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How Would U.S. Press Cover Trump If He Ran Another Country?; The Most Powerful Media Family In the World?; Former Murdoch Exec Speaks Out on Why He Resigned. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired April 07, 2019 - 11:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter. It's time for RELIABLE SOURCE, 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, how the Fox media empire is used as a political weapon. One executive speaking out why he left Murdoch world. It's his first TV interview coming up this hour.

Also, the mystery involving this International Women of Courage ceremony. We're going to introduce you to one honoree, a journalist, who was uninvited.

And David Axelrod is here as well. We're going to analyze coverage of Joe Biden this week, and much more.

But, first, let me start with something a little. Here's a mental exercise to apply to the news in the Trump age. What would you think if these were happening in some other country? Imagine how we cover the news if it were from Canada, Greece, New Zealand.

Right now, the news is about a president who spends time demonizing immigrants and spreading misinformation and accusing his opponents of treason. This week, he threatened to close the border, and then backtracked and this is all considered just a normal day. He's well- known for lying about policies and polls and minority politicians and sometimes even the weather. He grants special access to people who pay money to enter his private clubs, especially this week in the late developments in Mar-a-Lago, experts say that's a national security risk.

But the wheeling and dealing continues. Foreign governments and lobbyists know precisely how to spend money at his hotels to get noticed. Companies know, too. They buy ads on TV and address the president directly. They work over time to get people booked on his favorite TV shows, hoping to change his mind about key issues.

Lawmakers do this, too, and it's all happening right out in the open. There's widespread acceptance of the fact that he likes TV shows but more than his intelligence briefings -- but only shows that fawn over him.

He attacks other sources of news, calling them enemies of people. He said this dozens and dozens of times. If you have questions about this, that's too bad. His spokeswoman stopped holding the televised press conferences that had been a tradition for decades. We're lucky if they happen once a month now.

This week, the president we're talking about said they say wind farm noise causes cancer, which is non-sense but when an aides was asked about it, she didn't call it nonsense. This is what he said instead.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really don't have information right now.

REPORTER: What do you say to American families that are concerned today that the president says wind turbines cause cancer?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't have information on that. If I get a readout, I'm happy to update you on that.


STELTER: Still waiting for the readout.

So, what happened? Well, late night comedy shows made fun of the comment and then moved on. About that, once in awhile, this president says comedians and news networks that criticize him could be investigated by the government. His allies love to go further. They call for his political opponents, the other side, to be investigated, stripped of their powers, maybe even jailed.

Now, many of these things we only know about because of aggressive news coverage. But at this point, some news outlets barely take notice of the never ending errors and gaffes and gaffes and embarrassments. Look, maybe they don't have enough time. The other day the president struggled to announce the word origins. He misspelled the word "healthcare" while promising better health care. More importantly, he doesn't have plan to provide it.

But his fans seem to buy whatever he says. They scoff at the news coverage about his scandals, or the fact that he is -- he and his associates are entangled in many investigations from Manhattan to Los Angeles. Those fans blame a shadow government and media agitators for that.

Meanwhile, he keeps holding theatrical rallies for his supporters, all part of a never ending campaign in the words of one reporter keeps getting angrier. At the same time, he's bemoaning real problems of immigration law but he's casually saying things that are antithetical to democracy, things like we've got to get rid of judges.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To be honest with you, we have to get rid of judges. And, frankly, we should get rid of judges.


STELTER: People mostly just shrug it off like he's the guy at the end of the bar blowing off steam or like he's an old man shaking his fist to the cloud.

But how would this be covered if it were happening a different country? What if all the U.S. reporters were peering in as foreign correspondents trying to cover Washington right now? What would they say? Because all of it is happening right here.

[11:05:03] Is the news coverage keeping up?

Let's talk about it with "McClatchy" senior political correspondent Katie Glueck, "New York Times" White House correspondent Katie Rogers, "Baltimore Sun" media critic David Zurawik, and senior political correspondent for CNN, and host of the "AXE FILES", David Axelrod.

A full house today. And, Katie Rogers, you're up first. You have to make these day-to-day decisions about what is most important and what is less important. And it is very difficult with all the news that happens on a daily basis. How are you making those calculations day to day?

KATIE ROGERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, you know, we have resources to have a fact checker look into the wind mills cause cancer story, which we do fact check, the prayer rugs found and the caravans coming north, which we fact checked. The problem is that the president has gotten so good at just spraying the field every morning with 12 tweets or so that have you know factually dubious claims and we have to chase them and treat them seriously.

