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The President Shares Incorrect Information About Hurricane Dorian's Path; Fox Hypocrisy In Covering Biden's Flubs And Falsehoods; Legendary Interviewer Steve Kroft Is Interviewed On The State Of News; New Book Audience Of One Examines Trump And T.V.; CPJ Updates Safety Kits To Address Online Harassment; Six Months Without A Televised White House Briefing. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired September 08, 2019 - 11:00   ET




Our weekly look of 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, a legend is retiring from "60 Minutes". Steve Kroft will join me to talk about CBS, politics, and why he's stepping down.

Plus, Biden and Trump. How these two men are covered, it's very different depending on what channel you're watching. And I'm going to show you.

Later, a very unfortunate milestone. We're going to surprise you. It's something that's been missing for the past six months.

But first, a reality check here. To understand why the president is posting cat videos, actually celebrating his own ignorance about Alabama and Hurricane Dorian, we have to go back to the beginning of the week, when the president gave away a key line from his re-election playbook.

He said here: Our real opponent is not the Democrats. It's the fake news media.

Everything comes back to that. We're going to be talking about this every week until the 2020 election. And it is exhausting. It's exhausting the way Trump smears the press day in and day out.

But it's obvious why he does it. It is key to his re-election campaign. The less you believe real reporting, the more you might fall for his unreality.

So that when he says two plus two is five, you'll believe him. Now, two plus two is five, that's, of course, a reference to George Orwell's "1984." It's a book that came to mind this week as Trump tried to convince people that his faulty Dorian forecast was right.

This whole embarrassing episode has me thinking a lot about language. As NBC's Al Roker said, where will this end? Where will this end?

Trump has even politicized the weather report, so where will this end? This daily attempt to deny reality, to destroy trust in media, all while manipulating the levers of government to make a lie retroactively true, because that's what's going on here.

The Alabama mess was not a small story, some trivial distraction. No, the banner on screen should say, the president misled the public about a hurricane for a week. That's the big story. Truth be told, much of the news coverage actually helped Trump. He doesn't realize this, but a lot of the coverage minimized how serious this episode was.

I see this happening all the time. The words we use, the framing we choose treats the absurd and the aberrant like it's reasonable, like it's normal.

Take the term Sharpiegate. It's a funny term, I admit. But it indicates that Trump getting the facts wrong in an emergency is just a joke. And his campaign agrees. I mean, you saw they're selling official branded markers now.

But this was not a joke to the folks in Alabama who saw Trump's tweet that said, Alabama will much likely be hit much harder than anticipated. That's what they said. So, they started calling the national local weather service office, because they were concerned. That's according to the "Washington Post," with just great front page story this morning all about this.

So, now we know why the Birmingham office sent out a true tweet saying Alabama was safe. They did the right thing. They warned the public not to take Trump's tweet seriously.

So, this is not Sharpiegate. Forget about the sharpie. This is lying about a hurricane gate. He shared incorrect information about Dorian's path once, twice, three times last Sunday. And when TV networks pointed this out, he wasted the week trying to claim he was right.

And here on TV, we said things like doubling down, he was tripling down, he was quadrupling down. But this is how language helps Trump. Doubling down -- it sounds strong, like he's winning a fight, but this mess really exposed his weakness.

So, instead of doubling down, we should probably be saying, he dug his hole even deeper, or what if the lead of the story said, Trump continued to confuse people by spreading bogus information. That would be a lot more accurate than saying sharpiegate day six.

No matter how much Trump complains about the media, we have to make sure we're getting these frames right, making sure we're getting this language right. This was not a controversy the way these Websites said. That's another word that helps Trump by flattening everything into a debate. There was nothing to debate here. This was not a controversy.

Here's how I would frame it. This Alabama story was about the president failing a basic geography test. At the time he warned Alabama that Alabama might get hit, at the time of that tweet, this is the forecast his own government released at 11:00 a.m. This is the most up to date forecast at the time of Trump's tweet.

And look at this track. It turned out to be spot-on with Hurricane Dorian, right up the coast, just as forecast. Fantastic work by government forecasters at the National Weather Service. Anyone who can read a map knows what this shows. No one looked at this and thought that Alabama was going to be at risk.

Now, I don't want to suggest that Trump isn't capable of reading a map. But isn't that the obvious question here? Did he see these maps? Did he understand what they showed?


