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Media's Essential Role In Supporting Public Health; Local News On The Frontlines Of The Pandemic; How Coronavirus Is Being Covered; Airport Overwhelmed By Coronavirus Screening Delay; Fact Vs. Fiction In Coronavirus Coverage. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired March 15, 2020 - 11:00   ET



BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter. It's a special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

How are you feeling? How are you holding up? I want to be very personal about what's going on with all of you for the next hour because this is a very scary moment, many people are processing this in very serious ways. And we are all in this together.

This hour, I want to take you behind the scenes, showing you reliable source of information and empowering you to make the right decisions about your loved ones. Ultimately, that's what this entire period is about, looking out for one another.

Dr. Vivek Murthy, James Hamblin, Juliette Kayyem are all here with insights in the next few minutes.

You think about it, the coronavirus crisis is changing so fast that these maps can't keep up. The great shutdown of 2020 is under way.

We know the hospital surge is coming. Preparations are under way in cities like Seattle.

It's, unfortunately, it's like the arrival of a hurricane a hundred years ago. Before radars and satellites, when people would just feel the rain start to fall and feel the winds start to pick up, but no one knew how bad it would be or for how long. That's what this kind of feels like.

Let me say, the news coverage should reflect those facts. These kinds of maps are important, because it shows how many cases have been identified. But we also need to reflect the fact that no one knows the total actual number of coronavirus cases in the United States or elsewhere in the world, but frankly especially in the United States given the testing failures.

So, this is probably the more important graphic, showing the spread trajectory. We should be showing more on these graphics and showing Americans why the U.S. appears to be at this moment on the same path as Iran -- as Italy and Iran, et cetera.

Look, this is all happening so fast. And that's partly why I think so many people are afraid and anxious right now. And news coverage needs to understand and relate to those anxieties.

Think about, two weeks ago, few of us have heard of social distancing. One week ago, flattening the curve had barely entered the lexicon.

Yes, we talk about this famous graph on this show a week ago. I didn't use the term flatten the curve. These things are changing so quickly. And these measures are up-ending life in the United States and in many parts of the globe.

Some of you would be normally at a house of worship at this hour, you're at home watching television instead because many religion institutions have closed. But we can still turn to the holy book for inspiration, Matthew 7:12 is on my mind today. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or Leviticus 19:18, love your neighbor as thyself.

Protect each other. That's the drive behind all of these closures, temporary end to sports, live culture performances, arts, style.

But the question is, are people really getting it? Is social distancing enough? Is it happening in great numbers all across the country to make the impact it needs to have? It's an open question I think right now.

In this moment, phones and televisions are our lifelines. They're our connections to the outside world. And that means the journalists are playing a critical role. That's why we're here in this building right now.

Health care workers are the heroes on the front lines. They are protecting the public. And the media workers are empowering the public with information from those experts.

The changes are captured in the front page headlines every single day. Coronavirus is here, viral impact, shuttered, shut down. We're seeing this from coast to coast and everywhere in between.

Let me show you this next one. We will get through this together. It's an important message to continue to convey in the news coverage in this moment. The sudden shutdowns are head-spinning.

So, in this environment, news coverage should inform, not incite. We must be aware and alert without being alarmist.

So let's begin by talking with our first three experts that are with me today. CNN Senior Media Reporter, Oliver Darcy.

Preventative medicine MD, staff -- and staff writer for "The Atlantic" and a lecturer to the Yale School of Public Health, Dr. James Hamblin. He just launched a new podcast called "Social Distance", which is about exactly what you think -- living through a pandemic.

And joining us remotely is CNN National Security Analyst, Juliette Kayyem. She coordinated homeland security policy under the Obama administration.

Thank you all for being here.

Juliette, you're at home. We're going to see a lot more of this on television and we should. That is a good thing. We're going to see more remote broadcasting.

Tell me what you're doing personally, Juliette, and what you think members of the media need to be doing today?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURIYT ANALYST: So, I am practicing what I preach. We'll just live here for a while.

I have three kids who are teenagers. One is finally getting home from college today. And we are just sort of hunkering down, and trying to remain calm. I guess it doesn't hurt that I'm their mother, in that sense.

