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Was the WHCA Dinner A Setback for Journalism?; Trump's Anti- Media Message: They Hate Your Guts". Aired 11a-12n ET

Aired April 29, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:19] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey, welcome to Washington. 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.

This hour, the White House correspondents' dinner aftermath. We'll get into it with the head of the association, Margaret Talev, and Trump insider, Anthony Scaramucci. I also have some questions for him about Trump's stunning phone call to Fox.

Later, scandals enveloping NBC News, and allegations against Tom Brokaw and a strange story about Joy Reid. David Zurawik here to break it all down.

Plus, an important new look at America's standing in the world when it comes to press freedom.

But first, the debate is raging over last night's White House correspondents' dinner, a night to celebrate journalism took a turn.

The question now is whether comedian Michelle Wolf went too far and maybe damaged the journalism profession. Her performance is being called embarrassing and cringe-worthy but also hilarious and epic. It's being cast as wildly inappropriate, some calling it a step backwards for journalism, while others are saying, hey, what's the big deal? She was very funny.

It is clear the partisan warfare is under way. There are charges of liberal intolerance and conservative hypocrisy. Of course, this is all coming at a moment of incredible tension between the press and the president, incredible distrust in the media. You have to ask if this performance made it worse.

Let's talk about it with four CNN analysts here. To talk through all of it, they were all at the dinner last night.

"Washington Post" Josh Dawsey, "Politico's" Eliana Johnson, "TIME's" Molly Ball and "Bloomberg's" Margaret Talev. She's the president of the White House Correspondents Association.

So, Margaret, we start with you.

There is so much fury about the jokes Michelle Wolf made on stage last night. Do you, as the head of association, have any regrets this morning? MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG NEWS:

Brian, I'll tell you this. First of all, it was a great honor to be able to preside over last night's dinner and to represent all of the journalists who cover the produce and we were really appreciative to have so many administration officials in the audience, including Sarah Sanders at the head table last night.


TALEV: My aim and the way I sought to put together the program was to build a spirit of unity in that room, to rally around journalism and why it's important. And I worked really hard to do that with my own speech, and with the selection of guests who sang and the woman to my side, an Egyptian-American woman, who was rescued by President Trump and is an advocate for press freedom.

My only regret is that to some extent, those 15 minutes are now defining four hours of what was a really wonderful, unifying night. And I don't want the cause of unity to be undercut.

STELTER: You're saying the celebration of the First Amendment was overshadowed by Wolf's raunchy jokes.

TALEV: Well, I mean, to some extent -- look, the comedian -- when the entertainer is a comedian and as has been the case for most of the last 30 years or so, they are often controversial. They are often, you know, to some extent, polarizing or at least provocative.

STELTER: Yes, definitely.

TALEV: And it's a night about free speech. So by tradition, we do not vet their monologue. We don't censor it, we don't even see it. In fact, I --

STELTER: So, you don't see the jokes beforehand, that's interesting.

TALEV: No, we don't. I did sneak down to the rehearsal and walk- through, just in case, but she wouldn't give anything up. So --

STELTER: Do you think she crossed a line?

TALEV: I think she brought to the night what she thought was important to say and that her goal may not have been press unity and everyone rallying around the room to support journalism. But, look, I invited her. And I invited her because I thought that she's a talented comedian who had a message to deliver and she did deliver a message. I delivered a message, too.


TALEV: My message is the one that I hope represents the press corps and certainly represents me. It was about my own personal experiences, my family experiences. Why I believe the journalism is so important.

STELTER: Tell me about choosing her, though. Why select her this year?

TALEV: Look, I mean, she's a comedian on the rise, and she's a woman, and 2017, 2018, 2016, these were all important years for women. I thought she was provocative and had a message to deliver. And she did deliver it.

STELTER: I think she views the Trump presidency as a crisis, as an emergency, and she was trying to speak truth to power, but she was criticized for some of these personal comments about Sarah Sanders. Let's watch, keeping in mind that the press secretary is sitting just a few feet away.


MICHELLE WOLF, COMEDIAN: I actually really like Sarah. I think she's very resourceful. Like she burns fats, and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye.

[11:05:02] Like, maybe she's born with it. Maybe it's lies. Probably lies.

And I'm never really sure what to call Sarah Huckabee Sanders, you know? Is it Sarah Sanders? Is it Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Is it cousin Huckabee, is it auntie Huckabee Sanders? Like what's Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women? Oh, I know, Ann Coulter.


STELTER: A lot of the criticism, Wolf has been about personal attacks against Sanders. People saying she was criticizing Sanders' personal appearance. Wolf responded overnight on Twitter said, I was actually trying to talk about her behavior, her behavior as White House press secretary.

But keeping in mind that, you know, I saw you walked over to Sanders right after the roast. Can you tell us about that conversation?

TALEV: I told her that I knew that this was a big decision, whether or not to attend the dinner and whether to sit at the head table, and that I really appreciated her being there. I thought it sent an important message about the role of government and the press being able to communicate with one another and work together, and that I appreciated her being there.

