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Experts See Signs Of "Creeping Authoritarianism"; Hope Hicks Leaving Fox, Returning To White House; Biden Buried By Unflattering Coverage After NH Flop; One Of The Top NH Primary Narratives: Klomentum; Bankers Are Taking Over Family-Owned Newspapers. Aired 11a- 12p ET

Aired February 16, 2020 - 11:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: During the last major locust crisis from '03 to '05, the insects caused some $2.5 billion in lost harvest and took nearly $600 million to bring under control. The FAO says that amount of money could fund preventive efforts for 170 years. But for some reason, locusts failed to capture the imagination and wallet of philanthropists.

The FAO has received less than half the $76 million it requested to fight today's swarms.

Thank you for being part of the program this week. I will see you next week.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, grab your coffee, and come on in. I'm Brian Stelter and this is RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the story behind the story.

So, let's get right to it. This hour, President Trump bringing back hope, aka Hope Hicks. I'll speak with two authors who have insight into all the D.C. swampiness.

Plus, the Democrats' TV primary continues with Bloomberg buying his way to the top with his ads. Irin Carmon is here to talk about who is winning the ad war and more.

And later, the growing crisis in local news and why democracy is suffering as a result. Julie K. Brown with "The Miami Herald", a reporter who investigated Jeffrey Epstein will be here to tell us about the fate of her paper and other papers owned by McClatchy now that that company is going bankrupt.

But first, the aspiring autocrat and the media's response. As this banner on Fox says, President Trump is unleashed. That's why there are growing fears of something called democratic backsliding. This is a term used in political science, a term used to describe the erosion of institutions that sustain democracy.

Another way to put it is creeping authoritarianism, a move toward autocracy. Now, that's a word we're increasingly seeing being tied to President Trump. You can see it in some of these headlines in the past week, Trump's authoritarian style is remaking America, things like that.

Now, a lot of these are opinion columns, perspective pieces, but these are important and complicated concepts.

My question for you is, how can the nation's news media make time and space to explain this? I mean, we live in this news story every minute, info-saturated world. But this may be one of the biggest stories of them all. So, what are the best ways to cover it?

Well, one way is with a list. Harvard professor Stephen Walt has been keeping a checklist ever since 2016. He called it "10 ways to tell if your president is a dictator". Now, he wasn't saying Trump is a dictator. But he was watching for troubling signs.

So, he revisited the list this week and you'll notice the checkmarks here. He said, after impeachment, the president has been passing most of the checkpoints on the way to authoritarianism. On his list are things like fearmongering, demonizing the opposition, and using state power to reward corporate backers and punish opponents. Does that sound familiar?

Look, forms of government exist on a spectrum, it's not just democracy or dictatorship, it's not black or white. There are dozens of shades of gray. That's why political scientists talk about political -- democratic backsliding.

It's important to recognize that some people are predisposed to a certain amount of authoritarian thinking. This shows up in polling. Some people think there's too much democracy and they seek a so-called strong leader, a strongman who will put up walls, and protect their way of life and punish their enemies.

These people have an outsize fear of threats and a desire to take action taken against those threats. That feeling has always been there. Most Americans don't feel that way, but it's always been there. It's been there for a long time.

And experts in this field are always careful to say that these challenges to democracy did not start with Trump's election.

But as the group Freedom House put it, the president has worsened this picture, he has assailed essential institutions and traditions, including -- and this is a list here -- the separation of powers, a free press, an independent judiciary, the impartial delivery of justice, safeguards against corruption, and most disturbingly, the legitimacy of elections. And Congress hasn't pushed back enough.

So, let's make our own list of this week's news.

First, separation of powers. Well, Trump has been challenging the legislative branch's constitutionally mandated power of the purse, because he's been diverting Pentagon money to build more border wall.

All right. How about an independent judiciary? Well, this week, he attacked a federal judge, the woman who will be sentencing his friend Roger Stone, very soon. The press. Well, of course, his proposed budget will not actually be

enacted. Congress will not actually go along with it. But once again this year, he is threatening to cut NPR's funding, and PBS's funding prosecutor and this year, the military's iconic "Stars and Stripes" newspaper, its funding is also being targeted.

Next, safeguards against corruption. Well, he has been smearing that Ukraine whistle-blower and those who testified to the House.

