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News Fatigue: A Challenge for Readers and Reporters; "BuzzFeed" Editor Speaks Out About DOJ Seizing Records; Tribute to Anthony Bourdain; Covering Sensitive Subjects; Talking with Author Steven Brill. Aired 11a-12n ET

Aired June 10, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:06] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey, 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 week, a heartbreaking loss for CNN and for the world, after the tragic death of Anthony Bourdain. Journalist Jason Rezaian is here to tell how this meal with Anthony changed his life. We'll also have a frank conversation about how not to cover suicides.

Plus, President Trump cracking down on leaks as the Justice Department seizes a reporter's e-mails and phone records. I'll have an explosive interview with her former boss, "BuzzFeed" editor Ben Smith.

But, first, if you snooze, you lose. Right now is the worst time for news fatigue, and the best time for reporters to be thinking differently about how to tell stories.

This new Pew Survey is a wake-up call. Look at this. It finds that roughly seven out of 10 Americans say they feel worn out by the amount of news out there.

Do you feel it? I sure do. News fatigue, but now is not the time to take a nap.

I mean, look what's going on. President Trump excels at making news. He shocked the world again last night by criticizing Canada and insulting the G7, well, the rest of the G7, on his way to Singapore.

Let's go back a few days. Trump started the week off by disinviting the Eagles from the White House and lying about the team, renewing one of the battles his base loves. Then he went to a FEMA meeting about hurricane season but only briefly mentioned Puerto Rico, never acknowledging the new estimates about the death toll there.

"The Washington Post" obtained a bunkers tape of Trump's private remarks. He went on about his popularity, his political endorsements, Defense Department purchasing guidelines and coal?

Now, Trump continues to own almost every news cycle, tweeting out that he has, quote, the absolute right to pardon himself and on Kim Kardashian West's advice, he did pardon Alice Johnson. Later, he said he was considering pardoning the late Muhammad Ali who doesn't need a pardon since his conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court. Now, while others continued to lobby for pardons on TV, including

people connected with the Russia probes, Trump continued to bash the special counsel calling it unconstitutional. It's not. Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani went out there and said Robert Mueller is trying very hard to frame Donald Trump.

Meantime, Mueller accused Paul Manafort of witness tampering, and then ended the week by filing new obstruction charges against Manafort and one of his long-time business associates. So, Trump keeps talking, Mueller keeps working. As Philip Bump wrote, the so-called witch hunt snags another witch.

Are you tired yet? Are you numb?

I'm not done. The list of Trump world scandals keeps growing. With stories about EPA chief Scott Pruitt stacking up at a dizzying pace. Some of the other stories show how he's abusing power, other stories are just embarrassing.

It's a lot to keep track of, which means it's a really bad time to have news fatigue. So, what can news rooms do to help?

Joining me now is an all-star panel. David Frum, author of "Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic". Indira Lakshmanan, journalist and ethics chair at Poynter and columnist with the "Boston Globe". And with me here in New York, Steven Brill, founder of Court TV, and the co-CEO of News Guard.

Indira, do you feel what I'm feeling? Are you feeling this news fatigue, too?

INDIRA LAKSHMANAN, COLUMNIST, BOSTON GLOBE: Absolutely, and, you know, not only am I feeling it. The Pew survey that you referred to showed that seven in ten Americans are feeling it. It's an even more pronounced feeling among Republicans, conservatives and especially people who as we found in our Poynter media trust survey last year don't like the media, don't trust the media, don't like the coverage.

I hear this routinely from everyone I know, whether they're in the news business or not, that they're wanting to delete Twitter from their phone --


LAKSHMANAN: -- delete Facebook and turn off from the news because it's so depressing.

What I think the problem is, is overload. When there's outrage every single day and every single new cycle, the president manages to normalize it, and effectively, it means we stop paying attention to really what is outrageous because everything seems outrageous, or at least I think that's his plan.

STELTER: This Pew study, it also found a slight difference between the Republicans and Democrats. We can put on screen the data that shows the difference. Seventy-seven percent of Republicans said they felt news fatigue, only

61 percent of Democrats. But that's still a very high number for both parties. And overall as you can see, 68 percent of people worn out by the amount of news.