When you think about it that way, the media actually lets Trump off pretty easy. Most of the coverage is not showing the spasm of tweets through the frame of his instability, questioning his critical thinking skills. Most of the coverage is not conveying just how appalled scientists and forecasters are.

Most of the coverage is not asking, as Al Roker did, where will this end? Most of the coverage is not asking, who the heck misinformed the president. Now, how will this end?

Hopefully not like the end of "1984." The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their essential, final command.

Now, in real life, we are not going to ignore what our eyes and ears are telling us. Trump wants us to follow his sharpie. He wants us to think he's doubling down. That's why reporters have to think so carefully about the words we use and the frames we choose. Because by the time the damage is fully known and quantified by like a week long embarrassment like this, most people have moved on to the next storm. In this case, Afghan peace talks.

But Trump proves every day that his words can't be believed. So how are we supposed to evaluate his claims about, say, negotiating with the Taliban, when his comments about a hurricane emergency imply that he couldn't read a map correctly?

Well, hopefully, here with some answers are "The Nation's" National Affairs Correspondent and CNN Political Analyst, Joan Walsh, CNN Contributor, Bianna Golodryga, and former Fox News Contributor and Democratic Strategist, Julie Roginsky.

Thank you all for being here.

Joan, am I overstating what this week is about?

JOAN WALSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, you're not overstating it at all. And I hope every journalist everywhere has been listening to you, because you're right, the way that we use language repeatedly let's him get away with this kind of thing. I mean, I don't want to sound shrill, but this is the way totalitarian regimes behave. You are told to believe what the leaders say, not what your eyes tell you.

And, you know, the thing about "The Washington Post" story today that was so important is, this is about people's safety. So if you -- you have the National Weather Service coming out with their tweet saying, no, no, Alabama, it's OK, because they were getting questions from anxious parents, you know, people with older family members. Should we evacuate? Should we board up our houses?

STELTER: And now you have meteorologists having to ask for anonymity, because they're afraid of retribution, in order to talk about what the heck happened this week.

WALSH: Exactly. And to talk about how it potentially hurts public safety, when you can't --

STELTER: Yes, it's a great story on "The Washington Post" Website.


STELTER: It quotes a forecaster saying, this is the first time where I felt like maybe I wasn't supposed to tell the truth about the weather.

Bianna, is this kind of authoritarian? Does it have that kind of feel? That the institutions of government are trying to be used to prove Trump's lie, right?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It could be. It's not just the president that's saying something. It's the agencies that now work for him that he oversees that have experts employed there for these specific purposes, to get the truth out.

It's something we see in banana republics around the world. It's something you expect out of Russia. It's something you expect out of China. Not here in the United States.

And you see how something, as you mentioned, this started out with a tweet last weekend. The bar is so low when it comes to this president's tweets, had he just moved on, we wouldn't even be talking about it.

STELTER: That's a great point.

GOLODRYGA: Right? But here we are, so many days later, because he doubles down. The administration says, we are not letting up. Well, he wasn't letting up either.

So, if he's willing to continue fighting for this, having his government agencies effectively lie for him anonymously, what -- and hurricanes are out of his control, what's going to be happening when there's an issue that comes up on something that he will be playing for?


GOLODRYGA: And that's if we see a recession. What if we can't start to believe government data and statistics and figures and what if we start to see anonymous economists and advisers question whether or not they can handle relaying the truth to the president or if he's going to want to fudge those numbers, as well.

We hear this happening now with the Taliban. There are so many geopolitical and economic issues that could pertain to what we've seen transpire just this week.

STELTER: And at the same time, all of this is actually happening in real life, over on the pro-Trump shows on Fox, your former home, Julie, you've got the Sean Hannitys and Lou Dobbs of the world saying, Trump is right, the media is wrong. They're making this about the media, saying we spend too much time fact-checking the president.


STELTER: You think the president wants those fights, doesn't he? He wants that in a way?

ROGINSKY: Well, of course, because the one institution that is less trusted by his base than the Democrats is the media. I mean, he -- Fox and other networks have done a very good job discrediting that doesn't go along with any world view that they want to put out there.

But what's interesting about this, you know, Bianna and I have both been born in the former Soviet Union. So, I can tell you, it's very concerning that just not that the leader, the authoritarian leader is saying this, but that institutions are falling in line, and not just institutions, but scientific institutions, people who are supposed to look at empirical data.

