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Connecting the Dots Amid Daily Trump-Russia Revelations; How "Wall Street Journal" Exposed Hush Money Schemes. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired December 16, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:13] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter and 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 help make it better.

This hour, the "National Enquirer" exposed. It all started with Michael Rothfeld's story in the "Wall Street Journal". He is going to join us live.

Plus, a question with the Trump aides. To interview Kellyanne or not to interview Kellyanne? We're going to debate that the way Cuomo and Lemon did.

And later this hour, "TIME" magazine's editor is here. He's highlighting journalists around the world who are being targeted for their work. We're going to talk about that impressive Person of the Year issue coming up.

But let's start with this. Does the public understand just how much trouble the president is in? If not, that's a failing of the press.

Sure, there's lots of talk here on cable news about the president being boxed in, lots of warnings that the walls are closing in. It sounds like the White House is undergoing a really bad renovation.

But to viewers and readers, understand why. From my vantage point here, I think the press needs to redouble its effort to zoom out, way out, and make sure the big picture isn't being clouded by all of the hourly and daily developments. Because don't get me wrong, each puzzle piece is important. Each of the headlines and every minute, every hour, every day, are important.

But what's most important is we try to show people the entirety of the puzzle, show people all of the pieces that have been filled in so far. And what we already know. And to be sure, there have been some strong examples in the past week, some great examples just in the past couple of days.

Look at this graphic from CNN on Friday. This was in heavy rotation on CNN throughout the day on Friday, showing all of the various investigations that involve Trump, everything from his company, to his foundation, to the inauguration, to the transition, of course, to his administration, et cetera.

And more here from the "Associated Press", a similar story on Saturday. And the "Washington Post" in today's paper putting it this way: Two years after Donald Trump won the presidency, nearly every organization he led in the past decade is under investigation.

That's the kind of writing we need more of right now. Zooming out, connecting the dots, emphasizing the facts and skipping the spin, because extraordinary times call for new, different extraordinary ways of story-telling.

Here's a few examples of how it's been framed on television the past week that I thought got it right.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: The president is battling a ton of investigations. Frankly, we've never seen anything like it.

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "FEAR": Clearly, the investigative walls are closing in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is not normal. Things are not OK. The president of the United States is in serious trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This last week was a pretty bad year for Donald Trump.


STELTER: Trump, by the way, lashing out at "SNL" today and we'll get into that later this hour.

But I think what we need to see on television, in print, online are more than just the 90-second packages, more than just the 500-word stories. We need trusted voices, both nonpartisan anchors and clearly point of view-driven hosts to explain what is going on, and why Trump is in such a precarious position.

Let me show another good example. This is how Rachel Maddow put it Thursday night. I thought she framed it really well right here.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": I don't know who you know or how old they are. But nobody else has ever lived through a moment in the American presidency like this. We're the first.


STELTER: She's right. And we need to come up with new ways of telling that story and helping people understand what it means.

Let's talk more about this with Joan Walsh, CNN political commentator and national affairs correspondent at "The Nation", Matt Lewis, CNN political commentator and senior columnist at "The Daily Beast", and Will Bunch, national columnist at "The Philadelphia Inquirer and "Daily News".

Good morning to everybody. Thank you all for being here.

Matt Lewis, first to you. You've said the conservatives need to prepare for the possibility the Mueller probe is going to find damaging, criminal information on the president. You've said that the conservatives need to prepare for that possibility. Why is that? Do you think conservative writers are preparing for that?

MATT LEWIS, SENIOR COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, look. And I think liberals probably should prepare for the possibility that Donald Trump is maybe not exonerated, but that he's not brought down by Nixon. I think it's healthy for people to not get caught up in their own spin and their own hype.

And I do think it's entirely possible that if you're a conservative and you're in that bubble, and you're just reading and watching conservative outlets, that you would think, oh, this is nothing. This is just a witch hunt. Well, guess what? Something may come out of this. There's a lot of problematic things, and who knows what's going to shake out when Mueller issues his findings.

[11:05:06] But I think it's healthier and safer, it will keep you sane to be prepared. And I think that conservative writers, especially, need to preserve, respect the legitimacy, and if you fall for some spin coming out of the White House that this is all a witch hunt, you're going to end up ruining your reputation going forward.

STELTER: Interesting.

