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Pro-Trump Media Paints Impeachment As Unfair, Illegitimate; Why "Follow The Money" Matters In The Trump Age; Bloomberg's Former D.C. News Director Speaks Out About Boss; Bloomberg's Run Causes Headlines For Bloomberg News; Competing Universe Of Impeachment Coverage; The Trump Meme Wars; Trump Media Portray Him As King, Federal Judge Says He's Not. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired December 01, 2019 - 11:00   ET



BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter. This is RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the story behind the story.

And there is a lot to share today. So, let's get to it.

We have investigative journalists joining today talking about following the money. What are they are learning about Trump putting his own personal interests ahead of America's? What about Rudy, too? We're going to get into that.

Plus, the billionaire who makes Trump look cash poor. Michael Bloomberg's ad blitz is underway. There's been no avoiding it. So, how is his newsroom covering his run for office?

There's never been anything like this. This media mogul running for president. And a former "Bloomberg News" editor who quit over this very issue back in 2016, she's going to join me live.

Plus, a surprise trip to Afghanistan and why it cost one reporter her job.

All of that coming up.

But, first, the impeachment of Donald J. Trump and how it's being covered and contorted and confused.

The president could be impeached by the end of this month. The House vote might happen by Christmas. And the Democrats are about to resume hearings, Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler says in this new letter, Trump again sought for interference in the election -- of course, he's talking about Ukraine -- in this case, for his personal and political benefit. Nadler accusing Trump of in unprecedented campaign of obstruction.

And Nadler says Trump has to decide whether he's going to participate in these hearings, whether he's going to defend himself by Friday, December 6th. So, the clock is ticking.

And let's look at where Trump is getting his legal advice. His actual lawyers are joined by these players in this elaborate pro-Trump media universe. Many of whom keep saying this legal process is an illegal coup. And the dissenters in this galaxy, the commentators who are right wing but not reflexively pro-Trump every time, they are drowned out by the sycophants.

Maybe it's a tale of two judges, two Fox News judges. Jeanine Pirro who used to be a judge for three years back in the day, versus Andrew Napolitano, who was a judge for eight years.

Fox viewers love Pirro because she is so aggressively pro-Trump. She was at the White House two days in a row this week. She was spotted at the ceremony for Conan, the hero dog from the al-Baghdadi raid, and then she was hanging on the Oval Office, getting her picture taken with the president and the VP and Conan.

Napolitano, on the other hand, is a thorn in Trump's side, a target of Trump's ire. He says Trump's conduct with the Ukrainian president is clearly impeachable. In fact, Napolitano says Trump has admitted to criminal behavior and says there's plenty of evidence of that.

So, just compare and contrast the two judges for me.


ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS: Well, the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have unearthed enough evidence in my opinion to justify about three or four articles of impeachment against the president.

JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS: But after two weeks and 17 witnesses, Adam Schiff and his gang of political malcontents failed miserably.


STELTER: If you're the president, you'd obviously much, much rather hear from Pirro. But it seems to me that Napolitano is the one actually providing reasoned legal arguments.

And, look, Trump has plenty of Pirro-esque defenders on the air, people like Fox's Gregg Jarrett who wrote a column saying Trump did nothing impeachable. And then, of course, the president shared it on Twitter.

I would think that this Thanksgiving, Trump likely gave thanks to the Jarretts, and the Pirros, and the Mark Levins of the world.

Hear what Trump told Bill O'Reilly the other day.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The call was a perfect call. I had your friend Mark Levin go do a whole thing. I had Gregg Jarrett -- I didn't have, they did it, I just happened to see it. I had Gregg Jarrett analyze it. There was nothing said wrong.

(END AUDIO CLIP) STELTER: So, on TV, Trump keeps hearing that he's innocent, keeps hearing he's not the mastermind of a shake down, he's a victim of a takedown.

And dissenting voices like Napolitano, are they even getting through? And is this all a preview of what Trump's legal strategy will be as the House prepares to vote on articles of impeachment?

Those are our questions and I have several smart people to ask and they're joining me hear, beginning with "Slate Magazine" senior editor, Dahlia Lithwick, criminal defense attorney and lecturer at Columbia Law School, Caroline Pelosi -- Polisi, sorry about that. And media critic for "The Baltimore Sun", David Zurawik.

