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Trump Uses Bully Pulpit to Bully; New Yorker's David Remnick on Comey, Russia Probe; Stormy Daniels Attorney's Message for Sean Hannity; Unlikely Ally in "Denver Post's" Rebellion. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired April 22, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:08] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: This White House needs a proofreader.

I'm Brian Stelter and 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, "New Yorker" editor David Remnick is here to unpack what James Comey's book tour tells us about the Russia probe.

And Comey is not the only one on a media blitz. Stormy Michael's attorney Michael Avenatti is also here. He says Trump's chief defender Sean Hannity should be worried. So, I'll ask him why.

And later, local news woes. There's a rebellion brewing at "The Denver Post", and the paper has an unlikely ally coming to its defense.

But, first, today, slippery, slime ball, liars, and third-rate reporter flunkies. Is there no end to the commander in chief's name- calling?

President Trump is putting the bully in bully pulpit. He's on the attack this weekend, seemingly supporting calls for a Justice Department probe into his opponent. But of all the tweets there's been, I want to hone in on just one of the many attacks.

This is his bold-faced lie about "New York Times" reporter Maggie Haberman. Trump lashed out after reading this story in the paper by Haberman and two other reporters. It says his personal Michael Cohen could flip.

Now, Trump took exception to some of the quotes in the story. The quotes saying that he treated Cohen like garbage. So, I guess now, he's treating Haberman like garbage. He's calling her a third rate reporter and crooked Hillary flunky who I don't speak to and having to do with.

Let's just stop right there. That tweet is wrong in at least four different ways. He didn't even spell her name right. And he called her a third-rate reporter even though he knows she dominates the White House beat. Heck, she just won a Pulitzer a few days ago, and next weekend, she's accepting another award, this time at the White House correspondents' dinner for, in the words of the judges, showing a deep understanding of what makes President Trump tick.

That's what makes this tweet a lie. You know, sometimes covering the president is difficult to determine what is actually a lie, but this one is crystal clear. Trump said, quote, I don't speak to her, and I have nothing to do with her.

And here they are in the Oval Office together. Haberman has interviewed Trump on the record more than a dozen times in 2015. By the way, she doubled as a political analyst here at CNN.

I know she takes these attacks in stride, but I don't want to. Lying is disrespectful. It's not disrespectful to Haberman or the journalists, but to the public. We all know the president uses Twitter to deliver talking points to his base, it's very effective for him.

But it's also disrespectful. Is he really -- does he really think that his believers, his supporters are going to believe this lie, you know, when there's photographic proof to the contrary? It is disrespectful to his fans, to his Twitter followers to post this kind of stuff.

And we haven't even gotten to the tweet about Chuck Todd.

So what do you do about a bully?

Joining me now, a truly all-star panel: John Avlon, the editor in chief of "The Daily Beast" and a CNN political analyst, Ed Felsenthal, the editor in chief of "TIME" magazine, and "Washington Post" staff writer, Sarah Ellison.

There's lots for us to dig in on this hour, including the news about Sean Hannity and Michael Cohen. Let's save that for a little later.

I just want to start on the idea of bullying, John Avlon. Let's put up the Chuck Todd tweet from this morning, the president once calling the host of NBC's "Meet the Press", sleepy eyes and calling NBC fake news.

I know, I know. We've seen and we've heard it all before, but this is bullying by the president of the United States. And I think it deserves to be the lead story.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You're damn right. And, look, I mean, President Trump is proud about putting "bully" back in the bully pulpit, as you said, and some of his supporters will no doubt make that a t-shirt at some point. But it diminishes the office of president, as does his transactional relationship with the truth.

We've almost got inured to the idea that the president of the United States calling out individual reporters and typo written sloppy bullying emails is normal because this is the president and this is his style. We know it's not normal because we have 44 other presidents to compare him to. And nothing like this has happened in American history. I mean, even just the Comey memos this week, we know he talked about

jailing journalists in the Oval Office, and that doesn't even rise to the level of our story cache, because it seems part of a theme, because it is. But it's dangerous, it dumbs us down, and it really shows the extent to which he's part of a piece of political leaders who attack the press as a matter of principle. And that's usually seen in autocrats, not the United States of America.

BLITZER: This is one of those words versus actions issue, isn't it, John? I mean, this issue about jailing journalists, the president talking about it with Comey more than a year ago, now it's revealed in the Comey memos.

Sarah, do some journalists look at that and say, well, he's talking about it, he's not actually doing it, so, what's the big deal?

