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Two Years of Fight Against "Fake News"; Pro-Trump Media Outlets Spread Fear of Migrants. Aired 11-12p ET

Aired October 21, 2018 - 11:00   ET


BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey, 16 days until the midterms. I'm Brian Stelter and this is 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 help make it better.

[11:00:04] This hour, as the Saudi diplomatic crisis deepens, Jamal Khashoggi's editors Karen Attiah will join me live. Lots to talk about with her.

Plus, as you've probably been seeing President Trump is parroting Fox News, but what should journalists do when he fear-mongers about migrant caravans?

And everything we're talking about this our ties together, it's all about the war on truth. So, who better than Carl Bernstein -- he'll be here at the end of the hour, to discuss how all these stories connect.

But, first, a topic you need to know about -- midterm misinformation. It was two years ago this month, I remember it pretty fondly. It was October, it was Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump vying for the presidency, and I tried to sound an alarm about fake news.

Yes, fake news, no, not Trump's kind. I was talking about these actually made up stories, the ones that were plaguing your Facebook feed and confusing your friends.

I wasn't the only ones sounding the alarm. Lots of reporters were trying to call this out in the run-up to the presidential election. There was so much misinformation, so many unreliable sources in the run-up to the election. So, we started covering the problem on this program and on others.

But between the day Trump won and the day he was inaugurated, he sees the term fake news. He gave it a whole new definition. He diverted attention away from the real problem that keeps growing and growing, and instead attacked real news outlets.

But let me give you a sense of the problem, the scope of the problem -- fake news and misinformation around the world.

Headlines from this week in the Middle East about Twitter trolls employed by Saudi Arabia, spreading lies about Jamal and about his killing. These Twitter trolls also try to make it look like the crown prince was a beloved hero. This is happening in brazil voters in this month's elections have been inundated with smears and hoaxes on the WhatsApp messaging app. It's a big problem for WhatsApp which is owned by Facebook.

And right here in the United States, with the midterms again 16 days away, Facebook, Twitter and other sites are trying to stamp out fake stories about voter fraud and other topics. But this is an uphill battle.

On Friday, a Russian national was charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, she is accused of working on funding online propaganda efforts to manipulate American voters, both back in and right now today.

The U.S. government says it continues to see the Russians as well as the Chinese and in other foreign actors using social media to influence Americans. This is a widespread problem.

But I want to go back to a very specific example that I showed two years ago. This is a pro-Trump Facebook page that I showed two years ago. It is twice as popular now and it's still posting completely fake content. For example, there's a quote they put up the other day, a meme attributed George H.W. Bush that he never said. Take it off the screen. It's a lie.

But most of the MAGA posts that are on this page aren't really fake 100 percent, they're just incredibly one-sided, treating Trump like god and his opponents like the devil. This is hyper-partisan content that spreads all across social media because it's made to go viral, just one of many different examples of the problems that plague these social networks.

So what's being done? We've been talking about this problem for two years. What is being done in this new age of information warfare?

I'm looking all of us do to help. Well, Facebook is bringing reporters into this brand new war room. Look at this, you might have seen these pictures the other day, it's a so-called war room at Facebook headquarters designed to protect the elections, designed to monitor misinformation and election meddling and try to catch foreign actors like the Russians before they try to do it again.

So, Facebook is trying to do the right things. Twitter is trying to do the right things. They're certainly trying to win the P.R. war. But are they doing enough?

Let's talk about it with CNN reporter Donie O'Sullivan. He covers these problems for us every day out here at CNN. And Phillip Bump, national correspondent with "The Washington Post".

Guys, thanks for being here.

I want to highlight the different examples of this problem. Donie, what are you uncovering today that's different than two years ago? You know, we've heard about fake news back then, but what's different now? DONIE O'SULLIVAN, REPORTER, CNN: Well, I mean, the bad actors, the trolls have gotten quite a lot more sophisticated. And particularly in being able to mask where they are operating from. And Facebook will even tell us that directly. They'll say you know it has gotten -- they've got a lot better at not you know knowing that not knowing that that they're working from Russia.


