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Reliable Sources

"Twitter War" Turns Into Twitter Diplomacy; One-On-One With GOP 2020 Candidate Bill Weld; Harry And Meghan Versus The British Tabloids; What Journalists Get Wrong About Working-Class Americans; One-On-One With A.P. Executive Editor Sally Buzbee. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired January 12, 2020 - 11:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.


BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter. It's for RELIABLE SOURCES. This is our weekly look at the story behind the story, of how the media really works, how the gets made and how all of us can help make it better.

This hour, are journalists missing the story that's happening all around us, with depths of despair rising in the U.S.? Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn are coming out with this new book "Tight Rope." It's about the struggles of poor people in the world's wealthiest country. They will join me for their first interview out of the book coming after in a few minutes.

Plus, what is it like to be a GOP primary candidate out there challenging President Trump. Is Governor Bill Weld getting a fair shake? He's going to join me live in just a few minutes as well.

Pus, the media storm brewing around Buckingham Palace. How the British tabloids perhaps pushed Prince Harry and Meghan Markle away from their royal duties.

All that and much more in a few moments.

But picking up on where Fareed left off, our top story right now, President Trump supporting press freedom, not in the United States but in Iran. The president weighing in on Twitter about the recent protests that erupted in Iran in recent hours.

He's tweeting this, among other things, he says: Turn your Internet back on in Iran. Let reporters roam free. He's urging the leaders of Iran not to take action, not to kill and arrest the protesters that have taken to the street. All of these have been in response to Iran admitting to the accidental shoot-down of Ukrainian Flight 752.

Now, of course, Iran denied for days and days that it was responsible for the crash and then finally admitted it, it fessed up under the pressure. Let's take a look at the newspapers in Iran today. These are Sunday's

front pages. Many of them in shades of black, trying to hold the government accountable, describing the suspected cover-up as unforgivable and a catastrophe, offering apologies and paying tribute to the victims and telling senior officials to apologize and resign.

Now, this is all notable because Iran's media is incredibly tightly controlled by the state. When you see criticism of Iran in Iranian media, it's usually with the approval or the permission of the government. And so, it is striking to see a front page like this in the shape of an airplane with the names of the victims.

"The Washington Post's" Jason Rezaian, who, of course, was jailed for 18 months in Iran for doing his job, says this is a make-or-break moment for the Iran regime.

And Trump is right about press restrictions in the country. He's right, reporters aren't always allowed to roam free. In fact, it's quite bleak.

The Committee to Protect Journalist, let's put up their top ten most censored countries list. CPJ says that Iran is one of the top ten most censored countries, citing targeted hacking, trolling campaigns, et cetera. Journalists in the country are frequently arrested, jailed. And when you are trying to report in Iran, you have typically freedom of movement in Tehran, the capital, but you have to get permission to go to other parts of the country.

So, those are some of the reasons why the president -- U.S. president is urging Iran to let reporters roam free, turn the Internet back on. So, the president clearly hearing the voices of the protesters there.

But how does this fit into the larger picture, the larger story that's unfolding in this ongoing conflict between the U.S. and Iran?

Let me back over and bring in three guests to start the conversation today. With me now to discuss is staff writer for "The Atlantic", James Fallows, former Pentagon press secretary and CNN analyst, retired Rear Admirable John Kirby, and for international look, in London with us is CNN's European politics, media and business reporter Hadas Gold in London.

Thank you all for being here.

Let me set the table first. What we've seen from the president on Twitter all weekend long supporting these protesters in Iran and also, you know, continuing to pay attention to the subject.

We talked a week ago about Twitter war. Now are we seeing Twitter diplomacy on the social media platform, Kirby? Is that what's going on here?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, I mean, I think Twitter has really become sort of the public place of diplomacy in a way that I don't think we've seen it in recent years. We talk about normal channels of diplomacy. We talk about the back channels of diplomacy. And we certainly hope the back channels are being used between the United States and Iran.

But Twitter is something of a front channel. It allows leaders to communicate directly with one another when they don't have any other vehicles to do it.

Now, it lacks nuance and context, I get all of that. But I thought it was notable in the night of the Al-Asad air attack, that both the president and the foreign minister of Iran, Mr. Zarif, used Twitter to try to de-escalate the tensions. I thought that was significant.

STELTER: It definitely was. There were some commentators suggesting that Twitter played a role in helping cooler heads prevail.

