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White House Curbs On-Camera Press Briefings; "Fox & Friends": Trump's Daily Infomercial?; Breaking Down the Senate Health Care Bill; Vladimir Putin and the Conspiracy Trap. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired June 25, 2017 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:09] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the story behind the story, of how the media really works and how the news gets made.

Ahead this hour, a rare interview you don't want to miss with TV legend Phil Donahue. He's sharing his surprising views on the media's Trump coverage.

And the president's relationship with his favorite morning show. We've investigated his ties to "Fox & Friends". What he's hearing every morning when he turns on the TV. I'll explain how this is the FOX News presidency.

And a little bit later, the public seems to be in the dark about the GOP's health care bill. I'll talk with one of the nation's top health care reporters about what's being missed.

But, first, the Trump administration rolling back press access inch by inch by inch, declining to answer questions and dodging interviewers. This month, we've seen a sharp increase in off camera briefings, with the White House forbidding live video and audio, leaving CNN to send in a sketch artist on Friday afternoon.

What is this about? Is it a sign of insecurity at the White House? A way of admitting that they just don't have answers? Nor is this Trump's latest attempt to please his base by ticking off the press?

Either way, this is about a lot more than briefings. It's about whether the public knows what the government is doing in its name.

Take the stepped up fight against ISIS, for example. On Saturday alone, the Defense Department reported 37 more coalition strikes in Syria and Iraq. Who died? How can we know if the strikes are making the world any safer?

Well, President Trump has been promising a press conference about this topic. Here he is. This is on May 21st, five weeks ago today.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, we're doing very well in the fight against is, as General Mattis has just explained and we're going to be having a news conference in about two weeks to let everybody know how well we're doing. Tremendous progress has been made.


STELTER: That was five weeks ago. Trump said almost exactly the same words again on June 12th.


TRUMP: We're doing very, very well. We're going to be having a news conference in two weeks on that fight. And you'll see numbers that you would not have believed.


STELTER: Now, it's two weeks later. There's no indication that Trump has an ISIS press conference on his calendar. But I hope to be proven wrong about that.

Joining me now, someone who's in the briefing room every day trying to get answers to these questions, April Ryan, White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks. She's also a CNN political analyst. Another CNN political analyst, David Drucker. He's covered politics on both coasts. He's a senior political correspondent for "The Washington Examiner".

And here with me in New York, someone with an inside perspective on how President Trump thinks, Michael D'Antonio, CNN contributor and the author of "The Truth About Trump".

Great to see all of you.

April, let me start with you. I'm hoping for this press conference about ISIS this week. I realistically don't think it will happen. Do you have a sense the president is trying to avoid situations where he'll be asked really anything about the Russia investigations --


STELTER: -- or other controversies or scandals?

RYAN: Yes, most definitely. Brian, you know, that February press conference did not go so well. There's a lot --

STELTER: That was his last time, right, doing his full fledged press conference --

RYAN: That solo press conference did not go well. And we saw his strengths and we saw many weaknesses.

And the question is, when this president does give a press conference, is he now going to be informed enough to give us a press conference where we have the -- we go into the weeds, we know a little bit more. But the question also begs, is he given sources and means? Well, sources and methods, excuse me. Sources and methods are some of the most critical and pieces of

intelligence information. And the question is, will he have that and will he be able to hold that back if he is getting it now? Will he be able to hold it back and give us information in the weeds without compromising national intelligence?

STELTER: I see you shaking your head, Michael. Is that a concern you have also?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP: Well, it is. I don't feel that the president really has command of issues. He has command of his personality.

So, what we see when he's giving a response to a stray question is, believe me, oh, it's going to be the greatest. These are salesmen's techniques. Not data, facts, policy issues. So, I don't think --

STELTER: I'm saying we're going to have a press conference in two weeks, it's kind of similar, right, to salesman tactic. Don't worry. Down the line, we'll get to it.

D'ANTONIO: Right, in two weeks, in two weeks, in two weeks.


D'ANTONIO: And that undercoating on your car is going to prevent all the rust. I mean, it's really kind of nonpresidential.

And I think this is the problem is that he's out of his depth in this office. He doesn't have command of the facts.