Thank you all for coming on.

Dahlia, let me start with you, and this question about the president getting legal advice from the television set -- ultimately are folks like Jeanine Pirro doing a disservice to the president by filling his head with all resentment and spite?

DAHLIA LITHWICK, SENIOR EDITOR, SLATE MAGAZINE: They are doing a perfect service. They are telling him exactly what he wants to hear, and in some sense, it means that you have constructed a flawless feedback loop where the people on television who tell Trump all the things that Trump has either tweeted or said or felt at some point are reinforcing his legal theory of the world, and the people who tell Trump things he doesn't like kind of get fired.


STELTER: I noticed earlier in the fall, Caroline, you are on Fox from time to time. You took Judge Napolitano's side in this spat that happened. It was Shep Smith and Judge Napolitano versus Tucker Carlson and Joe diGenova. And you basically were like yes, it's possible that criminal conduct was admitted to by the president here.

I know this Ukraine scandal is complicated for many viewers, but what do you make of the divide even internally at these networks or at this one network in particular?

CAROLINE POLISI, PARTNER, PIERCE BAINBRIDGE: Yes. So, I think that Shep Smith who obviously is no longer at the network --


POLISI: -- had been sort of the one remaining voice that would speak truth to power, really, and he really prided himself on providing a truthful analysis.

So when he texted me -- you know, I've grown to know him over the course of the years having been on his show.


POLISI: And he texted me just about a legal question. I said, it depends. I gave him my thoughtful, truthful reaction.

And he was -- it turns out, he had -- he was using it to defend, you know, Judge Napolitano -- who previously that he thinks (ph) Joe diGenova -- had called him a fool for saying that this wasn't criminal conduct. So, look, I think there's a reason Shep left the network and it's Fox's loss really.

STELTER: And do you think there's room left for people like Judge Napolitano who are trying to explain to the Fox viewers that Trump is in some pretty hot water?

POLISI: Well, I think there's always room for reasoned legal analysis. I think one of the issues right now is impeachment is such an inherently political question. Perhaps we're looking through it -- through the wrong lens. We're so caught up from the Mueller investigation, thinking about this from a statutory analysis, thinking does it meet the legal definitions of a crime, when we all know a crime is neither necessary nor sufficient for an impeachment.

Really, it's a political question, and so, therefore, the echo chamber really does have some value in this analysis.


David Zurawik, you know, obviously, you cover the echo chamber. You are our media critic at the table. Thinking about Fox and its influence every day, do you see Fox becoming more or more less influential for the president as the impeachment vote nears?

DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, THE BALTIMORE SUN: Well, I think it will become more important to the president, Brian, because he needs it so much. And Fox is so, you know, outside of Napolitano and a few other voices, Fox is so in with him that right wing media grid that you showed earlier is so important.

You know, when we compare it to -- we want a historical context, of course. But when we compare it to past impeachment proceedings, you can't come close because of the right wing media that's out there now. And the way it operates.

You know, one of the problems Fox is having is it's so happy to just take talking points from the White House and not have to think. But the White House has been so scatter shoot and inconsistent with the defense to this impeachment hearing that Fox is having kind of cognitive dissonance and confusion.

You know, first, it was legitimate. Then it was just hearsay evidence. Then it was wait, it's not that Trump who should be investigated for Russian interference, it's George Soros and the State Department and Ukraine that should be.

And the most dangerous thing that that right wing media is doing, and Fox is leading the pack on this, Brian, is seeding the mainstream media, and Fox is part of it, with these conspiracy theories, because when you get to conspiracy theory and nobody knows what to believe and it's all confusion, you are playing into the hands of Vladimir Putin. That is his strategy for post-Soviet Russia.

STELTER: Yes. Dahlia wrote about this in a column for "Slate" this week.

And, Dahlia, I wanted to quote a part of what you said. You said this fog machine is something that some of Trump defenders want to create -- want to benefit from. For example, last weekend, that GOP senator saying, I don't know if it was Russia or Ukraine that interfered in the election.

