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Reliable Sources

A New Test of Trump's Reality Distortion Field; Brutal Week of Layoffs in the News Business. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired January 27, 2019 - 11:00   ET


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: [11:00:02] Switzerland was also the protecting power of the U.S. in Cuba from 1961 all the way to 2015.

Thanks to all of you for being part of my Davos program this week. I will see you next week.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: 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, we're talking about a lot of big stories including the Democrat's television primary, what we're seeing from all the Dems using television to launch their 2020 campaigns.

We're also going to be talking about two new books about life inside the Trump White House and how these books are actually confirming two years worth of reporting. We'll get into that with the White House Correspondents Association.

And later, one of America's top pollsters is here, Ann Selzer. We're going to look at some of the president's claims about his polling and what she's finding in Iowa.

But let's begin with the president and his reality distortion field. Let me explain what I'm talking about when I say that.

President Trump is famous for creating alternative realities. He's been able the past several years to persuade his voters, to bring his base along with practically anything he says, right? He calls the news media fake, we know that. And then he makes certain claims that are real. He tries to pit us versus him, et cetera.

But here's what's really interesting about the past few days. We are seeing the biggest test yet of the president's reality distortion field. This, of course, is because of the shutdown, end of the shutdown, which was a letdown for some of the president's biggest fans on television and radio. They are calling him out for caving.

So the test now is whether his reality distortion field is going to be effective, or whether he's going to have to face actual reality. I mean, think about this, two years ago, the president and his inauguration, he said that it was sunny when it was actually raining. That's the way that he has distorted reality for the past two years. But this is the toughest test yet of that reality distortion. So let's think about Friday afternoon. The president comes out to the

Rose Garden. He announces a deal that wasn't really a deal. It was him capitulating, giving in and ending the shutdown.

Listen to the audio here, listen to the applause.

Aides were dutifully applauding, pretending like this was a win for the president. But they knew it wasn't. They knew better. They weren't fooled. Neither were most viewers.

But really most important of all, neither were the president's biggest boosters on television. Just take a look at what Lou Dobbs said.


LOU DOBBS, FBN HOST: I mean, she has just whipped the president of the United States. This president said it was going to be conditional, border security, building that wall, and he just reversed himself. That's a victory for Nancy Pelosi.


STELTER: Lou Dobbs -- Lou Dobbs of all people, calling out the president, saying he has been whipped. Saying he has been rolled.

And Dobbs is not the only one. Ann Coulter and others have been criticizing the president this weekend, backing down for their usual support for his policies. Is this temporary or is this a real change, something that's going to affect the president going forward?

Now, let's talk about that and a whole lot more with my panel here in New York.

Shelby Holliday is a senior video reporter for "The Wall Street Journal", Oliver Darcy is a senior media reporter here at CNN, and Josh McIntosh, a veteran of the Clinton campaign, is a CNN political commentator.

Welcome to everybody.

And I want to start with this issue about the reality distortion field. Do you think I'm on to something here, Shelby, that this is the greatest test yet of the president's ability to, you know, basically say it's sunny when it's raining?

SHELBY HOLLIDAY, SENIOR VIDEO REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think it's one of the greatest tests. But you also have to look back at some weeks when Michael Cohen pleaded guilty and we hear the president say time after time, he had nothing to do with the payment, and then you find out in the guilty plea that he did. But, yes, it's a huge -- it's a huge test for him and it's something that he's been hammering away on for 30-plus days.

STELTER: Yes, he's on Twitter saying I'm not going to cave.

HOLLIDAY: Exactly. STELTER: He's offered of saying this is not a concession, but people see through it.

HOLLIDAY: And he is still saying that. He's still saying in three weeks we are off to the races if Democrats don't come to the table.

So, he is still sort of backing into the corner and pushing this -- kicking the can down the road, if you will. I think it's interesting because it sort of makes you scratch your head when you see Ann Coulter on a liberal show and then Judge Jeanine slamming Ann Coulter. And --


HOLLIDAY: Conservative media is totally split among this. But I did watch a lot of FOX News from Friday and Saturday, and you have people like Sean Hannity still defending the president, trying to blame the Democrats for the shutdown.

He does some support. He still has some defenders. But a "Wall Street Journal" poll this morning, even though his approval rating is holding steady, most Americans are blaming President Trump for the shutdown, and that's due in large part to the fact that he took credit for the shutdown before it ever happened.

STELTER: Which makes you wonder if he's really going to force another shutdown right after Valentine's Day.

HOLLIDAY: And makes it hard to distort.

[11:05:00] STELTER: Right.