STELTER: Is there less of a chance she'll attend next year because of this?

TALEV: I don't know and I hope not.


TALEV: Again, Michelle Wolf is a comedian. She speaks for herself and that is her right to do that under the free speech and First Amendment, which we're celebrating.

STELTER: But you don't think having her there seems like an endorsement by the press corps?

TALEV: I think the comedian reflects on the press corps, but I don't think that the comedian speaks for the press corps. The press corps speaks for itself.

I'm the president of the White House Correspondents Association, and in my message last night, I sought to explain to everyone that journalists are Americans from all walks of life. We come from different partisan backgrounds. We come from different parts of the country.

We care about America. And we care about truth and fairness and freedom and news. That is the message that I want everyone to take away. And I hope it is the message people do take away.

STELTER: But in this tense time, the presidency has obviously changed. The world has changed. And it seemed like you're trying to put on the same event. New president, every year, we should be clear, it's a rotating job. You're the president of the association a couple more months.

But shouldn't the event change as the world changes? Maybe there shouldn't be comedians any more.

TALEV: Well, I think that's an interesting debate. I mean, it's definitely one that we should have and keep having, because the night is one to reflect what our members want to convey, the message our members want to convey. Olivier Knox, who's the vice president now and will take over for me in July, is going to have his own dinner put together and he's a very smart guy, very sensitive guy and I know he'll be thinking about all of those issues.

But for us, I think there is value in entertainment and in comedy. There is also value in serious public policy discussions and having the kind of mix of people that we had in that room last night. And it's vital that we can all get together and sit together and eat and talk about the issues and the First Amendment, and the free press.

STELTER: Yes, I mentioned the standards before the dinner. I was glad she was there, as well. I think it's valuable for the White House to be represented at the dinner. But now, in the aftermath of Michelle Wolf's -- what do we call it -- stand-up act, there are calls for apologies. We've heard from Fox's Ed Henry, a past president of the association, NBC's Andrea Mitchell a few minutes ago saying that the association should apologize to Sanders.

Will there be an apology?

TALEV: What I told you is what I have already told Sarah Sanders, that I speak for myself and the association, and that my interest is in the spirit of unity and in the spirit of serious journalism.

STELTER: You know, Andrea Mitchell in her tweet, she said, what started with an uplifting, heartfelt speech by you ended with Michelle Wolf. She is saying the comedian was the worst since Imus insulted Clinton. Are you concern that some people are being too sensitive about this?

TALEV: No, it was a four-hour program, and there was a comedian and there were a lot of other parts to it also. And I hope that everyone can remember that comedy is meant to be provocative. And it doesn't always hit the mark. And sometimes it hits the mark for some people and not for other people.

But, again, my interests overwhelmingly was in unifying the country, and I understand that we may have fallen a little bit short on that goal. I hope everyone will allow us to continue to keep working toward that goal. Look, comedy is meant to provoke thought and debate. And it certainly has done that.

But journalism also is meant to bring people together around common understandings. And I'm concerned that people now take away their own message from this.

STELTER: Let's open it up to our panel and take a look at a few of the other jokes from Michelle Wolf. I always enjoy the media critiques during these events. Let's take a look.


WOLF: You guys are obsessed with Trump. Did you used to date him? Because you pretend like you hate him, but I think you love him.

You helped create this monster, and now you're profiting off of him. You guys have got to stop putting Kellyanne on your shows. All she does is lie. If you don't give her a platform, she has nowhere to lie.

We've got our friends at CNN here. Welcome, guys.

[11:10:00] It's great to have you. You guys love breaking news. And you did it. You broke it.

Fox News is here. So you know what that means, ladies. Cover your drinks.


STELTER: Now I have to admit -- I shouldn't say this, because CNN gave me a ticket to the dinner, I left early. I wanted to watch Michelle Wolf on TV so I watched at a restaurant with a bunch of people who didn't give one hoot about the White House correspondents' dinner, just normal Washingtonians. They didn't care about these jokes.

But I do wonder since the three of you were there in the room with Margaret, reactions to Michelle Wolf in the room.

Eliana, was this a setback for journalism to have so many barbs directed at the Trump administration, that it seems like the press is at war with the president?

ELIANA JOHNSON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Yes, the routine was hit and miss. There were funny moments, and there were administration officials who laughed at the funny moments. But the focus is overwhelmingly on the misses. She made abortion jokes that were not funny. She made really barbed jokes directed at particular individuals that weren't funny.

But I do think we've seen progress. Margaret, you pointed this out. There were no administration officials at the dinner at all last year. And this year, it was nice to sit next to them and, you know, at every table, there were reporters chatting with administration officials. It was nice. So, I think over time, we have seen progress.

The other interesting thing, I think, was that there was an absolute exodus of the sort of Hollywood celebrities that we saw in the Obama administration. I mean, this used to be a sort of mingling of celebrities, reporters and lawmakers and government officials. I think that sort of speaks to the polarization of the country, because you couldn't get a single celebrity. There were some athletes there last night. There really weren't celebrities. I saw Kathy Griffin, but really none others.