James Fallows, what was your reaction to -- this past week, of the U.S. and Iran conflict?


You know, you've written in the past about just how dreadful, how devastating all out war between the two countries would be.

JAMES FALLOWS, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: I think one of the ongoing challenges for the U.S. news media and that of the world is having what I've often written about as a tragic imagination of the consequences of war. We've seen in the last couple of days, you know, nobody would have predicted two weeks ago, these protests in Iran, the way that newspapers there are speaking out. And this is one of the unexpected consequences of the strike a little bit more than a week ago ordered by Donald Trump.

I think the idea that you don't know what you are starting when you initiate military action is something that is -- has become distant from the American public as in the generations without a draft, in the generations without Congress taking accountability for the war powers and the difficulty for news media saying, OK, if this step happens, what might happen? What X, Y, Z might be?

So, I think that is -- that's what's on my mind at the moment.


Hadas, how is this being covered across the pond? How's this being covered in Europe? You know, I've noticed in America, you know, if you turn on the television commercials, there's a lot of sensitivity or discomfort suggesting that Flight 752 and the deaths of all of those passengers had anything to do with the United States, but it's different in Europe, isn't it?

HADAS GOLD, CNN EUROPEAN POLITICS, MEDIA & BUSINESS REPORTER: It is different here. I mean, to be honest, this is seen I think in a lot of countries in Europe as something that's between the -- between Iran, the United States, Canada and Ukraine and they are covering it, of course, from all of these angles.

To be honest, I think a lot of the attention has been on the royals which I know we will be talking about later. STELTER: Oh, yes.

GOLD: But it's also interesting to -- it's also interesting though to see kind of the conversation sometimes focusing on how much at fault is the United States involvement in shooting down the airliner? Of course, everybody is saying it's not the U.S. who shot down the airliner, but I have been listening to some of the top programs here and it's interesting to have on guests who are suggesting that because of the tensions amping up, that has -- that somehow has something to do with it.

And in fact, there is a British-Iranian woman imprisoned right now, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her husband came out recently and said that he is worried, that because of these tensions, that he is squarely blaming on Donald Trump, that it's going to be even harder for him to bring his wife home.

Another thing I found interesting, Brian, is somehow this sort of reticence perhaps to take on the government line, the U.S. government line. I think that's not just because of Donald Trump's own history that we've seen with making false statements and, of course, the wavering stories we've seen about maybe how many embassies were targeted by Soleimani.

I think it's also this historical look. Look at what's happened the last 20 years, explanations for different things, whether it's the Iraq war, whether it's Benghazi, and I think the news media in general around the world is becoming much more careful and questioning when it comes to what the U.S. government or really any government as a recent for actions like these.

STELTER: The shifting stories about the rationale for the strike is something that we're going to -- we're going to continue to talk about in the next segment. It's remarkable to see the president to say that he believes something was going to happen without citing the intelligence.

And this relates to broader access of U.S. government officials, and that involves press briefings. Admiral Kirby, you were one of 12 -- one of 13 former press secretaries from the White House, Pentagon, State Department, come out with this letter, this open letter titled: Why America needs to hear from its government.

Here are the names of the others who signed the letter, including notably Scott McClellan, who was a Bush press secretary. So, there were a couple of Republican names on this letter.

Why did you feel this needed to be written now? What are the benefits of briefings that are being lost right now?

KIRBY: I think press briefings, we wrote about this in the letter, not only provide a measure of accountability for the government, and scrutiny of the decisions that they are making, but it also helps makes better decisions. It helps the policy making process when you have the ideas churned out there in the free press every single day. When I was the Pentagon press secretary, I briefed twice a week. And I thought that was pretty, pretty adequate.

When I went to the State and realized there was a daily press briefing, I actually asked the staff, do we need to do this every day? I was glad we kept it going, because there's so much going on in the world, and it's important for the United States to have a voice, to have a say, to put out these policies.

More critically, I found that we as a State Department made better decisions because we were getting the constant scrutiny from the press. And when you look -- you ask why now, when you look at where are in the foreign policy of this country, particularly vis-a-vis Iran, it doesn't appear that the policy decision-making process was, in fact, very robust.

And it needs to be challenged because the tensions with Iran aren't getting any lower right now and I think we need to -- I think the American people have a right to know that the kind of decisions that their elected leaders are making have been informed by context and deeper understanding. We're not getting any of that, because there's no daily briefing, no way to ask a spokesperson every single day how these decisions are being processed.