SARAH ELLISON, STAFF WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: No, I don't think most journalists do say that. Of course, I think a lot of journalists even recognized under the Obama administration that that was not an administration that was particularly press-friendly.

[11:05:01] But what Trump is doing and I think what his attacks do is in addition -- first of all, he's always opposed the press.

That's always been a wonderful and very popular talking point for him. And his fans really like to hate the press. They like to boo the journalists who are at his rallies during the campaign and that has continued.


ELLISON: The effect of that though is that it's very -- it's very fertile -- and Steve Bannon has talked about this -- that as soon as you have people not believing what's in the press, then you open up a whole other avenue for you to deliver a different message.


ELLISON: The one that is entirely, you know, whatever it is that you say is the truth.

STELTER: Yes, an alternative reality, yes.

ELLISON: Right, and I think this is, you know, alternative facts. We're all sort of familiar with this. But I think that the it's the public opinion of the press really does lead the way I think in some ways for a greater kind of legal action against journalists. I think people will be more primed for that kind of activity.

STELTER: You're saying it softens the ground --

ELLISON: I think it does.

STELTER: -- for future action.

ELLISON: I think it could. STELTER: What do you -- do you think so, Ed?

EDWARD FELSENTHAL, EDITOR IN CHIEF, TIME MAGAZINE: You know what worries me most and echo something John McCain has been saying wrote an op-ed in "The Washington Post" earlier in the year, I think Sarah's certainly right, we can worry about what happens in our own country. But this empowers -- this kind of talk empowers repressive regimes around the world that are already jailing journalists. There are two terrific "Reuters" journalists in jail right now in Myanmar for reporting that led to a Pulitzer Prize this week.

STELTER: Isn't the president's bullying rewarded however? A case in point, your magazine. You have Ted Cruz this week praising President Trump and the pages of "TIME" 100. Ted Cruz, of course, who was bullied by the president, attacked by the president during the primaries, and yet, Ted Cruz turned around, praised him lovingly.

You know, if Ted Cruz is going to turn around do that, you know that's an example of bully maybe working.

FELSENTHAL: Well, love loving up your opponents you fought viciously in a campaign is a time-honored political tradition.


FELSENTHAL: This one -- this one went further than I think --


FELSENTHAL: -- one might have exposed.

STELTER: Kudos to you guys for getting him to write it, I guess.

AVLON: Yes, but this is -- this is less sort of mending fences and more some Stockholm syndrome. I mean, this is really about a party that's in thrall to a bully and people and senators and privates saying things to reporters that are totally contrary to what they're willing to say in public much of the time. It shows that the -- you know, look the president and the press are going to be in tension. That's time-honored.

But there is a problem that goes well beyond partisanship with this president that too many Republicans will only acknowledge in private because in public, they're afraid of angering their base. But this isn't real departure and we shouldn't -- we shouldn't mince it in when we can see just the tracking of the term fake news, it leaders around the world. Assad uses it. Erdogan uses it. Putin uses it. That's the legitimacy of the American president helps mainstream that and that's why it matters.

STELTER: So, since this show is called RELIABLE SOURCES, let's talk about some of the administration's sloppiness and why this matters. Accuracy is part of the job for doctors for engineers for reporters for lots of people.

Every time I make a mistake or I have to run a correction, I am mortified. But it doesn't seem to be true for the White House. The president's spelling mistakes are infamous at this point. Just a couple from the past couple days here, shady Comey misspelled on Twitter. There's also factual errors, let me show you one about Key West. The president went to Key West on Thursday, then on Saturday, he said, I had a great time there yesterday, he meant two days ago. You know, we could go on and on with these, a special counsel spelled the wrong way instead of the special counsel Mueller, there's all of his examples of the errors that he shares on Twitter.

And I think it trickles down to the staff as well. I thought that the most embarrassing error of the week was in a statement on the occasion of Barbara Bush's passing, the date was wrong on the statement. It said 2017, it meant 2018. This is a statement that could've been written days ahead of time. I would have been happy to proofread it for them or fact check it for them.

I just wonder what the panel thinks of this, because I know this is not the most important issue in the world, but I do think it's important because it speaks to -- if you can't get the small stuff right, can you get the big stuff right like a North Korea summit?

Ed, do agree? Is this matter? It's matter at all?

FELSENTHAL: I mean, I think it's more of a reflection of the way this White House operates which among other things is seat of the pants fashion, and you know, we all know from running news organizations and being part of news organizations that you make the most errors when you're flying off on deadlines or, you know, there's not an orderly process.


FELSENTHAL: And I think that's really more what this is an indication of, than a critical national issue around spelling.