And that's how I plan on living the next couple of weeks.


No play dates. No going out. Just abiding by social distancing, and communicating with my parents also the need for them to stay in.

So, on a personal level, I feel what everyone else is feeling, even though, professionally, I'm trying to figure out what the path forward is.

STELTER: Yes, and working.

Dr. Hamblin, is there enough social distancing happening right now? Yes, people are working from home. Yes, the streets are not as crowded here in New York City, for example, but there's a lot of people at bars and restaurants. There's a lot of concern that without federal and government action, more severe action that social distancing is not taking effect enough.

DR. JAMES HAMBLIN, PREVENTIVE MEDICINE DOCTOR: Everything has happened so quickly for people, what you've mentioned.


HAMBLIN: And if you look and now, you get all the changes happened in the last two weeks have been really heartening, I think people are starting to understand this, and taking dramatic measures. There are, of course, consequences to shutting everything down and being too dramatic. I think we should be leaning more in that direction right now.

STELTER: Leaning in the direction of overreacting, rather than underreacting.

HAMBLIN: Of playing it extremely safe right now because we're behind the ball in terms of testing and other modes of preparedness.

And I would play it a little safe right now, but there's no right answer exactly as to how many people in any given restaurant is too many, whether we should just shut down all businesses right now. In retrospect, it could seem like we should have done that a long time ago within the next couple of days.

But, you know, that has obviously huge consequences on economics, on people's job security --


HAMBLIN: -- and culture.

STELTER: What are the right ways to communicate this to the audience? With -- we feel like there's a -- I want to make clear we're aware without sounding panicked.

HAMBLIN: Right. Panic is never useful. But preparation is.

So what causes panic is uncertainty. And the more you can tell people there's a plan in place to help take care of you, to do everything possible to keep you well and to -- if you do get sick, to give you a place to go and know that everything possible is going to be done to help you get through this.

And we can't give you certainty that you won't get sick, your love ones won't get sick, but we can give you certainty that you'll be treated and taken care of.

STELTER: Juliette, what about the notion this is a national story, yes, but it's also a local story. And it's what you called a 50-state disaster. I don't think there's an analogy to that in the United States history.

KAYYEM: No, there isn't. Look, I want to be clear here, this virus is new, pandemic planning is not. It begins at the local level.

I want to give people a sense that there is a plan or the locals are the front lines, it's a local story. It's the doctors and the hospitals and everything else. States help manage the localities and the goal of the federal government, if it were functioning and focused on this would to be not be one, two, three months too late in terms of kit testing, in terms of guidance for nursing homes, in terms of even travel bans. All of that is too late.

The goal of a federal government in crisis is to give you, me, all of us who have that sort of wavering in our voices a path forward that we will get to the other side of that. That means they need to be planning ahead.

We know what we will need. We will need surge capacity in our hospitals, ICUs, hospital tents. We will need more personnel who have to be certified to be doctors. We will need the private sector to protect their work force so that the supply chain continues.

And we will need an unequivocal statement by the federal government to remain home. That's not that hard. And we still haven't gotten that.

So I'm hopeful -- look, all of us are like what happened this week? The next question is going to be, for how long? And I'm pretty hopeful that we're going to get there, but we're going to get there with as least damage as possible but the federal government has to show us a path there in terms of planning.

STELTER: And, Dr. Hamblin, what are people not thinking about? What are the examples of plans that are not being made sufficiently in your view?

HAMBLIN: I've been trying to think about what will be the problem in two weeks from now at every stage of this. And we are starting to catch up on prevention and getting people to social distance and not get sick. I don't think we have enough plans in place for what people should do when they are sick, to give clear guidance to people, especially in the lower risk, younger, healthier demographic.

What do you do? When -- when exactly do you need to go to the hospital? If you are sick, where can you go besides stay home?

STELTER: The fear is that they'll infect their family members or roommates, right?

HAMBLIN: Most transmission is within families, within households. And especially -- you might not be concerned about yourself, do you want to go home and infect your whole family? Do you live with older relatives, with people with chronic health conditions? Is that even an option for you? And where could you go?

