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How Much Has Really Changed in 27 Years?; Websites Smearing Ford to Help Kavanaugh. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired September 23, 2018 - 11:00   ET


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

This hour, a blockbuster story from "The New York Times", lots of reactions to these headlines about Rod Rosenstein. We'll get into the sourcing and the motives and all of it.

Plus, Sean Hannity, the president's favorite interviewer, but at this point, I think really more co-host?

And later, the death of the White House daily briefing. Yes, there really isn't a daily briefing anymore. What's the press corps doing to get it back?

But, first, reading now from the front page of the "New York Times." The facts are still in dispute about a bitter he said/she said case. A Supreme Court confirmation drama unfolding but lawmakers are being accused of a lack of sensitivity and some prominent politicians are saying, hey, what's the rush? We need a little more time to follow up on the accusations and allegations.

All of this playing out in Washington, a city where men have always made the rules and the Senate remains an overwhelmingly male club. This case is sending what one expert called an electric current of anger through women and a greater conviction that women must be represented in high places in greater numbers.

All of that from "The New York Times" from the fall of 1991, days before another climactic Senate confirmation hearing. The title of the story, by the way, was my Maureen Dowd. The title that day says the Senate and sexism. It was all about concerns that the mostly male club was mishandling Anita Hill's allegations against Clarence Thomas.

Now, 27 years later, some of the same men in the same club are in charge of a sequel of sorts. Dowd, now writing for the opinion pages, says in this morning's "New York Times" that it's unnerving to think how far women have come to find ourselves dragged back to the same place.

It may be tempting to think that a lot has changed since this day, since Anita Hill sat down to testify and certainly some things have. But America seems even more divided along gender and partisan lines and nowadays, the media environment is even more complicated, even more of a mess. Viewers are hearing about the same set of allegations but reacting to them in very different ways and keep in mind as we head into what could be a very consequential week for the United States, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was supposed to be on his way to confirmation right now.

But "The Washington Post" interview with Christine Blasey Ford may have changed all that. She went into detail in a story published one week ago today about the night she says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her. But much of the account is in dispute and for a week now, there has been story after story, rampant speculation about what is going to happen next, about whether she will testify and in what way and in what form. At the moment, there is a tentative agreement for a Thursday hearing.

Let's talk about the media's role in this, what it was back then in 1991 and what it is today with an all-star panel here to help break this down is Jill Abramson, former executive editor and managing editor of the "New York Times", also the co-author of "The Strange Justice", this is the book about the Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill hearings that had so much vital information afterwards.

Also here with me, Charles Blow, a columnist for "The New York Times" and a CNN commentator who wrote, "Fire Shut Up in my Bones", a memoir which chronicles the abuse he suffered as a child.

And here with me as well, Rachel Sklar, the writer and founder of, a network for professional women.

Great to have you all here.

I'd like to start by going back in time, back to the Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas hearing.

Jill, your book afterwards reveal what really was going on behind the scenes. Do you look at this and see a sequel? Do down see parallels today?

JILL ABRAMSON, CO-AUTHOR, "STRANGE JUSTICE: THE SELLING OF CLARENCE THOMAS": I see tremendous parallels. I was in the hearing room back in 1991. In fact, sitting directly across from Maureen Dowd, who was covering the hearings for "The New York Times" and this has so many eerie parallels, down to the fact that even though now we think we're having a hearing Thursday, that's no time to really get to the bottom of the facts in this case.

To report "Strange Justice", the book that Jane Mayer and I co-wrote which had, you know, a large amount of new evidence showing that Anita Hill absolutely told the truth when she testified and that Clarence Thomas' categorical denial amounted to perjury. But to put that case together meticulously and find all the people who knew exactly what happened back then was difficult and took time and --

[11:05:04] STELTER: Years, right, Jill? Years?

ABRAMSON: Took us almost three years.

STELTER: Right, right.

ABRAMSON: So, you know? And just the parallels where Anita Hill's story leaked out to the press.

STELTER: Right, right.

ABRAMSON: She had signed a sworn avid but wanted to keep her identity confidential in the beginning, the same thing for Dr. Blasey Ford. So, you know, how their stories leaked out in the media similar -- what is completely different is there is no Fox back then and no social media back then, both of which have served to, you know, intensify people's emotions about this and incited some of the regrettable reaction to Dr. Blasey Ford so far.

