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Reliable Sources

Trump Declares "Running War" with Media; A Weekend of Extremes; Tense Relationship Between Trump Administration and Press; Will President Trump Deny Reality On A Daily Basis?; Media Plans Trump Coverage Going Forward. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired January 22, 2017 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:l0] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter. And it is time for RELIABLE SOURCES. This is our weekly look of the story behind the story of how the media really works, how the news gets made.

We're live, as you can see, in Washington, D.C. on the second full day of the Donald Trump presidency.

For months now, we've been wondering what covering a Trump White House might be like. Now, I think we're wondering something else. Is this what every day going to be like?

This is what I mean. Here's the president furious at you know who.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As you know, I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth. Right?



STELTER: Two hours later, brand new Press Secretary Sean Spicer in his first statement astonished White House correspondents by attacking the press for accurately reporting on the crowd size of the inauguration.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That's what you guys should be writing and covering that this, instead of sowing division about tweets and false narratives. The president is committed to unifying our country and that was the focus of his inaugural address. This kind of dishonesty in the media, the challenging, the bringing about our nation together is making it more difficult. There's been a lot of talk in the media about the responsibility to hold Donald Trump accountable. And I'm here to tell you that it goes two ways. We're going to hold the press accountable as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: Spicer went onto say Trump's swearing in here at the capital was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period. That's not true. Spicer said five things that were not true in the span of five minutes. You can see it all at PolitiFact and on

Let's get right to our panel now. Here for the hour to analyze what's going on, Frank Sesno, former White House correspondent and Washington bureau here at CNN and the author of "Ask More", Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent for "The Washington Post", Jeff Mason, the president of the White House correspondents association, also correspondent for "Reuters", Lynn Sweet, the Washington bureau chief and columnist for "The Chicago Sun-Times", Michael Oreskes is the head of news at National Public Radio, and Martha Kumar, the director of the White House transition project and professor emeritus at Towson University. She's also the author of "Before the Oath: How George W. Bush and Barack Obama Managed a Transfer of Power".

Jeff, you were with Sean Spicer yesterday evening, right after he made this statement, what can you tell us about where his head is at and what the White House press corps is thinking, seeing this tirade?

JEFF MASON, PRESIDENT, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT'S ASSOCIATION: Well, I want to treat that relationship as private because we started a relationship of -- since the Trump administration was -- during in the transition and now it's taken over. And that's important for me and important the White House correspondents association to have that open dialogue. But I was in the room for his statement, and it was absolutely surprising and stunning. And it's certainly not what I expected to have as the first one from the new press secretary.

STELTER: I thought I was done being surprised, and then, yesterday I was surprised all over again. In full disclosure here to the audience, we're talking about Spicer a lot this hour. You spoke with him in a private way. I spoke with him this morning off the record. I asked him to be on the program today, sent him a text. He called. It's suffice to say, he said he would not come on the program today.

My sense from other sources in Trump world is that he is genuinely furious and so is Donald Trump.

Is there anything more you can share about what they are thinking? What they're mindset is?

MASON: Well, I think it's clear both from the president's statement and the press secretary statements that it's something that Donald Trump is very concerned about or else he wouldn't be spending time at the CIA talking about it and he wouldn't have had his press secretary come on and make a statement that he did.

STELTER: Yes, one source said to me this morning, they're planting a flag. This administration is planting a flag signaling they're not going to take it.

And, Karen, let me go to you on that. You said yesterday evening, it was chilling some of what Spicer said. Why? KAREN TUMULTY, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST:

You just played the sound bite that was the most chilling mind of all. He follows up a series of false statements with it by saying, "and that is what you guys should be reporting and covering." To hear -- to hear a White House spokesman stand there at that lectern and tell the press what they should be reporting and covering is -- it is -- at least in my -- you know, I wasn't around for Nixon, but at least in my experience in Washington, this is completely unprecedented.

STELTER: Frank, is it also -- can we use the word "dangerous"?

FRANK SESNO, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. First president I covered, Ronald Reagan, his press secretary, Larry Speakes, was hardly popular in the media, said at one point, "I don't tell you how to write the news, cover the news, you don't tell me how to make the news." And that's sort of have been the rule and what both sides have operated.

[11:05:03] Look, presidents and press secretaries have one big thing that they count on and that is their credibility. And a press secretary has essentially two bosses, two constituencies. One is the president and the White House and the other is the press corps, because he needs to have relationships with the press corps. Sean Spicer appears to be playing a very delicate and maybe dangerous game with both.