Steve, are there solutions that news rooms can be helping with? Are there ways for news rooms to help with people to make sense of all the nonsense right now?

STEVE BRILL, AUTHOR, "TAILSPIN": Well, I think the news rooms are actually doing a pretty good job. The problem is the fatigue. For example, "The Washington Post" has done a series of stories not just about, you know, the Scott Pruitt scandals and embarrassments but about how the Trump administration has undermined the basic yet hidden functions of the government, whether it's the Department of Agriculture, whether it's the Department of Health and Human Services, whether it's making decisions in court, for example, not to defend the pre-existing conditions regulation.

[11:105:17] All of this really important stuff is going on in terms of what the government is doing that is getting drowned out by the Pruitt stuff and the president's, you know, continuing --

STELTER: By the tweet of the day. Yes.

BRILL: -- outrageous, you know, tweets.

And that's a real problem because we're going to wake up in a year or two and see that the basic functions of government, which I tried to cover in the book I just did, the basic functions have been undermined by termites who have been put into the government who are people who don't believe in those functions of the government and want to undermine them, whether it's letting the payday lenders, you know, go back to charging 100 percent interest a week. It's all that stuff that we're not able to pay attention to.

STELTER: My concern is that we're not always telling the big picture story. We're telling lots and lots of hour by hour stories about Trump and about changes in government.

And here's what Jay Rosen wrote, the New York University press corps, about the big picture of what's going on. And he's a big Trump critic. He says the marginalization of science, the contempt for diplomats, the impatience with briefers, the refusal to prepare for meetings, the campaign to discredit the press, the attack on the intelligence agencies, it's all one story but it's not told that way.

Do you think that's a fair point?

BRILL: I think it's a fair point, but I also think maybe it has to be packaged differently.

STELTER: Packaged differently? Yes.

BRILL: For example, "The Washington Post" I think every month ought to publish something separately that contains all its good reporting of what's going on inside the government's agencies that people will have to notice because it's packaged differently. It's not just, you know, a story on, you know, the 11th page of the New Hampshire, you know, on a given Wednesday morning.

STELTER: Right. Right. Right.

BRILL: Because this is really important stuff and real people are affected by this. No one's really affected by, you know, Scott Pruitt's hunt for moisturizer at the Ritz-Carlton.

STELTER: Although that story was embarrassing.

Let me go to you, David Frum, on the subject of the G7, maybe now the G6. President Trump had this impromptu news conference yesterday. He seemed to be in a chatty mood, wanting to answer questions. When a CNN reporter asked him about his relationships with other countries, he said it was a 10, which is obviously not true as we learned later in the day.

But here's how the president reacted with a cry of fake news.




TRUMP: I figured. Fake news, CNN. The worst, but I could tell by the -- I had no idea you were CNN. After the question, I was just curious who you were with. You're with CNN.


STELTER: David, how unusual is it for an American president to make fun of the press or criticized the press not just when he's home but also when he's abroad?

DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: When the president does these things, he empowers every thug, every dictator around the planet. You know, to your very first question about news fatigue, if your child is feverishly ill, it can be very fatiguing to sit by her bedside and take care of her but it's what you do, because that's your duty and that's -- I think your responsibility and it's also a source of satisfaction to you.

If your country is ill, you have the same responsibility. You know, there may be things that news rooms can do differently or better to help people keep better track of the stories, but it's also your responsibility as a citizen. You can't put your responsibilities on the press and say, why didn't you make this easier for me, more entertaining? Why didn't you make the news less frightening than it really is? I would like a different truth please.

The job of the press is to tell you the truth as it is, whether it's good news or not. And then it's your responsibility as a patriot and a citizen to accept it and to internalize it and to act on it. You know, in many ways, we got Donald Trump in the first place as a punishment for not being good enough citizens and our ability to mitigate the harm he's going to do to institutions, to alliances, to the security of the world will depend on our -- as individuals, willingness to do to be better citizens in the future, and that means being informed citizens. That's not on the press.