STELTER: And Hill wrote a piece, an op-ed this week, describing what Ford makes. We can put part on screen. She says the difficulty -- she points out the difficulty of testifying on national television about sexual assault. You know, I just want to think about what that had to have been like for Hill and what it could be like for Ford. Hill also points out in this piece, Ford may have encouraging letters, support from friends but she cannot match the organized support that Judge Kavanaugh has.

So, Anita Hill inject -- you know, her voice being really important at this moment even though decades have passed. It's interesting to see that.

ABRAMSON: It's fascinating. And Anita Hill continued to speak out over the years on behalf of younger women and, you know, I think it's true that Judge Kavanaugh has tremendous organized support but what I've been struck by is the anger of women who I've heard from and like are all over social media right now that this has touched a nerve.

Every woman in America has a similar experience from their teenage years, that they haven't thought about. It was traumatic. They've tried to bury it and this is just like lit a match for them.

STELTER: And with that in mind, the difference between --

ABRAMSON: If they feel unheard at the end of these hearings, I think there are going to be big political consequences just like there were after 1991 when the Senate rushed to confirm Clarence Thomas after the Anita Hill hearings. There was anger among women and then in '92, the election of six new women senators and the so-called Year of the Woman.

STELTER: The difference this time is the midterms are just -- or that election is just a few weeks away. In 1991, a year later, we had the '92 election. Now, we're what, 51 days away from the midterms.

ABRAMSON: Right, everything happens in warped speed.

STELTER: And I think it does make this feel even more intense, even more consequential.

Rachel, isn't this sort of a strange way what we're experiencing right now in this debate about gender and about power and about how to handle allegations of assault feels like the end of two years of discussion that started with President Trump and the allegations against him during the campaign.

RACHEL SKLAR, WRITER AND FOUNDER, THELI.ST: There is no question that he's certainly a lightning rod in all of this. The why I didn't report hashtag flared up directly in response to Donald Trump grope- plaining if I may what Christine Blasey Ford truly would have done had she really experienced this. She would have filed a report or her loving parents would have.

And many people piped up and, myself included, saying that, guess what? This happens and you don't tell your parents and you don't file a report because of a variety of reasons which again and again women have to take to social media and layout their personal stories in the hopes that maybe, just maybe the tide will turn and they will be believed.

STELTER: This is the hashtag why I didn't report, which erupted on Friday after -- we can put the president's tweet on screen where he really started to cast doubt in a big way on Ford's claims.

SKLAR: But that's what he does, deny, deny, deny. And this happened with the hashtag not okay after the "Access Hollywood" tape came out that we al know what he said. Am I allowed to say it?

STELTER: You're on cable.

SKLAR: OK. All right. He said that he -- talked about grabbing women by the pussy, and when you're a star, they let you do it. I mean -- and then women came forward with credible allegations against him of sexual assault.

STELTER: And I appreciate you saying, am I allowed to say this. By bringing up the words, the specific words seems like you're trying to remind people --

SKLAR: It's not my word.

STELTER: -- because I think there is a numbness or it is possible to sort of for some people to forget what we learned during the campaign.

SKLAR: Look, anybody whose been grabbed there, sorry to use that language, it's not my language but if that's happened to you, you don't forget it.

STELTER: Right, not going to forget.

Interestingly, the why I didn't report hashtag that takes off on Friday, in the wake of the president's tweet.

[11:10:03] Rain is the advocacy group that tries to help people who have suffered sexual assault. They have a national hotline number, 1800-656-4673. A spokeswoman for Rain just said to me, we've had a 42 percent uptick in calls since Friday, 42 percent uptick in calls to that hotline. So, it's clear there, Charles, that there could be -- that people are

paying attention. There is an awareness of the conversation and the ability for folks to share on social media their own accounts can make a difference. It might be helping some folks to choose to call the hot line and seek help.

CHARLES BLOW, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: The underreporting of childhood sexual abuse, particular child sexual abuse, I want to make sure that I keep going back to the fact that this is a child. She was 15 years old. And when children are abused, they have a different sense of agency than even adults.

Even -- there is underreporting even for adults, but for children in particularly, it's an acute problem because they don't know -- you know, you're trapped. You go to the school you go to. You can't make your parents get up and move. Maybe they don't have the option to move you to a different school.

Maybe this is a person who's in your family, maybe this is a family acquaintance, all those things are happening and that child is forced to make a decision about, do I disrupt the school? Do I disrupt the family relationships? Do I disrupt what my parents believe is a happy kind of existence for me?

