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President Trump Takes Revenge Through The Media; Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) Is Interviewed About The "Fear Factor", Fox Edition; Controversy Over Limbaugh Getting Medal Of Freedom; Trump Campaign Flooding Facebook With Targeted Ads; How Are Reporters Getting Accurate Information From Epicenter In China? Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired February 09, 2020 - 11:00   ET



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

And we're talking this hour about the fallout from the Senate impeachment trial. I'll discuss the Fox fear factor with Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown.

Plus, if you thought the election misinformation was bad in 2016, take a look around. It is worse this year. "The Atlantic's" McKay Coppins is here with his disturbing reporting about that.

And later, something I've been wondering, how do you cover an outbreak when we are locked down in the epicenter? How are reporters in China getting information about the coronavirus? Well, CNN's David Culver is going to join us live from Beijing with the behind-the-scenes look.

But, first, the word of the week could be vindictiveness, it could be revenge.

Trump world is taking revenge through the media and also on the media. Victory in the Senate impeachment trial wasn't enough for the president or his right wing media allies. They were now on a search- and-destroy mission.

The administration is purging key players who testified about the Ukraine scheme, and pro-Trump outlets are lambasting Mitt Romney for daring to break ranks and declare Trump guilty.

I turned on Fox on Wednesday night expecting an absolute celebration. But instead, the primetime hosts were all hitting the anger button over and over again, raging against Romney and denouncing Nancy Pelosi for tearing up that copy of the State of the Union speech.

They were angry. They were bitter. They were outraged.

And the name-calling has been going on all week. It's been lived by the president at that vindictive vulgar speech he gave, and it's continued on TV.


LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: Selfish, preening, self-centered.

DOBBS: Sanctimonious.

JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: You're an embarrassment.


DOBBS: Noxious.

HANNITY: Angry, bitter, mumbling, bumbling sore loser.

PIRRO: Are you stupid, too?

DOBBS: Pitiful. And he's pathetic.

PIRRO: You really are stupid.


STELTER: OK, Judge Jeanine.

Look, the name-calling has also continued on Twitter. And I just want to show you what's different these days. If you feel like the president is sharing so much more content on social media than he used to, you're absolutely right. 2017, 2018, 2019, he was posting, you know, about seven, eight times a day.

Look at just for the past eight days, since the start of the month of February in 2020, 333 tweets and retweets compared to 42 or 54 in prior years. Now, this is just, you know, eight days, a slice of the wintertime, and the number of tweets are off the charts. Most of these are retweets. Most of these are angry retweets of his supporters and his fans and family members. And actually these numbers are out of date because I think he's tweeted like 20 times since we made the graphic this morning.

Look, fear and anger are the organizing principles, but not just on the right. Yes, and right wing media, it's all about Romney and Pelosi and Adam Schiff and the terrible media. On the left, the anger and fear is about Trump.

Because partisan media incentives are to stoke anger and stoke fear. It's about resentment of enemies, as opposed to embracing joy and celebrating good news, and talking about winning, it seems anger is a key part of the business model. And that's what we've seen I think all week long. Focus on the negatives on the other side, rather than on the positives of your side.

But it's not just Trump world attacking politicians, attacking the media. There's also I think an attempt a little bit of getting revenge at the media itself.

Now, this headline came before the acquittal announcement, before the vote in the Senate. The White House excluded CNN from the annual pre- State of the Union lunch which the White House usually organizes for the president and the major news anchors. This has been going on for decades, as CNN's Wolf Blitzer had been going to this lunch for 20 years.

It's an off-the-record event, although some things usually leak, and did this year. But it was notable that CNN was singled out and excluded from the lunch.

There's also a bit of news out of Iowa involving exclusion, that the Trump campaign turned away a "Bloomberg News" reporter from an event in Iowa. This is because the campaign said that Bloomberg reporters would not be allowed in, because Mike Bloomberg, who owns "Bloomberg News", is running for president, and because the news division has made some awkward decisions about how to handle that.

So, two examples of excluding members of media, a big difference from what we saw in the United Kingdom this week where reporters decided to boycott a planned briefing that was going to be taking place of the prime minister's office, because some news outlets were not allowed inside.

So, the point is there was a show of solidarity in the U.K., we're not seeing shows of solidarity here in the U.S.

Let's talk about that and a whole lot more with our panel who's here to start the hour with us today.

Bill Carter is here. He's a veteran "New York Times" media report, now a CNN media analyst.

Tara Dowdell is here. She's a media and business consultant.