And what about you, Will Bunch? You have said that the real shock is what we already know. That already we know so much that it would take down any other president. That's obviously more about perspective.

WILL BUNCH, NATIONAL COLUMNIST, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Well, absolutely. You know, the last couple of weeks, I think the tone of a lot of the coverage I've seen on TV has been we're waiting for the Cohen plea, we're waiting for another memo on Manafort and we're waiting on new developments. And people, I think, were expecting a big bombshell.

And there really weren't that many bombshells in the last couple weeks. I mean, they basically confirmed things we already know. And I think the Trump administration and I think some people in the media -- I saw an NPR piece this weekend, are going to spin this as a question of whether the Mueller probe is fizzling out or something.

I would argue just the opposite. I think the biggest electoral conspiracy in American history has already been laid out there. It's hiding in plain sight. I think the bombshell is the details we already know. You know, in terms of the quids and quos.

There has been a lot of great investigative reporting over the last two years. And that's why we know some of the things that came out in court. But I think all the evidence of CNN reported on the 15 Trump campaign officials and their meetings with 15 Russian officials. We have dramatic evidence of collusion, of quids in terms of the Russian hacking, quos in terms of the promises of sanctions relief. You know, we have a motive with the Trump Tower Moscow deliberations that were going on.

I think we have all the proof we need of a scandal that's arguably worse than Watergate.

STELTER: This is what I mean by the puzzle pieces. A lot of the pieces have been filled in.

So, Joan, to Will Bunch's point, are some in the press too timid about explaining where we are and how bad this picture already is?

JOAN WALSH, NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, THE NATION: I think some have been too timid. I really do see a sea change in the last two weeks, I would say, Brian. I really think there is a lot more willingness and capacity.

We do have more information. I'm not sure I entirely agree with Will that we haven't had bombshells. I think we might not have had bombshells, but we are getting pieces of the picture filled in that make reporters and anchors more comfortable, saying these appear to be crimes.

I think, you know -- we are challenged in our profession.

STELTER: How so?

WALSH: From the left and the right. It's a huge story. That graphic was fantastic. We need graphics like that, that show that every aspect of this man's life is under investigation.

We had major blockbusters this week from different news organizations about the Trump inaugural committee. It just keeps expanding. And we try to do this pretty much every day, coming up with new superlatives, new expressions of shock. We need a whole new language.

But I think every news report should lay out -- practically every news report, there have been 33 indictments. So when people say what's Mueller doing, this is taking too long, it's nothing, it's a witch hunt, it's smoke. No, there have been 33 indictments.

We have examples of 15 people, as you have said, in the Trump Organization, who have talked to Russians. And --

STELTER: You're saying repeat the basic facts. Go back to the basics.

WALSH: And that, you know, for people -- I know she's on another station, but I'm glad you gave credit to my old friend Rachel Maddow, because she does. That's one thing that people like about her, is that some people get bored, some say, come on, Rachel, ease up. But she does -- she has brought her viewers along on a journey. And now she's able to put together the pieces.

I'm actually semi surprised, and this may happen -- that we haven't had a "Nightline" type of show on one of our stations. I mean, you're not old enough to really remember "Nightline."

STELTER: Oh, come on!

WALSH: But it was about the hostage situation in Iran. And so, you know, became a great show.

But we could have a -- I don't want to tell Don Lemon what to do, and I'm often on that last half hour and it's a lot of fun. We could have a midnight roundup of investigations, because it's coming fast and tour I couldn't say.

STELTER: In a prior era, it would be a primetime broadcast documentary. But we're not in that time any more. The networks don't seem interested in doing that. And the audience doesn't tune in at the same time and the same place.

To me, the audience is so fragmented.

WALSH: So fractured.

STELTER: Matt Lewis, it's an important point I think for you. So much fragmentation of the audience, even if the "A.P." and "New York Times" and CNN and the rest are explaining this scandal, there is still going to be a 30 to 40 percent of the population that does not necessarily hear or believe that reporting.

[11:10:02] LEWIS: Right. And look, I think this is a serious -- scandals. And as I said, I think conservatives ought to take it seriously and be prepared that things could go down that are very intense.

But by the same token, it's not the only story, right? We've got a good economy. We've got ISIS on the run. There are a lot of things that conservatives look at and say, you guys are focused solely on the Mueller investigation, on these scandals. A lot of things are going right in the country.