And as for impartial delivery of justice, look no further than his interference at the DOJ, tweeting about a proposed sentence for Roger Stone. And then day after day of headlines, Tuesday, U.S. prosecutors quit the case after their boss is step into overrule them.


Remember, the Stone case is about lying and obstructing to protect Trump.

Then, Wednesday, this front page, career prosecutors say they are worried about what's to come. Thursday, A.G. Bill Barr talks to ABC and makes a show of independence and rebukes Trump for tweeting. But then Friday, "The Times" and other outlets report that Barr is quietly intervening in a series of politically charged cases, including the Flynn case. The headline here says Barr quietly acting to tighten the leash in political cases.

This, all of this is democratic backsliding. It happens when the rule of law is eroded. It happens when a tough on crime president wants his government to just be tough on the opposition's crimes. He often complains on Twitter that the real crimes are on the other side. He loves to say the real crimes are on the other side.

Trump happily accuses his opponents of treason and other high crimes, suggesting awful penalties. This has become so normal that we barely blink an eye anymore.

So, look at the 2018 book, "How Democracies Die."

Let me read from it. The book says: Institutions become political weapons, wielded forcefully by those who control them against those who do not. This is how elected autocrats subvert democracy, packing and weaponizing the courts and other neutral agencies, buying off the media and the private sector who are bullying them into silence, and rewriting the rules of politics to tilt the playing field against opponents.

One more page here, it says: The tragic paradox of the electoral route to authoritarianism is that democracy's assassins use the very institutions of democracy, gradually, subtly, and even legally, to kill it.

This is a worldwide story. It's not just something that's happening in the U.S. and obviously, America is much better off than many of the other countries that are experiencing this authoritarian creep, this creeping sense of autocracy. It is happening in many countries. It is a global story and one that

takes more than 90 seconds to explain. We can't explain this in a 900- word news story or a short package on the evening news. So, we need new ways to explain what's going on to the audience.

Let's talk more about it, beginning by going live to Munich, Germany, and to Anne Applebaum, she is here with me. As well as Phillip Bump from "The Washington Post", and Joan Walsh of "The Nation," a CNN political contributor.

But, Anne, I would love to start with you. You've been out there at the Munich Security Conference. And your tweets and writing really inspired this week to think more about this democratic backsliding that is going on.

But am I getting it right or am I getting it wrong? I would love for you to tell me that I'm exaggerating or overstating what's going on.

ANNE APPLEBAUM, PULITZER PRIZE WINNING HISTORIAN: No, unfortunately, you're not exaggerating. In many countries, the end of democracy often begins with someone who mocks it, who makes fun of the institutions, who doesn't treat his opposition as a legitimate opposition but rather as traitors, as people who aren't really patriots, as people who aren't part of the nation.

And you're right, that we see that pattern in many countries, and we've seen it happen all over the world. I was just recently in Venezuela where I was working on an article for "The Atlantic", which is where I work now. And we -- you know, we were watching impeachment from Caracas. And a lot of the people I was with were saying, my goodness, some of this looks so familiar, we had Hugo Chavez, he was the dictator who eventually ended democracy there, they were a democratic country beforehand.

And he behaved much like Trump. He insulted his opponents, he was rude, he was crude, that made people think he was authentic. He pushed back against the press, against the media, against judges. And eventually, you know, he led to a decline of the system which has led Venezuela into a really extraordinary crisis.

But you can see it in other countries. There are a number of countries in Europe that now have so-called illiberal leaders who are making some of the same arguments as Trump, the media is fake, I don't want to be held accountable by anybody. I'm elected. I can do what a want. And it's a very common problem.

STELTER: Let's ask Joan Walsh about this as well. Joan is here with in New York. And the banner on the screen says: Journalism's role in sustaining democracy, and pushing back against what Anne is describing.

So, what is journalism's role in this conversation?

JOAN WALSH, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think just telling the truth, and telling it often, and telling it loud, and, you know, demanding -- bludgeoning our editors with story proposals, insisting that headlines get it right, and the headlines don't use euphemisms for what is happening.

You know, I wrote about this week, Brian, in the wake of the firing of the Vindman brothers. Now, that happened last week, so it wasn't in this week's story, but the reverberations continued.

And then we saw, you know, the meddling in the Stone investigation, the amazing withdrawal of the four prosecutors, one of whom left the Department of Justice.


So, you know, we have to keep talking about it.