So, this isn't really just about a comedian and bad jokes. I think the White House Correspondents Association is taking sort of undue blame for this. The country is polarized, and the dinner I think showcases that.

STELTER: Molly, your take?

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: Well, I think that's a really good point that Eliana made, is that there is -- it's about the continuing rift between the way that, you know, Trump and others have cast elites and so forth, and Hollywood is a big part of that.

I don't know what people were expecting. Given anyone who has seen, you know, a late night show in the last year-and-a-half has to know where comedians writ large are on this presidency. And in a lot of ways, it's a rich target.

So, if people weren't expecting there to be a lot of jokes, probably pretty mean ones, I don't think -- and I also think that some of this outrage is a bit theatrical. I don't think there's anyone in that room who's never heard a dirty joke before. And maybe you didn't think some were funny, but others were. And I just have a hard time getting really riled up about it.

STELTER: To your point about elites, Matt Schlapp, the head of the American Conservative Union, he walked out, along with his wife, Mercedes, a White House aide. He said, I'm tired of being mocked by the elites. They're obviously an elite couple in Washington. Just like a lot of the people in the room.

So, there is some theatrics, I agree. At the same time, there were also some hard jokes. Your point about the abortion jokes. Very uncomfortable. Not just for conservatives, for many Americans who were watching this on TV or who were in the room. Josh Dawsey, I want to show you something that Jim Acosta just

tweeted. He was talking about his reaction to the dinner, his reaction to the jokes. He said: My problem with last night's dinner is not that we had a comedian who told some nasty jokes. It's that we did not really address the nearly constant attacks on the press from the president. The dinner should change with the times. So we send a strong message to the world.

What do you think on that?

JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think Margaret did address that last night. I think there were lots of talks about the relationship between the press and presidency. I think he thanked administration folks for coming and you also talked about some of the sharp attacks on the president.

I think a lot of the dinner should be about, you know, journalism and not the red carpet, the mean-spirited jokes that we saw last night. Some of those I really thought were inappropriate. But, you know, I also was backstage and I got to meet a lot of scholarship winners, you know, journalism students from Missouri, people who want to cover conflict -- you know, a lot of really impressive students who are winning awards and they got to come up on stage, as well.

I mean, I really enjoyed talking with them and I think it's less about, you know, the red carpet. If you go to a dinner like that, you know, it's about honoring the best year. Think about the last year. I mean, it's been a pinnacle of investigative journalism.

We have seen some of the best work from my colleagues at "The Post", from "The New York Times", from "Politico", from "Bloomberg", other outlets. You know, there's been a lot of great work, and I kind of fear that in that kind of situation last night, that gets lost for the jokes. And I think, you know, a lot of it is about the work and the students and kind of what we're doing here.



JOHNSON: I was going to say -- I mean, I thought that Michelle Wolf's jokes about journalism and journalists were the funniest jokes of the night, because there is a huge focus among journalists about Trump's attack on journalists. But what we don't say is that it is a great time to be a journalist.

And journalists have profited enormously from the Trump presidency. There really is a renaissance in journalism and I don't think that there is enough focus on that from journalists who complain about his attacks on the press.

STELTER: And I noticed among the awards presented last night when the CNN team was up accepting an award, Sarah Sanders pointedly sat while everyone else on stage was standing and applauding.

[11:15:03] Did you have a reaction to that Margaret? Was that notable to you?

TALEV: I didn't even notice it.


TALEV: I was so busy handing out the awards, I didn't notice.

STELTER: To me, that was a sign of the ongoing tensions that exist. To me, when you see the president, he's almost there's attacks against the media dehumanizing journalists. That's why I think it's invaluable to have White House aides there at the dinner, because any time we have face time, with these press representatives and cabinet officials, it's valuable. It shows the humanity of this job. Let's take a quick break.

Right after this break, more about the president and his rally in Michigan last night. That was the other big event of Saturday. We'll talk about his latest media attacks, and what the tone of it means, right after this.



The last president to skip a White House correspondents' dinner was Ronald Reagan back in 1981, that was because he was recovering from an assassination attempt. He's still called in by phone. Now, the last president to skip a dinner two times two years in a row was Richard Nixon.

But now, President Trump has kind of come up with a tradition of his own, counter-programming the dinner with a rally, where he attacks the media and his other perceived foes. I was curious to see how far he would go in Washington Township, Michigan, last night. This to me was the key sound bite from the over hour-long rally.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Is this better than that phony Washington White House correspondents' dinner?

[11:20:02] I could be up there tonight, smiling like I love where they're hitting you shot after shot, these people, they hate your guts.


STELTER: There are two ways to read that shocking statement. Either he's saying when he's up there smiling, pretending to enjoy it, they hate his guts, or what he's saying more broadly is that the American media hates Trump's voters, that they hate your guts. It's a troubling statement either way.

