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Reliable Sources

Welcome to the FOX News Presidency; Tracing the Origin of the U.K. Wiretapping Lie; Trump's White House Shaped by Fox News; Interview with PBS's Paula Kerger on Budget Cuts; Concerns Over Secretary Rex Tillerson's Lack of Media Availability. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired March 19, 2017 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:05] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter. And it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES. This is our weekly look at the story behind story, of how the media really works and how the news gets made.

This hour, an exclusive interview with PBS CEO Paula Kerger. Plus, a frank conversation with renowned tech writer Kara Swisher.

But, first to this, President Trump's FOX fixation. Check this out, five of his seven sit-down TV interviews since taking office have been with FOX News.

Trump watches FOX. He tweets about FOX. He uses FOX graphics to advance his agenda. He hires FOX talking heads. He promotes FOX as fair while denigrating its rivals as fake.

All of this amounts to a FOX News presidency. What I mean by that is a presidency shaped by FOX News in all sorts of ways, big and small. And we saw it in action this week.

Let me show you how a comment on FOX created an international incident. Now, Andrew Napolitano, a former superior court judge in New Jersey, now a FOX legal analyst said this on FOX's lunchtime talk show.


JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX LEGAL ANALYST: FOX News has spoken to intelligence community members who believe the surveillance did occur and that it was done by British intelligence.


STELTER: So, he said that his sources believe that the British helped Obama spy on Trump. Not that his sources have proof, but they believe it happened. Now, that was on Monday afternoon.

On Monday night, Napolitano doubled down, this time on a FOX Newscast.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NAPOLITANO: Sources have told FOX that if then Mr. Donald Trump, the president-elect was surveilled, it was done by a foreign intelligence entity.


STELTER: OK. So, he said if it happened. If it happened, the British did it.

But the next day, Napolitano dropped all the caveats. Watch.


NAPOLITANO: Three intelligence sources have informed FOX News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. He used GCHQ. What the heck is GCHQ? That's the initials for the British spying agency.


STELTER: OK. So, now, Napolitano is saying his sources don't just believe it happened. His sources are saying it did happen. So, now, the weight of FOX News is behind this explosive claim.

Two days later, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer brought Napolitano's information to a press briefing and quoted it from the podium. Why? To defend the president's baseless charge of wiretapping.

British officials were furious. They said this new charge was also bogus and then they were urging calls between Washington and London and maybe some regret from Washington, maybe not. It was all disputed.

But at Friday's Press conference, when a German reporter asked about this, President Trump said, hey, we were just quoting Napolitano. Go call FOX.

Well, the reporter didn't need to go call FOX, because FOX did respond on its newscasts. Shepard Smith, Bret Baier both disavowing Napolitano's claim, essentially saying he said it. We love him, but we don't have any confirmation of what he said on our network.

Ultimately, this all comes back to that two-week-old series of tweets from the president, claiming that the former president wiretapped him.

Let me bring in my all star panel now to dissect all of this. Here in New York, Ken Kurson, editor in chief of "The New York Observer", which up until recently was owned by Trump son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Lydia Polgreen, the editor-in-chief of "The Huffington Post", and David Folkenflik, media correspondent for NPR and the author of "Murdoch's World: The Last of the Old Media Empires".

David, there's a lot of unanswered questions now about this FOX story. This series of reports on FOX News Monday and Tuesday, and then into Thursday and Friday. We don't know, for example, if the FOX News division vetted Napolitano sources before he went to air with this.

DAVID FOLKENLIK, AUTHOR, MURDOCH'S WORLD: I think it's very striking and I love the breakdown that you just offered. But one of the things that you saw there was he said FOX News can report. FOX News has learned -- no, he is saying Anthony Napolitano can report this. FOX News wants nothing to do with it.

There seems to be no confirmation or fleshing out, no offering of, for example, if a news organization had done this on its own reporting site, they would come out and say, well, here's what we know. They'd give you more substantiation or they back track. What FOX had to do here was say, we don't know. With have one of our pundits. They didn't really want to vet it.

STELTER: By then, it's too late. The damage -- if there had been damage -- was already done and the British were already infuriated by it.

FOLKENFLIK: I mean, the service was performed for Trump in that there was some after the fact seeming substantiation, seeming validation offered on the network perhaps most important to the president. But what you don't have here is something that's done in reporting sense. What you here is a closed loop of content that the administration would like to be out there. He usefully serves it. I don't think it's incidental that Napolitano is close to Roger Stone, who has a habit of floating things on behalf of the president as well.