I mean, there's no debate here. It's not a matter of opinion. There is empirical data that scientists provide.


ROGINSKY: And that now you have shows and media who are falling in line with the president's world views, though this is a debate. There's no debate here. I mean, what we're saying today on this show is not a debate.

[11:10:00] It's not the opinion of a Democrat.

STELTER: Right, no.

ROGINSKY: It's empirical data.

STELTER: This is not left or right. He's insulted another government agency, this time it's NOAA, and insulted all of our intelligence.

ROGINSKY: Well, worse than that, NOAA has followed in line to insult all of our intelligence, not just ours, but the scientists who work for them for decades. I mean, these are people who are supposed to be scientists. They're not politically motivated, they're scientifically motivated. And when NOAA falls into line with what an erratic president says,

that means that scientists who do critical work are no longer to be believed, they're just another cog in this back and forth between partisan media that's trying to take down the media in the eyes of his supporters.

GOLODRYGA: And here's another example to bring this back to Russia. Look at what just transpired two weeks ago. We know there was another nuclear accident -- to what scale, we don't know, because we haven't heard officially from Russia. They obviously have nuclear agencies that work for the Kremlin, but they are told to stay in line with what the actual Kremlin language and response to this is.

So imagine if, God forbid, we had an incident like that in the United States and we didn't know whether we could rely on the Department of Energy to give us the truth. So that's where you can see things really spiral out of control. We're not there, but you can sort of get an image of why this is so dangerous.

STELTER: Let's take a quick break here. Panel, stay with me.

After the break, the first interview with James Poniewozik about his new book, "Audience of One."

Plus, Joe Biden spreading falsehoods, making flubs out there on the campaign trail. We're going to break down some hypocrisy on this issue, next.


STELTER: Take a look. Your tax dollars at work.

[11:15:00] The White House spreading misinformation on your dime. Trump and his aides have been blasting "The Washington Post" in video and in print all week. They've been drawing actually more attention to this unflattering "Post" story from last weekend, entitled "Trump's Lost Summer", basically how he wasted the summer months.

The White House made a rebuttal video, "Summer of Winning," and the press office penned an op-ed in "The Washington Examiner," denouncing the paper.

On Saturday, Trump said "The Post" reporters who wrote the "Lot Summer" story, quote, shouldn't even be allowed on the grounds of the White House.

This reminded us of something a former presidents -- former president once said.


RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT: I want it clearly understood that from now on, ever, no reporter from "The Washington Post" is ever to be in the White House. Is that clear?


STELTER: This is like a game of who wore it better, but instead, who said it worse. Nixon was talking in secret. Trump's doing this out in the open. But right now, Trump is just talking.

Back with me to discuss, Joan, Bianna, and Julie.

Joan Walsh, the president has tried twice to kick reporters out of the White House. Jim Acosta last year, Brian Karem this summer.

WALSH: Right.

STELTER: This week, Brian Karem won in court. The president lost in court. So, he's zero for two, but he's still talking about wanting to boot reporters.

WALSH: He's still going to do it.

STELTER: You think so?

WALSH: Yes, I do. I do. I'm not saying that this week for sure, these reporters will not be allowed in the doors. It's possible Monday they won't.

But we've seen him lose in the courts on so many fronts. And he just doesn't let it faze him. He just keeps pushing until he finds a way to do what he wants to do, a judge who will let him do it. So I don't think this is over by any means.

But I really do, I think the Nixon comparison is amazing. And that op-ed in the "Washington Examiner," trashing "The Post"," mocking "The Post," it's just unthinkable. Even that the Nixon White House would have done something like that. That what they did, they did in secret. But now, Stephanie Grisham and Hogan Gidley wrote this scathing piece about one of America's great newspapers. It's just so trashy. It was just hard for me to believe that our actual official press secretary and her deputy did this.

STELTER: Our taxpayer-funded White House press office.


STELTER: Let's turn to the Democratic field.

And, Bianna, the front-runner, Joe Biden, a couple days ahead of the next presidential primary debate on ABC, Biden continues to have missteps, what he calls gaffes, what I would call falsehoods or flubs. And there's been a lot of attention around this on Fox and elsewhere. But first, is it fair game, the way you view coverage of Biden? Is the press right to be pointing out all of these errors he's making?