And Sara Isgur, a former Trump DOJ spokesperson, now a CNN analyst and staff writer at "The Dispatch."

Hope I got all those titles in for everybody.

Bill, your reaction to this kind of campaign of revenge? Because I turned on Jeanine Pirro show last night -- again, she was spitting mad about Mitt Romney, instead of talking about the president's success.

BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: No. It's -- look, it's all about emotion and how they can play with it.


And, look, they are aggrieved about everything. That's -- that's been successful for Trump. He hits a nerve with his base. They're angry about being outside the mainstream culture in that way, and they want to hit back all the time.

And also, Romney did something that really gets to them. He voted on his conscience. Can you imagine? He actually decided he couldn't just being lockstep. That really is scary for them, because if there are more people start asserting that, then the president could actually be in trouble.

STELTER: Here's what Fox's Chris Wallace said to Mitt Romney in one of the many interviews that Romney set up ahead of time. This is pretty impressive, how he gave all these interviews to explain himself and involve (ph) with them.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: You realize this is war. Donald Trump will never forgive you for this?


STELTER: That's true. Wallace is right about that.

And, Sarah, isn't that the same calculation that countless right-wing media figures and Republican politicians have all been making for the past three years, about knowing if you turn against the president, he will never forgive you and he will go to war?

SARAH ISGUR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, in Mitt Romney's case, where he's voted with the president 80 percent of the time, more than Mike Lee, more than some other senators. That wasn't enough clearly.

Now, on the flip side, Fox News is a business. And impeachment has been good business for Fox News. Hannity's ratings I think on the first night of the impeachment topped 4 million that night.

So, don't forget that this is more than journalism. It's for profit. And that's been going very well for them.

STELTER: Yes, anger is part of the business model.

And I was trying to make clear in the intro, that is also true on left. I mean, that is the idea behind liberal news shows and things like that (ph) as well.

Tara, what did you make of, you know, the reactions to Romney, the treatment of Romney from right wing media?

TARA DOWDELL, BUSINESS & POLITICAL CONSULTANT: It is exactly what I expected it to be.


DOWDELL: I mean, part of it, to your point, is, in fact, strategy, right? Part of it is that fear and anger drives the base, that drives the operation to get out the votes on behalf of the Republican Party.

But, at the same time, let's be clear, Trump is legitimately angry, like he is angry about this. He has been angry from the moment he took office, when he started off by saying that Mexicans are rapists, his whole campaign, his whole presidency has been about his anger and him going after people to -- as a manifestation of that anger. So, I think it's a two-part equation here. For the media, though, I think it's 100 percent about driving this

narrative that the Republican Party, Republican voters are victims and Trump is the hero that's fighting back on their behalf. And that's -- that's what drives ratings for them. And that also, again, this interplay with ratings and get out the vote, and that's what we're seeing. It's really troubling.


DOWDELL: To say the least.

STELTER: Trump posted 35 times in the last hour. So, it's 11:07 Eastern, since then, he's tweeted 35 times in an hour, mostly retweets, but this is all part -- it's all connected, right, Bill? It's all connected because it's amplifying his supporters on Fox, his supporters in GOP, and then kind of -- isolated echo chambers.


CARTER: Brian, we've never -- we've never seen anything like this. Let's face it. We constantly say it. We constantly say we're in uncharted waters, right?

But we're in dangerous waters. This is dangerous -- when you have media being excluded, it's just the beginning. He's going to continue that.

I mean, he excludes CNN, and the rest of the media goes along with it. He excludes NPR. He's going to exclude people he doesn't want -- I mean, Bloomberg, you may be able to make a case for that.

But why couldn't a Democrat make the case for Fox? It's a business model. As you said, Fox is in the business of being pro-Trump. Why wouldn't a Democratic candidate say, well, I'm not going to put you on?

ISGUR: But they have. I mean, to your point about it being unprecedented, I'm not totally sure that's true.

Every president since Reagan and beyond has tried to go around the media.

CARTER: Going around them, sure. Yes.

ISGUR: And now, social media has made that so much easier.

And during the Obama administration, absolutely, Fox News didn't get interviews, things like that.

What I see is more of a continuation of a trend that we've seen. Same with State of the Union being sort of the reality TV version of what Reagan did to have guests on the audience.

CARTER: Don't you think it's on steroids, though? It's like on steroids.

ISGUR: Sure, but every administration does something --


CARTER: A little bit, of course.

DOWDELL: President Obama sat down with Bret Baier. It was a very contentious interview. Bret Baier was very aggressive with President Obama, I would say disrespectful of President Obama.