This is still the president of the United States making the claims. You can't say, oh, this is nonsense, we're going to ignore this when you have to sort of try to check him on everything he says. Again, we're lucky we can do that.

But when it's things like immigration, when he's threatening to close the border, we have to take that seriously if he's done it two or three times before --


ROGERS: -- because the time we don't do it is the time that it might happen.

So, we're spread therein but you have to sort of -- I mean, the one thing I will say is a thing that sounds like a little bit off in the morning like a tweet about a prayer rug in the caravan, that kind of thing would have driven the news cycle for a day or two in the past. Now, it's like the eighth tweet he's send this morning.

STELTER: That's absolutely right. With Bush or with Obama, these gaffes or these scandals would dominate the news for a week. Axelrod, as someone who was a journalist and joined Obama world and

was in politics, are you bitter about that at all? You know, the difference in the way these presidents are covered?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, look, there say big difference between Donald Trump and Barack Obama. The most salient quality of Donald Trump is he does not observe rules, norms, institutions, perhaps even laws. His basic governing operative theory is that you do what you need to do to get what you want.

And he -- you know, Kellyanne Conway sort of set the terms of the debate in the first weeks of the administration when she explained to him as having alternative facts. His idea is he's going to put those alternative facts out. He's going to let the news media do what it does and then he's going to portray the news media as being biased against him and the more the news media protests, the more these stories get written, the more it's a certification to his base that he is the victim in all of this and it's been an effective strategy at least within his silo.

STELTER: Here is another example of one of the weirdest fact checked comments of the week. This is the president talking about his father being born in Germany when in fact his father was born in New York City.

Here's what I noticed David Zurawik, I looked at the coverage. The network newscasts never even mentioned bringing up this really weird birtherism. It was only the late night comedy shows. Watch.


STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: It's true, Frederick Trump was born in a very wonderful place in Germany, New York City in 1905.

JIMMY KIMMEL, COMEDIAN: At this point, he's just messing with us, right? He's now questioning his own father's birth certificate.

JIMMY FALLON, COMEDIAN: Trump thinks his dad is German because Trump's dad used to tell his assistant, if Donald is looking for me, just tell him I'm in Germany.


STELTER: It's good to be covered somewhere, but shouldn't the network newscast be paying attention to this kind of stuff.

DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, THE BALTIMORE SUN: Brian, you know, it's such a dilemma because if you chase all of that, if you report it fully, you let Trump set the agenda. You let him drive the civic conversation of American life, and I believe with him, it's a strategy that he can do it.

But if on the other hand, if you don't cover it and denounce it, you then normalize it. You then teach generations of Americans this is OK to talk this way for a president when it's absolutely outrageous and what -- so that's the dilemma. You try to do both of those things but he is using it.

He is willing -- not willing, he likes to be transgressive because he knows he can drive the civic conversation when he does it. We have to report it. That's really bad.

And then you take the echo chamber of Fox News. If he says something that's really offensive about immigrants and then Tucker Carlson says immigration makes us a dirtier country or whatever the exact quote that he gave there was, that is really destructive to American life. We have to denounce it. But every time we do that, every time we chase it down, he is setting the agenda for what we cover.

[11:10:02] That is a really tough dilemma and none of us, I don't think any of us have figured that out.

The other thing, Brian, is he drives us to exhaustion. If we quit fact checking him, if we accept this, he wins. That's the way dictators win. They drive the free press almost to exhaustion with this.

STELTER: One of the examples of the dilemma doesn't apply to the press but also applies to his political opponents.

Katie Glueck, you've been covering the Democratic race and in your stories, I've been wondering how are the Democrats trying to breakthrough all the Trump related noise? This is a problem for them, as well as for journalists who are trying to fact check.

KATIE GLUECK, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: Absolutely. This is a really difficult challenge for all the people opponents come 2020. This is a challenge that none of his Republicans opponent in the primary in 2016 were able to really figure out. The challenge is tough stories have been breaking through, whether it's allegations of impropriety against Joe Biden, or about the culture on Bernie Sanders' campaign last time, those stories breakthrough.

But it is really difficult to have more positive messages breakthrough, as sort of compounding that challenge is a lot of Democrats feel it's risky to try and find themselves in a position where they are responding to Trump at every turn. You know, if they are out there pushing back on him, it's possible that that could breakthrough but there is concern that that backfires.