STELTER: You wrote a very bruising piece earlier today at "The Atlantic" about what happened at the G-7 meeting. What I'm wondering, David, is whether you thought about keeping your powder dry at this moment in time when Trump is heading into this key meeting with the North Korean dictator? Is it appropriate right now to be so aggressive, to be so critical of Trump ahead of this summit?

FRUM: I don't even understand that question. I had a chance to get inside the meeting a little bit and to tell people what had happened.


FRUM: The Trump people want to, I think, suggest that just as the Canadians, although they didn't, burn down the White House, it would be Justin Trudeau's fault if Trump's summit in Singapore isn't something that Trump can package as a success.

[11:10:13] But I think one of the things, and I've also written about this, is people need to understand the difference between actual success that secures the security of the world and the peace of the world and what Trump is going to pass off, which will actually be a tremendous -- which is actually a series of concessions to the North Koreans that will make the United States less safe, just for the photo-op.

STELTER: So, you're saying don't be fooled by the photo op?

But I think the broader issue is this idea of journalism and patriotism.

Steven Brill, you've talked about this for many years. Journalists, you know, American journalists, they still have a sense of patriotism. And I've heard a lot of folks on TV saying, we're all rooting for this to go well. That's what I mean when I say is it appropriate at this --

BRILL: There's a difference between rooting for it to go well and saying it's gone well when it hasn't be gone well --

STELTER: That's true.

BRILL: That's like saying let's root for victory in Vietnam as opposed to reporting that, you know, we're winning, we're winning, we're winning in Vietnam when we're not. That's hardly patriotic.

STELTER: Must tell the truth about what's actually happening?

BRILL: Yes. And -- STELTER: And one more piece about this, Indira, if I can work you in.

There was another example of Trump's embrace of conspiracy theories this week, I think it's important to recognize his sources of information as we head into the summit with North Korea, in this example, he was tweeting about the Mueller probe once again, he was tweeting about this new conspiracy theory that somehow the FBI investigation started in December of 2015. I think we can show on screen the original tweet there.

Now, his source for this seems to have been a Reddit threat on the outer fringes of the internet. It was picked up by a far right blog that then made its way to Lou Dobbs, and then made its way to the president.

Have we become numb to how crazy this is?

LAKSHMANAN: Look, I had referred to this in my columns as boiling the frog and Trump is essentially boiling the frog. You know, that old parable that you turn up the heat slowly on the frog --

STELTER: Are we the frog?

LAKSHMANAN: -- until he doesn't realize it.

We're the frog, and in the case of Mueller probe, it seems like the rule of law is the frog. And I say that in terms of him saying, I can't obstruct the law because I am the law. I can pardon myself, all sorts of things that are completely out of the norm, not only a democracy but of things that is even at the outer fringes, even more basic democracy, rule of law.

This is all incredibly troubling. And the boiling of the frog, what bothers me is that we're getting anesthetize to this. We're getting numb to it.

One way that news rooms can help to this is by not alerting every single thing that happens. Any of us who carry around phones with news alerts from news organizations know that every little thing gets alerted. I mean, maybe we need to pay attention to what the really big stories are and I might add the important policy stories that are happening quietly in the background, changes to regulations, and this is true with the EPA, for example, that are making a huge difference for millions of Americans and we're not talking about those because we're attracted by the latest, you know, squirrel running across the screen or the latest shiny object.

We've been talking about this, Brian, and you've had your eyes on it since the beginning of the presidency, but it's something that hasn't gotten better, where we're easily distracted as journalists and as American citizens. And it's a problem. We need to sort of wake up before we're cooked.

STELTER: David Frum, thanks for being here. Indira, please stick around. Steve, stick around.

The quick break here and then an exclusive interview with "BuzzFeed" editor in chief Ben Smith. He's blasting the government's seizure of a reporter's phone and e-mail records.

And later in the hour, remembering Anthony Bourdain. Jason Rezaian opens his heart for the man he says helped change his life.


[11:17:21] STELTER: Is Trump's Department of Justice trampling on the First Amendment?

