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Trump On His Refusal To Keep Wearing Mask At Ford Plant: I Didn't Want To Give The Press The Pleasure Of Seeing It; When National News Deviates From Local Reality; "New York Times" Columnist Calls Out "Resistance Journalism"; Interview With Mediaite Founder Dan Abrams; Trump's Controversial Pick To Head VOA Moves Forward. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired May 24, 2020 - 11:00   ET



BRIAN STELTER, ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter live in New York, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the story behind the story.

We have a lot coming up this hour, looking at these pictures on televisions of beaches, parks and boardwalks reopening. But do these images accurately show how the country is handling and coping with the coronavirus? We're going to get into that.

Plus, a story that has the media world buzzing, a "New York Times" column taking on Ronan Farrow. "The Times" columnist Ben Smith will be here to explain what he found.

And later, "Mediaite" founder Dan Abrams will be here as well. He's going to share why he decided to publish a new column by Matt Lauer. Lauer went ahead and reinvestigated some of the accusations against him.

All that and more coming up in the next few minutes.

But, let's begin by looking into the future. What will historians say about this moment? How will history books record this time?

Well, nobody knows for sure, but I think we've already seen heroes emerge and also some villains in the midst of this pandemic.

This weekend, "The New York Times," which likes to think of itself as the first rough draft of history, is trying to fight coronavirus fatigue and pay proper tribute to those we've lost. Today's front page, you see it there, is a list of American COVID-19 victims. It goes on and on for three more pages. Names and brief descriptions of 1,000 lives lost. And the total here, the thousand, is just 1 percent of the nearly 100,000 confirmed dead in America.

I think the history books decades from now will grapple with a lot. They're going to grapple with the differing death rates from country to country, the deadly differences between early safety measures and delayed responses. The unequal treatment of vulnerable populations like nursing home residents. Historians are going to look back at late February and early March,

and they're going to say what were they thinking? Who was in charge?

They will sift through old tweets and they will see who is in charge. They will see President Trump. They will see President Trump weighed deeper and deeper into disinformation and distraction as the death toll rose.

The history books will show that the president modeled worse practices instead of best practices. He flouted safety guidelines this week and refused to keep his mask on even at a manufacturing plant where it was required. The only photos of Trump modeling a mask were taking by anonymous sources and they kind of smuggled out to the press.

Historians will show the president undermined his own government by downplaying the threat and by hyping unproven solutions. They will note the thrill in his voice when he said he was taking hydroxychloroquine, despite mounting evidence it doesn't work against COVID-19 and could, in fact, be harmful.

The history books will note his obsession with the press, like when he said I was just waiting to see your eyes light up when he said he was taking chloroquine and his comment that he didn't want to give the press the pleasure of seeing him with a mask on.

Historians will also likely note Americans didn't know what to believe. Americans who were confused by the president's conduct who were distracted by his deep state conspiracy rhetoric. They will note the president had entire propaganda networks at his disposal to help him change the subject. They will note how sad it was that everything, even doctors and researchers were placed on a pro-Trump or anti-Trump spectrum, you're either pro-Trump or anti-Trump.

And I think historians will also address why so many Republican leaders just sat there silently while the president's conduct went from alarming to appalling and beyond. Now, maybe this doesn't belong in a history book. Maybe it's too pathetic.

But President Trump is continuing to accuse MSNBC's Joe Scarborough of being a murderer. This weekend, Trump is urging people to investigate it. This claim was investigated and debunked 20 years ago. But he's out there sharing it like he's sharing MAGA-sphere Twitter posts mocking Nancy Pelosi's face and Stacey Abram's weight and Hillary Clinton and so on.

Now, on Friday night, the president called the "New York Times" editor, Dean Baquet, one of the great lions of journalism, one of the dumbest men in journalism. Hmm, there's nothing dumb about putting these names it on the front page. That's pretty smart.