I think in terms of the Democratic base, as someone who's, you know, works in the party, I can tell you that hope is actually a big part. That's what got Obama elected.

So, the party -- the Democratic Party writ large is less -- less responsive to fear and anger. Not to say that doesn't exist obviously within the party, but certainly the hope and wanting a big, bold vision is something that drives the Democratic Party more.

That's why you see all the presidential candidates offering big, bold visions, right? Because that's what the base of party responds to --

ISGUR: But only one candidate has been on Fox News.

DOWDELL: -- an inspiration.

Oh, no, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, that's more than one candidate. And also Fox -- all of the different Democratic events, that the town halls and various things have been held by the candidates.

STELTER: What about that decision to exclude CNN from this pre-State of the Union lunch? Do you think it mattered, Sarah?

ISGUR: I think that access journalism has mattered so much less in this administration.


Some of the best journalism we've seen covering the Trump administration has not been because they've had access.


ISGUR: It's, in fact, if anything, been the opposite. It's given up that distance I think that has been missing sometimes in the journalism coverage in the past. Where you're watching from the outside, you're more likely to see things.

And so, again, I think you can find great, great pieces of journalism that were not based on interviews with the president, or even with his top advisers.

STELTER: But should there be shows of solidarity, Bill? Should there be a show of solidarity when one network is cut away from something?

CARTER: I think it should be. I think if you're going to -- if you're going to cover this very uncharacteristic president, who will only continue, you will be excluded next time. You can't just -- you know, they say they'll come for you later. Well, they came for CNN this time, and they'll come spoke someone else later, because someone offended him in some other way.

I think they have to make -- the media is under incredible pressure right now. They have to stand up to this guy and yet be objective. They have to do it.

He's not being accountable anywhere else. The Republican Senate was not going to make him accountable. He doesn't do any kind of press briefings with his press secretary.

She doesn't really have a job. There's no -- you called her all the time.


STELTER: Well, she's on Fox a lot. She's on Fox, on the Hannity -- on Hannity show on Friday. She claimed that she was turned down by some networks.

CARTER: Right.

STELTER: That she wants to be on air, she's willing to be on air, she's been turned down.

CARTER: Do you believe that?

STELTER: For the record, we did reach out. We put an interview request again this weekend. She still hasn't responded.

Jake Tapper tried to book her for "STATE OF THE UNION."

CARTER: Exactly.

STELTER: Was not available.

I don't know if she's lying or misinformed or if it's strategic or not. I don't know what to make of it. But just to be clear, like the invitation stands.

DOWDELL: I would say this -- in terms of the Trump administration, the media still struggles with how to cover the Trump administration. I'm just going to be very direct, in most instances, we start and we give people the benefit of the doubt, right? But with the Trump administration, there's been over 15,000 lies from the president himself.

So I think you have to start with fact-checking the president, start from the assumption that what the president is saying is untrue, because history has borne out that to be the case.

STELTER: He's retweeted four times since we started talking. Let's see how many more times the president tweets before noon Eastern.

To the panel, stand by. Lots more to talk about.

Let's take a quick break here, though. We'll hear from a Democratic senator who was involved in the trial. His impressions of what went down and why. We'll hear from Sherrod Brown in just a moment.



STELTER: Hey. Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

Do you remember the show "Fear Factor"? Let's about the Fox "Fear Factor". Of all throughout the impeachment hearings and trial, we said there was a Fox firewall, with stars like Sean Hannity pressuring Republican senators not to stray from the White House line.

Of course, the lawmakers that were involved rarely admitted to feeling that pressure or feeling that fear, but Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown says it was very real. He wrote an op-ed for "The New York Times" recently describing what he says his colleagues across the aisle were saying in private.

And Senator Brown joins me now.

This public versus private persona. So, you're saying that in private, some of your colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle did admit to feeling fear, and that's what motivated their decision to acquit?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D-OH): Well, they -- no politician will ever say they're fearful of -- we all think we're probably more courageous. We all probably think we're more courageous than we are.

But I saw it in their eyes. I saw it in their excuses. I hear what they say about the president's countless number of lies. I hear what they say about the president, his behave -- his demeanor, his character. I heard what they said about Ukraine and both the phone call -- well, the phone call, leading up to the phone call, and the cover-up afterwards.

It's that same fear that I saw in my colleagues in the last month, through the Trump presidency, particularly last month, reminded me of the fear I saw when I voted against the Iraq war as a member of the House almost 20 years ago. The fear I saw from so many of my colleagues that were intimidated and fear -- by and fearful of Bush. They were -- they were afraid of non-American or being called soft on terrorism or whatever.