STELTER: Right, right. And with regards to the Trump fact-checking, I think papers like yours, the McClatchy chain, I think cable news, it's more equipped to do this kind of daily work because there is more time, more space. But you commented off air that there may literally not be a space to litigate every single thing that happens with this White House.

GLUECK: Absolutely. There are so many story lines that unfold not only every day but literally every hour that everyone has to pick their spot, what makes sense --

STELTER: Right. GLUECK: -- to dive in deep to litigate but at the same time, it's challenge because since he's the president of the United States and his words matter.

STELTER: In the meantime, we're waiting for the Mueller report. Remember this? Two weeks ago of course the Barr letter came out waiting for the actual report and to the other Kate, Katie Rogers, the president is tweeting about this again today. He's trying to have it both ways here.

He says, it looks like Bob Mueller's team of Trump hates and Democrats are illegally leaking information but then he goes on to say that the fake news media makes up sources. Have you been able to square this?

ROGERS: I just think when you're starting your morning attack of institution, I think you've got to pick a lane. So, either the leaks are real or the news is fake and you got to go one way with this.

I think it's sort of selling confusion and trying to undermine what might come out and as soon as next week, the redacted version of the Mueller report, what I can tell you is that people inside the White House are less on a victory tour than a couple weeks ago and they are waiting for what this thing says. It would stand to reason that the president is getting out there early saying, you know, don't trust the leakers. Don't trust the media. Don't trust what you see.

STELTER: When you say illegally leaking, do you view this as huffing and puffing? That's a lot of what you have to cover is huffing and puffing.

ROGERS: Yes, I mean, these attorneys who are, you know, these people associated with the probe who are leaving it and going back to their firms and whoever is talking, I mean, that's not -- as long as its not classified saying I don't like the way this has been portrayed, you know, that doesn't seem like it would be an illegal leak. But, you know, the president is going to take whatever it might becoming out of this team and spinning it to the sort of treason or toward wherever he's trying to take this.

STELTER: Yes. I'm just wondering as I wrap up, do you ever wonder what I mentioned in the intro, the idea of how would we cover a president like this if we were outside the U.S.? Do you ever think about that?

ROGERS: Well, what sort of leader would we have is my first question? Would we be so exhausted we wouldn't be able to tune in?

I just think that somebody made the point, I think it was David or somebody said this is sort of what authoritarian leaders do, they wind down trust in institutions and that's maybe what I would -- that's where I would be going or thinking when I --

STELTER: That's the threat. That's the danger two and a half years in here.

To the Katies, thank you. To the Davids, stick around. We have something later.

Up next here on the program, the first television interview with a former Murdoch executive who says he had enough. He couldn't take it anymore. He's going to explain that right after this.


[11:18:16] STELTER: Global political upheaval and a giant family feud. It may sound like a part of a TV drama, but it's really a blockbuster investigative story. It's a brand new story in the "New York Times" magazine about Rupert Murdoch's global media empire.

Jim Rutenberg and Jonathan Mueller are the authors. They spend six months on this. They travelled to three continents for a three-part report about how Rupert Murdoch and his companies have stoked populism around the world, in some cases destabilizing democracies in places like Australia and the United States.

It is also a story of a sibling rivalry between Rupert Murdoch's sons James and Lachlan who were constantly competing in a kind of "Game of Thrones" type succession.

Jim Rutenberg is joining me now.

Jim, thanks for being here.


STELTER: Lachlan Murdoch is the head of the Fox Corporation now, overseeing Fox News. James Murdoch is off in the wilderness, no longer really part of the company. What is the significance of that?

RUTENBERG: Well, one of the interesting things we found in this reporting is the two brothers have very different visions of the company James Murdoch saw Fox as this big global sort of brand that was bigger than Fox News, not identified by his father, going into new markets. Lachlan very much embraces his father's more political version.

James is much more moderate. He's a centrist. Lachlan is much more conservative. Some say even more conservative than his father.

STELTER: And James has told his friends, Lachlan just wants an American political project. That's quite a way to describe Fox News, which says it's a news operation.

[11:20:04] RUTENBERG: Yes, it was very interesting that James we learned held that view and again, I think in the battle that was very much a theme and the company in the end that Lachlan inherits, as we understand it, isn't necessarily one that you could really see James Murdoch running or wanting to run, and that sort of Lachlan having Fox News, they still have the broadcast network, of course, and then there are newspapers that James Murdoch wasn't always have interested in as sort of older part of the media industry, but also, by the way, still even if diminished where company like Fox and News Corp. get their power and their influence.