I also think, obviously, there's big role for Congress and I'm not always sure that Congress is doing everything it can on this front. You know, people -- a lot of people are afraid that impeachment, if it failed, and we pretty knew it would fail, in terms of he would be acquitted, he was impeached, would unleash him and has done that.

But the House still has powers of oversight that they are not in my opinion using sufficiently aggressively. I would like to see those four prosecutors testify. I would like to see a whole lot more coverage of why they left and what they think should happen now.

STELTER: And I'd love to know when we're going to hear from them.

WALSH: Right, right.

STELTER: Let's hear from these people --

WALSH: Absolutely.

STELTER: -- who were being sidelined in the DOJ, why are we not hearing from them?

WALSH: Right, and someone who literally left his job, didn't just leave his post, but left the Department of Justice.

We have today, open letters mean very well, they're like online petitions, but we have 1,100 former Justice Department officials calling for the resignation of Attorney General Barr which I think is totally appropriate. We have several Democratic senators saying the same thing. We should all have our hair on fire about what's gone on this last two weeks.

STELTER: I don't have much left --

WALSH: I know, I'll do it for you, I'm sorry.

STELTER: But, Philip, your hair can be on fire. I watched Rachel Maddow this week say making a list is not enough, we've got to do something. Chris Cuomo on the air on CNN saying the president is in automatic, autocratic mode. Does that sound right, or is that extreme?

PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I mean, it's -- it's certainly is a case that a lot of things he's doing things are moving down the path that you've articulated. He's also doing things which aren't moving down that path, that he likes to be able to point to those things. You know, these are the sort of presidential things he and his defenders like to point to those things and be like, this is just the president being a president while he's doing the things that are extraordinary.

STELTER: We are getting these mixed signals, right, every day.

BUMP: Sure.

STELTER: Andrew McCabe is not going to being prosecuted.

BUMP: Right.

STELTER: But then an hour later, we hear about some stealth attempts to review cases in DOJ.

WALSH: Right.

BUMP: Right.

STELTER: So, you hear one thing, you hear another. You don't know what to believe.

BUMP: Well, that's true. I mean, it seems pretty obvious what we should believe here in part because we're avoiding the subtext here, and the subtext is that there are enablers both in Congress and in the media who want to see Donald Trump be able to present this vision of America that Donald Trump thinks is appropriate.

I mean, obviously, I'm talking about Fox News here, for example. We had this extraordinary comment from John Kelly, former White House chief of staff, who said at an event this week, if you are watching Fox News because it reinforces your world view, you're not an informed citizen. It's the former chief of staff to Donald Trump --

WALSH: Right.

BUMP: -- who's making a very valid and accurate point about relying upon Fox News as a new source.

But Fox News, for economic and political reasons, is bolstering this vision that Donald Trump wants to see. We saw that with senators and members of the House who are Republicans as well who agree with Donald Trump broadly and therefore are OK with some of the things he's doing that are more extreme.

We know -- that's really the issue. We don't even how to deal with that. "The Washington Post" has a great story by Philip Rucker which points out the way Donald Trump is trying to rewrite the Russia story --

WALSH: Right.

BUMP: -- is a way of trying to muddle the picture.

But people who tune in to Sean Hannity every night, they're not reading that story anyway. So, how do you break through that?

WALSH: Yes, he wants the Mueller expunged. I don't know what that means, but that's --

STELTER: Yes, whatever that means.


BUMP: Yes.

STELTER: Let's go back to Anne in Munich, because you've been at the Security Conference. I wonder if you think what's been going on at the security conference with Pompeo and others relates to the broader conversation we're having.

APPLEBAUM: One of the oddities of the security conference was that, you know, the United States is now presenting a very fractured face to the world.

On the one hand, we had Pompeo who declared that the west is Winning, you know, everything is great. On the other hand, we had the defense secretary saying, you better -- you better do what we say on China or else, you know, we're not sure if the transatlantic alliance will continue. We had Nancy Pelosi saying, well, actually, the House of Representatives still respects the alliance and still respects its partners.

In other words, the mess in Washington does transmit itself to the outside world and it does -- you know, it creates the impression of Democratic disarray. And that in turn has echoes in other countries. You know, look, the world has long looked up to the United States as a model of democracy and a beacon of democracy. And if -- you know, if it's in trouble there, then it's in trouble everywhere.

STELTER: Anne, thank you so much.

Philip and Joan, please stick around.

