back it's up with examples of him being a racist and a liar.

Now, if those people watch that and say, well, I don't think that's what a racist does, or I don't think that is what a liar does, then I would understand why they wouldn't want to watch my show anymore.

But I do feel like, when we use those words, we make sure we back them up. STELTER: How much blame do you put on NBC for launching "The

Apprentice" more than a decade ago and for helping Donald Trump become a household name?

MEYERS: I don't know.

It seems like dumb luck that this ended up -- that "The Apprentice" led to this. I don't think anybody could have predicted, when he first got that show, that it would be this kind of outcome.

STELTER: If it wasn't NBC, it would have been ABC or CBS or FOX with "The Apprentice."

MEYERS: I think that is a very fair point, yes.

STELTER: But Mark Burnett, it was pointed out by Jimmy Kimmel the other day at the Emmys, blamed for Donald Trump's success.

MEYERS: I think, let's be honest. When we try to blame any of this on one person, we're forgetting the bigger problem, which is why there are so many people who are susceptible to this Donald Trump message.

That's the core issue that I think sometimes gets lost in this. I think it's a lot easier for us to say this wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for person A or person B. But there's a problem. And a lot of these voters were the kind of voters that were drawn to Bernie Sanders. There is a level of anger that establishment politicians have managed to overlook. And that's the -- that's why Trump happened a lot more than anything else.

STELTER: Everybody has expectations for your colleague Lester Holt at the debate on Monday. What are your expectations for the debate?

MEYERS: I don't know. I think I'm just going to try to go in with as few expectations as possible. I think Lester will do a great job.

STELTER: Would you ever like to moderate a debate?



MEYERS: Because you will just get blamed by everybody.

And I ultimately don't ever want to be that close to -- because I think these debates will be, as much as we look at polling now, they will change a great deal based on the course of these three debates. I'm not putting the vice presidential debate in, because I think it will be the most meaningless debate in the history of debates.

STELTER: Really?

MEYERS: Yes. Right?

STELTER: You're not looking forward to Pence and Kaine? MEYERS: I mean, I will watch it, but I'm ultimately not -- who is

going to watch that and think, you know what, that's the tipping point for me, how these two guys are behaving?

But these three debates are a big deal. And I wouldn't want to be one of the people that, based on the outcome of this election, I think people will look back at these debates sort of in a political historian sort of way, and I would want no part of that.

STELTER: Do you feel pressure in the writers room to come up with just as many jokes about Clinton as you do Trump? Because there's a version of that in journalism, this idea of balance, being 50/50, exact equality. Do you feel that pressure in comedy?


I would only feel that pressure if the candidates were providing us 50/50 in material. But they're not. And so I don't want to go out of my way for some sort of sense of we have to have exactly the same amount of jokes, when one is providing so much more comedy than the other one is.

If -- over the course of a week, we tell more jokes about fast food restaurants than we do about fine dining establishments for the same reasons. One is more comic than the other. And it would be silly to have to even that out as well.

STELTER: I love fast food, though. Don't you?

MEYERS: I like it a lot. But it provides a lot of really good punchlines, mostly because they keep bringing us new weird sandwiches.

STELTER: Let's say November 9 Trump is the next president.


STELTER: Is that good for late night? Is it good for your show?

MEYERS: I don't know.

I also feel very -- I would feel very self-centered if my thinking about this election was what is good or bad about us. We will proceed doing shows every day either way. And I hope the outcome is more for the future of the country than rather the future of late night.

STELTER: Do you worry, on a visceral level, on a level for your kids about Trump winning?

MEYERS: I worry about everything. I'm, by nature, a worrier. So, yes, I have levels of stress about this as well.

But I also have levels of stress of, like, corners on coffee tables.


(END VIDEOTAPE) STELTER: You have got to watch out for those corners.

When Meyers is not hosting NBC's "Late Night," he's collaborating with fellow "SNL" alums Bill Hader and Fred Armisen on the IFC series "Documentary Now." It's this great homage to famous documentaries.

It has a loyal, but small audience. So, I asked Meyers how such a niche program is finding an audience in the world of peak TV.


MEYERS: I will credit -- IFC does a great job with their marketing. It also had a second life on Netflix. And a lot of people found it there.


But you use social media as much as you can. And then you hope for word of mouth.

I think the people that are working hardest during this period of peak TV are television reviewers, who used to have to watch 20 network shows over the course of a year, and now are scrambling. I don't know how they do it. I don't how people who write about television even manage to consume the amount that we're giving them to write about. But...

STELTER: I think that's the first time a television host has had sympathy for a television critic.

MEYERS: Thank you very much.

I want it to be known that I am -- when it comes to empathy, there's no one in late night who is doing a job better than me.

STELTER: Just like Donald Trump, you're working the refs.

MEYERS: Exactly.

I didn't think of it like that. But maybe I have talked about him so much, I'm starting to learn his tricks. I'm subconsciously learning his tricks.

STELTER: Well, on that note, Seth, great talking with you.

MEYERS: I am the best at that. Everybody says that.



STELTER: Trump is in Meyers' head.

For more from Meyers, you can watch the full interview on CNN Money's Facebook page tomorrow.

And we will be right back.


STELTER: Time's up. I will see you next week.