And those are big questions for a child to have to comprehend. At 15 years old, she's coming out of fresh man year. We've all seen these guys, whether you call them hound dogs. There were all kinds of names for them, the guys that want to reset their reputation by preying on the freshman who come into school, right?

That is a real thing that occurs all the time. There are a lot of different ways in which older children prey on younger children. I try to remind people all the time about the statistics around childhood sexual abuse.

The number one age that has the most aggressive is not an adult. It's a 14-year-old boy. We have to stop thinking about this type of abuse as to catch a predator. You know, that television show where some grown 40-year-old man shows up with beer and condoms.

That's not really the way it happens. It's very often an older child preying on a younger child, and that is what is happening here, and I really think that the media makes a mistake when they allow people to come on air and say, well, these were just two drunk teenagers as if there is not a huge developmental difference between a freshman and senior.

I mean, I have three kids. It's like different human beings. They have a freshman and then almost an adult.

STELTER: But we are going to hear that line, we're going to hear that boys will be boys. I'm cringing thinking we'll hear that a lot in the next four days.

SKLAR: Why are we sending these messaging? It's not like these 15- year-old girls, 17-year-old boys aren't watching TV, aren't -- well, actually maybe they're not watching TV, but they're certainly getting it through some form on their phone.

I mean, why are we sending them these messages? There should be a category no. Like enough is enough. This is terrible. And it is shocking to me.

No. It is still shocking not surprising, but shocking that the leadership in this nation, the leadership on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and some of whom were on the committee --

ABRAMSON: Charles Grassley.

SKLAR: Grassley and Hatch, their first reaction still is to minimize, you know, the survivor's story and their testimony and to center the person who's being accused, I mean, the concern being for Brett Kavanaugh, oh, my goodness, how is this affecting him? Is this going to, quote/unquote, ruin his life? How is not getting a Supreme Court appointment a life ruiner?

This is -- I mean, this is -- the point of a confirmation hearing is to assess fitness for this lifetime appointment and presumably anybody who's going to be casting a vote is going to be doing so with an open mind.

ABRAMSON: I think that we have to stop and think just for a minute as we contemplate what is going to happen on Thursday, just the courage that it takes in this media environment for Dr. Ford to walk into that hearing room, sit down and tell her story because --

STELTER: Yes, play that out for me.

ABRAMSON: -- sitting there back in '91, you know, it's almost too painful for me now to watch the beginning of the '91 hearings on TV. It's been replaying all week because I know what's in store for Anita Hill while watching that.

And yes, I think the senators and especially the all male senators on the Republican side may have learned some lessons.

[11:15:06] But still, someone who is unschooled in the ways of Washington who hasn't led a public life until now, it is just unutterably, difficult, painful, et cetera.

STELTER: Yes, consider how there is only a couple photos of her that we've seen in the past week.


STELTER: A week full of coverage, we've barely seen a photo of her. This is not a public person with lots of Instagrams we can all look at.

ABRAMSON: That's true, and so far, and I want to give a shout-out to "The Washington Post" who she came forward to with her identity to first last Sunday and I thought they did a very sensitive and thorough job in the first story about her. STELTER: Yes, and they have been able to follow up with her since.

So far, "The Post" is the only outlet that she seems to be talking with.


ABRAMSON: It's interesting, she called them first. She called their tip line first and one assumes that in all of the ensuing months, they contacted her but they respected her desire to remain confidential.

SKLAR: This is reporting. This is good reporting and investigations that take time. Jill said that, you know, like a meticulous investigation takes three years. There is no effort to even have a slap-dash investigation.

STELTER: Charles, final word about how the press needs to treat the next few days?

BLOW: Like Jill said, it's a different media environment. There was no Fox. There was no MSNBC. There was no Internet. No internet like we have now to speak of, and so, that's a very different thing.

I think -- I would like to raise one point. There are a lot of ways in which this is similar. There are some big ways in which it is very different. We remember that Clarence Thomas emerged from those hearings incredibly popular. I mean, like 62 percent wanted to confirm him after Anita Hill gave her testimony and part of that was because of the spectacle of this black men and all these white guys.

