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Reliable Sources

Facebook's Ban of "Dangerous" Users: What's Next?; The Infowars President; Anti-Semitic Cartoon Reveals Lack of Checks at NYT; The Anatomy Of A Political Smear Operation; Leaving Faith Out Of The Conversation?; New CBS News Pres Susan Zirinsky Making Big Changes. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired May 05, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:14] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter. It's time for RELIABLE SOURCES. This is 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, we're going to show you the anatomy of a smear. We'll show you who took the bait and didn't when dirty tricksters made up an allegation against Pete Buttigieg.

Plus, what went wrong at "The New York Times". We have answers about how that anti-Semitic cartoon was published in the international edition.

And later, my brand-new reporting about impending shakeups at CBS News.

But, first, a big move by Facebook, banning several accounts. And now, there's new blowback from the commander-in-chief.

President Trump's furious reaction to Facebook's action showcases that he is, I'm sorry to say, but Infowars president. He is promoting the same alternative universe as Infowars and sharing videos from repugnant characters.

Now, Infowars, of course, is that web show and website led by radio host Alex Jones.

Full of fear mongering and conspiracy theorizing, Infowars tells viewers that the world is out to get him. Jones is facing multiple lawsuits related to his lies about Sandy Hook School massacre and the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich.

But none of this seems to repeal President Trump. Infowars content is useful to him. Infowars personalities align with him. He even gave an interview to Alex Jones back on the campaign trail.

On Saturday, Trump went on a Twitter spree and said: It's so great to watch this -- while sharing a video from Infowars. He also repeatedly retweeted a guy named Paula Joseph Watson, one of the Infowars' figures who's been banned by Facebook. He also retweeted a strange video about Islam, from username Deep State Exposed, advising (ph) to QAnon theory. This is -- this is troubling stuff. A lot of it is troubling stuff.

And at the same time, the president is decrying Facebook's action.

Now, you may have heard about this, Facebook decided to block six users as well as Infowars as an organization. The high-profile names include Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who's been called for his anti-Semitism. Also Paul Nehlen, who was a congressional candidate who also has clearly anti-Semitic views.

So, you see here, six people, there's one organization banned and it's not just Facebook. Trump has also been complaining about Twitter, how Twitter suspends or briefly puts accounts into a time-out period. He's complaining about James Woods, the actor and right-wing actor star, who right now is on a Twitter time-out.

Look, the president is clearly trying to tap into conservative concerns about right-wing censorship, social censorship.

How real are those concerns, though? How legitimate is this? And how is Facebook deciding who should be banned in the first place?

Joining me to discuss all of this is CNN senior media reporter Oliver Darcy, co-host of "Fifth Column" podcast, Kmele Foster, "New York Magazine" senior correspondent and CNN contributor, Irin Carmon. And in Washington, Judd Legum, he's the former editor of the progressive website, Think Progress, now the author of the Popular Information newsletter.

Judd, let me start with you because you've talked in the past about the president and his relationship with Infowars. What do you think you're seeing happen now as the president goes on these retweets sprees?

JUDD LEGUM: Well, Trump is doing this because he needs people to believe that Facebook is against him. And that Facebook is biased against him because that's the only way that he has the space to operate on Facebook. His campaign, the 2020 campaign, he put the strategist in charge of his Facebook strategy, Brad Parscale, is now the campaign manager. And they are instituting exactly what they did in 2016, which is a whole series of ads that are misleading.

And so, if they go after Infowars for misleading content, if they go after Milo or if they go after any of these folks, he's going to be next. And so, that's why he's doing that because he needs to be able to draw a -- he can't let them draw a distinction between what Infowars is doing and what NBC or CNN or any mainstream media organization is doing.

STELTER: Even though what we get from Infowars is conspiracy theory crap. I mean, right in the wake of the Notre Dame fire, Alex Jones was talking about if it was arson, talking about how the rest of the media was lying to you about what happened.

Oliver, try to distinguish for us between -- you know, when we talk about these topics and talk about these figures, why is it the six individuals were banned by Facebook? What makes them different from others?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Well, these are very extreme individuals. And no matter what anyone tells you, they are extremists and that's why with Facebook decided to get rid of them from the platform the other day.

Back to your point about the Infowars presidency, I want to know, I tweeted, what's the difference at this point between Trump's Twitter feed and [11:05:00] Infowars might have been banned from Twitter but it found a

new home at Trump's Twitter feed. And while he's promoting and legitimizing this news organization, we should talk about how he's trying to tear down credible sources for news, "The Washington Post," "The New York Times," CNN. He was questioning why these news organizations have the ability to be on Twitter.

STELTER: Why are they not banned?