Quick break here on RELIABLE SOURCES and much more news coming up. Hope Hicks leaving her job at Fox Corp to come back to the White House. We're going to unpack Trump's keep your close as a strategy with the authors of a brand new book, next.



STELTER: President Trump has come a long way from his TV roots. Today's "New York Times" says he's increasingly guided by suspicion and distrust. Aides told 'Axios" the president feels he's surrounded by snakes. But many of the so-called snakes are his own appointees.

As a TV critic James Poniewozik pointed out, Trump spent decades on a TV show whose entire premise was that he was the best person in the world of hiring people. Hmm. Well, now, post-impeachment, he's clearing out key witnesses from

Ukraine inquiry, bringing back a couple of loyalists back to the White House, including Hope Hicks who decamped for Fox headquarters in 2018. Now she's returning along with ex-aide John McEntee.

Let's talk about this with White House Reporter, Asawin Suebsaeng, and investigative reporter, Lachlan Markay, both with "The Daily Beast". They've unpacked what they say is Trump's mob boss mentality in their new book "Sinking in the Swamp: How Trump's Minions and Misfits Washington."

All right. Guys, so the title sort of tells us where you're coming from, minions and misfits.


Who are some of those minions and misfits, Asawin (INAUDIBLE)?

LACHLAN MARKAY, CO-AUTHOR, "SINKING IN THE SWAMP": Yes, we wanted to sort of tell the story of the Trump era through the eyes of the foot soldiers in Donald Trump's Washington. Obviously, there are a lot of Trump books coming out these days, an unprecedented ink has been spilled about this administration.

But that was an aspect we felt hadn't been told. We were looking around at what we could add to this discussion about this sort of crazy time in our nation's capital. We took some inspiration from Aswan's favorite movie "Goodfellas" , and the mob book on which that's based.

STELTER: What should we learn from "Goodfellas" that applies to Trump, Asawin?

ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, CO-AUTHOR, "SINKING IN THE SWAMP": Well, just in terms of the two premises of the two books, the book on which "Goodfellas" is based tells the story of Las Costa Nostra through the eyes of a random foot soldier who is not a household name, Henry Hill, who obviously was played by Ray Liotta in the famous Scorsese film.

So, we went about trying to find as many Henry Hill's within Trump world as we possibly could, and from the ground up to the worm's eye view tell the story of Donald J. Trump, his presidency, his past, and his present.

STELTER: I think there's broader point about how the Trump presidency should be covered, whether it should be treated like it's any other administration. Certainly, you two don't think it should be treated that way.

MARKAY: Yes, it's kind of boring in our view, it's a boring way to cover a very exciting, for better or worse, time in politics. And we've had this discussion between us many times. Asawin feels that, you know, no president deserves the sort of veneration with which many political journalists treat it.

My view is that it's sort of a reciprocal relationship between journalists and the people they're covering, for the folks who are covering show they respect the office, then they should be covered that way with the respect that office deserves. I'm not sure that's the operative situation in this White House.

STELTER: No, it's not.

SUEBSAENG: I mean, as Lachlan was pointing out, me personally as a reporter, I think it's best, whether it's Obama, bush, Clinton, or Trump, to not give this default dignity to the office. I think that clears your eyes and ears and makes you a better political reporter, whether you're coming from left, right or center. So, I think it's weird to approach it in that, quote/unquote, dignified manner. I think it's especially weird to do it when the racist game show host is leader of the free world.

STELTER: You love to say that, don't you?

SUEBSAENG: Racist game show host?


SUEBSAENG: Yes, I probably said that more than any other specific phrase during our media interviews with this book --

STELTER: It does seem like -- it's on Twitter as well.

SUEBSAENG: I mean, how else would you describe Donald Trump?

STELTER: There's a hundred different ways to describe him, that's for sure.

Look, Hope Hicks coming back, what's the significance of that, do you think?

SUEBSAENG: Well, Hope is someone who Trump has for years treated as a surrogate daughter. His nicknames for her include Hopester and Hopey. And she's someone who is telling friends when she departed the West Wing for allegedly greener pastures, about two years ago, that even if Trump begged her, she would not entertain a return to Trump's world for at least a year after leaving. And that's been true to her word, it's been two years.

And this is someone who is beloved not just by Trump, by some of his closest advisers, who also just happened to be within his family, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump. So, it's a cliche to say it, but the gang is getting back together, we're running out of characters for the show.