STELTER: So, some conspiratorial thinking here.

FOLKENFLIK: I don't think it has to be conspiracy. I think you see people who are talking heads performing a role in some ways as though they're performing a journalistic function.

[11:05:03] FOX is host to a lot of that. The opinion and pundit tail wags the dog there.

But in this case, it's you know -- it's redounding to the disservice of the president, certainly, to the public.

STELTER: Maybe it's about blurring lines, Lydia, between news and opinion. I like to think of FOX as two channels in one. It's a news channel with reporters and then a much more popular opinion channel with the Sean Hannitys of the world. Those have the higher ratings. Those are the shows that get more attention.

In this case, the Napolitano stuff was shared on both news shows and opinion. But I wonder if the blurriness between the two creates confusion.

LYDIA POLGREEN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, HUFFINGTON POST: Well, I mean, Brian, you talked a lot about media literacy. And I think that it's absolutely too much to expect that viewers are going to make a serious distinction between a news report and what a pundit has to say. And all of the cable news networks, MSNBC, CNN and certainly FOX News are hiring surrogates of each political side. And stuff gets mixed up willy-nilly. And I think some cable networks are very careful about this that they

-- you know, I don't think that you would see Jeffrey Lord say CNN reports when something he personally knows. But the fact that this line has been blurred across the industry, I think has created the space and the opportunity for these types of -- this type of misdirection to happen.

And it's very dangerous. I mean, I think, you know, people already are not making serious distinctions between what's punditry and what's news and --

STELTER: It's more than a FOX issue. Does "Huffington Post" have this problem?

POLGREEN: Well, we try to be very clear about it. But, again, you know, we have contributors in our network. But we have to be very clear about the fact that people see things and they don't distinguish whether it's opinion or news. I've often said that at "The New York Times", there was this tradition of having ragged right on a news analysis piece rather than a justified right on a news piece. And we acted as if that with a clear signal to the reader that you're reading analysis and not straight news.

STELTER: We both used to work there and we both know that doesn't work. That's not enough.

POLGREEN: It doesn't work. And, you know, the confuse -- even though the op-ed page of "The New York Times" is far removed from the news pages, people -- if you read it in "The New York Times", you read it in "The New York Times". So, this is a much larger media literacy issue.

STELTER: Ken, I think you have a more conservative perspective than "The Huffington Post" perhaps. Let me ask you about this broader point about a FOX News presidency. Do you think I'm being fair to say Trump's White House is being shaped by FOX News?

KEN KURSON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, NEW YORK OBSERVER: I don't think that's fair. I think there are people on FOX News who probably share the same opinions and values and world view, but I think that it's been proven time and time again that the president watches this network as much as he watches any network. And all the networks, as Lydia pointed out, have these blurry distinctions between pundits and reporters. And they are harder and harder to tell.

And a story that's just as relevant to this discussion is Donna Brazile coming out and finally, after six months or so, admitting that she had shared questions that she got via her work here at this network at the same time she's working for the DNC.


FOLKENFLIK: I think that we're really having two discussions at the same time, and one is about media literacy and one is about the infusion of analysis and opinion and the blurring of lines, and the other is very much about FOX News. I think you've seen FOX News r recalibrate itself. It was poised for

Hillary Clinton presidency. And it was poised -- you know, they were willing to spend a lot of money on Megyn Kelly, somebody who Donald Trump keep a vitriol upon throughout the campaign --


FOLKENFLIK: -- to keep her there as a primary figure at 9:00. What did they do instead? She walks and goes to NBC. She wants a different start, a different point in her career.

They turn to Tucker Carlson who's familiar to FOX viewers, but they quickly elevate him to 7:00, 9:00. He is all in pro-Trump. He actually had some very good questions the other night, I thought.

STELTER: He did, yes, he did.

FOLKENFLIK: I though he did a nice job in many ways. But nonetheless, largely, a pro-Trump figure at 9:00 there. They have really doubled down. If you look at their opinion shows and at their most popular shows, it's consistently a pro-Trump line, trying to find ways to discredit not only criticism but journalistic reports that are uncomfortable for the president and the White House much like the White House itself.

STELTER: You wrote this week about Rupert Murdoch, the man in charge, the patriarch of all of FOX, saying that he speaks regularly with President Trump. How often did you learn?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, he's told associates that he speaks multiple times a week, that he's been to the White House on more than one occasion and that he's sort of overjoyed. He's embracing the sense that Trump consults him on a regular basis about what's going on.