It's a nod to history, because we don't have to wait 20 years, 30 years to read the history. Deep down inside, we know the story right now. So we shouldn't mince words when we talk about it.

I think it helps to take -- to take a list, to make a list, to take stock of all of the abhorrent behavior that happens day-to-day, because incredible leaders have risen up from this tragedy.


Think about the past two to three months of this pandemic and the leaders we've seen emerge. Some have risen while others have sunk to new lows.

Historians some day will say everyone had to decide for themselves how low would they go. To what depths would they sink? What about you?

If accusing people of murder isn't too low, what is? The balancing act for the press is we have to document leadership failures in the face of a crisis. We have to be very clear about it, but not lower ourselves and fail the audience.

And on that front, you should hold us accountable.

With me now is the chairman of the Renew Democracy Initiative, and author and former world chess champion, Garry Kasparov.

Garry, this three-year long situation where the president says something new and outrageous every day, you predicted this. At the very outset of the Trump presidency, you said there would be a crisis every day.

Are there more or fewer crises than you expected?

GARRY KASPAROV, CHAIRMAN, RENEW DEMOCRACY INITIATIVE: No more no less. It's exactly as I expected, because that's the way for autocrat to deal with the crisis, is to come up with a new crisis and just make it forget the previous one. So, that's why I said crisis almost every week.

The problem Trump is dealing with now, is that COVID-19 is too big to distract. That's why he's getting crazier and crazier.

STELTER: So you think tweets like -- I think we might have lost that signal. We'll have to get it back. We'll try to get Garry back. The idea that when the president is tweeting about Joe Scarborough, accusing the MSNBC anchor of murder because the anchor criticizes him, that's a reaction to the virus is very interesting.

I don't think we have Garry back. So, we'll take a quick break here on RELIABLE SOURCES, reset with Ed Yong and Jennifer Senior and many more guests in just a moment.



STELTER: We're back on RELIABLE SOURCES after a little technical gremlin before the break. And Garry Kasparov is back with me.

We are talking about the president's strategies in the face of this ongoing pandemic. And, Garry, you wrote on Twitter this week that what the president is

lowering the moral bar for all, for everyone. Can you tell me more about that?

KASPAROV: Yes, again, it's typical. I'm bad but everybody is bad. We're all bad.

So why did all of a sudden is this corruption in Ukraine to cover Trump's worldwide corruption. Obama is incompetent to cover Trump's incompetence. So, that's typical technique.

And it's all about destruction. It's all about lowering moral bars, it has been working for a while, but now he's dealing with a virus that doesn't go away. So, he could block everything. He could distract attention from every crisis, but he cannot block the virus.

And that's why I think things could get worse because if crazy tweets do not work, crazy actions will follow.

STELTER: Well, his warnings about the election, about mail-in ballots being rigged, all of this nonsense that runs counter to the facts. It's going to be a very long six months between now and November if he's going to try to delegitimize the election ahead of time.

KASPAROV: And I predict he will. If the numbers are not looking good for him, so far, it's not working the way he expected, he will be getting crazier and crazier. And that's why I think this election will be very unorthodox. And so, we should expect the worse, dealing with people like Trump, you should prepare for the worse. If it can happen, work as if it's happened.

STELTER: Let me ask you about his treatment of pro-Trump media. He seemed to give up the game a few days ago tweeting out to the world about Fox News saying, contrary to a lot of you think, Fox News is not helping me win re-election, and then he went on to criticize some of the Democratic guests and anchors he doesn't like on Fox. He called Juan Williams a dummy, of course, always name-calling.

But this idea that he's basically saying, hey, I think Fox News is in my camp, they're just not doing a good enough job. It's kind of like -- it's making the -- saying quiet part out loud, isn't it?

KASPAROV: Yes, but he's getting more and more desperate. His typical tactic is no longer working. He couldn't block the virus (AUDIO GAP) doing a good job. It's all about -- it's all about, it's all about, you know, having all the power and no responsibility.