GOLODRYGA: Look, this brings back memories from how Hillary Clinton was covered and some of the treatment she received and her camp would say that wasn't fair. The journalists said this is what their jobs were to do, right? She was the front-runner, he is the front-runner. Look, for many regards, people would say, if you want to bring up Joe

Biden's age and compare to it gaffes, he's been prone to gaffes throughout his career, right? So, this may not necessarily have anything to do with his age, per se, but just who the man is.

With regards to coverage on multiple networks, he's come to accept it. His campaign says that it's a bit too hard, but look at where the poll numbers stand. Americans for the most part at least still view him as the front-runner, so this may be more of an inside baseball conversation being had right now as opposed to the conversation being had among Democratic voters throughout the country.

STELTER: I would say, let's keep fact checking and voters can decide if they care or not.


STELTER: Certainly, that's what happened with Trump.

Julie, we looked at your former network, Fox, and how they've been talking about Biden. Take a look at the tone, the way they're talking about Biden. Watch.


BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The fact that he misremembered that, that's not a gaffe. That's a -- that's the kind of memory problems that people his age, and indeed, my age, have all the time. The feeling that he's -- that senility is overtaking him, and I think it is.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Geez. But you make a compelling case for it.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: His daily gaffes are a constant source of embarrassment. He doesn't seem to have a basic understanding of key issues and simple facts.

JESSE WATTERS, FOX NEWS HOST: He gets the details wrong and he gets the decisions wrong.

GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT-AT-LARGE: When he misses the beat, it really seems organic to me. It doesn't seem like he's going to get sharper going forward.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is senility overtaking him?


STELTER: Just asking questions, there, right? Although they're giving a lot of answers. I suppose I look at that and say, definitely cover Biden's flubs, definitely cover his missteps, but doesn't everything they just said apply to President Trump as well?

ROGINSKY: Well, that's what's interesting about this, right? If I were still there, I would have been very few (ph) to point this out, which is that, in fact, everything that he -- that Sean Hannity and everybody else, Melissa Francis, everything they have just said about Biden applies to Trump times a thousand. And yet, that's never pointed out.

STELTER: They freak out every time I try to bring up Trump's instability. Every time I question if there is something truly sad going on with the president, if he's in some kind of decline.


The Hannitys of the world can't stand to hear that asked.

ROGINSKY: The Hannitys of the world can't stand it and other people who appreciate privately what you say have to twist themselves into pretzels to try to imply that there is absolutely a difference between what Biden is doing and Trump is doing. You're absolutely right.

Look, I'm a fan of Joe Biden, but he absolutely should be covered the way he's being covered by the press. His gaffes should be pointed out. If they are gaffes or they are misstatements or outright lies, however you want to frame it.

But if you're cognizant enough that that should be pointed out, there's no reason why that can't be pointed out against Donald Trump, who's lying -- I think what's the average? I mean, multiple times a day. Yes, that's never pointed out.

And that's the sad thing about where we've gotten to the media ecosystem, where we've got an entire media complex that refuses to be honest about the fact that everything they just said about Joe Biden can apply to Donald Trump.

STELTER: Can apply to Donald Trump as well.


STELTER: To our panel, thank you.

A quick break here. And then, a "60 Minutes" legend. The interviewer Steve Kroft will join me live, talking about his extraordinary career and what's next for him.



STELTER: Five hundred stories, that's how many stories Steve Kroft filed for CBS' "60 Minutes" in an incredible 30-year career.

Kroft is known for his high-profile interviews, including 17 sit-downs with former President Barack Obama, and his famous 1992 interview with then candidate Bill Clinton about his alleged affair with Gennifer Flowers, Hillary Clinton by Clinton's side.

Thirty-four million people tuned in then. And, these days, "60 Minutes" remains the highest rated news program on American television.

But now the news mag's longest tenured correspondent is retiring. And he's here with me now, Steve Kroft joining me for his retirement day.

This is the evening when "60 Minutes" is paying tribute to you...


STELTER: -- later today.

So, thank you for joining me.

KROFT: My pleasure. My pleasure.

STELTER: How has "60 Minutes" changed over your three decades, and how has television changed over your career?

KROFT: How has everything changed?


KROFT: I mean, everything changed.

I mean, I look at it now, and every industry, every walk of life has changed. But, mostly, I think that "60 Minutes" has probably changed the at least of almost anything in the culture in terms of its -- you know, some people say it's still a little old-fashioned, but it's still doing good journalism and still basically following the blueprint that Don Hewitt set 50 years ago.