This is the kind of relationship he's enjoyed with prime ministers in his native Australia, in Britain where he has such a strong presence. He's always wanted that here in the U.S. And one of the things about him is along with his conservative ideology, he's a pragmatic entrepreneur and businessman and that means he can at times toggle between the two major parties. In this country, finally with FOX, he's such a foothold in the Republican base, such a strength among conservatives. He now has this entree into a White House that seems to feed off cable news and FOX in particular.

STELTER: Is some of this, Ken, about proportionality? There's been two weeks of attention around Trump's tweets about wiretapping, a lot of attention because nobody seems to have any evidence that what Trump was tweeting was true. We've seen these intel leaders this weekend come out and say that.

[11:10:01] We're probably going to hear from the FBI director tomorrow.

Is there a proportionality issue though? Do Trump voters or folks that are sympathetic to Trump feel the press is piling on by trying to point out that he doesn't have proof for what he tweeted? KURSON: Absolutely. And that's why I think he's still basically in

campaign mode. There's this gigantic chasm between what the public actually cares about and what the people on shows like this care to report.

I don't think you could possibly show a survey of American voters that says the people really want to get to the bottom of whether Trump was wiretapped by the Obama administration. But the press loves that story. They love the, will he release his tax story? The thing on Rachel Maddow the other nigh was a joke.

FOLKENFLIK: Wait a second. You're actually saying that you don't think Americans want to know whether or not their president was previously wiretapped by the previous president at the height of the election season? You don't think the American people --

KURSON: Oh, I think that would be a super interesting story that people read, but I don't think if you listed 50 top issues that people care, that that would cut -- that would enter the top 50. I know, my previous background for which I took much of views, including from Lydia's "Huffington Post", is in politics. We poll people all the time on what you care about. It's going to be jobs, national security, affordability, income inequality.


FOLKENFLIK: If Trump haven't made it such an issue on his Twitter feed, I'd probably agree with you. But I got to say, he's made it front and center in part because there are other things he's having trouble with.

POLGREEN: That's right. He's popularity --

KURSON: You think you'll find 10 people who care more wiretaps than jobs and the economy? I don't think so.

POLGREEN: I mean, he's taking on those issues.

STELTER: I think there actually are viewers who care a lot more about wiretaps, because it's about the president's credibility. And it's about whether he's lying to the public or not.

KURSON: That could be that people would watch the story. I know I would watch the story like I watched Rachel Maddow the other night. I couldn't resist.

But I think the reason Trump is president is he's correctly identified this giant gap between what reporters want to talk about and what they tweet it about, and what Americans care about.

POLGREEN: Or another explanation might be that he's exploiting the fact that reporters are distracted by shiny things. I mean, if you look at the opinion polls, you know, Trump's approval rating is tanking. He released a budget that's something for nobody budget like the GOP hates it. You know, the public hates it. Health care, one -- you're seeing thing after thing where Trump is in his actual policies that he's putting forward is not getting traction.

And so, you know, throwing out shiny objects like a wiretapping claim or something else is a way to --

KURSON: Well, that's a master showman at work. But we haven't seen the results of the budget or health care. I think he's got a great shot of getting both of those through with some changes and some negotiating. And that's how he sold himself as a salesman who's going to make some changes. I think he's going to have wins in those departments actually.

STELTER: Salesman. I always come back to that word, salesman. And that's what we're seeing. It's a big week ahead for the president.

Let's keep this going. Everybody, stick around.

We're going to get to the bottom of this Napolitano sourcing situation and we have a guest standing by who was one of Judge Napolitano's sources. We'll speak with him. You're going to want to see this right after the break.


[11:16:35] STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

For what it's worth, FOX News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano is standing by his story. His claim made on FOX several times earlier this week that it was the British that tapped Trump Tower for former President Obama. The FOX News division, though, the news division of FOX News says it doesn't have any proof of Napolitano's claims. And Napolitano himself has not commented this weekend.

But when "The New York Times" reached out to the judge, he had a friend call them back. Larry Johnson, in particular.

Larry C. Johnson was apparently one of Napolitano sources for the claim. He's a former intelligence officer and State Department counterterrorism official who joins me now from Washington.

Larry, thanks for being here.