And if you recall 1991, this was a few months after the Rodney King beating, which was probably kind of Black Lives Matter citizen video showing on national television. And so in the wake of this guy on the ground being beaten by all these white officers comes this hearing in which this black man sits -- is being questioned by this panel of white guys, and that, whatever black people might have thought about it, the image of that was a circle the wagon kind of moment that did not give kind of full airing to Anita's very credible account, but because of the racially charged climate, it changed the dynamic of how the hearings played out in America.

STELTER: And this time, with the midterms right around the corner, this is primarily about gender and about what was already the year of the women coming to vote and running her office super charged on even higher level now.

To our panel, thank you so much for being here.

Quick break and then a look at some of the smears, the overflow of misinformation that's been coming out about Ford. This is something that we've been seeing for a week now and these lies have to be taken head on.

We'll get into that in just a moment.


[11:22:12] STELTER: Try to put yourself in Christine Blasey Ford's shoes for a minute.

You lived with this trauma for years, you kept it a secret, and back in July, you confided in a reporter about it, but you insisted on confidentiality. During the Senate confirmation hearings, you thought about going public but you decided not to, to keep your secret buried.

But then your name started to leak out. Reporters started to knock on your door. You felt like your civic responsibility to speak out outweighed your anguish and terror about retaliation. That was a week ago. That was the quote from the first "Washington Post" story.

Now, if you're Ford, you're living in a hotel, you're staring down death threats, you're thinking about testifying. The president of the United States is tweeting about you, casting doubt on your story.

And everybody on TV is talking about you. Of course, none of them actually know you but they all sound like they do, they sound so confident like they want to know the truth or do know the truth but only you know your truth. Maybe you turn your TV off in disgust and look at your phone but it's even worse on the Internet. Social media, full of lies about you.

You're a private person, not a public person. You're not used to people talking about you at all, and all of a sudden, all these smears, all these hoaxes from people who are pretending like they know you.

All right. Let's step out of her shoes, but I really want to show you examples of this misinformation. It's been a problem all week long. On Monday, the right wing smear machine dug up mean reviews from These were said to be reviews of Professor Ford.

One of these pro-Trump sites said she was dark, she was mad, she was scary, she was troubled. The only problem was that the reviews were a different Professor Ford. Seriously. I'm not making that up.

Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, "The Drudge Report" and other bright lights of the right promoted this stuff. And this was just the beginning. All week long, actual news outlets had to chase down and debunk lies about Ford.

Some of these hoaxes were about straight up trying to discredit her as a Democratic activist determined to take down Kavanaugh. And some of it was more subtle, which is about sowing doubt, creating uncertainty, some of Trump's allies on Capitol Hill and on TV wondered, hey, maybe -- maybe she just accused the wrong person.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Human memory is notoriously unreliable especially over time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She can't tell you where it was, how she got there, how she left.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe the people there don't remember it. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Brett Kavanaugh said he was not there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe they remember it differently. Maybe it was a case of mistaken identity.


STELTER: That line of thinking played itself out later in the week, when Ed Whelan, a Kavanaugh reporter and president of Conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, put forth what was really a conspiracy theory on Twitter, blaming an entirely different man or suggesting maybe a different man was responsible for the attack on Ford.

[11:25:15] He's that of an ethics center. And he had to apologize and everything. But Ford clapped back perfectly and said she knew both men, she knew Kavanaugh and this other guy that was being named, and there was zero chance that she could confuse the two of them.

Now, Fox, "Fox and Friends," President Trump's friends still brought up the idea the next morning and talked about the theory on air and gave it validity even as Whelan was backtracking and apologizing and pretending like it never happened. So, again, a week of smears, a week of lies.

Put yourself in her shoes. What would you be feeling right now?

It's going to be an intense week ahead whether she does testify or not, but I think we should try to keep in mind what she might be feeling and what Kavanaugh might be feeling as everybody else talks about them all around them.

Quick break here, and then we're going to move onto the other big news of the weekend. The Rod Rosenstein story and all of the reaction since. Where did the story come from? What were the motives of the sources? Should "The Times" have published it? We'll talk about it right after this.


[11:30:00] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: This just in. President Trump responding to that shocking New York Times story about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Fox's Geraldo Rivera says he just taped a radio interview with Trump and in that interview, Trump calls the controversies surrounding Rosenstein a sad situation, a kind of a muted response by the President at least so far. Hopefully, we'll hear more from that interview coming up. The controversy, of course, is about that New York Times story that said Rosenstein back in May 2017 talked about secretly recording Trump and discussed the 25th Amendment option. The idea of Rosenstein maybe thinking about wearing a wire an extraordinary revelation and the reactions were all over the map.

