Return to Transcripts main page

Reliable Sources

Did Right-Wing Media Lead Trump to the Brink of Impeachment?; Jim Lehrer on the Media's Role in Impeachment; Gretchen Carlson on Ending Cover-up Culture. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired December 15, 2019 - 11:00   ET




This is our weekly look at the story behind the story, with some big guests coming up today, including legendary journalist Jim Lehrer, who covered the Nixon and Clinton impeachments. Hear his view of the Trump impeachment coming up.

Plus, former "Fox and Friends" host Gretchen Carlson is here to share her anti-NDA initiative and reaction to Nicole Kidman playing her in "Bombshell".

And later, "The Washington Post's" Craig Whitlock is here with lessons learned from this century's version of the Pentagon's Papers.

But, first, you know, we're going to start today, with the House of Representatives barreling toward an impeachment vote on Wednesday, how did we get here? How did Trump get here? How his sources of information led him astray? Led him off-course?

I think it's pretty easy to make the case that we ended here at the brink of impeachment because of the bogus information Trump was watching and reading. Of course, his choices, what we did with the alleged information, the alleged shakedown, all that, that's all his own doing. He's responsible for what he did.

But what he was hearing from right wing media was crucial. The conspiratorial bent of his favorite talk shows was critical. This Ukrainian house of lies is built on two main theories. One is that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election. That's a theory that kind of lets Russia off the hook.

And then the other theory is the Bidens are up to no good in Ukraine, even though there's no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens. This has been swirling around in Trump's head all year-long and has been peddled by people like Sean Hannity and John Solomon and Trump's own lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who constantly talk about it on Fox, right?

Sometimes they took bits of information that was true and then blew them up to much the information became distorted and misleading and manipulated, like this one from January 17th. This is the "Politico" story that kind of started it all. It said Ukrainian government officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and tried to undermine Trump before the election.

But this story was limited in scope. It described what former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch later called isolated incidents by individuals in Ukraine. It did not allege a top down campaign of Ukrainian meddling because there wasn't a top-down campaign of Ukrainian meddling.

But Hannity leaned on this "Politico" story for months and months even after the co-author said, whoa, whoa, whoa, what the Ukrainian officials did is nowhere near what Russia did. Russia attacked the election. Ukraine did not.

But Hannity kept talking and talking and talking aabout that article. In fact, he still talks about it like this month.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: We've been telling you "Politico" uncovered a massive, huge scandal.

"Politico", they issued a report.

We have "Politico" --

As the "Politico" pointed out --

"Politico" reports in detail.


STELTER: See, it's no wonder why Trump harbored a grudge against Ukraine, one of his best friends in the media was harping on it.

Now, as to the need to investigate Biden and the idea to withdraw aid, enter John Solomon. He was the right wing columnist for "The Hill" website. He worked very closely with Rudy Giuliani to light the fuse of the Ukraine scandal.

There was a key moment in March when Solomon was on the show with Hannity and with Trump's other pals and he's pushing out these anti- Biden assertions and backing up Hannity's anti-Ukraine theories. During this segment right here, Trump's pals also trashed Yovanovitch which was foreshadowing her removal.

State Department official George Kent was later asked about this interview, and about the article that Solomon wrote. He says, was that based on accurate information? Kent said it was primarily non- truths and non sequiturs, an unreliable source. So unreliable "The Hill" is now reviewing all of Solomon's work on this subject.

But we know Trump was watching on that night in March. We know because Trump tweeted out this exact headline right after Hannity's show and, of course, Trump was citing John Solomon in the tweet that night. This is just one illustration of how we know that this right wing media mess and misinformation morass was influencing Trump. But it went on. I mean, this feedback loop kept looping. Solomon

kept writing columns. "The Hill" kept labeling columns as opinions. But Trump and others trumpeted them as fact. And so did Rudy.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: It's a big, dramatic story. And I guarantee you, Joe Biden will not get to election day without this being investigated. Not because I want to see him investigated. This is collateral to what I was doing.


STELTER: Sure it was. Now, that clip was from May. Rudy and his allies kept raising the volume about Biden and Ukraine all spring long.

And in June, questions about aid money arose. Why? According to "Washington Post", Trump saw an article from the right leaning "Washington Examiner" titled Pentagon to send $250 million in weapons to Ukraine. There's the article.