STELTER: Yes, and still the most watched.


STELTER: I mentioned your Obama interviews. Certainly, in recent years, that's what you have been best known for.

What do you think it is about that kind of interviewing, presidential interviewing, that people should learn from or people should take away?

KROFT: Well, it's a -- I -- that's a good question.

When I first started doing the interviews with Obama in 2008, there was sort of a -- a canvas for doing presidential interviews that people had followed for years and years and years. There was a -- you were -- there was a certain politeness to it.

You -- the president was treated with respect. You tried not to interrupt him, unless you absolutely had to.

And now it's kind of evolved to the place with this particular president where almost anything goes, and -- when he does sit down with somebody besides just "FOX & Friends."

STELTER: Would you like to interview President Trump? Have you tried?

KROFT: I have not tried. I took a pass on that one.

And Lesley and Scott Pelley have both interviewed him. He's a very hard interview, a very hard interview, because he just goes where he wants to go and takes even -- it's -- particularly live.

But I think Lesley did a pretty good job in expose -- I don't want to say exposing, but letting him reveal himself and his personality, the way he thinks. I think that Lester Holt did really a good job with him.

And other than that, most people just can't get a handle on him. It's hard. I mean, I wouldn't know how to do it.


STELTER: Really?

KROFT: Well, I would have -- I would come up with an idea and some strategies, but I think you have to really be on your toes.

STELTER: And beyond the presidential interviews, what stories are most important to you? What are the kinds of stories that we need to have more of on television news?

KROFT: I think we ought to have more 12-minute -- 12-and-a-half- minute stories.


KROFT: I think that that's the biggest advantage that the show has.

And we shoot normally 13 hours of tapes for 13 minutes of product. And you have a lot to choose from. And, also, you're doing an interview live, you have got five minutes maybe. And we have got an hour to sit down with somebody, and we can go and find the best parts and...

STELTER: Right, and go in every direction.

KROFT: Every direction.

STELTER: Well, we're going to add a couple more minutes for you, Steve.

You're leaving at a time of turmoil. For the last year at "60 Minutes," there's been a lot of turmoil, allegations against the former executive producer Jeff Fager. He has stepped down under pressure.

And now there's a new CBS news president. We all remember the upheaval.

Does that relate to why you're leaving now?

KROFT: Not really. And I say that -- my wife thinks I'm crazy when I say that. But it had very little to do with it.

I made the decision really about a year ago that this was going to be my last season. And I -- my staff knew that.

STELTER: And right about that time, all the drama started to unfurl and all the allegations.


And I said -- and I said, unless something really happens to change my mind, this is my last season. And nothing happened to change my mind.



What's it been like inside CBS News during this period?

KROFT: Well, you know, it's -- any time you have an organization that has leadership change -- and, as you pointed out, we had it at three different levels, with corporate CBS, with CBS News, with "60 Minutes" -- it creates a lot of -- a lot of uncertainty, it creates a lot of stress.

But, in the end, we came through and turned out a lot of good stories last year. The ratings weren't affected. And it was really, as soon as Joe Ianniello appointed Susan Zirinsky and Bill Owens to fill those vacancies, things settled down and have settled down.

STELTER: And that's what valued in the newsroom.


STELTER: You don't want that kind of turmoil.

What do you advise -- what do you recommend to journalism students who want to have your job some day? What do you tell them?

KROFT: Be prepared to work hard. And it's not going to be very high paying at the beginning. And you have to really love it, like anything.

And it's a commitment. And just stick with it.

STELTER: Stick with it.

KROFT: You know, a lot of it's -- a lot of it's attrition, you know?


STELTER: Are you...

KROFT: You start out with a bunch of young people. Half of them drop out or go get into public relations or something like that, not that there's anything wrong with it.

But the ones that stay, you know, learn a lot.

STELTER: And how about you? What's next for you?

KROFT: I'm going to do -- I hope to do some hours, some -- try -- I want to experiment a little bit in a different form.

I have done -- 30 years, I have been in the same job. I would like to be able to do something that's a little bit different, some hour documentaries, nonfiction television, if you will, maybe a series of documentaries.

And I'm working with some former colleagues and some friends about -- on a number of projects.

STELTER: And is there anyone you have not interviewed yet that you're going to still try to interview?

KROFT: You know, I haven't thought about that.

But if I wanted to interview them, and I haven't, there's a reason.


