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Ron Farrow's New Subject: Harassment at CBS; Trump Says He Met with "New York Times" Publisher. Aired 11a-12n ET

Aired July 29, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:09] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter. And it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES. This is our weekly look at the story behind the story, of how the media really works and how the news gets made.

This hour, breaking news about President Trump and "The New York Times". A meeting with the publisher of "The Times" now revealed. We'll have the latest on what "The Times" says happened and what Trump is saying as well.

Plus, Trump's unreality, his downright Orwellian view of the world.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't believe the crap you see from people, the fake news. What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening.


STELTER: Is his strategy working? I will ask legendary newsman Carl Bernstein. He's here to talk about his latest scoop on Cohen v. Trump.

Plus, a little later, what's next for Sinclair? Will the president's angry tweets affect the FCC's decision? We'll get into all of that coming up.


STELTER: But, first, another chapter in the #MeToo Movement, brought to us once again by Ronan Farrow. His newest expose in the "New Yorker Magazine" out in print tomorrow is about CBS CEO Les Moonves and the culture of CBS. Of course, it's been eight months since Charlie Rose was fired from "CBS This Morning".

And now, the famed broadcast network is again having to report on itself.


TV ANCHOR: "The New Yorker Magazine" is reporting that six women have accused CBS chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves of sexual harassment. There also allegations that former CBS news chairman and current "60 Minutes" executive producer Jeff Fager allowed harassments. (END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: As you heard there, the story is about much more than Moonves. It's about CBS as a whole. It's about how major media companies are still having to reckon with the past about alleged harassment and abuse that happened in the past and, in some cases, not too long ago. These are issues that have to be addressed by CBS and by other media companies.

And it's Farrow who has been leading the way, exposing some of the darkest secrets of these companies. His latest report about CBS is also about the iconic news magazine, "60 Minutes." Farrow's sources alleged that executive producer Jeff Fager, quote, enabled harassment and committed acts of sexual misconduct himself. Fager strongly denies those allegations and says it's coming from sources who have an ax to grind.

Look, for almost the past year, sparked by Farrow's reporting and work by "The New York Times," the #MeToo Movement has been causing these stories to come to light. But just think about how long it's taken to get to this point.

Now, let's address these different stories as carefully as we can, because Farrow's story is about 8,000 words long. The conduct by Moonves who's been the boss at CBS for 20 years allegedly happened between the 1980s and the late 2000s. Some of the women quoted are on the record.

Then the story also talks about issues more broadly at CBS. What Farrow is indicating is that there's a systemic issue here. So, let's talk to him about it.

Farrow is joining me now for one of his first interviews about the report.

Ronan, I know you've been working on this, what, eight months? There have been rumors about this for many months. And then on Friday, six hours before your story came out, "The Hollywood Reporter" wrote about it, CBS stock plummeted, CBS issued a statement. I wonder what it's been like for you as the whole media world has been wondering what you're working on to be trying to get your work done carefully, accurately, while everybody else is speculating about it.

RONAN FARROW, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Well, I think you framed it correctly, Brian. It's, you know, noise and interference. And when you work on stories involving dozens and dozens and dozens of sources, it becomes almost inevitable, when there's so much writing on these important stories that I think really need to be heard, that word leaks out. I mean, this happened in a number of prominent stories I worked on over the past months and, you know, that's OK.

But I do think it's important for the public to distinguish between the secondary coverage of the story, which is often fraught with misinformation and the story itself, which is the product of many meticulous months of investigation. STELTER: You won pretty much every award in the journalism industry

for your reporting on Harvey Weinstein. And I think we should try to distinguish between the different stories you've been doing.

When you write about Moonves or Fager, you're not lumping them in with a predator like Weinstein, are you?

FARROW: Of course not. And I think anyone who reads these stories can see readily we're careful not to draw any speculative interferences her inferences here. This is about the concrete details of these fact patterns.

And, look, in the case of Leslie Moonves, this is not to draw comparisons to anyone else but certainly these are six women and in several cases, they're talking about what they describe as serious sexual assault.

[11:00:03] STELTER: Moonves says he made mistakes in the past but never used -- misused his power to punish women if they rejected his advances. Do you have evidence to the contrary?