The idea is what? That because nothing is knowable, they'll just side with Trump? Is that what they want?

LITHWICK: Yes. I mean I think we have to remember and Caroline knows this better than I do, but part of this is a state of mind question. And if what in the end of the day, the defense is, it was perfectly reasonable for Trump to believe that Ukraine interfered in 2016. Even if that's demonstrably untrue, all you need to do is build the case that it was reasonable for Trump to think it.

And if you go back and you look at some of the witnesses in the impeachment so far, what we've heard is Steve Castor questioning on behalf of Senate Republicans over and over saying, but it would have been perfectly plausible that Trump could infer that Ukraine was meddling. And a lot of witnesses were like, I guess it's plausible. That's building a defense.

STELTER: Now, your law firm, Caroline, represents Rudy Giuliani. You don't personally represent him, but the law firm does.

Is it a reasonable defense to say that Trump thought that Ukraine was meddling?


POLISI: So, certainly, when you think about this again in the context of a criminal -- when you think about it in terms of charging a crime, state of mind always, always, always is first and foremost in a prosecutor's mind.

So, I think this goes back to the Mick Mulvaney 1.0 defense, which is, you know, get over it, people, we do this all the time. This was an internal foreign policy debate, and you can, you know, argue over the substance of that foreign policy whether or not that was in America's best interest or whatever the argument may be.

But if the president had a truly, you know, founded belief that there was, quote, unquote, corruption in the Ukraine, and, you know, Burisma and 2016, that it would be a perfectly reasonable thing for him to want to do. You know, I think Sondland said businessmen always get something in return when they're about to sign a big check.

So, again, it frames it as more of a typical foreign policy question and negotiation.

STELTER: Dahlia, you wrote that it's just straight up delusional for the president, some of (ph) what the president says is delusional. That means worse than lying. I think it's a significant difference, right?

It's not just lying to the public, that maybe he believes what he's saying and that's worse?

LITHWICK: I think he believes it and I think the entire machinery of Fox that you described at the top of the show is feeding into that. They are not talking. Andrew Napolitano when he talks, talks about the office of the presidency. He talks about institutions. He talks about plausible legal framing of this.

What they are saying is, you're right, Mr. Trump. It's a witch hunt. The deep state is after you. You've done nothing wrong. You're the victim here.

And as I said, you get that feedback loop what --


LITHWICK: -- where they're saying, they're just reinforcing his world view.

STELTER: Yes. It sounds like a warm bath. It sounds really nice to bathe in that, but I'm not sure it's actually helping the president.

All right. To the panel, thank you very much. Zurawik, please stick around. More with you later.

Quick break here on RELIABLE SOURCES, and then we're talking about the Bloomberg 2020 campaign story that I mentioned earlier.

Also, the Trump presidency and the "follow the money" story. We have two investigative reporters standing by. They're next.



STELTER: Is there a through line to every story about the president? A through line to all the investigations? And if so, is it about him personally benefiting, sometimes personally profiting from public service?

That's the question I thought about when I saw these stories in the past week. The one about Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, how he was privately pursuing hundreds of thousands of business from Ukrainian government officials while pushing for the Trump inquiries into Hunter Biden.

You know, there's been a lot of stories like this. Think about months ago, Robert Mueller's probe highlighted how Trump and Michael Cohen were trying to leverage his campaign in order try to get Trump Tower Moscow built.

There are headlines after headlines about this idea of private profit and public service tied together. Of course, lately, it's been about Trump's properties, seeing business from U.S. and foreign officials. You know, Doral, the Trump hotel in D.C., et cetera, et cetera.

The president says he's losing a lot of money by serving. But other investigations suggest otherwise.

So, let's talk more about that, about this "follow the money" angle. I'm joined now by Rebecca Davis O'Brien. She's a reporter for "The Wall Street Journal". She broke the story recently about Giuliani's consulting firm facing some pretty serious federal subpoenas.

We're also joined by Andrea Bernstein. She's the co-host of WNYC and ProPublica's" "Trump Inc." podcast. And she's the author of the forthcoming book, "American oligarchs: The Kushners, The Trumps and The Marriage of Money and Power". That comes out in January.