KROFT: It's because they don't want to do it.

And, sometimes, you hit people at the right time, and you can change their mind. But there are people out there that don't like to be interviewed.

I would like to have a crack at Jeff Bezos.

STELTER: Jeff Bezos. That's interesting.

KROFT: Jeff Bezos right now.

STELTER: Yes, he almost never talks.

KROFT: Right.


KROFT: Certainly not in the last four or five years.

There are lots of people in the technology field that I would love to talk to, and they don't really talk to either.

STELTER: Yes, some of the most powerful people in the world...

KROFT: Right.

STELTER: ... are the ones that only post little tweets.


STELTER: Anyway, Steve, thank you so much for being here.


STELTER: Great to see you.

Congratulations on your retirement from "60 Minutes."

KROFT: Thank you very much, Brian.

STELTER: A quick break here on RELIABLE SOURCES. And when we come back, the first T.V. interview with James Poniewozik. He's the T.V. Critic for The New York Times. He's out with a brand new book about our T.V. junkie president.



STELTER: Donald Trump became president because television changed. That's the thesis of this brand new book by Chief New York Times TV Critic James Poniewozik. It's titled Audience of One: Television, Donald Trump, and the Fracturing of America.

The book is due out on Tuesday and it takes a look at Trump over the years from peddling the Art of the Deal as a braggadocious businessman to his role as host on The Apprentice for years and years and on to a recurring segment on Fox and Friends. All of it helped shape Trump's public persona into something resembling well, a president.

So I sat down with Poniewozik ahead of the book's release, and I started by asking him why he felt like he needed to write about Trump and TV.


JAMES PONIEWOZIK, CHIEF T.V. CRITIC, NEW YORK TIMES: Because the guy from The Apprentice became president. I mean, that's -- you know, that's the nutshell. You know, our society had reached this place where it was possible that you could go pretty much directly from hosting a reality game show in primetime on NBC to becoming the most powerful person in the world. And that happened because of T.V. It happens through T.V.

One change that I trace in television along with tracing sort of the history of Trump as a T.V. character is that T.V. went from a sort of three network mass medium where you were trying to reach a broad audience to be broadly palatable to a fragmented niche medium where it was about building intense audiences and you know servicing very intense, often polarized subgroups.

And you know, the evolution -- a lot of the evolutions of politics that we've seen over the time, and the evolution of Trump is a pop culture character from the 80s through the apprentice years, through the Fox years, that all reflects that and was enabled by them.

STELTER: To me, Jim, this book explains so much about Trump, about his psyche, and about his relationship with this incredibly powerful medium. You're basically making us think about what it was like for President Trump once he's elected, once he has these 24/7 T.V. shows that are all about him on CNN and Fox and elsewhere. And what that was like for him, take us through that psychology you think.

PONIEWOZIK: So Donald Trump is somebody who has not just you know, been a performer on television or somebody who's used the media, but you know he has long been an avid consumer of it. You know, he is the Fox audience as well as you know, a person who appeared on Fox as a you know, 80s celebrity in 90s celebrity.

He was you know, always obsessed with media coverage, working the local New York media etcetera, etcetera. He you know one of his biographers said back in Trump Tower in his offices, an aide would keep like you know, a shelf full of tapes of his T.V .appearances that he watches as -- I think the term he said was this sort of ego sustenance.

So you know, somebody who is like always wanted to know you know, what are people saying about you, what's going on out there. Well, now, suddenly you're the President of the United States and there are 24- hour news channels.

And the news is a show in which the president is always the star and people are always talking about you and what you are doing, what you are thinking, and how you're feeling, and what you just tweeted, and what people said about the tweet and what you tweeted in response to the tweet. It's you know, you, you, you, you all the time. Why would you ever do anything else?

STELTER: Why would you ever turn the channel?

PONIEWOZIK: It's irresistible, yes.

STELTER: You're saying you drop a T.V. junkie inside the television set and what we're seeing right now is the result.

PONIEWOZIK: Yes. And basically people start reaching that person through the T.V. They start booking themselves on T.V. to send messages to him because you know, apparently people that he sees on T.V. are more real to him than people you know, he sees in front of him in in the flesh.

He, in very many ways to use television to become president, but then T.V. kind of became the president because what he was seeing on T.V. set his agenda and controlled his mood and you know, determine the world that the rest of us would live in.