And the rest of this tale is well-documented. Trump's infamous phone call when he says, do us a favor though was informed or rather misinformed by years' worth of anti-Ukraine commentary on his favorite shows and months worth of anti-Biden bombast. But this pro-Trump media bubble did not actually help Trump. To the contrary, it led him to the brink of impeachment.

Let's talk more about this and what's different about this impeachment versus the past three times the country has been on the edge of this cliff.

With me here today is the columnist for "The New Yorker", Masha Gessen, the dean of the Lawrence Herbert School of Communications at Hofstra University, Mark Lukasiewicz, a former NBC News executive who oversaw the network during the major coverage of events for many years. And also with us here, Democratic strategist Tara Dowdell, formally a contestant on "The Apprentice" way back in the day.

Masha, what is different between this time versus the Nixon years, the Clinton years? Is it the conspiracy theory thinking that has dominated this entire scandal? Is that what's different this time?

MASHA GESSEN, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORKER": I think that's part of it. But I think the bigger part of it is that, you know, I think in previous impeachments we had the sense that everyone involved lived in the same reality. Everybody was on the same planet. And there could be a discussion of what actually happened. And once you landed on what happened, that meant something, right?

Here we have been witnessing two non-overlapping realities, in a couple of different ways. One is that in a sense, in the entire impeachment inquiry there has been no disagreement about facts. The facts were known up front, right?

We had the readout of the phone call before any of this began, right? So, in a way, it was an investigation. It was an argument about interpretation which actually makes it different from other Trumpian events, right? We weren't arguing about facts.

It was -- and the arguments still continues in one universe, this is an impeachable offense. This is outrageous. This is almost unthinkable. In another universe, it's like whatever.

STELTER: It's Wednesday, it's Sunday.

GESSEN: It's Wednesday and there's so much else going on including Ukraine. I think that's where the right wing media din comes in. Its function is not so much to create a different narrative. Its function is to say nothing is true. Anything is possible. What are you talking about when there's something else to talk about?

STELTER: And when we say conspiracy theories, the idea that anything could be true, Mark, I think it's important to know the Ukraine theories are not just conspiracy theories. They've been backed up by a Russia disinformation campaign to try to confuse people about what happened in 2016.

MARK LUKASIEWICZ, DEAN, HERBERT SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATION, HOFSTRA UNIVERSITY: Brian, I object to the idea that we call them theories. Relativity is a theory. A theory is a hypothesis reasonably proven over time.

This is a disinformation campaign. It's deliberate deception. It's fabrication. And I think one of the failings of our contemporary media and it's a difficult challenge is we're not calling that out enough. Just calling it a conspiracy theory lends it a certain credibility.

I think what Masha has talked about so provocatively and so well, these irreconcilable realities that the country now lives -- we talk about polarization. It's deeper than polarization. There are two competing world view realities. And they are -- we do a disservice when we serve those up.

I have to tell you on this very network.

STELTER: What do you mean we serve them up?

LUKASIEWICZ: Well, on this very network not very long ago, former Senator Rick Santorum, a paid analyst of this network, sat on camera and told the CNN audience that when the president uttered the words, I would like you to do us a favor, though, he wasn't asking for a favor. He said that repeatedly, literally those words.

Well, that's gas lighting. That's trying to sow deep, deep confusion in the American public about what is actually going on in the world. And that takes us to a very dangerous place.

STELTER: And, Tara, I've seen a number of Democrats talking about this, number of Congress people or representatives, concerned about this situation, this environment we're in. Jamie Raskin, for example, representative from Maryland, said to "The New Yorker", the evidence is overwhelming, un-refuted, incontrovertible, I feel our constitutional argument is airtight. Then he went to say, I still feel like we have not broken through the ideological sound barrier that connects to the half of America that is watching Fox News and thinks vaguely that Donald Trump is draining the swamp rather than swimming in the swamp.

Now, that could be an argument for Democrats going on Fox and trying to break through the sound barrier. Adam Schiff, to his credit, went on "Fox News Sunday" earlier. It's his first time on the program, were on Fox since April, but he did appear.

I wonder if that's part of the issue. Democrats have to have courage to go over and try to talk to the other America.