There were revelations this week that Attorney General Jeff Sessions' office not only went after a reporter but obtained a year's worth of phone and e-mail records from reporter Ali Watkins currently with "The New York Times." Watkins didn't know her records were seized until, well, after the fact.

Now also this week, there was a key former Senate aide arrested, you see him, James Wolfe. He was arrested for lying to the FBI about his contact with Watkins and other reporters. Wolfe denies that he gave any reporter any classified information and Watkins also denies that Wolfe ever gave him classified information.

But Watkins and Wolfe were in a romantic relationship for several years. And that's part of the complication here. Now, she says she disclosed that relationship to her employers, first "BuzzFeed" and "Politico", but it makes it a messier story.

But let's take that to the side for a moment, the spectacle for a moment to the side and focus on the substance. We're seeing the continuation of aggressive tactics, first utilized by the Obama administration against the press, now by the Trump administration, by seizing phone records and text message records to try to find out who's talking to reporters.

This raises, really begs the question about how many other journalists may be under similar surveillance.

Lots to get to here so I'm joined now for an exclusive interview by Ben Smith. He's the editor in chief of "BuzzFeed" where Ali Watkins formerly worked.

So, Ben, Ali worked for you at "BuzzFeed". She was working on a number of sensitive stories. What was the story that got us to this point?

BEN SMITH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, BUZZFEED: Well, that's actually one of the really remarkable and strange elements of this indictment, which is, as you said, it's not for leaking. It's for lying to the FBI. The story at the heart of this, a great story which nobody has challenged a word or a comma of, about contacts between Carter Page, the Trump adviser, and a couple of those agents and Russian intelligence.

And Page was not -- no suggestion Page is admitting (ph) wrong, they were targeting him. And you should read -- I think people who are interested in this should read that story really closely, because the sourcing in that story is really clear. There was an indictment filed in the Southern District of New York in

2015. You could have gone down in 2015 and taken a look at it. You could have gone down last year, you could go down now.

In it, there's a passage where these Russian spies, it's a great actually. These Russian spies are talking about that this American oil executive and kind of his unusual behavior. You read it and think that might be Carter Page in fact if you were to read it. And then the other source in the story is Carter Page saying, yes, that was me.

STELTER: So, you're saying why did the government go hunting after a leaker when Page admitted that he was this person?

[11:20:05] SMITH: Yes, I don't understand why they would be going hunting after a leaker for this story. And also, I don't understand why they think this ought to be secret. I mean, I just understand the emergency to keep that particular story from the American people.

STELTER: So, that story was, what, a couple of years at this point?

SMITH: Last year. Yes.

STELTER: About last year. Did you know at that time when Ali was writing for "BuzzFeed" that she was in a relationship with the Senate staffer?

SMITH: You know, I'm -- I think I shouldn't -- it's not appropriate for me to comment at all on a confidential conversation with the journalist. But as you said, Ms. Watkins told "The New York Times" that she had been transparent with her employers. I would also say this by the way is a conversation the Department of Justice wants us to be having.

STELTER: You think they want us to focus on the romantic relationship and whether it's appropriate for a reporter to be dating a source?

SMITH: I don't see why else -- I don't see why else there are paragraphs of that in an indictment about a guy who allegedly lied to the FBI. They have -- his text messages apparently from his phone that appear to confirm that he lied -- in their view, he lied to the FBI. I think they would love to have a conversation, you know, about a reporter's personal life.

And certainly, they have launched a million smears on social media. My social media is just full of like disgusting smears of a reporter right now, rather than a conversation about what they were doing, what impelled them to use this kind of last-resort tool of covertly spying on journalists.

STELTER: But is it appropriate for a reporter to date a source?

SMITH: You're making an assumption about who Ms. Watkins source was in the story that by the way isn't asserted in the indictment and, yes--

STELTER: OK. Now, now a year's worth of phone records get seized. Not the calls,

not the content of the calls but the records of who she was calling and when.

SMITH: And emailing.

STELTER: That is shocking that the government is seizing years' worth of records for any reporter for any reason even if that reporter was dating somebody that's involved. How unusual is this?

SMITH: You know, it -- White Houses have always gone after reporters on national security. And the Obama White House escalated this and later said they regretted it. But it was too late, went after Fox News, went after "The Associated Press".