STELTER: Well, can I make the case that Trump's dependence on television, his obsession with watching T.V. has really hurt his presidency because it does distract him, because it does dismay him, because he does lash out and act in unpresidential ways as a result of what he sees on T.V.

I wonder how this would have gone differently if he wasn't watching. But maybe your point is that's impossible because he was a T.V. junkie.

PONIEWOZIK: It's a package deal.

STELTER: It's a package deal.

PONIEWOZIK: You know, I just -- I just think in taking the T.V. and you know, the T.V. outgoing, like it's all part of the same ecosystem with him.


STELTER: In your book, you bring up reporting from your college of the New York Times from 2017. This is for the end of the first year of the Trump presidency. They said that before taking office, Trump told top aides to think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals.


STELTER: That is really key and I think we should remember that now a year and a half later that maybe is still what's going on.

PONIEWOZIK: It is. And you know, it's a very effective tactic if all you want is all the attention to be focused on you, you know, every day. It's not necessarily a strategy for the long term because you know, what you need to get the focus of the news focused on you is simply you know, another new outrage all the time.

STELTER: Something shocking.

PONIEWOZIK: Yes, but it's not necessarily building toward at the end. Another key difference between doing this in reality and doing it on a reality T.V. show, is that on reality T.V. show, you've got Mark Burnett producing it. You got somebody who can take the raw footage and later go back into the editing room as they said they often had to do on The Apprentice with some of Donald Trump's decisions and edit it to reimpose logic on what happened. Now --

STELTER: So maybe that's been Trump's problem. He hasn't had a Mark Burnett.


STELTER: He hasn't had a strong producer.

PONIEWOZIK: Yes. He's just got you know, Sean Spicer and Mike Pence.


STELTER: Yes. Imagine that. All right, check out the rest of our interview on the RELIABLE SOURCES podcast Excellent book Audience of One. A quick break here on RELIABLE SOURCES. In a moment, a brand new report on online harassment and how it poses a threat to press freedom.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) STELTER: Imagine you just published a big story. You're feeling good after weeks of hard work. Then you peak your social media accounts and you are suddenly inundated, insults as far as the site can scroll, a troll army saying you're worthless, biased, fat, dumb, sick, evil, attackers are trying to get you fired, anonymous accounts are telling you to kill yourself we're offering to do the job themselves.

Well, the Committee to Protect Journalists is out with a new report on this issue, this issue of online harassment. Showing how big this problem is, how pervasive it is especially for female reporters. CBJ has updated its safety kit as a result giving reporters advice about removing vulnerable personal data from the web and what to do if you've been doxxed with that data. And they've also shared information about addressing the psychological impacts of online harassment and threats.

Here to discuss this new report in detail is Courtney Radsch. She's at CPJ. She's the Advocacy Director of the organization. So the report is up on, Courtney, why was it important for your group which focuses on press freedom to take a look at online harassment specifically?

COURTNEY RADSCH, ADVOCACY DIRECTOR, COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS: I think what we've seen with online harassment is that it is the biggest safety concern facing women journalists to be surveyed in the United States and Canada. So if there is a perception that online harassment is the biggest safety problem they're facing, we've got to address that because if journalists feel that they're going to get retaliated against or attacked or threatened because of the reporting they're doing, that could have a silencing and a chilling effect.

STELTER: And many people in social media, of course, not just reporters but people in lots of different professions, individuals who just try to share their political opinions get harassed on social media all the time. What makes it specific about reporting do you think -- that people should think about?

RADSCH: I think that we have to think about journalists as really serving a public interest. They're there to help inform the public to dig out facts, to follow up stories, I mean, so much about what we know whether we're talking about you know economics, politics, you know, the scandal and USA Gymnastics, it came because journalists were digging, they were reporting.

So when we hear that journalists, especially women journalists, are being faced with online harassment as an endemic part of their job, that is problematic and we need to address it because we don't want journalists to be fearful of reporting on issues.


RADSCH: And we know that. Our respondents said that reporting on extremism as well as national politics were some of the most concerning beats for them.

STELTER: Right, where people end up getting harassed even more than others by virtue of covering these important subjects. So your message is partly I think to newsrooms right, to editors to take this seriously, and also to the tech companies, right? They have a responsibility here.