DARCY: Right, while saying that Infowars should be reinstated. It's nuts.

STELTER: Right, fake news is real, real news is fake. Kmele, do you see an answer to Oliver's question about Infowars and the president?

KMELE FOSTER, CO-HOST, "THE FIFTH COLUMN" PODCAST: I think there might be a challenge with respect to the framing here. The categorical condemnations, it's extremist, it's racist, it's anti- Semitic. I think judging and parsing the context of particular claims, particular assertions from different outlets, from different people is totally appropriate.

I think scrutinizing, however, just the broader concern that is starting to be raised in a lot of different circles with respect to censorship, is -- highlighting that is very important. Of course, speech can be dangerous.

Of course, there are ideas unsavory that he we don't like. Of course, Facebook shouldn't be coerced into associating with people against their own desires.

But the fact that speech can be dangerous, I think it's far more dangerous to engage in censorship. It's far more dangerous to have a culture that becomes so opposed to having anyone with unsavory views, have a place to be able to share their views, to be able to promote their views.

Sunlight is often the best disinfectant --

STELTER: Yes, the argument is meet those views with other views. Meet them with other views.

Irin, what's your reaction?

IRIN CARMON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think actually we've had an experiment in a kind of free market of ideas and it has failed.

FOSTER: I think --

CARMON: But the capitalist model of, like, this will -- you know, there will be a clash of ideas and everyone will be able to figure out which ones are good or not, that's what got us Comet Pizza.

FOSTER: That is repugnant. I'm not sure that leaves you with. What does that leave you with? Who gets to sanction what is appropriate for us to hear?

STELTER: Right now --


FOSTER: I'm suggesting that -- I'm suggesting that Facebook can continue to make their own determinations.

CARMON: They should.

FOSTER: I'm saying especially here in places where people are getting media that is appropriate for us to always be skeptical of an approach that says, if someone has ideas, if someone says are dodgy, they shouldn't be allowed to share those ideas. That is a problem.


DARCY: Does Facebook -- I think the idea is does Facebook get to have rules?

FOSTER: Of course.

DARCY: What does Facebook do? Do they just ignore the fact these people have broken the rules or --

STELTER: And will they be consistent enough --

DARCY: Will they get disciplined, is that censorship or --


FOSTER: No, no, no. I mean, some of that is totally fine. I think that there is something else happening, though, where we are bleeding into a circumstance where we say, oh, that is obviously anti-Semitic. That person is an extremist.


LEGUM: Can I respond to this?

STELTER: Judd, let me bring you in in Washington. Go ahead.

LEGUM: Yes, I was just going to say, the idea that Sandy Hook is a hoax and that the children who were murdered on that day is -- were actors is not an idea.

STELTER: Promoted by Infowars, promoted by Alex Jones. LEGUM: That's not an idea. That's not something that needs to be

debated on Facebook or on CNN or anywhere. And that is what is going on.

So, then to just abstract it off and say, oh, this is just a marketplace of ideas, we just need to discuss this. These are not ideas. It's a hoax. It's a conspiracy.

FOSTER: You confront bad ideas with good ideas. You confront people who are saying things that you don't like in the public square. You don't pretend you can abolish them to the depths of the Internet and they won't be -- they won't have a voice anymore.

CARMON: I think the evidence --

FOSTER: I think that is far more dangerous.

CARMON: The evidence shows to allow them to proliferate on these platforms is allowing them to be legitimized and to grow. I mean, if you look at the fact that Milo, for example, when he was taking off certain platforms --

FOSTER: Milo was self-censored.

CARMON: His influence diminished vastly, his financial viability diminished vastly. So, I think allowing these ideas to circulate on platforms owned by private companies, they're finally -- it's a little too late -- but they're finally taking responsibility for the fact that like any media company, they have the responsibility for setting rules, following them and making sure that dangerous things are not happening on their platform.

STELTER: When the president complains --

CARMON: What do you think should not have been banned?

FOSTER: I think the reason I try to take this away from the specific issues and go a bit broader because there are times where civil rights have been things that were --


LEGUM: Alex Jones is not a civil rights promoter. Alex Jones --

FOSTER: Let's acknowledge the fact that the kind of speech that needs to be protected is always at the margins.

CARMON: I'm not asking about the abstractions. I'm asking --

STELTER: I agree with you. I think what we're struggling with, is someone recently remarked that perhaps -- I'm saying perhaps about this.

[11:10:02] Perhaps the Internet is to the First Amendment what the AK- 47 is to the Second Amendment. Something that was not imagined or fathomed 200 years ago when our Constitution was founded. That does not mean we have to make drastic changes but the world we're living in is something that could not have been foreseen.