So, it's nothing new, but it's worse now. And it's -- it's too often in the Senate, fear does the business, as you know.

STELTER: People used to say that if Watergate happened and Nixon had Fox, that he would have stayed in office. Do you think that's what we all just experienced, Nixon plus Fox?

BROWN: Yes, I think that -- I've heard that assessment before. I -- you know, it really is -- it's all of the above. It's a fear of Trump tweeting about them, and calling them a name that sticks, especially among the right-wing base.

It's fear of Fox. It's fear of talk radio. It's even fear of the president, especially, I should say, of the president coming into their state and campaigning against them.

But, you know, this all -- this all speaks to why Mitch McConnell did what he did. As you know, most of us -- most of us in politics, even many Republicans don't think of you all as enemies of the people, it's just a foreign concept to us.

But Mitch McConnell wanted this impeachment to get done -- the trial as quickly as possible with as little attention as possible. They were -- they turned off some of the cameras in the Senate chamber. You usually got a much more expansive view of the chamber than you did during this trial, and what's back now when we're in regular session. He restricted where reporters could go.

As you know, Brian, when House and Senate members walk around the Capitol, the committee hearings, or to the floor, at offices, whatever, reporters come up to us all the time. They have free access to do that. McConnell sort of roped them off like cattle in sort of preselected areas.

So, this is not -- this false equivalency, a couple -- one person in your panel talked about it before, that, well, presidents have always done this before. Well, we've never seen this where they have excluded journalists today -- we've never seen it where they excluded journalists. We've just not seen that.

Presidents always were mad at reporters, I get that. But there was never this concerted effort like there is with McConnell and Trump that -- and, you know, nary a peep out of Senate Republicans who have -- who sneaked out after the votes and walk out as quickly as they can, and try to talk to nobody to defend what they're doing.


STELTER: And I noticed that you almost -- there's almost no Republican senators on television this weekend, almost nobody from the White House on television this weekend, perhaps not wanting to defend the decision to acquit and not to seek additional evidence.

But look, let's --

BROWN: Yes, that's right.

STELTER: -- so, we talk about Nixon, let's talk about the Clinton acquittal, right? After Clinton is acquitted in the Senate in the '90s, there was no media machine calling that voted him guilty phonies and Judas. It is incredible to hear the venom directed at Mitt Romney right now from right wing media. And I know he expected it.

And I know, you know -- how do you think it's going to change the Senate now that we're seeing these attack ads and these attack television shows? BROWN: Well, that's a good question. My -- Connie and I the night

before the impeachment, the night of the State of the Union where I was showing them my desk in the Senate floor, desk 88, that as, you know, I wrote a book about it, and I was --


BROWN: Connie and my guest from the State of the Union, Dave Green, the UAW president at the Lordstown plant that GM shut down and the president simply didn't help us fight back -- we were out on the Senate floor, and a group of us, with Tina smith, and the mayor of Duluth, Mayor Larson, and Mitt came up with the governor of Utah, his guest of the State of the Union.

And he, of course, wasn't going to tell us what he was thinking for the next day, but I just said to him, you have more integrity than most people in this place and more than virtually all Republicans, and, hopefully, you'll do the right thing.

And, of course, he didn't tell us anything, but he knew -- he knew this onslaught would happen. He's very for a many with the right-wing base and he's very familiar with the hate politics they play.

He's pretty intimately (ph) -- he pretty intimately (ph) understands what Trump does.

So, this is -- the way Trump went after him, Trump and the right-wing media, the way that they've gone after Vindman, Trump making excuse -- making fun of Vindman's accent, a man who served in the military and served this country so very, very well, with no blot on his record at all -


BROWN: -- it increases that fear and that tension, because all Republicans know that they -- you know, there's a Russian proverb that a blade of grass that grows up the highest gets its head cut off first. And that's -- every single Republican, they may not know the Russian proverb, because they like the Russians more than they used to, but they may not know the proverb.

But they certainly know what could happen to them. And that's what -- that's what's so sad about our system right now.

STELTER: The quote from Vindman's attorney was remarkable. David Pressman said: If we allow truthful voices to be silenced, if we ignore their warnings, eventually, there will be no one left to warn us.

I can't say any better than that.

Senator Brown, thank you for being here. And the book you mentioned --

BROWN: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: -- is "Desk 88: Eight Progressive Senators Who Changed America".

Up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES, a shredding moment that definitely got too much attention. We're going to talk about what was covered and not covered in the State of the Union Address, in just a moment.