And I do think that there is liberal media bias. And it has the unfortunate effect of actually proving Donald Trump right.

I think it's horrible that Donald Trump attacks the media and tries to cast us as enemies of the people. But I think that sometimes we help him along by biasing -- I would call it, you know -- it's not necessarily bias within the story. It's what types of stories are we talking about?

We have to talk about this story, but there's a lot of stories out there.

WALSH: Matt, I just --

LEWIS: Are we talking about them all?

WALSH: I cannot agree with you on this one. I think when you have the potential for the kind of corruption that is at the heart of this administration going back to the way this man got the office in the first place, is now profiting from the office, the level of scandal -- we haven't even mentioned the name Ryan Zinke or Scott Pruitt, the level of scandal within the administration -- OK, we report on the good jobs numbers every month that continue to be good. I hope they continue to be good. We report on news like that as it breaks.

But I just don't think that there's a way to balance this and say, well, here's the good news, but the bad news is our president might be a complete and total corrupt man.

STELTER: Let me give an example of this. Will Bunch, here is the cover of "Mother Jones," the most recent cover of "Mother Jones", it's a really nice, bright, yellow cover, saying "Let the sun shine". All about examinations and oversight of Trump.

Now, that's a left-leaning cover. But it's not liberal or conservative to want to let the sun shine and know what the heck is going on in the administration.

BUNCH: No, absolutely not. And, you know, I think getting to Joan's point, I was a 14-year-old Watergate geek back in 1973. And right, you -- people got their news from three networks and they all had uninterrupted coverage of the Watergate hearings, and everybody saw this.

And now, exactly, we're so splintered that, you know, the 30 percent of people who get their news from conservative sources are just getting a totally different story from what other people are saying. And it's a shame, because I think -- I think there could be a lot of consensus on a lot of the facts about the wrongdoing in the Trump administration.

STELTER: That brings me to "The Weekly Standard" and Friday's news that this famed conservative magazine will be shutting down. One of the knocks against the "Weekly Standard," it was too independent, too challenging of Trump, too critical of Trump in order to effectively operate in the conservative media realm in this day and age.

Matt Lewis, your reaction to the shuttering of "The Weekly Standard"?

LEWIS: Well, look, I think that's part of the back story, right? I think the brand of "The Weekly Standard" is two things, the Iraq war and never Trumpism. And neither of those things are terribly popular on the right today.

So, I think Donald Trump is certainly part of the back story. I think, though, the notion that they're being shut down solely because of that doesn't really hold water, because the existing outlet is the "The Washington examiner" and they're not carrying Trump's water day in and day out either.

So to me, the real story here is actually a media story. And this is in a way bipartisan, but as a center right journalist, especially problematic to me. I just think -- the irony here is, I don't think the free market can support quality, serious conservative writing.

You either -- you look at people experimenting and trying to figure out how to make this work, right? Do you have click bait? Do you have pictures of Kate Upton riding on a horse to get people to click on your stories? Do you have a pay wall? Do you have a benefactor?

That seems to be key. You need a billionaire who's willing to fund putting out a political philosophy that I think is very important and respected but is it going to generate the revenue? But what happens after a billionaire has been funding a magazine for a decade or so that's losing money? We have seen this happen on the right and left. It's a big problem.

STELTER: Gets tired of funding.

You know, conversely, we've seen some billionaires come in and buy up the "Washington Post," "TIME" magazine and make a profit doing it. There are these different models, some coming from billionaires that are interesting to see.

Matt, Will, thank you. Joan, please stick around.

A quick break here, and then we'll talk about how the "National Enquirer" helped get Trump elected, but why that support is over now.

Plus, later, a live fact check of Trump's anti-media attack. We're just getting started here on RELIABLE SOURCES.


[11:18:36] STELTER: "The National Enquirer" exposed. Right after President Trump's long-time lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, was sentenced to three years in prison this week, prosecutors revealed that "National Enquirer" boss David Pecker backed up Cohen's account of what happened.

Pecker, a long-time media executive, was also a long-time pal of Trump's, but not any more. In essence, "The Enquirer" has finally confessed to the practice of catch and kill. Buying up bad stories and burying them. And "The Enquirer" has finally broken off ties with Trump.

I want to show you a time line we put together of all of the magazine's cover involving Trump, starting in January 2017. On these covers, Trump is the hero! And his enemies are numerous from Obama to the FBI to the deep state.