FOSTER: I think that's a very dangerous perspective, quite frankly. I think the fact is that abolitionists once they got their hands on the printing press were using it to promote ideas that were very, very radical, that one could say are dangerous. There are people who were fighting for the abolition of slavery who could be described as dangerous radicals, who were willing to promote violence in order to achieve their --


DARCY: Do you think Facebook should have rules?

FOSTER: Absolutely.


DARCY: What do you think should happen to someone if they repeatedly violate Facebook's rules?

FOSTER: I think Facebook gets to make their own rules.

CARMON: They are.

DARCY: But what do you, if you're in charge --


FOSTER: -- people who are in the pundit class that we ought to always be acknowledging the fact that, yes, we are going to use pre- association to make it deeply --


DARCY: Facebook -- they would argue, they're not banning ideas. They're banning people who are repeatedly, right, violating the rules. It's clearly laid out there.

FOSTER: I think that's true.

DARCY: What do you think --


FOSTER: I think it's very different when what we do in response to that is only cheerlead and not raise some concern about the fact that broader --

DARCY: I totally agree that people should --

FOSTER: -- in condemning people categorically and getting rid of them in the public when they say something we don't like. It's always a consequence. It's one of those things where the fringe, the margins can actually grow.

(CROSSTALK) DARCY: Facebook court that could hash this stuff out. Bottom line, Facebook has rules. If you break those rules, they'll take action against you.

FOSTER: I'm not raising any issue with that.

STELTER: It's not a government relationship. It's free speech issue.

Judd, one more thought on this from you. The president is saying it's getting worse and worse for conservatives specifically. He's calling out censorship of conservatives. Is there a lot of evidence that conservatives are targeted by big tech?

LEGUM: Not at all. I mean, if Facebook is biased against conservatives, why is Fox News the number one shared website on Facebook? Why is "The Daily Wire", which is a right-wing blog, and you're going to have their editor-in-chief on later, in the top ten? Why is it that Diamond and Silk get more distribution than most any other video platform? And why are they spending -- why is the Trump campaign spending $200,000 or more per week on a platform that's supposedly biased against conservatives?

It just doesn't make any sense.

The last thing I'll just say is, this isn't a First Amendment issue. This is an issue of a private company deciding what goes on their platform. Just like I don't get to go on Tucker Carlson every single night, Alex Jones doesn't have a right to be on Facebook.

STELTER: You mentioned "The Daily Wire", so let me bring in Ben Shapiro. He's the editor-in-chief of "The Daily Wire".

We talked about this Facebook issue a little earlier.


STELTER: What's your view about the company taking action against these high-profile Facebook pages and basically just deleting them from the Internet?

BEN SHAPIRO, AUTHOR, "THE RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY": Well, I'm troubled by the fact that Facebook can't articulate a clear standard by which it decides who gets to stay and who gets to go. They're a private company. Obviously, they can do what they want to a certain extent.

But, I mean to a certain extent, I mean, if they don't want to be considered publishers like CNN is a publisher or like my site, "Daily Wire" is a publisher, then that means that there has to be some sort of objective metric to determine if someone gets kicked off or get to stay on. If they get to exercise editorial judgment from top down, which views are OK, which views are not, they should be treated like any other publisher.

The problem that I have here is I don't see any articulable standard for what exactly they're doing. And, by the way, the people who are banned are largely people who have targeted me and have expressed hate to me personally. That is not relevant to the question as to whether they ought to be prohibited from the public discourse.

In my view, Facebook would be best serve if they simply held to a basic First Amendment standard, which is threats of violence, incitement to violence, actual clear incitement to violence, not sort of broad definition that's now being bandied up, but actual clear definition. That sort of stuff would be banned. The copyright violation would be banned. That sort of stuff make means.

But the idea that you can police hate, just hate, anything you find hateful, that's a pretty broad definition over how much we argue over what we consider is hateful and how much political speech should be included in that rubric.

STELTER: Well, that's the thing, the terms of service say it's a violence to be engaged on what they call "organized hate" and it seems that's what they are saying Infowars is engaging in. The question is, how is organized hate defined? And who gets to decide?

SHAPIRO: Right. And that really is the question. And I'll tell an example. "The New York Times" piece that covered the Facebook ban, it explicitly talked about how some of the figures here. Alex Jones, for example, or Milo Yiannopoulos have interacted with Gavin McInnis (ph). Well, Gavin McInnis (ph) used to appear on Fox News.

[11:15:01] Is Fox News now going to be banned?

Also, Louis Farrakhan is one of the people who is banned from Facebook presumably for engaging in exactly this kind of hate. Well, Snoop Dogg then went on Instagram and released a video. Instagram is owned by Facebook, and that means Snoop released a video calling for people to actively post video of Louis Farrakhan whom he called a brother and a man of truth --

STELTER: To get around the ban.