FARROW: Certainly, the women's stories suggest that these are encounters that went a lot farther than that comment allows for. I do think it's striking, though, and perhaps reflective of the rapidly changing times that we're in, Brian, that Leslie Moonves does exhibit a fair amount of contrition in these responses. You know, I have to say that in all of our interactions with CBS and with Moonves, which were extensive -- we have a very broad window of comments on this, and worked very closely with them, Mr. Moonves personally, to me, was very, very gracious and seemed to take the claims very seriously.

STELTER: Moonves is one part of your story. I want to ask you one more piece about that.

Right now, Moonves is locked in this epic battle with Shari Redstone, who's one of the controlling shareholders of CBS. This has been going on for months. It's a legal battle that people been reading about. There's been some insinuation that maybe Shari Redstone's camp is partly behind your story.

How do you react when you hear that kind of insinuation?

FARROW: Well, we address it in the story, Brian. You know, these are women that began coming to me immediately after the Harvey Weinstein story, Illeana Douglas, one of the actresses who's in this piece, called me, in fact, the day after that first Harvey Weinstein story I wrote and told me her story, and we've been carefully investigating since.

Now, look, there are plenty of stories that are completely true and also fueled by opposition research at some time. We have vetted and re-vetted these sources and my honest impression is that these stories are not only true but also not fueled by any kind of opposition research. These are women who came in a heartfelt moment where there was an outpouring of these kinds of stories. STELTER: And you say 19 sources describe behavior at CBS news that

Jeff Fager, who used to be the chairman of the news division and still executive producer of "60 Minutes", that he enabled and allowed for harassment to happen and sometimes made unwanted advances himself.

Now, he has flatly denied this. He says your sources have an ax to grind. They're trying to hurt "60 Minutes". What can you tell us, though, about what you learned from these sources?

FARROW: This is a lot of sources that supposedly, in Mr. Fager's view, have an ax to grind and, obviously, this is a story that has been percolating for a long time. Certainly, they describe, with some uniformity, Brian, what one person in this story terms a mad man culture. You know, a culture in which women are touched and made feel objectified a great deal.

And, beyond that, as you pointed out, there are a number of people who talked about Mr. Fager's own behavior. I think the pivotal thing here, though, is that these sources, again, dozens of them across this story, paint a picture of a way in which a culture of alleged misconduct at the top can trickle down to various facets of even a large company.

STELTER: Now, you're not the first person to go digging around "60 Minutes," as you know. As you mention in your piece. "The Washington Post" was pursuing a story about Fager this year.

Irin Carmon is one of the reporters who wrote about Charlie Rose, who wrote CBS, but didn't say much about Fager in her story. And what you report is that because Fager had a team of lawyers get involved.

Can you talk us through that?

FARROW: I can. So, "The Post" did very important, powerful reporting about Charlie Rose in the fall and starting immediately after that began working on a follow-up story by two really wonderful reporters, in my view of their work, Irin Carmon and Amy Brittain, and they uncovered substantial evidence of misconduct by Jeff Fager amongst other things. That story was the subject of a heated battle where "The Post" was subject to a lot of pressure from Fager's personal legal team. Obviously, we also dealt with Fager's legal team.

And there were efforts to personally smear those reporters and their professionalism as well as sources in the story.

STELTER: I was struck by what was said at a Mirror Award speech in June. When you look at this clip, you wrote about this clip, Ronan. When you all at home watch this clip, keep in mind, Jeff Fager is in the room while she is speaking.


IRIN CARMON, JOURNALIST: I just want to say one thing. I think there is a temptation to think that the last few months have been about individual men, that it's about a handful of bad apples and if we get rid of them, it will end the cycle of harassment and abuse. But it's not true.

The stories we've been doing are actually about a system. The system has lawyers and a good reputation, it had publicists. It has a perfectly reasonable explanation about what happened. It has powerful friends that will ask, is this really worth ruining the career of a good man?

[11:10:06] What one woman says, what four women say, what 35 women say?

Indeed, the system is sitting in this room. Some more than others. The system is still powerful men getting stories killed that I believe will some day see the light of day.


STELTER: And I believe she was talking about her own reporting about Fager that was never published by "The Post." So why were you able to get this reporting out there in "The New Yorker"? What happened?

FARROW: I think there are a combination of factors any time a story that is this tough and where sources are this afraid. And there's a long time span where sources grapple with the feelings of ethical to come forward, Brian. In this case, there's a lot of frustration that the Fager allegations hadn't emerged in that "Post" report. I think that there was a lot of anger about the heavy-handed tactics Mr. Fager used.