STELTER: Right, right. And that power is not just in the United States. This map is reminder about the assets in Australia and the United Kingdom.

And your story says that Lachlan, kind of heir apparent, he's more conservative than people realize. Tell us about some of the details you learned.

RUTENBERG: Well, this really comes up in Australia, where we went to Australia because we realized that's where Lachlan Murdoch came of age. He very much identifies with Australia, the family's history is tied up with Australia and this stories that we're hearing from people who are kind of interacted with him is he was very close with the Prime Minister Tony Abbott who is a very consecutive figure in Australia. He very much believed in as we can tell from reporting in keeping conservative publications conservative.

So, there was an anecdote we heard that there was a gay marriage editorial in their national newspaper and Lachlan was displeased with this, working back to us in our reporting that Lachlan is a pro gay marriage, supports gay marriage and, you know, though he didn't necessarily remember this, the word was there'd probably be about marketing positioning, but it shows that he believes in the marketing positioning of the company and we'll keep it in that direction.

STELTER: Jim, thank you so much for being here. I recommend people check out the full three-part story on There is a lot of detail in it. Jim, thank you.

You know, we don't often see -- we don't often get to hear from folks who actually work at Fox or News Corp, the two companies Murdoch has. It's Fox on one side, News Corp in the other. They are in the same building. They share a lot of values.

We don't often hear from staffers inside but now, for a moment, that can change. There is a man who ended up quitting, who resigned at the end of 2017, who is now speaking out.

Joseph Azam was a senior vice president in News Corp, the chief group compliance officer, and he's here with me now.

Joseph, what you just heard from Jim Rutenberg accurately described the place where you worked?

JOSEPH AZAM, FORMER SENIOR VP, NEWS CORP.: Hey, Brian, thanks for having me.

Yes, it did. You know, I thought that was a great report and it accurately described a lot of things that I heard and saw. It's about everybody else in the company, right? I mean, it's a place I really loved working.

So, in addition to the big personalities in the top, you know, my experience was that there were a lot of inherently smart, hard-working decent people there that are sort of left do the work. But by and large, I thought it was fascinating and pretty accurate.

STELTER: What prompted you to resign in late 2017?

AZAM: Yes, a couple things. You know, I've never been a consumer of the broadcast, you know, products. I didn't work for Fox, I worked for News Corp. And so, I think I hadn't been exposed, you know, for a long time to a lot of what was going on in the opinion side.

But beyond that, I noticed the significant change in tone. You know, I'm a big believer in the marketplace of ideas, right? And I was fine with working with and for people who had different values and opinions than I did, but I noticed a significant shift in the ferociousness and, frankly, in the relationship with facts, you know, particularly on the Fox side, you know? And so, I think for me --

STELTER: When was that shift in tone? When was that shift? You start there had in 2015, right?

AZAM: Sure, sure. I think to the election it became very profitable to kind of fall in line with an anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, anti- Muslim rhetoric and I was affected by that.

STELTER: You know, I've heard from staffers at Fox who for obvious reasons can't come on the program and talk who said the same thing, who said it's really changed, it's gotten a lot more venomous in the past couple of years. But you're saying you experienced it firsthand by what, by working in the building.

How did you interact with this content?

AZAM: Yes. I mean, look, I was in the legal department. You know, I was working with people who were now a part of that world, but every day in the elevators, I would, you know, have to endure the coverage, right? A lot of the opinion shows, and, frankly, I interact with the folks on TV, right?

I mean, we had small talk. I understood what they were doing when they got off the elevator but in those couple of seconds, you know, we were colleagues. We shared space. So, I was exposed to it every day.

STELTER: And as an Afghan-American immigrant, I can only imagine what you're hearing, what you're picking up and what it's like to be associated with the company.

[11:25:03] But it's not all of Fox News, right, it's not all of "The Wall Street Journal", it's not all of News Corp, is it?

AZAM: Right. No, absolutely not.

You know, that's what is fascinating for me. It's a very diverse company and intention, right? And so, it's absolutely not all of it and I think one of the things that I was hoping to accomplish by coming out is to say we're here, too, right? One of the difficulties for people in my position is that we succeed a lot of times by being visible and keeping quiet, right? I thought it was the wrong moment to keep doing that. STELTER: Did you ever talk with your colleagues about your concerns

before you resigned?