Do you have -- most people don't have a second home or don't have a wing of their house where they have their own kitchen and bathroom and could fully isolate themselves.


So people are going to be at high risk of bringing this into their own house.

STELTER: So think about those issues now.

And, Oliver, on the media front, do you think the history of sensationalism by the press, you know, overdramatic coverage by the press, combined with all these disingenuous attacks against the media for decades, is this -- is this a problem at this moment? Is it hamstringing coverage of this crisis?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: This is the moment we've been worried about for so many years, that these attacks on the media are going to make it so people don't maybe listen to what they're hearing on the news. They think it's sensationalized and we heard a lot of people supportive of the president, attack the media early on saying they're just trying to get the president.

So, people may be not heeding the warnings that they're seeing on television and in the newspapers as much as they would have several years ago because the distrust in the press is so high right now.

To the doctor's point, one kick thing on alleviating panic, and shedding lights and giving people information, it's incumbent on journalists, local and national, to ask questions on people's minds. Are landlords not going to evict people for a few months? I think that's something people are worried about when judging to stay home or not. Or how are they going to pay their bills? What's -- what are companies going to take?

I think journalists have an important role on shedding light on this important topic right now.

STELTER: Right, the basics about everyday living.

DARCY: Because you're not hearing the White House talk about things that are affecting people's lives. How are they going to pay their bills? How are they going to go without, you know, having a paycheck for several weeks? How are they going to pay their rent?

And so, it's incumbent on journalists, local and national, to be asking these questions of their local institutions and national institutions.

STELTER: Real, Juliette, before we go, NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll out this morning says 60 percent of Americans believe the worst is not yet here from this virus.


STELTER: What are the other 40 percent thinking? I mean, we know scientifically, right, we know scientifically the worst is not yet here.

KAYYEM: So, look, this is -- the doctor was talking earlier about communicating. So, there's -- I often say there's a space between tuning out and freaking out. And we need to find that place, right?

So there's a big majority of the population that is completely tuned out. We need them to engage because they need to behave in a way that protects the rest of us. And I think that's where journalists sort of have to amplify the local voices, the CEOs, the Harvard -- the university presidents, where I am, for example, the mayors, the religious leaders who are able to communicate.

I'd like the White House to have been stronger on communication. But I'm done sort of wishing, granted.

STELTER: Yes, yes.

KAYYEM: And now, we just got to get to the other side.

STELTER: Absolutely. The federal government is going to continue to downplay this and discourage people from preparing. We've got to tune them out and focus on state and local officials who do seem to know the severity of this. These governors are stepping up in really impressive ways. We just got to amplify their voices.

And I just want to say, that's why I started this hour without talking about President Trump. There are times where we don't need to talk about the misbehavior and the screw-ups because we can rely instead on local authorities who are getting this right.

All right. Rant over. Thank you, everybody.

Oliver, stick around. I know you have some good news to share with us later in the hour amid all this chaos.

I will take you behind the scenes of newsrooms across the country and show what they are doing to prepare. We're seeing a lot of newsrooms emptying with staffers working from home. We're going to speak to two editors on the west coast, in Seattle and San Francisco, next.



STELTER: Let me take you behind the scenes now. Many newsrooms across the country look like this one right now. This is CNN's New York bureau.

Most CNN staffers are working from home. And that is true in newsrooms across the country and in many places around the world. Staffers who can work remotely are working remotely at newspapers and websites and television networks. Of course, there's certain jobs like television anchoring or control room directing that requires you to be in person but others are urged to stay at home.

In fact, some entire newspapers are being published remotely at this point. And that includes the papers in Seattle and in San Francisco, "The Seattle Times," "The San Francisco Chronicle," they both adapted to try to stay ahead of what's happening. Ultimately, these are local stories happening. These outbreaks are local stories and you can see there, the Seattle and San Francisco front pages today telling the story: Silence in Seattle.

Let's talk about this now with the editors of those two newspapers. "Seattle Times" executive editor, Michele Flores, is with me, and "San Francisco Chronicle" editor in chief, Audrey Cooper, is with me as well.

Michelle, it seems like, unfortunately, Washington state has been ahead of the rest of the country on this story. What have you all done at the "Seattle Times"? What's changed there?