STELTER: Let's look at what Trump aides are saying on television this morning. This is Reince Priebus, the brand new chief of staff, saying what the administration believes the press is trying to do.


REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: And the attempt to delegitimize this president in one day, and we're not going to sit around and take it.


STELTER: This administration believes there's an attempt to delegitimize the new president. Michael Oreskes, as you run the newsroom at NPR -- is NPR trying to delegitimize the Trump presidency?

MICHAEL ORESKES, HEAD OF NEWS, NPR: Absolutely not. And we're not at war with him either.

The president may feel he's at war with the media. The media is just honest men and women trying to do their job. You know, Brian, that beautiful building behind us, it has a meaning. And the meaning is very simple, when the framers created this country, they designed brand new system of the government where the legislature and the judiciary were independent of the executive.

And James Madison showed that plan to Thomas Jefferson and Jefferson said that's not good enough. You need more. You need more protections from freedom. You need more protections for liberty. So, they wrote an amendment and it said that the freedom of the press

and the freedom of speech, and the right for people to peaceably assemble were all protected.


ORESKES: As part of the plan, as part of the system of guaranteeing free society. That's what we watch play out of the last 48 hours. If you back out of it, it's actually quite inspiring.

But we're not enemies of the president. We have a natural adversarial relationship designed by the system. We stand independently of the president and of his people so that the public can have information that comes separate from the president's own words.

STELTER: But let's try this out -- I mean, let's try out this administration theory, one of these Trump sources was spelling it out this way, Lynn, that first it was about the popular vote. There was an obsession with the popular vote. Now, Trump didn't win the popular vote.

Then, there was an obsession with Russia, with the connections to Russia. Now, it's about how there were fewer crowds here on Friday than it seemed there were on Saturday.

Is this not a series of attempts by the press to downplay Trump's victory, to make him feel small? Do you see that at all?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: I look at the front page of the newspapers on inauguration day and it was pictures of president Trump becoming the 45th president of the United States every newspaper in America that addressed this story had a clean President Trump is the new president.

STELTER: You're saying no bias there, no attempt to down play?

SWEET: If you're looking at the main story and that's what I hope people out there do, understand that there are many stories, not just one story. And it's not like there's a meeting of the press. The press is pluralistic, diverse, doesn't consult, we're competitive with each other.

But here's the big thing to think about. If there's ever one story where the lead is obvious, it's the day that we get a new president, OK? No one was out that day to delegitimize him at all, just as the day any president is sworn in.

That's why to take on the press on this point is absurd. We can look at every TV outlet, every outlet, left, right, in between, everybody had the same story that on the steps of the Capitol, on the West Front, we had a new president.

STELTER: There actually wasn't much attention about crowd size. We all knew as reporters that there were fewer people than for Obama. It wasn't a big part of the story. SWEET: No. Take -- I mean, I would say, as they say, take the

compliment. You won. You became the president. Front page of my paper. I bet the front page of every outlet or the main report at Reuters, CNN.

It was a new president is there, and it was pictures of the family. It was -- you had coverage of the congressional lunch live. I would say that is giving the president the respect that you give a president no matter who he is.

STELTER: So, essentially, this administration trying to delegitimize the press. Taking the word, flipping it around saying it's the press trying to delegitimize him.

Martha, let me bring you in. This is interesting to me. You used to call on me in class. You were my professor at Towson years ago. The course was all about presidential transitions.

My first visit to the White House was thanks to your class. I think it was Scott McClellan's office we sat in.


STELTER: Tell me about, you're witnessing this transition after witnessing others. How different is the treatment of the press this time around?

KUMAR: Well, the central feature here is that he is not held elected office. And so, he has not had dealings with the press in the kind -- in the way that elected officials have.

[11:10:01] And you have to build up a skin, a thick skin in order to deal with the criticism that's going to come through the press. And presidents all complain about the press and they think they have press problems when, in fact, their problems are political problems.

STELTER: Interesting. I mean, the idea here that on Friday, Steve Bannon, Hope Hicks, Sean Spicer, they all came to the briefing room. Did you get a sense this is a fundamentally different relationship or were they trying to act like it's going to be normal?

KUMAR: I thought Kellyanne Conway stopped -- I'm in the basement where not a lot of people come. They go in the upper quarters. And she came down and talked with people. She was not in a rush.

Steve Bannon came through pretty quickly. But he came down as well and Hope along with him and Sean Spicer and Sean talked to reporters as a group upstairs in the break room area, and talked about the day, what they were doing. And it was a normal kind of conversation. It wasn't antagonistic.