STELTER: Yes, it's not number one, but does it matter, John?

AVLON: Of course, it does. Look, tone comes from the top. That's the key thing in any organization. So, if the president has an untidy mind, isn't paying attention to details or pesky things like facts, it flows through the organization.

And, look, while I think we have greater roles and responsibilities than being the grammar police for the presidency, it's worth assuming that the president United States should be held to at least the same standard of as a cub reporter. If we're -- if we're letting them off the hook there, I think that's itself a sign of a slippery slope in our standards.


ELLISON: I actually wonder if this kind of a conversation is exactly the kind of thing his base would mock, that they would maybe see this as, it's some sort of authenticity.

[11:10:01] Obviously, he's doing his own tweets. He's not getting someone to manage his account for him.

STELTER: And some people suggested he makes errors on purpose, on purpose in order to appeal to ordinary folks --


STELTER: Everybody does, maybe he's trying to look --


ELLISON: Maybe it works for him. I mean, obviously, those kinds of things work for him in a way that doesn't resonate with this panel. But I think that there could be a real either deliberate effort to do that or it's just something that shows, hey, I'm busy, I'm doing a lot of things, so what if I have a misspelling or two? I mean that is a kind of Trumpism.

FELSENTHAL: I think we should all be more concerned with the facts than the spelling.


STELTER: And the issue with the tweet this morning about Chuck Todd, talking about denuclearization is a real question about whether that's accurate or not, what the North Koreans mean by denuclearization is very different from what the Americans mean. So, those issues I think even though it's on Twitter and it's just a tweet those are important issues that are at stake.

AVLON: Precision matters in policy. Governing cannot is not the same thing as grandstanding. And so, that's why these things do matter. Remember, every tweet we know is an official presidential statement.

ELLISON: He's issuing policy on Twitter, so in fact, it is. I mean, what he does on Twitter is not just a tweet. It is actual -- it's his organ of communication. So, I mean, spelling shouldn't be there, but it is something important.

STELTER: Right. Quick break here. Everybody stick around. More from the panel later this hour.

And also, right after the break, "The New Yorker's" editor-in-chief David Remnick, he interviewed Comey. Now, we'll talk to him about the book tour. Be right back.


[11:15:04] STELTER: All right. Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

You've seen Comey-palooza by now, all the hype, all the interviews. James Comey's book tour continuing for several more days. He's crisscrossing the country and talking about his new book "A Higher Loyalty". It will debut at number one on all the bestseller lists, but it's also stoked a lot of controversy, with some people saying that he oversold parts of the book, some people saying that this has been overblown and that it looks bad on the book tour.

I do think one of the big revelations came not from the book but from the memos that were released earlier in the week while released to Congress then leaked to the media. We see in the memos, President Trump and Comey sharing a common enemy, the leakers, leakers to journalists.

Let's put on screen what the memo says this conversation between Trump and Comey at one point talking about jailing journalists. Comey says: I said something about the value of putting a head on a pike as a message. He Trump replied by saying it may involve putting reporters in jail.

Then he quotes the president. They spend a couple night days in jail and make a new friend and they're ready to talk. And then Comey says he laughed as he walked to the door.

Let's see if my next guest is laughing. David Remnick is here. He's the editor of "The New Yorker"

Obviously, David, the allusion there is to prison rape or prison violence.


STELTER: Something's going to happen and then the reporters going to talk.

REMNICK: It's disgusting. It's like listening to Viktor Orban talk about the press. And I've got to say, what Comey said about putting -- you know, putting somebody's head on a pike is not delicious either.

But -- so to see the head of the FBI and this is him writing his own memo, recounting his conversation with the president United States, to hear the head of the FBI and then the president United States talking about the press in such terms whatever our faults, that is highly alarming. And, by the way, the president of the United States talks in these terms in plain sight, in public. He refers to us as enemies of the people, which is a term out of the French revolution and then from Joseph Stalin.

STELTER: There are times -- there are comments the president made in public that if he made them in private, it would be a huge national scandal. But because he says it on Twitter, people shrug.

REMNICK: Look, this presidency and this president hides in plain sight, hides in plain sight.

STELTER: But you said in the past --

REMNICK: But for the most part, for the most part, the ugliness that's displayed in private is displayed at the lectern and in public.

STELTER: I remember you said early on in this administration, this is an emergency. REMNICK: Yes.

STELTER: You've said the president is unfit for any office, but do you worry you're not persuading anybody given that we haven't really seen any movement in the polls for the last 16 months?