TARA DOWDELL, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think -- I think there's three powerful forces here at work. I want to just take everything and pull it together.

So, we have the Russian disinformation, right? That didn't exist in any of the other impeachments, right? So you have that.

You compound that with social media which is a huge force right now in people's lives.


And then you compound it with on top of it, I said disinformation, social media, and then Fox News. Then you have a fourth force, the entire Republican Party in lock step pushing all of this, consolidating all of this into a disinformation strategy. So, I think it's important to point out all four of these forces are working together. And that they are impenetrable at this point.

So, I'm not sure it's a question of Democrats not going --

STELTER: Let me add a fifth.

DOWDELL: -- on Fox News, because more Democrats go on Fox News than Republicans go on other networks.

STELTER: Well, that's -- I'm glad you brought that up. There is a lack of courage from GOP leaders right now. I'm talking about Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy and others turning down almost every single TV request they receive.

You know, McConnell went on Hannity this week to reassure to Trump, but he is not doing TV. Neither are most of the GOP leaders. There's a fear of going anywhere but Fox. It shows a lack of courage.

I would add a fifth element to what you described, Trump's Twitter feed.

DOWDELL: Right. STELTER: Let's put on screen Trump's tweets and retweets. He set a new record on Thursday of this week -- 123 tweets and retweets this week. So, we looked at the day, December 12th, from all those past years, you can see -- he's really -- something has changed. He's tweeting a lot more often.

I don't think it's a coincidence Trump is about to hit the 15,000 mark in the "Washington Post" survey of false and misleading statements. Sometime later this week, he's going to top 15,000 false and misleading statements. The more Trump talks, the more disinformation he's going to spread.

And, Mark, that just makes the challenge for those of us at the desks even harder.

LUKASIEWICZ: Absolutely. Look, you wanted to ask about the differences. Let's go back to a December, Friday, 19 years ago when Bill Clinton's Judiciary Committee voted four articles of impeachment. The broadcast networks at the time owned about 50 percent of televisions on in the country in the evening news, and they did about 25 minutes of combined coverage with nine reporters.

Last Friday -- with nine reporters, by the way. Last Friday, about ten minutes of coverage, fewer households watching and this whole alternate reality is where the news is happening.

And I think one of the challenges for journalism writ large is to understand that telling the truth is only part of the challenge. Figuring out how to get the truth to audiences is entirely a different challenge and the world has shifted under our feet dramatically.

The president, let's just remember, has 67 million direct audience viewers at the tip of his thumbs, any time he wants them.


Masha, final thought on what to expect in the week ahead, how this is going to be perceived when the vote happens on Wednesday?

GESSEN: You know, what worries me the most, actually, is that I think that since about a week ago, when we saw the legal experts testifying in Congress, I think we've been in new territory which is the sense that reasonable people can disagree about whether he should be impeached.


GESSEN: I think this was Turley's testimony in the Judiciary Committee. But I find it absolutely terrifying, right?

And that -- and I see that Trump is positioning himself to the sort of -- to the fringes. But you don't have to believe Trump's tweets in order to be a reasonable person who thinks that maybe we shouldn't have rushed with impeachment. Maybe we should have heard witnesses who are stonewalling who had firsthand knowledge, et cetera, et cetera. I think this is terrifying. I think we're going to be seeing more of that kind of morass.

STELTER: To the panel, thank you.

We have Jim Lehrer standing by. We're going to hear his perspective about how this impeachment is being covered in just a moment.



STELTER: President Trump said on Friday, quote: My poll numbers as you know have gone through the roof. The roof of a dog house, maybe.

The truth is that his poll numbers are remarkably stable but historically low. It's been like that for a long time.

Opinions have hardened like quick dried cement, including on the impeachment topic, which is why Trump might not like this brand new poll from Fox. It's just coming out. It says 54 percent of Americans believe Trump should be impeached. And just 41 percent say he should not be impeached.

And if you compare that to October, you can see on screen, there's been practically no movement either in Trump's favor or against him.

So, what does that tell us about America and about the role of the media?

With me now is Jim Lehrer, the veteran journalist and former news anchor for the PBS "NewsHour". He was covering the Nixon impeachment inquiry, the Clinton impeachment and now here we are on the brink of another impeachment vote this time coming up on Wednesday.