You know, I pointed out that Mr. Moonves was sort of very gracious and respectful of the claims insofar as one can be in responding to these claims. That was not the case, certainly, with Mr. Fager. You saw in his on the record comments there that he appeared to be sort of very angry about these and didn't engage in the facts of them, just sort of flatly denied. And I think --

STELTER: You quoted --

FARROW: Sources were at the breaking out, Brian. Yes.

STELTER: Sorry to interrupt you. You quote an employee saying the hypocrisy of a news program shutting down an investigative print report is incredible. I mean, that's really the stunning thing about this.

FARROW: Well, you make a good point there. I think that of the many ways in which this story forces us to take a hard look at the culture at our most important businesses, one of the most important facets of that is that it forces us to take a look at newsrooms and the need for accountability in the places that shape the facts that we receive. And for a lot of the women in this story, we talked to one investigative journalist who said if I am the business of confronting hard truths myself for a living, how could I turn a blind eye to this?

STELTER: Ronan Farrow, thank you so much for being here.

FARROW: Thanks, Brian. STELTER: You can find this full piece on the "New Yorker" Website.

You might be wondering what's going to happen next. Well, the CBS board says it will investigate the charges against Moonves and CBS News already has an outside law firm looking into any misconduct in its news division. Presumably the issues with Fager will now be looked at by that law firm. For now, though, "60 Minutes" is on summer break, summer vacation, so I'm not expecting any new developments in the short term on this.

Speaking of misconduct allegations, I wish there wasn't so much to report in this first block, but there was another story that broke this week at Fox News. You might have heard that Kimberly Guilfoyle left Fox News earlier in the month. Well, according to "HuffPost", she left after an investigation into her behavior, into alleged inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment.

The story described emotionally abusive behavior, in some case showing colleagues photos of male genitalia. So, that's the story from "HuffPost".

Guilfoyle is fighting back, though. Her lawyers have gotten involved. They say these charges are baseless. We can share a part of the quote with you from her lawyers. They say very clearly any accusations of Kimberly engaging in inappropriate work-place conduct are unequivocally baseless and have been viciously made by disgruntled and self interested employees. We'll see if there's anything more to come on that story.

Quick break here on RELIABLE SOURCES, but coming up, how President Trump is creating an alternative reality when it comes to the press. Or as he likes to call us, the fake news media.

Breaking news from "The New York Times", next.


[11:17:11] STELTER: Some breaking news as "The New York Times" goes to Washington. Mr. President Trump tweeted just a little while ago that he met with A.G. Sulzberger, the relatively new publisher of "The New York Times" at White House recently and that they talked about the vast amounts of fake news being put up the media. Trump says it was a good meeting. I wonder what actually happened in the meeting.

Well, now we know. In the past few minutes, A.G. Sulzberger issued a statement where he explains why he decided to meet with Trump in the first place. He said it was supposed to be off the record, but now that Trump is putting it all in the record, here's the response.

My main purpose for accepting the meeting was to raise concerns about the president's deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric. I told the president directly that I thought his language about enemies of the people was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous. I told him that although the phrase "fake news" is untrue and harmful, I am far more concerned about his labeling journalists the enemy of the people. I warned that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence.

That's the new publisher of "The New York Times", A.G. Sulzberger, in a statement about his meeting with President Trump.

All this comes at a time when Trump is keeping his distance from the press corps. He's tweeting a lot, but he hasn't answered a single question from reporters since Wednesday. That's the day you remember this happened.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Did Michael Cohen betray you, Mr. President? Did Michael Cohen betray you? Mr. President, are you worried about what Michael Cohen is going to say to prosecutors? Are you worried about what is on the other tapes, Mr. President? Why has Vladimir Putin not accepted your invitation?


STELTER: Those were the questions asked by CNN's Kaitlan Collins. She was acting as the poll reporter for all the TV networks. And as you know, the response from the White House was to disinvite here, that means ban her from a gathering later in the day that was open to all the press.

So, that was way back on Wednesday. Ever since then, every time the reporters have been able to shout questions near the president, he hasn't responded. It's really telling that he's avoiding any opportunities or any interactions with the press corps.

I think it shows that Kaitlan's questions were spot on. These issues about Cohen and about his twisted relationship with Putin, these are big stories and we're not getting any answers from Trump.

Let's talk about it with our panel now.