STELTER: The White House responded to your letter by saying these are just a bunch of D.C. establishment swamp creatures.

How offended were you by that hateful speech?

KIRBY: No, I wasn't. I mean, pretty sophomoric --

STELTER: What's your response? What your response? I mean, Hogan knows better than to say that kind of crap?

KIRBY: It was -- it was sophomoric. I mean, I've got a thick skin. Believe me, you can't be at two podiums without thick skin.

STELTER: That's true.

KIRBY: I do think it was important for us to lay this marker down. Look, they talk about how accessible the president is, Brian. But there's a difference between --

STELTER: Not an either/or, though. That's the thing. The president should be accessible and there should be briefings, all of the above.

KIRBY: And the briefings give you accountability. It's not just about access, it's about accountability. That's what's lacking here.

STELTER: James Fallows, what do you make of this briefing debate?

FALLOWS: So, I think, I agree -- you know, Admiral Kirby was an exemplary representative of the government and the public interest both at the Pentagon and the State Department. And there's a point that's far beyond the D.C. swamp creatures, quote, unquote. Eventually for a democracy, the information comes out. Eventually, the

American public knew after tens of thousands of American deaths and many more in Vietnam that the Gulf of Tonkin resolution was put together on phony premises, early in the Vietnam War. Eventually, the American public learned about the false premises for the Iraq war.

Just within the last week, we've learned about the ever shifting rationalizations for the, quote, imminent, unquote, threat in this case, including just in the last few hours of the defense secretary saying that well, Donald Trump believed that something was true. So, democracies eventually learn the truth. It's better for the administration, better for the military, better for the public if we shorten the time that it takes to learn that truth because people on our side, the other side will be killed. Money will be spent. History will be changed. We deserve to know the truth.

STELTER: James, you've said in the past if this president were any other person, if he was the CEO of a bank or if he was, know, the leader of some other institution, that the board would have removed him by now. Do you feel that's true on a day like today when you see these tweets from the president calling Nancy Pelosi crazy, and all of the stuff that's become normal?

FALLOWS: Well, I will propose a thought experiment for your audience.


FALLOWS: Try to think of a personality like the one that's currently in the White House in any other position of responsibility as the pilot of your airplane, as the principle of your children's school, as the boss you have of a company, as a doctor you go to, anybody -- somebody driving a school bus -- would you want somebody with this kind of temperament to be in a position where other people's welfare depends on him or her? My guess is no.

STELTER: To you, is that what impeachment is fundamentally about, not Ukraine but this fitness question?

FALLOWS: So I think that the crafters of the Constitution of impeachment, they had a broad mandate in mind. They thought the president should have very serious powers but there should be some check. There was some fail safe as in the Federalist Papers they wrote with eloquence. To me there's not that much new in what Donald Trump has shown in office as when he was campaigning. I wrote in the daily chronicle of this during the time when he was running.

But I think of tangible misuses of public power, which is the contention especially of the Ukraine case and some others do, of this not even -- this completely unsealed refusal to acknowledge the Constitution -- the Congress's constitutional right to call witnesses, to have executive officials come there. To me, they justify the constitutional check and balance that the drafters provided for. So, yes, impeachment.

STELTER: And impeachment is going to be back in the news this week as Pelosi hands the articles off to the Senate. It's been overshadowed by Iran for the past two weeks but coming back.

Gentlemen, thank you.

Hadas, please stick around for a royal's conversation later in the hour.

Coming up, the fog of war, Trump edition. My essay about the president's beliefs replacing reality, but the GOP primary. They are long shot candidates, but are they getting a fair shake from the press?

Governor Bill Weld shares his thoughts after the break.




We all know the saying the fog of war. Typically in times of conflict, stories start, foggy, information is scarce, but then it starts to clear up and with some time and distance, the truth emerges. But with the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the story is getting foggier, foggier overtime.

The president, of course, lacks credibility. He is known for his constant lies and misleading claims. And in the context of the U.S./Iran conflict, Trump and his allies are coming up with new and conflicting justifications for the Soleimani strike.

On Thursday morning, Trump told the crowd that he did it because the Iranians wanted to blow up the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Perhaps that was the imminent threat. Just a few hours later, Trump said more, suggesting Soleimani was targeting other U.S. embassies. The intelligence has not been provided to the public, but it's all culminated in his Friday sit-down with Fox News host Laura Ingraham.

Let's start to play the sound bite.


LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: Did he have large-scale attacks planned for other embassies, and if those were planned --


STELTER: That's a smart question. It's bringing up an important point, was the threat broader. Here's how Trump reacted.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe it would have been four embassies and I think that probably Baghdad already started.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: So there we go. He's talking about the protests outside the Baghdad embassy. He says that was underway, he's parried (ph) a new Benghazi.

But he says four embassies. And he says it again later on. Listen.


TRUMP: But I think it would have been four embassies. Could have been military bases.


STELTER: OK. Now, he says it could have been military bases. This is big news. Laura Ingraham is definitely going to follow up, right?




INGRAHAM: Why is Nancy Pelosi describing her briefing as dismissive and disdainful --


STELTER: No, no follow-up there. She's moving onto the Democrats instead. She's missing the story that's right in front of her.

But this comment from Trump, four embassies, it became big news right away. Look, it was all over the place, even though he hedged it with phrases like I believe, and it could have, it would have been. He's using these kind of weasel words. I think he says I believe sometimes in order to promote an idea that doesn't actually have back up.

But the press, many networks, this idea was repeated and repeated. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Qasem Soleimani was planning to blow up the embassy in Baghdad and three other embassies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four embassies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four U.S. embassies.



STELTER: Four, four, four, right? This keeps goes on and on.

But members of Congress were not briefed on this four embassies threat. They don't know what Trump was talking about. Aides have been telling newspapers, "New York Times," "The Washington Post", et cetera, that they don't know where Trump was getting this four embassies line.

These shifting answers, these claims, they can't be called lies. We don't know if Trump is lying, but there's this possibility that he's just making it up as he goes along, the scary possibility that he just makes it up. And what is notable about that is that he claims the media makes things up, right? He likes to say the media makes up sources, invents anonymous sources.

Is he projecting?

Here's what he said later on with Laura Ingraham.


INGRAHAM: "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting today that after the strike, Mr. Trump told associates he was under pressure to deal with General Soleimani, being take him out, from GOP senators he views as important supporters in the coming impeachment trial in the Senate, associates said.


INGRAHAM: Sounds like you've got a leaker in the White House or someone. What is it? It's just fake?

TRUMP: They just made it up. It's fake news.

INGRAHAM: OK, "Wall Street Journal"?

TRUMP: They use the term, leakers. They just make it up. They're all very dishonest. Most of them are really -- I mean, 80 percent ever dishonest, I mean, really dishonest. They made that story up.


STELTER: And there he is making up a percentage, right, about who's dishonest.

But, listen, Ingraham focused on leakers instead of asking about the core part of the reporting. It was not just "The Wall Street Journal," who's reported that impeachment was on Trump's mind when thinking about the strike.

"The New York Times" is out this weekend with the same reporting, what they reported days later. This is out there from multiple news sources and the most obvious explanation is that "The Times", and "The Journal", other news outlets have reliable sources that are telling this information.

It's like Occam's razor. The easiest explanation is usually the most accurate. These news outlets have sources they rely on. They publish the reporting. They're not making it up.

But the president, his reputation, his credibility suggests otherwise. Let's talk more about this with GOP presidential candidate and former

Massachusetts governor, Bill Weld.

Governor, thanks for being here. I have some questions for you, but first on this issue --


STELTER: -- of this Soleimani strike, do you think the president is the projector in chief? Does he make up things like four embassies were targeted?

WELD: Oh, I think he projects constantly. Whenever he's accused of something, he goes right back at the person who and accuses them of being guilty of the same thing. It's a recognizable trope.

And he's there all the time. I mean, you couldn't make this stuff up, couldn't make it up.

STELTER: Well, does seem like he makes some of these things up, though.

Look, I don't think anybody is trying to suggest that, you know, Soleimani was a good guy. There are all kinds of lies out there, people are saying the media is on the side of the Iranians, you know, and trying to excuse this terroristic behavior.

It's about -- this is not about that. This is about anything whether the United States is making decisions based on accurate intelligence, which I thought was something Trump cared about.

WELD: Right. Well, I think the president has a loose grasp on the truth and on facts, and I agree with you. I think he does make things up as he goes along. He's like one of these people who will say anything to get out of a conversation.

When the press asks him a question, he absolutely doesn't know the answer, he doesn't care what he says. He'll say the first thing that comes into his head.

STELTER: What's it been like for you in recent months on the campaign trail? Trying To drum up attention for your candidacy in the GOP primary. Do you feel like you're not just running against not just Trump but the pro-Trump media as well?