And as Jake Tapper said on the show, he and I and lots of people were upset about then. Trump and Sessions have promised to escalate it. I don't know if -- this could be the beginning of escalation. They could be looking at other reporters' phone reports. We don't have any way of knowing that.


STELTER: Yes, we just don't know, that's the concern here.

SMITH: Yes, and I would --

STELTER: This could be happening in a widespread way or maybe it's not.

SMITH: And I would add. This wasn't just any reporter covering any beat. There is a long tradition of the way that you and I and your audience about what's happening in the Russian investigation, about American drone strikes all over the world is from -- is from reporters reporting outside government channels, doing independent reporting and talking to patriotic government officials who want the American people to know what their government is doing.

That's not a new tradition. That's how we know, we know about the Vietnam War. It's how we know about the Iraq War. That is the system. That is how most of us know what is actually going on in American national security. And an attempt to change that would be a pretty radical attack on the existing structures, not some --

STELTER: I mean, James Wolfe has not been charged with leaking. We're trying to make that clear. He's only been accused of with lying.

But leaker has this really negative connotation, right? It comes across as a bad thing. You're making the point that patriotic government officials sometimes leak or blow the whistle in order to tell the public what's going on?

SMITH: Yes, and there's big -- you know, right. And there's a long space between the White House official talking on background in an authorized way to somebody who is blowing the whistle on something that they're trying to desperately stop.

And in that broad middle is people just telling the truth about what your government is doing to you to expert careful reporters who are trying to communicate with Americans what America's government is doing in the field of war and peace. And that is how we have learned about these things for as long as you and I have been alive.

STELTER: The government's argument in this case is we didn't go snooping on the other reporters that Wolfe was talking to. We only sought the records of Ali Watkins, which implies they only did it because of this romantic relationship.

Do you think that argument carries water?

SMITH: I have no idea whether that stuff is in this indictment. They have clear evidence, according to them, that he lied to the FBI and questions about whether he talked to reporters. They then inserted voluminous correspondence for reasons -- the only reason I can see is to distract from their conduct and try to make this about her?

STELTER: So, that's why so many press freedom groups are speaking out right now, because of this new revelation about seizing years worth of data. That's the bottom line.

SMITH: That absolutely.


All right. Ben, good to see you. Thanks for being here.

SMITH: Thank you for having me on.

STELTER: And the Wolfe indictment, the next step is on Tuesday. We'll continue to cover it.

Up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES, a look back at Anthony Bourdain's remarkable life and a side of Tony you didn't see. Hear about his private advocacy for imprisoned journalist Jason Rezaian, and some of the tributes pouring in here at CNN.


[11:29:20] STELTER: A father, a chef, a correspondent, a poet, a renegade, an international TV icon.

Anthony Bourdain was one of the greatest storytellers of our time, and most of all he was a friend, a friend to millions of viewers who never got to meet him. I'm sorry, I've been dreading this conversation. I know it's been a couple of days, but it is still so raw.

Bourdain took his own life at a hotel in France, and ever since we here at CNN found out on Friday morning, we've received thousands of tributes. These are just some of them on I just wanted to read you one of them from Jeremy Lincoln who writes what I felt.

[11:30:04] He says, "I lived vicariously through Tony's show."

Bourdain joined CNN five years ago, and changed us forever. Remember, we didn't have shows like "PARTS UNKNOWN" back then. He took a risk by coming here, and CNN took a risk on him.

It ended up being incredibly rewarding for everyone. And, right now, I can't picture CNN without him.

Let me show you some of the tributes that we have seen here at CNN.

This is in Atlanta at our world headquarters. There's a big poster of Anthony on the wall. And you can see viewers, fans have been bringing in candles and flowers and writing notes to him on the wall.

Same here at CNN in New York. Here at our office, employees have put up little Post-it notes with hearts on pictures of Anthony.

You think about him. The world was his oyster. He often did his reporting from the dinner table or while walking on the beach. He was that friend we watched and we journeyed with to parts unknown, including to Iran, a famous episode of "PARTS UNKNOWN" where Anthony interviewed Jason Rezaian.

