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Vicious Cycle Of Trump's Anti-Media Attacks; A Tale Of Two Presidents; Optimism Versus Realism In The Time Of Coronavirus; Former Australian P.M. Calls Out Murdock Mafia; The Importance Of Experts Amid A Global Pandemic. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired May 17, 2020 - 11:00   ET



BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter, live in New York. And this is RELIABLE SOURCES, looking at the story behind the story.

This hour, we're talking about a tale of two presidents, the differences in these communication styles.

Plus, now, President Trump insisting we've prevailed, but how exactly? The war against COVID-19 is still raging, so we're going to talk about how journalists must balance fantasy and reality.

Later this hour, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a fascinating conversation with him and his battles with the Murdoch mafia, that's what he calls it, the Murdoch mafia. We'll hear from him coming up in a few minutes.

But, first, taking a look at the president's rhetoric. The American press is stronger than any demagogue, but President Trump's attacks present real challenges. For as long as I've been alive, for as long as you've been alive, no leader of the free world has publicly spoken about the press the way Trump does.

It is poison, calling news outlets the enemy of the people is a verbal form of poison. Maybe it's just meant to distract us but it still must be taken seriously.

So, if you've heard that before, it's because every word I said, everything I just said is three years old. I said it in front of this camera in front of a million viewers in February of 2017, that was the very first time Trump called reporters the enemy.

Now, the root of the word "news" is new, but sometimes the biggest news of all is what hasn't changed. What's still happening. When it comes to the president's war on truth, we have to pay attention to it even though it's not fundamentally changed.

But something has changed in three years. Let's look at what has changed. The president's words are still poison, but now, the words are more potent, his fans are more loyal, he's intensifying a hate movement against the media, trying to ensure people don't believe what reporters reveal about his leadership. His attacks are more frequent, they are more ferocious, and they are more specific, and they are happening in the midst of a deadly pandemic.

Trump has shown a pattern over the past three years. Now we can say pretty confidently it's a pattern of treating women and minority journalists differently. Take his exchange with CBS News correspondent Weijia Jiang. We're going to get back to that in a moment.

But there are some other examples this week that we have to call attention to. For example, President Trump tweeting to the FCC, which is an agency that is a part of his executive branch, and saying that NBC's Chuck Todd must be fired because Todd's show ran a misleading video clip.

Trump also has been pushing a vile conspiracy theory about MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, implying that Scarborough is a murderer. That's insane.

And, look, how the president acts at the White House, what he does on Twitter, how he treats reporters in the briefing room has ripple effects far from Washington.

Look at what happened this week on Long Island. This was in Commack, at a right-wing pro-Trump protest that was set up to speak out against the lockdowns that are happening on Long Island and elsewhere.

So, this is video taken by News 12 reporter Kevin Vesey. He was at the rally to cover the opinions of the pro-Trump protesters, to give them attention.

In return, there were insults screamed at his face, heckled. At one point, it seemed like he was almost chased. Just take a look for yourself.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think you need to back away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I have hydroxychloroquine, I'm fine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just standing here. This guy will not get away from me.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're disgusting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are the enemy of the people!

CROWD: Fake news is not essential. Fake news is not essential. Fake news is not essential.


STELTER: And it went on and on and on as reporters denounced this stuff when the video went viral, the president's Twitter feed lit up for support with the protesters.

Here's the thing, with these tweets, he's not just celebrating this behavior, he's not saying they have a First Amendment right to protest, which they do. The president is encouraging confrontations with reporters.

He's saying it's OK. He's saying it's patriotic, it's Trumpian to confront local TV reporters to yell epithets while they're trying to work, to act menacing in front of kids.

This is where we are. This is the kind of stuff you see in autocracies, not democracies. Just ask yourself what you would say if you saw it in another country.

And here's what makes this cycle so vicious, what makes this back and forth so vicious. The president lies, reporters point it out.


He says the media hates him. Then, his supporters back him up, they excuse the lie, they defend their guy.

They get even more alienated from the media. They become convinced that reporters are the enemy. And this helps Trump. So, he keeps raising the volume, and there's even more to criticize, and the loud, and the shouting is even louder and louder on social media, and harassment and threats against reporters become constant, and attacks against Trump, on and on it goes.

It is a vicious, vicious cycle. The basic decency is not and should never be partisan. It is not Republican or a Democratic idea.