But people all weekend have been asking me, is the story true? Should we believe it? There's a lot of speculation about The Times' sources and what the motivation of the sources was. Were they trying to provoke Trump into firing Rosenstein or they trying some other maneuver? All of this leading to conspiratorial thinking on the right, on the left, all over the place. Look at the ways some of the hosts on Fox News reacted. Laura Ingraham tweeted right away and said Trump needs to fire Rosenstein today, but then she deleted the tweet. Maybe she changed her mind. There's been a divide, at least there was a divide right away among some on Fox.

But by the end of the day, when this story broke, Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity were cautioning the President saying maybe this was a trap. Watch.


SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: I have a message for the President tonight. Under zero circumstances should the President fire anybody.

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, FOX NEWS: Maybe this is a trap.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're trying to trap the President.

SEBASTIAN GORKA, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT: This may be a political trap for the President.

HANNITY: He needs not to fall into a trap.


STELTER: It's a setup they were saying. And by Saturday night, Judge Jeanine Pirro was throwing out this theory.


JEANINE PIRRO, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: Is he looking to be fired? Is he setting this up?


STELTER: Was Rosenstein the one leaking in the New York Times? Now in response to all of this, The Times has come out and said, hold up. We were working on this story for months. This was a product of hard work. We weren't just handed this scoop. Let's talk more about it what David Zurawik, Media Critic for the Baltimore Sun and Olivia Nuzzi, Washington Correspondent for the New York -- for New York Magazine.

Olivia, what's so interesting to me about this is we're all expected to process the news on multiple levels these days. It's not enough just to read the story, now we're supposed to wonder who are the sources, what were the motives, how will the president react, what will Fox tell them to do? It's as if we all are expected to play 3d chess when I think the view over the New York Times is we're just trying to report. We're trying to report the news.

OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Right. Everyone is a media critic these days, but the problem is that not everyone has just a basic understanding of how the media works and how reporting works and I don't think it's helped by the fact that there are people who support the President in the media who are I think actively pushing incorrect information and conspiracy theories.

But you know what's interesting to me about this in part is that throughout Donald Trump's political career, I've noticed that people on his staff either on the campaign, now in the White House, they kind of -- they cannot believe that a story could emerge through reporting, through shoe-leather reporting, through calling sources, through getting documents, corroborating their accounts. They always think that it's a product of a leak or some type of conspiracy that there's always something else at play. It's -- the stories never just a story. It's always what is the story trying to accomplish in a broader political sense.

And I just noticed this time and time again that when you talk to people in this White House they think every story is a product of somebody pushing it sometimes from within their own ranks to achieve a certain end. And it's very bizarre it's not surprising given their general opinion of the media and of reporters, but this seems like a pretty extreme example of that.

STELTER: It sounds stressful but is any reason to wonder about the sources in this case? I mean, it does seem like some folks are out to get Rod Rosenstein. Is that -- is that conspiratorial to think?

NUZZI: Well, I just don't know how helpful it is right? I mean, we do not know who the New York Times sources are. We are probably not going to find out who their sources are. They are protecting their sources. They stand by this story. The New York Times has proven time and time again that they are a legitimate news outlet. They are doing fantastic reporting. And I don't think that there's any reason to kind of grant legitimacy to judge Jeanine's claims that are based on what, they seem to be based on nothing except her hunch.

[11:35:30] STELTER: Yes, Zurawik, you're laughing.

DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, THE BALTIMORE SUN: Yes, I'll take these two reporters over Judge Jeanine in the -- in the kitchen cabinet on Fox News in primetime any day of the week. You know, the President should watch show times the Fourth Estate to see how the Washington bureau of the New York Times how seriously it takes its business. And I totally agree with Olivia. Donald Trump is from this tabloid world where hacks take stuff that's (INAUDIBLE), get paid for putting stuff on their -- on their platform.

All of this really it's the sleazy, it's the bottom-feeding and I don't even want to say journalism of information in this country. He cannot -- and a lot of the people around him I think, cannot conceive of the high end of American journalism. And those of us who just go out every day with this mission, and by his standards, make lousy money and were fools and why the hell would we do this for a living anyway. But we believe in the role we play in democracy. He doesn't get that. He will never get that.