SHAPIRO: Is he going to be banned now? I mean, how is this going to work?

STELTER: The slope is so slippery. And yet, at the same time, isn't there some responsibility that these companies have to show to stop the sickest kinds of ideas from spreading?

SHAPIRO: Well, again, I think that -- when you talk about the sickest kind of ideas, I think the best way to fight sick ideas is to fight sick ideas about talking about how terrible they are, instead of casting them out and say, we're never going to talk to you, we're never going to answer your questions.

All that does is actually, I think, make people more extreme who are searching for answers to questions. Instead of going to people who have good answers, they go to people who have bad answers because some people have ruled the question out of bounds. That's something Steven Pinker from Harvard has said and I think it's absolutely true.

One of the big problems here again is that if it's up to Facebook to police violence, all for it. If you're talking about people who are actively calling for violence and other people, that's violation of the First Amendment. That's not protected by the First Amendment. If it comes to here's a view that could theoretically make somebody mad enough that they could go and do something bad, that's true for virtually all political views. From Bernie Sanders' views which personally motivated a guy to go shoot a congressional baseball game, to President Trump's views which some people have cited in their own violent attacks.

If it becomes a situation where any political view, taken by a bad or extreme person, can now be used as an excuse for the violence such that we're going to start casting out those political views, free speech really is in danger as a principle.

STELTER: I'm struck to hear you say this just a couple days after it was reported that a man was arrested by the FBI for threatening you with very explicit death threats. What can you tell us about that case?

SHAPIRO: I can't tell you much just legally speaking because the case is still ongoing.


SHAPIRO: I will say that the death threats were very explicit. This is one of the reasons why I think that the Facebook statement where they said that they are trying to fight back against violence and hate, the conflation of violence with hate I think is a very big mistake. I've been targeted for a very long time by white supremacist and people at the alt right, as a number one recipient of their hatred in 2016 online, according to Anti-Defamation League.

I know the difference between people who are engaged in speech that I consider hateful but is not a violent threat and what a violent threat actually looks like. I think that distinction is deeply necessary for us to preserve because otherwise, to equate speech with violence really takes us to a dark road.


STELTER: The debate continues.

Up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES, "The New York Times" making big changes after apologizing for an anti-Semitic cartoon.

Plus, is the president's spin winning? When are we going to hear from Robert Mueller?


[11:21:32] STELTER: All right. "The Mueller Report" has been out for a couple of weeks now. I have my print copy here. I got it from Amazon. It's officially the best-selling book in the country. "The Washington Post" version is number one on "The New York Times" best sellers' list.

But it only takes a tiny fraction of the country to hit number one. Check out CNN's findings here. We recently polled the country.

We've found the respondents said almost no one has read the entire report. Some people have read some of it, but most Americans have not read any of the report yet.

Meantime, there is some in five fighting at Fox about the importance of the Mueller/Barr disagreement.

Back with me now, Oliver, Kmele and Irin.

Oliver, the significance of the Mueller report now in print, some people are reading it, but most are not. This begs the question for why Robert Mueller has not spoken publicly on camera yet. When is he going to testify?

DARCY: Yes, I don't know. It seems like he's a guy who's by the books and doesn't want to maybe break tradition and go out in front of cameras. Remember, Comey got a lot of criticism for doing that with the Hillary Clinton thing. Maybe he doesn't want to repeat the same error there.

But it's giving Trump, you know, the upper hand in the public relations debate because he's being very loud, going on Twitter, doing interviews, saying this vindicates him and really kind of coloring the public's perspective on what the Mueller report found while Mueller is remaining silent. And he's basically, you know, not saying anything and has --

STELTER: He expressed his misgivings in a letter -- two letters. We know that now.

DARCY: We know that now.

STELTER: But very little.

Do you think, Erin, even televised hearings would break through in this platform age?

CARMON: I think we live in a very distracted time. I mean, even before you get to the fact that people have different filters through which they're watching a certain network versus another, whether their Facebook network is the one that is retracting things, I think it's so hard for anything to be more than like a ten-minute story right now.


CARMON: Even if there were a couple viral moments that came out, I've seen this drum beat, especially from Democrats that if they did have televised hearings, I think people hearing from Robert Mueller might be at another level, but even so, we no longer live in the age of Watergate, right, where we're filtered through three major networks and everybody is watching the same thing every night and there's some kind of political consensus, even to what we're seeing covered on the news. I think we saw that on the prior segment.

So, I think that anyone who's hoping to focus the public's attention on what's inside the Mueller report, televised hearings could only go so far.