That's quite an interesting title. So, let's start right there, Andrea -- money and power. What is the importance of the money and power beat right now in the Trump era?

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, CO-HOST OF THE "TRUMP INC." PODCAST: Well, I mea, it's been defining. And we remember the very first press conference Trump has as president-elect when he was telling Jim Acosta he couldn't ask questions and the dossier had just been released. But what happened at that press conference was momentous, because the president said he was not divesting from his small, family, closely- held business.


BERNSTEIN: And as a result -- I mean, even though it's not a large business, it's a worldwide business, the American people would not understand whose interest he was acting in. Was he acting in a personal interest or was he acting in the public interest? And it's been the defining question of the Trump presidency and it spread out to the people around him.

Other people on his cabinet, his daughter, his son-in-law, have not divested from their large holdings. So, you have a whole administration where we don't know what forces are at play and when they find out, when we find out, they tend to be troubling.

STELTER: Is it fair to say, Rebecca, that, look, people in power are trying to profit, that's not new? That's been going on for as long as this country has been around. There's a striking number of cases in the Trump age that involve this.

REBECCA DAVIS O'BRIEN, REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Right. So, I think it's telling my beat is white collar law enforcement, but it increasingly feels like a political beat. And there is -- you look at cities and states around the United States, there are bipartisan examples of people leveraging political power for their own personal benefit, excuse me. But there is something about I think the influx of outside money or big money, foreign money into our political process today, and just this striking number of people indicted are accused out of the Justice Department. It's pretty telling. STELTER: And are news outlets going enough job of detecting and

explaining this pattern?

O'BRIEN: In D.C., I think, yes. There's a lot of great reporting going on by a number of outlets. I think that one thing -- that and this is maybe my soap box issue here, but I think it's worthy thinking -- not just, you know, the explaining is important, but I think to do a better job of looking at what are the -- why does it matter that the Trump International Hotel sees millions of dollars from foreign delegations every year?


O'BRIEN: Why do we care about that? Why should we care? I'm not sure the media has to tell people how to feel, but we could certainly be doing a better job covering local and state corruption elsewhere that tells -- you know, that might present to the American public or viewership, you know, an example -- other examples of why this sort of problematic overlay of private business and government should matter.

STELTER: Right. Not the type of how to feel about it but to be aware of what's going on.

O'BRIEN: Right.

STELTER: To be aware of what's happening.

Andrea, is that the idea behind the "Trump Inc." podcast?



Exactly. I mean, that's what we do, is we sort of track the interests that might be affecting the president, private interest.


BERNSTEIN: I mean, one of the things that's so fascinating is we're an open investigation and a lot of times we'll do episodes where we just have a lot of questions.


BERNSTEIN: We did one on Rudy Giuliani a year ago where we asked how is he making his money? We know he travels around the world. But he is somebody as we are now obviously seeing, has an enormous influence over the president, and yet is not in the administration and as a result is not required to file any disclosures.


BERNSTEIN: So the only tools that we have for finding out this information about where he's making his money are court proceedings. And I think that, in general, I feel like people -- journalists have risen to the occasion where we have a very secretive administration that believes that once you work for the president, this is official administration policy, you should never be able to speak about the president and what you learned ever. That's what they're arguing in court, in the Don McGahn case.

So, this is the circumstance under which we're working where it is an abnormally secretive administration combined with an administration where there are -- is private profit involved? And those make it very difficult for journalists. I think most journalists are actually navigating that pretty well considering all the questions and difficulties that we have.

STELTER: I always think about the lack of visitor logs at the White House and if we knew who was coming and going at the White House --


STELTER: -- or who was on the phone at any given time?

Rebecca, you said to me off the air, you wish you had more time to write non-Trump related stories?

O'BRIEN: Right. Well, I mean, again, that's my beat technically. I could be writing about lots of insider trading cases or lack thereof. And instead, I find myself, you know, becoming I'm an expert in lobbying laws. But --

STELTER: And you're covering Rudy quite a bit. Rudy could be in some serious trouble. I don't know if people appreciate how serious this New York -- this SDNY investigation is.