So, let's look to Idaho for hope. Brad Little, he's the governor of Idaho. He's a Republican, and he tweeted an ode to the Ohio press corps. He said our local journalists have worked tirelessly through this pandemic to provide the public with up to date and accurate information. The governor said, thank you for keeping Idaho informed.

By all means, constructive criticism is a good thing. It makes journalists better. Destructive attacks, shouting traitor at reporters who are covering a protest, sending pictures of nooses to reporters you don't like, that kind of behavior is destructive. It helps nobody. It just causes society to fray around the edges. Sadly, the president thinks that's too his benefit.

Let's talk more about this now, this hate movement that we've seen amidst of a pandemic, it's getting worse, with White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks and CNN Political Analyst, April Ryan.

Also here with me, Margaret Sullivan --Margaret Carlson, what am I saying? I get the wrong Margaret. Margaret Carlson is a columnist for "The Daily Beast".

And I have also with me, vice president and senior fellow of the Ethics and Policy Center, Peter Wehner. He served in several Republican administrations over the decades. And he's the author of the book, "The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump". Margaret Carlson, first to you on this intensifying hate movement. You

know, we do see at Trump rallies pre-pandemic, reporters getting heckled. But it seems qualitatively different to me to see a local TV reporter get pursued the way he was on Long Island. Did it strike you as well?

MARGARET CARLSON, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: It did. And, you know, the president sees everything in partisan terms, not just his re- election but the virus. And so when this happens, it's getting attention, he is all over it. Even more so than, by the way, the people who were sponsoring the protest disavowed this activity while the president was still cheering it on.

The idea that the president has anything other than a media strategy to deal with the coronavirus is misguided. The entire strategy -- there's no national plan. It's only to be on TV.

The task force, in fact, was dreamt up by Trump, I think, in order to hold briefings. It was a vehicle for the briefings. Then when the briefings went south for obvious reasons, the disinfectant gambit, he still kept having the briefings by simply conjuring up an event like having a few CEOs to the White House, having a few governors to the White House. So he kept -- he gets to keep doing that.

So a demonstration is no different from any other media availability. There it is. He takes advantage of it. And that these weren't armed protesters -- by the way, he has called them good. Even though they're threatening -- they're standing in Lansing, Michigan, in front of the state capitol armed to the teeth threatening the governor to the point where she's had to retreat back into her office with more guards.

STELTER: I think it's a sign of radicalization. And I'm not saying this involves all Trump supporters, it doesn't. It doesn't involve all Michiganders or Long Islanders.

But we have seen a segment of society radicalized. There are roots of it going back many years. It's happening in front of us every day.

Peter Wehner, is that -- is that too harsh a statement? Radicalization?

PETER WEHNER, VICE PRESIDENT AND SENIOR FELLOW, ETHICS AND PUBLIC POLICY CENTER: No, it's not too harsh a statement at all. You're exactly right. You know this is hot, it's getting hotter. This is part of a cult-like following when it comes to Donald Trump.

You're right. That's not true of all of his supporters, but it's true of enough of his supporters to be concerning.

Look, this is not a surprise. This is fundamentally who Donald Trump is in a deep sense in terms of his psychological and emotional makeup. And this is what happens to a country when you elect a president like Donald Trump. Now, we have not done this before, so we're in unchartered territory, but it's very, very dangerous. It's getting worse and it will get worse between now and November. Look, I think the hope here is that while he is, you know, inciting

his own base, that there's enough of the exhausted majority that turns away from this kind of thing that understands on a deep level why this is dangerous for the public and for the country and for the comity and the unity of the country.


But, you know, I would say just quickly, there are several things going on when Trump is allowing this to play out. One is a visceral reaction that he just has this hatred for people who don't lavish him with praise, which the responsible elements of the media are not particularly during this pandemic.

The second is I think is a strategic plan, which is he said at an event back in 2018 that we don't want -- don't believe what you're seeing and hearing. So, he needs to create this alternative reality. When reality goes against him, he has to try to shatter it.

And third is fulfilling this psychic need he has for conflict. And the media is his main target.

STELTER: Right, he is all about conflict. That's what we saw in the Rose Garden earlier in the week when the president was taking questions from reporters. He was asked by CBS News correspondent Weijia Jiang why he treats this like a global competition when the suffering is so immense here in the United States.

April Ryan, let's take a look at part of the response, the back and forth between Trump and Jiang.