AZAM: Sure, sure. I mean, in addition to being lawyers and auditors and finance people and reporters, we're people, right? We're consumers of news. So, it was a constant topic of conversation for us, and I'm comfortable saying I wasn't the only one who was troubled, right? I mean, I think that's probably something you can assume is true.

STELTER: And troubled by what exactly? By the weaponization of information? By what?

AZAM: By the dehumanization taking place in some of the coverage and the opinion shows, by the other thing that was taking place, and frankly, what I viewed as a lack of decency, right? I mean, I grew up in New York City, you know, idolizing Daniel Patrick Moynihan and he's very famously quoted as saying, you know, everybody is entitled to their opinion, but not his own facts, right?

And so, I think when you start getting people not agreeing on facts, I think it's troubling for a lot of folks.

STELTER: I guess the overarching question here for people working at all sorts of media companies is, do you stop having civic responsibilities or civic duties just because you work in the private sector? And what I hear you saying is to your current, to your former colleagues at News Corp and Fox, you still have civic responsibilities.

AZAM: Sure. And just to them, right? For all of us in the private sector, I think this is a time to get engaged, to speak up and to stand up, right? These are not revolutionary acts or acts of courage. They should be acts of civic engagement and of decency. And that's kind of where I think we need to start as a country.

STELTER: It reminds me of a staffer who tweeted of Judge Jeanine Pirro last month and called her out for stoking hatred of Muslims, you know, because I was a Fox staffer in a vulnerable job who did the right thing and spoke truth.

AZAM: Right.

STELTER: We just need more of that it sounds like.

AZAM: Sure. You know, we need to connect the dots, right? You mentioned Judge Pirro and what she said about Ilhan Omar. And on Friday, I think in New York, a man was arrested for calling and threatening to put a bullet in her head, right? One of the things we need to do is connect the dots and, you know, figure out what to do with what we find.

STELTER: And President Trump then criticized Omar yesterday again, keep the dots going, continue to criticize her after that threat. There is threats happening against politicians of all parties, of all stripes. There is a broader problem going on, but it is important to recognize this environment, this media environment that we're all living in -- sounds like for you, you just had enough.

AZAM: I had enough and, you know, it was time for me to sort of remove myself from a position of not being able to say anything and after the murder of an Afghan-American in India, after Christchurch, after Tree of Life, it became really important, you know, to think about saying something and engaging more in the discourse that was taking place publicly.

STELTER: Joseph, thank you so much for joining me. Appreciate it.

AZAM: Great. Thanks for having me, Brian.

STELTER: Up next here on the program, tracking the pipeline of right- wing meme makers into the White House. How this creation made its way to the president's timeline. We're talking about the meme wars, next.


[11:30:00] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Turning now to the Democratic race. As a viewer, I think one of the most exhausting things about campaign coverage is the will he or won't he, is he in or is he out. Let's just say it. Joe Biden is in. He is running for president. At some point soon he'll make it official but it's very clear that he is planning on running. He's even kind of admitted it in recent interviews.

But obviously, Biden is facing backlash after trying to issue semi apologetic videos about accusations of inappropriate behavior but actually not apologizing. This is complicated and he hasn't made any better for himself. SNL even gotten the digs last night.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, you guys know that I'm a tactful politician, right, OK. I'm a hugger, I'm a kisser, and I'm a little bit of a sniffer, OK.


STELTER: Let's break it down. David Axelrod is back with me the Host of The X Files. He has a conference coming up about campaign coverage. David, your view, your evaluation of how Biden's been covered in the past week.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it's partly about Biden and partly about the way we operate in today's media environment. You know, one thing that you learn when you're on the other side is that every day is treated by the media like Election Day and every story is treated like the decisive story of the campaign and very few turn out to be. I think this will be one of those.

But Biden compounded the problem by not disposing of this quickly. One of the basic premises of crisis communication is figure out where the story is going and get to where you need to go as quickly as possible. And he had several days of responses before he put out. What I thought was a pretty effective video, honestly, and then the next day he compounded the problem by not letting the video speak for himself but making jokes at a conference and so he brought the story back for one more day.

So he could have done a better job and been more agile in dealing with us and they're going to have to once he becomes an active candidate. But I don't think at the end of the day when voters go to the polling places next year that this is going to be foremost on their minds.