O'BRIEN: Right. Well, once again, we're seeing a federal criminal investigation out of New York into the personal -- into Donald Trump's personal lawyer. He's also wrapped up in a fairly serious hearing in D.C., so -- matters in D.C. So --

STELTER: Pretty incredible.


STELTER: Rebecca, Andrea, thank you both.

O'BRIEN: Thank you.

STELTER: Great to see you.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

STELTER: A quick break here on the show. Something you'll only see on RELIABLE SOURCES, coming up. That's a "Bloomberg News" insider who quit her job because she didn't think the news outlet was covering Michael Bloomberg, the boss aggressively enough.

Kathy Kiely says you can't cover the circus unless you write about one of the biggest elephants in the room. And she's next.


STELTER: And welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

Michael Bloomberg's campaign launch is everywhere. That is thanks to his deep pockets. He is spending all across the country on local stations and television networks -- tens of millions of dollars in television ads to introduce himself as a 2020 contender.

But Michael Bloomberg is also a media mogul, the founder of "Bloomberg News". And this is an unprecedented situation. How is a media company with a political journalism team going to cover the owner running for president?

Well, the "Bloomberg" newsroom is -- as you can imagine -- pretty stressed out about this. My story is up on One reporter there told me that the campaign, the Bloomberg campaign is everybody's nightmare come true.

Other reporters are a little more optimistic, hoping that this won't be too much of a headache. But, honestly, it is a headache for these reporters.

I mean, the "Bloomberg" editor-in-chief came out with a memo explain how this is going to go, how this is going to work for "Bloomberg News". He said: We will continue our tradition of not investigating Bloomberg and we will extend the same policy to his rivals in the Democratic primaries. We cannot treat Mike's Democratic competitors differently from him.

So, in other words, the "Bloomberg" newsroom will investigate President Trump but not the men and women running to take him out of office. This is fascinating.

Like I said, this has never happened before. It's unprecedented.

And my next guest has personal experience with this. Kathy Kiely was the former Washington news director for "Bloomberg Politics". She quit in 2016 back when Mike Bloomberg was thinking about running for office.

So, Kathy, just remind us what happened then. Why did you decide you couldn't stay at "Bloomberg" back then?

KATHY KIELY, FORMER WASHINGTON NEWS DIRECTOR FOR BLOOMBERG POLITICS: Well, I feel a little bit like I'm living in "Groundhog Day", the movie because this is very similar to what happened and what really precipitated my decision to leave "Bloomberg". The same sort of directions were given, and only it was not yet an official campaign. But I felt that that wasn't ethical, and it was just an untenable situation for me as the assigning editor to be in.

Unfortunately, they've had four years to think about this, and they haven't come up with a better solution. I'm really sorry to see this.

STELTER: But is it possible that they've come up with the least terrible option, the least terrible route by saying we aren't going to cover Bloomberg's campaign?

KIELY: Oh --

STELTER: They've assigned a reporter to the beat, and they're going to -- they're not going to investigate other Democrats because they don't want appear to be biased in that ways.

Is that maybe the least terrible option?

KIELY: No, I think the least terrible option is the obvious option which is you cover Mike Bloomberg the way you would cover any other candidate, and you cover every candidate aggressively.

You know, the press is -- you know, I'm at the Missouri School of Journalism. And one of the things we teach our students is the press is a public trust. And I think most people who own news organizations understand that.

And you're serving -- the people who work for these publications aren't serving the owners. They're serving the people, the readers, the viewers, the listeners. And so, I think if you look at it that way, it's a very easy call to make.

And this is unprecedented in some ways in the sense that Mike Bloomberg is running for president, but it's not unprecedented for a rich person to own a news organization and to be covered by the news organization. It happens all the time.


So, I just don't understand why they're making this decision.


KIELY: It really undermines the credibility of the organization Mike Bloomberg invested so much money in. As a business decision, it doesn't make sense.

STELTER: Well, that's the thing. When newsrooms show autonomy and show independence, newsrooms gain credibility as a result. That's hopefully the idea behind shows like this one. But Mike Bloomberg never seemed to want that. He's always had an issue with this, hasn't he?