NUZZI: And also let me add -- ZURAWIK: And Olivia --

NUZZI: Thank you. I like to hear that. But I just want to add, you know, yes, people are trying to leak against each other and they're trying to manipulate reporters in this White House and in Donald Trump's orbit. That's definitely true but I think we have to trust that the reporters at the New York Times and the editors at the New York Times are doing their job and making sure that they are not being misled and being used as political tools. I certainly -- I trusted them.

But I also -- you know, when you look at Sean Hannity saying, I have a message for the President. I think it's important to remember that the President is likely watching. it is possible and even likely that they have talked about this privately. Sean Hannity advises the President on a regular basis and I think we do have to take what these people on Fox News say very seriously for that reason because it is directly into the President's ear.

STELTER: Yes, they're really are a Fox cabinet. Can I -- let me just show what Michael Schmidt of the New York Times said in response to all of this. He has a great interview up on responding to the questions about whether Rosenstein was just being sarcastic. Schmidt says, look, this story is taking us months if not a year to get to the bottom of and that's because the people that had access to this information knew what had gone on and knew it wasn't a joke and they wouldn't talk to us about it.

Schmidt says, if this has been a joke, we don't think it would have been so hard for us to get this information. If it had been a joke, this would not have been memorialized, documented, and discussed in the FBI the way that it was. So what Schmitt is trying to say there is he and his colleague Adam Goldman, they were working hard on this story it wasn't just handed to them, and thus they don't believe the denial or the half denial that it was sarcastic on Rosenstein's part.

Also, Zurawik, the one other piece about this is the 25th Amendment. The idea that anybody even if they were being sarcastic it would be in the government talking about invoking the 25th Amendment just speaks to how dysfunctional this administration is.

ZURAWIK: Absolutely. And you know, Brian, when you look right now. I was just looking at the state that Rosenstein was supposed to be in mentally at this time. You have Bob Woodward's book documenting the exact same parallel, how agitated he was how upset, how off-kilter he was at this moment when he allegedly said this because Trump was using his memo as the reason for firing Comey. Plus, there's a documentary on Frontline coming out October 2nd that I screened and it dovetails perfectly with this about how agitated Rosenstein was and how really troubled and upset he was and threatening to resign.

This -- that context triple checked with three of the best news sources or news platforms we have in this country. That says this is pretty good stuff. And you know, it's just ridiculous when you had Judge Jeanine up there. I look at her that we even take -- that we even talk about a character like this. She should be in 1940's New York sitting next to Walter Winchell when people feeding her tips for tomorrow's gossip column. And she's -- you know, in the world we now live in we have to listen to Judge Jeanine because she has access to this president and it's insane.

She's an insane character for a serious journalist to even be considering for half a second, but because she has this you know, this -- she's a conduit. She's part of this talkback loop, this echo chamber between Fox, and Sinclair, and Trump, we got to listen to her. And she's the most unreliable person. And you know, so we got Woodward, we have Frontline and we have Schmidt and Goldman, and we're talking, well, Judge Jennings says -- that's the world we live in today.

STELTER: All right, hold that thought. David, Olivia, we'll be right back with you and much more in just a moment.


[11:40:00] STELTER: The White House has effectively killed the Daily Press Briefing. In June, Sarah Sanders only had five briefings, in July three, in August 5, and so far this month just one. It's no longer really a daily briefing. So why does this matter? Let's ask the President of the White House Correspondents Association and the host of Sirius XM show POTUS. He's the Chief Washington Correspondent for Sirius XM, Olivier Knox.


[11:45:10] OLIVIER KNOX, PRESIDENT, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENCE ASSOCIATION: So let's talk about why the briefing matters. The briefing which became an on-camera event under Bill Clinton, Mike McCurry, opened it up to the cameras. The briefing has both a symbolic and a substantive importance to the White House Press Corps. It is not the end-all and be-all of our work but it symbolically shows that the most powerful political institution in American life is not above being questioned and on the substance it helps to have an on- camera Q&A. You can you can range widely across topics. You can see whether the press secretary is answering or not answering questions. And so it has it has real value it.

It -- this is probably the thing I hear about the most from the White House Correspondents Association membership in particular a lot of what I will call not in a non-derogatory way the smaller outlets, the folks who have a harder time getting their e-mails returned by White House staff, the folks who don't have senior officials on speed dial used to find the briefing to be a good space in which they could ask questions that might not be on the number one or two topic of the day but on important issues.

STELTER: So why is the association not screaming more about this problem? We've essentially lost daily briefings.