Olivier Knox is here. Here's the brand new president of the White House Correspondents Association and the chief Washington correspondent for Sirius XM. Katie Rogers is here, White House correspondent for "The New York Times". And S.E. Cupp is here, the host of HLN's "S.E. Cupp Unfiltered."

Katie, luck you, you've got the president talking about your paper today. What do you make of the president's decision to make this, you know, private meeting with your boss, the publisher, all of a sudden a public spat?

KATIE ROGERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDNET, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I mean, I think A.G.'s statement really stands on its own and for itself.

I agree as a reporter that the president's words about journalism broadly definitely have weight.

[11:20:05] Out in the field when we go cover rallies, the president rallied in my hometown about six weeks ago, it's very clear that his rhetoric about enemy of the people is resonating across the country. And he is the president, what he says matters.

And as a reporter, you go into the field, talking to Republican voters, having to hear that it's fake news, we're enemies and it adds a different component to our jobs broadly. The president is entitled --


ROGERS: -- to feel however he wants about the coverage about him. Other presidents have done the same. What is different is that this president is coming out and calling us enemies of the people.

STELTER: Tell me about Wednesday, Olivier, when this incident happened with Kaitlan Collins. The news broke right before your radio show started on Sirius XM. But within an hour, you were out with a pretty strong statement condemning the White House's actions.

Are you trying to take a hard line when it comes to the White House trying to punish reporters? Are you trying to show solidarity?

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUSXM: Well, remember what the WHCA does and that is that we advocate on behalf of the men and women who cover the White House. We try to bring Americans news about the president, the presidency, what the government is doing in their name. We want to make sure that when there are television pictures coming from the White House, they're coming from the news media.

When there are photos, they come from the news photographers, radio sound by the radio folks. And, of course, to try to get as many opportunities to ask questions of senior officials up to and including the president. That's our core function.

In this instance, you're right. It broke right before my radio show. I had my board operator basically muting my microphone in between questions from first interview as I frantically typed on my laptop.


KNOX: This was -- it's important to understand, this wasn't just a defense of CNN. It wasn't just a defense of Kaitlan Collins. So, I think what you saw in the unanimity of response, across platforms, across news outlets, you know, Fox News jumping in, other outlets coming out with their strong statements was the sense that it could be someone else tomorrow. It could be someone else in the next administration. And that's what led to this kind of unanimity of spirit.

It struck that one of our core functions again. Kaitlan was basically told she could attend an event that literally every other credentialed reporter on the White House grounds that day could attend. It was important that we draw -- that we draw a line there and that we explain to people why that wasn't OK.

STELTER: "The Washington Post" reported that Trump has wanted to do this before, that he has wanted to block certain reporters from coming to events. "The Post" names Jim Acosta and April Ryan as two of those reporters.

A one-word question for you, S.E. -- surprised?

S.E. CUPP, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: No. You know, Trump has, I think, in business and life, operated as a sort of punitive force. I think he really likes to punish people to sort of send a message or make examples or look like the strong man, the tough guy.

And he has long wanted to punish the press, and labeling us fake news, labeling us the enemy of the people, has actually been very effective. As you know, trust in the media is at an all-time low. So, this is having a significant impact.

The difference now, I think, is that finally our news institution, our media, our press is sort of uniting around -- in solidarity around each other. And that is something you and I, Brian, have talked about a number of times, that we used to see in past administrations. Jake Tapper calling out President Obama for discrediting Fox News, or other organizations calling out the Obama administration for targeting the "A.P." or trying to keep Fox out of the press pool for an interview.

There were those moments of solidarity. They had not happened under Trump until the past few weeks, starting with John Roberts of Fox really sort of being pressured to make a statement about Trump's calling CNN and Jim Acosta not a real news network. He eventually did write a statement, to release a statement defending CNN.

The week following that, you had Hallie Jackson, an NBC news reporter, who was trying to press Sarah Sanders in a press briefing. She wasn't getting answers. Another "Hill" reporter ceded his time back to her. Those moments of solidarity, including the Kaitlan Collins' incident, are a really welcome show of strength and show of force that I think has really taken to all.

STELTER: Yes, there have been several episodes.

But, Olivier, let me be cynical for a second. Are we going to see this frequently or were these just one-offs?

KNOX: Well, most of the time, you don't see it all because what we're doing is we're having these conversations behind the scenes. WHCA is meeting with Sarah Sanders and other communication officials to work out our problems behind the scenes.

And again, it's typically not this heated.