But these covers were selling Trump. They were promoting Trump, right up until then, right there, April and May of this year, when the subpoenas arrived at the office of the American Media Inc. There was one anti-Cohen cover but that was it. They went back to the typical celebrity covers "The Enquirer" is known for.

All of a sudden, as soon as Cohen was being investigated, and American Media Inc. was being investigated, the pro-Trump covers stopped. So what does that mean from a media perspective? It means that President Trump has lost one of his biggest backers in the media. I mean, think about it this way. Millions of people see the "National Enquirer" on the newsstand every week but now they don't see the Trump boosterism that the paper was known for. So this story was broken wide open by a newspaper. But it wasn't the "New York Times," it wasn't the "Los Angeles times" "Washington Post" or even "A.P." first to reveal this hush money scheme. No, it was actually Rupert Murdoch's paper, the "Wall Street Journal."

Some people forget that the first story about this alleged payments was actually published before election day, was published four days before election day in 2016. Further stories came out earlier this year, and Michael Rothfeld has been on top of it from the beginning. He's a member of "The Wall Street Journal" team that broke the story and he's joining me now here in New York.

Michael, great to see you.


STELTER: So, it is a sense of satisfaction when you see Cohen finally admit to something he had been denying in the past? I mean, your reporting is two years old about this and now he's finally confessing.

ROTHFELD: It really is, because this was kind of a classic journalistic effort of peeling away layers of the onion, starting, as you said, two years ago with the Karen McDougal story and the "National Enquirer," which ultimately led, you know, me and Joe Palazzolo and others at "The Journal" to Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels in January of 2018. And then kept peeling away those layers until we got to President Trump and his direct involvement, which we reported in November, all the ways he was directly involved during the campaign.

So, over time, we just kept learning more and more about what actually happened.

STELTER: And this week, CNN and NBC confirmed your reporting, that Trump was in the room for that initial meeting about how they could use "The Enquirer" to cover up bad stories about Trump.

But let's go back to 2016. AMI, American Media, Inc., which own "The Enquirer", they published this statement on your first story on November 4, 2016. They said, quote, AMI has not paid people to kill damaging stories about Mr. Trump.

Is that now proven to be a lie?

ROTHFELD: Well, they have admitted it was a lie, because they reached a non-prosecution agreement with the federal prosecutors in New York in which they admitted the real purpose of this agreement, as we reported in November 2016, was to help Trump's campaign in which we now know that Pecker and Trump met in 2015, and they hatched this agreement, where Pecker was going to use his tabloid and his resources to help Trump try to win the presidency.

STELTER: It's always tough, though, when a company lies. Now we know it was a lie or falsehood, on the record like that, and you have to include it in your story. I talked to your editor, Matt Murray, the editor in chief for "The

Journal". Here's what he told me. He said: No one has ever substantially challenged the facts we reported and in fact subsequent events confirmed them. And Murray said the credit goes to a large crew of people, starting with your colleague, Joe Palazzolo, and he listed off these reporters.

And I was just curious about this, the reporters, editors. It really takes a team to break a story like this, doesn't it?

ROTHFELD: Yes, absolutely. I mean, there are so many different elements of it. Joe and I are based in New York. We have legal reporters who are covering the federal prosecutors. We have reporters in Washington who are covering the Washington angle. And, you know, just getting more and more people involved and with different sources.

I mean, that's, you know -- we're not territorial about it within the paper. We really just want to uncover as much information as possible, so the more hands we have on deck, the better we can do.

STELTER: What questions do you have now going forward? One of my questions is, what's in the safe? There are these stories -- put up an "A.P." headline about a so called safe or vault at the "National Enquirer" headquarters where secrets were kept, damaging stories that were bought were kept. Do we know what else is in the safe?

ROTHFELD: No, we don't. We know that David Pecker and Trump's relationship goes back many years, you know, to the '90s, at least. And that he was helping Trump throughout, even well before he ran for president, started. And -- but there's also questions about whether the safe has been emptied or if there's actually anything in the safe.

STELTER: Might not be. We don't know.

ROTHFELD: I mean, what we would certainly be interested in finding out is if David Pecker were called to testify before Congress, you know, if -- now that the Democrats control the House in January, what would he tell in terms of what did he tell -- we know he told a grand jury in the federal investigation about, you know, what he did for Trump. But we don't know all of the details of that. So that would be very interesting to find out.