REMNICK: I don't think my job, Brian, is to persuade this one or that one. My job is to and my colleagues' job and your job is to tell the truth as you know it, as you know it, with depth and rigor in reporting and with integrity, no matter how it cuts.

I can't think about this percentage of people believes X. We know the reasons for this and people differ, they have honest disagreements of opinion and also people live in their silos and filter bubbles because of the nature of the media today. So, that's not my job.

STELTER: You're saying your job is to simply describe as accurately as possible what's going on.

REMNICK: Reality as best we can discern it.

STELTER: Did you learn anything new from the Comey book tour. You interviewed him on stage at town hall for the "New Yorker" radio or podcast. Do you feel we've actually learned much from Comey through this book?

REMNIK; Well, I -- there's facts and then there's also my emotional read of James Comey and I think the facts are out there and so let me go to the ladder. I got the sense that James Comey's own sense of righteousness and what he thought was right is that he was making decisions in real time really difficult decisions that had bad options and worse options.

Now, I disagree with a number of things he did. I think what he said he was not his job to talk about the sloppiness or non-sloppiness of Hillary Clinton. His job was to prosecute and not prosecute. That was step number one.

The next time he came up, on October 28th, when he decided he had to reopen the investigation because of Anthony Weiner's emails, that was an absurdity. That got cleared up in a few days. They went through those emails and they saw they were all duplicative. They were all there.

So, he reopened this thing and according to Nate Silver and every other pollster, that was decisive in the election. So, he bears enormous responsibility for what happened. He knows it and he clearly feels horrible about it. He doesn't bring himself to say that --

STELTER: He doesn't say that explicitly though.

REMNICK: He does not. No, but it's very evident to anybody who talks to him and you watch him and you read the book carefully that he feels an enormous weight of conscience, as opposed to Donald Trump who never feels a sense of conscience about anything. They're very, very different characters, and I think that's part of why there's this huge disconnect between the two of them.

I mean, you may loathe what Comey decided on one thing or another, but I think that in his own terms, he sees himself as a man of conscience. And it's hard to read otherwise in that book, even though you may disagree with him enormously and blame him for a lot of what we're living through now.

STELTER: And he has so many critics as you're alluding to. The president's talking about jail time for Comey, saying Comey should be investigated. Again, an example of something that's hiding in plain sight, that is absolutely shocking.

You mentioned Orban earlier. For viewers who don't know, this is the Hungarian leader who has been --

REMNICK: The elected leader of Hungary who started out as a kind of semi dissident in the old days and who's become the -- an avatar of illiberalism as Fareed Zakaria would put it, you know, creeping authoritarianism.

And he's a real warning to us as Americans of what's happening all over the world. Look at the people that Donald Trump --

STELTER: But in Hungary, the government's taken over newspapers, media outlets.


STELTER: We do not see anything like that happening here.

REMNICK: Look, the leader of Turkey is elected and he's doing the same thing.

STELTER: There was a rally with tens of thousands of Hungarians yesterday, actually protesting the control of media in the country. So, you're seeing people rising up against this man.

REMNICK: Look, you're seeing this pattern all over the world, elected leaders becoming semi authoritarians and resistance coming from the press, civic institutions, the courts, sometimes legislators, and that's the dynamic that we're seeing everywhere, including the United States of America.

STELTER: We look no further than your covers of "The New Yorker". We put together a few of them to show on screen. Some of the critiques of President Trump that come through these covers.

But when we look at these, the question I ask is, how do you find time and how do you make space for stories other than Trump, other than the administration? You know, you devoted time and energy to Ronan Farrow's investigation of Harvey Weinstein. This week, Farrow shared the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for his reporting.

How do you make sure those sorts of investigations get ample time and space given this Trump moment in time? REMNICK: Well, thank God there are other things in life than Donald Trump, good and ill. We publish stories about all kinds of things and Ronan Farrow and his colleagues at "The Times", our colleagues at "The Times", won for really brave reporting. But I should say that the real bravery there, as is so often the case, the real bravery there is of sources. The women who came forward and spoke the truth.

So, Susan Shearer at "The New York Times" is writing about factory workers at Ford factory plant, and that's an unbelievable act of bravery to go on the record. An actress like Asia Argento, an Italian-born actress, who spoke on the record despite all the threats, despite everything coming at her. And her reward in large measure in Italy, for example, is to get denounced by the Italian tabloid press. She showed enormous and continues to show enormous strength in the face of all odds.

So, I think Ronan and the reporters at "The Times" would join me in saying that award above all goes to the sources, the women who were so brave to come forward.