STELTER: Let's talk about President Trump, Nancy Pelosi and the news media's judgment calls. How much attention did this paper tear seen around the world really deserve?

Look, Pelosi took a page right out of Trump's playbook. Her move was aggressive and divisive. It was a battle in the meme wars.

But caring about the tearing, that was a choice made by news outlets. Some chose to obsess over it, others not so much.

But let's compare the coverage of the tearing to this, this fact check from "The Philadelphia Inquirer." "The Inquirer" found that Philadelphia fourth grader who Trump singled out to receive a scholarship to promote the idea of school choice, he was talking about failing government schools -- well, actually, she doesn't attend a failing government school.

She already attends one of the city's most sought-after charters schools. That's a kind of fact check that, frankly, I think needs to be much more fronts and center, and props to "The Philadelphia Inquirer" for making the calls and finding out.

Let me bring my panel back now, Tara Dowdell, Bill Carter and Sara Isgur.

Nancy Pelosi said the reason for tearing up the pages was that Trump was shredding (ph) the truth. There were clearly some fact checks that were conducted in the immediate aftermath of the speech by CNN and others.

But then this "Inquiry" story comes out on Saturday, Tara, and I'm thinking there was more in the speech that was wrong that we didn't even know about, and it just makes me think about the judgment calls news outlets make about how much attention to give different moments of the speech.

DOWDELL: Trump was shredding the truth, but I want to say something about local media. Thank goodness for our local media, because they're doing an incredible job across this country while they were under, you know, duress in terms of their economic model and much of the -- and massive layoffs across the country for local media. But they're actually on the ground in communities, they're actually fact checking things like this when it impacts their local areas.

And so, this is another reason -- soliloquy here, but another reason to support our local media. But I will say this, in this -- in Trump's State of the Union, the

focus should be on what he said and whether or not it was accurate. As I said earlier in the show, we have to start with the premise that Trump is lying, because it is borne out over and over again.

He also said the U.S. became a top energy producer under him. That's factually incorrect. That happened in 2012 under President Obama. I can't go on and on and on.


And so, we do need to be focusing on policy, because that's what impacts people's lives and that's what should be the focus of fact- checking and reporting.

STELTER: Sarah, how do you grapple with this? You serve Jeff Sessions in the Justice Department as the top spokesperson, you're a conservative writer and podcaster, how do you wrestle with the misinformation that comes from the President?

ISGUR: Well, I think on the speech thing, what makes it interesting to me is that it is so much easier for journalists to cover Nancy Pelosi ripping a speech because you don't have to have an economics degree, you don't have to have a background and whatever the topic was from the State of the Union. And so, every journalist can touch on that.

And we've seen that over and over again, in campaign coverage, for instance, where it's much easier to get reporters to write about something easy, like a poll that came out or horse race and much harder to get coverage on something where you have to have some background and some research. And that's, I think, a very unfortunate direction that journalism has headed. And I think the Nancy Pelosi speech ripping incident is the best example we've seen recently of that.

CARTER: Brian, what she did was a theatrical gesture. She was doing something theatrical on camera as a distraction, etcetera. But what they did with the -- with this young black girl was a theatrical gesture. That is not actually the fact. She was cast in why he wanted to put out as one of his messages. She was literally picked and cast and they messed that up.

They need to find a right -- they could found -- they could have probably found somebody that fit the bill, but she wasn't one. She'd already gone into a public school. That's a perfectly good school. So it was -- it was not to be taken seriously. Neither of those things should have been taken seriously because he was doing a fraud -- and she was just doing a theatrical thing. It wasn't something to make a gigantic deal out of.

STELTER: I turned on Fox And Friends this morning. They're still talking about Pelosi tearing the paper.

CARTER: Of course. Of course.

STELTER: It's like a gift. DOWDELL: But this young girl was used as a prop, her and her family,

and many of the black people that were on display throughout the State of the Union were used as props. And it was really insulting. And what I find interesting is that Democrats are often accused of engaging in identity politics and that's being made into a pejorative, when the Republican Party has -- Trump is using black people as props throughout the State of the Union. And also, we found out that people are being paid as part of a political campaign strategy, that black people are being paid.

And so all of the things that have been -- the Democratic Party has been accused of, we're seeing the Republican Party obviously engaging in projection because they're doing the exact same thing they're accusing Democrats of doing. And so, I think that's particularly troubling at a time when we should be working to unite the country that we're seeing this type of behavior.

STELTER: Does anybody working to unite the country? Anybody, really?