STELTER: And we know Pecker has agreed to cooperate in the future. Is that a sign that prosecutors here in New York do intend to indict President Trump once he's out of office?

ROTHFELD: You know, it's unclear, because that would be discretion. They would have to make a decision, this crime happened a few years ago and do we have enough evidence. It certainly seems like they have more evidence in the Karen McDougal matter, because there is a tape of Trump talking to Cohen about this.

And we have Pecker and Cohen both, you know, have told federal prosecutors stuff with Stormy Daniels. There's a Trump CFO, Allen Weisselberg, who has denied knowing anything about it. So it's unclear what witnesses there would be in that case. [11:25:03] STELTER: Do you feel like you're uncovering something that

has echoes of Watergate, that has echoes of the Nixon presidency? Is that what it felt like for the past two years?

ROTHFELD: It certainly felt like we were chasing a very big scandal. And it's very exciting, you know, just kind of leading straight to the president, and just -- these vociferous denials from the president's aides. You know, we know nothing about this, which, frankly, didn't make any sense, because the way Donald Trump ran his company and runs his operation, he knows everything, you know, about what's going on.

STELTER: Right. His name is on the buildings, yes.

ROTHFELD: Yes. So, I mean, it didn't make sense. And, you know, but it was being able to actually prove and report that he actually was directly involved. I mean, that was -- you know, you never know if you're going to get to the point where you can make those connections.

STELTER: And I mentioned Rupert Murdoch. I don't want to put you on the spot here, but Murdoch owned the paper, also a friend of the president. Is that ever a factor for you all in the news room at "The Journal"?

ROTHFELD: I mean, it wasn't a factor at all in terms of our ability to report and nobody ever suggested that we not report any of the information that we had. The only -- externally, I think people may give it more credibility, because they say, OK, Murdoch is a friend of the president and it's his paper that's reporting it.

STELTER: Ah, right.

ROTHFELD: So in that sense, it's helpful to us.

STELTER: Interesting.

All right. Thanks so much for being here.

ROTHFELD: Thank you.

STELTER: Congratulations.

And a quick break here. After the break, Kellyanne Conway, she says calling President Trump is a liar is a slur. We'll get into that.

Plus, good riddance to the White House Christmas party for the press. (INAUDIBLE) and Joan Walsh tackle that and more, right after this.


[11:30:00] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: If you watch CNN regularly, I know you have an opinion about this next topic. To interview Kellyanne Conway or not to interview Kellyanne Conway. There are different opinions even right here inside CNN and that was visible on Thursday night. After Chris Cuomo had a 39-minute interview with Kellyanne Conway on his show Don Lemon called out Cuomo for it. Let me just show you a bit of their debate. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: I know you don't think she should be on TV I don't believe in silencing the other side.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: No. That's not silencing the other side. It is not a right for someone to come on CNN and delay -- and lie and deflect. This was a defective --

LEMON: People do it all the time.

CUOMO: -- dismissive and histrionic display of non-answers. Adding time --

LEMON: But people do it all the time.

CUOMO: Please, please, please, please, please.


STELTER: What's the right answer here? Let's talk about that and a grab-bag of other big stories with CNN Senior Media Reporter Oliver Darcy and Joan Walsh is also back with us at the table. Oliver, I actually -- I've had Kellyanne Conway on this program three times. I tend to side with Cuomo. I know I'm going to get a lot of angry viewer e-mail about this. What do you think?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: I think look, if Kellyanne wanted to come on and have a genuine discussion about policy that was rooted in facts, I think that would be one thing. But it's very clear that when she does come on, she's aiming to deflect. She's deceiving the audience. She's spreading misinformation and I think that's the problem.

You know, I see Chris' point that he wants to show that there is this other side and that the White House cannot answer some of the pressing questions of today, but I think there are better ways that he can do that. He could point at the White House basically has got rid of the press briefing daily. He could show and play audio of the President contradicting himself.

There are ways that you can illustrate to the audience that the White House has no good questions for the pressing issues. 40 minutes sparring back and forth with Kellyanne Conway, I'm not sure what purpose that serves the viewer.

CUOMO: Well, I think you see the hollowness of the White House's arguments. You don't need 40 minutes of that to see the White House's hollowness some of the arguments. I think again, you can show the President contradicting himself. We have audio tape of this. It's very easy to show to the viewer and in a way that doesn't allow someone from the administration to come on for 40 minutes and spread misinformation to CNN viewers.