O'SULLIVAN: But I mean, Facebook is trying a lot of resources at this problem.

STELTER: They're spending a lot of money. They're hiring a lot of people.

O'SULLIVAN: They're investing in artificial intelligence. They say they're hiring thousands of new staff and they're also bringing former intelligence -- former intelligence officials to try track this problem down.

STELTER: And yet, just this week, what did you find? You found a bunch of pages from Bangladesh -- we might better put it on screen -- an elaborate Facebook scam based in Bangladesh that made it look like it was the women's march, right? So, fake activism.

[11:05:01] O'SULLIVAN: Yes, and the problem with that is that whereas the Russian actors are ideological and trying to spread, you know, what is described as false news or false information or fake news, this Bangladesh operation appeared to be something that was just trying to make money off merchandise. But the impact was the same. They were spreading the wrong date for the march.

There was activists, real women's march activists reporting to Facebook all throughout this summer saying, this march that's organized for our town in January, for our city in January, we're not behind it and it's got the wrong days. They were repeating this -- reporting this repeatedly to Facebook and it wasn't until we brought it to their attention and the national organizers in Washington, D.C. bought it to their attention that they really acted on it.

STELTER: Right. Part of the problem is that you get your phone calls returned more quickly from Facebook than a random user who's looking at a bunch of lies on the site and trying to get something done about it.

Philip, is this a game of whack-a-mole that Twitter and Facebook are playing and are they getting good enough at the game?

PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, it's absolutely giving black mole and I think that the key indicator that they're not getting good enough at the game is that this week, we had another indictment of a Russian who is doing exactly what the Russians didn't that drew all this attention to Facebook and twitter in the first place but they're still doing it. They're still doing it effectively enough to bring to the attention of federal authorities, right? We saw also this report in "The New York Times" yesterday about how the Saudi Arabia was using they basically just paying people to be Twitter trolls.

STELTER: Just to tweet all day --

BUMP: How do you fight against that, right? I mean, unless you block everyone in Saudi Arabia, there's lots of people who agree with that in Saudi Arabia. How do you pick out the 1,000 of them that happened to be paid to do it?

Yes, it is a game of whack-a-mole, but there are some literally millions of moles out there to whack, and there's no way to actually catch.

STELTER: Yes, I mean, two years ago, the conversation after the election was all about fact-checking. OK, fact checkers are going to come to the rescue.

But, Donie, that is not the full answer to this problem, right? Facebook is now saying we need to use our servers and our machine learning our algorithms to actually catch this misinformation because fact checkers are not enough.

O'SULLIVAN: This is a very difficult problem to solve.


O'SULLIVAN: And I think Facebook would like to frame it in that way to say that they frame it as an arms race that you know we're never really going to fully solve this problem.

Here's a way they could solve it though, it involves a fundamental rethinking of their business model. Facebook thrives and makes so much money because it is so easy to set up an account. It is so easy for advertisers to target specific people with information. If they were to make it harder for fake accounts to emerge, they would be impacting their money active unique users which is -- which is -- which is based on -- that basically determines the value of the company.

STELTER: Yes, the entire value of the company.

O'SULLIVAN: So they have this real data you know this dance to do I guess where they're pumping all these millions of dollars trying to solve a problem that even they themselves say, well, we're never really going to fully solve it.

STELTER: This is one of the core problems here, Philip, that the president United States is Mr. Misinformation. I mean, let me run through a recent example that's involving Saudi Arabia. News outlets hear what the president says, they repeat what the president says, and then they perpetuate these lies, you know, when websites post articles that are that are recording the president, that's an example of fake news. I want to show an example, this is the president talking all week long about Saudi Arabia and about the U.S. arms sales to Saudi he's basically given a defense of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Here's what he's been saying all week long.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They have a tremendous order, $110 billion.

I work very hard to get the order for the military's $110 billion.

It'll be ultimately $110 billion.

They're spending $110 billion.


