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President Trump Leading A Disinformation Campaign; Biden Campaign Challenges The News Media; Hostility And Mockery: Trump's Anti-Media Playbook; How Foreign Journalist See Trump; NYT Draws Criticism Over Handling Of Brett Kavanaugh Story. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired September 22, 2019 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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.
Ahead this hour, two "New York Times" reporters who were at the center of a controversy about Brett Kavanaugh will join me live.
Plus, the impact of Trump's anti-media hostility as it spreads throughout his party. David Zurawik is here to respond.
And later, something you will only see on RELIABLE SOURCES, perspective from a top editor in Australia who spent time watching Trump this week here in the United States. She is reminding us these are not normal times. And we can say that again and again.
Confusion is in the air right now. This time, it's not because of Russian hackers. It's not a bot army waging information warfare on Facebook. This time, the person leading a disinformation campaign is President Trump. He is confusing the public and telling people that his political opponents are dirty.
He's gone on a Twitter storm all weekend long, smashing the media and Democrats, while smearing this whistleblower that we still don't know much about. It seems he's backed into a corner in this issue involving Ukraine, which we're going to get into in detail.
You know, this was first reported days ago by "The Washington Post" -- a troubling phone call, a promise Trump made to the Ukrainian leader. All of this, of course, leading the news.
But his media allies are rushing to Trump's side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT-AT-LARGE: This is a punk, a punk who is snitching.
MATT WHITAKER, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: Someone that's part of the deep state.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Spying on the president of the United States.
GREGG JARRETT, FOX NEWS LEGAL ANALYST: The Trump whistleblower may not be a whistleblower at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: That's the rhetoric. That's what's happening on the right.
This shows how polluted our information environment is. Scoops do breakthrough. Scoops have been breaking through all week long.
But there's a poisonous cloud that covers our political discourse, because Trump and his media wingmen will do anything to deny, deflect and distract. That's what's happening right now. They are smearing a person whose secret complaint was deemed serious by the Trump- appointed inspector general.
Some right-wing Web sites were already saying the whistleblower story is a bust. But we still haven't seen the complaint yet. It's a little bit like William Barr coming out and spinning the Mueller findings before any of us were allowed to read it.
So, in this poisoned information space, the press needs to provide clear explanations of what is going on. This is a very complicated story. But here is the big picture from "The Washington Post's" Dan Balz this morning. He wrote this on the front page of "The Post".
Based on what is so far been reported, the president asked, encouraged or demanded that the leader of a foreign government undertake an investigation designed to produce info that could damage a potential 2020 campaign rival.
In other words, a president abusing his powers for political gain.
So what is going to happen now?
This is a very big story. The press has got to meet this moment. There's new calls for impeachment and so much more. So, we have a big show ahead. We have an all star panel standing by here in New York City.
But let's begin in Washington with one of "The Washington Post" reporters who broke this story. Shane Harris is here.
And also joining us, former "Washington Post" journalist, the legendary Carl Bernstein is with me.
Shane, what is the very latest on this whistleblower complaint? It amazes me and shocks me that Congress still hasn't seen it. So, is this an ongoing act of obstruction by the Trump administration that this whistleblower has not been transmitted to Congress?
SHANE HARRIS, INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, there certainly is a very full effort by this administration and I think by this White House, we can report now as well, to block that whistleblower complaint from getting to Congress.
We reported this week in "The Post" that the White House counsel has always gotten involved in this, and I think it's safe to say they are probably considering what options they might have to argue that this complaint shouldn't go to the Congress, either because it's covered by executive privilege, or it's outside of the purview of the director of national intelligence, because the activity happened at the White House.
But now, we have this revelation reported in "The Wall Street Journal" earlier this week that this phone call that Trump had with the Ukrainian president, Zelensky, who see -- which seems to be at the center of this allegation, in that call, reportedly, he pressed the president of Ukraine eight different times to investigate Joe Biden's son.
So, here we have, according to I think some very good reporters at "The Wall Street Journal", an account of the president engaging in this kind of pressure on a foreign leader that we think is actually at the heart of this whistleblower complaint. So, these pieces are coming out and this picture is developing very quickly.
STELTER: How hard has it been to get information about this, Shane, given this is a sensitive national security matter? How are you getting sources on this story?