STELTER: I think she was kind of bored at Fox as well. You know, she's not going back to the communication shop, though, which is notable. Stephanie Grisham, White House press secretary, continues to avoid briefings. She's going on fox all the time, she's replaced briefings with Fox News appearances, which is kind of interesting.

And, Lachlan, I wonder, what's it like for White House reporters, what's it like for you to be reaching out for comment, asking Grisham comment for comment, does she respond, does it even matter?

MARKAY: Well, one of the reasons we broadened it from the White House to focus on the larger universe of people in the president's orbit is that there are perhaps an unprecedented number of outside forces that operate effectively to shift the way the president and his team operate.

So, you know, just in focusing on the media, you have to look at the little box in President Trump's living room that is effectively barking out commands on a day-to-day basis and that he takes his cues from.

STELTER: Look, we look through your book, we took some of the titles, some of the descriptions of people, including cable news commentators, those are some of the minions that you describe. You have quite a list of descriptions of diehards and misfits and minions, and media figures and lobbyists, villains and victims and henchmen, that are all a part of Trump world.

MARKAY: Yes, and, you know, many of those describe the same people, you know?

STELTER: Sure. Let me ask you real quick, Michael Avenatti is back in the news. There are so many other figures part of the swamp.

Avenatti has been convicted for extortion and other crimes. I've been getting some grief from Sean Hannity this weekend, speaking of Fox, right, from Hannity for once suggesting that I thought Avenatti could be a serious candidate for president.

So, give me a media critique.


Was that stupid on my part? What do you make of how Avenatti was covered by CNN and MSNBC?

MARKAY: I think one of the weird and in many cases distressing things that Trump has done is basically to Trumpify his opposition as well. And you see this very often in the conspiratorial mindset that many of his detractors take online, and that borne itself out in the phenomenon of Michael Avenatti as well. This was a guy who in many ways was very similar to Trump. He really knew how to operate in the modern media environment.


MARKAY: And I think that's what really drew a lot of Trump's critics to him, was this idea that he could sort of beat Trump at his own game.

The question that I think a lot of journalists have to ask themselves is whether by virtue of granting that, they were basically buying into -- they were being played by that very strategy, his ability to sort of manipulate the media.


MARKAY: And I think that a lot of folks did take him very seriously without looking at the extensive personal and legal baggage out there waiting to be reported. As a matter of fact, our colleague Kate Briquelet at "The Daily Beast" did some amazing work on his finances, he threatened to sue her, among many other journalists. This was back when he was getting this, you know, adulation in the press.

STELTER: He's getting so many TV --


MARKAY: Exactly, yes.

STELTER: And he was actually making news. I mean, the Stormy Daniels case was a big (ph) news about the president.

SUEBSAENG: And his crookedness aside, it would have been weird at that time, sort of during the Michael Avenatti boomlet to not to take him seriously, at least in the form of someone who was getting in the president's head one way or the other, and doing things that did result in actual legal real world consequences for what was at the time the president's personal attorney and top fixer, one of his top fixers is Michael Cohen.


SEUBSAENG: So this was a guy who even if he got convicted for all of these things, still had a real world impact, and that was obviously, objectively speaking, news at the time.

STELTER: When we talk about media manipulation, whether it's Trump or Avenatti or anyone else, the point is to be more skeptical of the manipulation that's going on.

MARKAY: Right, to examine the manipulation and not be manipulated.


SEUBSAENG: We've to be meta all the time.

STELTER: All the time. Gentlemen, thanks for being here. The book is "Sinking in the Swamp."

And up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES, talking about Democrats in screen time. Which candidates are winning your attention and which are not?



STELTER: What unites the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination right now? Is it screen time? Because Pete Buttigieg seems to be saying yes to every T.V. interview under the sun, national and local, and it's been working for him for a year now. Bernie Sanders has been on lots of shows lately too, even while leveling critiques of the media, and Michael Bloomberg, his television strategy is an ad campaign that is just unrelenting.

You know, Twitter moments and Tick Tock memes are great, but the primaries are still won and lost right here on the tube. Let's talk about it with Philip Bump and JoanWalsh there back in the table, joined by New York Magazine's Irin Carmon as well. Let's take a sprint around the primary field. Six candidates, six minutes beginning with Bernie -- with Joe Biden who of course was buried by unflattering coverage as a result of the New Hampshire primary failures. But Philip, is that what's to be expected, you know, you come into place you're going to get scrutinized?