STELTER: Harvey Weinstein might call some of those sources leakers. He had people from inside his company leaking documents and information to Ronan Farrow.


STELTER: I think we would call them whistleblowers or sources.

REMNICK: I would -- I think we would call them people of enormous courage.

STELTER: David, great to see you. Thanks for being here.

REMNICK: Great to see you. Thank you.

STELTER: Congrats on the Pulitzer win.

REMNICK: Thank you.

STELTER: A quick break here and then a Sunday morning exclusive with Stormy Daniels' attorney. He has a message for one Mr. Sean Hannity.


[11:28:09] STELTER: There were audible gasps on the courtroom on Monday when Michael Cohen's lawyer was forced to reveal that one of Cohen's clients was Sean Hannity. Now, almost a week later, we still don't know exactly what the relationship was about. Hannity has downplayed it, saying it was mostly about real estate. And Fox News says that Hannity has the network's full support.

Meanwhile, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels thinks that Hannity's troubles are far from over.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: I think that when the documents actually come out and there are documents -- there's no question in my mind there are documents with Sean Hannity's name on them, the extent of that relationship, when it finally surfaces I think will be very embarrassing to Sean Hannity.


STELTER: Joining me now is that lawyer, Michael Avenatti, joins me from L.A.

Michael, thanks for coming on the program.

AVENATTI: Good morning, Brian.

STELTER: What do you think it's going to be embarrassing for Hannity? What do you know that we don't know?

AVENATTI: Well, because I think that Sean Hannity has described the relationship as one on real estate, that he paid Michael Cohen $10 -- by the way, I think he overpaid by $9 if that's true, but he described it as a $10 attorney-client relationship.

There's no question that there are documents relating to whatever in the representation was. We know that, because the context in which Mr. Hannity's name was disclosed in that courtroom on Monday. And so, what I meant by my comment is that I think the relationship is going to be far more extensive than Mr. Hannity has led people to believe.

I don't think there's any nefarious that went on between Mr. Hannity or Mr. Cohen or that there was any NDA type involvement or anything of that nature. But what I do know is I think it's going to be far more extensive than people have been led to believe.

STELTER: Do you have some sore of mole that's giving you clues about what's going on? Because you hinted about Cohen and the idea of Cohen not being loyal to Trump before there was even a raid on Cohen's office.

[11:30:04] AVENATTI: No, Brian, I don't have a mole. I mean, I'm pretty close to what's going on. I've got, you know, a fair amount of information at my disposal. You know, I'm really at ground zero on this.

I've also got, you know, almost two decades worth of experience. I've been involved in similar cases, nothing of this magnitude, of course, but -- and my intuition is pretty spot on. So, you know, we're going to keep shooting until we miss, and we haven't missed yet.

STELTER: You're out there now saying you think the president will end up resigning as a result of what's to come. Are you just feeding on somebody's liberal fantasy?

AVENATTI: No, I'm not feeding on anyone's liberal fantasy. I mean, here's the problem, Brian, if you look at all the people in Mr. Trump's orbit over the last two decades, and who would have the most damaging information on Mr. Trump other than himself, that person is Michael Cohen.

Michael Cohen has now had his office, his home and his hotel room raided. He is clearly not that bright, unfortunately. It is clear to me that Mr. Trump trusted Mr. Cohen with his innermost secrets. Mr. Cohen knows where a lot of bodies are buried. There's no question about that.

And so, if there's any individual that could make Mr. Trump most vulnerable, it's Mr. Cohen in this situation. You know, I read the tweets yesterday morning and the attack on "The New York Times" columnist, which I was outraged by. I mean, this woman is nothing but a professional. She didn't deserve that from anybody, let alone the president.

But I read those tweets. What is most interesting, Brian, is --


AVENATTI: -- why is the president suggesting that Michael Cohen will not flip? I mean, shouldn't the president, if he was innocent of anything, or of everything, shouldn't he be saying, I don't care whether Michael Cohen talks or not, because I have nothing to hide? I mean, that's what you would expect, but that's not what has happened.

STELTER: I'm interested on how you're using television with regard to the Stormy Daniels case and also more broadly in your critiques of the president. Tell us about the strategy here. I mean, you know, I'm not going to be critical of it. Here you are on my program now. You're clearly willing to come on and give the interviews. The other side is not nearly as willing.

But how much of a thought-out strategy is this to be on TV every day?

AVENATTI: Well, I mean, we keep being invited -- I keep being invited to come on television, on various programs. I only appear on about maybe 25 percent or 30 percent of the programs that I'm invited on.