LARRY JOHNSON, FORMER INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: Hi, Brian. Hey, let's be clear about one thing. I didn't call "The New York Times". "The New York Times" called me, to be precise.

STELTER: Napolitano referenced -- so tell us what happened. Napolitano recommended that "The Times" call you.

JOHNSON: Apparently, so, yes.

STELTER: OK. And you were one of Napolitano sources for the story?

JOHNSON: Well, not knowingly. I'm part of a discussion group with veterans, intelligence professionals for sanity. When you put all the group in one room, you have a complete ideological spectrum from right to left. But we all agree on one thing, that the intelligence operations of this country need to be accountable to the law and need to perform in a way that serves the public and doesn't disserve the public.

So, we've been writing. We've been critical of President Bush. We've been critical of President Obama. I'm sure we'll be critical of President Trump.

So, you know, we're a bipartisan -- we have a bipartisan point of view.

STELTER: And you're saying that because some folks have said, oh, you're a right winger who is on the fringe who is making these claims? Is that's why you're specifying?

JOHNSON: Well, I can show you the transcript from Rush Limbaugh in 2007 where he accused me of being the Democrats spokesman. I gave a Democrat --

STELTER: He's said a lot of nutty things about me too. So, I hear what you're saying.


STELTER: Let me ask you about this claim.

So, my sense is that on Monday, Napolitano says this on TV, says he has intel sources who believe this is true. You're saying you were one of those sources but you didn't know that Napolitano was going to use you like that?

JOHNSON: Yes. Well, apparently what happened is I communicated -- when Donald Trump tweeted what he did on Saturday, two weeks ago. The next day I was interviewed on Russia Today.

Now, I had known about the fact that the British through GHCQ were passing information back channel. This was not done at the direction of Barack Obama. Let's be clear about that. But it was being done with the full knowledge of people like John Brennan and Jim Clapper.

And I had been told this about two different people that I know within the intelligence community, you know, in January. They were very concerned about this because they saw it as an unfair meddling in politics, but it was a way to get around the issue of American intelligence agencies not collecting.

STELTER: To be clear, you had this second hand. So, you didn't get this information directly. You're hearing it from others?

JOHNSON: I'm hearing it from people who are in a position to know. That's correct.

So, I posted that on the discussion board and apparently, one of the individuals there shared that with the judge. I don't know what his other sources are. All I know is what I know. I had known about this before it came out.

I think sort of -- here's the irony of this, Brian. You know, one of the main claims that came out of the report that was issued in January -- early January claiming, oh, Russia was meddling in the election and one of the main vehicles was Russia Today. I spoke on Russia Today two weeks ago. This thing didn't surface until Judge Napolitano brought it out.

Now, if Russia Today was so influential --

STELTER: You're saying Russia today is not that influential?

JOHNSON: I'm telling you that's the truth. I mean, who watches it?

The fact that I spoke about it two weeks ago and it didn't even surface -- it wasn't even a blip anywhere in the U.S. news media. And so, I guarantee, if people like yourself who were very informed, very up to speed on things, don't pick up on something like that, you expect a coal miner in Pennsylvania, an auto worker in Michigan, that they're going to be on top of Russia Today? Excuse me, you can't even get here on Verizon Fios in the D.C. area.

STELTER: Well, I can get it on Spectrum here in New York. But let me ask you about Russia Today.

Why is it appropriate for any American to appear on a Kremlin propaganda network?

JOHNSON: Well, it's not a Kremlin propaganda network. You know what the fundamental difference I found appearing on Russia Today as opposed to CNN and CNN, and on MSNBC, and on FOX -- remember, I was fired from FOX or my contract was not renewed in 2003 because I had the audacity to go on the "Hannity and Coombs Show" in November 2002 and I say, going into Iraq would be diversion on the war in terror. I was told subsequently that Roger Ailes didn't like that, wanted me off air.

So, I had quite a bit of experience with media. What I found the difference with Russia Today is they don't do pre-interviews. I've done pre-interviews with your people. I've done pre-interviews in the past when I appeared on other networks.

Just two days ago, I did a pre-interview with BBC. They were going to have me on air. But once they heard what I had to say, they came back and said, oh, no, we don't need to use you now. So, I'm --

STELTER: I'm glad you're here. I'm just concerned about the sourcing, the credibility here. You say it's not a Kremlin propaganda network. We'll put that to the side. It's funded by Moscow. So, that's why I say it that way.

Let's put that to the side.