STELTER: And there's still a lot of dispute about how important that is or isn't. We saw that on Fox News this week. Here's Chris Wallace reacting to some of his opinion side colleagues and disagreeing with their assessment.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: I know some people don't think this March 27th letter is a big deal, and some opinion people, some opinion people who appear on this network who may be pushing a political agenda, but, you know, we have to deal in facts.


STELTER: I kind of think it's a good thing we see the news anchor disputing the opinion side comments on Fox.

FOSTER: Yes, absolutely. Any news room, you want some plurality of perspectives or diversity of perspective, excuse me. So, I think that's a very good thing.

I also think with respect to the particular controversy here, the fact is that I'm not certain most Americans in any context at any historical epoch would have all read the Mueller report from cover to cover.

STELTER: I agree.

FOSTER: So, we're necessarily dealing with summaries.

With respect to the particular objection that was raised in Mueller's letter -- look, it's a 400-page report. You get a four-page letter. Yes, it doesn't capture all the context and nuance. That said, we do have the entire report now with redactions.

So far as I know, I'm not hearing any murmuring that Mueller believes the report as release has somehow downplayed the conclusions reached. In fact, it's something that doesn't work particularly well for the president beyond the actual Russian conspiracy questions. The other half of the report doesn't put him in a very good light at all.

I don't think Barr sugar-coated that, even his four-page letter, quite frankly, when it describes that, it has the special language from the report that that talks about the fact this does not exonerate the president.

It's hard for me to see this whole thing as only spinning in the president's directions. There are lots of voices that are talking about this in very thoughtful ways.

STELTER: Oliver, I want to turn to the fallout from "The New York Times", publication of anti-Semitic cartoon. This was in the international edition of "The New York Times" back about ten days ago. You and I reported on this, as we found what actually happened.

How did this get into the paper?

DARCY: It seems that this, you know, newspaper, the global edition of "The New York Times," does not have as much oversight as the actual "New York Times" that we see here in print in New York City and around the country.

STELTER: They say only one editor picked out this cartoon and nobody else saw it before it was printed.

DARCY: Which is insane. You would expect some other paper, lower staff and facing cutbacks but "The New York Times" has been doing quite well lately, as we all know, and it's "The New York Times", so you would think that this is at least subject to two or three editors before it goes to print. The fact one editor can make this terrible decision and not have had oversight is crazy to me.

STELTER: Yes, the publisher of "The Times" came out and listed five steps that have been taken as a result.

This is what the publisher A.G. Sulzberger said. He said they're changing the production processes. They're not going to run any more syndicated cartoons. They canceled the contract with the company. They're taking disciplinary steps with the editor who picked it, and they're going to update unconscious biased training to ensure it has more of a focus on anti-Semitism.

Irin, does that seem like a satisfactory response?

CARMON: I think it is. Yes, I think it was -- they were very transparent about what happened. They talked about how they are going to deal with it.

I mean, to me, I -- I'm an Israeli citizen. I was born in Israel. I was fourth generation Zionist in my family. I thought that the cartoon was offensive, but I also that the attention paid to it was disproportionate. I was more --

STELTER: Maybe because it's "The New York Times."

CARMON: Yes. Look, I think they really messed up. I think the cartoon is inexcusable and it plays on anti-Semitic tropes. But beyond folks like us reporting on what happened, which is important, I also saw it being cynically exploited to change the subject from the fact that, for example, just over a week ago, somebody took up arms and entered a synagogue in California and killed somebody. We're talking about anti-Semitism in this country.

By the way, it goes back very far in Europe. It is a deep tradition of anti-Semitism in Europe, homegrown. But here we also -- again, in the previous segment we haven't herd any transparency or taking responsibility or apologizing, for example, from the president of the United States coddling anti-Semites.

So, just wanted to put this a little bit on proportion, because I know a lot of people seized on this who already have an agenda because they want to discredit "The New York Times." And I think "The New York Times" responded adequately and we need to see this in proportion.

STELTER: Irin, please stick around.

Oliver and Kmele, thanks for being here.

Quick break and then we're going to talk about the anatomy of a smear. Sara Murray is standing by with a story of dirty tricksters who tried to take down Pete Buttigieg but only hurt themselves.


[11:30:00] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES, I'm Brian Stelter. Now to the anatomy of a smear, let's show you how inept political operatives tried to take down a presidential candidate and only ended up humiliating themselves. Now with what we're about to show you, keep in mind, legitimate newsrooms did not take this baked but several pro-Trump Web sites did which tells you a lot about their low standards.