HARRIS: Yes, it's always hard on the national security story to get pieces out. And they often will come out kind of as pieces of a puzzle that you have to put together.
But what we have been trying to do is really dig in as much as we can on what is the substance of this whistleblower complaint. And importantly, we have broken it. It involves Ukraine, a presidential communication, some kind of promise or negotiation that President Trump made.
But this has really been difficult, particularly because this individual whistleblower obviously has not gone public. And I think it's safe to say in the way this complaint was transmitted, was trying to do this very much in a closed channel. And I don't imagine that he anticipated that it might become this explosive story that it has.
STELTER: I see.
So let's take Trump out of this, if that's possible. Let's just play this out as any president who's caught on the phone doing this kind of dealing for his own domestic political benefit.
What should the reaction be?
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the first thing is to find out exactly what has happened here. And if the reporting of Shane Harris and "The Wall Street Journal" is accurate and it seems to be, it clearly moves toward a grievous abuse of power by the president of the United States.
I keep getting asked, are there echoes of Watergate in this? And there are in the following ways: Watergate was an attempt by Richard Nixon to undermine the democratic electoral process in the United States, our basis of democracy, the electoral system, by trying through political espionage and sabotage to manipulate the opposition party into nominating through political dirty tricks and misinformation its weakest candidate, George McGovern, instead of its strongest candidate who Nixon didn't want to run against, who was Senator Edmund Muskie.
And something in the same thing seems to be happening here, where Biden who Trump and his people said they fear the most in terms of being an opponent has been an object of these perhaps dirty tricks and abuses of power. And one thing Nixon never did was engage a foreign power to investigate a candidate running for office in the United States. It is a grievous offense if this is what happened and it seems to be.
STELTER: How can people get caught up on this story, Shane? How do you recommend they figure out what was going on? This is a very complicated story. I think a lot of viewers need to be caught up. What should we be reading? What sources should we be going to for more information?
HARRIS: Well, I think at "The Post", obviously we've been doing a great job pushing this out there. You mentioned Dan Balz's column this morning which I think really does distill for people what the essence of the allegation is, and politically why that it's important but also why it's important when we think about the office of the presidency and the enormous power that that office has, this ultimately just comes down, while it's very complicated to I think a fairly straightforward allegation which is that the president of the United States used his office to try and leverage or pressure a foreign government into investigating and hurting his political opponent.
That's pretty straightforward deal and may have used the threat of withholding American aid to that. That really is the crux, the essence of what we're talking about. All of the legalisms and the maneuvering going around around a whistleblower are part of that, but that's really the core claim here.
STELTER: We have to give everybody in this story fairness, including the president. And, yet, Carl, the president has exhausted his benefit of the doubt a long time ago because of the constant lies and deflections.
I just want to show you three examples this week that stood out to me. Trump says something crazy and then the White House doesn't try to back it up.
Here's the first one. He said that the government used mountain climbers to test the border wall. Well, the White House wouldn't explain what mountain climbers and "Daily Beast" couldn't find any.
Then Trump on Twitter, he said that Obama's Netflix still should be investigated. Maybe there's something crooked there. The White House didn't respond to "Politico's" request for comment about what laws might be broken.
And here's one form Saturday about the press. Trump tweeted that it's probably illegal Democrat/fake news media partnership. Probably illegal.
So, take a look. I asked White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham what laws is he seeing were broken? Here's my email to Grisham. I emailed her last night. I emailed her again this morning.
What statutes have been violated?
Now, obviously, Carl, she has not responded to my request for comment. She doesn't know what to say. There had been clause. There is no illegal partnership.
I guess my point is the White House claims these tweets speak for themselves, but the tweets make no sense. What does it reveal about the situation we're in, especially with regard to this Ukraine scandal that the president's words cannot be taken seriously?
BERNSTEIN: Look, this has been the case for two years now, and I think we oughtn't to spend too much time on those particular examples.
What we have in front of us here now with the Ukraine story is a huge event that is going to play itself out in this campaign. What the president said in one of those tweets there about the press, the idea that this is a conspiracy between the press, the fake news, et cetera, let's look at not only Shane Harris's great reporting and "The Washington Post's" great reporting, something to be proud of as a "Washington Post" alumnus, let's also look at "The Wall Street Journal" which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, President Trump's favorite publisher.