[11:05:01] He has command of talking points.

So, he'll watch "Fox & Friends". He'll read something from Breitbart and get a line or two of argument that he wants to make.

You'll notice, too, in those two clips you showed that he was saying the same words. So, he'll have a little bit of shtick, almost like a stand-up comedian, and he rolls out in front of the audience. He delivers that shtick and then that's it.

Now --

STELTER: Maybe he thinks people are going to forget about the promises, like to have a press conference.

D'ANTONIO: Absolutely. In April's point about whether he would reveal something he's not supposed to reveal is really key. I think that's a brilliant observation, that there's a danger when you're president of the United States and you can't control your mouth.

STELTER: Let's get to the issue of the briefings also.

And, David Drucker, Sean Spicer is not here, but we have audio from him on radio host Laura Ingraham show earlier this week, describing why he's holding more off camera, not allowing live video or audio. Here's what Spicer said.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The nice thing about turning the cameras off sometimes, and I find in when it is not performance art as you call it, that you end up having a more, I think, sometimes a more substantive discussion about actual issues because they're not trying to get their clip. They're not trying to figure out, how do I get on TV? How do I make -- ask some snarky question.


STELTER: All right. David, you're an observer of these things. You're not a television guy in the briefing trying to show off and make a spectacle. Does Spicer have a point?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think in the old days, he had a point. I mean, I think, you know, years ago, before these things were on TV reliably religious every single day, that they're televised at least, I think that, look, reporters and journalists, we're all human and maybe we're looking not just to elicit information but we're also trying to, in a sense, push the news forward and make sure that our copy is read or viewed.

But I just don't think that holds water anymore. I mean, the questions that I have listened to during these televised briefings -- and look, as an old print guy, I mean, that's how I got into this business. I don't always have as much sympathy for television reporters as maybe I should now that I do more television. But I have not noticed a difference in the questions asked either on Capitol Hill or that I've seen in a briefing room, whether the cameras are on or off.

And -- but, I think this works really well from the administration's point much view because as long as they're fighting with us, it makes the Republican base -- this is beyond even the Trump base. The broader Republican base, I think, loves it.

I've noticed a big difference. You know, 15 years ago when I first got into this business, a lot of times I'd be accused of twisting a story or exhibiting bias. And now often, I'm just accused of making it up.

And it's been fun to watch the president via tweets and interviews back up a lot of the stories that were reported based on multiple anonymous sources because it shows the kind of work we're doing. Sometimes these sources have to be anonymous, but we have to put our names on this stuff. We don't make it up. Otherwise, we'd look like fools.

STELTER: And cameras, live video and audio actually proved that we're not making it up. It shows Spicer speaking. So, it's on the record.

April, how does this affect you as a radio reporter? RYAN: I need the audio, Brian. I need the audio. When Sean goes in

there and he does not have audio, you're not allowed to use the audio or the film, I'm affected. So I transcribe the quotes.

STELTER: And not to be -- I don't want to interrupt you, but I think it was on Monday of this week, the White House actually said, you can't even air the audio later.

RYAN: Right.

STELTER: Now, that seemed like a dramatic restriction.

RYAN: Right. And again, and going back to this point that we keep hammering home since the beginning of this administration, even before, when there was a concern that we will not have any briefings, they would move us out. This is not about us. This is about the American public. It's about information for the American public.

Just getting information from a tweet does not give you the broad scope of an issue. It doesn't give you another side or other sides of the story. So, that is one of the reasons why the press, the free press was baked in to the First Amendment of the Constitution.

It's not about us. We are fighting for our access. And we are asking the questions. But to hear the news maker, the principal, the president or his press secretary say what they have to say. And I believe, Brian, a lot of the problem is, is that they flip-flop so much within these 150-plus days, they've been caught on tape and they're trying to fix their faux pas as well.

And also, that they're unprepared in some instances. They're new. They're behind the curve in a lot of ways. But it's not our fault.

So, I think some of it -- and you gave three points at the top of the show. I believe it's all of the above. But I also believe that it's doing the American public a disservice if they cannot see or hear what's happening in their house, the people's house.

STELTER: Here's what --

RYAN: This is not Democrat or Republican.