RADSCH: Yes. So both of those are important constituencies. We can't rely on just journalists. Yes, they need to take steps to protect our digital identity, to you know, do social media hygiene, but we also need newsrooms to take this issue seriously and realize that it is endemic to certain beefs, it's very likely in retaliation for certain stories, and that they need to address this proactively with their reporters both staff and freelance, and we need the technology companies to do their part because this is pervasive on their platforms.

And it's not enough to mute or block somebody. You need to know if those threats are coming through and we need more proactive responses from the tech platforms.

STELTER: I agree. Courtney, thank you so much for being here. And please, everybody, check out the report on the committee's web site at A quick break here, much more RELIABLE SOURCES including an unfortunate milestone at the White House in just a moment.

[11:50:00 ]


STELTER: Well, we are fast approaching the six months mark, six months since the last formal on-camera White House Press Briefing, something that was a staple for decades gone. Now that there's been two briefings total this year, here's a calendar. One was in January. There were no briefings in February with Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Then, she did have one briefly in March 11th, but since then, April, May, June, July, August, lots of news but no briefings.

Stephanie Grisham is now the press secretary. She does not have to briefing yet and this Wednesday will be the six-month mark. So I suppose the press briefing is dead, buried, gone forever. Let's talk about it. Julie Roginsky is back here with me.

You know, some people say the briefings don't matter because President Trump holds chopper talk sessions where he stands out in front of marine one and he answers questions or at least avoids questions that are asked by the press. What do you think of that explanation that the briefings don't matter anymore?

ROGINSKY: Well, that's inexcusable. I mean, this is a taxpayer- funded job. A major component of that job is for the press secretary whoever he or she may be is to meet the press. I mean, that is literally what the first and foremost responsibility of this job description is.

STELTER: But she would say, why can't her job title -- why can't her job description changed? What's wrong with that?

ROGINSKY: Because somebody in this White House needs to answer questions from the White House, from the Press Corps. Somebody needs to be accountable for explaining what the president is doing in a daily basis. Whether it's her, whether it's a deputy of hers, but somebody needs to do that. It's not enough to have chopper talks where the president pontificates for a few minutes, then gets on the chopper and flies off to wherever he's -- to his next rally for example.

You need to have a professional staff that's answering questions whether they wants you or not. That is the fundamental role and function of a democratic government with a small D is that we have a sunshine disinfect -- sunshine being the best disinfectant -- that we need to have somebody who addresses these issues and speaks to the press.

The fact that you have an entire Press Corps sitting in the White House waiting for a briefing that has not come in six months is just completely contrary to what we do. And as a result, have the new Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham putting out these propaganda pieces in the Washington Examiner, putting out propaganda pieces on Twitter saying the Washington Post never covered the fact that the president was the first American president to set foot in North Korea. Of course, a simple Google search shows that they did.

STELTER: Right. Of course, they covered it.

ROGINSKY: Of course. And so on and so forth, all these lies, and the reason for those lies so that the rest of us tweet out corrections which in fact amplify the do-gooding that they think the president has done.


STELTER: It's cynical, but you're right.

ROGINSKY: It's -- her function is -- her function is to troll. I mean, she's basically being paid by the taxpayers to be a troll on behalf of the president. That is inexcusable. Listen, I worked with former press secretaries.

Dana Perino, the White House Press Secretary under Bush was somebody was a colleague of mine for a long time. I haven't spoken to her about this but I suspect she would find it an excusable. Former White House Press Secretaries understand whether they wants you or not, whether it's pleasant for them or not, their role is to get up there and answer questions from the press good, better, and different.

STELTER: So old fashion but it sounds right to me. Julia, thanks so much for being here.

ROGINSKY: Thank you.

STELTER: One more story on RELIABLE SOURCES on the other side of this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES, I'm Brian Stelter. One more note before we go and this is about the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It's something really significant and impressive the paper did recently. You'll recall that the paper received a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the deadly mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue.

When you win a Pulitzer Prize, you get about $15,000. The newsroom wasn't sure what to do with it. They didn't want to split up the money among the staff so they're donating the money to help rebuild the synagogue.

People often criticize the media for sensationalizing tragedy. Those critics are sometimes fair. But it's important to recognize moments like these where journalists recognize their role in a community. I mean, at the end of the day, newsrooms are just collections of people reporting on people, part of a community looking out for each other. So thank you to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette for that reminder.

That's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. But we'll see you online at Make sure to sign up for our nightly newsletter. And we'll be right back here at this time next week.