STELTER: Yes, but Cuomo cuts in, Cuomo interrupts, Cuomo make sure it doesn't spread -- I guess I -- my view is I like we have a Cuomo and a Lemon. You know, I like both versions. I think it's good to have a place where you can have an interview with Kellyanne, but then you can have real dissent about it the same place.

Let me show you all what Kellyanne Conway's husband George said. You know, so Conway was on Cuomo show. She said that calling Trump a liar is a slur. Half an hour later, Conway's husband George tweeted that Trump lies constantly. He lies about virtually everything. Trump pointed out -- Conway point out the Trump's word cannot be trusted. Besides the issues involving this marriage, I think the vast majority the countrysides with George Conway and recognizes the President lies frequently.

JOAN WALSH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I agree. I think that -- I think we do. You know, I loved the debate between Don and Chris and I think most of our viewers do. They love that little segment every night when they -- when they mix it up.


WALSH: And I do find myself coming down with Oliver in the sense that it went on for a long time. I praised Chris, highest props to Chris for the way he handled her and the way he parried. And I do have to say, periodically she's going to come on, she should come on and you expose her lies. You exposed that the sheer number and capacity of shameless lying that she is able to do. And she's somebody that -- some of us once knew is a bit more of a truth teller, always conservative but never at this dimension.

So I think it's newsworthy that the Trump has a woman who continues to do this and kind of in some ways sometimes make herself look rather silly and have her husband fact-checker. I think that's all news, 40 minutes of it maybe not.

STELTER: In the meantime, we're seeing the president react to all the coverage of these investigations, in these scandals. He's on a Twitter storm again today and I don't want to get distracted by it, but I do want a fact check one thing he's posted because it's yet another example of him shattering norms.

He said, "A real scandal as the one-sided coverage, hour by hour of networks like NBC and Democrats spin machines like Saturday Night Live. He says it has nothing less than unfair news coverage and Dem commercials. Should be tested in courts -- that's the curious line -- should be tested in courts, can't be legal? Only defame and belittle!" Can you just give a quick First Amendment refresher to the President?

[11:35:25] WALSH: Yes, we have the perfect -- the right to say these things. And Saturday Night Live is a satire show and it's mocked every president and every major political figure so --

STELTER: And I believe now President Trump used to be honest in that, Oliver. Let's remind folks of that.

DARCY: Right. He has hosted SNL.

WALSH: He has hosted.

DARCY: And I saw actually Maggie Haberman of the New York Times made a good point the other day when she said that there are so many investigations and probes, this is not -- this is not a positive fact set that journalists have to deal with. These are -- these are inherently critical stories that are going to be printed and there's so many of them so of course, the coverage might seem overwhelmingly critical of the president, but that's because you know, we're covering a lot of things that are inherently right not positive news now.

STELTER: Right. Prosecutors implicated him in crimes.

DARCY: Right.

STELTER: What's the positive spin on that.

DARCY: Right.

STELTER: One more media story to mention. Mika Brzezinski this week called out for using what I thought was a homophobic slur on her Morning Joe show. She apologized two days later. Let's take a look at a bit of the apology.


MIKA BRZEZINSKI, CO-HOST, MORNING JOE: Please allow me to say this face to face. The term is crass and offensive, and I apologize to everyone especially the LGBTQ community and to my colleagues for using it.


STELTER: So, she apologized for it. But will she let off the hook by the press? Would this has gotten more scrutiny if it happened on Fox News?

DARCY: I think there's certainly a higher level of scrutiny for what Fox Host. I wouldn't contest that. But I think she did receive a significant amount of coverage. This comment was covered by CNN, it was covered by I think virtually almost every single news outlet, and she issued an apology on Twitter, then she came out and she started Morning Joe on Friday with this apology.

So I don't think she you know got off the hook. And I think if you look at a number of comments that Fox Host have made, you know, they've come out and they've apologized and they're still hosting shows. In fact, I think you can make the argument that in some cases they haven't apologized for their comments and they're still hosting shows and they get promoted up the chain.

So the idea that you know there's this imbalance you know, I think yes, if a Fox Host has something, it does just receive a little more scrutiny but Mika was not left the hook off here at all.