And in fact, it's "The Journal" that has given us great detail on top of Shane's reporting about these eight mentions of supposedly in the whistleblower's complaint in which pressure was applied supposedly on the president of the Ukraine.
This is a Murdoch paper. This is not -- I've never heard the president accused Rupert Murdoch of fake news before. And I think we really need to look at that.
We also need to look at this whistleblower question. There is a major Republican, Senator Burr, who has been a great defender and introduced whistleblower legislation, defended whistleblowers, and it's time for Burr, a senior Republican on the Intel Committee and chairman of the Intel Committee in the Senate, to say we need to see all of this correspondence. We need to release under the Whistleblower Act what occurred here. We need the transcript. And also, the president of the United States says, oh, this was a
beautiful conversation. It was fine and it was all aboveboard. Let the president release the transcript if that's the case.
STELTER: We can't take his word seriously. He comes up with this B.S. all the time. He says things like it's a beautiful conversation.
BERNSTEIN: Let's stop on the word cover-up for a minute.
STELTER: We can't take those words seriously. That's my point. It is very frustrating. Tell me your point about cover-up.
BERNSTEIN: Well, this would be, once again, an apparent attempt at covering up and trying to move to other questions and muddy the waters of what the president of the United States has done.
Also, the idea that this is about the conduct of a whistleblower as opposed to the conduct of the president of the United States is absurd, any more than in Watergate, it was the conduct of our source Deep Throat who was the issue, who was a high Justice Department/FBI official whom we were in contact with, as if Deep Throat were the issue on Watergate and not the president of the United States and his illegal and abusive power, his conduct. That's what we got to keep our eyes on here.
And also, there is this whole question about the children of presidents of United States and vice presidents -- in this case, Hunter Biden. Hunter Biden is a legitimate story to be looked at --
BERNSTEIN: -- in terms of his role in this Ukrainian gas company. There is nothing that I'm seeing that substantiates Mr. Giuliani's or the president's allegations about crooked prosecutors dropping charges because it was Biden.
But if anybody has a history of terrible conflict of interest by his children, it is this president of the United States. And we ought to be looking at all of these questions about the children of presidents and vice presidents of the United States in conflicts of interest.
STELTER: All the children.
Carl Bernstein, Shane Harris, thank you both.
Quick break here and then some fresh reporting about what Joe Biden's campaign is doing to respond to all of this. That's coming up next.
STELTER: Back now on RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.
We are talking about this Ukraine scandal, the president's handling of the matter, his smearing of this whistleblower, and this mystery still at the heart of the story. What did the whistleblower hear? What did the whistleblower allege?
Let's bring the panel in now. Political and business strategist, Tara Dowdell, who, by the way, was an "Apprentice" contestant back in the day, and national correspondent for "The Washington Post", Philip Bump, and security adviser under Obama, now a CNN National Security Analyst, Samantha Vinograd.
There's been a lot from the Joe Biden campaign this week. They've been trying to figure out how to respond to this mess. These questions about Hunter Biden.
Let's look first at the beginning of what happened with the Biden on the trail asked by Fox's Peter Doocy, a question about his son. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER DOOCY, FOX NEWS REPORTER: Mr. Vice President, how many times have you ever spoken to your son about his overseas business dealings?
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Well, that seems very, very hard to believe. Obviously, a father is going to talk to his son about the business.
But let's continue here. Here is how Biden continued to talk to the Fox reporter. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: Here is what I know. I know Trump deserves to be investigated. You should be asking him the question why is he on the phone with a foreign leader trying to intimidate a foreign leader, if that's what happened. That appears what happened. You should be looking at Trump. Ask the right questions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Ask the right question. This has become a chant of sorts on social media. Biden supporters love this moment, Samantha.
Do you think he has a point?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Brian, I'm not part of the Biden campaign. I do work at the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware, and I think he does have a point.
There is a series of false equivalencies purposefully being set up by the Trump team, by Rudy Giuliani and perhaps by some members of the media. There's a blitzkrieg of bad behavior that we're learning about because of the dogged reporting on members of the media right now associated with the Trump team and their actions through Rudy Giuliani and potentially by the president himself.