[11:25:01] We often have debates and arguments about how much the press will see on a foreign trip, for example. Can we get the pool, that is to say the small group of 13 or so outlets that followed the president everywhere? Can we make sure that they stay in the motorcade? Can we make sure that they see the president actually meet with, say, British Prime Minister Theresa May?

So, a lot of the solidarity, a lot of the work is happening behind the scenes. But this was a very -- his was a very public moment. They made a decision to exclude Kaitlan Collins of CNN from an event, from which literally every other credentialed reporter at the White House that day could attend.

STELTER: Yes, and it seems like, you know, if Trump has been wanting this for a long time, the X factor here was Bill Shine. He's new on the job. He's a new comms chief. Maybe he just kind of just fell for it and now he saw the reaction.

Hey, real quick, one more story to touch on, Katie. You and Maggie Haberman reported this week about an amazing leak out of the White House. It was this e-mail that showed how Trump was angry when he boarded Air Force One and saw that Melania's TV was tuned to CNN. What happened here? He wants all the TVs tuned to Fox?

ROGERS: He wants all the TVs tuned to Fox. It's now standard operating procedure when the president boards Air Force One that all TVs will be on Fox. When he returns to his hotel suite when traveling, the TVs will be tuned to Fox.

I think what the e-mails -- I mean, the emails are -- they're a smaller example of this broader issue going on, that the president does not want to take in opposing or possibly opposing views. He is at a phase in his presidency where he does not want to hear anything other than his own messaging or supportive messaging. And e-mails are just a small example that illustrates this larger issue.

STELTER: And Melania Trump won. Her team put out a statement saying she will watch whatever channel she wants.

ROGERS: She did give that statement to your network.

STELTER: That's right. That's right. Of all the places she could have issued that statement to, she gave it to CNN.

ROGERS: She sure did.

STELTER: To the panel, thanks. S.E., stick around if you can.

Up next here, the reporter who exposed lies and corruption in the White House 45 years ago is doing it again. Carl Bernstein joins me in just a moment.


[11:00:00] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: President Trump versus Michael Cohen, it's playing out every night on your T.V. So here's a humble proposal for the press. We just spend a lot more time on the facts and less time on the desperate spin about the facts. Yes, I'm mostly talking about Rudy Giuliani and how he's trying to distance team Trump from the President's longtime fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen. Of course, Rudy spin is desperate kind of sad but we all know the truth will come out eventually. I don't know about you but I just feel like it's taking a long time to get to the truth.

Let's talk about all of it with the reporter who's by byline graced all the stories about Watergate 45 years ago and whose byline is now back this week on the scoop about Cohen and Trump. Here's the headline you've seen Cohen claims Trump knew in advance about that pivotal Trump Tower meeting. Carl Bernstein worked on that story with Jim Sciutto and he joins me now. So Carl, talked to me about this most recent story you've been saying for a year that we need to follow the money, follow the lies, and figure out this cover-up. So how did you do it in this case? Talk is about how you got this reporting.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I talked to sources and as did Jim Sciutto and it became very apparent that the former attorney to the President of the United States was going around and telling people that the famous Trump Tower meeting which indeed was convened for the purpose of collusion which is to say it was convened by John Donne Jr. to accept information from the Russians about dirt on Hillary Clinton that indeed Cohen was saying that Donald Trump, the candidate for President of the United States at the time had authorized the go-ahead for that meeting to take place with his son and I said this is news, as did CNN. So like in Watergate, you have a very serious news organization, CNN in Watergate The Washington Post making judgments about what is news and that's really the most important thing that we do when we go out and do our reporting and then decide what is news and what is the best obtainable version of the truth.

STELTER: Are source is trying to communicate to President Trump through you and through Sciutto and through the T.V.?

BERNSTEIN: I -- the last thing I would ever do is speculate about what sources do. I make my own judgments based on my interaction with sources but this is -- this is no time to be psychoanalyzing sources anywhere else.

STELTER: That's a fair point.

BERNSTEIN: What we put out there as news is what the story is. But let me say one other thing. You set this up Brian in saying about Giuliani and about Cohen. We do not know who is telling the truth here. That is to be determined. What is significant is that the President's former lawyer is asserting that he is telling the truth when he says that Donald Trump, now the President of the United States it's authorized this meeting. That is huge news. Who is telling the truth is yet to be determined.