Jess, you mentioned off air. You think maybe Hannity is going to be the only guy left supporting Trump on --

JESS MCINTOSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: OK, so his right wing base, his reality distortion field, and I love this concept, only goes as far as he has a base willing to mimic it. It relies on that echo chamber. And it seems like this week, that echo chamber saw some serious erosion, we're losing Lou Dobbs, we're losing Ann Coulter, we're losing factions of Fox, until he's left the truly with just the sycophants, just the one who are going to boost Trump no matter what he does. There is no principle that makes them support him, they are just there to support him.

I think that part of that erosion happens from the caving and also from the way his cabinet talked about it and how out of touch he showed his cabinet and himself to be. We spent Friday talking about whether people could get loans to get them through the shutdown and whether they could buy groceries on credit. That kind of out-of- touch, tone deafness really hurts that last remaining part of his base, that is just ride or die whatever Trump says.

STELTER: By the way, that's the power of the press doing those interviews.

MCINTOSH: Absolutely.

STELTER: Talking to those cabinet officials, hearing those ridiculous quotes.

Oliver, is the president banking on short term memory -- journalist's short-term memory, the public's short-term memory by kicking this can three weeks down the road? Is that what he's banking on?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: I think he understands that the news cycle is very fast and it moves at a lightning speed and so, that in a few days, I'm sure we'll be talking about something else.

But I think what's important to remember here is that while the president is losing some supporters, this is really like you said, kick the can -- he has kicked the can down the road for three weeks.

And what do Hannity, and Limbaugh and people defending him now saying he's going to get the funding eventually. This is just part of the process. He's going to get the wall funding. What do they say in a few weeks when Nancy Pelosi still not providing funding for the wall and he still doesn't have it?

STELTER: See, I think Fox is going to keep the pressure on. This morning, "Fox and Friends" every hour, crisis at the border, be scared, be really scared. There's a caravan. They're out to get you.

I mean, that's the message on Fox every hour. So, I think he's going to be under pressure in three weeks to do something and I don't know what he'll do. We also don't know, by the way, if he's going to have a State of the Union any time soon. Pelosi's office says not on Tuesday. So, that's a factor.

Let's turn to the week's other big story. That, of course, the Roger Stone arrested and indictment.

Shelby, you've been covering this -- covering Stone for a long time. Can he really talk his way out of this by giving so many TV interviews?

HOLLIDAY: Well, what he's saying on TV I think will be very different from what we'll hear in court. He does fight the charges, he's out there saying right now, he's totally innocent, he plans to defeat the charges in court, but the reality is, he has to face these charges that he lied to Congress. And there's a lot of evidence -- we've been reporting on e-mails and text messages throughout the year that show he totally contradicted himself when he went before Congress and said, I only had one intermediary. He said that he did not have any e-mails in which he discussed Julian Assange. We've published plenty of emails. We actually published more this morning and what he did.

STELTER: Just did on

HOLLIDAY: Right, exactly. So, I think it's going to be really hard for him to fight the charges in court there. Also, communications that could show corrupt intent. For example, he asked one of his associates to essentially plant a story about his back channel to WikiLeaks, Randy Credico, and I think those things are going be used against him in court and would be very hard to talk his way out of. Right now --

STELTER: To me, Roger Stone is an example of the age of the information war.


STELTER: Roger Stone is literally all over Info Wars. He knows how information is weaponized. He was talking to WikiLeaks for that very reason.

Oliver, do you see examples this week of an information war under way?

DARCY: Oh, definitely. And I think, actually, Roger Stone was at the center of the most recent information war, if you will, on Friday when you had him arrested by the FBI, he was indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller, that was the story. But on the right, on the fringes of the right, a conspiracy theory spread and I won't get into it, but it was about CNN and Robert Mueller and it spread --

STELTER: That we were tipped off by Mueller.

DARCY: Sure.

STELTER: Give me a break.

DARCY: Right. To embarrass Roger Stone, and to record his arrest, so I guess it would embarrass him. It's like, they're saying it was propaganda.

But this started on the fringes of the right, and it moved in.

STELTER: And within an hour, the president was tweeting about it.

DARCY: Hijacked the dialogue for a little bit, when the real story was Roger Stone being arrested. A lot of people, including some mainstream commentators and journalists started asking questions about this conspiracy theory. And I think as journalists, we have to be very careful not to allow bad faith actors to hijack the conversation and to move the story away from what it really should be. And, usually, it's not positive for the president.

STELTER: This time last week there was a story about Covington Catholic in the news. That confrontation in Washington. I don't think that's ever should have been a national news story, but it went viral in Twitter. Journalists have an unhealthy relationship with Twitter, became a national story.