It's hard to keep track of the potential abuses of power that the president engaged in and the fact that Rudy Giuliani went to Ukraine and really demoted our national security team by working with the Ukrainian government to try to get dirt on Vice President Biden. Any wrongdoing by Vice President Biden has been looked at by the Ukrainian authorities and may potentially be looked at further within the United States.
But that is very different, again, than the myriad of potential abuses of power that are being outlined by the media because the whistleblower complaint has not been forwarded to the Congress. And we cannot fall into the trap of falling for President Trump's false equivalencies.
He does it whenever he's under pressure. He mixes apples and oranges and we get distracted from the real story, and we have to be more clear-eyed than that.
STELTER: The Biden campaign is out with the memo this weekend trying to diffuse this story. Here's a part what the memo says at the end, addressing the press, it says: Any article that doesn't demonstrably state at the outset that there is no factual basis for Trump's claims is misleading readers and viewers.
[11:20:06] That's a message from the campaign.
But, Tara, as a PR strategist, is the campaign doing enough? Look, I asked a spokesperson to come on this program and speak today. They declined. Biden never sat down for a Sunday show interview all yearlong.
I wonder if they're doing enough to combat Trump.
TARA DOWDELL, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, the Trump strategy and you talked about it, and you talked about it, Brian, as well, is deny, deflect, distract attack. We have now moved into the attack phase.
So their strategy is now to try to put the onus on Joe Biden to, in fact, distract and attack. And so, I think that Joe Biden's campaign does need to be aggressive. I think they could be more aggressive. And I think you will see them being more aggressive, because they know what is going on and I think what you're seeing in terms of this pause is them really sitting down to try to come up with a plan understanding that what this strategy is and to make sure they respond effectively and more aggressively.
And you are seeing that's escalation of more aggressive response. And so, I think you'll continue to see that.
STELTER: Philip Bump, I'm always amused when Murdoch's "Wall Street Journal" breaks a big story and the Murdoch's Fox News stars try to tear it down. That's what we've seen in the past few days.
Look at Friday evening, for example. There is a White House state dinner. Maria Bartiromo is there. She's invited by the White House, so is Lou Dobbs, and so is the head of Fox Corp, Lachlan Murdoch.
What do you think is going on in this complicated media dynamic?
PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think that one of the issues is that "The Wall Street Journal" has very good, very dogged reporters as Shane Harris mentioned earlier who have broken some -- a lot of big stories. They, for example, broke the story about Stormy Daniels last year. I mean, this came from "The Wall Street Journal." "The Wall Street Journal" has done good work.
Fox News audience, however, is not "The Wall Street Journal's" audience. Fox News' audience is that core base of conservatives and Republicans that have propelled Donald Trump to, first, the Republican nomination, and then to the White House.
It is a base of which Trump is himself a part. He used to be on Fox News. He constantly watches Fox News.
DOWDELL: He, still, is, in fact.
BUMP: He was regularly on Fox news.
But it is a different audience. And Fox News is very aware of who they are talking to.
STELTER: It's kind of like you want to say to Sean Hannity, Sean, is "The Wall Street Journal" fake news?
BUMP: Well, there's a lot of things I would like to say Sean Hannity. That is certainly one of them. But, obviously, you are not going to make any headway with Sean Hannity because Sean Hannity's loyalty is to President Trump. He endorsed President Trump prior to the election.
I mean, Sean Hannity is put forward by Fox News as an opinion journalist, but he is obviously someone that is on President Trump's side because that's what the audience responds to.
STELTER: Tara, is this "but her e-mails" all over again? Is that what this feels like to you?
DOWDELL: It feels 100 percent like "but her emails" all over again. And the Trump administration and particularly those people around him, the communication strategists, consultants, all of those folks have realized how they -- they are master manipulators of the media. They've realized how to do it. They have a formula that work in the past and they're going to keep working that formula until -- until it doesn't work anymore.
And I'll tell you this, a lot of these -- what people have to also realize, a lot of the leaks that are coming that we're getting all of this information is coming from Trump's very own people. VINOGRAD: And that's a problem. That's a problem.