STELTER: It seems like everybody is sizing each other up. I mean, Jeff, you have been in conversation with Spicer about whether the briefings are going to move to new location. What can you tell us about the likelihood, for example, the press briefings will move across the street? MASON: Well, right now, they decided to keep the briefing in the

press briefing room. And that was an important priority for us. So, we're pleased about that decision. We'll see how it goes when he has his first briefing tomorrow. I would also note that on Friday night, they did bring in a pool to watch President Trump sign his first executive order.

STELTER: Small group of reporters, same way Obama and Bush and all the rest used to.

MASON: That's exactly right and we had a lot of conversation with him about the importance of a pool. They told us they will respect that and they did on Friday night. We're pleased that that happen as well.

STELTER: So, how would you describe, Jeff, your approach right now? As the head of the White House correspondent association, you had 100 of your journalists all from different outlets at a town hall recently. Normally, only a few dozen show up. There's clearly some anxiety here.

What are you telling the White House correspondents about how to approach this?

MASON: Well, for starters, I think it's important to reinforce the point that we've already made here at the panel, which is that there's always going be a level of tension between the White House and the press. That is normal, that is healthy and that is something that we expect to continue here. That level of tension may have gone up a little bit --

STELTER: May have?

MASON: They did.

STELTER: He said there's a running war with the media. He's using war analogies. He's referencing combat.

MASON: Yes, you're right. You're absolutely right. And we recognize that. And so, it puts some strain on the relationship. But it's in the interest of the White House Correspondents Association to try to continue to be an honest broker and a good interlocutor between the press corps and the White House. And that's why it's important for me to keep meeting with Sean and our board to keep meeting with his team.

STELTER: Let's take a break on that thought and come back because there's conversation on Twitter and Facebook, Karen, you've been engaging in, about whether there should be a boycott. about what the treatment of this administration should be from the press.

Let's take a quick break. Right back and more RELIABLE SOURCES in a moment.


[11:16:28] STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES and welcome back to what is really a weekend of extremes. Friday's inauguration was met with celebration but also resistance.

Some of which we saw on Saturday. Of course, these marches across the country and in cities around the world. These were happening in big cities, also small towns all across the country, getting national media attention, so much so that maybe the Trump administration tried to change the topic on Saturday afternoon by attacking the press.

Back with me now, an all star panel.

And let me start with Lynn Sweet.

Lynn, just during the commercial here, we seen the schedule for Trump for the day. We know he's going to be on camera this afternoon. What can you tell us?

SWEET: Well, here's something. I got planning. I got the guidance and press schedule and now, I saw it said planning purposes only. OK?

STELTER: All right.

SWEET: But, I can say, it's real reporters who go it. I can say in general that the president is going to have activities this afternoon, very soon. But since we get this under a set of rules, now it says for planning purposes and forgive me.

STELTER: That's OK. Well, this is an example --

SWEET: That's it. I'm going to respect the rules.

STELTER: -- of the relationship between the press and presidency, the normal relationship. That's where I wanted to go next with this conversation. Are we in now in an abnormal period? I see people in my inbox saying, boycott the breaking. Don't show up at the briefing. Don't cover Trump.

Karen Tumulty, you said that's impossible.

TUMULTY: I think it's wrong. I saw an explosion on sort of liberal Twitter yesterday. Why don't you guys just get up and walk out of that press room?

Well, I can tell you two reasons. One, it is the job. It is the job of everyone who is in that press room to stay there and cover this administration fairly and professionally. The second thing that people have to recognize is that what goes on in the briefing roof is less than a minuscule part of covering this administration. What happens -- the coverage of this administration is being done by hundreds of, you know, thousands of reporters and journalists and bloggers outside of that.

So, what happened last night was exactly what should have happened last night. Sean Spicer came out and made a bunch of false statements, and every single media outlet immediately reported that they were false. Every single newspaper story this morning holds these statements up to the truth. I think the reporters in that room handled themselves professionally.

I think in the future, you're going to see a lot more push back about not taking questions. But it is our job to stay in that briefing room.

STELTER: What about a middle room here? Frank Sesno, you were with CNN for many years. Yesterday, CNN chose not to show Sean Spicer live. Instead, the network monitored his statement, came on the air right afterwards, reported what he said but then corrected his misstatement.

Is that the right answer, maybe not to show these events live?

SESNO: Well, you make a judgment call all along. I mean, networks have done that. You know, is the president coming out. Is this going to be truly a newsworthy event or is it being used for political purposes?