Do you think it's appropriate for the Judge Andrew Napolitano to go on FOX and say this stuff based on this kind of third or fourth hand sourcing? JOHNSON: I think judge should have had a different approach to it.

You know, what's ironic is I was a FOX News analyst through 2002 to 2003. I never spoke to Judge Napolitano then and really had never spoken -- I hadn't spoken to him until he actually called me on Saturday.

So, you know, there's I guess -- I supposed a little bit of irony here. But the substance of what he's saying -- again, he didn't get it right, accurate either. I'm not saying the British, GHCQ was wiretapping Trump's Tower.

But let's make a simple point. In "The New York Times", two days ago, they noted that the very first agency to notify that the, quote, "DNC had been hacked was GHCQ." The British version of the NSA.

On March 1st, "The New York Times" reported that -- said the Obama White House was scrambling to get information out about Trump's contacts and they cited in that article information provided by Dutch and British intelligence.

Well, look, Brian, there's only two types of British intelligence. You either got human intelligence from MI-6, which is passed to the CIA, or you have GHCQ information. So, it's not like this is just coming out of nowhere.

But again, I make the point, I heard about it from sources who are within the intelligence community before Trump tweeted. And the issue was more --

STELTER: I was Googling "The New York Times" story, that March 1st story, it was about Obama administration to preserve intelligence about the Russian election hacking. Let me just ask you one final thought here. I mean, given your experience in media, do you think there's an issue for Napolitano that he needs to address? Because he hasn't said anything about this, this weekend, about who his intel sources were in.

JOHNSON: Hey, I've gotten out of business of giving other people like him advice. You now, they don't listen to me any way. So, I think -- I think the judge is an honorable man. I think his heart was in the right place.

But, you know, if you could go back and do this all over, I would have gone back to President Trump when he first tweeted that out. He shouldn't have used the word "wiretap". But, clearly, I have seen, there's an inform -- I call it an information operation that's been directed, I believe, directed against President Trump and people like John Brennan and Jim Clapper --

STELTER: But you say that, you said you believe it, but like, honestly, Larry, my editor is about 30 feet over there in his office right now. If I went over to my editor and said here's what I got. Larry says this, this is what he believes, I would not be allowed to use you as an anonymous source. You don't have firsthand proof.

JOHNSON: Sure. And again, don't take my word for it. I think when we start laying out the evidence of what's been going on throughout the campaign.

Just a very simple example, when Jim Clapper came out and implied 16 intelligence agencies plus his office agreed there was Russian meddling, you knew right away that that was nonsense because there was not a written document that had been circulated in the community.

[11:25:16] That's the only way you get the community approval. And yet, when they put out the report in early January, only three agencies. Three, the NSA, the FBI and the CIA coordinated on that. They left out the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

So, when I start seeing games like that being played by people who are charge of our intelligence services, that tells me they're not doing a professional job. They are playing politics with it. And that concerns me.

STELTER: I do appreciate your skepticism.

Larry, thank you very much for being here.

JOHNSON: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: Coming up next, it's one thing when it's FOX News against the world, but you got to check out this battle between an editor -- a columnist from a sister paper owned by Murdoch versus a host of FOX, also owned by the Murdochs. We'll have that with Bret Stephens, right after this.



STELTER: Welcome back.

Continuing our conversation about President Trump's White House being shaped by FOX News, let me bring in Bret Stephens.

He's the deputy editorial page editor for "The Wall Street Journal," joining me all the way from Kyoto, Japan.

Bret, before we get into your recent Hannity back-and-forth, I want to get your thoughts on what Larry C. Johnson was saying before the break about his sourcing all about Obama, Trump and wiretapping.

BRET STEPHENS, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, unfortunately, I'm not able to see the broadcast.

So, I think this is the same Larry C. Johnson who famously in July of 2001 penned an op-ed in "The New York Times" saying that American fears of terrorism were hysterical, and that, eight years later, I think he was the same Larry Johnson who was behind an unsubstantiated rumor that Michelle Obama had made an anti-white slur.

But since Larry Johnson is a fairly common name, I want to be sure we're talking -- we have the same guy in mind. Do we? STELTER: You're being -- you're being a little too clever, Bret. You know that we're talking -- we're talking about the same guy.

The headline on his piece in 2001, July of 2001, was "The Declining Terrorist Threat."

Let me pivot, though, to the reason why we wanted to have you on this week. You had this strange back-and-forth with, I guess, one of your colleagues, right, Sean Hannity on the other side of the Murdoch house over on FOX.