STELTER: All right. So, Trump repeats this line every day and then some news outlets make the mistake of putting it in headlines, acting as if it's true, when in fact the hundred ten billion dollar figure is, quote, fanciful and unlikely to come to fruition. That's according to "The Post" own fact checker Glenn Kessler.

Or as "Business Insider" put it really well, the arms deal claim is fake news.

You know, this is a fundamental problem as we talked about fake news and lies spreading on the Internet, if the U.S. president is the biggest spreader.

BUMP: Yes, I mean, it's a combination of two things. This combination of someone who has a massive twitter following -- I guess it's a combination of three things. Someone who uses Twitter regularly to share information and claims that that's the only truth they're going to get about him and the same time is totally indifferent to actually sharing accurate information, right?

Those three things we haven't seen combined in a way that we see combined and Donald Trump. And that $110 billion is really fascinating because he's also using this to argue these are jobs for Americans. So, he's trying to reinforce his core campaign message the jobs numbers he gives are totally made-up.

He said it was 40,000 jobs in March. Now, he's up to over a million jobs. He just makes these numbers up and yes, that's problematic is what's Facebook and Twitter going to do.

People retweeting the president, you can't crackdown on people for retweeting the president of the United States even though it's fake news.

STELTER: Yes, if a webpage, if I make a page on Facebook and I'm posting lies every day --

BUMP: Right. STELTER: -- Facebook can delete it, but if I'm quoting the president every day, they're not going to delete it.

So, Donie, ultimately, is this a media literacy issue as much as these companies may or may not do users citizens voters we've got to become more careful about sharing links, about sharing stories and believing what they see on social media.

[11:10:08] O'SULLIVAN: As do news media. I mean, so much of -- particularly we've seen thousands of what are now confirmed Russian accounts we're posing as Americans, when we go back to see where they were used, where they were quoted, they were quoted on They were quoted on websites, news websites all across the U.S.

So, everybody needs to be I think a bit more mindful of, if you see a tweet that looks like it's designed to provoke you into a reaction, that it's designed for you to retweet and you don't know who's posting it, maybe you should think before you post.

STELTER: Right, that the goal of these -- especially these foreign actors is to sow division and discord. You showed me the other day how the hundreds of Russian trolls were we're tweeting at me during the 2016 election, and I had no idea. And that's got to be a wake-up call for all of us, about what's going on online.

All right. Tony, thank you. Philip, stick around.

Quick break here. And then, another migrant caravan, another explosion of coverage. I'm wondering if the coverage on the right of some of it -- if some of the fear-mongering is racially tinged. Max Boot and Dara Lind will join me live right after this.


STELTER: All right. Now, to the politics of fear and how the press can either calm people's nerves or inflame tensions.

[11:15:05] Case in point: these Central American migrants who are trying to draw attention to their plight by traveling north to Mexico, some of them say they eventually want to seek asylum in the U.S.

Fox News started covering this migrant caravan one week ago today and as the coverage ramped up, President Trump started hyping this supposed threat. What we're seeing is the Fox News presidency in action, with Fox stars like Newt Gingrich supplying the talking points.


NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Two words are going to define the night of the 2018 election, one is Kavanaugh and the other is caravan.

TRUMP: An election of Kavanaugh, the caravan, law-and-order and common sense.


STELTER: Coincidence? You decide, but take a look at Fox's framing. These are some of the banners on it's opinion shows, caravan crisis, chaos in Mexico, bursting through the border. And notice the language about Trump, vowing tough action.

For another banner, how about Trump stokes fear to score votes? Yes? He's talking about the caravan almost every day now and his comments have a conspiratorial edge to them.


TRUMP: They wanted that caravan and there are those who say that caravan didn't just happen. It didn't just happen.


STELTER: And it's a plot. He's saying it's a Democrats fault. It's nonsense but it's very appealing nonsense to some viewers.

Now, let's talk about this with Max Boot. He's a CNN global affairs analyst who's the author of the new book, "The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right", in Washington, Dara Lind, senior reporter for "Vox", covering immigration, and Philip Bump is back with me at the table.