KIELY: Well, you know, this predates my time there. I really thought, when I got there that things were going to change because as I say, Mike Bloomberg is a very smart businessman had made a big investment in building up this organization and in creating a political team.

And I couldn't imagine that as somebody who wants his own businesses to succeed, he would hamstring his own organization. It's really -- it's puzzling and it's disturbing too, because if I put on my hat as the Lee Hills chair for free press studies here at Missouri, this is not the kind of thing we really need in our country right now. We don't need another billionaire who thinks there should be a special set of rules just for him.

If Mike Bloomberg really wants to distinguish himself from the man he says he wants to be, he should say free the press. I can take it, Donald, even if you can.

STELTER: And since you're in Missouri, do you think these ads are going to have any impact in media markets across the country? Look, New Yorkers know Mike Bloomberg is. Are these ads going to introduce him effectively to the rest of the country or is this just a waste of his money?

KIELY: Well, they certainly will introduce him, but I think the question is will all of that money backfire? I mean, we've seen -- I covered politics for a long time before I started teaching journalism. And there's -- you know, the campaign trails are littered with the carcasses of billionaires who have tried to use their money to leverage themselves into national prominence.

Donald Trump is really an exception. He did not win because of the money he put in into the race, which ended up really being a small amount of the money that was actually spent by his campaign. He won because he had a message and a certain kind of charisma that appeal to people.

I think money helps at the margins, but it doesn't win races. Ask Steve Forbes and other billionaires who tried to run for president and loss. Ask Michael Huffington who once invested multi-millions of dollars trying to beat Dianne Feinstein? It's a hard thing. And I think sometimes voters feel resentful when they think someone's trying to buy their vote.

STELTER: Kathy Kiely, thank you so much. Thanks for joining me.

KIELY: Thank you for having me.

STELTER: Up next, the next phase of the impeachment hearings. Will any of these hearings make an impact on public opinion? A social psychiatrists and psychologists will join me with answers in a moment.



STELTER: You know, some Trump allies say the impeachment hearings are a snooze that no one wants to watch. So just keep this data in mind. This is new data from Nielsen, the television ratings company, finding that more than 70 million viewers watched at least a few minutes of the impeachment hearings in November.

And this doesn't mean they were watching wall to wall. We know that the number was lower at any given time. But overall, 70 million people saw some portion of the hearings on T.V. And CNN polling shows that those viewers aren't all watching just casually randomly.

I mean, take a look -- take a look at this. 41 percent of Americans telling CNN pollsters that they're paying very close attention to the impatient proceedings. Another 36 percent say they're paying somewhat close attention.

At the same time, the poll shows opinions are strongly held. 85 percent of respondents say they have a strong opinion about whether the President should be impeached or not. It doesn't seem to leave too much room for voters to be swayed or to have many minds changed either for the president or against the president.

Let's talk more about that with Peter T. Coleman. He's a professor here in New York City at Columbia University. He teaches psychology and he's been writing about this for Politico Magazine. You had a piece, Peter, in November titled can the impeachment hearings actually change anyone's mind? Do we have an answer to that question yet?

PETER COLEMAN, PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Well, I think the general answer is that I do think minds can change and that minds are changing but different depending on the strength of your attitude about Trump and about the impeachment hearings. They -- people's minds change differently.

So I think a vascular majority of the population, 70 percent or so, are kind of tired with the status quo. They're tired with the dysfunction in Washington. They're tired of just sort of the noise and the nonsense and they really want something different. So they're eager to change and to hear information that will move us in a better direction.

But there's about a third of the population, about 33 percent that are stuck. And they really are true believers on the left and the right. They're more on the right, right now, that are true believers. And they're unlikely to be changed certainly by media accounts.

But what's interesting to know is that persuasion the search is complicated. It's messy. And one of the things we find is that people actually --their attitudes are more affected by their relationships by their friends and family that they speak to who they trust and understand.

And so even though 70 million people are watching, those 70 million people are having conversations with countless others.


COLEMAN: And it's through that channel that you start to see an impact. Which means that sometimes these effects take time to see -- to see them show up in polls. So I do think that there could be changes taking place, we just don't see them in the -- in the immediate polling.