WEIJIA JIANG, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Why is this a global competition to you if every day Americans are still losing their lives and we're still seeing more cases every day?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, they're losing their lives everywhere in the world. Maybe that's a question you should ask China.

JIANG: Sir, why are you saying that to me specifically to ask China?

TRUMP: I'm telling you. I'm not saying it specifically to anybody.


STELTER: I was impressed that Weijia Jiang stood up to that what I view as a racist comment to speak to a Chinese reporter and ask China.

April, what was your reaction to it?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I said here we go again, number one. Weijia Jiang was perfectly in her right to question the president, particularly as she was also racially attacked by someone in the West Wing calling the coronavirus kung flu. So this was intentional. It's unfortunate.

And if you recall the first White House press conference for this president, I asked a question about urban America and his urban agenda, especially as he was touting that and at the same time saying what do you have to lose for black people. And what he did, he found it in his heart to say, why don't you bring a meeting together with the CBC, aren't they your friends?

This is who this president is. It's -- it's just along the line. If it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, it's a duck. And that was racial at that press conference, this was racial then.

Now, but here's the problem, Brian. It's not getting worse. It's been red hot, white hot, if you will, since the very beginning.

Let's go back to Cesar Sayoc, and those bombs that he was -- or fake bombs that he was sending to everyone in the press, the former president, the former first lady. Let's go back to other instances where the press have been the ire of this president, when they have gone to rallies, and they had to have security around the bin at the rallies, the press bin or the press pen, if you will.

It is so sad that as a journalist, as a White House correspondent for 23 years, I can no longer go to rallies to cover a president of the United States because he has called me names, called me names for doing my job, asking legitimate questions that he either doesn't want to answer or makes him look bad.

And that is not my objective. I am someone that our Founding Fathers put in the Constitution, the Fourth Estate, freedom of the press is the First Amendment, not the second, not the third for a reason. And this president, this president was told to protect and serve, and to uphold the Constitution. He took an oath for that. And he's violated his oath.

STELTER: April, Margaret, Peter, all, please stay with me. We're going to bring you all back in just a moment. I want to take a quick break and then look at the president. He's in cahoots with his favorite television channel in a brand-new way.

Plus, a tale of two presidents, two different messages to the public this weekend.

And, later, I'll speak with the former Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, who has a dire warning about the Murdochs.



STELTER: Time now for a split screen.

On Saturday, former President Barack Obama here on the left shared words of encouragement for graduates stuck at home due to the pandemic. Obama spoke everywhere on dozens of channels even on Fox News. President Trump on Saturday shared a meme video that stuck his face on

the president of the alien invasion "Independence Day". He posted it on Twitter which really meant he was speaking to his super fans.

Now back to Obama. He appeared on a prime time special called "Graduate Together", which received rave reviews from viewers. I'm told that Trump was not invited to participate. Think about what that says.

And, of course, the two men communicate differently. You can see it in these memes. Obama has offered some veiled criticism of Trump over the past three years, he's been kind of careful in the way he does it. Very measured in his approach.


On the other hand, President Trump has called out Obama hundreds and hundreds of times, including dozens of times just this week. He's been trying to counter-program the pandemic by accusing Obama of crimes. He's had a ton of help from Fox News, which has been leading many of its shows with the Michael Flynn unmasking story, and not the national emergency.

Fox and Trump, they're in cahoots. That's not new. But look at this, this is Trump tweeting the names of Obama and Flynn more than twice as much than he tweeted COVID-19 this week. It's like he's moved on from the virus.

Trump talked about the coronavirus in the past tense. Even though Americans are still getting sick and dying every hour. He acted like it's over.


TRUMP: We have met the moment and we have prevailed.


STELTER: He also tweeted we've done a great job on COVID response.

Just today, he said we are, quote, doing really well medically on solving the situation. We in the United States have lost several arenas worth of Americans. We are approaching 90,000 deaths that we know about, true toll is even higher.

America and the whole world are grieving unthinkable losses. So, it's obvious why he wants to share memes and strike Obama.

What is not so obvious is why his media cheerleaders put up with it.

Back with me now, April Ryan, Margaret Carlson and Peter Wehner.

Peter Wehner, what explains the media's tolerance for this stuff?

WEHNER: Oh, I think it's complicated. Some of it is probably financial. They have a huge audience. Some of it is a deep political tribalism that afflicts the country.

And they feel like they're in one tribe.