[11:35:08] STELTER: Well, here's what Biden is up against. Here's how it may keep coming back and back and back. This is a meme that was created by a semi anonymous man from Kansas City -- from Kansas. He posted it, and then the Trump world posted it, and then the President himself posted on Twitter. Its Biden fondling himself.

Now, on one level, it's just a funny meme. On another level, this is how politics has waged this day. These are the meme wars in action. Do you think Democrats understand what they're up against? Because there was a Mother Jones headline the other day saying the right-wing media machine is much more effective at this kind of visual communication and the Democrats aren't even trying.

AXELROD: Yes. I mean, they are effective at digital communications and they're effective at talking to their base. The question is how much it infects the rest of the coverage. But this is -- this is uncharted waters as are many things with Trump. You have a president who's going to be -- excuse me -- live tweeting the opposite party's primary.

And you can -- you better believe that when anything happens in the Democratic race, he will have a comment, he will advance a meme like this, and Democrats are going to have to figure out how to deal with it.

You know Elizabeth Warren got into the back and forth on the Pocahontas thing and what she learned I think is that you know, engaging in a prolonged back-and-forth with him is exactly what he wants. So it's a tricky, tricky pass to navigate.

STELTER: The Dems are using television quite effectively though. Here are a couple examples. One day -- a couple days ago Tim Ryan is announcing his candidacy on The View, the next day Julian Castro is campaigning on The Breakfast Club radio show, on Monday Eric's Swalwell is expected to announce his run on the Stephen Colbert's Late Show, and town hall's, we've got five count halls on CNN this week so we are seeing effective use of television perhaps.

You're holding a campaign journalism conference in Chicago later this week for (INAUDIBLE) for young producers and reporters who are learning the ropes. What advice are you sharing with them about covering 2020?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, let me say, when I covered presidential campaigns in the early 80s, it was pre-cable television more or less. CNN had just started. Pre-Internet, there were news cycles where you could actually contemplate what you were writing, didn't have to file right away. Most news organizations were heavily stocked with editors who would work on these stories with you.

A lot of things have changed and we have the proliferation of new sources. These reporters covering the campaign's, our mission is to try and give them the tools they need to cover the campaign as effectively as possible.

And so we'll do the basic things like here are the delegate rules. Here's how money works and how to track it and so on. But it will also have some philosophical discussions much like the issue you just raised which is how do you deal with a candidate like Trump who has a kind of feral instinct for gaming the media environment. How do you keep from cover -- you know reacting to events but really digging in.

And my main advice to these reporters is cover the electorate, not polls, not the memes, and get out of your -- get out of your bubble because we're a very siloed society right now. And a lot of reporters, and I include myself in this, miss much of what was going on in the country in 2016 and it's important not to do that again.

STELTER: Yes. Let's find out what issues the voters care about and then cover those issues and let them direct the coverage as opposed to be directed by someone's Twitter feed?

AXELROD: Exactly. And you know, I think that we can't bring our own biases to the coverage. There were people who thought it was absurd that Donald Trump could get elected president and didn't really recognize the power of his message to the base voters that he -- that he stimulated in 2016. That was a mistake. That mistake shouldn't be made again.

And the other thing is -- I would say is remember what I said at the beginning of this conversation, every day is not Election Day, every story is not decisive. We feel pressure to hype these stories in this sort of instantaneous news environment. But the voters are much more reflective and take everything in and they'll make a decision at the appropriate time. And it may be on a different set of indices than we believe at any given moment.

STELTER: Right. So let's make its voter centered coverage. David, thanks so much for being here.

AXELROD: Great to be with you.

STELTER: Coming up, another question about the 2020 coverage. Our women candidates receiving harsher media coverage than their male competitors. I'll show you a new study right after this.


[11:40:00] STELTER: Do you detect gender bias in the coverage of the 2020 field? There's a new finding from Northeastern University's Journalism School. They've been tracking the words used for candidates. They say that the coverage of women running for the White House has been more negative than the men that are in the fray.

Now, look, it is early. Some of this is subject to change but it's a worrisome finding. We'll put some of it on screen while we bring in Laura Bassett. She's a commentator on a gender and other issues. And David Zurawik is back with me now as well.

Laura, your reaction to the kind of data that shows that the words used about the women candidates are harsher than the words used about the men.