STELTER: Viewers the home might be asking, why not just skip the briefings?

[11:10:02] David Drucker, this becomes the new normal. One on camera briefing a week, four hidden, off camera. Why shouldn't journalists just leave?

DRUCKER: Well, I --

STELTER: Group effort.

DRUCKER: Look, I think that -- I think often we are too compliant as journalists to the conditions laid out for us by politicians. They give us things on background. They say it's got to be off the record. And I think that we have to -- at times, I think we should be more

aggressive in pushing back and saying, if you're not going to give us this on the record, or at least in a fashion where we can report real news, we're not interested in talking to you.

But I do think that the real issue here and I think April speaks to it, is whether or not they're answering our questions in an attributable way. In other words, I'm sensitive to the needs of radio and television reporters because if you don't have a story on camera and you're CNN, we're reporting news on television, in a sense, it's cutting off our ability as television reporters to do that.

But I think the real issue here is, are they going to answer our questions? And I think the broader issue is, do they feel compelled by the public to answer our questions?

Because over the years, I've noticed when politicians need attention or feel pressure from their own voters, where they feel like the story has gotten away from them and they need to set it straight or that they need to start answering for what they've been doing, they talk to us. We don't end up having these fights. It's only when they feel they can get away with this that they play these kinds of games.

And I think one of the ways we can impact this is by saying, these conditions that you laid out for us are not acceptable. And I don't think there's a rule about it one way or the other, Brian. I think it's a case by case basis, because on the other hand, if we talk and stop asking questions, we are not going to know what's going on ands we're not going to have any stories to tell, whether it's print, radio or television.

STELTER: To your point, are we getting answers this morning. I got an e-mail here I sent to the White House. I can't show you who it's from because they replied off the record.

RYAN: Wow.

STELTER: And didn't answer the question.

Last question to you, Michael, maybe I'll get a real answer unlike the e-mail I got back this morning. You mentioned to me off the air before we started here, that you saw a shock-and-awe strategy from Trump early on with regards to his relationship to the press. What was that and how has it changed?

D'ANTONIO: Well, they came out really fast. We saw President Trump at the CIA. We saw all these complaints about the crowd size and how that was reported. He was very assertive for many months, and I think Sean Spicer's televised press conferences became a very popular program on TV.

STELTER: Right, right.

D'ANTONIO: This was an attempt to shape reality. And what we have to notice here is that maybe they were unsatisfied with the reality that emerged out of the aggressive reporting that people were doing on their own. So, now, they are scaling back. They're saying, OK, shock-and-awe got us so far. But just as in the Iraq war, shock-and- awe didn't defeat the enemy. It just was the opening salvo.

I think now we're seeing this retreat to kind of hidden corners of the world where they --

STELTER: Well, to FOX.


STELTER: Actually not just to FOX, to friendly pro-Trump interviewers on FOX. Not to Chris Wallace.

D'ANTONIO: They won't ask a tough question. They won't come with their own reporting and confront the lies with fact. And I think that this is a convenient place for them to dwell in.

But, again, that's not going to last forever because constituents will get the reports from enterprise reporting in the field by reporters, anchors asking tough questions of other sources who will come on and be presented. So, it's a risky strategy in the long run for them.

STELTER: Michael, thanks so much.

D'ANTONIO: Thank you.

STELTER: And to our panel, thank you all for being here. I appreciate it.

This is a perfect segue to our next segment. We actually spent a week watching "Fox & Friends", the president's favorite morning show. He gave two interviews to the show this week. It seemed like he was parroting the talking points of the show. See what I mean right after the break.


[11:18:17] STELTER: What would a daily infomercial for the Trump presidency look like? Well, actually, we don't have to wonder. We have the answer right in front of us. It's called "Fox & Friends".


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to wash the dogs coming up on "Fox & Friends" live from --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at this Jenna's (ph) t-shirt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, she's gotten (INAUDIBLE). We're washing dogs.


STELTER: President Trump watches all of the morning shows. But judging by his tweets, as recently as this morning, "Fox & Friends", is his favorite. He gave two interviews to "Fox & Friends" this week. Those were his only interviews all month.