DOWDELL: So, it is his administration that is actually exposing him. So, it's not as if Democrats -- remember, he's obstructing Democrats in Congress. They're not turning over documents.
So, everything we know, all of the reporting is actually coming from inside the house.
STELTER: Sam, final thought from you?
VINOGRAD: This playing out in front of the media is an imperfect solution. We need to know what happened with the president, but there is a whistleblower process, particularly with the intelligence community, that, by statute, guarantees protected disclosure because this relates to classified administration. The administration stonewalling is leading to more security risks because people with knowledge of this situation feel like they have no other recourse than by going to the media. And we may have classified conversations playing out that should instead be shared with Congress rather than through the media.
STELTER: Great to have you all here. Thank you so much.
More on this in a moment. Quick break. And then I have a message for Corey Lewandowski.
STELTER: Key members of the Republican Party are expressing so much hostility toward the press, so much venom, that it is as if they don't recognize the purpose of the press at all.
This is not just about President Trump. Yes, he sneers and jeers at the media trying to cover up his own messes, but it's not just him. His tone trickles down and all around to guys like Corey Lewandowski who when about this misleading statements to the media said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I have no obligation to be honest with the media because they're just as dishonest as anybody else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Honestly, he's just saying what many people in Trump's inner circle will actually think. I mean, look at the past two press secretaries. Look at Trump himself.
Now, I don't know what Corey learned growing up. But I was taught ethics in school and in church. I was taught morals about honesty and mutual respect. That is what seems to be lacking. And yes, I get it. Corey
Lewandowski used to be a CNN commentator a long time ago, but he should be called out for this kind of dishonesty.
You know, I think about that when I read these headlines, about the swampy practices around Trump's property, like his hotel in D.C.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thinks all of these questions about possible corruption are just punch lines.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I look around, this is such a beautiful hotel. The guy who owns it must be successful somewhere along the way. That was for "The Washington Post" in case the -- in the back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: An easy way to get a laugh, I guess, mocking "The Washington Post" for caring about potential corruption.
Look, I get it. Politics and media are rough and tumble professions. Reporters are not here to win popularity contests. We should be able to take the heat. I think most of us can.
I mean, look at Chris Cuomo.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: It is sad to watch what happened to you. It's sad.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Sad what happened to me? I'm a sellout?
GIULIANI: You are a sellout.
CUOMO: You are telling me that I'm a sellout?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: That's how to do it. Call out the name-calling, no to hypocrisy and just move on, get back to the news. That's the way to go.
But just remember this. The politicians and partisans who are trying to tear down the press are doing it on purpose. They are doing it for moments just like this one, moments when the press exposes shady, possible illegal conduct by the president.
You know, that's another thing I learned growing up. It's what we all learn in school, even you Corey Lewandowski. We learned that the press is not perfect but it serves to hold government accountable. Strong, confident politicians get that. They do. They've begrudgingly respect it or at least they pretend to. Witness
on Tuesday when the world of journalism and politics mourned the death of Cokie Roberts. Colleagues at ABC and NPR reflected on her razor- sharp reporting and on her decency. And I noticed that the condolences crossed party lines. It made me think about the mutual respect that is sadly in short supply right now.
I mean, within minutes of Roberts passing, George W. Bush praised her for being talented, tough, and fair. Barack Obama honored her and called her a trailblazing figure. Those were presidential statements from former presidents. That's the way it should be.
And then there was Trump's comment. He didn't put out a statement but he did say to reporters in Air Force One. I never met her. She never treated me nicely, but I would like to wish her family well. She was a professional and I respect professionals.
Have you ever seen evidence that President Trump respects professional reporting? All right, let's talk more about this. David Zurawik is here. He's the media critic for the Baltimore Sun. And David, Cokie Roberts' death partly got me thinking about this loss of mutual respect, this loss of a sort of a willingness to see each other as human beings between the press and politicians. It seems to me the venom is getting worse every year that the Trump era goes on.
DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, BALTIMORE SUN: Yes, it is, Brian. And you know, with Trump, when -- an individual remarks, you never know whether it's the impulsive act of arrested and adolescent psychopath acting on impulse or a calculated political strategy.
But there is clearly, there is a long-range strategy at play here and it's deride and conquer. Look, Trump and --
STELTER: Wait, that's interesting. Hold on. Deride and conquer?