LAURA BASSETT, SENIOR CULTURE AND POLITICS REPORTER, HUFFPOST: Well, my reaction is the lack of surprise. This is how it's always been. I mean, why for 200 years despite women being half the population have we never had a female president? It's because people don't like power seeking women and they are covered more negatively by the media.

If you think back to 2016, Hillary Clinton, we constantly talked about her personality, her voice, whether she was smiling enough, whether she was shrill, whether she was yelling too much. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders was constantly shrill and constantly yelling and never smiling. People took that as a sign of his passion and his off the authenticity whereas for her it made her less likeable.

So now I thought we would have learned from the 2016 cycle and instead we're seeing the same kind of thing. With Buttigieg, we talked about sort of him as our a well-rounded person. We know that he plays piano, we know that he speaks Norwegian. Beto has got these quote -- these quirks. He's the punk-rock dad. He skateboards. We know he likes Fugazi.

We don't talk about the fact that Kamala is a master in cooking Indian food or the fact that Gillibrand runs marathons. No one ever asked Warren what her favorite book is. So I'm seeing the same kind of problems we've had every single cycle, and there's six women running now. We got to fix it.

[11:45:31] STELTER: It is historic there's so many women in this race. It means the coverage has got to be sensitive. David, maybe I'm being optimistic here. There's time to prove, right? It's early right? It's only April.

DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, THE BALTIMORE SUN: Yes. Sure there's time to improve but you're talking about how many hundreds and thousands of years of patriarchy where generations of men and women have been socialized to see -- look people -- as we've said, people don't give up power easily. That's what's going on here. This is the same thing as the me to issue in our lives right now. We're at a tipping point. Hopefully, we'll get better but there's tremendous resistance.

One of the things I would call on, I've worked with some great women editors and some very strong women editors. The women editors really need to lean on their reporters when they try to make these kinds of assumptions or couldn't make these things into their stories. This is a chance for women who have made it up the ladder and by god they had to work 50 times as hard as men from the world I lived in to get to that point.

Now is the chance for them to assert themselves. We have to do much better than we did in the 2016 election with this. I totally agree with what was said. But it is -- it's patriarchy. Think that people about and think about the socialization and the acculturation that all of these -- so many of these reporters have gone through, Brian.

STELTER: I'd say, we have to be very aware of it and I'm glad we can kind of bring awareness to this as we go on for the next, what they're going to be the year of the Democratic primary. David, Laura, thank you both. A quick break and then a mystery involving the State Department. Did tweets critical of President Trump lead the State Department to take away a prestigious award from a journalist? Hear from her in just a moment.


[11:50:00] STELTER: Exactly one month ago, the Secretary of State in the First Lady were hosting this International Women of Courage awards ceremony in Washington spotlighting the work of women around the world who show courage in the face of injustice. But someone was missing on that stage. A finished investigative journalist named Jessekka Aro was supposed to be there but her invite was rescinded almost at the last minute.

It appears that someone at the State Department was worried about our Aro's past criticism of President Trump, that they were worried about what would look like if she was on stage with the First Lady.

Well, now, Senate Democrats have been investigating. They've been getting documents from the State Department about what happened behind the scenes. So I spoke with Aro about what it was, about what she believes happened and what she still wants to know, and also maybe most importantly about the courageous reporting that she did to earn the award in the first place.


JESSEKKA ARO, FINNISH INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: It was originally my investigations concerning the international influence, the impact of Kremlin's social media propaganda army, the so-called Kremlin trolls, and I specifically started to investigate how are they capable of manipulating real people's ideas and even behavior and not just in Russia but also across Russia's borders.

STELTER: So thanks to your work covering this propaganda war. You were up for the International Women of Courage Award. How did you first find out that you were going to be honored?

ARO: I found out in January 25th when an embassy employee in Helsinki proceeded to me and told me that I would be the one getting this honorable, precious award, and I was just so happy because my works also caused me so much troubles and I have become target of series of crimes, aggravated crimes as well so I was just so honored.

And I was really looking forward to be able to travel to America and to share my investigations and help journalists in America also to cover this topic. So yes, but then it was taken away. STELTER: Foreign Policy Magazine is the outlet that first revealed

what happened here. It was your criticism of the President on Twitter that caused this to happen. How did you react?