Jim, what do -- the polling numbers we've seen again and again, poll after poll showing people are fixed in their positions? What does that tell you about America in 2019?

JIM LEHRER, FORMER NEWS ANCHOR, PBS "NEWSHOUR": Well, it's a -- it's a story that's been there from the very beginning. I would say the last three or four years ago, the story of division, the division that existed within the electorate, within the populace here, it was a story that was missed by we -- in other words, mainstream press did not cover it.

So, when Donald Trump announced he was going to run for president, and immediately said, oh, by the way, Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States, we, the jour -- the mainstream media, the established order --


LEHRER: -- said, oh, well, forget it.

And so, every step along the way, oh, well, he's going to get it, you know, he's not -- you know, even to the point where he became the Republican nominee, well, Hillary Clinton is going to win. So, we in the established order used our own prism to judge this and,

suddenly, the divisions that Trump -- he didn't create these divisions. They were already existed. What he did was took advantage of them and he's still taking advantage of them, and in some -- and obviously is making meat out of it.

I mean, he is -- this is his -- this is his political life blood. It's the division.

And those of us who are now -- I'm retired but I'm still -- I feel like -- when I always use the word the pronoun we --


LEHRER: --we're covering the division now and in the process, it's a double-edged sword for us, as you know.

STELTER: Well, you commented to "Lawfare" (ph), that the media is in the middle of a revolution. What kind of revolution is it?

LEHRER: Well, it's a -- it's a revolution that is based on the division. And we haven't gotten -- we are still -- we are still trying to cope with it and trying to figure it out.


For instance, cable television news, including CNN, but also Fox and MSNBC, this is good for their business. This is good for news business, because division is the story in the country right now.

Impeach -- the impeachment process is the -- just the most dramatic manifestation of this, and the more the impeachment story is covered, and each one of the cable networks covers it and, of course, mainstream beyond that, "Washington Post" and "New York Times", the three commercial networks and the PBS "NewsHour", they were all -- everybody's covering the division.

And the division is good in a way. At the other -- on the other part of the thing is how do you deal with a division that is based on things that are considered lies?


LEHRER: And how do you report lies in a straightforward way that doesn't also put you on one side or the other of the division?

And this is the revolution is how the mainstream, the old fashioned mainstream press --


LEHRER: -- no matter how old they are or whatever is to how to report this, and we haven't figured it out.

You know, it's all kind of OK, we're going to call this a lie or we're not going to call this a lie, this and that, this da, da, da. And by the way, we're evenhanded. And by the way, we have old fashioned journalism values, but, boom, boom, boom, but we're just kind of still in the middle of a revolution, it's how (ph) been in the middle of a revolution.

STELTER: Sure does feel like we are.

You know, during the Watergate years, what you're covering on, on public television, in the '70s, it felt -- you know, I think the history books say that the country was transfixed. The people are on the edges of their seats.

Was that true? Because right now, I think the country is just fatigued by impeachment. I don't get the sense that something that is so big for this country, which it is, doesn't feel that way. It almost feels tiring, small.

LEHRER: Well, the reason for that, Brian, is that probably, it is even a larger audience, a larger interest than there was for Clinton's impeachment or Nixon's impeachment, at least at this stage in the process. But it's no -- those things were television events. Nixon's impeachment and all the processes that led up to his resignation were television events. Same thing with Clinton's impeachment.

The -- Trump's impeachment is not a television -- television is only part of it. Social media is also part of it. And all the other things that -- the new revolution -- the other revolution in communication and technology has made it -- people are following the debates over the -- over the impeachment of Trump, but they're doing it each in their own way. In other words, they're using their own prism to watch it and they're watching different things, a little snippets here, a little whatever, reading different things or maybe not reading at all.

But they're not -- they're not gathering around the TV set to watch it like we did in '73, '74, and like before that with the -- with the -- I mean, yes, '73 with Nixon and then also with Clinton later. We're not doing that anymore. We probably never will again.

STELTER: It does feel like social media is the X factor, the Internet is the X factor in this impeachment in a number of ways.

LEHRER: Right.

STELTER: Jim, thank you for sharing your insights with us.

LEHRER: My pleasure, Brian, always.