Dara, let me start with you. These pictures from the Guatemala, Mexico border certainly are powerful. Right now, some of the migrants are entering into Mexico, the government's trying to stop them from moving north toward the U.S.

How do you see these pictures being weaponized right now?

DARA LIND, SENIOR REPORTER, VOX: I mean, they're very gripping pictures and more than that the image of a mass of people moving through, crossing bridges and rivers indicates it feels like an invading force and, of course, what a picture doesn't do or a clip is show you where it is, how far that might be from the U.S. So, when you have people talking about a border crisis and not specifying that it's the Mexico-Guatemala border, which is several weeks walking from the U.S., it makes it feel like there's this mass of human beings that you know the imagery over and over again of thousands of people surging forward in something like a segment like this where you're playing clips alongside people talking is going to make people feel that they're under siege.

STELTER: Yes, it feels like this -- this is very urgent -- well, certainly, it's being portrayed as a very urgent threat on Fox's pro- Trump talk shows when in fact it is happening very, very far away from the U.S. border.

LIND: Right.

STELTER: Now, what do I expect to happen next? What's your impression? LIND: The Mexican government has made it very clear that they're going to try to stop this. They made it clear even before Trump really ramped up his rhetoric about it, but they tried to on Friday and Saturday and it appears that they just don't have the manpower at the Mexico-Guatemala border to stop thousands of people from coming through. So I don't -- how this shakes out over the next few weeks is going to really determine whether this is something where the president is saying, great job, Mexico, we scared you, you did it or whether it's something he can continue to use as we get into the midterms.

STELTER: Max Boot, what are you seeing in the in the pro-Trump media coverage of this, the right wing coverage of this. Is it -- is it demagoguery? How would you describe this?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It is demagoguery, Brian. It is also I believe racism and nativism really pandering to the fears of Trump supporters and Fox News viewers who tend to be older white males who are alarmed about the supposed invasion of dark-skinned newcomers coming to America.

I mean, the threat is entirely bogus because in fact border crossings have declined dramatically in the last 18 years, down 80 percent. There is not this massive army of illegal immigrants, and these people are not even the illegal immigrants. They are refugees who are seeking legal admissions to the United States.

What this really underlines to me, Brian, is how the Republican Party has changed in my lifetime. This is something I write in my book, "The Corrosion of Conservatism", how when I was growing up in the 1980s, the Republican Party was basically pro-immigration. It was a conservative party with a white nationalist fringe. And under the impact of Fox News and Donald Trump, it has transformed into essentially a white nationalist party with a conservative fringe.

I mean, I spent decades working in the conservative media for publications like "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page and guess what? They were pro-immigration. They had a very different view of these things than the Fox Newses and the Donald Trumps of the world who are pushing this xenophobic agenda to mobilize their base for crass political purposes.

It is tragic and it is despicable.

[11:20:01] STELTER: What do you want to see the press doing differently or how do you think others in the media world should respond to what you're saying Fox and others are doing?

BOOT: I think most of the media is doing a pretty good job of presenting this, but I think the point that you were making earlier is true to some extent that you are kind of hostage to the video. And when you show the video, it's easy for these voices of fear-mongering on the right to say, oh, look at this, isn't this threatening, all these people?

When in fact a lot of them are women and children, they're mainly people looking for work for safety, trying to flee from oppression, trying to flee from crime. But the -- just the pictures themselves when present it in isolation can give a very misleading impression.

STELTER: Well, let's talk about the pictures. Let's put up the pictures again from the bridge.

You can interpret the pictures from the bridge many different ways. You could say that's an inspiring protest, an effort by these migrants to gain attention for their cause.

BOOT: Right.

STELTER: You could point out, it is a real problem the suffering that's going on in these countries.

BOOT: Right.

STELTER: Or you could look at it and say it's threatening.