BUMP: Yes. I mean, it was certainly was coming into both Iowa and New Hampshire. He knew he wasn't going to do as well as he would in later contest based on what his base was, but he did even worse than expected. And since his entire value proposition to Democratic voters was I'm the guy that can win the race against Donald Trump, losing two races very badly to, you know, four or five or three or four different Democrats didn't help that case.

STELTER: One of the other New Hampshire primary narratives was about Klo-mentum, am I pronouncing that right or --


STELTER: Klob-ment0m?


STELTER: Is she finally getting the attention she deserves? What's your view about how Amy Klobuchar is being covered?

CARMON: Well, because our industry has such a bias towards the recent, the novel, I think Amy Klobuchar really benefited from timing. She hasn't experienced the same level of press setting or scrutiny that's a Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden have already gone through. And so all of the sudden, folks who are maybe, let's say, college-educated white women in New Hampshire looking for a home, Amy Klobuchar, suddenly, she's tough in the debate.

She had some incredible moments pushing back at Pete Buttigieg's lack of experience. And so all of a sudden, we in the media are talking up Klob-mentum, Klo-mentum, I think, Klobucharg, pick your -- pick your poison. But I don't think we've really had the depth of reporting or scrutiny on Amy Klobuchar as we have had on other candidates. She came in strong chest when she needed it, but we're -- I think we're going to see in the long term what that looks like.

STELTER: What about the other female candidate that's high in the race right now, and that's Elizabeth Warren, not a great performance in New Hampshire. And this Free Beacon headline is notable. She's on a fundraising pitch of supporters saying we can no longer count on the media to cover our campaign fairly. Is this just a typical bash the media when things aren't going well strategy, Joan? JOAN WALSH, NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, THE NATION: No, I don't -- I don't think so. You know, she had a tough night in New Hampshire, and that made things a lot harder for her. But before New Hampshire, coming out of Iowa, where I was, Brian, I wrote a piece that said Elizabeth Warren is being erased by the media because she really was.

The story was OK, Biden flopped. That was -- I admit, I'm a reporter. I understand some of why this happened. Biden was a big story as a flop, Bernie and Pete tied. Pete looked like baby he won. He's always a fresh face. But the woman who finished third, a decent third, not her -- not her dream, was really I was watching, you know, cable stations that were jumping around and skipping her.

And you know, even on the night of the Iowa caucuses, lots of people cut from her to Biden because Biden was a bigger story and that it was a very sad performance. So I understand why she's upset. But I think having done as poorly as she did in New Hampshire, she can't just blame the media. I think that there's -- you know, there's stuff going on in her campaign and in her own approach to getting attention that she's got to address.

She did not go out and grab attention and grab time in the debate when she really should have and Amy certainly did. I think she's got to be tougher, quite honestly.


STELTER: And Bernie Sanders also has complaints about whether his campaigns being overlooked. That this has been a topic for a long time at this point, Philip. Is that fair?

BUMP: You're setting me up here. I mean, look --

STELTER: In ten seconds.

BUMP: Right. Now, I mean, Bernie Sanders' campaign is doing well. He's at the front of the pack right now. You know, they -- a lot of his supporters want to call them front runner. He has a very avid base of support that wants to see him treated as the sort of go-to eventual nominee, the only person who can beat Donald Trump.

And so we get a lot of pushback in the media when we report on Bernie Sanders because there is an expectation of how he will be covered that I don't think applies to other candidates and doesn't come from other candidates basis in the same way. And I think they're effective at pushing people to ask questions like is Bernie Sanders being treated fairly? I think, generally speaking, he was. And now my mentions on Twitter will be a mess for a week.

STELTER: OK, let's get to a couple more candidates after a quick break. Everybody stay with me. And a quick plug here as well. We have an election night coming, another election caucus night at least this Saturday. CNN is starting the race for the White House. The new season starts tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time here on CNN. More here on RELIABLE SOURCES in just a moment.



STELTER: And we're back on RELIABLE SOURCES talking about the Democrat's media strategies with the panel. And Michael Bloomberg's strategy of buying every T.V. ad he possibly can is fascinating. He's up to over $350 million in T.V. ad spending. Irin Carmon, your reaction.

CARMON: I think it's the job of the independent press to make sure that Bloomberg record and messages are being scrutinized. And there was incredible investigative reporting this week in the Washington Post, in the New York Times. One, the New York Times tracks the path of money, and the way in which Bloomberg has really captured enormous parts of the progressive infrastructure and politicians around the country.