There's a sense among Trump supporters, the tremendous amount of grievances and anger that has built up over the years, much of it against the left, the elite culture, some of it warranted, much of it I would say is not. And that's just been brewing, and Trump has tapped into that. And they really enjoy, get a satisfaction out of the way he fights.

And the human capacity for self deception is tremendous. You know, David Hume said reason is a slave to passion. I think that's right. They feel like they're in an existential fight, existential struggle, and Trump is on their side. And if that's the case, they're going to remain loyal to him no matter what.

And that means that truth will -- will be a victim, and decency will be a victim. But that's the mindset I'm afraid.

STELTER: April, do you think it was notable that former President Obama did seem to criticize Trump and his handling of the pandemic? I mean, we don't oftentimes see -- except in the midterms -- we don't oftentimes see Trump go after Obama in that way.

RYAN: You know, typically, it's hard not to lash back at this president when he says negative things or if he lies. For Barack Obama, this is not his makeup. Because at some point he had to come back because you have to operate from a stance of strength to show that this doesn't bother me. And that's what he did.

And I remember an old saying that presidents never really chastise other presidents, but I saw this once before at Coretta Scott King's funeral in Atlanta, Georgia, when all the presidents at the time, whether Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. And don't forget, Bill Clinton had to referee between Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush. Jimmy Carter called out George W. Bush at the funeral.

But Barack Obama has to operate from a stance of strength to acknowledge at least that President Trump had said negative things, and he's brushing it off as if it's not true.

STELTER: Right, not just said negative things, accused him of crimes.


STELTER: It's -- the alternative reality force field is getting stronger and stronger.

RYAN: And the Obama administration has said other people come --

STELTER: Sorry, but go ahead.

RYAN: The Obama administration has said other people come out like Susan Rice, Valerie Jarrett, Ben Rhodes, so many people, Jeh Johnson, come out and speak against the lies. Barack Obama has not come out as of yet himself, but he is standing in strength and brushing it off, saying it's no big deal because this man is lying or this is what he does.

So Barack Obama did, in his way, address it. We don't believe he's going to come out and address it directly because it has been addressed by those who have dealt with the issues under him, under his administration, in his administration.


STELTER: Yes, like the others, yes. That's interesting.

Margaret, we're seeing a pattern from the Trump administration of firing government watchdogs on Friday nights. These seem like Friday night news dumps designed to minimize the attention and scrutiny this gets.

What will the GOP Senate do about Trump firing inspectors general?


CARLSON: Well, Senator Grassley is the great supporter of whistleblowers and inspectors general, and he's not doing anything. Here's a senator in his 80s who's going to go out of office eventually as a coward because this is his issue. And we need inspectors general.

Trump has fired so many people from Colonel Vindman -- I mean, we go back, not an inspector general but all these people who are gone. It would make -- you know, it would make Vladimir Putin blush so many people have been purged if you disagree.

Just Friday, the person who runs the Defense Production Act was let go. We can't even name all of them, four inspectors general and counting. You know, when the president does so many things like this, we lose the language. We don't have the tools.

You know, when we're reporters in the Rose Garden, they still have respect for the office, they're at the White House, and not one reporter could ever have parity with the president. I mean, it's asymmetric because none of us can behave that well.

And thank you for April Ryan doing that every day for three years with one hand tied behind her back.

STELTER: This is such heavy subject matter.

I just want to say on a lighter note, Margaret, I love your kitchen. It's given me great renovation ideas. I've got to find something positive to say when the news is so dire.

CARLSON: Well, I feel like on Sunday, it's a happier day, and I should be taking off as we all should.

STELTER: That's true.

CARLSON: So, here we are. And I can still smell the bacon and pancakes.


STELTER: The one benefit of working from home.

All right. Thank you, everybody. Happy Sunday to all of you.

Up next here on the program, Garrett Graff on the storm we can't see and what he says is a colossal failure of imagination.



STELTER: Hope is essential. Without hope, what do we have? We always have the truth. Right now, there's a tug of war between hope and truth, between dreams and reality. Everyone hopes this pandemic ends sooner rather than later. But the truth is that we're going to be living this way for a while.

This tug of war is playing out on T.V., online, it's causing huge tension. Remember traffic jams, free pandemic traffic jams? You can sit there and hope the traffic will clear, hope for a shortcut, but it's better to look at the data, look at the map on your phone and know the truth. When you know the truth you can plan accordingly.