WELD: Well, you know, people say what about Fox News?


WELD: I've been on Fox News plenty in the old days.


WELD: I mean, this is not about Fox News. This is about Donald J. Trump who demands exclusive loyalty from everybody. And now, we know that one bit of good news today, is we know he wants

reporters to roam free in Iran, but the only problem is he doesn't want them to roam free in the United States because he says to us, a free press is the enemy of the people. And, you know, starting with Jim Comey, as far as I can tell, this president has demanded not only loyalty but exclusive loyalty from everybody.

And, you know, not only have to be loyal to him, you've got to not be loyal to the truth. We saw that not only with Comey but when he instructed the director of national intelligence, former Senator Dan Coates, to lie for him in connection with the Mueller probe and three other people, told them to create phony documents.


And they said, we can't do that, that would be a lie. He said, what's your point?

He thinks that unless people are exclusively loyal to him and complementing him and praising him all the time, they're the enemy, I'm afraid. I mean, the man is beset by demons and I'm glad I don't have them. I think they include fear, and anger, and insecurity.

But it's -- you know, the school bus driver tests that one of your previous guests mention, I think that's a pretty good test. Would you want this guy driving your kids' school bus?

STELTER: But are you finding that on the campaign trail you're reaching primary voters who agree with you? You know, "The Des Moines Register" wrote in a new editorial that this campaign, your candidacy is a chance for Republicans to show what values are most important for them.

But hasn't that bus driven away?

WELD: Yes, no, I --

STELTER: Hasn't that ship already sailed?

WELD: No. My wife and I just got back from five very pleasurable days in Iowa. We were very well-received everywhere we went. We went to a lot of colleges and universities, social service organizations, ed boards. And everybody thought this is great.

The one casualty, if you have media who are unwilling to entertain appearances by people like me, is that then it's depriving Republicans of the opportunity to know that there is a Republican alternative to Trump who is an economic conservative. You know, I was ranked the most fiscal --

STELTER: And has that been happening? Do you think you're getting a fair shake from the press?

WELD: Yes, I think I -- you know, over the years, I've always thought that the press was more than fair to me. I came up as a prosecutor. And so, the press and I were both after the same game, which is to tear down the temple walls of political corruption.

So, I've had a good relationship with the press my entire life. And, you know, you can't complain about not getting into one show or another. I had a lot of stuff, as I say, with Bill O'Reilly and Fox in the past.

Even Sean Hannity, Mr. Fox News now. When I got elected in Massachusetts, Sean and I were complete buddies. And the reason was I had succeeded three terms of Michael S. Dukakis.

STELTER: Right, right.

You mentioned Fox. Let me put up what Tulsi Gabbard said, one of the Democratic candidates. She goes on to Fox to get through to Trump. It allows her to speak to Trump.

Do you view Fox that way as well? Kind of interesting.

WELD: Well, the shows I've been on most recently are Judge Andrew Napolitano, who's something of a libertarian as am I. And that's just expressing my views on legal matters and the judge and I generally are in agreement there. Neil Cavuto on the news side I do with some frequency, and I've just been on Neil's show for years and years. I think those two guys were allowed to book their own guests. So, if there were any policy responding to a Trumpian demand for exclusive loyalty, it wouldn't apply to them in terms of who they book.

STELTER: Let me show you an amazing chart before I have to go. This is from Mark Knoller, the CBS reporter who keeps track of all of the president's interviews. Sixty-eight interviews on Fox News since the president moved into the White House. Only seven for CNBC, five for ABC, zero for CNN.

Do you think future presidents, whether you're up next or somebody else, is it ever going to be that distorted again? That tilted again?

WELD: No, no, I think you've got to -- you've got to play fair and equal across the board.

You know, I would do things totally differently. I would have a bipartisan cabinet. I'd reach across to the senior Democrats in the administration -- in the legislature on day one. I did the same thing in Massachusetts. We had for two -- my two terms and ever since, we've had an era of good feeling in terms of branches working -- parties working together to solve the problems that the people sent us to Boston to solve.

And, you know, it would be nice to have the same in Washington, D.C. You'll never have it as long as Donald J. Trump is in the Oval Office.

STELTER: Governor Bill Weld, thank you for being here.

WELD: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: Up next, the Megxit. Is it even fair to call it that, though, with Harry and Meghan announcing a retreat from the royal family? Are the British tabloids to blame? We will unpack that, next.