COOPER: Coming up here, a woman who launched the #MeToo movement was a domino effect. She was the first domino by going up against Fox News and Roger Ailes. Gretchen Carlson is here to share what she's doing next in just a moment.


[11:27:35] STELTER: The brand new movie "Bombshell" is bringing the 2016 Roger Ailes sexual harassment scandal back to the forefront. The film recounts what happened when former "Fox and Friends" host, Gretchen Carlson, sued Ailes and that wound up launching a movement.

Now, Carlson is teaming up with former colleague Julie Roginsky and launching a new organization called Lift Our Voices. They are demanding that Fox release them from nondisclosure agreements that used to be very common and oftentimes still are very common.

And Gretchen Carlson is joining me now here for an interview about this new effort.

Lift Our Voices -- it's been more than three years since Ailes was forced out of Fox, you received a $20 million settlement. You're not allowed to talk about Fox, though, as part of the settlement. Am I getting that right?

GRETCHEN CARLSON, FORMER FOX NEWS ANCHOR: That's correct. I mean, that's the way sexual harassment cases in the workplace have been resolved for decades. But right now, we're in a cultural revolution, Brian, as a result of all of these women finding the courage to come forward. And so, if I had it to do all over again, I would have fought harder to not sign the NDA.

But how could I have known that we would be in this position? How could I have known we would have these mini-series and movie projects being made about the story?


CARLSON: There was no way for me to know what was happening in the next hour.

And so, I see this as the next phase of the revolution that women want their voices back. It's time that as the majority of the population in the United States of America that enough is enough. We want to be able to say what happened to us as a way of moving this forward for our next generation.

STELTER: Yes. When you sued Ailes, this was before the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the rest. In fact, it was because you sued Ailes and Ailes was forced out, then "The New York Times" looks into Bill O'Reilly, then "The New York Times" looks into Ronan -- into Harvey Weinstein. Ronan Farrow is looking into Weinstein. All of this starts, I view it kind of a snowball --

CARLSON: Thank you.

STELTER: -- that's rolling down the hill after you sued Ailes. Back I guess back then, it was a different environment.

CARLSON: Oh my gosh, you know, when I jumped off the cliff by myself --

STELTER: Yes. CARLSON: -- you know, Tarana Burke and I want to give her credit because she coined the #MeToo phrase --

STELTER: The term #MeToo years earlier.

CARLSON: Many years earlier.


CARLSON: But there weren't a lot of women doing what I did. You know, oftentimes, people say, well, why didn't you do it earlier?

My goodness. I mean, it was an environment, that it was the biggest decision in my life. The most brave thing that I had to somehow find the courage to do.

So, yes, totally different environment. Look, a lot has changed, Brian, and we've made so much progress. And that's why we wanted to form, along with Diana Falzone at Fox News as well, the three of us, Lift Our Voices. This is a way to eradicate nondisclosures, give women their voice back.

And we hope that you'll join our effort, Brian. Have you texted yet?

STELTER: I'm actually look -- I'm looking up the number. It's text --

CARLSON: Look up now. It's LIFT 797979.

STELTER: Seven-nine-seven-nine-seven-nine.


CARLSON: Look up now. It's LIFT-797979.

STELTER: It's text LIFT-797979. And what do you -- it's not just about Fox, right? You're trying to get this to be much bigger than Fox.

CARLSON: Hey, listen. This is not about me. This is about helping women across America and across the world. And I hope that people have been proud of my efforts over the last three years and the work that I've done to benefit women. You know, my dad taught me a really valuable lesson, which is actions speak louder than words.

And I hope that my actions over the last three years trying to pass legislation on the Hill, to also take secrecy out of forced arbitration agreements in your contract. Now this new effort of Lift Our Voices to eradicate NDAs, I hope that people are proud of my efforts and my colleague's efforts to help women because that's what this is really about. It's not about my singular story. It's about giving women, your daughter's their voices back.

STELTER: Right. I asked Fox for comments about the NDA issue. They've declined to comment. Do you think they really might actually follow through and free everybody from these NDAs? CARLSON: I don't force see them doing that anytime in the immediate future. However, you know, as we are working on Lift Our Voices Now, the next stage of that will be to put together legislation. And what I have always said is look, to companies out there in America, don't you want to be on the right side of history for women?