And to me, Jess, this is another example of the information war. Two different versions of what happened, no ability to see -- no ability agree on what happened and a story that frankly ends up just frustrating everybody.

MCINTOSH: It all comes from -- I mean, the Roger Stone moment was the day that the "Access Hollywood" tape came out showing Trump saying -- STELTER: You mean the WikiLeaks dumps (ph), yes.

MCINTOSH: It was also the WikiLeaks dump. It was the perfect example of how misdirection works, of how somebody who was willing to manipulate an information war would change the subject like that. We would have talked about that tape probably for the next, whatever, 23 days of the campaign that was left, except then we got the WikiLeaks dump and we wound up talking about John Podesta's risotto recipe instead.

[11:10:09] It was a highly effective bait. And Roger Stone has been fairly good at that. I don't think he's able to do that again, though.

When he talks about how he's been framed, somehow framing him would have to also include making him brag about his own crimes on Twitter. Like you can't both be a master of the dark arts and point to how you're a master of the dark arts at the same time. It doesn't work that way. If you're confessing to what you're doing as you're doing it because you feel smart about doing it, that's going to come back in the end to undermine your framing message.

STELTER: Right, I hear you. But, you know, his use of Twitter, his use of Instagram, posting so many memes. He tries to confuse people --

MCINTOSH: Completely.

STELTER: -- and bring so much confusion.

And, Shelby, wrapping up here, confusion is part of the information war.

HOLLIDAY: A hundred percent. I mean, I think it's so fascinating to see him give interviews on television, say that he's going broke, say that he needs $2 million to fight a lawsuit. And then you go on Instagram, and he's posting videos of his Gucci shoes.


STELTER: I haven't seen that one.

HOLLIDAY: As Jess said, he likes to have it both ways.


HOLLIDAY: I do think that he's doing an effective job for now, because he's on television shows, spinning his narrative.


HOLLIDAY: But again, when he goes into court, he has to face real charges that he lied to Congress and there's lots of evidence that shows what he said was provably false.

STELTER: You know, I've been hosting this show for five years, and only two guests have been arrested in five years, Michael Cohen and Roger Stone. And I find that interesting. What a coincidence. These are the only two guests I've ever interviewed who have been arrested.

Anyway, guys, thank you for being here. Please stick around, Jess. We have much more with you.

Quick break here and then "The Washington Post's" Jason Rezaian. He's here reflecting on his time behind bars in Iran just for doing his job.

And also, Laura Bassett, one of the reporters who was laid off at "HuffPost" this week. I'm going to ask her what is going wrong in digital media?


[11:15:31] STELTER: President Trump cheering American job losses? Seriously, he is.

It's been a brutal week of layoffs in the news business. Print newspapers are continuing to cut back. They are victims of digital disrupters.

Some of those disrupters like "BuzzFeed" and "HuffPost" are shrinking, too. "BuzzFeed" this week laying off about 220 people. Verizon Media cutting 800 jobs, including dozens at "HuffPost". And Gannett, like the reporters at many local papers, from Rochester to Knoxville to Corpus Christi.

President Trump read about some of this in "The New York Post" newspaper and said, quote: Fake news and bad journalism have caused a big downturn. Sadly, many others will follow. The people want the truth.

The truth? The truth is he just posted yet another insulting tweet, Mr. President. This time about American job losses.

Laura Bassett joins me now. Until this week, she was "HuffPost" senior culture and politics reporter.

And, sadly, you were one of dozens let go. This is something I want to talk about, the reasons why, what's going on in the business, but I've got to start with the president.

What's your reaction to that tweet?

LAURA BASSETT, FORMER HUFFPOST SENIOR CULTURE AND POLITICS REPORTER: Well, how many people can say that the president personally insulted them after they got laid off? He specifically called out "HuffPost" and "BuzzFeed". I can't say that I'm surprised. He's been attacking journalism for a long time, calling us fake news.

And frankly, like a dog on a bone, we've been covering this Mueller investigation, which is circling in on him and his close associates are going to jail now. So, I think he'll do anything at this point to kind of distract from his own lies and I thought it was particularly rich that he used truth with a capital T in that tweet.

STELTER: Truth. Yes, truth. So, what is the truth about these layoffs? I've been covering these for years. We've seen these digital media start-ups shrinking, at the same time print newspapers are shrinking. But you're living it personally.

What do you think is going on?

BASSETT: It's really, really sad to see what's happening to journalism. It's been happening for decades now. it's not just the advent of the Internet.

Well, since 2004, 20 percent of newsrooms -- 20 percent of local newspapers have closed. And I think what's happening is we're getting squeezed out by big tech conglomerates, Google and Facebook are sort of siphoning off a lot of the ad revenue that should be going to us. They're taking our content, they're profiting off of it, and they're not paying journalists for it.