Let's bring back the panel and talk more about it, Eliana Johnson, Josh Dawsey, Molly Ball and Margaret Talev. Josh, you were tweeting about this statement, they hate your guts

line. To me, it was kind of a preview of the midterms, that this could be a message for the president in the midterms, no matter how cynical and wrong it is.

DAWSEY: Obviously, none of us hate the American public's guts or Donald Trump's guts. I mean, our executive editor, Marty Baron, says, you know, we're at work, not at -- I mean, we're not at war, we're at work. And I think that's an accurate depiction of it.

The president is seen time and time again that a good foe for him is the media. His base loves it, his supporters love it. You see, frequently, when he goes up and goes after us on stage, he gets a large applause line.

Some of the rhetoric is pretty, you know, sharp. Last night was pretty sharp when he says enemy of the American people. That's a lot to handle.

Obviously, we're not the enemy of the American people. Obviously, we don't hate his guts or their guts. But I think we're going to see more of it. I think when you have 2018, you have Republicans trying to keep the House, you have the president doing rallies across the country -- you know, I think what you'll see at these rallies is what you saw last night, sharp media criticism, long rants about the media. And it's just -- it is reality in 2018. That's all there is to it.

STELTER: So, what should we learn, Eliana, from the cheers at the rallies, when there are cheers for these media attacks? What should we learn about that?

JOHNSON: Well, I think the Trump campaign very successfully in 2016 by pitting elites, I don't think it was about journalists. I think it was about elites more broadly. It was lawmakers -- people at the dinner last night were lawmakers, athletes, journalists.

But pitting them against what he per seat perceives as the American public more broadly, people in fly over country, which is where he was, that worked tremendously well for him. And I think that people -- who live in that part of the country do feel that they are not understood, their concerns aren't felt by those in Washington, D.C., which is why it's an issue that works for him.

And he's going to continue to harp on that issue. And it may very well be successful in the midterms, even though it does look like there's a lot of energy on the Democratic side that wasn't there in 2016.

STELTER: You know, about these attacks, Margaret, you said at the dinner last night, I'm going to quote you, we reject efforts by anyone, especially our elected leaders, to paint journalism as un- American, obviously talking about the president and other politicians there. You said that a few feet away from Sarah Sanders.

Forget Michelle Wolf for a minute, I'm thinking that must have been uncomfortable for Sanders, having to face that reality. TALEV: I actually don't think so. We talk about this all of the

time, in public and in discussions about coverage. You know, we seek to have a good working, productive relationship with every White House that we cover.

STELTER: But her boss is sending out a form of poison, again, painting journalists as un-American. How do you possibly have a relationship in that environment?

TALEV: President Trump was elected. He's the president of the United States. And we cover the president of the United States.

And we cover every president of the United States, in fulsome way, in a fair way. We seek to get as much information as possible about the programs that they are, you know, rolling out and how they want to govern. And it's not fun or comfortable to be used as a pawn in political play. But it doesn't change the way we do our jobs.

And on this other question of voter anger, I think the president has tapped into something real. Really real. And it exists everywhere in this country, in places where people feel forgotten or disconnected or misunderstood.

I think some of it has to do maybe with the decline of local newspapers and local television. Some of it has to do with what we cover in Washington and whether it connects to them. And some of it just has to do with feeling frustrated and left behind, and feeling angry at a lot of pillars of the establishment, including the press.

You know, we are an establishment organization, to the extent that we are monolithic in any way, which we're not. But we are part of the establishment. And if you have anger towards the establishment, then your feeling about a group that covers the establishment entities, the White House, Congress, business, it just makes sense that people are frustrated.

I think we need to find a way to connect with people. And one thing the correspondents' association has been doing this year is beginning a program of visiting around the country to try to meet with constituents -- to try to meet with Americans, you know, to try to meet with readers and news consumers and people who are affected by politics.

STELTER: I love that.

TALEV: We did in our first session in Independence, Missouri, at the Truman Library. There were hundreds of people there. We're doing one at the Reagan library in Simi Valley next month. And we hope -- you know, my term ends in July, but under Olivier and then under John Karl after that, we hope to continue this program.

[11:25:02] There are lots of presidential libraries in all parts of the country.


TALEV: And it's really good -- and people come.

And they want to talk about what's President Trump like? How do you your jobs? How do you do anonymous sources? How come you use anonymous sources?

Why don't you cover education? Why don't you cover what's happening in my community? Why are you always talking about Russia?

And it's very valuable and useful, not just for us, but I hope for the people that we meet with to just feel that we're not these -- you know, people you see on a piece of paper or see on the TV screen. We're real people. We also have children. We also have health problems. We also have concerns.

STELTER: And at the risk of sounding too optimistic here as I close out the conversation -- yes, there is a lot of frustration with journalists. There's also a lot of people depending on the information right now, Molly. And I see so much support for journalism at the same time I see so much anger and outrage. It's that tension. Both are true at the same time.