These truths are hard to swallow, but they're important. The truth is at the COVID-19 death toll in America is gutting and shameful. The economic toll is heart-wrenching too. Cities and states are going broke. Colleges are going online only this fall. Students are weighing whether to pay for that. Some jobs are probably never going to come back.

And yet President Trump is trying to play optimist. I can understand the instinct, but he's trying to suggest everybody else is a pessimist. His fans and experts and journalists and Democrats are pessimists who are rooting for lockdowns, rooting for failure. They don't trust the experts. So they seek out, I mean, sometimes crackpots on YouTube who support their priors, who say that pandemics not really that bad.

Trump is hearing that stuff too. He's hearing the reopening drumbeat from right-wing media. And now unfortunately from the fringes and moving toward the mainstream, there's even death toll denialism going on. The truth is Trump is not being an optimist, he's being a fantasist. And with this daily tug of war between reality and fantasy, how should journalists navigate the terrain?

Let's ask Garrett Graff, contributing editor for Wire, contributor for CNN. He authored a new piece for the Washington Post titled the storm we can't see, and we'll get to that in a second. But Garrett, what should -- what should journalists be doing to navigate this tug of war that I described?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The most important thing, as you said, is to focus on the facts and the data. And the data is that this is a problem that is far larger than we have currently wrapped our arms around, that this is not the financial crash of 2008, this is not the great crash of 87. That we are very much in a situation where when you look at the data, if we are lucky, we might escape only with a great depression.

We're talking trillions of dollars of government work ahead, and we're Just not talking at that scale yet.

STELTER: And it's not just President Trump. This involves congressional leaders who are sitting around unwilling to support the tens of millions of unemployed Americans, the people who are struggling. We're seeing a widespread failure. You described it in the post as a colossal failure of imagination. What should they be imagining right now?

GRAFF: Well, you need to look back to the model that we saw during the Great Depression, which was, you know, A, it took years for the government to spring into action. I mean, it really wasn't until four years in when FDR came in that the New Deal began.

And you saw amazing imagination and alacrity and agility from the New Deal as it unfolded. And that was a problem and a scale unlike anything that the U.S. government had ever intervened at before. And I think we need to be focused on the fact that just to get through this next year might require $5 to $7 trillion of new federal spending to address this problem at the scale that it is existing at the local and community and family level.


STELTER: And look, those are eye-popping numbers, but we've got to have our eyes wide open. And that starts with reporters being really clear about this and not, you know, not moving on to other stories.

GRAFF: Absolutely. This is going to be a story that's going to take place and unfold over the next decade. And we can't be thinking about this in terms of hours, we need to be thinking about it in terms of months and years.

STETLER: Yes. So our next -- Garrett, thank you very much. Garrett, by the way is a subscriber to our nightly RELIABLE SOURCES newsletter. You should be as well. Sign up for free at for our nightly RELIABLE SOURCES newsletter.

Our next angle talking about the pandemic and how to get our heads around it, we're going to talk about right-wing media's influence over President Trump and Senate GOP leadership. We've got a serious warning to share from former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. He's next.


STELTER: This just in, noon Eastern Time, 21 minutes from now, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will hold his daily briefing on the Coronavirus. CNN will have live coverage when it begins.

Let's talk about media and democracy. The stars on Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Channel are echoing President Trump call to "get back to work to open up the country." So you should know that Fox's offices are not opening up anytime soon. This week, I broke the news that Fox's worked from home directive has been extended through June 15th. Only essential workers who have to keep Fox News on the air are going into the office.


Of course, it's the same here at CNN and other networks. But Fox is pushing reopen so hard. So is it hypocritical? You decide. Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been outspoken for years about what he thinks are the hypocrisy is and the cancerous influence of the Murdoch's many media entities in Australia, the U.S., and the U.K.

Rudd is now the president of the Asia Society Policy Institute. He recently argued that Fox's affinity for Trump's talking points is no coincidence. It's all about getting Trump re-elected. You know, he has been really provocative though describing the Murdoch media empire as a cancer on democracy. So I spoke with Ron about that and I asked him to explain and justify his argument.


STELTER: Mr. Rudd, thank you so much for joining me.

KEVIN RUDD, FORMER PRIME MINISTER, AUSTRALIA: It's good to be on the program.

STELTER: Let me ask you a very basic question. You describe the Murdoch mafia. How do you define that mafia? Who are you talking about?