MICHELE MATASSA FLORES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE SEATTLE TIMES: Pretty much everything. It's hard to think of everything that hasn't changed. You know, two weeks -- nearly two weeks ago we began working remotely, pushing people out of the office, which is kind of a hard thing to do with journalists.

I would say as of about a week ago we've been entirely remote. We're really focused on the job at hand, even though we're sleep deprived and I think it's still a little nerve-racking for all of us every time one of us coughs, we get a little nervous. But we're holding in there and more aware than ever of the importance of local journalism. We heard from our readers, readership is way up and the notes of gratification we're getting from people are fueling us right now. It's been quite -- quite a thing.


STELTER: That's good to hear.

Audrey, same for you in San Francisco? How are you getting the paper out when everybody is working from home?

AUDREY COOPER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: It's amazing what technology has enabled to us do just over the last couple of years. We've taken a lot of directions actually from Michele's newsroom. I think it's really important because there's two things that journalists do.

The first is, we try to protect the community by getting information out there, but we're also talking to a lot of people every day. Even if we're healthy, we don't want to endanger our community.

And it's amazing that through have conferencing, slack, being able to remote dial in we're able to put it out for the last couple of days and we'll probably be doing it for the foreseeable future.

STELTER: Yes. This is the new normal. What about -- what happens to all the reporters who are covering beats that no longer have action? What happens to sports reporters who don't have sporting events to cover?

FLORES: We are --

COOPER: The San Francisco Giants --

STELTER: I'm sorry. Let me get to both. Michelle, first to you.

FLORES: Sure. We are reassigning almost half of our sports writers now to the news staff. But we still have a lot of coverage to do in sports. As you can imagine, there's a lot of questions about how this is going to -- all these shutdowns are going to affect the economy and peoples mindsets, and how are people coping in the meantime. What are the contingency plans? When will things start up again?

So, we have some reporters still focused on that on the sports beats.

STELTER: Yes. Look, everybody is a coronavirus reporter now. That's the bottom line.

FLORES: Exactly.

STELTER: Audrey, art reporters, sports reporters, covering this coronavirus is intensive so you need all that help, right?

COOPER: Yes. We're taking pretty soon arts critics, and they'll go on the live blog. It's all hands on deck because the story is changing so rapidly. We're up, you know, in the early hours of the morning and not stopping until well past midnight because people really want to know every single thing that's changing in their community. They want to know how they're going to home school their children and work from home. They want to know where the testing centers are. I mean, this is very much a local story and it has been since the beginning days.

STELTER: What about the business impacts when there are fewer advertisers because why would you advertise for a company that's closed? What are the business impacts going to be, Michelle? Because the other paper in Seattle, the alt-weekly "The Stranger" just laid off 18 people temporarily. In Portland, Oregon, alt-weekly had lay off their staff temporarily and go online only.

Is that something that might happen at the "Seattle Times" and other papers as well?

FLORES: We're certainly not looking at consequences that dire. I think for those papers, they depend so heavily on events and entertainment ticket revenue and sales. So I think they're especially pinched.


FLORES: We are, of course, seeing an impact on our advertising. Our subscriptions, though, are setting records, even though we're making our coronavirus coverage free. We are seeing people subscribe at record levels and our readership is through the roof.

So for us, it's a little more of a balance. Yes, this is a challenge for a challenged industry.

At the same time this is proving the worth of local journalism. Journalism in general, but I would say especially local journalism more than anything I can remember in a 35-year career.


And, Audrey, finally to you what should journalists keep in mind while covering this in the weeks to come?

COOPER: Well, I think the most important thing is that we report what we can confirm. There are so many rumors going on on Twitter, on Facebook, and if anything, this is the perfect storm of what we've been talking about for the last couple of years.

Relying on reputable media and having the journalists making sure that they know exactly what the truth is and they report that has never been more critical, and it's never been more critical for people to support their local journalists and make sure we all get through this as minimal problems as possible.

STELTER: Yes, we need to tell people what we know and also tell them what we don't know. And experience the known and unknowns together.

Michele, Audrey, thank you very much. We'll keep an eye on both your papers.