To your point, I think if we are able to zoom in more often and show images of the individuals or better yet talk to the individual reporter --


BOOT: I mean, I was watching a CNN reporter yesterday which I thought did a very good job of actually talking these people and saying, we're not criminals, we're not a threat, all we want is work, we just want to live in peace. I mean, if you actually talk to them as individuals, you understand these are people who are suffering and that we should be empathetic too. But if you just present the long shot and show the seething mob, you can get away with that kind of Fox News framing that these people are somehow a threat to us.

STELTER: Philip, the president has been talking about this almost every day. He's been holding rallies almost every day. Let's show on screen our calendar of the rallies so far in October and there are three more coming up later this month that will show you as well, the president is owning the media environment through these rallies and through all of his interviews.

And when he is talking and talking and talking, he's talking in part about the caravan. Is anybody out there in the politics space countering him?

BUMP: Not that we've seen. Bernie Sanders has held a series of rallies, but I mean you can't compete with the inherent power of the presidency, right? And there's something about a presidential rally and this is a hugely contentious point which I realize, something about the power of the presidency which commands people's attention, rightly or wrongly. Donald Trump takes very -- he seizes that.

STELTER: Definitely.

BUMP: He just grasps it as tightly as he can.


BUMP: And one of the things that allows him to do that I think it's fascinating is that he made the same argument this spring about a caravan that was coming to the border, couple hundred people came. They sought asylum. They weren't to Max's point illegal immigrants. They were seeking refugee status, and it's just sort of has vanished in the background.

So, what Donald Trump is also very good at doing is keeping attention focused on the present, right? He does -- there's no sense of him standing up there and saying, yes, I know we went through this in April and turned out to be a bust but now, it's happening again.

Of course, he's not going to do that, but he's very good at making -- drawing attention to anything would you just happened it didn't have the negative effects that he said was going to, and putting everything else into the shadow.

STELTER: So, he's pretty confusion perhaps, Dara. What do you think? You're trying to do and your colleagues are doing to try to help people understand what's actually happening with this caravan.

LIND: Well, I'm really glad that Philip brought up the caravan from this spring because while it faded from the media attention, the rage that it provoked in Donald Trump created a policy crackdown that affected not only those few hundred migrants many of whom were forced to wait in Mexico for weeks before getting asylum were harassed when they were there but also the continued crackdown that led to family separation in late spring and summer and that has led to a continued slowdown in people getting into legal ports of entry.

So, the policy side of this often operates after the political hype cycle has ended. But that's an important thing to draw attention back to when people are talking about what Trump is threatening to do.

STELTER: All right. Dara, Max, Philip, thank you all for being here.

Quick programming note: immigration is likely to be a topic tonight when Florida's candidates for governor face off at a CNN debate. Jake Tapper moderates 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time tonight.

And coming up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES, a very important message from Jamal Khashoggi's editor, Karen Attiah. I'll speak with her right after the break.


[11:28:30] STELTER: Journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead, but the consequences of his death are just beginning to be understood. In a Saturday night interview with "The Washington Post's" Josh Dawsey, President Trump says he knows the Saudis lied and deceived the world about the circumstances of Jamal's disappearance.

But the president also had words of support for the royal family. Trump perhaps is trying to have it both ways. He admitted to "The Post" there were discrepancies in the Saudi account and that the Saudis have been all over the place. But the president continues to emphasize the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

Meanwhile, "The Washington Post", where Jamal was a contributing columnist for the past year continues to demand answers and seek justice for his death.

Let's bring in his editor at "The Post", Karen Attiah. She's the global opinions editor.

Karen, we spoke two weeks ago when his disappearance was just beginning to become worldwide news. Now, the Saudis have finally admitted that Jamal died at the consulate on October 2nd.

How are you coping personally? How are you grieving?

KAREN ATTIAH, GLOBAL OPINIONS EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: I mean, it's just been a slow, agonizing drip of kind of horrible information back and forth for the last two weeks. To hear the Saudis at the very sort of minimum level has admitted that he died, that he was killed, he was murdered, which contradicts their earlier claims of him leaving the consulate after 20 minutes.