This is a story about Pete Buttigieg who happens to be on the cover of Time Magazine right there with his husband in a groundbreaking cover. A man came up with a made-up sexual assault allegation against Buttigieg. Here's CNN's Sara Murray with the story behind the story.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: By the time Hunter Kelly offered CNN an on-camera interview to talk about the time Pete Buttigieg allegedly assaulted him, the claim which Kelly now admits was fake had already whipped around the right-wing Internet and Mayor Pete had dismissed it.

MAYOR PETER BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm sure it's not the first time somebody's going to make something up about me. It's not going to throw us. Politics can be ugly sometimes but you have to face that when you're in presidential politics.

MURRAY: The made-up allegations against the Democratic presidential hopeful quickly crumble and the story of the smear campaign emerged. According to Kelly, it began when Jacob Wohl --


MURRAY: -- a far-right Internet personality messaged Kelly on Instagram, do you want to be part of a political operation. Kelly, a 21-year-old gay Trump supporter from Michigan was intrigued. On Sunday, he took a late flight to the Washington area paid for by Wohl and Jack Burkman, a Republican lobbyist, and conspiracy theorist.

They wanted to take down the gay Southbound mayor that they viewed as Trump's top threat in 2020.

JACK BURKMAN, CONSPIRACY THEORIST: Let's take Mayor Pete. Now, can he -- the appeal of him -- I mean, obviously he's the first gay candidate. He's already kind of pushed Beto out of the way as the star candidate. He's raising money hand-over-fist. MURRAY: Kelly went to Burkman's house and in the pre-dawn hours Monday reviewed a version of an essay written under Kelly's name saying he had been sexually assaulted by Buttigieg. Kelley told Wohl he was incredibly uncomfortable and not on board with their plan.

Kelly went to sleep, and by the time he woke up around 11:00 a.m. Monday he said Wohl had posted the essay to medium. In the hours that followed, the post got more than 12,000 Facebook interactions according to a media analysis. It was picked up and reshared by right-wing sites like Big League Politics, InfoWars, NewsWars, and the Gateway Pundit potentially reaching millions of readers.

The mainstream media wasn't reporting the claims. But by 2:00 p.m., Mayor Pete was asked about them anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have anything to say about the allegations?

MURRAY: GOP Political Operative Alice Stewart says the campaign's fast and forceful response was their best bet.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The campaign response was an A-plus.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Good morning.

MURRAY: Working on Ted Cruz's presidential campaign, Stewart knocked down tabloid tales like Cruz having five mistresses and a father who was involved in the JFK assassination.

STEWART: In this day and age of social media and Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, a lie can get all the way around the world before the truth puts his pants on.

[11:35:10] MURRAY: Kelly returned CNN's call about two hours after Mayor Pete's press gaggle. Kelly only wanted to talk on camera. We pressed for more details to corroborate the claim but got no response. Later he would tell CNN Burkman and Wohl forced him to read a script. Burkman, the same man who helped fuel Seth Rich conspiracies.

BURKMAN: Shot twice in the back.

MURRAY: Who helped try to pin a fake sexual assault allegation on Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

BURKMAN: My firm Jack Berkman and Associates LLC has launched a massive investigation of Bob Mueller.

MURRAY: Around 7:30 p.m. Monday, Kelley texted I was set up and admitted the allegations against Buttigieg were fabricated. He accused Burkman and Wohl of setting up a fake Twitter count in his name to spread the story.

Burkman claims Kelley willingly signed a statement describing the assault. He says he was trying to help Kelly get the story out.

BURKMAN: So all of this nonsense of he didn't sign, it was forged, of course, all of that was not true. I think Hunter is a very fine young man. I don't understand why he's now telling these lies.

MURRAY: It was definitely something I wish I could take back going out there, Kelly told CNN, but I can't. So I'm trying to right my wrongs, let the truth be told.


MURRAY: Now Jacob Wohl has also denied that he was involved in any kind of campaign to try to fabricate these allegations. He says Hunter Kelly was sincere and insists that the only reason Kelly's retracting these now is under pressure from his family. It's worth noting though, Brian, that the last scheme like this that Wohl and Burkman were involved in that had to do with the special counsel, that one was referred to the FBI.

STELTER: To the FBI. This really shows how ugly you can get out there and how confusing it can be online. What did the Buttigieg campaign tell you?

MURRAY: Well, I was talking to one of their staffers and they said you know, one of the things that they really appreciated throughout this whole episode was that the mainstream media was much more skeptical about this. They didn't immediately run out there and start reporting it. And so that sort of minimized the echo-chamber.

But they had also heard you know, a week before these allegations first came out that Jacob Wohl was out there, he was kind of looking for someone to make up claims against Mayor Pete. And so they were already sort of on alert for something like this coming out.

STELTER: Got to call this stuff out when we see it. Sarah, thanks for being here. Thanks so much.