And so, it's really hard for non-prestige outlets that aren't "The Washington Post" and aren't "The New York Times" and can't afford to go behind the pay wall to stay afloat.

STELTER: What they call innovative, right?


STELTER: When they say -- Google would say, we're making the internet better for everybody.


STELTER: The side effect is that the newsrooms are suffering as a result.


STELTER: And this is a problem that is much bigger than "HuffPost" or "BuzzFeed"?

BASSETT: Yes. Journalism is a pillar of a healthy democracy. And we need wide range of vices and a wide range of news outlets. You can't just have three major outlets delivering all the news. That's really dangerous.

STELTER: So, you were notified about this on Thursday. So were many of your colleagues. I've been reading about people getting death threats, laid-off journalists getting death threats.


STELTER: Is this affecting you, too?

BASSETT: Yes, what happens --

STELTER: What is this? BASSETT: 4chan, an incubator for the alt-right on the Internet, they got together and had this coordinated campaign against journalists to harass us on Twitter, to tell us to learn to code, to send us death threats, to -- I've been getting death threats my entire journalism career. So, it's nothing new to me, except just the volume of it is really intense.

So, after you have just lost your job, it's incredibly painful.

STELTER: Yes. And have you thought about what comes next? Is it too soon to think about that?

BASSETT: It's a little too soon for me. I'm still in shock a little bit, still taking a breather.

STELTER: Yes, understandable. And, look, I think some of the layoffs at the parent company, "HuffPost", part of Verizon, this is still going on. I think we're going to see more cuts in the coming week. It is a shame to see all these companies shrinking and it's much bigger than what the president is blaming it on.

Anyway, let me -- thank you for talking about this candidly.

We had booked you about a different topic. So, let me turn to that. We had originally wanted to talk about the Democratic primary. So, let's talk about reporting involving the primaries.

More and more Democrats entering the 2020 race every week. Here's the current field of candidates. Of course, they're spending time in Iowa, New Hampshire.

But I want to talk about another heavily trafficked campaign trail, this one right here in New York. Let me show you the TV primary map we made.

Tulsi Gabbard shared her plans on Van Jones' show, Kirsten Gillibrand announced her news on Stephen Colbert's show, Kamala Harris entered the race on GMA, Elizabeth Warren gave her first big interview to Rachel Maddow, and so on and so on. ABC's "The View" is a big destination, too.

Pete Buttigieg, I almost get that right, just announced an exploratory committee and he'll be on "The View" this coming week.

[11:20:02] So, let's talk it all over with, again, Laura Bassett, Jess McIntosh. And joining the table here, Charlotte Alter, a national correspondent for "TIME", who's been working on a book about millennials and politics.

How do I actually pronounce Mayor Pete's name?


STELTER: Buttigieg.

ALTER: Yes. STELTER: And he announced with a video, kind of casually, but online video this week, now he's going on the view and other shows. What do you notice about the different ways candidates are using television?

ALTER: Well, I think, first of all, I think it's interesting you have these candidates coming to New York City to announce on late-night TV. But I don't think that's where the primary is going to be held.

STELTER: The Colbert primary is a thing, but you think something bigger is going on?

ALTER: I think this primary will be held on social media. Really it depends on which voters you need to reach, right? And again, I am specifically -- I have been spending time specifically looking at millennials, and how millennials are thinking about this.

But only 31 percent of millennials watch cable news. And by 2020, millennials are projected to be among the biggest voting bloc in the United States, and 61 percent of them watch TV on streaming services. So, you know, if you're reaching boomers and older voters who are tuning in to watch Rachel Maddow every night, that's going to be really important to be on Maddow or to be on Colbert.

But if you look at the phenomenon of AOC, you know, the candidates that are really exciting the younger voters are the ones that have been on social media.

STELTER: And so, winning candidates in this primary are going to have to use both, right?

ALTER: Exactly.

STELTER: Television and Instagram.

Jess, what's your impression of this as someone who worked on the Hillary campaign?

MCINTOSH: I think your announcement is sort of your first opportunity to define yourself. So, it's exciting to watch them come out of the gate and say this is who I am.

I was excited to see Kamala announce on MLK Day, because it showed she was fully willing to lean into that legacy. She's the first African- American woman to run for president in a very long time, and I'm excited that that's going to be center in her campaign.

Kirsten Gillibrand talked about women right out of the gate.

Elizabeth Warren got a little more personal. We saw her announce over, you know, Facebook live, and then bring her campaign dog, right, into her first events and into his POB, which was adorable. She has the biggest name ID. I think pulling back the curtain on that is probably more helpful for her than the others.