BALL: And that's -- I was going to say the same thing. There has been a backlash to Trump's attacks on the press I have noticed since 2016. Yes, I still get angry letters. I've gotten angry letters my entire career as a journalist.

But I also -- what's new is a lot of people saying sort of attagirl, right? A lot of people saying, please keep doing what you do, it's important. And it's not liberal or conservative. It's just everyday Americans who have become more alert to the role of the press in their lives and the necessity of the press. And that is nice to hear for a change.

So I think, you know, this is how polarization works. It's a two- sided thing, right? So, even as he's made some in his base very angry at the press, and I think as Josh was saying, that's a fight we should not engage in, right?

But on the other side, he has also galvanized some people to remember why they like us.

STELTER: To our panel, thank you so much for being here. Great to see you all.

I just want to show one more data point about what the effects are of these kind of constant anti-media messages. A few days ago, Reporters Without Borders released its World Press Freedom Index. Look, it's getting darker all around the world. There are authoritarian regimes that are cracking down the press in damaging ways all around the world.

In the U.S., there was a drop of two spots from 43 to 45. Obviously, the press much more free in the U.S. than in most of the world. But you see the world getting darker there. That's the organization saying the press freedoms are being restricted in many countries around the world. To that data point, back here at home, you look at this new Quinnipiac

poll. Really interesting finding, the pollsters asked Americans to choose -- you have to choose here between the press. Are they friend or enemy, basically? Among Republicans, you see here, 51 percent of Republicans saying they choose -- we call the news media an enemy of the people -- the president's language -- as opposed to a key part of democracy.

Interesting data point there, and a reminder of the challenge journalists face, trying to show how they do function in this democracy.

Up next, Anthony Scaramucci is here. I have a lot of questions for him. We're going to get to it, right after the break.



STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES from Washington today.

President Trump ended his drought of interviews by calling in live to vent on "FOX & Friends" Thursday morning.

If you haven't watched it, I recommend pulling up the entire thing on the Web.

You know, the president has limited his interview availability this year. I think it's worth thinking about last year vs. this year. He was new in office. He gave more than a dozen interviews in the first few months in office.

This year, there's been a real pullback. The president gave a couple of short interviews in Davos. He's called into FOX twice. And that's about it.

It seems he's mostly limiting, mostly avoiding giving interviews. He does do those press availabilities, where he answers questions with a small group of reporters. He holds the occasional joint press conference.

But we're not seeing him sit down for one-on-one interviews, the way past presidents have.

Let's go look at that "FOX & Friends" call, though, because this phone call was remarkable for so many reasons, including for the way the "FOX & Friends" host tried to interrupt.




TRUMP: ... there was no way to break 270.

KILMEADE: All right.

TRUMP: I heard that on CBS, and NBC, and ABC. They're all fake news.


TRUMP: I heard that for so long -- and CNN.

KILMEADE: Let's talk about...

TRUMP: I think we're going to do better than people think in the midterms.

KILMEADE: Mr. President...

TRUMP: Did you know it's very...


TRUMP: The economy is so strong, and jobs are so good that I think we're going to surprise.

But last night, I did watch...

AINSLEY EARHARDT, FOX NEWS: Mr. President, can I ask one question?

TRUMP: I did watch a liar-leaker. And his performance, by the way, was horrible.

There is no collusion with me and Russia.

KILMEADE: All right.


TRUMP: And everyone knows it.

KILMEADE: Everyone. We could talk to you all day but it looks like...

TRUMP: Sure.

KILMEADE: ... you have a million things to do.


STELTER: Actually, it seemed like the president wanted to keep talking.

Joining me now is former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci.

So, Anthony, there was a report from Maggie Haberman that the president's aides did not want him to call into "FOX & Friends," did not want him to do it.

Would you advise him to give more or fewer interviews? ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well,

I mean, first of all, good morning.

But, secondarily, I think one of the problems is, he has a lot to say. And you have to remember, the president is a television star. He was on NBC for 15-plus years, award-winning show.

And I have always said, let him go out there and let him talk and get him out on a number of different formats, because I think what happens is, he's getting the opportunity to speak, he knows he's got a big audience to speak to at FOX News. And then he loaded the shotgun, basically...

STELTER: I mean, sort of.

SCARAMUCCI: ... and then started to say all the things he said.

STELTER: If he went on NBC or "The CBS Evening News," he would have a much bigger audience than he gets on FOX.


STELTER: If he had gone to the dinner last night, he would have had a big audience.

SCARAMUCCI: Well -- well, let's talk about ABC and NBC first.

Yes, on the major networks, he would. But I think what problem is, is that after you have a wartime declaration with the media, you're basically painted into a corner. And so...


STELTER: Who declared war?

SCARAMUCCI: But I think the thing has to be de-escalated on both sides.

I was watching the early part of your show. I have an enormous amount of respect for Margaret and what she does at the White House Correspondents Association. But it would have been very nice to have given an apology, given what happened.