STELTER: Britain's top tabloids are twisting the knives. One front page today titled crisis at the palace, others are previewing Monday's summit to discuss Harry and Meghan's future. Look at these covers. This relentless coverage from British outlets is not new, and it may well be part of the couple's motivation to retreat from their royal roles.

Back in October, Harry wrote that he felt Meghan was being victimized in a way that mirrored his mother's relationship with the press. Back with me to discuss the role of this relentless coverage, Hadas Gold is in London. Here's what he wrote back in October. He said, my deepest fear is history repeating itself. I lost my mother. And now I watched my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces. Is that what's driving this, Hadas?

GOLD: Well, I think with question, that is partly what's driving their decision to step back. I have been really taken aback. You know, I'm still sort of new to the whole British tabloid scene --


GOLD: But the amount of attention Meghan specifically was getting after this announcement. I'll show you, for example, this is Friday's edition of the Sun, one of the top tabloids. And they write Meg's Mugged Us Orf, which in British English pretty much mean Meg has made a fool of us. She has insulted us. That is one of the top-selling tabloids here. And the attention has continued.

This is today's edition of the Sun. They have dubbed it Megxit, even though it's also Prince Harry who is leaving the family. But without question, the stream by the tabloids that has long been a sort of fraught relationship is part of the reasoning.

In fact, when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex first announced this decision to step back, they had this brand new web site. And on the web site, they had a whole section about the media and how they're pulling themselves out of what's called the Royal Road.

It's essentially kind of like the White House pool before the Royal Family. And at least several of the papers that are in this Royal pool are these tabloids like the Sun, like the Mail. And in fact, Harry and Meghan are in legal proceedings against the owners of the Sun and the mail for various reasons.

And they wrote that they feel as though some of these Royal correspondents are taking us true sources around the world when in fact, they feel as though these stories are being misrepresented by the sources. And they want to take themselves out of that so they can tell their story directly to different types of media, to grassroots media, and directly on social media.


STELTER: Yes. They're basically completely rebooting their relationship with the press corps. And I suspect we're going to see them having various media roles, right? You know, I think maybe Barack and Michelle Obama's Netflix and Spotify deals could be a template, but I guess nobody knows except for them, right, Hadas?

GOLD: Yes. And listen, Meghan is an actress. She has -- she has a history in this. And they say specifically in their announcement that they want to work with grassroots media people. They want to work with different types of media outlets. So I would not be surprised at all if that is something in the course for them.

The question, of course, that will be discussed tomorrow at Sandringham with the Royal Family is what will that look like, and is that appropriate for a Royal to be involved in. Keep in mind though, Meghan has already sort of dabbled this. She guest-edited an edition of British Vogue just a few months ago. So this is clearly something that they're interested in.

STELTER: Hadas Gold, thank you so much. Coming up next, Pulitzer Prize-winning husband and wife team, Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn traveled to all 50 states, talking with America's working class. What's the rest of the media getting wrong in coverage of life on the tightrope?



STELTER: Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope is the title of this brand new book coming out on Tuesday from the husband and wife journalism team of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. They write in the book, together we've covered massacres, genocide, sex trafficking, and other tragedy and heartbreak around the globe. But these struggles that are in this book hit so close to home because Nick's hometown of Yamhill, Oregon and America are home.

Having to cover what's close to home sometimes be the hardest of all. And Sheryl and Nicholas are with me now for their first interview about this brand new book and the findings. Thank you both for joining me.

This is about deaths of despair right here at home, right, working- class people in this country and why -- well, let's -- describe what you all put in your New York Times piece this morning. It's like America, half the boat is sinking, and the people at the top of the boat is still partying not knowing what's going on. Why is it that this huge story, the plight of working-class Americans has been missed, Sheryl?

SHERYL WUDUNN, CO-AUTHOR, TIGHTROPE: You know, it's the -- it's the structure of the news business itself. The news covers big events, sensational events, things that happen, you know, that really make news on the day. This is the kind of story that builds over time and many, many times. I mean, some of the movements are imperceptible because they also happen behind closed doors.

So for instance, the fact that life expectancy has actually declined for Americans for the third straight year in a row, this hasn't happened for 100 years since the flu epidemic in 1918.