So, right now, I'm just excited to watch all three of our top tier candidates, which are all women, announce with really good rollouts and gain grass root support right away.

STELTER: And I'm thankful they held press conferences after announcing, right? Kamala held a press conference within a couple of hours of announcing on GMA, et cetera.

You mentioned AOC, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Let's talk about what she's saying on Twitter, how she's using Twitter, Laura. You wrote about conservative media reactions to what she's doing.

What do you think is fueling the constant attacks on Fox against this freshman congresswoman?

BASSETT: Look, she's got a target on her back because she ticks every box that makes conservative men uncomfortable. She's a woman. She's Latina. She's young. She's working class.

She's a millennial. She's a Democratic socialist -- everything that makes people uncomfortable. And she's a star. She's a rising Democratic star.

She's got a lot of power. People are really responding to her on social media, as Charlotte said, in the same way that people responded to Trump kind of emotionally a couple of years ago.

So I think in some ways, she's sort of the ideal anti-Trump and she is threatening white conservative men's power and they're terrified of her.

STELTER: And thus she's a feature on Fox? Is that what you're saying?

BASSETT: Absolutely. Yes, they're trying to take her down. They're using all the tricks in the patriarchy.

STELTER: And yet she always replies, right? Let's put up one of her tweets replying to Sean Hannity. She was proud about a comment Hannity made attacking her the other day.

Is she trying to have it both ways, Charlotte, by one day, you know, she's criticizing "The Washington Post" fact checker, the next day she's talking about how important journalism is to society. Is there something Trumpian at all about her journalism critiques?

ALTER: Well, I think it's important to make a distinction here. Donald Trump is calling journalists the enemy of the people, and AOC is not doing any of that. I think that she is in a unique position where she is getting a tremendous amount of scrutiny for a freshman congresswoman and I think that's pushing back on the intense scrutiny. I mean, look, I don't see any male members of Congress who are being fact-checked with the intensity and specificity and frequency that she is.

I think that she deserves to be fact checked. She is a member of Congress. Her statements are part of the public record and, you know, fact checkers need to be doing their jobs in checking what she is saying, but I think she's walking this line by sort of pointing out some of the biases that are -- that we do have in the media and also supporting the media as an institution and as an industry.

STELTER: Jess, last word to you.

MCINTOSH: Fact checkers have a really specific role. And I think it's OK to critique that when it goes beyond the yes or no of you have said a fact.

[20:25:05] When they fact check a more subjective claim like a living wage is necessary, using a 14-year-old paper called Walmart, a progressive success story, I think it's OK for Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez to say, maybe, that's not the source I would go for when I am critiquing Walmart.

I don't think that equates at all to an ad hominem attack on journalism. But for somebody who has as much a media platform as she does, I think it's incredibly important that she's out there, trying to shape it herself. And so far, I think she's crushing it.

STELTER: When I say she's Trumpian, I think what I mean is what Trump is to Twitter, you know, she is to Instagram live. But she's also using Twitter really well, she's using multiple platforms really well, in a way that's raising her profile and is making her the subject of national --

MCINTOSH: And the profile of her policies, it's not just about her personally. She's using these to make the policies, the hot thing everybody is talking about --

STELTER: The taxing -- she has changed the tax conversation.

BASSETT: She has.

STELTER: All right. To our panel, thank you so much.

Quick break here, and then two tell-all books from former Trump insiders. And the books have something in common. I'll show you what it is, next.


[11:30:00] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Chaos in the Oval Office. That's been this story for two years according to report after report, usually anonymously sourced. And then there's been denial after denial. But here's the thing there are two new tells coming out from two former Trump insiders that basically confirm what all these anonymous sources have been saying.

Chris Christie's book is out on Tuesday so is Cliff Sims book. You're going to see them all over television in the next week. These are not anti-Trump books but they describe the turmoil that existed during the transition and in the early days of the Trump White House. Sims' book Team of Vipers, he talks about how "we leaked we schemed, we backstabbed, we might have pretended we were doing in the service of a higher calling to protect the president to deliver for the people but usually it was for ourselves." Some pretty candid comments there in that book and in Christie's book so let's talk it over with White House Correspondent Association President Olivier Knox. He's the Chief Washington Correspondent for Sirius XM Radio. Olivier, did I get your title right by the way? That's a big title it's serious.


STELTER: OK, just making sure. You got a daily show there on Sirius. What are -- what are the points here from these books? The cliff Sims book alleges that President Trump himself is an anonymous source for reporters sometimes. Is the Trump White House as leaky as it was in the beginning of the presidency?