[11:35:03] STELTER: We know both men have contradicted themselves in the past. That's what I find so frustrating about the spin aspect of this. You know, Rudy's out there trashing Cohen as a liar now but in the past Rudy said he's a fair guy. Cohen used to be praising Trump, now he's flipping on Trump, I think people just don't know what or who to believe and that's a hard thing for the audience.

BERNSTEIN: Well, that was true in Watergate too when John Dean testified and I was doing with Bob Woodward the story saying that Dean was about to testify much as Cohen is asserting what he is about the President of the United States. People didn't know who to believe. It's very important to understand and this is a good opportunity on your air to explain that this is a story the Russian collusion, cover- up, story what indeed Donald Trump's relationship to Russia, to Putin is. This is a vast story the Mueller investigation. And the elements

include for instance, we have trials coming up at which Rick Gates who was one of the top aides to the President during the campaign to whom the president spoke almost every day for three or four months, he has turned on the President and is about to testify and is cooperating with Mueller.

We have the story going on of the dynamic of Trump and the press. That is part of this story. It's all related. We also have the questions about Trump's competence raised by those closest to him Mr. Tillerson, Mr. McMaster in private, others talking about whether or not the President is competent. We have the story going on about the this investigation closing in and how psychologically Trump is reacting telling the country that he is a stable genius while those in the White House are saying well, he doesn't look very stable right now to us and he doesn't look very much like a genius to us right now except where he obviously is ingenious and that is in his political skills and mobilizing his base which is his big offensive to keep the facts from emerging in this story. The base in keeping them energized against the press is absolutely essential to Donald Trump fighting and furthering the cover-up. Look, there is a cover-up by the President of the United States but we don't know what the cover-up is about yet.

We don't know the facts yet why he has from the beginning in this investigation and the Trump Tower meeting is the best evidence of it. The cover-up is demonstrable because he helped create the cover story on the airplane which has since been disproven about what occurred at that meeting. So we've got a lot to learn and we need to keep doing our reporting and that includes this dynamic that is going on of the attempts by the President to undermine a free press because he wants our credibility destroyed because we are reporting the truth.

STELTER: Yes he does want to destroy it. Carl, thank you so much for being here. Up next FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel is here. She's going to tell us why President Trump has got it so wrong about the Sinclair Tribune merger.


[11:40:00] STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES, I'm Brian Stelter. All is not well in the pro-Trump media world. President Trump seems to be at odds with his hand-picked FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. The source of the tension his Sinclair Broadcasting's attempted takeover of Tribune Media. For a while it seemed like the FCC under Pai was preparing to approve the Sinclair deal giving the company an even greater reach across the U.S. to promote President Trump's policies. But seemingly is surprisingly earlier this month, the FCC put a hold on the deal slowed it down and send it to an appeals process -- and I sent it to a court essentially. But here's the thing, this potential deal Sinclair Post -- Sinclair Post Tribune exposed a rift between some of Trump's closest confidants.

On the one side, Newsmax's Boss Chris Ruddy who was here this time last week, he was very vocal about his efforts to lobby Trump against the Sinclair deal. On the other side, former Fox host Eric Bolling who says he's been promoting the deal to Trump. Maybe Bolling's arguments won the day because after the FCC issued its decision saying this was going to take a while basically dooming the Sinclair deal President Trump shot back saying it was sad and unfair what the FCC was doing "this would have been a great and much-needed conservative voice for and of the people Then Trump called the FCC's action disgraceful. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has a different view. She's one of the Democratic Commissioners at the FCC and she joins me now. And Jessica, have other presidents weighed in on FCC decisions like this?

JESSICA ROSENWORCEL, COMMISSIONER, FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION: Well, with respect to a merger like this, this is not normal. The FCC is an independent agency. We need to make sure it's the facts that guide us and the law. It really shouldn't be a part of our consideration whether or not the news outlet at issue has flattered this administration or earned the President's favor.

[11:45:00] STELTER: You know, they certainly broadcast pro-Trump commentaries on Sinclair stations but I had a bunch of Sinclair reporters e-mail, text me saying, man, I hate that the president's calling us conservative, that's bad for a brand we just want to be reporters and not be identified on Trump's side or another side but hey there we are. So how does this work now? What's actually happen with the Sinclair deal?