ARO: I was just pleased to get more information because at that time I didn't have any explanation of why the award was canceled so I was really delighted to hear more. But when I learned about these sources who were telling that it was really about my tweets, I was horrified. I had tweeted straight, directly as an answer to President Trump's tweet in which Trump was himself attacking the media and claiming that rigged and corrupt media is the enemy of the people.

And I had directly answered to him and I had told him that Kremlin doesn't need any troll factories as long as they have you trolling on their behalf. So I was thinking was it then this but then I also thought well, I still stand by what I said and what I tweeted and I think that President Trump's attacks against the media are disgraceful and need to be also discussed on Twitter as well.

[11:55:03] STELTER: When Foreign Policy came out with this article, the State Department kind of denied revoking your award for political reasons. The State Department instead said this was a regrettable error.

ARO: That's outrageous and it's also factually incorrect. That's why I was so thankful when I found out that there is an investigation into the topic by the Democratic senators. I'm really enthusiastically looking forward to the possible Inspector General's investigation because I really want to know who was the person who really gave the order to cancel my award and what would he or she like to tell about her motivation in doing so.


STELTER: You can hear the rest of my conversation with Jessekka Aro, all about her work uncovering Russian propaganda on this week's RELIABLE SOURCES podcast. For our final bit of news about the news today, let's turn from international reporting to the best of local news. Something in Baltimore that caught my attention as a -- as a Maryland native, and for that I want to bring back David Zurawik from the Baltimore Sun.

So David, the Baltimore Sun Newspaper which has been suffering from cuts for years and years and years was able to uncover an incredible City Hall scandal last month. It was a scandal involving the Mayor Catherine Pugh and these self-published books that she was coming out with. All of these folks were buying up books and what sort of seems like a -- I don't know. David, you tell us.

You're there at the Sun. This has been going on for a month, and now the mayor is taking a leave of absence. Tell us what the Sun uncovered and what it means about local news.

ZURAWIK: Yes. On March 13th, the Sun published a story that the University of Maryland Medical System had bought 100,000 copies of a book -- of a book series called Healthy Holly which were books for children telling them they should be active, they should eat vegetables those sorts of things.

For those books, they were paying Catherine Pugh, the mayor of Baltimore who sat on the UMS board -- UMMS board $500,000. I think the last Baltimore author who got a deal that good with the late Tom Clancy. It was unbelievable. And they couldn't really find many of these books. She -- and her stories, the mayor stories of what was going on kept shifting.

The Sun Duggan and the Sun has now found $800,000 paid to her by nonprofits like Associated Black Charities, like Kaiser Permanente, the health provider which was negotiating with the city for $48 million contract to cover its employees as they paid this to the mayor. This is really civic watchdog journalism at its best.

And I'll tell you what, almost every day, Brian, the Sun is breaking a story. If you remember when The Post and The Times were going at it on stories on the Trump administration, you got whiplash going from one Web site to the other. That's the way the Sun is breaking stories. And this story, Brian, is far, far from over.

And here's the thing that's really great about it. On the floor of the General Assembly in Annapolis, they are debating a package which I'd be stunned if they don't get it together in these final days and pass it, for reform. A newspaper reported a story, the legislature is now trying to reform the issue and they're quoting the Sun on the floor of the Maryland assembly.

This is the way it works. And when you lose your local paper, or when they shut down the statehouse bureau, or cut back on reporters at city hall, this is what you lose. Your kids money for school goes into the pockets of somebody who's self-dealing or insider dealing. Your schools, your Police Department doesn't get the money it makes.

You -- this is a watchdog journalism. This is civic journalism and it's -- I'm so proud to be part of the Baltimore Sun at this point. All the challenges we face they're still doing it.

STELTER: That's the thing. It's embarrassing for the city of Baltimore and the city that I love.

ZURAWIK: Oh my god.

STELTER: But it's great to see the Sun in action. There has been more than 30 stories published about this in the past month. And look, this is not just about Baltimore. We see this and say it is across the country that have been devastated by cuts. We still see these reporters as frontline journalists uncovering corruption and that's what's going on in Baltimore.

David, thanks so much for sharing the story with us. I appreciate it.

ZURAWIK: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: That's all for our televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. But remember, our coverage news online all the time And coming up tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN, the continuation of the original series Tricky Dick, all about Richard Nixon's rise and fall. That's at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time here on CNN.

Let me know what you thought of the program today. Send me a message on Twitter or Facebook on @BrianStelter on both sites. And you're feedbacks keeps making this show better every single week. We'll see you right back here this time next week.