And the Post went a little deeper into these highly and journalistic anti-transparency tools of non-disclosure agreements and the pattern of discrimination allegations against Michael Bloomberg, which he has denied, but also we only know so much about because of non-disclosure agreements.

I think it's a moment for us to step back and think about media bias too, to what extent are folks who did really well when Michael Bloomberg was mayor, folks who might be economically conservative, socially liberal, a very tiny part of the U.S., probably over- represented among newsrooms and executives, to what extent are we taking Michael Bloomberg seriously because of both and a kind of centrist bias, I think, are questions that we need to think about.

And so independent reporting is so important when you have somebody basically paying their way into the conversation not being subject to the same debates, the same campaigning from voters, not the same early contest. I think there's no precedent for that. And it makes independent journalism all the more important.

STELTER: I hope he makes the debate stage for this upcoming debate. Because if he's doing this well in the polls. We need to hear from an on the debates.

WALSH: Right. I wrote about that this weekend. And from the left, I got a lot of criticism. Oh, changing the rules for Michael Bloomberg. Unfortunately, I think it's necessary. He's rising in the polls. He's not getting a lot of criticism. He needs to meet -- I want to see Elizabeth Warren talked to him about his ideas about how red line -- the end of redlining helped precipitate, you know, the mortgage and banking crisis.

I want -- I want to see other people challenge him on stop and frisk. I want to see people talk to him, you know, Amy Klobuchar and not just women about his remarks about women. He needs to mix it up. It's sad that they didn't change the rules for Cory Booker and Julian Castro, but there's a reason that it has to happen now. He's hiding behind his ads. He's the phantom of the primary, and doing great doing very little media as well. STELTER: Not very many T.V. interviews, etc.

WALSH: Right.

STELTER: You know, the Washington Post dropped this really important investigation on Saturday morning. And then like an hour later, Matt Drudge floated a rumor that Hillary Clinton could possibly be Bloomberg's V.P. And Philip Bump, I just want your reaction to this. I mean, folks on Fox are loving this. They're running with it. But should we shouldn't be taking this seriously, right?

BUMP: No, I mean, yes, no. I mean, all these early who's your vice president going to be, sometimes the campaign's put them out to do some distraction. You know, it's hard to say exactly what's happening here. Obviously, the name Hillary Clinton gets Matt Drudge and Fox News amped up in a way that pretty much nothing else does. And so, you know, I don't know to what extent this may have been a strategy, but no. I mean, any V.P. talk, let's get to that in July.

STELTER: It's February.

BUMP: Right?

STELTER: It's February. All right, to the panel, thank you so much. A quick break here on RELIABLE SOURCES. And then we're talking about the intensifying crisis in local news, newspapers, and the printing presses in some cases grinding to a halt. We're going to discuss the local news crisis and how it affects you next.



STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES, I'm Brian Stelter. Let's review the last few months of news about local newspapers. Gannett and Gatehouse's recent merger is resulting in cutbacks. The so-called vulture hedge fund is buying up shares in Tribune Publishing, creating fears at the Chicago Tribune and other papers. Warren Buffett is selling Berkshire Hathaway. 31 newspapers basically throwing in the towel there. And McClatchy as of this week is filing for bankruptcy protection.

Now, McClatchy is one of the nation's biggest owners of papers. Right now, McClatchy owns 30 papers across the United States. You can see the map right there, probably one near where you live, including the Miami Herald, the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth and many more. So what's going to happen to them?

Here to discuss that is Julie K. Brown. She's an investigative reporter at one of those papers at the Miami Herald. You know her as the reporter who broke the Jeffrey Epstein scandal wide open. And also joining us is Ken Doctor, a media industry analyst and founder of the Newsonomics column. Thank you both for being here. And Julie, first to you. What is the impact of this bankruptcy filing for you and your colleagues? JULIE BROWN, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THE MIAMI HERALD: Well, I don't think we know what the impact is going to be. We've seen this happen around the country where some of these other chains had been bought up by hedge funds. And they -- in some cases, they've dismantled some of these newspapers, these local newspapers. So of course, we're hoping that that won't happen to our paper and the papers that are owned by McClatchy, we're hopeful. But really, it's an unknown. We don't know exactly what's going to happen.