KNOX: We certainly haven't had a lot of them recently. I don't find the screaming to be especially productive. My conversations with senior officials, I have taken my members concerns to the White House Communications shop, to Sarah Sanders. She's heard us out. I don't want to characterize those -- that behind-the-scenes back-and-forth too much because it really is a lot of -- a lot of what we again is logistical and confidential. I don't think this -- that the screaming really has a -- has a lot of value in that relationship.

STELTER: We've also seen rollbacks in access in other ways. Tell me about that.

KNOX: One of the things that this administration has done is claw back a lot of government information that was public in the Obama, Bush, and even the Clinton years. I'll give you one example that's dear to my heart. There's a law called the War Powers Act. And under the War Powers Act, the president is supposed to submit a letter every six months to Congress laying out where American troops are in harm's way and how many of them are in harm's way. And under this administration the White House has stripped the number of Americans in Afghanistan, the number of Americans in Iraq, the number of Americans in Syria from the public War Powers letter.

That makes it harder to hold the government accountable. It makes it harder to hold both the Commander-in-Chief and the people in Congress who seem averse to wanting to debate America's role in the world, America's intervention -- military interventions most notably. So when you pull that kind of information out of the public eye, you're making the job of holding the federal government accountable more difficult. And that's the kind of stuff that really -- that actually probably worries me more than the frequency or in frequency of the daily briefing.

STELTER: I'm really glad you brought that up. I see you tweeting oftentimes about the war in Afghanistan and wars elsewhere. I get the sense you're trying to get folks not to forget that we are in these seemingly forever wars, but that's pretty easy to do, isn't it? I mean, it's what 2018. We've just had the 17th anniversary of 9/11. And every year it's getting a little easier for Americans to look the other way. The press corps has got to help make sure we don't.

KNOX: I absolutely agree with that. This week also brought us the anniversary of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, the AUMF as it's called in the jargon of Washington D.C. which basically set the stage not just for the war in Afghanistan but it actually underpins the entire war on terrorism as George W Bush labeled it. And yes, you know, as long as Congress funds Wars without debating them, as long as -- as long as Americans -- I don't think -- it's definitely not the Forgotten War for people who have a father and uncle, a sister, a brother, an aunt in conflict.


KNOX: But we do tend to forget about it. And I think -- I think we owe it to the people who are in combat and the people who love them back at home. We owe them constant scrutiny, constant questioning.


STELTER: Hear more from Olivier on our podcasts, the RELIABLE SOURCES podcast. Find it through Apple or Stitcher or your favorite podcast app. And this Friday night on CNN, tune in for Randi Kaye is a special look at the past and the future of the White House briefing. That's Friday 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time. One more RELIABLE SOURCES headline you have to hear right after this quick break.


[11:50:00] STELTER: Before we go today, let's debunk something that President Trump said about the peacock network. He tweeted a couple of weeks ago, "when Lester Holt got caught fudging my tape on Russia, NBC was hurt badly by that." There's a lot wrong in that sentence but Attorney Jay Sekulow has been continuing this talking point. He brought it up the other day on Chris Cuomo's show here on CNN.

This was all about that incredible Trump interview with NBC's Lester Holt way back in May 2017 right after he fired FBI Director James Comey. Trump admitted that the Russia thing was on his mind when he fired Comey and ever since then that's made Trump vulnerable to claims of obstruction of justice. So the Trump team is trying to change the conversation about that interview by suggesting it was edited or fudged. Here's what Sekulow said.


JAY SEKULOW, LAWYER OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: You know that when there are interviews, there are edits and there are longer transcripts. And I would just tell you, without disclosing any detail that when you review the entire transcript, it's very clear as to what happened.


[11:55:13] STELTER: OK. So you see what's Sekulow is doing there? He's suggesting something's amiss, that maybe NBC is hiding something but actually it's more nuance to that -- than that. He's saying don't look at the first part of the interview, look at the second part. Look at the second part where my client says, hey, I knew when I fired Comey that this might make the Russia probe last even longer. Sekulow is trying to point over there instead of over here.

NBC has released 13 minutes of the interview on the Web site, but not the whole thing. Frankly, I think any outlet that ever interviews the President of the United States should release the entire transcript so there's no ability to claim anything was fudged. That's my humble bit of advice for NBC and everybody else. We're out of time here on T.V. but we'll see you right back here this time next week. Thanks for tuning in.