STELTER: Not off the hook. WALSH: I don't -- I don't think so either. I mean, I think that you

know, it's a terrible phrase. It should be banned from anybody's vocabulary at this point in time. But the other issue is she's not known as a homophobe. I don't know her well. I'm not -- I can't you know, exonerate her and testify for her, but she's not -- we don't know of her --

STELTER: It's not part of a pattern.

WALSH: Not part of a pattern.

STELTER: Sometimes the issue with Fox hosts is part of a path.

WALSH: Right. And it -- and it exhibits -- it can be a crude term but it exhibits a real feeling or a real belief system. This is not that -- I don't think that's true in her case.

STELTER: Quick break and then we're going to come back with more including PolitiFact's lie of the year. We'll reveal that right after the break.


[11:40:00] STELTER: How's America doing? Well, let's look at the top words of the year for answers. Oxford Dictionary says the top word 2018 is toxic. Well, says the top prize goes to misinformation. Boy, all this explains why the lie of the year according to PolitiFact was the online smear machine that tried to take down and discredit the survivors of the Parkland Shooting by calling the students crisis actors.

Joan and Oliver back with me. Oliver, did you like this choice for lie of the year?

DARCY: I thought it was good. There are a lot of lies this year, but I thought this kind of cut into what 2018 was which was there are these online corners of internet that spread -- that start these conspiracy theories and then it sort of seeps into the mainstream dialog. So I thought in that regard it was a good lie the year.

STELTER: One of the tools that are -- that's used to spread misinformation, of course, is YouTube. YouTube is a huge platform for these lies and smears and there was a great new Washington Post story examining this on Tuesday. Let me show you a quote from it. The Post says the platform YouTube routinely serves videos espousing neo-Nazi propaganda, phony reports portraying dark-skinned people as violent savages, and conspiracy theories claiming that large numbers of leading politicians and celebrities molested children. Just a sampling of the sewer that is YouTube.

So, you were on Capitol Hill for the Google CEO testifying this week. Of course, Google owns YouTube. So did Google have a strong answer, a strong response for what it's doing to try to clean up this mess?

DARCY: Google CEO really did not. The bottom line is he said the company needs to do better and that's sort of you know, the crux of his answer. I think --

STELTER: That's what they all say. All the tech CEO say, we need to do better.

DARCY: That's what they're saying for a long time.

STELTER: Meanwhile, my YouTube feed is full of pollution.

DARCY: The thing I don't understand -- this is certainly a very complex issue. But the kind of videos that YourTube is recommending to people should be very easy to filter out. And why YouTube hasn't taken it seriously enough to just you know, figure this out after a year or two of being pointed out and highlighted by media is baffling to me.

STELTER: Absolutely. Yes.

DARCY: Yes, it makes -- it makes no sense. It should not be this difficult.

STELTER: Here's a slightly more positive note for our segment. The Washington Post published a brand-new poll, a first-of-its-kind poll by the fact checker. They tested a bunch of Trump lies and they found this. They said fewer than three in ten Americans including fewer than four in ten Republicans believe the prominent claims that the President have made that are totally made-up.

This was a notable finding, Joan, that the President can go out there and say that millions of people voted illegally.

[11:45:07] WALSH: Right.

STELTER: You can go out there and say there's riots in California. All this -- all this bull. But most people do not believe it.

WALSH: I think it's encouraging. I took some encouragement from it. I think the worrisome thing was though that even though they didn't say this is a Trump lie or this is a Trump story. They didn't put names on these -- on these lies, you still have this segment that kind of matches up with the Trump -- the level of strong Trump support so that somehow even without his name being attached the President is getting this information that certain people's minds and it is it is taking hold and they now believe it.

Seventy percent of the country doesn't. That's good news let's celebrate that. But the way he's done that to those thirty percent, they're not -- they don't just politically disagree with Democrats. They hold different facts, and facts that are not facts, the facts that are lies. And that -- that's kind of scary for democracy.

STELTER: Right. Even three out of ten is a problem.


DARCY: That's millions of people.

STELTER: Tens of millions of people.

DARCY: Right, right.

STELTER: Oliver, Joan, thank you both for being here, much appreciated. One more of the year title, a really important one. TIME's Person of the Year wound up being the very journalists who have been attacked, targeted, and jailed this year. We're going to talk with Times' editor-in-chief right after this break.