So, we here at RELIABLE SOURCES decided to watch an entire week's worth of the show. We wrote down every story, every guest, every banner. And what we found is that "Fox & Friends" is really Trump's safe space.

It looks like a newsy morning show. But Fox executives acknowledge it's not really a newscast. It's a conservative-themed talk show. The show is about showering Trump with positive attention and burying his enemies with negative attention. The show's hosts and regular guests claim that one of his main opponents -- you can probably guess -- it's the media.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: This is all a political circus at this point. Democrats and sadly, much of the liberal media are using this as an excuse just to attack the president.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The mainstream media, the Washington bureaucracy, which are basically the Democrats, all pretty much the same thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has to be some accountability somewhere in the media for continuing to have a narrative, which isn't true.


STELTER: It gets really repetitive. But over time, all of this anti- media talk obviously has an effect on the audience.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In our discussion earlier, you said you can't stand the way that he's being treated in the media. Talk about that.

[11:20:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly. I'm so concerned about the media because they're lying.


STELTER: Sounds like she's been watching "Fox & Friends". And, by the way, has the added effect of keeping you watching Fox and nothing else.

Repetition is something we noticed all week long, Monday until Friday. Denying collusion between Trump and Russia was an almost hourly affair.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In terms of collusion, that's going by the boards.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's nothing there in terms of collusion with Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This idea that there's collusion under Trump is just not backed up by the facts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Russia collusion, investigation, if that's what you want to call it --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's collusion. Just saying.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All the collusion, all the corruption that hasn't been proven, all the leaks, just give him a chance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Collusion, corruption, never been proven. There is a leaker. And the leaker is James Comey.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There has been no obstruction, there has been no collusion, there has been leaking by Comey.


STELTER: So, there's the president at the end of the week repeating what "Fox & Friends" have been saying. The show's latest obsession has been undermining and attacking the credibility of special counsel Robert Mueller. Remember, Trump is hearing these talking points all week long and at the end of the week, repeating them back to the host, Ainsley Earhardt.


AINSLEY EARHARDT, FOX & FRIENDS: Can we trust Robert Mueller?

Isn't it a conflict of interest for Mueller to be appointed and for him to choose an attorney that was Hillary Clinton's foundation attorney?

Should he recuse himself?


STELTER: There it is. Heroes versus villains. Us versus them.

On "Fox & Friends", Trump is us. Mueller is them.

Watching for an entire week, we saw lots of the president's friends. But almost no dissenting voices. No Trump skeptics or critics except in sound bites which were then knocked down. It's all about optimism for Trump, resentment about his opponents.

You can even see it in the show's banners on the bottom of the screen. And again, it's oftentimes an anti-media narrative. You can see here, liberal press attacks hospitalized congressman or liberal press still pushing White House shakeups or MSNBC graphic -- analyst makes a graphic president analogy.

I wonder, what would they do without the liberal media? Who knows?

The hosts and the guests on the show know that the president is watching and they go out of their way to not only endorse his points of view but also express their appreciation.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: America needs to say two words to Donald Trump -- thank you.

It's very simple. Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for keeping your promises. Thank you for creating a new environment with our foreign friends across the world.


STELTER: That expression of appreciation seems to culminate in a celebration of the administration each and every single day.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Today is his 150 day in office. Over the course of the 150 days, today's 150th day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now that he's 151 days in --

CRUZ: I think on policy --


STELTER: Counting up might be a bit of a problem, you have to remind viewers about how long a president has lasted in office. Doesn't this preoccupation with counting remind you of something, something from your childhood?


KIDS SINGING: One, two, three, four, five, six --

BARNEY: One, two, three, count with me --


STELTER: I'm just playing here. The bottom line, you might look at this and see propaganda from Fox. I prefer to think of it as an infomercial.

"Fox & Friends" is selling a product. Of course, it's in the guise of a news talk show, just like something on QVC or HSN or all those channels.

Now, hey, it's a free country. But viewers should recognize what product FOX is selling.

Coming up next here on the program, TV legend Phil Donahue. He thinks the press is focusing on all the wrong things when it comes to covering the president and the opposition. Hear from him in a rare interview right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [11:25:15] STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

Is the press missing the mark when it comes to covering the president?