When you employ more women, you increase the bottom line. When you pay them fairly, the same thing happens. Do you also want to stop silencing them? So get on the right side of history and don't make us have to go to the Hill to pass legislation to force you to do it. I mean, I think companies now listening, they should pay attention to what we're saying.

STELTER: The news pack for this new initiative is the phone bombshell which is open in New York and L.A. this weekend. It opens nationwide next weekend. Have you seen the film yet since you were featured in it?

CARLSON: I haven't had a chance to yet. Obviously, I launched this new initiative in Hollywood last week. I plan to. But again, this is really not about me. I think it's very important though, for people to know that I couldn't partake in any of these projects.

STELTER: Right, that you weren't able to participate. I mean, is it strange to see Nicole Kidman on screen?

CARLSON: Yes, listen, that's surreal. I mean, if you would have told me three and a half years ago that Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman would be playing my character, I mean, that's amazing that these, you know, very skilled actresses have agreed to do those roles.

STELTER: Yes. But I've noticed some people think that you're getting paid, that you are making others getting paid for this. And your point is no, you're not able to.

CARLSON: Well, and that's the whole point for Lift Our Voices, is that women should be able to tell their own stories whether they're painful or happy. And especially in 2019, as we move into a new decade, don't we want to do what's right for women in this country? I know I do.

STELTER: Do you even recognize Fox News anymore?

CARLSON: I don't watch Fox News.

STELTER: You were there for many years. It's changed a lot in the Trump years. Do you -- do you watch? Do you recognize it?

CARLSON: I don't -- I don't watch Fox News. I've really enjoyed having this time away from daily show and being able to watch you and many other outlets to gain, you know, a fresh perspective. And as you know, I'm back in television. I'm doing documentaries and I have other announcements that are forthcoming in the new year.

And I really want to be a beacon of hope for all of those women out there who simply for having the courage to come forward about harassment in the workplace, they never ever work in their chosen professions ever again. And as a nation, we should be outraged by that.


CARLSON: So I want to be the beacon of hope and the light and the voice for them.

STELTER: Gretchen, thank you.

CARLSON: Always great to see you, Brian.

STELTER: Great to see you. Happy Holidays.

CARLSON: Thank you.

STELTER: And a quick programming note, Jay Roach, who directed the film Bombshell will be here this time next week. But coming up, a story about another movie, a movie that's quite controversial, Richard Jewell. The film hit the theaters this weekend. And the lead character isn't the only victim of misrepresentation. We will speak with the editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who says a late reporter Kathy Scruggs was dramatically depicted in the film inaccurately. Kevin Riley is up next.



STELTER: The controversial film Richard Jewell hit theaters this weekend. It is produced -- it's released actually by CNN's parent company, Warner Media. It's at a very low box office turnout this weekend, but it's getting a lot of attention for taking some dramatic liberties. This is a film directed by Clint Eastwood. It claims to be based on the true story of what happened to Richard Jewell, the security guard who was suspected for a while of orchestrating the Centennial Olympic Park bombing. Then, of course, he was exonerated. He ended up suing some major media companies including CNN.

Now, you know, more than 20 years later, the Atlanta Journal- Constitution says one of the paper's reporters is misrepresented in the film. An attorney for the paper -- the paper sent a scathing letter to Warner Brothers this week, demanding a public statement acknowledging the liberties that have been taken, in addition to a prominent disclaimer to that effect.

So what is going on here? Why does the paper say the movies inaccurate? And what does Warner Brothers say in response? Let's get all that with Kevin Riley. He's the Editor of the Atlanta Journal- Constitution. He's joining us from Atlanta and in Los Angeles, CNN's Media Critic, film reviewer, extraordinary Brian Lowry.

Kevin, first to you what is the issue with the film? What do you say is inaccurate about the film Richard Jewell?

KEVIN RILEY, EDITOR, ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION: Well, Brian, what I would tell you is there are plenty of things in the film that are inaccurate about how journalism gets done. But the one that's really been most offensive and has gotten a lot of attention is in the film, our reporter who broke the Richard Jewell story is portrayed as getting that tip on the story by promising sex to an FBI agent.

There's no evidence that that ever happened. And it's just an unbelievably offensive Hollywood trope that's completely unnecessarily used in the film.