You wrote a column about him this week. We can put it on screen.

You described Hannity as paranoid. You said the paranoid style in American politics is alive and well.

Make the case. How so?

STEPHENS: Well, actually, it wasn't about Hannity.

I just used him as an example...


STEPHENS: ... because he was purveying or suggesting that the CIA was conducting false flag or might be conducting false flag operations to spy on Americans, while making it seem that the spying was being done by Russia, which, to me, is a classic example of what Richard Hofstadter in 1963 called the paranoid style in American politics, the idea that there's a deep state that's surveilling you, that is monitoring you, that is reading your e-mail.

And, you know, this is a kind of a phenomenon that is on the left, as well as the right. It's been in Hollywood. But it's a lunatic phenomenon. And I think it's just interesting to see an ostensibly right-wing commentator offer a view that's worthy of, I don't know, a movie like "The Parallax View" from the 1970s.

STELTER: When a "Journal" columnist is criticizing a FOX host, and the FOX host responds and makes fun of you on Twitter, does that create tension inside the company?

STEPHENS: Well, I don't think so, because we're separate companies. And, you know, there was an interesting back-and-forth.

STELTER: But both owned by the Murdochs.

STEPHENS: His first tweet -- yes, but they are separate companies.

I mean, the Murdoch empire is a very vast empire. And FOX News and FOX was split from News Corporation several years ago.

His first tweet was with respect to my comparatively smaller number of Twitter followers, meaning that I was essentially a nonentity, which I found sort of amusing. If I'm such a nonentity, why is he reading and retweeting my piece? It's also the kind of sophomoric putdown that sort of bespeaks some larger set of insecurities on his part, whatever those might be.

I tweeted back that my -- my -- my self-worth doesn't come from my number of Twitter followers.

His response was: I'm glad I pay -- or I help pay your salary -- which meant he didn't seem to be aware that our companies had split, which I think is astonishing, if that's, in fact -- if that's, in fact, the case.

And then when I pointed this out, he then retweeted a quote from "The Economist" calling News Corporation a $7 billion company that includes "The Wall Street Journal" and many other marquee assets as -- quote -- "," which I thought was a tremendously unpleasant comment about thousands of talented journalists, editors and businessmen.

So, it was an interesting and revealing exchange, for whatever Twitter is worth.

STELTER: Well, Hannity says journalism is dead.

I mean, both of you ultimately report up to Rupert Murdoch. Rupert doesn't -- doesn't e-mail you in situations like this?


Mr. Murdoch has never once interfered in any way in anything I do. I have never had any kind of pressure from above to shape my writing or influence. I think what I'm saying now on CNN is a fairly good testament to that fact.


"The Wall Street Journal" has remained, under Murdoch's stewardship, an independent newspaper, where we perform real journalism on a daily basis.

And, by the way, I would add, there's a lot of real journalism taking place on FOX News too, people like Chris Wallace and Shep Smith. And it's a pity, in my view, that there's also someone who doesn't call himself a journalist purveying views that are often mistaken as journalism by many of his viewers.

STELTER: Ultimately, that's what it's about, right, the blurry lines we were talking about earlier this hour between the news side and the opinion side.

Bret, you also commented this week about President Trump, about what's going on with wiretapping, with the budget. You have been an outspoken critic of President Trump.

Do you think he needs to change his media diet?


STEPHENS: Well, it would help if he also read some of the so-called false or failing news or -- or the enemy of the American people news outlets, so that he wouldn't purvey absurd and damaging and, I would argue, libelous conspiracy theories about intelligence services, about President Obama, and so on, that his news diet be a more substantial diet than whatever pops across his screen on TV.

And, by the way, I would say to Trump supporters, surely, you can't be happy about a presidency that seems so consumed by these crises that are manufactured by the president's media diet. Maybe you elected the president to get something done, other than to have these kinds of weekly blowups when he tweets something unfortunate or untrue.

So, Trump isn't only letting down, I think, the country. I think he's letting down his core supporters, who want to see the economy grow again, want to see the national conversation change, want to break through politics as usual.

If I were -- if I had voted for Trump, I would be a disappointed voter. But, of course, I can't speak for them.

STELTER: Bret Stephens, thank you so much for joining me.

Quick plug here for our nightly newsletter, the RELIABLE SOURCES newsletter, coming out later today. You can sign up at

And we will be right back with more of the program right after this.