My next guess says yes and I think he would know because he's interviewed just about everyone during his popular long running program, "The Phil Donahue Show". One of his guests was a young Donald Trump, you see here back in 1987 when Trump was just a budding real estate magnate.

So, what does Donahue think the media could be doing better? Let's ask him now. He's with me here in New York for a rare interview.

Phil, it's great to see you. Thanks for being here.

PHIL DONAHUE, FORMER HOST, DONAHUE: Thank you, Brian. And, by the way, congratulations on your new baby.

STELTER: Oh, thank you, yes. Thank you. She's one-month-old. She's watching right now.

DONAHUE: Well, we're looking for good news and we welcome her.

STELTER: What do you see? You see a lot of bad news out there?

DONAHUE: Well --

STELTER: I mean, Five months into the Trump presidency and you're not known for being a very conservative guy.

DONAHUE: No. That's true.

I think the press really missed or at least ignored an important story. That is, as Trump walks out at the rallies, you know, all the cell phones above the head that you see from the back?


DONAHUE: Who are those people?

The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, is the one who is saying his constituents are looking at all of this and saying, what about me?

I think the mainstream media has -- it's Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump. They haven't drilled down on why is he president? How did this happen?

And I think they're going to discover -- well, I think it's already revealed. These are angry people. These are -- as we know now -- white working class people. Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan.

These are the people who make things. Or -- and they don't -- maybe they haven't had a raise in eight years. The rumor is that their company is being sold. Their kids can't pay back their college loans. [11:30:14]

They come back exhausted from their day at the factory. And they read the paper where a guy in a hedge fund made a million dollars on Thursday.

You can't do this to people. Sooner or later, they're going to go kaboom. And they did. And the kaboom expressed itself in the election of Donald Trump.

Same circumstance for Brexit. David Leonhardt, new...

STELTER: "New York Times," yes.

DONAHUE: A new voice on the op-ed page, and I think a welcome one, had a fascinating piece just this week.

He makes the point that the reason -- the people who elected Donald Trump president didn't vote. If...

STELTER: You mean because so many people didn't vote.


DONAHUE: Yes, right.

The victory for -- or at least the people who cause him to lose would be the people who didn't vote who wouldn't have voted for him. It's a little bit of a difficult thing to grasp.

STELTER: I made that mistake on air yesterday. I said on CNN, oh, well, 46 percent of the country voted for President Trump.

Actually, no, about 19 percent of the country voted for Trump, and then a little bit more for Clinton, and then a lot of people didn't vote.

DONAHUE: Hypocrisy is killing us.

We're running around America -- America -- and at least half of us don't vote. Only 17 percent of 18-to-24 -- the earliest voters are not voting at all. Older voters have a better record, to be sure.

But it's really, I think, apathy that's killing us. Bernie did get it. But it was cynicism that killed him. Oh, I would like to vote for him, but, of course, everybody knows he can't be elected. Socialism. We are under the spell of these old ideas that are in our -- McCarthy...

STELTER: What kind of old ideas?

DONAHUE: Well, that shut down government and everybody will start up a small business.

I mean, this is the Republican mantra. The only thing government should do is build things that go boom. And we have people out here whose financial strength is serious in deficit. And now we have got a health care -- Republicans are sleeping with a time bomb and they're not sure what to do. But it's all making the middle class angry.

STELTER: And I would say to you, lots of Trump commentators are on television. I think what you're saying is, sure, there's people that represent Trump's point of view on TV, but we're not seeing enough focus groups and enough interviews with normal Americans.

DONAHUE: Right. I agree with that.

And, you know, it's the people in South Bend. When I was there as a student at Notre Dame in the '50s, South Bend was the home of Studebaker. They made cars. So that's all over now.

And these -- the people are left with television shows that are talking about Trump, Trump, Trump. And I have to say -- and, by the way, he gets on the airplane, a big old airplane, flies anywhere in this country and four cars meet him, all black limousines. And he goes to the nearest, largest venue in that area and sells out. Not an empty seat. Walks in.