ROSENWORCEL: Yes, so it was about a year ago that Sinclair filed an application at the FCC seeking to merge with Tribune and create the nation's largest broadcast company by far. And over the course of that year the agency often over my objection bent and twisted a lot of its policies seeming to clear the way for this merger. But two weeks ago that stopped. The agency decided that it didn't have enough facts to support the merger before us and sent it to an investigative process in an order known as a hearing designation order. And so that's what's going to happen next. There'll be more investigation into this transaction whether or not it complies with our rules and whether the company has been honest before the FCC.

STELTER: Now, Joe Nocera writing for Bloomberg covers business -- covered business for decades, he says no matter what happens now, the decision about St. Clair will be tainted because President Trump has commented on. It is that true, is that a problem?

ROSENWORCEL: Well, I'm worried about it. It just you know, we have got to make sure that we follow the rule of law, we look at the facts and we figure out what to do. Our process should not be politicized like it's been.

STELTER: It's funny how you know, the same week the New York Times says Mueller is looking at the President's tweets as part of a possible obstruction of justice investigation. The President still keeps posting things that create these issues about checks and balances and separation of powers. It's as if he doesn't know how the FCC operates. So why haven't your fellow commissioners spoken up more?

ROSENWORCEL: I don't know. When the President tweeted that I quickly said that I disagree. I hope that over time they can agree with me and say that this isn't appropriate and it's not the way that we should be conducting our merger reviews.

STELTER: So we'll see what happens with Sinclair. The bottom line is this process takes a while and other deals like this they collapse but Sinclair so far is not throwing in the towel, right?

ROSENWORCEL: They haven't walked away yet so this story is not yet over.

STELTER: Got it. Jessica, thanks so much for being here.

ROSENWORCEL: Thank you. And we've invited Ajit Pai on as well. We hope he'll join us in the future. Coming on RELIABLE SOURCES, a bloodbath at the Daily News. We have some insight into this week's gutting of New York's hometown paper from one of its remaining columnist. S.E. Cupp will be back with me in just a moment.


[11:50:00] STELTER: Yet another blow to local journalism this time at the New York Daily News. One of the papers most famous headlines is this one from the 70s. Ford to City drop dead. You can't do better than that for a tabloid but you know, it feels like the papers parent company Tronc is saying Tronc to city drop dead. That that's how it felt this week when Tronc laid off fully 50 percent of the remaining staff of the New York Daily News, a paper that has already suffered round after round of layoffs and it wasn't just at the Daily News either, Tronc lets staffers go at other papers from Florida to Pennsylvania and points in between. What is going on at local papers and how many of them will survive? I'm joined now again by S.E. Cupp. She's a columnist of The Daily News and her most recent column was about this very problem. so S.E., your column continues for the paper for now but how did you react hearing about these layoffs earlier in the week?

S.E. CUPP, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: Well, I woke up like a lot of people did especially those of us who are connected to the paper in shock. It was -- I felt like it was a sucker punch and not because this was as you mentioned the first round of layoffs, if you've -- if you've worked in news you've either survived or suffered layoffs before but this was so sweeping and broad and from people I've spoken to inside off-the-record it just sounded like there was not a lot of strategy behind this. One person told me it was indiscriminate slash by numbers at its worst. And so to lose 50 percent of your editorial staff is significant. And as you pointed out, the New York Daily News is a top ten paper, top ten circulation paper but it is still very much a local paper and so it was a big blow for local news that day.

STELTER: What do you want to see local papers do to try to figure out future?

CUPP: Yes, look, local news and especially print media has to evolve and that's been something that print media especially has struggled with over the past couple of decades. This is not new. It's not -- it's not as though people are just confronting this now. Some are doing a better job than others but local news is so, so important. Put it -- put it two ways. One, your local news can very quickly become national news. If you think about spotlight and the story of Catholic priests in Boston, if you think about Penn State, Sara Ganim who is now one of ours at CNN was a local reporter who broke the Jerry Sandusky story, a small protest in a Syrian town called Daraa becomes a civil war in national news so local news can become national. But secondly, local news especially in smaller communities, news reporters are sometimes the only people asking tough questions of government officials, elected officials, your school board, your sanitation board, the people you trust to keep your kids safe. And if they're not having those questions, sometimes no one else is.

[11:55:24] STELTER: They can feel like politicians know when the lights are off and that's what's so worrisome. S.E., thank you so much for being here.

CUPP: My pleasure.

STELTER: I spoke with three former Daily News reporters, three of the layoff victims for this week's podcast, please check it out. I think you'll learn a lot from them. You can hear it through Apple, TuneIn or Stitcher. And that's all for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES, but we'll see you right back here this time next week.