STELTER: What is selective perception and how does that relate to the impeachment process?

COLEMAN: Right. So in psychology, there's a process that if you have a strong attitude about something about Donald Trump that you tend to watch media or read the news or listen to conversations, and look for information that supports your bias, right? You look for information that's comforting, and that feels right to you. We -- and we tend to ignore or deny or discount information that is contradictory in some ways. So that is a kind of chronic process.

And that's one of the reasons -- there are many reasons, but one of the reasons why we've moved into these kinds of tribal societies with very different experiences of reality is because we're only sort of processing half the story.

STELTER: I talked a lot about pro-Trump media, anti-Trump media, you know, the sense that we are all in our media tribes. But you're making me think maybe that's not as -- maybe that it's not as cemented into the ground as it may seem that people are talking to each other and more people have open minds than we might think.


COLEMAN: I think so. I mean, again, then there was a study by this nonpartisan group called More In Common. They found that about 67 percent, and that's increasing, are kind of tired and fed up with the status quo. And they really are interested in finding ways to work together and move forward. So there is an openness that's out there.

STELTER: They published a report on hidden tribes which is at, which is fascinating.


STELTER: Because it suggests that there is more movement in the electorate than you might realize.

COLEMAN: Yes. They're just aren't two groups, there are sort of several groups. They're gradations of that. And there are extremes right in both -- on both sides that are holding strong to their ideas and their values. But there's a fair amount of the population that is open to moving.

And so it depends on again, the kinds of new sources they see and who they're talking to, whether they're -- you know, we tend to think that our thinking is just done in our head, but our thinking is done with our friends and our families where we make sense of the world.

And so if you're exposed to people that have a different point of view, you have a chance of being persuaded.

STELTER: Professor Coleman, thank you so much.

COLEMAN: My pleasure.

STELTER: Great to see you.

COLEMAN: Thank you.

STELTER: A quick break here on the program and then a photo, a meme that spread from the President's twitter feed all the way to Hong Kong in a matter of minutes.



STELTER: The meme wars, I know the phrase sounds funny but this phenomenon is real. This is how online arguments are fought and how propaganda is pushed with images like this Trump's face on Sylvester Stallone's body. Within hours, activists in Hong Kong we're using this image thanking Trump for signing two bills supporting the pro- democracy movement there.

What an incredible display of the internet age. And means beget memes. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's daughter Christine punched back at Trump with this one. And on and on it goes. David Zurawik back with me. I do think these names matter. This is how people communicate these days whether we like it or not.

ZURAWIK: Yes, Brian, especially globally. Remember the meme of Putin on horseback with the bare chest, and some of us laughed about it? This like that mean, this says strong man. And one of the things earlier, I was talking about what happens when you have all these conspiracy theories out there, Peter Pomerantsev has a book called This Is Not Propaganda. This is beyond propaganda. It's called the this is not propaganda.

And what happens is people look for a strong man. And this feeds right into that. That's one part of it. The other part that's fascinating to me is we've become a visual culture. We now have social media. This is what the political conversation is reduced to in some ways, memes.

STELTER: Right. So Fox And Friends this morning was talking about the President's surprise trip to Afghanistan for Thanksgiving. The banner said media and Dems blast Trump over visit to Afghanistan. I'm thinking who in the media is blasting Trump for doing a great thing as Commander in Chief.

So they were talking about this reporter for Newsweek who wrote a story before the president landed in Afghanistan basically surmising that Trump was actually just golfing and tweeting on Thanksgiving.

So she put up her story. She updated it once everyone found out the President was actually in Afghanistan. But her original tweet here was lambasted Trump supporters. And look, this was an error by Newsweek to assume that the President was just going to be golfing on Thanksgiving. But as a result, the Washington Examiner has fired this Newsweek reporter.

It just strikes me that there's a lot of bad faith acting going on over on Fox and Friends when they -- when they attack the entirety of the media for one error by Newsweek. And I just wanted to ask you, David, about another Fox News personality, other Fox and Friends personality, Pete Hegseth, because he seems to be the shadow defense secretary.

He was lobbying for the Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, and you know, it was headset that seemed to be more persuasive than the defense chiefs.