And now they're producing these -- this is fascinating me. The other night at his rally, there were four or five really cute white girls. There are black people at those rallies, but you got to look for them. And they're behind him.

STELTER: You're talking about the rally the other day he had in prime time on TV.

DONAHUE: Yes. Well, it's happening more and more.

They're being produced. These little girls are taking his picture. He turns around and faces them and they're taking then -- and then they're showing...

STELTER: You don't think that was a coincidence, huh?

DONAHUE: Oh, come on. This is a brilliant management of a campaign that continues.


STELTER: But isn't it a problem that he's really only speaking to his base, to the folks that brought him to Washington and not to the rest of the country?

DONAHUE: Right. But his base was enough to get him elected because of all the people who didn't vote. The ages 18 to 24, for example, early vote, 17 percent vote. We haven't inspired our kids.

We are hypocritical with our braggadocio about America, America. If we don't use it, we will lose it. The reason that is a cliche is because it's true. And that's what is happening right now.

[11:35:06] STELTER: What would you be doing if your program was on the air today, "The Phil Donahue Show"? How would you be addressing these issues?

DONAHUE: Well, first of all, I would be first in line to have Donald Trump.

STELTER: To interview him?

DONAHUE: Yes, it's counterintuitive not to.

As you know, the coin of our realm is the size of our audience. We don't draw a crowd, next week, we will be parking cars. And Trump draws a crowd. Les Moonves was criticized for saying that it's the best thing and he gets ratings.

It's true. It's true. I mean, why would we not put -- he's Elvis.

STELTER: But do you think he would come on your show? Right now, he's only doing friendly interviews with FOX.

DONAHUE: Well, probably not.

But I'm saying, I have to acknowledge that this is the dilemma that people in media face. But, please, talk to the people out there. Find out why this happened. There isn't enough attention given to that, in my opinion.

STELTER: Even six or seven months after Election Day?

DONAHUE: Well, we finally realized that white working-class, middle- class people were angry, and angry enough to go kaboom and the kaboom manifested itself in the election of Donald trump. This is what...

STELTER: Do you feel like the country is ever going to get over the election? The president was tweeting about it again this morning about Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Are we stuck?

DONAHUE: This is a hell of a story. I mean, it's a revolution. It's revolution-lite. They're going to be talking about it for -- yes, there's no bodies in the street and we're not shooting each other yet.

But imagine. Compare him, compare Trump to Eisenhower, I mean, for example. This is my president, who I grew up with in the '40s and the '50s. This is bewildering. And it shouldn't be.

If the press got out of Washington, stopped worshipping power, go, like so many people, Amy Goodman and other people are doing, go to where the silence is, you're going to get more truth the lower you go.

All you see on the Sunday shows are secretaries of this and that and powerful people. Let's talk to the real people. Find out what they think. Get out of Washington. See what's going on in Iowa and the Midwest. It's going to make us more informed, and it's going to alert us to this huge event that has happened here.

Suddenly, suddenly, you have op-ed people, they can't find enough adjectives to express their disgust for this man. And I wish they would commit that much energy to figuring out who are the people that made this happen.

And I think they're going to discover, it's not in the stars. It's in ourselves. We got Donald Trump because we let it happen. We didn't vote. We were apathetic and we looked up and think now, holy cow, we got a -- we got a -- I don't want to say it.

We got a P-U-S-S-Y grabber for president, and we are appalled. We can't figure this out. And one of the reasons we did -- we can't figure it out is because elite media, as he would call it, failed us.

STELTER: I like your point about the lower you go, the more truth you will get.

Phil, thank you so much. Good to see you.

DONAHUE: OK. Brian, thank you.

Coming up next here, we were talking about the health care bill, among other topics. We finally know what's in the GOP health care bill. But there's still a lot of confusion. A top health care reporter standing by trying to sort through it for us right after this.



STELTER: Secrecy, confusion, and now second thoughts from some within the Republican Party, that's the story so far of the Senate health bill.

It was drafted behind closed doors. And now it is public, and being criticized from both the left and the right.

Here's my question. Do voters know what's actually in the bill, what the bill actually does? And, if not, whose fault is that?