A few weeks later, Jason was arrested and imprisoned in Iran. He was freed a year-and-a-half later.

And he joins me now from Washington.

Jason, I know you haven't talked about Anthony's death yet publicly. I'm really grateful you're willing to join me and talk about this.

I don't think people know the connection you had to him. Some people think that the interview that he did with you is what landed you in prison.


STELTER: Is that true?

REZAIAN: No, it's the furthest thing from the truth, Brian.

And I appreciate you having me on and giving me an opportunity to talk about this, because, you know, our appearance on "PARTS UNKNOWN" for Yeggie, my wife and I, was such an important moment in our lives. And we knew that then.

And, as you mentioned, just a few weeks later, we were arrested. And throughout my imprisonment, I was always sort of wondering if -- if that conversation that we had with him would make it to air. And I'm so happy that it did.

When I was released in 2016 and up until, you know, right now, every time that somebody recognizes me in public, I would say, nine out of 10 times, it's because of our appearance on that show. And the show actually had nothing to do with us being arrested. And,

if anything, I think our appearance there with really one of the most beloved television personalities and people of our generation raised awareness in a different kind of way that nothing else could have.

STELTER: It did help us. When you were in prison, I remember, having the video from Bourdain's show helped us to be able to broadcast the news of your imprisonment. It gave us a face to put with the name. And I think that was really important.

And, by the way, Bourdain did this all around the world.


STELTER: He talked to people all around the world, some of whom ended up in exile or imprisoned or even killed by governments.

I mean, he was telling real stories about international foreign affairs, but through food, through culture, through cuisine.


And I think, after so many of those episodes, I can only imagine how many people he continued to stay in touch with and connected with.

Yeggie and I are two of them. And he continued to -- more than the support that he gave and advocacy that he did while we were in prison, continued to be a good friend to us after our release, counseling us privately in our interactions with him, professionally, but also in how to get through what was really a tough reintegration.

STELTER: That's the part people don't know.


STELTER: That, yes, he was advocating for you when you were in prison. He was on CNN demanding your release.

But, then, after you got home, he stayed in touch. And didn't his book imprint actually even acquire your book? You're working on a book about your time there?


And I had several offers from other publishers that wanted to publish it, but it was a very personal e-mail that I got from Tony at really the last hour when I needed to make a decision that put it over the top for me. I got it and read it to Yeggie back in late 2016.

And we just kind of agreed right there that, we're doing this with Tony. We have been with him on this journey for a couple of years, and we're going to keep going.

STELTER: And what do you think it was about his storytelling that stood out so much? I saw a lot of people on Friday saying, you know, Iran, other

countries he would go to that sometimes seem mysterious and inaccessible, or are sometimes demonized as evil, he made it personable. He made it human.

REZAIAN: Well, in our encounter with him in Iran, I think it was very clear that he let himself be open to the experience, and not overly influenced by what he had heard over the years about that country, and just let himself be there.


And I can only imagine that that's what he did everywhere he went.

STELTER: Yes, indeed.

Jason, how should we best pay tribute to him? What do you think are the best ways?

REZAIAN: Well, I think we should keep reading him. We should keep watching his shows. We should keep traveling around the world.

I think one of the things that I said to him in our conversation with him on that first meeting, when we met in Tehran, was that it's a uniquely American thing to do to get out and see the world.

And I hope more people continue to do that and open their minds and their hearts to new experiences.


It's amazing. His 18-year-old book is the number one book on Amazon right now.

REZAIAN: It's incredible.

STELTER: People now want to re-read, yes.


REZAIAN: And they should, and all of his other books as well.


Jason, thank you so much for being here.

REZAIAN: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: You know, before Anthony died, CNN was already planning on airing a new episode of "PARTS UNKNOWN" tonight. It's Sunday night.

Network executives have decided to go forward with that plan as a tribute to Bourdain and to what he did best. Tonight's episode, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, features Berlin. And Anderson Cooper has taped a special introduction.

It will be followed by our special tribute broadcast, "Remembering Anthony Bourdain," 10:00 p.m. Eastern time on CNN.