STELTER: I don't see it. Look, there's also controversy about Rush Limbaugh receiving this Medal of Freedom at the State of the Union. Rush announced on Monday that he's been diagnosed with advanced-stage lung cancer. And I know some people don't think he should have been getting this metal.

But Sarah, some of the comments I've seen on social media from lefties who hate Rush, saying they hope that the cancer takes him -- takes him away as fast as possible. It's revolting to me. And I just, you know, as much as we talk about Trump and misinformation, there's a strain of contempt on the left that also worries me. Why can't people just say, we hope that Rush gets better quickly?

ISGUR: And I think this highlights a larger problem with Twitter and what we elevate on Twitter and who's on Twitter.

STELTER: You're right. Those are not the normal voice. You're right. You're right.

ISGUR: But when candidates, journalists often find -- we're all on Twitter, frankly, all the time. Let's be honest. But we think of that as some type of reality when in fact, it's not. We don't know who some of those people are. They're not checked by Twitter of who they are.

STELTER: You're right. They might not be even real people.

ISGUR: They can be Russian bots.

STELTER: That's true.

ISGUR: They can be paid. So then candidates respond to that because reporters respond to it. And a lot of I think the Democratic candidates have fallen into that trap of living in a Twitter verse that is not actually representative in the country. And then -- and the facts are still coming out on this so I don't want to jump too far over what happened, but you have a van drive into a Republican Voter drive -- registration drive in Florida which is a very scary thing.

STELTER: Yes. And thankfully, the suspects been arrested so they can get to the bottom of it. But that was very scary.

ISGUR: Arrested, no one was injured. And that's all good news, and we don't know really what the motivation was.

STELTER: I just think we should be able to say about Rush Limbaugh. Rush Limbaugh, we hope you get better soon. And then people can argue over whether he's right or wrong on the issue.

CARTER: Well, but they did -- a lot of people did do that.

ISGUR: That's true.

CARTER: People would say, look, we hope the man does not have a, you know, serious outcome from this. And then they say, but listen, giving him that Medal of Honor when he said all these absolutely outrageous and racial things is questionable behavior especially theatrically doing it at a state of the union address.

You can do both things. I do think there's an interesting standard, though. If Hillary Clinton announced tomorrow that she had terminal cancer, don't you think the same thing would happen? On the right, they'd say, we wish he was dead or whatever, which is horrible.

Nobody should do that ever to any human being. That's the point. You should separate it. The guy is a human being. He's going through hell. That's bad for him. You can then say but giving a guy the Medal of Honor is really questionable. I think you can do both things do both the same.


STELTER: We can do both at the same time.

ISGUR: We saw it a little bit with the Kobe Bryant death also were a Washington Post reporter came out what some saw is too quickly talk about the rape allegations against him. And again, that was sort of the Twitter -- I think Twitter-verse culture that we've built where it's sort of like say whatever you're thinking that you would have said to a friend who was sitting next to you.

CARTER: And it happened to Gayle King, of course.

STELTER: Yes. And there's been these threats against Gayle King this weekend that are reprehensible and so I think we can all agree on all of this. All right, to the panel, thank you very much. Let's go to Washington in a moment and McKay Coppins. His incredible new story of the Atlantic is called The 2020 Disinformation War. Hear his brand-new reporting in just a moment.


STELTER: Now, to the billion-dollar disinformation campaign to reelect the president. That's the title of this must-read by McKay Coppins, a staff writer for The Atlantic. It's up on the He examined how Trump is storming social media, especially Facebook with these micro-targeted ads. There are the dozens of them, swarms of eerily similar ads on Facebook ad library. They're all meant for different slivers of the electorate.

Trump's own feed is also flooded with propagandistic posts. As we see in 2019 data, the Trump campaign put out more than double the number of Facebook ads of any other democratic contender. Look, look how far ahead the Trump campaign is. Here to talk more about that is McKay Coppins. McKay, what surprised you most in your reporting?


MCKAY COPPINS, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: You know, while I was reporting this piece, I actually created a fake Facebook account that kind of designed to immerse myself in this pro-Trump propaganda. It was during the impeachment proceedings. And I guess what surprised me most was the effect it had on me, frankly.

You know, I had assumed going into this little exercise that my kind of media literacy and inherent skepticism would inoculate me against the distortions that the Trump campaign was pumping out. But I actually found myself almost being taken in by them more than once.