ZURAWIK: Deride, mock, make us a laughingstock. Remember this week he said, we're a laughingstock internationally. That's a little bit of projection. I don't think we're a laughingstock internationally. I think our president is the person who's laughed at internationally, but then he called us a joke.
The idea is to do to the press what Trump and his team have managed to do pretty much to the Democratic House of Representatives and mocking them. Remember back in May when William Barr was with Nancy Pelosi at an event and he said have you brought the handcuffs Madam Speaker, mocking and then laughed, mocking their ability to back up their threats of citing for contempt or their subpoenas. They now mocked the House.
You saw it this week. Corey Lewandowski spits in the face of the House and there's nothing going to happen to him. In fact, if you read the right-wing media, he was a hero. They want to do that to the press. If they can do that to the press, if they can mock us to the point where people don't take us seriously and we don't back up our effort, if we don't show integrity, if we don't have some teeth in our reporting, they will do it. And Brian, we are the last best hope between Trump and an imperial presidency. You know in 73 Arthur Schlesinger wrote a book called The Imperial Presidency. It was based on FDR, LBJ but it was written during the Nixon administration, and it said, they have expanded the powers of the presidency so far beyond what the Framers of the Constitution intended that they're trying to make him into a king.
The last thing the Framers wanted was King George as you'll remember. That's what's going on here. When Trump said this week that he said nothing inappropriate in that conversation with Ukraine, he said, highest level, highest level, never inappropriate or always appropriate.
That's him. And you know, we've got William Barr, the Attorney General in his ear, a guy who has spent his life writing about the powers of the presidency should be expanded. That's where all of this is going. That's the long game. The short game, he needs an enemy during this campaign to get reelected and he doesn't have Hillary Clinton and his talk about the Radical Democrat, socialists on the left isn't going so well.
He gets automatic praise from his base when he pounds the press and fights with us. Brian, as you said on this show, it is only going to get worse. It's going to get awful in the coming months.
STELTER: David, I could talk to you for years, maybe we will, but we're out of time for now. David, thank you so much. A quick break here on RELIABLE SOURCES and then the view from outside the U.S. How foreign journalist see Trump, two words, alarmingly incoherent.
STELTER: Hey, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES, I'm Brian Stelter. You know, in journalism, a fresh set of eyes is always helpful to have. That's why an op-ed from Guardian Australia Editor Lenore Taylor has gone viral among reporters. She describes a recent visit to the United States where she was struck by the ways that American reporters write about President Trump.
She says reporting about this president can mask and normalize Trump's incoherence. Well, Lenore is back in Sydney and she's joining me now. Lenore, when did this strike you? When did you realize this?
LENORE TAYLOR, EDITOR, GUARDIAN AUSTRALIA: I was just in my hotel room in New York and listening to the news, listening to cable news, and there was a full press conference of the President down near the border opening or talking to a new section of renovated border wall. And I was kind of transfixed because he was so meandering.
I was surprised at how he jumped from what it was made from, discussing how powerful the concrete was, how there were 20 wall -- mountain climbers who tried to climb this wall and hadn't been able to. He was jumping around a lot. STELTER: When you write a 1,000-word story or you write a tweet
summing up the President's comments, a lot of that stuff around the edges is left out, isn't it?
TAYLOR: Yes. So I guess as reporters and editors, our job usually means making sense of and editing down and crystallizing what people are saying. That's what we do. But I realize that in this sense, by doing that, we're kind of masking or normalizing what is often quite rambling prose or quite incoherent statements. And I just wondered about whether that was always doing our readers or our listeners a real service.
STELTER: Right. And the people that bring up the President's fitness for office, the people that bring up his mental health, they are watching these long rambling exchanges and wondering about him. I noticed on Friday when the President had another one of these Q&A's with the Australian Prime Minister in the Oval Office, one of the Australian reporters looked over to a Wall Street Journal reporter and said, is it always like this?
And yes, in America now it is always like this. So it's helpful to hear your perspective saying that was a really strange trip to the United States.
TAYLOR: Yes, I think some of the reporters that are traveling with our prime minister, Scott Morrison, who really has got the red-carpet treatment in the United States from the president were a bit flummoxed about how to take some of the things that the president said.