And the message from both of them is so crucial -- subscribe, sign up, pay for your local newspaper at this moment.

Coming up next, this story from Washington and the federal government's response. Where are the tests? It's four words, say them again. Where are the tests? That and more in a moment.



STELTER: There's no way around it. The Trump administration's missteps and mistakes aggravated the coronavirus in the U.S. Officials in both parties are admitting that, some more bluntly than others.

So, it is essential for reporters to scrutinize the government's actions and inactions. Right now, the media is trying to hold the government accountable demanding to know where are the tests? When will testing roll out?

They say there's going to be an announcement Sunday at 5:00 p.m. We'll see what the announcement is.

But, yesterday, Saturday, Trump's Surgeon General Jerome Adams, had a peculiar message for the media.


JEROME ADAMS, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Straight talk from the nation's doctor. We really need you all to lean into and prioritize the health and safety of the American people. No more bickering, no more partisanship, no more finger pointing. There will be plenty of time for that.


STELTER: He said he needs that. Let me tell you what I need, I need him to do his job, focus on keeping the country as healthy as possible. Do not lecture the media on how to handle this.

Yes, the press is prioritizing public health.


Every hour, journalists are getting information out to the public about how to protect themselves. But criticism is part of the American democratic experiment. It is so important to be able to criticize and challenge our leaders and demand answers.

Look at what happened overnight at these airports where there were Americans coming back from Europe, who could well be sick, who are being told to stand together closely in line for hours, and possibly spread the virus. What the hell happened there?

Yes, I'm criticizing the government. That is what we are here to do. That is what's necessary in these moments in order to provoke change and improvements. This is how it works. That's how it's worked for 200-plus years. It works quite well and it works especially well in these moments.

You know, Fox's Greg Gutfeld used to say it really well. Before he went full Trump, he used to say, criticism is a guardrail, and that's exactly what it is. Criticism is a guardrail. Speaking of Fox, right- wing media did unquestionable damage by downplaying the effects of the coronavirus weeks ago. Even up until a few days ago, there were people out on television downplaying the severity of this, trying to call it a hoax an attempt to hurt the president. Shame on them.

Of course, they're not talking that way anymore. Most of them have grown up and realized how serious this is. And they are now talking differently on Fox. In fact, kudos to Fox News for being at Newark Airport this morning and pointing out the failures at the airports, pointing out the government's failures to test the folks were coming back from Europe. I thought there was great accountability journalism on Fox and Friends, and I hope the president watched.

Let's talk about this and more. Oliver Darcy is back here with me in New York. Susan Glasser is in Washington, staff writer for The New Yorker. And Vivek Murthy is in Miami, is a former U.S. Surgeon General from the Obama administration. Dr. When you saw these images from the airports overnight, what did you think?

VIVEK MURTHY, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, I was deeply concerned when I saw the airport images. One, because in a time, we need to be physically distancing people to reduce the risk of transmission. We have so many people who are in close quarters with each other. But second, it was so clear from those pictures that people are feeling anxious and worried, and understandably so.

We are facing a global pandemic, the likes of which we haven't seen in many, many decades. So it's understandable, people would be fearful. That's why they need accurate information. That's why they need a plan that can help them address this virus and keep all of us safe.

STELTER: The President has continued to misinformed folks including about Google. He said that there was going to be this -- what he implied was a nationwide sudden rollout of a Google service to help you go and find a testing site. Google now is trying to say they're going to help as soon as possible but they're not doing what he promised. He was wrong about that.

So Susan Glasser, I wonder what you think we should be doing with regards to covering the president in his words and his actions. I mean, should we just try to ignore the president? Like how should we be playing this in the press?

SUSAN GLASSER, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Look, you know, it's our job to do exactly what you said, which is hold public officials to account. And I can't think of a time -- of a time in my career over the last few decades when that has mattered more, frankly. To hear the Surgeon General say what he said yesterday was the exact opposite, it seems to me, of what the role of journalism is right now.

And it is not only to hold public officials to account, and that includes the President himself, but to you know, in real-time understand that while the government's response appears to have been falling short in some very serious ways in the initial stages of this, the game is not over. And this is a real-time effort on the part of journalists to bring information to the public that can shape the outcome.