When we come back, some very important lessons on how the news media can help prevent suicides.



STELTER: Kate Spade on Tuesday, Anthony Bourdain on Friday, two household names, two deaths by suicide.

As a result, we have seen a real change of how newsrooms are covering these painful stories.

CNN has joined lots of other news outlets in visibly listing the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number. You can see here all three news nightly broadcasts were showing the number on Friday night, encouraging people in a very active way to call for help.

There's also the crisis text line. We will put those numbers up on screen.

But let's talk about some of the best practices for journalists when covering these sensitive stories. There's a lot that's been done wrong in past years and a lot that can be done right.

Back with me now to discuss this, Indira Lakshmanan.

Thank you for sticking around.

You wrote about this for Poynter. And I want to talk through some of the key points.

First of all, what do newsrooms get wrong when doing this, Indira?

LAKSHMANAN: Well, a lot of the problems -- and Poynter's vice president, Kelly McBride, has been writing about this for years -- a lot of the problem is sort of lionizing and describing in detail, not only lionizing the people who have killed themselves, but also then describing in too much detail how they do it.

And academic studies have proven -- this was a big study in the major scientific journal, medical journal "The Lancet" back in 2013 -- have proven a contagion effect. When there is more media coverage of suicide, there is an increase in suicide.

So, some of the guidelines that Poynter has on our Web site,, you can also find similar guidelines on reporting on, which is a consortium. A number of groups got together, including Poynter, to make these guidelines.

To make clear to your readers, first of all, information about prevention. Like you say, the suicide hot line is really important. To also make clear that suicide is not the necessary and natural outcome of depression and adversity, you know, to make all resources available, to use neutral photos in showing the people, also to make neutral headlines, things like Anthony Bourdain, you know, comma, 61, dead, without going into the gory details as much as possible.

And, also, describe trends in suicide factually and without alarm, instead of stirring up more information about it. We know that, in social media particularly, there is a contagion effect. And so there's a way to cover suicide in a very neutral way, trying to put the focus on relief and treatment that people can get, rather than sort of sensationalizing the details in a way that might encourage other depressed people to follow suit.

STELTER: Yes, it sounds like in some cases just waiting a minute, thinking through the framing can make a big difference.

You know, on Friday morning, I was woken up to this at 5:15 a.m. I came into work. We started having conversations about how we were going to break this news on television and on the Web site.

And Anderson Cooper shared some really important advice for us early on, before we started the coverage. He said, it's not necessarily appropriate to say someone committed suicide.

Anderson's talked about how his brother died 30 years ago. And I noticed that in the Poynter story as well. We can put it up on the screen. It explains why we should avoid that term.

It says: "Avoid using committed suicide except in direct quotations from authorities. Alternative phrases like he killed himself, took his own life. The problem with commit is that it can imply a criminal act."

Indira, I have to admit I had never thought about that. That had never crossed my mind until Friday morning.

LAKSHMANAN: That's right. And this is from AP, the AP style book. It is true that, before, suicide was considered a crime, and this does imply that.

But, also, part of the guidelines we talk about is using passive voice. And you know, as a journalist, we always tell people not to use passive voice. But reporting on suicide is the one case where we tell people to try to decrease the use of adjectives, adverbs, put things in passive voice, so you're not giving so much agency to the person who was depressed and saw no other way out.


And I really think the crucial thing here is trying to promote the positive and quote experts who talk about how, in most people, in the case of most people who are depressed and who think about suicide, most people do not actually kill themselves.

And so it's a way of having coverage that is measured and doesn't encourage other people to copycat. That's what we're most concerned about.

STELTER: Indira, thanks for being here. I appreciate it.

LAKSHMANAN: Thanks so much for talking about this important issue, Brian.

STELTER: And, again, the number on the screen there is 800-273-8255. That's the lifeline available 24 hours a day.



STELTER: Is America's democracy and economy broken?

Almost, but it's fixable. That's the conclusion of this new book "Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America's Fifty-Year Fall and Those Fighting to Reverse It."

The author is Steven Brill. And he's back with me at the table now.