He sort of casually mentioned that Australia might join a coalition of the willing in Iran and no one had talked about that before. And then in the same context, he started talking about nuclear weapons. And they were sort of looking around thinking is this serious? Is he announcing something here but by the end of the day he hadn't made a request for Australia to join the coalition of the willing and he was back to talking about the need for restraint.
I think if you're not used to that type of dialogue, it's quite -- it's quite hard to know how to interpret it. And you realize that in interpreting it, you're editing out a lot of the actuality, a lot of the reality, and that's what I was really thinking about.
But I don't pretend to have answers or to sort of have some wild expert opinion. You know, I know in their 2016 campaign season, a lot of networks were really criticized for taking some of then-Candidate Trump's rallies just straight and showing them front to end. And so I think we do have to edit, we do have to pass, we do have to analyze in fact check.
I guess I was just wondering whether we also sometimes should show our listeners and our readers an unedited section of transcript or an unedited type of footage so that they can make up their own minds what they think about the way that the president communicates. STELTER: Yes, I've been thinking the exact same thing this week
watching these events. Here's an example from Friday when the president looked at the reporters in the Oval Office and really attacked them. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The media of our country is laughed at all over the now. You're a joke. OK, what else?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: So, Lenore, you are halfway around the world in Sydney, Australia is the American media being laughed at around the world?
TAYLOR: Absolutely not. I think the American media is doing, by and large, a good job in very difficult circumstances. And I think what we're talking about here today is an example of the dilemma of reporting on a president that doesn't respect the institution of the media. It's a real problem. But no, I don't think that the American media is a joke or being laughed at around the world.
STELTER: Flying home from the United States, were you worried about America? Were you worried about President Trump?
TAYLOR: Yes. Yes, I was a bit. Well, I'm worried about democratic institutions. I'm worried about the whole way that the world has been organized and the extent to which that's going to continue. Yes, I was quite worried about that actually.
STELTER: Uncomfortable to hear you say that but I'm glad you're here to say it. Lenore, thank you so much.
TAYLOR: Thank you.
STELTER: So it's not just the line, it's also the incoherence something to think about. Up next here, a Sunday morning exclusive, the authors of that brand new book about Brett Kavanaugh. They're here to address what went wrong with their "New York Times" excerpt from the book. That's next.
STELTER: The New York Times picking up after another trip up this week. It involves this new book titled the Education of Brett Kavanaugh. A book adaptation that was published in the Sunday Review section last weekend left out some key information.
There was also an inappropriate tweet about it that caused an apology from The Times. Here to talk about that are the authors of the book Robin Pogerbin and Kate Kelly. The book is the Education of Brett Kavanaugh. And this is a fascinating book and I want to start by saying there's
so much nuance in this book if people buy it and read it in detail. But there was this adaptation in the paper last weekend that left out information about new accusations against Kavanaugh. Here is what the editor's note later said.
It said, the book reports the female student who was the center of this declined to be interviewed and friends say that she does not recall the incident where Kavanaugh allegedly harassed her. That information was belatedly added to your article. So what went wrong here?
It seems to me that your initial adaptation set a narrative. The narrative was there is new damning evidence against Brett Kavanaugh. But then this editor's note undermined that new claim.
ROBIN POGREBIN, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. And we think it's unfortunate that that has upstaged the new claim and some of the good work which thank you for acknowledging it that we feel like we've done in this book and presenting a much more nuanced complex account of this these events that flew by in real-time last year.
And basically what happened was that we had a line in the book where we did name the victim and we also had the fact that three -- that her friends say she doesn't remember it. The editors felt it was best to take out because we don't typically name victims in the New York Times. When they took it out, the whole sentence was omitted.
So when we realized that, they put it back, they wrote an editor's note, and they acknowledge the omission.
STELTER: When you say victim, others would say only accuser --
POGREBIN: Exactly, the alleged victim. That's right.
KATE KELLY, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It's worth noting also that a television reporter spotted her this week at her house and ask questions about it. And she said words to the effect of if you have questions, ask Brett. So it's been redirected back to him by her.