You know, there were days where I would watch an impeachment hearing on T.V., come away with my own conclusions that, you know, the testimony was pretty damning about the President's conduct. And then later I would, I would turn to this Facebook feed, and see, you know, this kind of slick supercuts that the campaign had produced recasting what had happened that day in totally different terms. In fact, making it look as if something else had happened entirely. And I found myself questioning what I had seen with my own two eyes. I would be like, oh, is that what happened?

And so, in this kind of heightened suspicion and cynicism, I found myself questioning almost everything that I saw. You know, every headline I saw, I was reflexively suspicious of it. And I was frankly pretty alarmed.

STELTER: And how do you think this is related to the ongoing attacks that we see from the president as allies against the media? Because you write in your piece -- let me put it up on screen -- you say instead of trying to reform the press by pointing out bias to make things better, or critique its coverage, today's most influential conservatives want to destroy the mainstream media altogether. That's very strong. I think it's accurate, but that's very strong. How do you make that case?

COPPINS: Well, look, I mean, this is a lesson that we've seen over and over again. If you look at Fox News, at Breitbart, at some of the loudest voices in the conservative media, they are not calling for more balance in the mainstream media.

In fact, I quote, Matthew Boyle, an editor at Breitbart News, who gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation, saying literally that there's no such thing as journalistic integrity anymore, and everything is about weaponization of information. And that's how Breitbart performs its task. That's how a lot of conservative media is operating now.

STELTER: What about local news? Because you also point out the local news is a new front in these campaign attempts at warfare. There's all these local news Web sites that look like they are your hometown paper or your local T.V. station, but they are not.

COPPINS: Yes, there been a lot of questions about these over the last couple of years these kinds of faux local news sites like with nocuous names like the Kalamazoo Times or whatever. And if you look closely, you can see that there are often no byline on the stories. There's no local address for their offices. There's no mastheads. And a lot of them are run by kind of Republican lobbying groups or these third- party companies.

And what I was told by one political strategist is that something that -- the way that they're often utilized is that a candidate who wants to place a desired headline about a Democratic opponent, for example, can actually go through a third party and have their desired headlines placed in these Web sites, and then -- and then those headlines appear in campaign commercials or fundraising, pleas. And the average reader would have no idea that these sites are not actual normal local news sites or that they have a political agenda, but that's what actually makes them useful.

STELTER: These are all examples of this kind of alternative media universe that's being built. Let me just leave you with something that I saw in Time Magazine recently. When I read your piece, it reminded me exactly of what this voter, this Trump-voter said to Time Magazine. He said, I don't have to watch Fox, or CNN, or read Time Magazine or anything else. I will get information from my Facebook feed.

And then he went on to say, you know, the campaign is in a good job of telling us what the news is in case we don't see it on Fox. The campaign is not reporting the news. But unfortunately, a lot of voters think that campaigns do.

COPPINS: Right. That's exactly right. In fact, there are polls that show that among strongest Trump supporters, almost none of them actually trust the mainstream media, but more than 90 percent say that they turn to the President himself for credible information. That makes the task of holding the president accountable almost impossible. And that's a very dangerous dynamic as we head into the 2020 election,

STELTER: But we have to understand how that works and why that's happening as we head into the primaries. McKay, thank you so much for being here. Read his full story on the Coming up, we're looking at the New Hampshire primary and looking back toward the Iowa caucuses. Poor John King with no data to fill up his magic wall. We're going to go live to New Hampshire next, to Olivia Nuzzi who's been visiting campaign events there. We're going to talk with her about what she's learning from voters and what they think of the press next.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) STELTER: Well, at least the Iowa caucus has set the bar very low for the New Hampshire primaries. Reporters are now following candidates all across the snowy state. So, let's go there to Olivia Nuzzi, the Washington Correspondent for New York Magazine who was in New Hampshire at an event as we speak.

Olivia, the impact of the Iowa caucuses, all the conspiracy theories that we've seen in the result of the debacle in Iowa, didn't that cause an erosion of trust in the media as well?

OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: It does. I think for people who are already inclined to be skeptical about the media, it does contribute to an erosion of trust. When you talk to Andrew Yang supporters or Tulsi Gabbard supporters, people who are already dissatisfied and felt like their candidates were not getting a fair shake, they certainly talk about that.

They think that the media is part of a conspiracy, in cahoots with the Democratic Party in Iowa or nationally, and you know, they are already inclined to feel that way. When you're at more establishment candidate events, there's much less of that.


STELTER: It all contributes to the sense of cynicism. And we know there's lots of cynicism on the right with Trump supporters, but there's a lot of cynicism on the left, as well. And these are not -- these are not low information voters who come up with these conspiracy theories. In some cases, Olivia, they're really high information voters. They think they know so much, they have so many details. That's part of the issue, isn't it?