STELTER: President Trump's budget proposal includes zero dollars, it includes an end for federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

That's the group that divvies up money for local stations, for PBS, for NPR, and for programming like, well, many years ago, "Mister Rogers."

Some Republican politicians have been trying to do this since the 1970s, but they have never succeeded. Will this year be different?

With a budget battle brewing, Paula Kerger joins me now. She's the president and CEO of PBS.

Paula, let's address the Big Bird in the room first. Will these budget cuts take away shows like "Sesame Street," because "Sesame Street," for example, is now paid for by HBO, right?

PAULA KERGER, PRESIDENT AND CEO, PBS: Well, let me explain how we're funded and where the money runs, and then you can understand how that also connects to our children's programming, which is such a significant part of what we do.

So, the majority of the federal appropriation actually goes to our stations. That represents about 15 percent -- that is 1-5 percent -- in aggregate. And that money is distributed out to stations, public television and radio stations, 1,500 of them in all, 179 television licensees.

Now, for some stations, that represents a smaller percentage of their budget, usually in urban cities, where there are lots of opportunities for people to raise money. But in rural parts of the country -- we have about 86 stations that serve rural communities -- it can represent as much as 50 or 60 percent of their budget.

And so the reason that we fight for this funding so intently is that those stations would immediately go off the air.

We care very much about making sure that every child in this country has access to "Sesame Street" and the kind of programming that we produce. And it's, therefore, very important that this public-private partnership between the federal government and the money that we're able to raise in philanthropic support really comes together to enable that every American has access.

STELTER: Now, I'm sitting at home last night. Me and my wife are about to have a baby, so we're watching a PBS series about pregnancy, but we're watching it on Netflix.

And I notice, as I'm watching it, it's partly funded by the British Broadcasting Company, not just funded by Public Broadcasting. So, I'm thinking to myself, aren't I paying for this by watching via Netflix?

Why do you really need taxpayer money nowadays?

KERGER: Well, as I just explained, it's really a partnership.

And so, when we were formed, it was always envisioned that we would be charged to go out and also raise money. So, we take the amount that the federal government provides to stations to ensure that they have access, and then we work to either generate philanthropic support through donors across the country or through relationships with organizations like Netflix.

And we work with other producers. We have worked with other public broadcasters like the BBC for years as a way to really leverage that money all together.

STELTER: Right. Right.

KERGER: Our entire programming operating budget is less than Netflix spends on the production of "The Crown."

So, that gives you a sense of how we really heavily leverage the small amount of federal appropriation we get in order to provide a very robust service that really meets the needs of everyone across the country.

STELTER: So, you're saying that the federal government money, $450 million a year, is really seed money, and then -- and then it creates a lot from that money.

KERGER: Yes. STELTER: That's your argument to Congress, right, that -- so, what is

going to happen in this congressional budget season? What do you expect Congress to do?

KERGER: Well, I think, you know, look, this is a moment -- you commented on this earlier today -- when I think everything needs to be examined very carefully.

And we never take the federal appropriation for granted. We recognize that these are very hard decisions that have to be made. But I think that the reality is, we care very much.


I spend most of my time on the road. In fact, I'm going to be in Detroit on Friday. And I can tell you that there are so many people around the country. There are a lot of people that watch television, by the way, over the air. And they really count so intently on the work that we provide, both the work for our -- for children, as well as what we do for the full audience. And so...

STELTER: I think that's a really important point, if I can just say.

I was talking about Netflix and streaming.


STELTER: But not everybody has that. Not everybody has Internet access at home to be able to stream programming.

KERGER: So, here is a statistic that maybe will blow your mind.

Forty percent of the children that watch our preschool programming are watching over the air. And so I think, oftentimes, we get caught in this argument that, you know, with all of the cable and with all of the broadband, what is the relevance of public broadcasting?

In many communities and in many homes that cannot afford cable or broadband, we're the lifeline. We're the way that people are receiving information. And, most importantly, for the half of the kids in this country that are not enrolled in pre-K programs, we are their access to information that will help them succeed in school and in life.

And that's what we're relentlessly focused on. And that's why this federal appropriation is so important to enable us to continue to provide that service in communities across the country.

STELTER: And this is the beginning, one slice of this budget battle that is just getting under way.

KERGER: Just getting under way.

STELTER: Paula, thank you very much for being here.

KERGER: Thank you, Brian. STELTER: We will be back with more RELIABLE SOURCES after a quick commercial break.