It's temporary (ph), I think, we knew that at the very least he wasn't coming back to us a long time ago, but to the finality of it --


[11:30:00] KAREN ATTIAH, GLOBAL OPINIONS EDITOR, WASHINGTON POST: -- after 20 minutes. It's -- I think we knew at the very least he wasn't coming back to us a long time ago but the finality of it at least for me personally is still hard. It's still hard to wrap my head around the fact that, you know, he was born in 1958, 1959, died 2018 October and I -- his family which I've been in touch with that they're devastated. And it's -- whatever for all the geopolitical games for all the you know, discussions about the U.S.-Saudi relationship, Turkey, Iran, Qatar, whatever, at the end of the day, this was a man, this is a human being who just wanted to write and gave his life for it and it's --it hurts it still hurts.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: And what is the Post doing in the days ahead? I saw your publisher and CEO Fred Ryan coming out on Saturday very strongly saying this isn't an explanation, this is a cover-up. What are you and your colleagues doing now going forward?

ATTIAH: Yes, I mean, this is -- I agree with it. This is not an explanation, this is not satisfactory. I said colorfully on Twitter that the idea that Jamaal might have been in a fistfight against 15 other people is total B.S. frankly. In the coming days ahead, you know, we are still -- we're still going to write and we're still going to push for -- to push for answers and to push for a credible international investigation. And I think it's also to push for at this point the Turks, the Turks are the ones who this whole time have been leaking that they have evidence of the killing and leaking that they -- not just the killing but the actual cover-up whether it's dismemberment or what-have-you. So if they're -- it's time for them to tell us what they have. It's time for them to put an end to all the guessing, all the speculation, all the rumor mongering and come forward with the truth.

STELTER: And the Turkish President just came out and say he's going to give a speech on Tuesday and talk about Jamal so that is newsworthy that he says he is going to share more in the coming days. But I wonder you know, is there anything more the post can do? You certainly are using the megaphone you have at the paper to try to keep attention on this problem.

ATTIAH: Yes. And it's to keep attention not just on this problem but for all the problems within Saudi Arabia that Jamal himself was advocating for. I think this is a unique opportunity for us to push for answers I'm in the detainment in other performers and activists. (INAUDIBLE) the economist who was jailed basically for criticizing Vision 2030 Mohammed bin Salman's economic plan or Loujain Alhathloul, the woman's driving activists who was snatched up from the UAE and has been sitting somewhere we think in a jail somewhere in Saudi Arabia but we're not sure.

I mean now is the time to really focus attention on these others who have been disappeared or detained for it without due process. And I think, it's also too to remind people again it's not just Jamal's murder as heinous as it is, it's also about Yemen, it's also about the kidnapping of Lebanese -- the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. It's about really pressing for accountability on the Saudi Arabia which is supposed to be a reliable partner and has shown that it is anything but especially in the last -- in the last week but potentially in the last year or so practically. So we're going to continue shouting and we're going to continue pressing our U.S. officials to do more.

STELTER: Karen, thank you so much for finding the strength to keep Jamal's spirit alive. I don't know how you're doing it but I'm so thankful you are.

ATTIAH: Thank you, Brian. Thanks for covering this. We really appreciate it.

STELTER: Thanks. A quick break here. We'll return to domestic politics next. You've heard of the silent majority, well how about the exhausted majority? Maybe we're not quite as divided as cable news makes it seem. We're going to get into it right after this.


[11:35:00] STELTER: Hyper-partisan cable news shows lock people in a political prison of their own making. The shows portray the other side as the enemy, making everything seem like a life and death struggle, good versus evil. But here's some good news. Most Americans are not locked in the cold civil war that's raging on cable news, and talk radio, and on Capitol Hill, the white -- the White House. At least that's the conclusion of a new study called hidden tribes of America. There's this group called More in Common that interviewed 8,000

Americans trying to get to the bottom of what is so polarizing. I spoke with the co-author of the new study Tim Dixon about these hidden tribes and who actually makes up the majority. It's definitely not what's portrayed by the shouting voices on Fox and MSNBC.