No, it's not as leaky as it was. For the first year and a half, you got the sense that every single senior official thought that they were the communications director and that they could go out and freelance a message that sometimes they thought was on behalf of the President and as Cliff points out was actually most of the time self -- relatively self-serving.

I think one of the interesting things and I should -- I should preface this by saying I haven't read those two books. I will. But I've read the excerpts and the reviews and the interviews with the authors and one of the interesting things that comes out and you alluded to it in your intro that they're not anti-Trump directly. They don't question the way he leads.

But one of the questions that I would have is at some point if you're writing about how everyone around you in this White House was terrible, you know, does that somehow reflect on the President's style. You know, the President likes to pit people against each other. He said as much. To your point about the anonymous source, yes, that confirms a lot of reporting from back in his in his New York days.

But there doesn't seem to be the next step which is why. Why this why has this White House been filled to people who dislike each other and mistrust each other?

STELTER: Right. Why is it been filled with riffraff in the term -- in Christie's term -- Christie's words, right? Is that about the President's leadership? Hey, I wanted to have you on as well because of your role as the head of the Correspondents Association. ABC pointed out this week that we are in the longest drought, the longest period without a daily press briefing going back decades. What are you doing to advocate for the return to regular briefings?

KNOX: So let me talk a little bit about what's been lost by not having these regular briefings. I always tell people the best way to cover the White House is not to cover the White House. It's to talk to Congress, talk to the agencies, talk to embassies, talk to think tanks, talk to former officials. The briefing is a part of the way we collect information. The broader context here is it's not just the White House briefing.

The Pentagon briefings, I've gone the way of the dodo and State Department briefings are intermittent at best. There are a lot of other ways to get information. Since last August, you've seen two forces at play in the way this administration communicates.

One is it was always true that only Trump really spoke for Trump but they've really leaned into this one so that's why he does all those informal Q&A's on the way to or from his Marine One helicopter. And the other one is a shift. It was already evident the first couple years but a real shift towards less formal settings.

So he doesn't do a press conference in the -- in the East Room. He does Q&A along the rope line on the South Lawn. Sarah Sanders -- Sarah Sanders doesn't do a briefing but she talked to reporters in the driveway. A briefing though, one, for smaller outlets that have two or three correspondents in D.C. having a set time when the White House will take questions is helpful. The other is it's a one-stop shop where everyone whether you're typing the news, broadcasting it, taking a picture of it, a one-stop where you can do it.

And let me give you one last concrete example. After the President announced his deal with North Korea regarding the repatriation of American remains, the White House did a great thing. They brought out people from the Pentagon who run that process and they gave us a step- by-step explanation of a technical process and I wouldn't have wanted to go to either the President or Sarah Sanders because it's really technical, it's really complicated. And so only those kinds of experts can really walk us through.

STELTER: I see. That's interesting. That's the argument in favor of daily briefings but do we have any sense the White House is going to return to that format?

[11:35:02] KNOX: As soon as they decide that it serves them well. You know, one of the things -- as I said there all these other ways that they communicate. But one thing that I think this is going to do is it's going to elevate the kind of reporting that they claim to dislike.

They claim to dislike anonymously sourced palace intrigue stories or anonymously sourced stories about pending policy whether or not it's actually accurate and not having a sort of a formal on camera on record Q&A I think is going to elevate the kinds of things they claim not to like.

STELTER: Interesting. All right, Olivier, thank you so much for being here. Great talking with you. This is another one of those weeks with the headlines are talking about Trump's worst week ever, you know, we're back in that name, that game. Well, what I'm wondering is having caved on the shutdown, will he stay in his cave now? The Super Bowl is seven days from today. Normally, the President gives a big Super Bowl interview but so far CBS says there's no interview on the books.

Coming up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES, the problem with cherry- picking polls.


[11:40:00] STELTER: Sometimes President Trump outright lies but other times it's more complicated. He will cherry-pick a little bit of real information and share it in a way that is misleading. Let me show you an example from this week. He touted an NPR PBS news hour Marist Poll showing his approval rating among Latinos at 50 percent.

Right-wing media had dug into this poll data and found this figure but those Web sites barely mentioned the margin of error. Because the sample size of Latinos surveyed was so small, the margin of error was plus or minus 9.9 percent. It could have been 40 percent, it could have been 60 percent according to the poll.

Look, even then, that poll was an outlier. These other recent polls have Trump somewhere between 24 and 35 percent support among Latinos in the United States. Again, look at the high, high margin of error. This is -- this is just a small example of how the President isn't always sharing completely wrong information. The numbers are technically right but he's doing it in a way that ends up misleading people about where his support might really stand.