[11:50:00] STELTER: 251, let that number sink in for a minute. That's how many journalists are currently in jail around the world according to a brand new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists. The group is warning that with hundreds of journalists in jail every year, it's starting to flood the new normal even though it shouldn't. And prison time is only one of the ways that countries crack down on the press. We saw another way earlier this year with the senseless killing of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The paper is continuing to keep up the pressure though. This full- page ad ran just in Friday's paper saying a life is gone but his principles of free expression endure. For that reason, for a number of reasons, Time magazine chose the Person of the Year as the guardians, the guardians are on the cover for cover, four covers of Time this week featuring the survivors of the Capitol Gazette shooting spree in Annapolis, the case of Maria Ressa in the Philippines, the case of the two Reuters reporters who have been have been behind bars for one year in Myanmar, and Jamal Khashoggi as well.

Now, let's talk about this choice and why Time Magazine chose these four covers with Edward Felsenthal. He's the Editor-in-Chief and CEO of the magazine. Edward, Jamal Khashoggi, the first deceased person to be TIME's Person of the Year. Did you think about making him the only cover image?

EDWARD FELSENTHAL, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF AND CEO, TIME MAGAZINE: You know, Brian, you wrote actually before we announced a choice this week that Person of the Year is about a moment in time. And as we look back at 2018, it just became clear Khashoggi obviously one of them that the common thread in so many of the major stories of 2018 from Russia to Riyadh to Silicon Valley was a manipulation and abuse of truth.

And so we chose to highlight these four journalists and newsroom who have taken enormous risks, the ultimate sacrifice in some cases to tell -- to speak up for truth, to speak out and for free expression which is the lifeblood of democracy in this year where we saw democracy under such great threat.

STELTER: And one of the points your cover writer Karl Vick makes is that telling the story about this oppression is difficult, that there are attempts to cover up and hide what's going on. For example, the two Reuters reporters in Myanmar, we can't speak to them, we can't interview them. So these government's crackdown on the press and make the story of the crackdown hard to tell.

FELSENTHAL: It's the first move in the authoritarian playbook is the control of information and the suppression of people who try to get the facts out. And we saw that in a major way, continuing to see that in a major way around the world this year.

STELTER: Maria Ressa for example in the Philippines, the head of the Rappler, she was here a few weeks ago. For the viewers at home, they don't know this. There was a Time magazine photographer following her around that day. It turns out it was four Person of the Year but I had no idea at the time. How does this work? How did you narrow it down and how soon before the announcement did you -- did you decide on the Guardians?

FELSENTHAL: One interesting fact about the photography, the photographer here that day he actually traveled 30,000 miles to seven countries around the world. Moises Saman who himself was detained, a courageous photojournalist, conflict photographer detained at Abu Ghraib back at the start of the Iraq war in in Iraq, blacklisted and in some parts of the world, and I we felt he brought a real authenticity to the story he was trying to tell.

How do we do it? We meet really at the at the end of September. This has been going on for 92 years, the entire staff in person in New York and on the phone from around the world, and discuss the major themes of the year, the dominant actors of the year. And -- but you have to watch and wait. This -- some years it is apparent early, some -- this year so many of the major stories were moving into the last week that we didn't have it fully nailed down. You know, we knew what the elements of the package were going to be and the issue but it got it got close to the end. There's some watching and waiting in a year like this that's so dynamic and complex.

STELTER: And in the third things I have left, Time now owned by a tech billionaire. Marc Benioff bought the Time a few months ago. You had a big party this week in New York. What is it like to be owned by a tech billionaire? What's changed in the Time?

FELSENTHAL: Well, he was very interesting. We were -- we were going through a sale process the last -- much of the last year to tell your own story. We're used to telling other people's stories. But we -- the story we told which obviously appealed to the Benioffs that we've built a foundation based on a long legacy but great digital growth, huge progress in transforming our business, a profitable business. And so we've been bought by Marc and Lynne Benioff who are excited to help us build on that foundation and believe in the potential of the brand. And so, it's -- and we all believe in it. It's why we've -- why we're there and so we're excited about it.

[11:55:34] STELTER: I saw you're hiring 20 people. I hope that's what it means to be owned by a billionaire. You can actually hire more folks.

FELSENTHAL: They're going to grow our newsroom.

STELTER: Edward, great to see you. FELSENTHAL: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: Thanks for being here. And thanks for tuning in to RELIABLE SOURCES this week. We'll see you right back here this time next week.