I probably would have argued to have taken Trump Spicer live yesterday. First day on the job, what's he going to say? Where is it going to go? Let people see that. CNN brings a lot of things live to people.

But if Sean Spicer is going to go out there and declare war on the media, if the president is going to declare war on the media, they're not going to win. I mean, this is something the media convey information. The media are there to fact check.

And as Karen says, the media do a lot more than hang out in the press briefing room and turn on a camera. They work sources and agencies. They work sources on the hill.

[11:20:00] They work expert sources. We are going to be talking about how we're going to reformulate health care in this country. How we're going to change America's trade deal. What's going to happen on borders and immigration?

The fact that Donald Trump went to the CIA and stood in front of 117 stars and talked not about the Russians or cyber security or Iran or all the other threats --


SESNO: -- that those men and women look after every single day and instead talk about how many times he was on the cover of "TIME" magazine and complained about his war with the press shows just what a very rocky start we're off to here.

ORESKES: It's useful to remember that Donald Trump is from New York where the relationship between journalists and politics has been a contact sport for a long time.

SESNO: For a long time.

STELTER: He's used to the "New York Post" tabloid culture. Yes. ORESKES: And part of what's happening here and why what Karen said is so important is that this is a bit of a brush back pitch this first day. And our job is to get back up and get back in the batter's box and to play the game that we know it. To be straightforward and honest and transparent and accurate and even handed and not to let the polarization that perhaps some of the Trump strategists are hoping to create that actually weakens us.

Our strength is our credibility. And he can attack us all he wants but we can't --

SESNO: We need to very much need to explain this to the public, because the media do not have the public support either.

ORESKES: Correct.


SWEET: Right. Well, I mean, I think -- no, I know this is seen as some kind of crossroads for journalism and we do have very meaty questions about journalism to discuss here. But the essential job that we do tomorrow won't be different than what we did last week.

You talk to people, you go to briefings. You work your sources. You look at documents. You see what's true, what's not true. You attend events. OK? That has not fundamentally changed.

So, the one counsel I have for people out there is, you know, if Sean wants to have an angry tone, frankly, I don't care. I've been yelled at by people before or spoken at angrily. I've been doing this, OK?

I don't know where there's a day that goes by and -- actually, I applaud you, Sean, because you're kind of honest and told us how you felt and you didn't put a smile on it. You didn't pretend. And so, I know you're angry, OK?

I have been dealt with smiles and politeness by people that kind of say you in a nice way. OK, oh, like --

STELTER: That wasn't a bleep. She pretended not to say the word, yes, yes.

SWEET: OK, it's like, Brian, we have no comment for you now. Or, Jeff, when we have something to announce, we will.

OK, you don't think that's just aggravating as having Sean kind of vent a little bit. I don't care if you vent. I care if he says something that's true. I care if he gives us facts. I care if we get a briefing tomorrow.

So, I don't care about the sound and fury, because at least they are straightforward which after going through eight years of people with the gentility of civilian, oh, will you send in your quote before you run it -- oh, no, I won't. OK, at least .

STELTER: OK, to borrow another man's quote for another network, let's play hardball. That's what we were saying. This is hardball. It's very clear what's been happening.

SWEET: I think it's been hardball anyway. It's packaged differently.

STELTER: You mentioned facts, the magic word. Let's listen to what Kellyanne Conway said this morning about facts.


CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, MEET THE PRESS: Why put him out there for the first time in front of that podium to utter a provable falsehood? It's a small thing, but the first time he confronts the public, it's a falsehood?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Chuck, I mean, if we're going to keep referring to our press secretary in those types of terms, I think we're going to have to rethink our relationship here.

TODD: It undermines the credibility of the entire White House press office on day one.

CONWAY: No, it doesn't. Don't be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. What is -- you're saying it's falsehood. And they're giving -- Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that. But the point --

TODD: Wait a minute. Alternative facts? Alternative facts for the five facts he uttered. The one thing he got right was Zeke Miller. Four of the five facts he uttered were just not true.

Look, alternative facts are not facts. They're falsehoods.


STELTER: Alternative facts, new phrase now in the lexicon as of today. Frank, you said a few minutes ago that if this is war on the press, the administration is not going to win. Does anybody here disagree? That actually, it is the administration that would win a war on the press could really take down news organizations?

ORESKES: Well, I think what's really scary is not the administration or the press per se, but the society, which will lose profoundly if we abandon our belief that there is actually reality. That there are actually facts and that the phrase "alternative fact" is a lawyer's phrase.