STELTER: So this story, Nick, why'd you all decide this needs to be the subject of your next book?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, CO-AUTHOR, TIGHTROPE: Well, it, you know, partly it was that Sheryl and I were traveling around the world covering humanitarian crises. And then we come home to my beloved hometown Yamhill, Oregon, and we saw a humanitarian crisis there that was emblematic of what was happening across working-class America and it wasn't being covered.

And I do think that we in the news media, frankly, have kind of dropped the ball on this issue. When Arthur Schlesinger wrote his history of the Great Depression, he noted that, you know, part of the story was what FDR did in Washington, but so much of it was what was unfolding across America. And I think that's what you know what we miss.

We cover what Betsy Devos, but we don't adequately cover the fact that kids in poor schools are four grades behind those in rich schools, or we cover the latest on Medicaid, which is important, but we don't note adequately that you know, in three U.S. counties, life expectancy is shorter than in Cambodia or Bangladesh.

And you know, we've got a -- this is a great social depression out there. But even in the Great Depression, life expectancy didn't fall, as Sheryl noted. Now it is falling. And when we lose more people every two weeks from drugs, alcohol and suicide than we did and the entire Afghan and Iraq wars, then I think it's incumbent on us in the media to try to highlight that a little bit more.

STELTER: And you all made a documentary as well that's a companion to this book. We were showing some scenes from the documentary. So you're trying to reach people in different ways to get attention on this story. I also think it's striking that, you know, the subtitle Americans Reaching for Hope, that there's an attempt to be positive or find some optimism in this story, right, Sheryl?

WUDUNN: Well, it's very important to actually show that there is a way out. And we have found -- we scoured the country and we did find a lot of programs that really people who were working, you know, tirelessly to actually solve a lot of these problems, and they weren't getting any, any attention.

The problem is a lot of these issues, they're happening to the voiceless of America and they're also being solved by people who are the voiceless of America. And so we need to bring much more attention to these issues.

STELTER: Well, they've been solved by the voices as well. Yes. But how do we make sure those voices are on television? WUDUNN: Well, that's why we're -- we've written this book, and we think it's really important. On the one hand, we know that in the news is actually a for-profit business in many cases, and you have to actually make money, at the same time, it's the fourth estate. And so we need to find compelling ways to bring some of these very important stories that need to be told to the public. And that means really strong storytelling --

STELTER: Storytelling, yes.

WUDUNN: -- and narrative.

STELTER: Nick and Sheryl, thank you both. Best of luck with the book. I appreciate it.

KRISTOF: Thank you.

WUDUNN: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: A different -- turning to some news involving CNN this week, two unrelated stories about CNN to tell you about, two settlements. The first involving this viral video of marchers in D.C. High school student in a MAGA hat on one side, a tribal elder on the other side. You remember this story from about a year ago.

The student Nick Sandmann sued the Washington Post, CNN, and NBC Universal alleging defamation. And this week, CNN and Sandmann reached a settlement in case. This means it won't go to trial. The terms were not disclosed, which is pretty common in these cases.


And then the second settlement again, unrelated to the first but it came on Friday ahead of the next Democratic debate. Quoting Bloomberg Law here, CNN has agreed to pay $76 million in back pay to settle allegations that have violated Federal Labor Law when it replaced hundreds of unionized broadcast technicians more than 15 years ago.

This labor dispute more than 15 years ago started back in 2003 several management teams ago here, so why was it resolved now? Well, the communications union says it was planning to pick it the Democratic debate that CNN is holding on Tuesday, knowing the Democratic candidates would not cross picket lines.

CNN said in a statement, "after more than a decade of litigation negotiation and appeals, we are pleased to have resolved a long- standing legal matter." Coming up here on RELIABLE SOURCES, one of the most powerful people in journalism, Associated Press Executive Editor Sally Buzbee, is there still global interest in all things Trump? Hear her answer next.



STELTER: The Associated Press -- Associated Press, excuse me provides news coverage, videos, stories to thousands of news outlets all around the world. So, the A.P. is kind of like a backbone for newsrooms from the United States to, you know, all the way to Japan and all the way in between.

So I recently sat down with the A.P.'s executive editor Sally Buzbee who took on that title just as Donald Trump has being inaugurated three years ago. And I spoke with her about a lot of things but including about how she balances Trump coverage with everything else. Is there Trump fatigue now or is there still intense interest in all things Trump?


SALLY BUZBEE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ASSOCIATED PRESS: I think that is something that we try to calibrate every day. The reality is that there is still intense global interest. And so when I go out and talk to our customers, our big newspapers who are customers in Japan or places like that, I asked them that. I say, is your country -- you know, are the people in your country still as interested? I was recently in Norway --

STELTER: And what do they say?