The outcome is not yet preordained. So that's why I feel that the real-time mission of holding these officials to account is so urgent. And you know, it's hard to remember and to take a deep breath in this time when so much is happening.

It was six days ago that the President of the United States tweeted that it was Democrats and the media who were seeking to inflame the situation and inflate the risk from the coronavirus. It was six days ago that the President said we've got a fine-tuned plan and we're doing everything. It's under control.

It was only last Wednesday, less than six days ago that the President declared that he was waging war on a foreign virus, and that everything was fine. And then, of course, it was Friday when he declared a national emergency.

So again, the misinformation, the lies, and the dishonesty are coming directly from the person with the most powerful bully pulpit in the country. And so does it matter if the president lies to the public? The answer is, yes, it does.

And it is our job to call him out. If we have a president who is misrepresenting the truth about a deadly pandemic, it becomes more important than ever in our history that we do something about it which is our job is to write it down and to tell the public what the facts are.


STELTER: Dr. Murthy, since you're here, I don't want to let you go without you helping tell our audience what they need to be thinking about, what we need to be planning for. You've been great on Twitter about this. People should follow you on Twitter with your threads explaining what is coming in the weeks to come. What are the most important priorities in the weeks to come?

MURTHY: What we should know is that we are still in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, especially in this country. You know as many cases as we do have right now, I'm -- it saddens me to say this, but we -- there will be more cases and we will have more complications.

While we can't necessarily change that reality, what we can do is try to flatten the curve, a term you may have heard before. But what it refers to is to try to reduce the peak number of cases that we experience here in the United States.

Now, we can do that in a number of ways. If we can test people and accurately figure out where they are and who has this particular coronavirus, then we can isolate them, we can help them prevent others from getting infected. Because our information is lacking in terms of testing and because we are a little bit in the dark in terms of who has the virus right now, we have to assume it is a lot more widespread than what we're reading about in terms of official test results.

That means that physically distancing ourselves from other people is essential right now. That means hand hygiene, and hygiene overall is essential. So if you're out there wondering what do I do in a moment like this to keep myself safe? I would say washing your hands is absolutely essential, especially when you go outside, washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Second, using hand sanitizer when you don't have soap and water is important. Third, keeping your distance from other people including when you greet them. Avoiding handshakes and going with non-contact greetings is important. Staying away from concerts, from bars and restaurants, is incredibly important right now as hard as it might be.

And finally, making sure that you are not touching your face, especially when you're outside is important because the main way the virus will get in off into our system is when we touch our nose or mouth or eyes.

So these are steps that we can take to protect not only ourselves, but also other people who rely on us people who are elderly, who may have other underlying conditions like heart disease and diabetes, they need us to be responsible now to help keep them safe as well.

STELTER: Oliver, it occurs to me that repeating those basics, you know, this is actually a time where you want to be repetitive, where redundancy is very, very important for the press.

DARCY: It's so important. I think people who have tuned out of this for so long, haven't really heard that message -- I think that message is concise. It provided people with everyday things they can do to help reduce the transmission of the virus. I think we really frankly need a lot more of it in the press today, especially on this rolling coverage. I think we get caught up in the details because, you know, we've been following this story very closely.

But for people who are tuning in for a few minutes who have not been tuned in, they need to hear the message you just heard on how they can protect their family themselves.

STELTER: Yes. The basics over and over again. Yes, I think so. Thank you all. Let's take a quick break here and then talk about the Democratic debate tonight. We're going to show you for the first time the podiums and how it's going to be set up in Washington. That's in just a moment.



STELTER: This is just in. We have a first look at what the audience- free Democratic debate will look like later today. The debate will take place at CNN's D.C. studio with these podiums that are set six feet apart, social distancing between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders for the debate at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time here on CNN.

The course questions about how it's going to work is this Democratic primary season in the midst of a pandemic. Let me bring Oliver Darcy back in. Yes, it's a media story on one level. We have another debate still take place. It seems Joe Biden is running away with the Democratic nomination but Bernie Sanders has a lot to say tonight. But the optics are going to be really important as well to see how they are standing apart.