I understand the freedom of the press and all that other stuff, but she is also a free speaker as well. She could use her First Amendment right and look Sarah Huckabee straight in the face and say, geez, I'm very, very sorry about that. This woman said what she said. We gave her the free speech to do it, but it was wholly and totally inappropriate, and my opinion of it is that it was just wrong.

And so, by not doing that, what ends up happening is, you got escalation of hostilities on both sides. And I will say this to you, Brian. I would have loved to have seen the president there, but I'm very happy that the president was not there to listen to that, because, you know, he may have gotten up and walked out.

And that would have been even more devastating to the tension that's going on between the White House and the press.

STELTER: President George W. Bush sat there while Stephen Colbert laid into him about the Iraq War and other matters. That's just part of the job for presidents. You have got to be able to take a joke, Anthony.

SCARAMUCCI: Well, there's no question that the president can take a joke.

But, see, this is what I think. It's sort of interesting, because I'm not a Washingtonian, and I was at a few parties on Friday.

STELTER: Yes. Yes.

SCARAMUCCI: And I think this is something the press misunderstands about the president and like normal people that like live here in New York, is, when you're hitting that hard, people have a tendency to react.

I go to the National Press Club, I give a 90-minute exposition of a number of different things that are going on policy-wise, and then I get snark-attacked in "The Washington Post" in just a ridiculous, nonfactual way.

And so, you know, I'm a normal person. I say, geez, that -- is that what happened? I had 10 or 15 friends there. I even called Maggie Haberman and asked her, hey, is that how I sounded or came across at the National Press Club?

And so I think what you guys are missing is, you think it's totally OK to take a cheese grater to somebody's face, grate their face, drop the cheese grater, and say, geez, part of your job is to have the right side of your face bleeding.

And so, again, you're -- you're going to disagree with me. I see the body language from you. You are disagreeing with me. You guys do what you're doing. The president is going to react in a way that I think is bad for the First Amendment. And I think it's bad on both sides.

STELTER: I don't think there's a...

SCARAMUCCI: And so I'm a huge champion of the First Amendment, Brian.

And let me tell you something that you don't talk about. The First Amendment is great for the economy, because we teach our children how to think creatively and express themselves freely.

STELTER: It's a great point.

SCARAMUCCI: And that's why so many of these great companies are invented here.

In these autocracies and all those black areas of the world that you pointed out...


SCARAMUCCI: ... they don't teach that to their kids. And they have a narrow-banded thinking, and they ultimately have to go out and try to steal our technology.

And so we definitely need the First Amendment. But if you're asking me honestly, I think the hostilities need to be de-escalated on both sides. It's not just the White House. What happened last night was an atrocity.


SCARAMUCCI: And it was like literally watching Michael Wolff with a wig on.

STELTER: I know, but, Anthony, atrocity?

SCARAMUCCI: I thought Michelle Wolf was Michael Wolff, actually.


STELTER: That's a good line.

SCARAMUCCI: It was ridiculous.

STELTER: Atrocity? There are some real crises in America. I don't think jokes at a dinner is one of them.


I will tell you why it's an atrocity, because it doesn't help what you're trying to achieve and what I think all of us are trying to achieve.


SCARAMUCCI: Your logo says facts first. We want the White House, obviously, to be accountable. We want people in the White House -- we want an openness with the White House.

But this constant barrage of attacks, people are human, Brian. They're just going to look at that and say, hey, I'm sorry, no mas.

STELTER: No, look, I'm with you. And I think there is so much tribalism in the country, that that kind of stand-up act does do damage to the standing of the journalism profession.

But you're talking about de-escalating. Do you think the president should be giving interviews to CNN, MSNBC? I'm not expecting him to go on Rachel Maddow's show right away, but, you know, CNN, NBC, other major networks?

SCARAMUCCI: I -- I -- I have said that from day one.

You know, I had that job for 11 days. But on the first...

STELTER: Why doesn't he take your counsel? I know you still talk to him. Why doesn't he take that advice?

SCARAMUCCI: Well, I think -- I think he feels that he's not going to get a fair shake. I think he feels that if he goes into these situations -- again, I will just give an example.

I'm at the National Press Club. Go look at the tape and then go read the "Washington Post" story. He feels that these things are going to get twisted and convoluted. And he feels much better just going directly to people on Twitter or going to Washington Township, Michigan, and giving a speech.

I think if people would treat him fairly and just let him speak and talk about the policies, the agenda, I mean -- I mean, there's a huge story that went on last week that I don't think is really being covered properly.

STELTER: What's that?

SCARAMUCCI: He helped, with Mike Pompeo and others on his team, H.R. McMaster, et cetera, to bring peace to the North and South of Korea.

And there has been a truce there and an armistice, but not a peace treaty. And they're working towards that now.


STELTER: You don't think there's been enough coverage? There has been a lot of attention.

SCARAMUCCI: I -- I -- I think the coverage is like people are more shocked about it, and people are more begrudgingly giving the president credit, as opposed to telling the facts the way they actually are.