AVENATTI: You know, we have a message to provide. This is a constant evolving case and situation. There's new information coming to light, you know, almost by the hour, at least every day. I'm willing to comment on it and provide my critique or my -- what information I have, and people seemed to want to be interested. They should be interested, Brian, because --

STELTER: Launching the sketch on "The View", for example, you know, revealing the sketch the other day on "The View". Did it work? Have you received a lot of tips?

AVENATTI: Yes, we received at this point over 2,500 leads. I would classify about 500 of those as legitimate. We're spending a lot of time and a lot of energy trying to get to the bottom of that. So, I think that was effective.

But I want to go back to what you just asked me a moment ago. I mean, people have a keen interesting in the facts and circumstances around this agreement and the cover-up and the payment of $130,000, and what Michael Cohen knew and what the president knew. And you know what, Brian? They should. I mean, this is a very serious matter.

The American people need to know the truth about what happened here, and if there was a cover-up, and I absolutely believe that there was a cover-up and I absolutely believe that Michael Cohen is going to be charged with some very serious crimes. That needs to matter to people.

This isn't about the sex. It's not about what happened in Lake Tahoe many, many years ago. It's about the truth and the American people being entitled to know exactly what happened here and what their president knew and whether they've been lied to.

STELTER: Have you been invited on by Fox recently? Are you avoiding Fox? Or are they avoiding you? Because I see you on CNN and MSNBC a lot and not so much on Fox.

AVENATTI: Well, for the first two weeks I wasn't invited at all. I actually happened to mention that on MSNBC.


AVENATTI: And lo and behold, I was invited the next day. I made an appearance on Fox. I'm planning on going on Fox again next week. I'm not avoiding Fox, but they don't seem to want me to be on their shows much. I can understand that.

STELTER: What about Stormy Daniels, will she continue to give live TV interviews the way she did on "The View" last week?

AVENATTI: You know, we're looking into whether that makes sense under the circumstances. I mean, this is very serious business at this point. We've got a criminal investigation. We're cooperating with the U.S. attorney's office in the Southern District of New York, which I might add is one of the best offices in the country, very diligence, very strong attorneys out of that office. The lead lawyer, Tom McVay (ph), who appeared in court on Monday and the preceding Friday, was exceptional, nothing short of exceptional.

And I know that, at the end of the day, they're going to get to the bottom of this and what transpired.

[11:35:02] I have a lot of confidence in him and his colleagues.

STELTER: Michael, thanks so much for being here.

AVENATTI: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: Up next on RELIABLE SOURCES: should Sean Hannity just have a desk at the White House?


STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. With high ratings, come huge headaches. That is really the deal with Sean Hannity and Fox News. Hannity's relationship with President Trump is even tighter than we thought, according to this new reporting from "The Washington Post".

[11:40:01] Quoting here: Trump and Hannity usually speaks several times a week. The two men review news stories and aspects of Hannity show and occasionally debate specifics about whatever the president is considering typing out on Twitter. The frequency of Hannity's contact with Trump means that, quote, he basically has a desk in the place, one presidential adviser said.

The panel is back with me now.

Sarah Ellison is one of the reporters who wrote that "Washington Post" story.

So, Sarah, you're suggesting the president is also a producer of Hannity show.

ELLISON: Yes, I would say that the funny thing about that relationship is that it goes both ways. So, Donald Trump is actually helping produce what Sean Hannity and the message that he's delivering. And the funny thing about it though is that Sean Hannity is also helping produce the president's messages --


ELLISON: -- which I think was one of the things that my colleagues and I thought was the most sort of surprising about this story.

STELTER: And, Ed FELSENTHAL, you have him on the "TIME" 100 list this week. Sean Hannity, a member of the time. You had Newt Gingrich write about Hannity's influence.

What did you all find?

FELSENTHAL: Well, you know, the "TIME" 100 is a measure of influence, for good or for ill, and I think the supporting case for his place on a list is, you know, Sarah's reporting on the desk in the White House, that's influence. But Newt also points out that he has three hours a day on the radio and an hour a day on television, millions of viewers hearing his view.

And also, Newt goes on to say he played a major role in getting Trump the nomination and in helping him win the general election.


FELSENTHAL: So, I think that sums up the case for his influence pretty well.

STELTER: I think it comes to this question, John Avlon, of state-run media or media-run state. You know, MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace brought this up the other day, saying there's always talk about Fox being state-run TV, but really is it Fox running the state. What do you make of this suggestion?