STELTER: Garry, thank you very much for being here. Great to see you. Apologize for the technical challenges in between.

Follow Garry on Twitter. Great tweets from Garry as well.

I want to show you one more thing from the White House press briefing that took place the other day. This was absolutely sinful.

This was White House Press Secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, trying to deflect reporters questions about safety by suggesting reporters don't care about religion. They don't want to go to church. They don't care about worshipping. That's why they were questioning or challenging the president's comments about opening up the churches.

Let's watch what Kayleigh said.


KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Boy, it's interesting to be in a room that desperately wants to seem to see these churches and houses of worship stay closed.



JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Kayleigh, I object to that. I go to church. I'm dying to go back to church. The question that we're asking you and would like to have asked the president and Dr. Birx is, is it safe?


STELTER: Thank you, Jeff Mason, for saying what so many were thinking in that moment. As for Kayleigh McEnany, if she's going to stay in this job and have any respect from the press corps, she can't question faith of the people she works with.

Let's turn to some front pages and television news segments now about Memorial Day weekend and about this pandemic.


Some front pages are featuring beach-goers, and boogie boarders while at the same time others are carrying warnings like this one. A hospital official saying the COVID-19 crisis is far from over.

These are the tensions and contradictions of this Memorial Day weekend. You got FDA Commissioner Steven Hahn tweeting a reminder that the virus is not yet contained. He says social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks protects us all. He's there saying that on Twitter but, of course, this president does -- what his boss does, President Trump, doesn't match that messaging.

My question is about the media's coverage this weekend. Do the boardwalk scenes and beach scenes represent what's really happening or are these outliers? Because there's a lot to be praised about how people have adapted to this crisis. We see gatherings in cars, inside buildings. We see socially distanced graduation ceremonies.

We're seeing drive-in cinemas opening up instead of regular theaters, so on and so on.

Americans and people around the world are proving to be very adaptable in the midst of this pandemic. But let's make sure the camera is on that as well. Let's discuss this with staff writer from "The Atlantic", Ed Yong, out

with a big news story about the patchwork pandemic, and "New York Times" columnist Jennifer Senior is here as well.

Ed, you wrote for "The Atlantic" that this is a patchwork pandemic. Can you tell me what that means?

ED YONG, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: So, different parts of the U.S. are experiencing this pandemic in many different ways. In some places like New York famously the virus struck really hard but currently waning, in other places, it is only just taking off.

So, people are getting this really desperate experience, and that is leading to these discrepancies in what we're seeing in the news where some people are still staying home, others are flocking to the outdoors again.

And I think we need to be mindful of that when we think about the coverage of the virus. Americans are actually strangely united in their attitudes and their behaviors. Opinion polls and other surveys have shown that upwards of 70 percent of people support measures like distancing, mask wearing, you can't get 17 percent of Americans to agree on anything but a lot of them are agreeing on this.

And that stands in stark contrast to the views of people to breaking public health advice, going out and being incautious. And that disparity and spectacle as one anthropologist put it to me, is contributing to a different view of -- a different understanding of the pandemic.

STELTER: Right. Like, hey, it seems like my neighbors are going to the beach. Maybe I should go to the beach. But you're saying these scenes on television this weekend are apparently the exception, not the rule.

YONG: I think that they are -- it's obvious why they're being covered. They're much more telegenic. You know, it's much more compelling to show someone flocking out in a public space than to show, for example, me sitting at home and following guidelines. And yet the latter is probably more reflective of what most Americans are actually doing.

And I think that discrepancy between what is actually the majority and what is more telegenic is a problem.

STELTER: Well, I'll do this for 15 seconds. I'll be part of the problem. Here's a viral social media video from the Ozarks, from Missouri, all of these party-goers, playing in the pool. I've seen this spreading on Twitter this weekend with the differing reactions to these scenes, because obviously they're not abiding by what health officials are saying.