STELTER: How are we going to measure how much credit he's supposed to get? I mean, that's impossible.

SCARAMUCCI: OK, so -- so, Brian, Brian, if you switched it around, if it was a Democratic president, there's a lot of people on the Republican side that think there would be a whole jamboree session going on in the media.

And so he -- he helped to do that. And you have got to -- you have got to give the guy credit for it. If you guys -- if you guys want to give him muted credit or begrudging credit, it just comes across unfair to a lot of people. A lot of people -- a lot of people tune it out.

They watch it on TV and say, why aren't they giving him credit? He basically -- 65 years of intractable agony on the Korean Peninsula.

STELTER: I have seen everybody giving him credit, but I hear you. SCARAMUCCI: And we're now going for peace and denuclearization.

STELTER: Anthony Scaramucci, thanks for being here. Please come back soon.

SCARAMUCCI: I appreciate it, Brian. Thank you.

STELTER: After the break, NBC News in hot water. There's controversies involving Tom Brokaw. He's denying sexual harassment allegations against him. There's also questions about where NBC's internal investigation is.

That's into Matt Lauer, of course.

Details about all of it right after this.



STELTER: Troubles at NBC News.

Two very different stories, one involving Tom Brokaw, the other involving MSNBC's Joy Reid.

NBC News chairman Andy Lack is promising results as soon as next week in that ongoing investigation involving Matt Lauer, the harassment claims against him and the broader culture issues at NBC News.

Now there are shocking claims about news legend Tom Brokaw. "Variety" and "The Washington Post" have interviewed former reporter Linda Vester, who says that Brokaw made unwanted sexual advances in the early 1990s. She says she is speaking out now because she's concerned that the network is not really investigating and making the necessary culture changes.

Now, Brokaw has angrily denied the allegations, first in a statement, then in a lengthy e-mail to his colleagues that he says he didn't mean to be seen publicly -- quote -- "I am facing a long list of grievances from a former colleague who left NBC News angry that she had failed in her pursuit of stardom. She has unleashed a torrent of unsubstantiated criticism and attacks on me more than 20 years after I opened a door for her in a new job at FOX News."

Brokaw saying he's the true victim here.

More than 100 women either working currently or formerly working at NBC News have signed a letter supporting Brokaw. The letter includes names like Rachel Maddow and Andrea Mitchell. The letter says Brokaw treated each of them with fairness and respect and "has given each of us opportunities for advancement and championed our successes throughout our careers."

Many people standing with Brokaw, but there are questions about whether other women could come forward in the future.

Joining me now, David Zurawik, media critic for "The Baltimore Sun."

That's one of the unanswered questions here, right, David? I have asked Linda Vester's attorney if he has been contacted by other women who might have accusations against Brokaw. He will not answer that question. He won't say either way.

But the "Washington Post" story did cite an anonymous second woman making the claims. How are we to assess NBC's handling of this matter?

DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": Look, I think, so far, NBC has handled this matter really poorly, Brian, with the internal investigation.

I think they should have gone outside for credibility. It's going -- whatever they come up with in-house is going to be met with skepticism. And I'm talking about Lauer and all the other stuff that went before.

STELTER: But is that really fair? It's the head general counsel for NBC. She's a respected attorney doing this investigation.

ZURAWIK: Brian, the culture of any institution, but especially a network institution, makes them not want to find problems if they can avoid it.

It may go all the way up to the president of the network, you know? And this person works for them. It's just human nature. You don't go in-house. I'm not saying anything about this particular investigator. I don't know anything about her. But the point is, that if you go outside, you do a thorough investigation, you have results that you can show to people and say, look, this is what we did.

We're taking this seriously. Also, this has gone on for a long, long time.

STELTER: Well, it's been five months since Lauer was fired. And I thought it was telling that, in this "Washington Post" interview, Ann Curry for the first time says she tried to speak out in 2012.

She says to "The Post" that she approached two members of NBC's management, because -- quote -- "A woman approached me and asked tearfully if I could help her, because she was afraid of losing her job," because she had an experience with Lauer, but was afraid to report it.

Curry says she believed this anonymous woman and told management they had a problem with Lauer. But she suggested nothing was done. Curry then lost her job later in the year.

ZURAWIK: And that only adds to the skepticism involved here, because 2012 is it a long time ago. And there is all this suspicion and even enmity towards Lauer built up in the departure of Curry from NBC News.


ZURAWIK: It was "People" magazine. It was tabloid fodder continually.

So there is this residue of people believing or thinking they know something they do about whether the network might have covered up because he was a money machine. Morning TV where the money is now. You have a morning anchor.

By the way, I think some of this has been overrated of the power of these stars, because the shows have done pretty well once they left. Yes. Yes.

STELTER: Yes, Lauer was removed, and the show is doing just fine.



STELTER: On Joy Reid -- I want to ask you about this strange Joy Reid story too.

A couple days ago, she -- there were these reports that she had posted these homophobic blog posts, what, more than a decade ago. She said -- she suggested she was hacked. Now she admits she can't prove she was hacked.