AVLON: Look, reality check, we have never had an administration as close to a partisan media outlet as this one. Think about the relationships between people in the past who have advised presidents. You know there was outcry from conservatives about the relationships of Walter Lippmann, Ed Murrow, Walter Cronkite, saying these people were liberal, they'd worked administration. Murrow did work in Kennedy's administration.

STELTER: Well, how about like Ben Bradley and JFK?

AVLON: That's maybe even more relevant.

STELTER: Bradley and JFK were very close.

AVLON: Absolutely.

STELTER: But is this different?

AVLON: Well, remember, it was those relationships that let a lot of principled conservatives to decry the closeness of what they called the MSM, and Democratic Party and Democratic presidents. We've never had media outlets staffing an administration to the extent -- literally, the extent to the Fox News and Breitbart have in this administration.

And with Hannity, this idea of him producing the presidency and rumor of Trump TV was plan B for the president, this enormously dynamic relationship -- of course, it should be divulged. But there's really nothing quite like it in American history and it ends up demeaning the independence of the good reporters at Fox, people like Bret Baier and Shep Smith and other folks who are trying to play it straight and do it right.

This is out -- this is this is unlike anything we've seen in American history. There's no obvious parallel.

STELTER: Well, we decided to take a look at some of other presidents said at Mar-a-Lago this week versus what was said on Fox beforehand. Let's take a look at the combo here.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's no collusion. There was no collusion with Russia.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: A conspiracy theory that was cooked up by the Obama administration by Democrats.

TRUMP: Really a hoax created largely by the Democrats.

HANNITY: As an excuse for why Hillary Clinton lost the election. That was never supposed to happen.

TRUMP: Softening the blow of a loss which is a loss that frankly they shouldn't have had.

HANNITY: The FBI never was actually able to look at the DNC servers.

TRUMP: Their server, the DNC server was never gotten by the FBI. Why did the FBI take it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Robert Mueller investigation is tearing this country apart.

TRUMP: It is a bad thing for our country -- very, very bad thing for our country.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: There was no collusion. Everybody knows that. Everyone's always known that.

TRUMP: There has been no collusion. They won't find any collusion. It doesn't exist.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As the administration actually doing some pretty tough things against Russia.

TRUMP: There's been nobody tougher on Russia than President Donald Trump.

HANNITY: Trump is now getting tough on Russia. The mainstream media is spinning in circles. Didn't they claim he'd never get tough on Russia?

TRUMP: With the media, no matter what I did, it's never tough enough because that's their narrative.


STELTER: Fox said it first, the president's in a second. John, your reaction?

AVLON: That is extraordinary because typically talking points in the past have gone from politicians to partisan media. This is a two-way street in something close to real-time. It's self reinforcing of the White House's message, and then it increases the tribalism on Twitter, the social media mobs, all those kind of things that dumb down our debate and mean it make us meaner and dumber and pettier as a country. It is an extraordinary for two-way relationship, the likes of which we've never seen.

And those conservatives who decried there were two cozy relationship and politicians and a journalist in the past, they're either actively complicit in it or by their silence, the laziness of the anti anti- Trump pose, they're complicit in and as well in a different way.

STELTER: To our panel, thank you.

My question, I don't think any of us know the answer to is whether the Murdock's are really proud of this.

[11:45:02] Anyway, quick break here then we're back with a newsroom revolt at the "Denver Post". It's creating some very strange bed foam bedfellows. I'll explain what I mean with the mayor of Denver right after this.


STELTER: Local newsrooms versus multinational hedge funds. There is a rebellion brewing in local papers like the "Denver Post." The paper is owned by Alden Global Capital. And earlier this month, you see this remarkable front page. The paper sending out an SOS, condemning the, quote, vulture owners for cutting more than half the newsroom staff.

The paper went a step further, calling for help from the local community. And there has been a remarkable response from local leaders -- the governor, the mayor, senators, local lawmakers. There's even an effort by area investors to raise $10 million, almost as a down payment to try to buy the paper.

[11:50:01] Now, the hedge funds is not commenting on this, but it seems "The Denver Post" has lit a fire that is starting to spread. The Southern California Group kind of mimicked "The Post's" approach a little bit with a series of articles calling for support from the public there as well, to try to combat steep cuts that have gutted newsrooms.

You can see here, the executive editor for that paper, for that paper's news group talking about journalism jobs disappearing, causing democracy to be at risk. I wanted to zoom in on what's going on in Denver, with Michael Hancock. He's the mayor of Denver, Colorado, and he joins me now.

Mayor, thanks for being here.

MICHAEL HANCOCK, MAYOR OF DENVER, COLORADO: You bet, Brian. My pleasure. Good morning.