A recent CBS poll conducted after the House passed its version of health care reform, but before the Senate bill was unveiled, found that 76 percent of Americans haven't heard enough about the GOP health plans to know what they do. Only 23 percent said they have a good understanding of what's really going on.

It seems like everybody could use a CliffsNotes version of what's going on.

So, who better to give us that than Sarah Kliff? She's the senior policy correspondent at Vox, the author of the great VoxCare newsletter.

Sarah, great to see you.


STELTER: I know vote-counting is likely to dominate cable news this week, since Mitch McConnell is pushing for a vote before the July 4 recess. Others are saying that is too fast.

But, right now, five GOP senators are not on board yet. Is all the vote-counting getting in the way of the policy talk?

KLIFF: I think it is.

And this has been constantly true about the Affordable Care Act, that when you look at analysis of cable news coverage of health care, you see a lot more coverage of who is going to vote for it, will this senator or that senator get on board, what kind of tweaks they want, and you see very, very few coverage -- very little coverage of what the bill actually does.

You don't see questions about who will lose health insurance, how will health insurance change.

And I admit, it's complex stuff. It's hard to cover in kind of short, fast segments. But I think a lot of people are missing out on what this actually does when it becomes kind of the political back-and- forth.

One of my colleagues at Vox recently did a video about how we kind of cover the health care debate like an episode of "House of Cards." The drama is around, is it going to pass? It's not around, what does the legislation actually do?

STELTER: And I think if there were hearings -- and, certainly, we're going to see some Senate debate -- that will make it easier to cover the implications, because we will have sound bites and quotes from these public officials.

KLIFF: Sometimes.

But, sometimes, you see a lot of just -- like, a lot of the debate has focused around the secrecy in the drafting. I think it's interesting that we have been really obsessed with the process, with, is it secret, is it not secret, did the Democrats keep their bill secret in 2009?

And I think that has kind of dominated a lot of the policy details. And you might see that when we have the Senate debate that's expected to happen later this week, that there will be a lot of clips on that.

STELTER: You were -- you were pretty blunt in a recent column for Vox.

But said: I have covered Obamacare since the very beginning -- quote -- "I have never seen lying and obstruction like this."

Who is lying?

KLIFF: So, I think there is a lot of lying from Republicans about what this bill actually does.

And a lot of that comes from the president. He has given a number of interviews where he says, you know, this bill will cover everyone, or his health secretary, Tom Price, has said Medicaid won't be cut, no one will lose Medicaid.


Everything we know about this bill is just -- suggests that is not true. People will lose health insurance, because this bill spends a lot less money on expanding health insurance.

And I think there are a lot of people who get confused by this. I have spent a decent amount of time over the past few months in an area of Southeastern Kentucky that voted for Trump, but also has very heavy Obamacare enrollment.

There are a lot of people in that area who are expecting that this health care bill will make their health insurance better. But everything we know about it is, those people will be really disadvantaged by this health care plan.

STELTER: Now, a few minutes ago on this program, Phil Donahue was saying, go interview the voters, the Trump voters. That's what you have been doing. And you're finding confusion there in Kentucky.


I think they really listened to Donald Trump on the campaign trail. And he said repeatedly again and again in debates: I'm different from the other Republican candidates. I don't want to cut health care programs. He promised: I won't cut Medicaid. I'm going to cut -- everybody.

The health care bills, both the ones in the House and the Senate, which he has -- well, he spoke favorably of at some points, and it has since gotten a little bit of blowback.

But he -- these bills don't deliver on those campaign promises. They cut Medicaid very significantly. They would scale back the federal subsidies that the people in Kentucky and the people in other states really rely on.

But the voters, they understood. They had watched the news. They had seen the promises that their candidate made. And they took those promises at face value.

STELTER: Sarah, thank you so much. Best of luck in the coming days. You have got a lot of work to do, it sounds like.

KLIFF: Thank you.

STELTER: Sign up for our nightly newsletter, as well as Sarah's.

You can sign up for ours at, all the day's media news delivered to you every night. Sign up at Up next here on the program: President Trump saying the Russian

hacking news is fake news, but somehow on Twitter also sort of acknowledging the hacking this week.

My next guest warns about conspiracy trap. Hear what that means in just a moment.