TUMULTY: It's a George Orwell phrase.

SESNO: May I say that we teach no courses in our journalism program about alternative facts.

ORESKES: You're either fact or not.

SESNO: We will flunk you if you use alternative facts.


[11:25:02] STELTER: Have you heard euphemisms like this before?

ORESKES: This isn't about a euphemism. This is a struggle going on in the world right now. There are people who understand that if you can create a different understanding of reality, you can actually change politics or anything else you want to deal with.

But the problem is when society needs to make real decisions about real issues, about life and death, about war and peace, about climate, about economy, you have to deal with the actual reality. And at some point, you're dealing with the actual reality, the public gets to know the actual reality or you have turned over the public's power to individuals who hide behind be veneer of falsehood.

And that's a big decision for society to make. It's not about us. It's about the society's understanding of the realities that they're being asked to make decisions.

SWEET: And paving the way for this situation is the -- are movements like the birther movement that was embraced by Donald Trump that raised falsely the question about President Obama's birthplace, that created a national conversation among some people that I think may exist in some quarters to this day. So, if they want to look at the foundation of where this started, they could look in the mirror.

STELTER: Martha, what's most comparable to this in history?

KUMAR: Well, you have a -- you have incidences certainly where people have -- press secretaries have come out and said something that the president had wanted them to -- that may not have been true, but one of the things -- Ron Nessen had said in an interview I did with him several years ago, he said all press secretaries know the same rules, don't lie. Tell the truth.

And he said the problem becomes that others don't understand that, the importance of it. White House staff and presidents themselves often want you to do something else. So, it's going to be a learning experience for everybody. And it's going to be important for people in the White House to have the president's ear to say this is not working.

STELTER: Coming to a brief here, but briefly, Frank, one last thought from you?

SESNO: I said earlier, credibility is the indelible ink of administrations. Lyndon Johnson is remembered for the lies around Vietnam. Richard Nixon is remembered for the lies around Watergate. Bill Clinton is remembered for the lies around Lewinski.

Credibility matters. It starts with small issues. It's reputational.

People will take their conclusions and impressions from the totality of the media and what they observe and they're experiences. Not one day, it's what not -- not one story. It builds overtime.

STELTER: We have to keep in mind our own credibility crisis, while we're talking about theirs. Both are real. So, everybody, please stick around. Martha, thank you for being here.

Quick break here. Standing by right off set, Brian Fallon. He was the press secretary for Hillary Clinton campaign. He probably would be press secretary today if Clinton had won. He's going to join me in a moment with his view of what's happening between the press and the president.



STELTER: Welcome back to Washington. I'm Brian Stelter.

We're talking about the relationship between the Trump administration and the press. It's as tense as I ever seen it.

So, let's take a moment here just to kind of imagine, what would it be like if Hillary Clinton had been inaugurated a couple of days ago? Would the media be in the same situation? Would the administration be saying the same things or it would by be different?

The reason I want to bring in this next guest, Brian Fallon, is because he was the press secretary for the Clinton campaign. You saw him on television throughout the campaign.

Now, Brian, you're weighing in. You're on Twitter. You're working -- you actually just took a new job at Priorities USA, right, one of the super PACs for the Democrats. What was your impression as you watched Sean Spicer standing at that lectern yesterday, a situation you may well have been in yesterday?

BRIAN FALLON, FORMER CLINTON CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: I think it was an affront to anybody who is on our side of the wall and works in this business in public relations, especially on behalf of elected officials and people in public life.

Look, I know a lot of people that know Sean well. I got to know him a little bit during the course of this election cycle, but I know people that know him far better than me personally. A lot of them had great respect for him prior to this election cycle, knew him from his time on Capitol Hill.

But I really am concerned that if yesterday's briefing is any indication that this is somebody who is going to put his standing with his boss ahead of his integrity and his standing with the press corps.

And those are things that are very dangerous territory. Sean himself gave an interview a couple of weeks ago on David Axelrod's podcast where he said the only thing you have as a press secretary is your credibility. You can never tell a lie or you're not worth your salt as a spokesperson.

And I think it's very clear he went out yesterday and he told a fundamental untruth. He told a lie. And we shouldn't beat around the bush about it. I know there's been some folks... STELTER: Do you think some journalists are avoiding the word lie?


Some folks at the leadership of "The Wall Street Journal." And I even saw a Politico headline yesterday that called it fudging the facts.