NUZZI: Right. Well, I think our definition of a low information voter maybe needs to be adapted for the digital age. Even Trump supporters, they are not low information voters. They're consuming a lot of information. It's just that the quality of the information is not high. And so you see that on the left a bit with more of the fringe candidates and their supporters, but you also see that certainly on the right.

I mean, the day of the Iowa caucus, there was a Trump campaign press conference in which the campaign was clearly seeking to erode trust in the media, in the party establishment. And Brad Parscale even suggested that Donald Trump's 2016 Iowa caucus result where he lost to Ted Cruz was the result of some kind of fraud.

So, I think you kind of have actors on both sides, certainly more on the right, trying to provoke supporters who maybe already are inclined to feel like the establishment, and the media is somehow out for their candidate or you know, out for their cause.

STELTER: And Olivia, in 30 seconds, what's your biggest critique of how we all cover these primaries?

NUZZI: Well, it's hard to say because, you know, it is sort of like a sporting event. We're following incremental developments. It's a 24- hour news cycle. But I think the less that we can focus on it and treat it like it's a game, the better. But it's hard to do that in the moment when you're trying to just report the information as you have it. It does sort of have like a play by play, kind of feel to it when we are doing that, but I don't really know what the solution is.

STELTER: It's a hard problem. Olivia, thank you so much. That Biden rally looks interesting. And a quick note about the candidate who's not on the ballot in New Hampshire. Michael Bloomberg is polling quite well. He's is in number three or number four, depending on the poll. And I think it's partly a result of this.

Look at this brand-new data showing campaign ad spending by Michael Bloomberg at the top, Tom Steyer, and then everybody else so much lower down that list. Bloomberg already with $350 million in ad spending, just an incredible number. And I think it frankly shows the power of television advertising that he's starting to do so well in the polls.

Coming up here on RELIABLE SOURCES, we're heading to China to talk about how reporters are covering the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. How are we know -- how we finding out what's happening at the epicenter when these cities are locked down? David Culver has answers from Beijing in just a moment.



STELTER: As the coronavirus continues to spread leaving entire cities on lockdown and millions under quarantine in China, I want to know how reporters are getting accurate information from the epicenter. CNN Correspondent David Culver and his team were in Wuhan. Then when they returned to Beijing, they were on a two-week quarantine. You can see them. They're set up in a hotel room where they stayed for two weeks until they were confident that they did not contract the virus.

Now, they're still in Beijing continuing their reporting. And David Culver is joining me now from the city.

So David, how do we find out what's going on in Wuhan on a daily basis? How do you get information from the epicenter of this outbreak?

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brian, it originates a bit on why we went to Wuhan in the first place. A lot of folks said, why would you go there? Why did you go to the epicenter? Well, the reality is we needed to be on the ground and we need to make those contacts even for those 29 hours so that then we could see for ourselves who we would be talking to, who we be dealing with.

And even as we left prior to the lockdown, we came back to Beijing and in the midst of that quarantine that you mentioned, my team and I were making phone calls with those people we connected with. They would then connect us with others. I mean, trust is currency here. I mean, and that's the reality with this type of story.

And so we were relying heavily on WeChat, which essentially the messaging app that they use in doing video chats with people. But that's something that we've continued even from here in our -- in our Beijing Bureau, because of the lockdown. The logistics of getting back there, really getting around China has become increasingly difficult. And then add to that what is obviously a hesitation towards the media that's already existed here amongst every folks.

STELTER: And what about the sensors that are president China, are citizen journalists coming up against even stronger walls of censorship?

CULVER: They are indeed, and we are ourselves. I mean, CNN is doing a report a short time ago, about an hour ago and on the international feed, and it was cut as soon as I was referring to President Xi Jinping. And the citizen journalists likewise are feeling that.

In fact, we've even learned one citizen journalist whose work we featured he was going from hospital to hospital trying to really expose what was going on himself disappeared so it seemed. His family kind of put out a plea and said we haven't heard from him in a couple of days. And it turns out he was forced into quarantine, Brian.

STELTER: Forced into quarantine. Wow. And the story about him is up on And all we can do, I suppose, is let people know about this censorship and let people know about the circumstances. David, thank you so much.

That's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. We will see you back here on Sunday 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time. And a quick plug for next Sunday at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, it's the premiere of "The Windsors," all about the Royal family here on CNN. We'll see you next Sunday.