Here to help me try to figure all this out as Ann Selzer. She's the President of Selzer & Company. She's a famed pollster based in Iowa. Ann, how do we get to the truth when we're looking at these small sample sizes in polls like this?

ANN SELZER, POLLSTER: Well, there are a couple of things that you can do, Brian. I think, first of all, this same organization, the same sponsor and the same executor of the poll did a poll a year ago and it showed a much smaller approval rating for Donald Trump among Latinos, and that's what Trump's Tweet was recognizing that his approval rating had grown.

So one way is to say you know, has there been improvement with the same method over a certain period of time, so I think --

STELTER: Wait, so that may be very real. That may be a legitimate improvement for him.

SELZER: That's right.


SELZER: But there's cherry -- but he's cherry-picking within this poll which I think also speaks to the volatility of small subgroups. There's a -- there's a question in that same poll about your intention to vote to re-elect President Trump and the majority of the Latino subgroup says no, definitely not.

So while the approval rating looks to be the good news, they definitely will not vote to re-elect President Trump. I think it's 57 percent among that same Latino group.

STELTER: Let me get the polling -- SELZER: That's the volatility of a small --

STELTER: That's the volatility. You've got some recent polling about immigration and I want to highlight it because it shows that this debate about the so-called wall, it is so far from the reality of the importance of immigration. Let me just put up this screen that says, immigrants, are there too many living here lawfully? This is a question you asked in your polling.

You found 54 percent of Americans say no there's not too many, 22 percent say and there's a lot of immigrants here but not too many, only 16 percent say there are too many immigrants living here. Why are you decided to ask this question in this way?

SELZER: Well, these this question is from the Grinnell College National Poll and their motto is to ask hard questions and question easy answers and this poll was an attempt to do just that which is immigration peaks as an important issue in this country kind of around Midterm elections.

And we wanted to get away from the hot topic of the nanosecond to say, well, really, what do people think about immigration and what do -- what is the overall mood in terms of being accepting or not accepting of the immigrants. And what while the numbers you showed are exactly right and show a majority, strong majority saying there are not too many. There only 16 percent who say there are too many. There's very little difference by party. You -- it is hard to look at these numbers and say we are a nation that is anti-immigrant.

STELTER: Interesting. So that was one of the takeaways. You didn't know that was going to be the finding but that was the finding.


STELTER: Yes, interesting.

SELZER: Right. That's what we wanted to find out either way, right.

STELTER: Yes. You're there in Iowa. You're going to be doing primary polling ahead of the caucuses next year, next January, what do you -- wait are they in February this year? I don't get that wrong. When are they next year?

SELZER: They're in February this year.

STELTER: February, right.

SELZER: Fingers crossed, yes.

STELTER: What do you look for in these primary polls? How should people like me interpret really early polling of the Democratic field?

SELZER: Well, these polls are early and there's a lot that's going to happen even just in terms of candidates announcing. So from the pollster perspective, one of the difficulties we have is how many candidates can we test in a single poll and I think you know that's up to us to begin to figure out what are the criteria that we're using for what names were going to test.

But I think it these are terribly useful to see who's getting some traction and who is having a harder time. But the caveat I'm going to say is that when we first polled ahead of 2016, as early as 2014 we were doing our first poll, Bernie Sanders virtually unknown polled at three percent, and in Iowa with likely Democratic caucus-goers, his numbers never went down. He just marched up and up and up and up and up and up.

And as you probably remember on caucus night he came within 28 basis points I think of beating Hillary Clinton. It was less than one delegate equivalent between them. So I like to say this about Iowa, any candidate can come to Iowa and win, anyone. So I presume that as candidates begin to get their organizations together and they start making a plan and they start meeting people, you can expect that their poll numbers -- if they have the right message and a good organization -- their poll numbers will increase.

[11:45:42] STELTER: That's important to keep in mind --

SELZER: No matter where they start.

STELTER: -- long time -- long time before next February. Ann, thank you for being here. And hey, speaking of all things Iowa, Monday night is the first CNN Town Hall of the 2020 season. Jake Tapper will moderate the forum with Kamala Harris at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday here on CNN.

Coming up, when reporters become hostages. Hear from Jason Rezaian and Joel Simon next.


[11:50:00] STELTER: When Washington Post Reporter Jason Rezaian was a judicial hostage in Iran, he had no idea what efforts were being made back home to win his reliefs -- release. Joel Simon, the head of the Committee to Protect Journalists was one of those advocates for Jason but he didn't really know what Jason was going through behind bars.