TIM DIXON, CO-FOUNDER, MORE IN COMMON: What we found was that yes there is a profound polarization between what we call the wings, the more extreme voices, the very strident voices of the right and of the left, but in fact there's a very large group majority of Americans who are in what we call the exhausted majority who actually don't identify unambiguously with either of that side.

[11:40:13] STELTER: Right. It's portrayed sometimes on T.V., it's easy in these two boxes to put a left and a right and it makes it look like a fight between one half of the country and the other but you're saying it's not like that at all.

DIXON: It's not like that at all. I mean, the two groups, the two most strident groups that we identified are progressive activists on the left side eight percent of the population, devoted conservatives on the right side six percent of the population. Although they have a group next to them the traditional conservatives who are quite similar in most respects but there's less intense in their commitment, but those groups are really a small proportion of the overall country.

What we found was there's a tremendous anxiety of the division and a sense with the majority of people actually that their voice isn't being heard, that it's these strident, hateful often uncompromising us versus their voices and I think this is a consequence of years of the partisanship of social media but also, of course, the partisan model of the commercial media in the last few years, the last decade and you know going back 25 years I guess with Fox. That's really having an effect and these people have a remarkable cartoonish view of the other side.

I think that's remarkably dangerous because if you think that the other side is so extreme, you will feel it's OK for your side to go to an extreme to defend the values that you want to defend, and that creates this spiral where people are making excuses for conduct that otherwise they would recognize as being dishonest, you know, far too aggressive, completely inappropriate but instead people feel like well we have to do this. And if you actually listen to the partisan social media and the partisan news media channels, they are obsessed with the other side. Both sides are always talking about the other side so this kind of sets up this us-versus-them narrative and every issue gets thrown into the same sort of churn of versus them, us versus them, the outrage of the other side.


STELTER: So clearly, he's assigning some blame for our political woes to hyper-partisan media. So I asked Dixon what can be done about it.


DIXON: I think we have to work think hard about the funding model, the financing model for the media because the problem is that to me looking at this research it's partisan media is definitely making things worse and you know in a manner that's very dangerous for a democracy. It creates a world in which there's two strident voices that see the others is completely illegitimate and they live in their own information worlds.

So part of the problem is that the model makes money and it was a very interesting thing when we asked the question of the disengaged groups, the passive liberals, those of middle exhausted majority. We asked them about why they think that this world of the politics has become so tribalized, and they say, a lot of them say because there's a lot of people making money out of it. And so the financing model I think is a really important piece --

STELTER: And people are onto it right? They recognize that's part of the problem.

DIXON: They're on to it.

STELTER: Look, when I'm at home in the morning I watch Fox and Friends and I feel like -- I feel like we're at war. And then I walk outside and everybody's really friendly on the street and I get on the subway and things are OK and it's sort of that disconnect between the fight that we appear to be having on me on T.V. and then the kind of reality of the country where most people are just exhausted or disengaged.

DIXON: Exactly. And I wonder you know, how can we be telling those that story of everyday Americans who are not these you know two extremes. Can we get away from setting up debates between two extreme sides in order to have a blow-up that sort of sensational and goes viral on Twitter and on Facebook? Can we have -- rather than doing that, can we put two you know, normal moderate conservatives and a moderate liberal side-by-side who are actually more representative of most people in the country and they might talk through an issue, have points of difference, but also find those points of commonality.

That's actually the way in which most Americans live their lives but they're not seeing that in our politics. And I think that the media environment has definitely contributed to this.


STELTER: To hear my full interview with Tim Dixon on the RELIABLE SOURCES podcast through Apple, TuneIn, Stitcher, you name it, it's up there. Coming up next, Carl Bernstein joins me to connect all of this week's stuff. There's a lot to talk about. Stay tuned.