ZURAWIK: That's absolutely true. And that's really disturbing there because, you know, you think of the media and our role is really important. But when the President is listening to that person, over the -- over the Secretary of the Navy and over the military chain of command, this is outrageous. This is insane, Brian.

This is crazy that he watches Fox and Friends, sends out these tweets. Pete Hegseth jacks him up about this defending Gallagher and saying look, they're not -- you know, the President has to be -- the Commander in Chief has to be obeyed on this. And so it puts Trump in a spot where you know he's going to react that way and he's going to -- he's going to make a bad choice.

STELTER: Really incredible. David Zurawik, thank you so much. After the break here, why so many of Trump's advisors are comparing him to a higher power.



STELTER: President or not kings. A federal judge said this week in a ruling opening the door to former White House Counsel Don McGahn possibly testifying before the House. So President Trump is not a king, but perhaps his spiritual influence is far greater. Just take a look at what's been said recently.


NIKKI HALEY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATION: Everything happens for a reason. And the way I see it is look at the results of Donald Trump as president.

SECRETARY OF ENERGY, UNITED STATES: Mr. President, I know there are people that say, you know, you said you were the chosen one. And I said, you are.

MIKE LINDELL, CEO, MY PILLOW: As I stand before you today, I see the greatest president in history, of course, he is. He was chosen by God.


STELTER: So what are these clips about? Sometimes these clips go viral. They get mocked on social media. But there's something important here. And I think the press overlooks the power of religion at its peril. Let me bring in journalist, author, and Pastor Angela Denker. She knows this firsthand. She's out with a book titled Red State Christians. She traveled the country for a year speaking with Christian voters about their faith and their faith in Trump, and she's with me now.

Angela, these recent clips, Rick Perry and others, what do they signify?

ANGELA DENKER, JOURNALIST: Just the extent to which the American church has lost the gospel of Jesus and has become caught up in a gospel distortion over Christian nationalism, which says that our God is no longer the God of the Bible, but a God who makes America strongest.

STELTER: And you found that in your reporting across the country?

DENKER: I did. Yes. You know, people -- I heard that from a Southern Baptist pastor. His name is Dean (INAUDIBLE). He told me in the Washington D.C. at the march for life. He said, there's a gospel distortion happening particularly in the Southern Baptist Convention. But I found this in country in churches from Appalachia to Orange County, that pastors, in particular, have failed to teach the actual teachings of Jesus, which were not about power or wealth or money, but about loving one another about giving your money to the poor.

And instead, American churches have become caught up in wealth and power and has led American Christians to be so entirely focused on our own power and our own money and, of course, has led to a president who exemplifies many of those things.

STELTER: And the faith in Trump that you found in your reporting, is that probably why he's brought in Paula White the televangelist as a religious advisor?

DENKER: Yes. I attended Paula White's church and met with her after the service in Florida. And Paula White is an example of somebody who really believes that following the gospel of Jesus is about power and is about money. And she has become close to Trump because her ministry was built on some of the same things Trump's prestige has been built on which is television, which is celebrity.

And as the American church has embraced a lot of these things, starting with mega-churches where I served in Orange County, California, that has led to American Christians becoming enamored in the same way outside the church, with celebrity and power and money over the story of Jesus.


STELTER: Now, let me ask you. I only have about 30 seconds left, but the most important factor, the most important part of the religious beat that the national news begins to pay attention to, what do you think it is?

DENKER: I think the national news media needs to more deeply understand the actual story of Jesus and who Jesus really is. Jesus was somebody who was not at all like an earthly king. And God sent Jesus to remind the people of Israel that an earthly king was not what God intended. And Americans are getting caught up in the same kind of traps that the Hebrew people the Old Testament were which is waiting for an earthly king to bring us power. And that is not the story of Christianity. And I think a lot of religion journalists are missing that part.

STELTER: Angela Denker, thank you so much. The book is red-state Christians. It's going to be an intense week of impeachment news. We're need something uplifting at the end of this week so here it is. Next Sunday 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa will be live naming the 2019 CNN Hero of the year. That's this time -- this day of the week next week.

In the meantime, we'll see you right back here this time next week.