STELTER: What's going on with "The Denver Post"? You have spoken out, and it seems to me you would like to see new ownership come in.

HANCOCK: You know, it's been difficult to watch over the last, I don't know, three, five years as we have seen the reduction of staff at "The Denver Post." We are certainly not seeing the level and breadth of reporting we're used to here in Colorado.

You might recall up until about ten years ago, Denver was a two-paper town, one of the very few remaining two-paper towns in the country. When "The Rocky Mountain News" went away, "The Denver Post" was left standing, and unfortunately now, we're seeing it diminish. So, it's a very difficult to see. Begin to see it diminish is a tough thing to watch.

STELTER: I was struck by the fact that you issued a statement supporting the paper, because the paper has been tough on you. The editorial page recently said you had lost trust. There's been accusations from a former member of your security detail, accusing you of sexual harassment. "The Denver Post" covering this story extensively.

So, why are you still deciding to speak out in support of the paper?

HANCOCK: Well, one of the things we can trust as a reader, as a general public, when we have mainstream media like "The Denver Post," that we can always trust they are reporting from standards -- with standards, I should say. With the advent of social media, one of the things that we're losing as a society is the trust and the, you know, belief that this is a -- these accusations, these concerns, these stories have been vetted and have been corroborated. And you can't do that in the social media platform.

Standards like "The Denver Post" bring to the market, one in which many of us believe in and pick up on every day, we can trust that what we read is at least -- has at least been vetted. And to give at least those who are accused the opportunity like myself to, you know, give a response that is appropriate, and accurate, and but at least have the balance.

And you can't count on that within the social media platform. "The Denver Post" is a responsible, objective medium here in our city, and we've got to believe that it's important for democracy and for those of us who depend on getting good information in our city, that it survives. And I believe that to my core.

STELTER: But, Mayor, you're a politician. Aren't you supposed attention to it's all fake news? Isn't that the thing to do now, just to attack the newspaper if it's covering you critically?

HANCOCK: Listen, I believe in democracy. I believe in the freedom of the press. And as someone who studied journalism in college, I also believe in the standards in which good media comes to the people.

And once people are given good information, you've got to trust they'll make their own decisions and decide how they move one way or the other. Unfortunately, again, with the lack of standards and lack of vetting and social media, we have people all over the place, and people don't know what to believe any more. And, unfortunately, believe in the wrong thing.


HANCOCK: Absolutely, absolutely. So, yes.

STELTER: Sorry. I saw the governor saying he thinks the paper has got to be sold. There are these investors trying to organize something. But, look, $10 million is not nearly enough. This paper would probably go for over $100 million.

HANCOCK: Absolutely.

STELTER: What do you think is going to happen with "The Denver Post" as this hedge fund continues to try to cut, cut, cut?

HANCOCK: You know, my hope is that it survives. But I've got to tell you, it doesn't look like there is much of a lifeline for the papers like "The Denver Post." I've got to tell you, it's really unusual, to your point, Brian, the city of Denver asking the question, what can we do as a government to save "The Denver Post."

We move in and work with entities, institutions, private businesses every day to try to keep them in the city, because this is about jobs. This is about an industry that is very important. This newspaper is 125 years old in the city of Denver. We're almost the same age. Denver is 160 years old.

So, it's very hard to imagine the city of Denver without "The Denver Post." I would love to see it sold. I'd love to see some responsible owners come in and take over "The Denver Post" so we can maintain this important, venerable institution in our city.

STELTER: Mayor, thanks for coming on. Appreciate it.

HANCOCK: My pleasure, Brian.

STELTER: After a quick break here, another story about local news you probably haven't heard about.


STELTER: Finally this morning, the real world consequences of tariffs. A newly imposed tariff on news print from Canada is hiking up the price of production for newspapers across the U.S. some of these papers are already struggling. You know, "The Tampa Bay Times" is really feeling the pinch. The paper's chairman, Paul Tash, told me he has to lay off 50 staffers.

Here's how he explained the math.


PAUL TASH, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, "THE TAMPA BAY TIMES": Since that petition went into place, and the tariffs have been imposed, the price of a ton of news print has gone from $600 a ton to $800 a ton. We use 17,000 tons a year at the "Tampa Bay Times," and that's an additional $3.5 million in expense to us, which is a consequence that we simply cannot absorb.


STELTER: Fewer staffers, fewer stories, it's a vicious cycle. You can hear more about it on this week's podcast. Our RELIABLE SOURCES podcast is online right now at

Thanks for tuning in. We'll see you right back here this time next week.