STELTER: Now, Jewell did -- the real-life Richard Jewell did sue the AJC, right? There's been, you know, it was years of litigation over how he was misrepresented and misreported about. What you're saying is the film makes the same mistakes?

RILEY: Yes. I think it's really important to acknowledge that what happened to Richard Jewell was terrible, really terrible. And this film offered a great chance for people to understand what happened, how it happened, how we can all be better at these things, both in our coverage, what law enforcement does, what media consumers do. But it makes no sense to have to just destroy the reputation of one person in an effort to do that.

The film commits the very sins it tries to accuse the media of committing. It just makes a bunch of things up.

STELTER: Here's a response from Warner Brothers to your letter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The company says among other things, "It is unfortunate and the ultimate irony of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution having been a part of the rush to judgment of Richard Jewell is now trying to malign our filmmakers and cast. The AJC's claims are baseless and we will vigorously defend against them." That's the position of Warner Brothers.

Brian Lowry, you review the film for CNN. What did you make of the film? How much of this issue involving the late reporter affects the rest of the film?


BRIAN LOWRY, CNN MEDIA CRITIC: Well, I think it really -- it really sullies the film. The film operates on two tracks, which is that the part about Richard Jewell which is quite sympathetic to him and quite well done is offset in a ways by the way that the FBI and the media are such characters as his tormentors. And I really don't think you can divorce the movie either from the broader context in which it's opening. Here's a movie --

STELTER: Tell me.

LOWRY: -- that although it's set in the past, it deals with a situation that shows the media and the FBI in the most unflattering lights possible at a moment where both of them are basically under siege. And when you throw in the fact that Clint Eastwood, you know, is fairly outspoken about his conservative politics, he gave the famous or notorious empty chairs speech to Barack Obama at the 2012 Republican convention, it does feel like this is a movie that's designed to show the media in a very unflattering way at a very awkward time.

STELTER: And yet at the same time, this issue about rushing to judgment, it's a lesson that does need to be constantly relearned, doesn't it, Kevin?

RILEY: I think it's a really important lesson, the Richard Jewell case, for all media and all people who consume media. I mean, we have stories every day where we have this question about whether there's a rush to judgment, and how important is it for the public to know.

We know the public really wants to know things. And the example I would give that's currently in the news, Brian, is how many people out there are demanding to know who the whistleblower is. It's another example of this urge to know things that later probably we wish hadn't worked out that way.

STELTER: That's interesting. But getting back to this issue about how Kathy was portrayed, and it's even more painful because she's not here to defend herself anymore. There was this moment on Fox where Jesse Watters showed how little he actually knows about journalism. Here's what he said about this controversy.


JESSE WATTERS, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FOX NEWS: It happens a lot. And it happens a lot in movies and T.V. shows. Just a list right here, Fletch, Thank You for Smoking, Top Five, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. I mean, it's all over Hollywood.


STELTER: Right. And that's part of the problem, Brian Lowry is, you know, journalists are not out there having relationships to get information with sources. This is not common. And the fact that Hollywood pretends it's common is part of the problem.

LOWRY: Historically, it's been a real issue. I mean, the movie I think a lot of people go back to and that I immediately thought of when I was watching this was absence of malice, which is a movie where Sally Fields sleeps with her source and mucks everything up.

And you know, female journalists have spent years trying to get away from this sort of question of them using their sexuality in order to get stories and here we are in 2019. And not only is it being depicted, but it's according to everyone associated with Kathy Scruggs, it's being depicted in a misleading or outright false way.

STELTER: Right. In a grossly false way. So a Lowry, if people are going to see a different movie this holiday season, what would they see instead?

RILEY: Well, Brian, I know you don't have much time to see movies because you've got two little kids. I'm going to recommend the Irishmen to you. But I will tell you this. When I'm at the studio today --

STELTER: I can stream it. That's easy.

RILEY: -- I am going to go join some of our subscribers. We're going to watch the movie and then do a Q&A with people who subscribe to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution so that we can answer the questions that they have about this movie.

STELTER: And I do think the movie is worth seeing just to be clear, but -- any other Lowry recommendations, any others?

LOWRY: Well, you just talked about Bombshell. That's not a bad film. And you may have heard there's a movie called Star Wars that's opening next weekend.