RUDD: Well, Rupert Murdoch himself and now he is effectively number two in control, his son Lachlan Murdoch. And why I use the term Murdoch mafia is that at least in my country, Australia, where Mr. Murdoch owns 70 percent, that's seven-zero percent of the print media circulation, he behaves as a type of mafia operation whereby if you do not bend the knee and do what Mr. Murdock once or shut up, then he comes after you and attacks you, denigrates you with the object of delegitimizing you over time. And I've had many years of experience of it.

That's the cancer on democracy in our country, Australia, but I see evidence of it also in the United States, in the United Kingdom where he also has significant media footprints.

STELTER: So this is something you say you experienced when you were Prime Minister. And has it changed since then? Is it becoming more intense?

RUDD: I think soon so Lachlan Murdoch took over many of the operational reigns of news corporation, we find it becoming more and more hard right, more and more ultra-conservative, more and more far right. And in the United States, campaigning, unapologetically for Donald Trump and the re-election of the Trump administration. In Australia campaigning unapologetically against the Australian Labor Party and to sustain the Conservative government of incumbency here, and similarly, for Boris Johnson's government of United Kingdom.

And so I simply see it becoming more intense over time, and it affects the overall narrative of our democracy in terms of other contending voices.

STELTER: Channeling Lachlan and Rupert, they would say, the rest of the media is liberal and they're just balancing it out. What do you say to them?

RUDD: Well, I can speak primarily of my own country in Australia where the rest of the media equals less than 30% of the print circulation in the entire country. So in Australia, it is a comprehensive near monopoly.

I give you one example of my home state of Queensland in Australia, 14 of the 15 newspapers in this state are owned by the Murdoch Corporation. And if that simply doesn't allow a diversity of opinion, I am unapologetic about taking the argument up to the Murdoch empire in Australia, in the U.S., and in the U.K.

And furthermore, I noticed very few people have the guts to do this because -- and there's a reason for that. You know, that as soon as you take up the fight against Murdoch, that they will attack you and go after you personally.

STELTER: So what do you -- do you, just brush off, you just shrugged it off?

RUDD: Well, yes. I've got fairly broad shoulders. And if you've lost a general election and seems to be prime ministers, in part, not in whole, but in part because of the tactics of the Murdoch media empire, then you accumulate a fair bit of scar tissue over time.

But what I'd say to -- what I'd say to progressive politicians around the United States, as well as the United Kingdom and elsewhere, the thing about bullies, and that's how the Murdoch media empire behave -- look at the notorious stories of Roger Ailes for goodness sake, who is at the heart of this Fox empire for years and years and years. The thing about bullies is if you don't stand up to them, they just get worse. They continue to bully. Bully elected politicians, bully others in the media, and bully anybody who gets in their road.

And so my call for people is to have the courage to stand up and just say enough is enough. In all of our democracies which are under so much challenge at present through a combination of internal and external challenges, to have these media organizations like the Murdoch media empire constantly reinforcing the voices of hardline nationalism -- if these things simply continue into the future, I do share about the long term solidity of our Western civilizational project.


Now, the English-speaking countries have occupied a particular place within the Western world for the last 150 years. But now when we have the core countries of the English-speaking world, with such a powerful media voice in the middle running such a hardline right-wing conservative agenda, and dedicated to the delegitimization of other contending voices within our political system, it actually goes to the heart of our future democracies. Therefore, we need to stand up and fight and fight hard.


STELTER: After speaking with Rudd, I reached out to Murdoch's publishing company for a response, but a spokesperson declined to comment. When we come back here in RELIABLE SOURCES, are there parallels between 9/11 and the coronavirus pandemic. Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright has written books about both topics. He joins me in a moment.



STELTER: Lawrence Wright is not a psychic, he's an author, but his new novel The End of October is remarkable in the ways that it mirrors the current pandemic crisis. He writes about a massive quarantine lockdown and economic collapse, a steep death toll, which just goes to show that so much of this could have been predicted, and actually had been predicted, not just by authors, but by the experts that he interviewed.

So let me bring Lawrence Wright in for a moment. Lawrence, you finished this book months ago. Now it is out and getting a lot of attention for kind of predicting the future. But ultimately, it's just because you spoke to experts who knew this could happen, right?

LAWRENCE WRIGHT, AUTHOR, THE END OF OCTOBER: That's true. And many of them are the government's own health experts who are on the front lines who are trying to develop a vaccine now. They had spent their entire careers expecting that there would be a pandemic like this. They knew it would happen. They just didn't know when.