And we feel like this is a valuable new piece of information that we're trying to put out there. And the reason we thought it was credible is we have a credible witness, a Washington person named Max Stier who runs this good governance organization says he saw this and reported it to the Senate and the FBI last year.
This is something that's new to our book and there's much more detail and context around it inside. So we urge people actually read the whole thing, but obviously, that was a regrettable omission.
STELTER: So she says, ask Brett. You all tried to speak with Kavanaugh. He set terms for an interview. And what happened with that because there's been some controversy about that as well?
[11:50:04] KELLY: You know, we just couldn't come to an agreement about the ground rules is the simple fact. We wanted to talk to him on the record for the book or at least in some usable way where his information could inform the book. And it was important to him that we be -- we say he declined to be interviewed and we just couldn't do that if there was going to be any sort of a conversation at all about what was in the book.
STELTER: So in other words, if a source wants to talk to you only in secret, you cannot then say he declined to talk.
KELLY: Certainly not if they're at the center of the book.
POGREBIN: Yes. I mean, I think that's -- we all know, Brian, that we have sources who we talked to on background and off the record and they inform our reporting. This was a different case where he's the subject of the book. To talk to him and say we didn't talk to him felt dishonest.
KELLY: But just to jump in on something here, Brian. We feel like all of this stuff this week while there are some valid issues that have been raised and addressed are really a distraction from all the reporting that we did and all the new material that we have.
It's really sort of an attempt to discredit the messenger and avoid the conversation about the facts, about the evidence, the type of thing you've been talking about on your show, how the media becomes this punching bag.
So for example, one thing that's gone on is there's some interesting stuff in our book about Leland Kaiser, this friend of Christine Blasey Ford's who was allegedly at the party where the alleged assault by Kavanaugh occurred. She gives us her first-ever interview interesting and worth a read and it was very much a part of the like behind-the- scenes drama going on last year which is coming to light.
However, we still find Christine Blasey Ford credible in the end. And if you -- if you read our book, you will see why. Kaiser's claims really don't rebuttal Blasey Ford's claims. And also, Kaiser has memory issues that are discussed in the book as well which relates to the way memory functions for all of us and also because she has a history of substance abuse which she acknowledges.
So I think it's important for all of these things to be seen in the full context. We wanted to share it all with readers so they could evaluate it for themselves.
STELTER: And now, Trump is using this mist up last weekend as a battering ram against "The New York Times," so are people on Fox News. What's that feel like --
KELLY: It's a continued target.
STELTER: What's that feel like, Robin, as a reporter of the New York Times? POGREBIN: You know, it's kind of amazing because you hear about it all the time and certainly our colleagues have been subject to it, but it's it just really points up how all of this. These facts are kind of taken out of context and then weaponized for people's own political ends.
And we think it's really unfortunate because it obscures the actual hard work that we're doing and trying to actually put the facts out there so that people can really make an assessment on the merits.
KELLY: And one thing that's become really clear, Brian, is that the FBI investigation in the view of many Americans and many people who care about fair process was too short and too limited in scope. You have Sheldon Whitehouse calling for a further investigation into the investigation. You have Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post calling for something similar.
I think there's a desire to make sure, number one, that we had thorough information about Kavanaugh and we probably have more of that in our book than anybody has seen heretofore, but also to make sure that the Senate Judiciary confirmation process, the nomination and confirmation process to the Supreme Court in this country is fair and is thorough. And that's really --
STELTER: Everybody should want that.
KELLY: -- what we're trying to help with.
STELTER: Everybody should want that.
STELTER: Robin and Kate, thank you both.
KELLY: Thank you.
POGREBIN: Thank you.
STELTER: A quick break here. More RELIABLE SOURCES in a moment.
STELTER: Before we go, a note about the loss of another television news legend on the same week Cokie Roberts passed. Sander Vanocur, he was a broadcaster for NBC, for ABC, for other networks, perhaps best known for his historic role as one of the four panelists during the first presidential debate in 1960 between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.
You know, Vanocur had a historic and storied career and he said to a group of journalists a while back and this quote really resonated with me. He said in a 2004 address at Stanford, I'm a strong advocate of freedom of the press as long as they have something to say. What a wonderful sentiment. What a great challenge for today's generations of journalists. Use the powerful freedoms we have and have something important to say. We'll see you back here this time next week.