STELTER: Yes. Yes, there is. And you'll have full coverage of that one on Kevin, Brian, thank you both.

RILEY: Thank you.

LOWRY: Thank you.

STELTER: When we come back here, the modern-day Pentagon papers. How did the Washington Post unearth the Afghanistan papers?



STELTER: In a non-stop news cycle where it seems like nothing quite sticks, the Washington Post's release of the Afghanistan papers did, and has broken through, and that is a very good thing. The Post has published a trove of interviews with hundreds of officials and others who were involved in the war in Afghanistan. These interviews were conducted by an obscure government agency that the Post pried them loose through a series of lawsuits.

And starting on Monday, this multimedia rollout, let people read and listen and watch and everything. There's all these ways on the Washington Post Web site to understand what these papers reveal about how the public was misled.

I sat down with the investigative reporter who spearheaded the Post project. His name is Craig Whitlock. He said it all began with a tip about a single interview about Michael Flynn.


CRAIG WHITLOCK, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: This all started with an old-fashioned tip. We got a tip that Michael Flynn, the retired Army General had given the unpublished interview with an obscure government agency about the war in Afghanistan.

And if you remember back in August 2016, Michael Flynn was becoming well known, maybe even notorious for his supportive of then-Candidate Trump and his dislike of Hillary Clinton. But when he was in the military, Flynn was known as a pretty straight shooter and someone who wasn't afraid to criticize how things were going within the ranks. So we were very curious what he had said in this interview. And we put in a public records request under the Freedom of Information Act, and we thought we get our hands on this pretty soon. But the long and short of it is it turned into a three-year legal battle.

STELTER: I think it's so interesting that it starts with a single tip about a single interview and then snowballs. You never know what a single tip is going to lead you to.

WHITLOCK: Well, and this one we didn't know because we were just pulling on the string. And we kept pulling, but it was hard. And once we got the Flynn interview, he was really forthright. And he was in fact, pretty blistering in his criticism of how the word had been portrayed to the public. He said, you know, time after time, by the time that public messaging was given to the American people, they are always told we're making progress, we're doing better, we're winning. And yet he said that intelligence reports from the ground made clear the complete opposite that we were losing. And he said it was almost a crime when it happened, how the American people were misled about the nature of the war.

Once we saw that, we were like, well, we want to see the other 400 interviews. We want to see what the other people said. We knew, then I think that this was a potentially very important story.


STELTER: I used to think during the height of the Iraq War that when we were covering U.S. military claims, government claims, these should come with a warning label, a warning sticker that says governments often lie during wartime. And yet, we don't want to believe that sometimes deep down inside, and we hope history doesn't repeat itself every single time. But you're saying Craig, it's pretty clear from the interviews, history did repeat itself again. The country was lied to for years.

WHITLOCK: Yes. They were certainly misled. And that's what the power of these Afghanistan papers is, I think. I mean, we knew and had reported that the word wasn't going well. Just the fact that you have a war that takes 18 years by definition, that war is not going very well. Certainly, many of the problems have been reported on all sorts of news media for many years.

But what's different about these papers was that the people who were in charge of the war, the people running the show, so to speak, they had these grave misgivings and doubts about the strategy, about the mission, about how things were being portrayed and they were just enormously blunt about it in these interviews.

And that I think gives them the power of the contrast between what the American people were being told in public and what the same people felt in private.


STELTER: Hear more from Craig Whitlock on this week's RELIABLE SOURCES podcast. It's available on and wherever you consume your podcasts. When we come back, President Trump has a question about 1 and I have an answer.



STELTER: And before we go, one more note about the President's faulty sources of information, and this one is about cable news. It seems like someone misinformed Trump about cable news ratings. He tweeted on Saturday night some insults about MSNBC and CNN saying the ratings are tanking. Here's the truth comparing 2019 viewers and 2018.

CNN and Fox are up a bit in primetime and down a bit in total day. MSNBC is down a little bit in primetime, flat in total day. There are no signs of tanking, no signs of sliding, just the typical fluctuations. Trump then accuse Fox of trying to be more like CNN and MSNBC and he said, "how's Shep doing?"

The answer is the Shep Smith is doing really well. He's loving life now that he's left Fox. He's feeling relieved. He went on a long vacation.