BUZBEE: Well, I mean, so I was recently in Norway and talking to some really good producers there who run a, you know, a public television station network, and they said there is still intense interest. So we do try to make sure that it doesn't eat up all of our journalism resources, because there's a million interesting things going on.

I think before the Iran crisis that just happened, one of my big worries was that, you know, the United States is really -- its reputation internationally really is changing in some ways. And I do think there has been perhaps not enough coverage of that because there have been so many other aspects of the Trump presidency that have been so compelling.

STELTER: Looking at the A.P.'s fact check, you'll use words like false or fabrication, but really not the word lie. Do you think other news outlets have been too emotional in the Trump ears? Is it about emotion or something that's injected into the coverage?

BUZBEE: I mean, I don't, in general, like to judge other news organizations. I think that news organizations -- and I can only speak for the A.P., we have made it to decision that we don't want to turn people off by using so much emotion that they won't look at the veracity of the factual information.

Now, I can't guarantee that they're going to look at facts anyway. But I don't want to put any filter or any sort of off-putting thing there that keeps them from going to good old-fashioned factual journalism and actually letting that help them make decisions in their lives.

And so we have -- I don't want to be also a stenographer and so bland that nobody pays attention to us. So we try to do this very narrow line between strong aggressive accountability, but don't be snarky, don't be -- don't pick on what I would think of is insignificant, trivial things that don't make sense. I mean, focus on the main game.


STELTER: More with A.P. top editor Sally Buzbee after a quick break.



STELTER: And we're back now with more of my interview with one of the most powerful editors in the news business, Sally Buzbee. She's the executive editor at the Associated Press. I talked with her about the difficulties of covering conflict zones. In Iran, for example, her journalists face restrictions on traveling around the country. In other countries, she said it's even worse. And attacks on journalists are a growing threat around the world. Watch.


STELTER: Have you seen this dynamic worsened in your three years as executive editor?

BUZBEE: I think absolutely there is no question that attacks on media and restrictions on media are getting worse internationally. I think a lot of that -- a lot of the dynamic in the United States -- and we know this is factually true, is being echoed by international leaders, I think. And we talked about this quite often. I'm not breaking news here. We are -- we are extraordinarily worried about it. It is definitely getting worse.


STELTER: Indeed. Now turning stateside, we are three weeks away from the Iowa caucuses. I asked Buzbee about the 2020 campaign, the Democratic race, and I asked her what is the biggest change from prior campaign seasons?


BUZBEE: The rise of misinformation and also our desire to find out not just to do fact checks, but who's behind this information.


BUZBEE: Now, that always happened. I know -- remember, one time when McCain was running for president, there was misinformation spread around about him and things like that.

STELTER: Smears, yes.

BUZBEE: But the intensity, and the volume of it, and the speed of it is radically different. And I think that is probably -- that misinformation factor is probably the biggest single difference in covering campaigns.

STELTER: It's like we've gone from horses to race cars -- BUZBEE: Absolutely.

STELTER: -- in terms of the way these social platforms enable lies and smears to spread.

BUZBEE: Absolutely.

STELTER: Do you think news outlets can even keep up?

BUZBEE: We're going to see. You know, I mean, that's obviously our biggest fear. I think that we can do a good job at attacking some of the biggest things. I think the biggest problem that I see is just the sheer volume and are there things that are happening a little bit below the surface that we're not paying attention to until they surface like too late or something like that.

So what we've tried to do is just sort of a radar journalists and kind of think that way. Like, we need to be able to move faster when things start to pop up.

STELTER: Right, because otherwise, the B.S. is a mile down the road already.

BUZBEE: Exactly.


BUZBEE: That's where I think one of the biggest culture changes for us in journalism, and I think it's happened to a lot of other people too.


STELTER: Yes, she's right about that. You can check out the full interview with Buzbee on our podcast. It's available at and wherever you like to listen to podcasts. While you're at, subscribe for our nightly newsletter. It's a free newsletter out six nights a week including tonight.

And one of the biggest stories this coming week, we'll be talking about it in the newsletter is the upcoming CNN Presidential Primary Debate. This is the last debate before the Iowa caucuses. And you can see there who's going to be on stage, six candidates on stage Tuesday 9:00 p.m. Eastern time on CNN. And we'll see you right back here this time next week.