[11:45:00] STELTER: There's a trend running through all the stories you've been talking about today from fake news to fear-mongering, to hyper-partisanship and attacks against journalists. Think about what this week was. This is the week President Trump called Stormy Daniels horse face, and then praised the body slamming of a journalist in Montana, and there were huge cheers for it. There's a lot to get through here and I want to bring in the one man who can help us do it, Carl Bernstein.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Carl you've been saying to me this is -- this is the war on truth. We are seeing a war on truth and is President Trump winning that war? It's not just President Trump who's winning that war, it's the forces of those who believe in untruth and paramount among those forces is Donald Trump in the way he looks at the world.

Look, we have had presidents in the past who have lied. There's no question about that but what we have never had is a President of the United States who uses lie and untruth as a basic method to promote his policies, his beliefs, and his way of approaching the American people and engaging with the world, that his default position is to use untruth to go toward his objectives.

And the best example of it in this horrible week in which we are dealing with the Khashoggi murder is the body-slamming incident where the President of the United States again repeating that the press is the enemy of the people, this horrible phrase with its echoes of totalitarianism gets up and praises a congressional candidate for body slamming a reporter in the same time period in which a reporter has been murdered, perhaps dismembered by an outlaw rogue state actor. So where does that put us on what side of the equation?

[11:50:59] STELTER: You tell me, where does it put us?

BERSTEIN: I think where it puts us, first of all, is that uniquely we have a president who does not believe in truth as the force that ought to be our objective in policy and who we are as a people. This is far different than anything we have -- we have experienced but it also is as part of you know, Trump didn't invent this and we live in a time in which truth is devalued in all kinds of institutions and we have now this division not just among our people but through social media, through the press but. I want to suggest that particularly, news institutions and particularly on television cable news, that we need to be doing much more than just Trump lie catching.

The lie catching is easy but when Trump talks for instance about voter fraud as he did in a tweet last night and warned people against fraudulent voting, we need to be doing stories about the reality of whether or not there is widespread voter fraud. Let's look at the underlying questions as reporters and present real reporting in depth that examines the underlying issues.

STELTER: And there is not, there is not widespread voter fraud. We all -- I think most Americans know that and all the reporting backs up that, and yet the President you know, by tweeting it, what's he doing, Carl, is he engaging in a form of voter suppression?

BERSTEIN: It certainly would appear that that is part of it. Also, I mean, I talked to people in the White House on -- or in touch with the White House on Friday who believe that if the Congressional Midterms are very close and the Democrats were to win by five or seven seats that Trump is already talking about how to throw legal challenges into the courts, sow confusion, declare a victory, actually, and say that the election has been illegitimate, that that is really under discussion in the White House. I was told that on Friday. That too is a story we ought to be going after and I trust that really good reporters are going after that story.

But I want to get back to this war on truth it's not only Donald Trump. Let's look at Wells Fargo which and what happened at that institution employees from top to bottom engaged in fraud and trying to hide it. We have a different devalued look at truth perhaps than we have in previous times in our history especially in this country.

But one of the things about our country and the objectives in the post-war era of our policy, yes we have embraced terrible dictators before particularly during the Cold War in Latin America, in Africa all over the world just as we are watching the Trump administration embrace the Saudi leaders, but we also know that we have some leverage. And instead of trying to use that leverage immediately, Donald Trump and his family Don Jr. especially in his Trump's -- especially in his tweets trying to say that Khashoggi was an instrument of radical Islam, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Again a war -- a war on truth, instead of saying hey this is the time for truth. Let us say to MBS you must have a thorough investigation and deliver the truth to the people of the world. Donald Trump's first instinct was to go to the cover story and that is what we have that is different in this President of in the United States than any previous president. The default is go to the cover story go to the lie. Go to that which is untrue. Go to that which is not scientific. Go to the birther question etcetera, etcetera. This is new territory of untruth.

STELTER: Carl Bernstein, you said it better than anybody could. Thank you so much for being here. That's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES, but our media coverage keeps going all the time online. Make sure you sign up for our nightly newsletter if you're not already on the list. It comes out six nights a week for free and you can sign up right now at We'll see you right back here this time next week.