I think we need to be clear. If we're going to contest what the Trump administration is clearly setting out to do here, we need to call it out for what it is, and that was a lie. We can infer motive here, because Donald Trump himself went out at the CIA earlier in the day and tried to suggest that there was a million-and-a-half people out there. He was called out on it.

And then Sean Spicer went out there and double downed on that. There is clear intent. It was a lie. It should be called a lie. And if he was put in the situation by Reince Priebus or his boss, Donald Trump, to go out and tell a lie to the American people, he should have resigned, rather than go out and take the podium.

STELTER: Would you have resigned?

FALLON: I have never been put in a situation like that by anybody that I have ever worked for. But I would like to think that if I ever was, I would have too much integrity to go out and look in the cameras and say something that was provably false.

STELTER: I very much want to give him the benefit of the doubt here. I asked him come on the program today and he declined.

He hasn't done any interviews since yesterday evening's statement. I do wonder what will happen tomorrow, assuming there's a briefing, as is expected, when he has to take questions from the audience, from the press corps.

Were you troubled or surprised at all that he didn't take questions? Reporters were shouting questions and he declined.

FALLON: I think that was a clear tell, as you might say, if you were playing poker, that he was uncomfortable going out there at all. He kept the press waiting for I think almost an hour. Who knows what kind of haggling was going out backstage about whether he was trying to come up with some other formulation of something he could deliver that would still please his bosses, but not sacrifice his credibility.


STELTER: Right. Again, we have no idea.

FALLON: We don't.

But he kept everybody waiting out there. He was rushed. He was abrupt in concluding it, didn't take any questions. To me, that told me he have fundamentally uncomfortable in performing that task yesterday. STELTER: To the viewers who are watching saying this is no big deal,

let's watch Donald Trump's executive orders in the coming days, that's the story, what do you say to them?

FALLON: Both things are true.

And I think that we have to be troubled by the approach that this administration is clearly signaling they are going to take. You saw Kellyanne Conway this morning come out and basically double down and defend Sean Spicer.

If they are willing to about something as trivial as crowd size at the inaugural, think of what they might be willing to lie about, matters of war and peace and other things that are far more serious, the executive orders that are coming on domestic policy that will hugely impact the lives of millions of Americans.

We need to call them out. We can't let the Trump administration try to ennoble something that is just a case of lying. They are going around trying to lend these lawyerly terms, alternate facts, trying to suggest that it's elitism to insist on an objective truth.

The media cannot get caught up chasing its tail and trying to question each other about whether it's cultural elites' task to sort of insist on the objective truth being adhered to. This is something that in any point up to now would just be called out for what it is, lying. And they shouldn't be allowed to get away with it, no matter how trivial or large-scale the issue on the table is.

STELTER: Brian, thanks for being here this morning.

FALLON: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: Good to see you. Appreciate it.


STELTER: After a quick break, he was just talking about what Sean Spicer said a few weeks ago to David Axelrod talking about lying, talking about integrity.

We are going to show you that video right after the break.



STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter, live from Washington, D.C., today.

All I have today are questions. Maybe you do, too.

Will President Trump deny reality on a daily basis? Will he make up his own false facts and fake stats? If so, what will the consequences be? Will reporters give up trying to fact-check? Is that the goal, to wear us down, to wear us out? What will you at home trust? Who will you trust?

Is this all accidental? Or is the Trump administration creating confusion and sowing division on purpose? Is the idea to force voters to choose between the reporters and the commander in chief, to cast doubt on the media, so much that you just give up and trust nothing?

Is Trump gaslighting us, trying to manipulate, make you doubt your own eyes? Does he know what gaslighting means?

Here is another question. Will Trump's staffers lie for him?

Does Sean Spicer remember saying this three weeks ago?


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The one thing that, whether you're a Republican, Democrat, independent, you have your integrity. I may tell a reporter I can't comment on something or, you know, I'm not able to discuss that, but I have never lied.

And I don't think -- and I don't intend -- I would argue that anybody who is an aspiring communicator adhere to that, because you -- if you lose your -- the respect and trust of the press corps, you -- you have got nothing.


STELTER: "You have got nothing," he says.

So, does Spicer have anything? Has he squandered all of the goodwill he has built up over the years? Or is there a chance to repair this relationship? Can he win back his credibility? This is all about credibility, after all.

Take a look at what else Sean Spicer said. Again, this was with David Axelrod out at a university three weeks ago. Axelrod asked a very important question.


DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Would you quit if you were asked to lie?

SPICER: It's not a question. I can't -- I don't think any communicator worth their salt can go out and tell a lie. You just -- you can't do it.