DARCY: I think it's so important to see right now national leaders taking the same precautions that they're urging everyone else to, right? And I think that's why it was --

STELTER: Especially when we see President Trump standing right next to people right up in their face.

DARCY: Right. And I think that's why there's so much outrage there because he's telling people not to shake hands, and he was shaking hands. And then, you know, on the press conference, he was touching the microphone, and there are people who are not social distancing, telling other people to social distance.

And so I think it's so important, you know, on the national stage for the national leaders, for the audience to see they're taking, or at least, you know, in some cases, taking the same precautions, doing everything they can to protect themselves, you know, against us.

STELTER: And I spoke with Sam Feist, the Washington Bureau Chief for CNN. He said, you know, the people in the room will just be the technical staffers. You know, the rooms are going to be wiped down ahead of time, all those precautions that you would expect will be taken tonight.

Oliver, I have buried the lead, though. I promised you'd have some good news for us later this hour. I think viewers are desperate for some good news in this moment, because there isn't any. So, tell us where you went on Friday night.

DARCY: So, I -- my girlfriend had planned a trip to Paris for us later this month. And unfortunately, because of all this chaos, it got canceled. And you know, we probably wouldn't have gone on it anyway, but it got canceled. And I had been asked -- planning on asking her to marry me in Paris and I couldn't do it then. And you know, I decided I didn't want to wait any longer. And so, I took her to the corner we met in New York City on Friday night, and I asked the question there and thankfully I got a yes.

STELTER: There's no better feeling in life. Hey, there's the photo. There you go. I'm so glad you had a photographer --

DARCY: There it is. Yes.

STELTER: To take the photo down on one knee. So now, you all can hunker down together for the next few weeks as engaged.

DARCY: Right. And that's -- it's off my chest and it was just burning me inside knowing that I had this ring secretly hidden in in our apartment and I wasn't able to give it to her and I didn't want to wait, you know, two months from now or a month from now whenever we can get out of a self-quarantine.

STELTER: You're right. Exactly. All right, congratulations, Oliver. Congratulations, Elise. Taking a quick break here RELIABLE SOURCES. Turning to a topic we both cover, a topic we both fear, how disinformation is like chemical weapons. A sneak peek of a brand new documentary about the real-world consequences of disinformation. That's next.



STELTER: Hey, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter. Reading from the New York Times now, despite efforts by social media companies to stop it, false information about the coronavirus is proliferating around the world. Disinformation is like a virus that is constantly mutating. During the Ebola outbreak, for example, in 2014, fake news sites profited by posting lies and stirring panic.

More recently, President Trump has tried to redefine fake news to mean real news he doesn't like. But actually, fake Web sites and memes continue to be a menace and there are real-life victims. Now, that is the focus of a new HBO film.

We call it After Truth, disinformation and the cost of fake news. I'm the Executive Producer of the film which will premiere on HBO this Thursday. HBO and CNN are corporate siblings. So I want to show you a couple of clips. First, this is a Republican lobbyist and dirty trickster Jack Burkman.



JACK BURKMAN, LOBBYIST: Fake News is a weapon. And we knew he tried to use fake news. Fake News is a good way to drive a story. You know, you put up a site, instead of New York one, New York two, and people believe it, and they reprint it, and it gets reprinted. It can be an effective tool in driving a story, you know. People use it. It's become a tool of war. It's like it's World War I and it's chemical weapons. People are using them so you use them, you know. That might be the analogy.


STELTER: Yes, it might be. As I mentioned, I executive produce the film, but all the real credit goes to Director Andrew Rossi, who is joining me now with a preview. Andrew, great working with you. It's pretty scary to hear political operatives confessing to you that disinformation is like chemical weapons.

ANDREW ROSSI, FILMMAKER: It's really a brazen admission from Jack Burkman who's a D.C. lobbyist. And we see in the film collaborates with Jacob Wohl, another right-wing person who's advanced these false stories. Robert Mueller is somebody who's one of their targets.

And they say that it's like chemical weapons because it's a sort of -- it's an attack on both sides. What we're really concerned about is the new normal that's being created and how this information landscape is so broken.