Now both men are out with new books this week. So we brought them together for an interview. Joel's book is titled We Want to Negotiate. It's about the secret world of kidnapping, hostages, and ransom. And Jason's book is about his experience. It's titled, Prisoner. Here's a bit of what they told me.


JOEL SIMON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS: The data bears this out. You know, we've seen record numbers of journalists imprisoned around the world. It's an occupational hazard of journalism, you know.

JASON REZAIAN, REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Which is crazy thing to consider when you go to work.

SIMON: Yes. I mean, you know, it's because journalists, you know they have to -- first of all, they have to you know, live in repressive places because that's -- there's news being made there and they have to engage with shadowy groups and conflict zones because it's their job. so this is an occupational hazard.

My book is not strictly about journalists but I obviously start from that perspective. But we are seeing that the threat of imprisonment and also the threat of kidnapping and attacks from criminal and terror groups around the world is growing for journalists so this is this is really one of the most deadly and dangerous times ever for journalists around the world.

STELTER: An occupational hazard. It makes me wonder, Jason, if you wish you hadn't taken the job in Tehran.

REZAIAN: Honestly, Brian, I never second-guess my decision to take that job. I went to Iran willingly and willfully with what I took as a personal mission to do a better job of shedding light on a country that here in America we find very misunderstood. And I think that is the impetus for so many foreign correspondents who are willing to take on these risks. And the least we can do as a nation is do what we can to protect them and help them when somebody gets in trouble. And I hope that that's a lesson that that is taken away from both Joel and my books.


STELTER: Very well said. And you can hear more from both Joel and Jason on this week's RELIABLE SOURCES podcast through Apple, Stitcher, or TuneIn, whatever app you like. Coming up here in the story behind the story of three identical strangers.


[11:55:00] STELTER: CNN is premiering an amazing new film on Sunday night. Three Identical Strangers is about triplets who were separated at birth. So I want to take you back to the start of this story. One day in 1980, when Howard Schneider was an editor at Newsday, he receive a tip about two students at a local college. Let's pick up the story from there with Schneider. He's now the Executive Director at Stony Brook University Center for News Literacy and he's here with me now.

So first, Howard, two students you hear about. What happened?

HOWARD SCHNEIDER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, STONY BROOK UNIVERSITY CENTER FOR NEWS LITERACY: So picture the phone call. We get a phone call and a student says, you're not going to believe this story. I had a best friend at my college who had to drop out and leave school and he came back the next year and everybody was so happy that he came back. But when we asked him his name, we went up to him, we shook his hand, girls kissed him, he kept saying who are you talking about? It's not me.

So what we discovered, the student who was a friend discovered that these were identical twins separated at birth. One drops out of a Sullivan Community College, a small community college upstate and the identical twin shows up the next year, a remarkable coincidence.

STELTER: So you wrote about it -- you wrote about it and then you heard from a third brother.

SCHNEIDER: And then believe it or not the next day or so we get a call from someone who says I saw my brothers on the front page of your newspaper. Actually, he saw a photograph. We ran a photo of the two twins on our front page. It was picked up by the post -- The New York Post, he sees it and he says, oh my God, they look like me, they have my birthday, I'm the third one.

STELTER: Amazing.

SCHNEIDER: Incredible.

STELTER: Now, this story takes a dark turn and I'll save that for the film tonight, but what now more than 25 years later -- 35 years, is the lesson for journalists, now that you're teaching journalism?

SCHNEIDER: We break the real story. We reveal what really happened to these triplets over time 17 years later.

STELTER: That's when the dark part of the story comes out, 17 years period.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. It starts at a fairy tale. It starts as we get inundated with letters when people saying this is a wonderful story. Finally, a happy ending. Human interest story. Never mind all the scandal and all the war and all the crime. You've given us a great story. What a happy ending. And it doesn't have a happy ending. But you don't know that for a long time.

So for journalist, for me, and this is what we try to teach at Stony Brook, it's all about the reporting. It's all about being persistent and penetrating and not letting stories go. And the great fear now in the age of the internet and Twitter is that the life of the story is 20 minutes.

STELTER: The power of a follow-up.

SCHNEIDER: To follow --

STELTER: We've got to follow up.

SCHNEIDER: We have to follow up.

STELTER: And this is a heck of an example of follow up. Hey, Howard, thank you for being here.

SCHNEIDER: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: Great to see you.

SCHNEIDER: It's a terrific movie.

STELTER: As I mention, yes, it's tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time here on CNN and it is amazing. All right, that's all for the televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. Let me know what your thoughts of today's program. Look me up on Twitter or Facebook. Send me your feedback. It's always helpful so that we can improve the show every week. And we'll see you right back here this time next week.