MURRAY: Sure. Thanks.

STELTER: When we come back, more with Ben Shapiro. Does the media leave faith out of the conversation? That's next.


[11:40:00] STELTER: Smears, bans, and everything in between, but are we missing something deeper? Is the way forward in this national debate actually inward? Let me bring back Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro. His new book outlines what because the evolution of American values. The title of the book is The Right Side Of History. It's been topping the bestseller lists.

We spoke a little bit more than a year ago about media bias and the coverage of President Trump so I asked Ben more about that as well.


STELTER: What are you trying to say with the new book? Is it kind of a reaction to the fever-pitch media era that we're in?

BEN SHAPIRO, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, DAILY WIRE: Now, I mean, what the book is really trying to say is that if you look at America today, we are more prosperous and free than we have ever been and yet we're more angry at each other. We're really ticked off at each other all the time. What is happening here?

And my main thesis is that we used to at least have certain common values that built a social fabric and that is beginning to wane. And so what the book really is, is an exploration of those common values from a historic point of view, the evolution of American values that I think starts at Mount Sinai and stretches forward through the Sermon on the Mount balanced by Greek rationality and the use of reason and faith in tension with one another is what I suggest built the West.

I think we need to go back to respect for both reason and faith in tension with one another as opposed to dismissing faith as some sort of theocratic nonsense or dismissing reason as anti as anti-feelings. We need both of those things working together and in tension with one another too to continue to build the structure that has created all of our freedom and prosperity.

STELTER: Talking about faith, talking about religion, it's oftentimes a blind spot for the American media. It's an ongoing disappointment for me and I think for a lot of other people as well that these topics are not more front and center in the public square that the press creates.

SHAPIRO: I mean, I totally agree with this. And it's really a serious problem because unfortunately the media because they're located where they're located, because people who tend to go to J school are people who tend to be more secular in orientation. People go to university tend to be more secular in orientation.

There seems to be a huge blind spot in discussion of religion and what that leads to is a sort of antagonistic relationship with people who are religious, and attempt to mislabel anybody who's religious as a bigot. To suggest that religious beliefs are really just cover for an innate bigotry. And then if we just got rid of the religion then we'd be able to get beyond the bigotry.

I don't think that's an accurate assessment of what religion means to people. I don't think it's an accurate assessment of what church means to people. And I think that people on the coasts very often tends to be pretty blithe about the social fabric that is created by community and church in America. And as that fades away, there's a big gap that's left and that is not being filled by Facebook.

STELTER: I remember when we spoke last year, you talked about a tonal shift that was needed and in coverage of President Trump, that the coverage oftentimes comes across this way to negative to a big chunk of the population. Do you still feel that's true now in mid-2019?

SHAPIRO: I mean, I do. Listen, I've said all along, when President Trump says something that's not true, the media should fat check him just as they should any other president. When President Trump says something that is morally reprehensible, he should be called on that just as any other president should be. But the constant drumbeat that President Trump is an awful, awful man,

an orange man bad and that therefore he should be ousted on the basis of his lack of character and that other characters and politics are eminently better, and that what we have here is a true moral conflict in terms of character, and that if you back President Trump this is really where you go too far.

What you see from the media is this idea that if you back President Trump, it's inherently because you backed the worst things that he has ever said or ever done. That is -- that is a -- that is an untrue statement.

STELTER: When you say the media, you mean Liberal commentators, right.

SHAPIRO: I mean, I do mean Liberal commentators. I also mean very often Liberal commentators who poses journalists. And this has been one of the great battles inside the media. You know, there are people like me who are openly conservative. And I say I will cover the news from an openly conservative perspective.

STELTER: Well, I think we need a lot of both, right. We need a lot of reporters who are just gathering facts and then we need a lot of people who have views about those facts and perspective about those facts. The issue is when it gets really blurry right. It gets really, really blurry to the point where people can't recognized which is which.

SHAPIRO: I think -- I think that's exactly right. I think there are certain reporters who are better at this and there are certain reporters who are -- who are not as good at this. And I would recommend honestly, that even the objective reporters state up front their political preferences so that we can then determine how much of their political preferences is being reflected in their coverage. I don't see why more information handed to the American public is a bad thing.

[11:45:14] STELTER: How do you walk this tightrope? Actually, do you think it is a tightrope when you're criticizing the president from a conservative point of view knowing that some of your fans hate hearing that?

SHAPIRO: I mean, it's never been a tightrope to me in the sense that the President is a human being. We're all human who do bad things and who do good things. When he does a bad thing, I've never felt the necessity to defend the bad thing that he is doing. And when he's done a good thing, I've never felt the necessity to disown the good thing that he's doing in order to draw an overall picture of the man.