STELTER: Yes. Where no one knows what to believe. And it's happening on the right and it's happening on the left. We show examples from both sides. Let me show another clip. This is an example of Jacob Wohl creating fake news in real-time.


JACOB WOHL, CONSPIRACY THEORIST: They've they busted them up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jesus, look at this. Wow. You must rate, you know.

WOHL: Yes, I'm Jacob.

ADAM GOLDMAN, REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: You're Jacob. I'm Adam Goldman, New York Times.

WOHL: Adam Goldman. That's right. I think you follow me on Twitter recently, did you? Yes, looks like they got a rent them up bus here.

GOLDMAN: How do you know that?

WOHL: I just saw it out the window.

GOLDMAN: So that is a rent them up Soros -- how can you say that?

I'm sitting behind Wohl and they're like ha, ha, ha, there's a Soros funded by spring and protesters in. And I said to him, I said, that's just a bus.

WOHL: It looks to me that's what it is. So it would fit the profile. I said it looks like.

GOLDMAN: You have no evidence to suggest that is a Sorus mob bus. But yes, you're saying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry, you got to be careful what you say this is just chatter between two guys.

GOLDMAN: I got you. Right. There's a bus outside. You're making a claim that it's a Soros mobster bus.

WOHL: Probably, yes. Probably.

GOLDMAN: Then he goes and tweet. He tweets a picture of the bus. He's just created fake news. You see the toxicity that ends up on Twitter and on other social media, and these guys are the creators. It offends me as a journalist, as somebody who spends an enormous amount of time trying to get to the facts that they're polluting real news.


STELTER: They are. And this film as a defense of real news, real attempts at reporting. Of course, I just think even though this film is about last five years, people are going to see connections to the virus all throughout it.

ROSSI: Absolutely. I mean, I think we're looking at the human cost. And now the stakes for the human cost of hoaxes and fake news have never been higher. We need to have authorities and voices in the information landscape that we trust. And I think we see here that there's a sort of emotional engine to the attack on those sources to create distrust.

STELTER: Right. That's totally true. I mean, the idea that people don't know what to believe, it's so insidious. It's got to fight back against it.

ROSSI: That's right.

STELTER: It was such a privilege working with you on this. I want you to do the plug. Where can people watch -- when and where can people watch?

ROSSI: Absolutely. Well, they can watch it on HBO. It's on at 9:00 p.m. this coming Thursday, March 19th. And I do hope it helps to create a conversation around the importance of fact-based discourse, and also looking at how people are sort of demonizing groups in order to advance fake stories.

Now, in the COVID-19 crisis, we need to think about all of our fellow citizens and sort of have a social pact where we look to authorities and experts for information to guide us.

STELTER: Yes. We were going to have our premieres in New York and D.C. and now Austin. Those are canceled and unfortunately, that's the right thing. But as you mentioned, Thursday 9:00 p.m. Eastern time, on HBO and On Demand on HBO on Friday. Thanks, Andrew. Final thought when we come back.



STELTER: This week, New York Times Editor Dean Baquet told his staff that this pandemic is the biggest story since 9/11. So, let me just make a couple of quick points. We need to think three steps and three weeks ahead. Try to look around the corner and I'll make it personal for a second.

Three weeks ago, today, I was on a beach with my wife in the Caribbean. I thought I'd be in Phoenix today for CNN's debate. I thought I'd be taking my seven-month-old to swim class tomorrow, but now school is closed.

I'm just bringing all this up to ask what did you think you'd be doing today? What were your plans three weeks ago today? What's your story? There are 7.7 billion stories about the coronavirus on this planet right now. Every person has their own story, and now is the time to share them, to stay in touch, to connect and see what we all have in common.

Thank God we have the technology to do so. Maybe these social networks will actually be social and helpful for a change, and we can use them to manage our fear and anxiety. I know we have to distance, social distancing, but that's not the right term. It's physical distancing, because we have to stay social and help each other.

FaceTime, and Skype, and Zoom, and Cisco, and Google Hangouts, and Facebook Live, do whatever works for you. E-mail me. I'm at I'm happy to be e-mailing with all of you. Think about those who don't have a reliable Internet connection. Look out for one another. And tell each other stories. We are all in this together.