STELTER: One of the most important books I've ever read is your nonfiction work about the run-up to 9/11. It's called the Looming Tower. It was turned into a Hulu series, which is also an incredibly important thing to watch and understand. Do you see parallels between the Looming Tower and the road of 9/11, and now this current pandemic? Are there parallels in the government's failures or the government's response?

WRIGHT: Oh, yes. I mean, it's a dismal comparison but it's an accurate one to make. First of all, the failure of intelligence as we were talking about. You know, to understand that there is a disease cooking in China that might affect us with almost inevitably will, that's a huge failure of intelligence.

And because of budget cuts, we had eyes on the ground in China, CNN had its own team there, but they had to be withdrawn because there wasn't enough money to support. That's a huge failure of intelligence. Also, in the National Security Council, there was a global --

STELTER: You mean -- you mean, the CDC was there? Because you mentioned CNN, you know, we --

WRIGHT: Yes. They have their own team.

STELTER: You mean that government experts were in China, but had to come home?

WRIGHT: Yes, yes. And on top of that, Brian, there was, you know, the global health team inside the National Security Council. And one of the Trump administration's first actions was to eliminate that whole team from the National Security Council. These are the - this is the council that's supposed to protect us, and yet they decided that health was obviously not the great threat that other, you know, terrorism and other things were. So in terms of intelligence failures.

Then, there were, you know, the voices that they failed to heed. I mean, all the people I talked to knew that something like this was going to happen, and they actually had done table topics (AUDIO GAP). I'm sorry.

STELTER: That's OK. A little bit of trouble with the connection. You know, briefly, you write recently about scars of this pandemic, of this crisis. What will the scars of this crisis be?

WRIGHT: Well, you know, start with the fact that they're going to -- you know, so many people will be lost. But then there's the amazing economic consequences that we're just now having to face up to. So it's a dual thing. There's a -- there's a scar of last Americans, in the end, the health hazards that have been taking such a horrible toll. And on top of that, the economic consequences that we haven't even begun to weigh.

This is a scar on history. It's going to -- you know, we'll look back at it as something more than the Great Depression. It's, you know -- and it hasn't finished yet, Brian. I think people feel like we're coming out of this. We may be going past the first wave, but there could easily be a second or a third wave coming just as it was in 1918.

STELTER: Let's hope that there's not, but we have to be prepared for that possibility. Lawrence, thank you very much. The new novel is The End of October. When we come back here, a tribute to the legendary television sports caster Phyllis George.



STELTER: Pamela and Lincoln Brown were at the bedside when their mother Phyllis George died on Thursday morning. You all know Pamela as CNN Senior White House Correspondent, and Lincoln as a successful entrepreneur. And you all know their mom as a television Trailblazer, but they will remember her best as a loving, generous spirit.

First, though, the pioneer part. George went for Miss America in 1971 to the CBS Sports anchor desk in 1975. She was the first female co- host of the NFL Today, literally setting the stage for women in T.V. sports. Her former colleagues say, she never received enough credit for blazing that trail. George remain in the T.V. spotlight throughout the 1980s and did a special influence on her daughter Pamela.

When Pamela sought a career in television, she talked about her experiences, her time, you know, as a pioneer in the business. Pamela told me yesterday that her mom had a whole box of letters from people who wrote her and said awful things. "What do you think you're doing? Who do you think you are?" Because it was a man's job. Mom said that when she stopped reading those letters, she gained so much confidence.

And yeah, there were haters, there were detractors, but there were so many fans. Phyllis George had so many fans. And she shared wisdom and expertise with Pamela. Here's what Pamela told me about what it was like to have her mom was watching her on CNN. Pamela said, "She was my biggest advocate, but my best critic, too. She always made me better." That's always what we need from moms.

Her son Lincoln also shared this with me. Pamela's brother Lincoln saying, "What will forever stay with us, it's not Miss America, it's not the NFL Today, it's the defining qualities the public never saw, especially against the winds of adversity that symbol realize how extraordinary she is more than anything else. The beauty so many recognized on the outside was a mere fraction of her internal beauty and unwavering spirit.

Those words from Lincoln Brown. You can read more from Lincoln and Pamela in my story on We send our deepest condolences to the family of Phyllis George. Thanks for joining us here on RELIABLE SOURCES. We'll be back this time next week.