So, you're just out with this tome that is quite frightening, but somewhat optimistic toward the end.

Where does the media piece of this fit into the tailspin? Is it a press that once united us, a broadcast medium that once united us that is now part of the division?

BRILL: Exactly.

What I try to do in the book is explain in several different spheres that all come together...


BRILL: ... if you're a Republican, how we got from Eisenhower to Trump, and, if you're a Democrat, how we got from JFK to Trump.

And one of the aspects that I report on is the polarization of the country. And the media, in fact, trailblazing breakthroughs in the media, technology breakthroughs, have played a big role.

If you compare the 1940s and '50s and '60s, the technology breakthroughs in media served to unite us. We all gathered around the radio to listen to an FDR fireside chat. We gathered around the television to watch the moon landing, to watch the Kennedy assassination and funeral.

Everybody saw the same set of facts.


BRILL: And they were brought to them by the same set of three or four or five different media organizations. That had its own kind of problems.

Now, the technology, beginning with cable television, and moving on to the Internet and moving on beyond that to social media and news feeds, what we have is exactly the opposite effect. The media is breaking us up into little pieces. None of us see the same set of facts.

STELTER: Do you see a solution on the horizon to that?

BRILL: Well, the best solution has to be that the so-called mainstream media have to work harder at keeping the audiences they have.

And they have to hold the other media. And all of us, all of us readers in users, have to hold everybody accountable and really take a position that there is no such thing as a different set of facts. We all have to unite around the same set of facts.

STELTER: Well, that leads me to FOX.

It leads me to FOX, because Colonel Ralph Peters, this former FOX analyst who went out in a blaze of glory a few months ago, he gave his first TV interview this week to Anderson Cooper. He called FOX a destructive propaganda machine.

Let's take a look.


COL. RALPH PETERS, (RET.), U.S. ARMY: With the rise of Donald Trump, FOX did become a destructive propaganda machine.

And I don't do propaganda for anyone. And I saw, in my view, FOX, particularly the prime-time hosts, attacking our constitutional order, the rule of law, the Justice Department, the FBI, Robert Mueller, and oh, by the way, the intelligence agencies.

And they're doing it for ratings and profit. And they're doing it knowingly, in my view, doing a great, grave disservice to our country.


STELTER: Now, FOX says he's just trying to get attention.

But do you think he has a fair critique?

BRILL: I think that everybody has a fair critique when they go after people who engage in propaganda.

And that could be on the left and that could be on the right. You can see new sites on the left that do that. The fact is that, right after 9/11, a high percentage of people, 10 or 15 percent, or 20 percent, thought that 9/11 was an inside job by the Bush administration.

X-percent of the people in America, 10 or 15 or 20 percent, still think that President Obama wasn't born in the United States. Those are knowable facts. And yet the media, certain corners of the media, allow people to digest their own set of facts that they would prefer to hear.

STELTER: And people all the way up to President Trump prefer to believe some conspiracy theories.

BRILL: Right. Right. STELTER: It's comfortable. It's like comfort food, right?

BRILL: The obligation of our political leaders is to counter that.

The obligation of our political leaders is not to take advantage of that, but to unite the country. And that's what we have lost with the incumbent in the White House.

And what my book says is that Trump is more a product of what's been going on for the last -- for the 40 or 50 years that I write about. He's not the cause of it. But he sure is taking advantage of it.

STELTER: Taking advantage.

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

BRILL: Thank you.

STELTER: Best of luck with the book.

A quick break here. More RELIABLE SOURCES in just a moment.



STELTER: Now, more than ever, we need Charles Krauthammer's voice.

So, on Friday, this news was just devastating. The famed conservative columnist and FOX News commentator announced that his cancer has returned and that he has just weeks left to live.

If you read one thing this weekend, read his note to readers in "The Washington Post." He says his fight is over, but he has no regrets.

He's "grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation's destiny."

Of course, he played a huge role. And tributes have been pouring in from the political press, bridging the political divide.

Our prayers are with Krauthammer, his family, and his colleagues at "The Post" and FOX News.

That's all for this televised version of the program, but we will see you online,, and right back here this time next week.