She's saying sorry for her past posts, but it's still murky if she actually posted them.

Do you think this is going to harm her or MSNBC?

ZURAWIK: Look, again, same problem. Andy Lack, president of NBC News -- this has been bubbling in the Internet and in social media for a long, long time, OK?

She brought it on her show Saturday morning. NBC News now owes us an investigation of this, because we don't -- look, I watched it Saturday morning live. I read everything about it.

My feeling is, I don't know exactly what she's saying, even. I'm confused by what she says happened with this. But if it is what I think it is, that I was hacked, that I wasn't -- we couldn't find evidence of the hack, I wrote some things in the past, but now I can't believe I wrote them because that's not me.

Look, you have to -- if you walk in a newsroom with a story and said something like that, the editor would say, hey, Stelter, what do we know to actually be true here, OK? That's your lead. Write that sentence.

A news organization needs the same thing. They need to offer its audiences clarity, and they need to offer their audiences some kind of credible information that they can believe. They owe it to do another kind of outside investigation.

STELTER: Well, look, if we're going to hold the administration accountable, we need to hold ourselves accountable.

ZURAWIK: Exactly.

STELTER: I'm out of time here, but, David, thank you so much for being here.


STELTER: After the break, a story you're going to want to hear about Dr. Sanjay Gupta and his open letter to the attorney general about weed.



STELTER: Welcome back.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta's next special about weed is airing tonight here on CNN. There's been such a remarkable shift in public attitudes toward the legalization of marijuana in the past 10, 15 years ago.

This Gallup poll now shows approval at about 64 percent nationwide.

So, earlier, I asked Gupta, how much he attributes journalism, media coverage of this topic to the shift in opinion?


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think what journalism has provided is the facts and the data and the truth around this, because that was very hard to find.

You had a lot of loud voices talking about the harms of cannabis, even at the federal level, in terms of the research they funded, and not as many voices talking about the medicinal benefits.

You heard some of that in other countries and non-federally funded labs, but you didn't hear it much elsewhere. So, I think journalism helped fill that gap.

STELTER: And your views started to change when?

GUPTA: My views started to change about five years ago.

Previously, I had done a fair amount of writing on this topic. I wrote a story for "TIME" magazine back about nine years ago that basically said, I'm not that impressed with medicinal marijuana, I have looked at the data and I don't find it particularly compelling.

About five years ago, I realized something I think very important that I think has a parallel to media as well, Brian. And that is, when I looked at the macro view of medicinal marijuana in this country, and started looking at all the scientific literature, which is where I start, 94 percent -- we calculated 94 percent of the studies were designed to find harm.

What is the risk of addiction, what is the risk of cancer, what are the side effects? And only about 6 percent were designed to find any benefit. So if you're looking at that from a macro level, you would say there is nothing here. This is mainly problematic.

And I realized that was a problem upstream. Studies designed to find benefit were not getting funded. Researchers could not conduct those studies. It was preordained as a substance that has no medicinal value.

That's when I started to say, well, what's going on here, looking at patients, going to other countries, looking at these other labs. That's when it started to change.

STELTER: That reminds me of a problem throughout journalism, these kinds of studies or surveys or kinds of research that's actually done by somebody with an agenda.

GUPTA: That's right.

STELTER: So you wrote in your letter to Sessions, you said: "I changed my mind, and I am certain you can as well."

Is this letter, is this a step toward advocacy journalism for you?

GUPTA: I don't think so. I think it's a really fair question.

But I think that actually getting the data behind -- in one place and being able to present it in a scientifically based way, full of truth and facts, is actually really hard to do. It was hard for me to do.

So I said, you know what? I spent five years doing this. Let me assimilate what we have learned in as easy to read a fashion as possible. To the extent that you and I are communicators and we can communicate this in a way that people understand, that's something that I think is helpful here.

Cannabis can help treat pain. That is a consensus by the National Academy of Science. That is not an opinion. It can treat pain. It can treat the withdrawal when people are trying to come off of opioids. That is not an opinion, again. That's a fact.

It can help heal an addict's brain, so they don't continue to relapse. That's scientific data that is going on right now at Mount Sinai Hospital. The research is happening there. These are facts.

And I think it's important for someone like the attorney general and other people within the administration to know this.

STELTER: Sanjay, thanks so much for being here.

GUPTA: You got it, Brian. Thank you.


STELTER: You can watch Gupta's full report, "Weed 4: Pot Vs. Pills." It's tonight here at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time. Then, "BOURDAIN" returns at 9:00, and a new season of "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA" Kamau Bell following "BOURDAIN," a big night of prime-time programming on CNN.

That's all for this week's RELIABLE SOURCES, but you can sign up for our nightly newsletter at, all the day's media news recapped for you. We e-mail it to you for free at the end of the day.

Tonight's newsletter will be a doozy, given all this news from Washington about the Correspondents Dinner and the aftermath.

We will see you back here on TV this time next week.