I think it's one thing for a surrogate to say something or -- and, again, I'm not, by any means, advocating that. I think you have to -- you can spin the way you want, but I think to go out and tell an all- out lie is -- is something that's just not acceptable.


STELTER: Axelrod said: "Would you quit? Would you quit if you were asked to lie?"

Will journalists trust a word he says now? Will Spicer have to resign? Now, these are all just questions, but, really, this is about a lot more than the press secretary. This is about the truth.

Will Trump use federal agencies to twist the truth? Will we be able to trust the data, the statistics, the numbers this government provides? Will agencies like the Secret Service come under pressure for contradicting Trump?

Last night, CNN's Jim Sciutto said, forget about crowd sizes. Will the administration tell the truth about matters of life and death?


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: What if Donald Trump orders troops into battle and they die, right? Do we trust the White House to speak about that honestly, if they're going to lie about this, right?

What if the intelligence agencies say that the -- what if a terror attack happens, and they had a warning, or he gets a warning and doesn't share it with the American public? Can you then trust him to share that information that the public deserves know accurately?


STELTER: What happens the next time the economy slips into recession? Will Donald Trump and his administration tell the truth? Will they tell the truth when it really hurts?

Let me ask you this. What happens if his approval ratings sink even further? Will Trump believe the polls, or will he say, as he did this week, that they are rigged? Will his pollsters conjure up numbers he likes more instead?

What will you believe? Will you and your neighbors just shrug, or will you demand more honesty from your government?

And what about the media? Is Trump just trying to twist us into knots? Is it working?

Or is there an end goal? Do Trump's allies want to silence skeptics in the media, destroy the press, or maybe support an alternative press that presents an alternative reality that's more favorable?

Will conservative media outlets play along with Trump's lies? Will they claim he is telling the truth? Or will conservative outlets respect their readers enough to call B.S. on B.S.?

And, finally, what can all newsrooms do to help you know what's really going on?

These are uncomfortable questions, especially these last ones, but it's time to ask them.


Do citizens in dictatorships recognize what's happening right here, right now? Are they looking at the first two days of the Trump administration and saying, oh, that's what my leader does?

What should we learn from them today?

So, those are some of my questions.

Some of my panelists disagree with me. They will be right back after this short break.


STELTER: We are back here on RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

We're in Washington today with a super panel talking about the new president and the news coverage of his administration.

Now, of course, there were many investigations of candidate Donald Trump, and now many investigative reporters eager to cover this government and what it's about to do, the executive orders coming down the pike and things like that.

Let me bring in one of those investigative reporters, David Fahrenthold of "The Washington Post," also CNN's newest contributor, just joined us this week.

David, great to have you here.

We're back with our panel as well.

But, David, let me start with you. You're at "The Washington Post." You were covering Donald Trump's charitable giving, or lack thereof, during the campaign. You have already won awards for it, more awards on the way.

What is your beat going to be now?

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'm part of a team that is looking at Trump's conflicts of interest, his business empire, what ties he's still keeping to his business empire, and the ways in which those connections could lead him to sort of choose his own interest over the country's interest as president.

STELTER: What are you finding so far, anything you can share with us?

FAHRENTHOLD: Well, the best reporting, actually, I think, has been done by ProPublica, this non-profit journalism Web site, which has looked at the most basic promise of Trump's -- when he promised to sort of separate himself from his businesses.


He said, well, I'm going to be handing the leadership over to my sons Don Jr. and Eric. ProPublica has just been looking at the incorporation documents, the official documents to say, has he done that? Has he done that first step to make himself not the leader and the owner of these organizations? And they have found no evidence so far that he's actually done that. So, that's the most basic thing. And he hasn't done it yet.

STELTER: So, "The Post" is hiring more colleagues to join you.

Michael, at NPR, are we also seeing more hiring, a beefing up of investigative units?

ORESKES: We are in a variety of ways.

And I think it's important to highlight one thing about David's excellent work, which is that he's demonstrated a lesson we all need to learn, which is that it doesn't matter what your relationship is with the principals. Everything we have been talking about this hour about the struggles and fights we may well have ahead of us, that will go on.

It will be what it will be. There's plenty of good journalism that has to be done and can be done sort of separate from our relationship with the White House. And it's important to keep doing that. There's agencies to cover. There's regulatory work. And we have put a lot of effort into strengthening journalism at the state level.

In fact, Kellyanne Conway just mentioned moving some of the finances in Obamacare into block grants to the states. Well, that's a shift of power to the states. So, some of the journalism that needs to go on is going to be at the state and local level.