I would argue the biggest story of this week, the biggest newspaper story was this "Washington Post" investigation, Friday's report with new details about Russian interference in the U.S. election, tracing it directly to Vladimir Putin.

As the investigation continues into what Russia did, and how and who, I have a guest who has met with Putin, one of the few writers and journalists who has met with him and understands him.

She says there's a conspiracy trap journalists have to be careful not to fall into.

Masha Gessen is here. She is a Russian-American journalist and the author of "The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin."

Thank you so much for being here.


STELTER: I'm curious your assessment so many months after the U.S. election, still so much conversation about what did or didn't happen, some conspiracy theories we hear both on left-leaning cable news, on right-leaning cable news.

Is this a conspiracy trap people are falling into? What does that mean?

GESSEN: I think so.

So, the fact that there is a conspiracy theory doesn't mean that there is no conspiracy. Right? And that's a very tricky thing to negotiate, because the more we learn about Russian interference, the more compelling the conspiracy theory becomes, because there was really a Russian -- I mean, it seems, beyond a doubt at this point.

STELTER: All the evidence indicates, yes.

GESSEN: But, yes, there was Russian interference.

The problem with falling into the conspiracy trap is thinking that it is the one theory that explains everything. It explains how we got Trump and it explains how we're going to get rid of Trump. And neither of those is the case.

It doesn't actually explain how we got Trump. Russia didn't give us Trump. Americans elected Trump. Right? And it is also probably not going to be the way we get rid of Trump. So there are all these impeachment fantasies and all these ideas that, oh, once it is exposed, our national nightmare is going to be over.

And, meanwhile, they're destroying health care, deregulating everything that can be deregulated, and destroying the very institutions of American government, while we're talking about Russia.

STELTER: You don't mince words about that. You are very concerned about what this administration is doing. You have said this is an autocrat in office.

GESSEN: He's not an autocrat yet, but that's...


STELTER: You warn about an autocracy.

GESSEN: He is an aspiring autocrat. He really thinks that things are best run like "The Apprentice."

STELTER: So far, about five months into this presidency, is he actually acting on that desire?

GESSEN: Oh, absolutely.

STELTER: You could make the case he looks pretty weak, not very strong.

GESSEN: Well, actually, I think there is a common confusion between sort of fascism as a master plot and competence.

And there's -- at one point, people were saying, oh, thank God they're so incompetent, they're not really going to be able to destroy government.

Well, actually, incompetence is what destroys government.


STELTER: You are saying it still does damage. That's interesting.

GESSEN: Well, it does much worse than damage, because I would argue that his incompetence is sort of principled. He thinks the world should be simple. He thinks we don't need expertise, we don't need excellence.

That's very much the core of his campaign, which he's still running. Right? And so the way that he has tried to eviscerate government is completely in line with this idea that things just need to be dumb and simple.

STELTER: You wrote, I believe, right after the election, maybe it was in an interview, that you were worried Trump might start banning news outlets from covering the White House.

Was that an overreaction? We haven't seen that happen.

GESSEN: Well, actually, what I wrote was that, yes, I thought he was going to -- he might start banning particular news outlets, but also he's going to get rid of the norm of having daily White House press briefings, that he is going to get -- that there is no law, right, that requires the White House to be open and the administration to be open.


GESSEN: What we have seen is -- and this is actually of most concern to me -- is a completely opaque State Department, a secretary of state who no longer has a press pool, who travels without media. And that's one of -- that's the most important department of the presidency. And...


STELTER: We're all focused on the White House briefings. Yes.


GESSEN: But the only way to keep it accountable, the only way to keep it transparent is for the media to be there with the secretary of state.

It's been six months -- or five months -- and he's completely gotten rid of accountability in the State Department. Now we're seeing the White House press briefings going off-camera, on-camera, off-mike, on- mike.

I mean, it's bizarre. But we are definitely hurtling towards a closed system of government.

STELTER: We will have you back to keep talking about this. Thank you very much for being here.

GESSEN: Thank you.

STELTER: Out of time here on TV, but sign up for our nightly newsletter, as I reminded you, It will be out later tonight.

And thanks for watching. I will see you back here next week.