STELTER: So Ken, tell us the one-minute version of what is happening to all these papers that were largely owned by families up until recently, and in the past 10 or 20 years have been bought up by hedge funds and bankers? What's the reason?


KEN DOCTOR, MEDIA INDUSTRY ANALYST: So these bankers and financial companies all got into the industry by lending money, taking equity stakes. McClatchy is the 20th company to declare bankruptcy. So now we have 25 percent of the press controlled by Gannett which is run by fortress. And we could see in the coming financialization, as I've described it, as much as 40 percent of the daily press. It is a world of whoa financially. And McClatchy lost 12 percent of its revenue last year.

So revenues going down across the board, cutting the painstaking work we see of Julie and her colleagues. There are only 20,000 journalists left at daily newspapers and that's down 60 percent in 25 years. So it is -- it is just downward, downward, downward.

STELTER: And how much of this is just about people not wanting -- how much of it is about people not wanting the print edition versus damage being done by hedge funds are trying to suck money out of these companies?

DOCTOR: It's a -- it's a combination. I figured there's about $1 billion in free cash flow or profit still in the industry. So clearly read a reader habits have changed, but this isn't news. It's 2020. This has been a transition that has not worked. These companies are dependent on print, and at the same time, there's still a lot of money to be made. And the people who are making it are the people who are willing to take those tough decisions cut into the product, knowing that they are not building a product for tomorrow, but take the money in the short term.

STELTER: And of course, the digital duopoly is the other part of the conversation, Google and Facebook, and how they dominate the digital ad market. So I wonder, Julie, for you at the Miami Herald. What does that print versus digital transition feel like? Do you all still feel like a print newspaper at your core?

BROWN: No, I feel like it's a combination still. But the issue is -- here is that people aren't reading their local newspaper even digitally because -- and digital doesn't make the kind of money, of course, that print had made. So we're not capitalizing on the way that I think people are hopeful that we would on digital. I'm not an expert in the business side of it, but as far as the

journalism side of it, I mean, I think that the one thing that we do know is that with these smaller newspapers drying up across the country that is creating a collapse of local newspapers and local news in that kind of information that it provides around the country. And it is contributing also, I think, to the divisions in our country because there isn't the number of voices and the number of local newspapers has helped -- I think has contributed to the divisions that we're experiencing around the country.

STELTER: Yes. Research shows that if you don't have a strong local paper, you are more likely to just vote straight party line when you go to the ballot box. I think that is so revealing. Let's go to a quick break. But first, let's look at this news desert map to make the point you're sharing, Julie, about the growing number of news deserts. These are communities where there's either just one paper or no local papers left. A quick break here. Let's talk about solutions to this problem in just a moment.




DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: The Long Haul 2020 Democrats prepare for a drawn-out battle while working to prove they can unite the party.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is our chance, our only chance to bring new thinking to Washington.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This campaign is like no other. This is our nation's moment.

BASH: I'll speak to presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar next. And legal right, President Trump ignores criticism from his attorney general amid questions about political interference at the Justice Department.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I stay out of things to a degree that people wouldn't believe.

BASH: The chief of staff to the vice president, Mark Short, joins me to discuss in moments. Plus down south, 2020 Democratic candidates try to gain ground with minority voters.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We haven't heard from the most committed constituents in the Democratic Party.

BASH: Will South Carolina deliver Joe Biden a win? I'll speak with South Carolina kingmaker. Congressman James Clyburn ahead.


Hello, I'm Dana Bash in for Jake Tapper in Washington where the state of our union is off to the races. President Trump wakes up today in Florida where he will serve as the grand marshal at the Daytona International Speedway. But it leaves behind outrage here in Washington, as it continues to sound off on cases in front of his own Justice Department, even after the uproar prompted Attorney General Bill Barr to publicly urge the president to back off.

But Barr's own decision to oversee or overrule career officials in some criminal cases involving people with ties to the president is raising more questions about the line between President Trump and the Justice Department.

Meanwhile, the Democratic race to challenge President Trump has moved to Nevada, where Democrats are looking to prove they could build a diverse coalition of support in a primary race many now expect to stretch on for months. This morning. I'll speak with two candidates, former mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar, who are trying to capitalize on momentum coming out of New Hampshire.

Joining me now for Las Vegas is the candidate with the most Democratic delegates, Pete Buttigieg. Thank you so much for joining me this morning, Mr. Mayor.