Some big news today about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's first big trip to Asia. Now, here's a "Washington Post" headline. The editorial board weighed in, referring to him as Secretary Silent.

Tillerson brought only one journalist on his plane. Normally, there is a whole group of traveling press with every secretary of state. But, this time, Tillerson brought just one reporter from the conservative-leaning IJR.

Over the weekend, he did give an interview to that reporter, Erin McPike. The transcript was published on Saturday. There was some news in it.

But there's this broader concern about lack of access, lack of availability with Rex Tillerson.

Let's talk about it with our panel.

Back me with here, Ken Kurson of "The Observer," Lydia Polgreen of The Huffington Post and David Folkenflik of NPR.

Lydia, how big a concern is this to you, your reporters trying to cover foreign policy and foreign affairs?

POLGREEN: I mean, Rex Tillerson seems to be under the impression that the media is there to serve him. That quote was just jaw-dropping.

STELTER: He said, "I'm not a big media access guy."

POLGREEN: And it's like, that's not the point. You're no longer the CEO of ExxonMobil. You now serve the public. And the public has the right to know what the secretary of state is up to.

And that's the whole purpose of having a traveling press corps with the secretary of state. Big news happens on these trips. Frankly, this whole flap with him reported as being tired by Korean state media, that probably wouldn't have happened if he had had actual legitimate media with him, not that IJR isn't legitimate media.

And I think it's great that he took that outlet along. But he hurt himself in some ways by allowing this false story to blossom.

STELTER: Ken, you disagree?

KURSON: I totally disagree.

I listened to your entire podcast with Kara Swisher the other day, where she hates everything about Donald Trump, except that he's questioning the way things are done.

That my colleagues here have this idea that this presidency is not getting enough media is ludicrous, because I feel like I can't read about anything else except what Trump does.

I think that idea...

POLGREEN: Trump, yes, Tillerson, no.

KURSON: But the idea that every single Cabinet member has to have a press pool, they're looking at that, they're disrupting it, as Kara said on your podcast.

And this guy did not come from a tradition of politics like Secretary Kerry had and Secretary Clinton had. He came from the private sector. He's got a different approach. We've had 10 minutes to see if it works. And all I see on TV is, he's sitting down, making progress with the Chinese. I say, let's see how it goes.

POLGREEN: You think President Obama was worse?

STELTER: Let me pivot to some sad news that came in just about an hour ago, Jimmy Breslin, a larger-than-life newspaper columnist, passing away. He was in his 80s. But I think all of us at this table have very found memories of his work throughout the decades.

I'm wondering, David, what stands out to you about Breslin's career?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think he was a colorful, classic New York columnist who really was of the city. He put his heart into it.

He was contentious, he was combative, colorful. Occasionally, he was so provocative, he could offensive. But he had a heart. And part of it, I think of these twin threats I was thinking about over the past hour. He stuck up for the little guy, the working-class guy, and he also believed firmly in the idea of social process and that people should have a fair chance in this society.

And you could see that in his columns. Also, you think one of the most quintessential one that was a half-century ago, JFK dies, everyone's writing about the funeral in a somber way. He goes to the grave site and goes to the grave digger and profiles him, as a way of saying, here's how a working man, an ordinary person was affected by the death of this great person.

STELTER: Lydia, you have talked about media elitism. And there's some fair critiques to make about media and newsrooms being too elitist.

You have said you want The Huffington Post to be more like the working-class columnists of past decades, Breslin being an example.

POLGREEN: Absolutely.

And if anybody out there is watching, if you think you're the next Jimmy Breslin, call me. My e-mail is on my Twitter account. I'm very easy to get in touch with.

STELTER: I like hearing that, that we can learn from Breslin.

Ken, last thought from you about Breslin's legacy.


To me, those guys like Jimmy Breslin and Mike Royko, they represent a dying breed, not just in columnists and newsrooms, but in America, sort of the white working-class guy who, as David beautifully put it, had a heart. And it's a shame that our country has gotten to a point where you don't have these sort of crossover people in newspapers and on television.


You have to select someone where everyone you see looks like you and thinks like you, and that's all you hear from.

STELTER: Ken, Lydia, David, thank you all very much for being here today. Great to see you.

Ken mentioned our RELIABLE sources podcast. I recommend it online at, this week's guest, Kara Swisher, co-founder of Re/code. We talked about Trump, about tech, about South by Southwest, many other topics. Check it out on

We will be right back here this time next week with more media news.