STELTER: But a lot of your rivals do. A lot of your rivals do, right. A lot of them feel like they can only say the positive and ignore all the negative.

SHAPIRO: I mean, frankly, I don't think that's what people are looking for. I think what people are looking for is an honest take, not an objective take but my honest take as a human being on what the president is doing. What people don't want is a feeling like you're subsuming you're honest take in favor of political partisanship. That that gets boring very quickly.

STELTER: Right, I agree with that. That does get boring very quickly. Ben, thanks so much for being here.

SHAPIRO: I appreciate it.


STELTER: And Ben's book is called The Right Side Of History. It's in bookstores now. Coming up next here, a major shakeup coming Monday morning at CBS News. My latest reporting right after the break.


STELTER: A big CBS News anchor change is expected to be announced on Monday morning. Sources tell me that the news division's new president Susan Zirinsky is shuffling almost all of the top anchors. Gayle King is only one staying put. She's on in at 60 Minutes and will remain there, but everybody else is leaving. Bianna Golodryga left the show last month, John Dickerson will be moving to 60 Minutes, and Norah O'Donnell is heading to the CBS Evening News.

This means she's replacing Jeff Glor at night and it's unclear what Glor will be doing next. And the evening news is probably moving to D.C. The context for all this is the morning and evening shows on CBS our perennially third place in the ratings behind NBC and ABC.

Back with me now to discuss all of this here Irin Carmon. Irin, you've written about CBS and the turmoil there. In fact, it all started when you investigated Charlie Rose and he was fired as a result. It was back in November 2017, and these dominoes are still falling.

[11:50:18] IRIN CARMON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, it's only been a few weeks since Susan Zirinsky took over in what is a historic move. And I think we have -- we have to wait and see what she has planned. She's only started a few weeks ago and she has an unenviable task because law firms investigating the culture at CBS News found patterns of misconduct that backed up some of the investigative reporting that was done by myself, and my colleagues, and by Ronan Farrow.

You had a culture all the way to the top right, Les Moonves, you had former chairman Jeff Fager credibly accused. You Charlie Rose of course, the tally of Charlie Rose accusers by the end of mine and Amy Brittain's reporting was 35 women, and we could have kept on going to be honest.

And so you had a culture at CBS that really needed changing and that's Susan Zirinsky job. But at the same time, you have the same problems that everybody in television is facing which is massive technological change, an aging audience, tons of competition for people's attention.

And so again, these were shows that already had a challenge about what their identity was, and now we're going to see how is she going to meet those challenges while also making people feel like who really frankly been through a lot. A lot of people had nothing to do with this. They were just trying to do their job, right.

They're just trying to report out there and every day they get to read in the papers from you and me what's going on at their workplace.

STELTER: I think there's a view that some of these staffers felt like they were unsupported including at the anchor level. People like Jeff Glor, Bianna Golodryga who's still a contributor here at CNN. They were brought in to these shows in 2018 trying to shore things up. The ratings were a struggle.

And now Susan Zirinsky seems to be moving people around to try to she thinks put pieces in the right places and that includes Norah O'Donnell on the evening news. It is still worth noting even in 2019 we very rarely see a woman anchor in the evening news. (INAUDIBLE) on CBS right now, Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer had the jobs in the past. But it's still notable to see a female network news president putting a woman in charge of the nightly news. It's still a historic moment.

CARMON: Yes. And that's why I thought it was so disappointing to see the New York Post framing this kind of Gail-Norah faceoff as if it was a fight because my understanding is Norah O'Donnell always had aspirations to host the evening news. And that you know, giving her what she wanted is not Gail forcing her out which was the New York Post headline.

But I think that there's a temptation to look at this kind of catfight narrative. Anytime there going to be changes at a network, they're going to be dislocations, they're going to be people who disagree with those decisions. But the big picture here is that CBS corporate and CBS News, in particular, are on a project to change their culture and we're about to see if it's going to work.

STELTER: We are here. Irin, thanks for being here.

CARMON: Thank you.

STELTER: Great to see you. A quick break here and then a new coalition you should know about. It's fighting to make people more aware of journalists in peril all around the world and it's gaining lots of new members. We'll tell you the story in just a moment.


[11:55:00] STELTER: Finally today, I want to tell you about the One Free Press Coalition. It's online at Every month now it's coming out with the list of the top ten most urgent cases of journalists in trouble all around the world. Here are this month's list, this month's faces, the ten most urgent cases from Tanzania to Columbia and all around the world.

You can check out the full list at as well as our conversation with Randall Lane who came up with the idea. That's on this week's RELIABLE SOURCES podcast. Thanks for joining us and we'll see you right back here this time next week. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)