And of course we have the good fortune to have local stations in every state in the country. We are going to work with them to try to strengthen coverages of statehouses and state legislatures, because a lot of big decisions will end up getting made there.

STELTER: Let's talk about some news that came in just in the past hour or so, Kellyanne Conway on ABC's "This Week" saying Donald Trump is not going to release his tax returns. That's the quote there from Kellyanne Conway.

In some ways, this strikes me as a new development.

Karen Tumulty, is this a new development? He talked about an audit, that he would release his taxes after an audit. Are they changing their tone now?

TUMULTY: Well, they do seem to be qualifying it now.

They were at least before that this was all because of an audit and not because of just a basic statement of principle. Kellyanne Conway is now coming out and saying, this is just our position, we don't release.

STELTER: This is another example of access to information or lack thereof.

Lynn, we were talking during the commercial break about what happens when the job report numbers come out. This is the Bureau of Labor Statistics that produces job report data. Trump has expressed skepticism about it in the past. Are you concerned that federal agencies are going to come under pressure to change the numbers, to shift the numbers?

SWEET: We talk about fact-checking, OK, everybody saw the inauguration. You could go do your analysis on it.

Running government is different than running business because government agencies and all that, you can, through the various processes of freedom of information, there's a thought that stuff is open to journalists with exception.

What I am concerned about is, will we know if there's an order to -- or how will it happen, if there's new rules as to how you look at things like the jobs statistics? Will there be new formulas? And will somebody think that you're trying to throw the game your way?

And this goes throughout so many government agencies. Is there just going to be any kind of wholesale change into how the record-keeping of government is done? Will stuff be shut down that normally people have?

And this could be true from -- we're coming up into the run-up to the census. All kinds of decisions are being made as to how we're counting.

STELTER: Right now, these are all just questions. We don't know.

SWEET: Right.

But when you talk about really government and facts, there is a bedrock of career public servants led by still-to-be-named political officials that are studied, everything in our society and our government.

And so that -- when you talk about going down in the other levels, Michael, and all the big news organizations, and what we can do on a local level, that is something, I think, where we have a lot of work and vigilance coming our way.

TUMULTY: But that does -- that speaks to a real concern of mine, because we are putting more resources into this.

The question is -- and I am truly concerned about this -- the bandwidth. Journalism is not second grade soccer, where all the kids just run after the same ball. We have a president now who has shown his ability to completely distract everyone with a tweet.

And what we are going to have to be able to do is cover a bunch of things simultaneously and to also keep straight our own perspectives on what is important and what is just some sort of ephemeral little distraction. PRESS: And there's a warning here, because the media, in doing all of

this, in beefing up your investigation, you have to not look gleeful, like you're going after your own vendetta.

A good chunk of your audience -- and I have heard from them already on the Twitterstream -- thinks this whole conversation comes from a left- leaning media that's out to get this president, that has it in for conservatives.


And so what you're going to have to do is, as you pursue this reporting, is explain to your publics what you are doing, how you are doing it, why you are doing it, and why you are doing it with this president, as you did it or more than you did it with the last president.

STELTER: Right. And be careful and get it right.

Jeff Mason, final thought here.

Sean Spicer had a point yesterday, when he said that there was a reporter, Zeke Miller from "TIME," who inaccurately said that the bust of Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from the Oval Office on day one. Now, Zeke made an honest mistake. He looked for the bust. He couldn't see it. So, he said on Twitter it wasn't there.

He corrected this within half-an-hour.

I would argue Sean Spicer blew this dramatically out of proportion. But those kind of mistakes are going to be pointed out and noticed by this administration. Is that the fundamental point for the White House press corps, that it's going to matter even more than ever to get it right and be accurate?

MASON: You know what? I think it has always mattered to get it right.

It mattered in the Obama administration, in the Clinton administration, the Bush administration. It will matter in the Trump administration.

And that is our responsibility. Everyone in the press corps, everyone in the press has that responsibility. And we need to continue doing that.

STELTER: Do you feel, Jeff, that you are in a running war with Trump, the way he says he's in a running war with the media?

MASON: That's his language. I'm not going to use that language. It's our job, as I said, to report the facts. It's our job to do our jobs.

And part of that will hopefully be from the perspective of the Correspondents Association having a constructive relationship. But, at the end of the day, we're on different sides. And our job is to what we need to do to report the story and to do so accurately.

STELTER: Thank you all for being here this morning.

We will continue the conversation online,

And we will see right back here this time next week on television, for daily media coverage.

I will see you next week.