But these videos are going to circulate, Ed. And I guess it's incumbent on everyone on Twitter and on social media and in TV newsrooms to keep it in perspective, right, not overreact to it? Is that fair?

YONG: Yeah, I think that's exactly right. I think providing the context that's necessary to interpret all of this breaking stuff is going to be crucially important, not just now but as we go on to further months of this pandemic. This problem isn't just going to be over by Memorial Day. It's going to be with us for much of the rest of the year.

And I think we need to adapt our practices to dealing with the crisis that is persistent and lingering and patchwork.

STELTER: Jennifer Senior, you've been writing about the president and his handling of this patchwork pandemic. I wonder what you make of mask-gate, you know, these sorts of moments where he runs contrary to public health officials recommendations.

JENNIFER SENIOR, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: What do I make of it? I mean, I think on some level it's a -- it's a sign of the fact that Trump -- this compromises the kind of image he wants to project, right? He wants to show strength.

He sees this on some level it seems to be slightly emasculating to wear a mask. He likes how he looks behind this Resolute Desk. I think that there's also some strange part of Trump that doesn't quite believe things he can't see.


His whole kind of attitude towards the beginning has been one that -- since the beginning has been slightly puzzling to me, and that he'll say, well, if it becomes a problem, we'll deal with it. The second something visibly a problem it's too late to deal with it.

So, there is some part of me that thinks that any kind of prophylactic measure at all to him doesn't compute in a weird way.

STELTER: Interesting. It's really interesting.

SENIOR: Yes, yes. And I think that generally this is a larger obstacle when we look at the media coverage. Ed was just talking about exactly this idea. You know, we've been hammered from the beginning by what we can see and can't see in general in this pandemic.

It's very seductive to cover a group of people protesting outside a state house or partying on the beach, it's not -- and it's very un- telegenic to sit there and to watch me in my pajamas making pancakes for kid, and not going out.

And it's the same -- you can't capture the full kind of breadth of what's going on in hospitals during this pandemic either, because you're using valuable PPE, because you're running afoul of privacy laws. So you're not getting everybody the full measure of just how dire it is, and what the death and scale of suffering looks like, which is also happening inside homes that you can't see.

So, you know, Trump is sort of walking out naked -- it all seems part of this strange cognitive inability of ours to sort of like go with what we can see rather than what we can't. I don't think it -- I think the harms literally to this day are not registering to it. STELTER: You were a month ago saying, in praise of pessimism, why

sometimes it helps to expect the worse in a moment like this. But that was a month ago. Are you still pretty pessimistic today?



STELTER: I was curious, because I want to ask Ed the same question.

You know, Ed, as a science writer, you know, you're studying this every day, where are you on the optimism/pessimism scale?

YONG: You know, I think that -- I think the facts of the matter force us to be pessimistic. But I think that's a matter of political will. It's a question of whether our leaders can rise to the challenge.

Now, as I wrote in the patchwork of pandemic, a lot of local leaders are doing their best and doing a good job. But that isn't evenly distributed. It requires federal coordination. I'm not optimistic that we're going to get it.

But like if you want me to say something optimistic about this, this is not some really super weird, impossible to deal with disease. We've seen measures that work in different places. They are the standard public health repertoire that people have been dealing with for over a century -- testing, tracing, isolating. It's not rocket science.

And social interventions that can do a lot of good, paid sick leave, hazard pay. All of these things can make a huge difference to our ability to fight the virus. We really just need to pull -- to get our act together and ramp these things up. Like the end game shouldn't be impossible. Pessimism stems from fake and whether our political system can rise to the challenge adequately.

STELTER: Ed Yong, Jennifer Senior, thank you both very much.

Quick plug for our nightly newsletter. You can find their work and so much more if you sign for our free nightly newsletter at You can get all the latest from the media world delivered to your inbox every night.

Coming up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES, why the old adage about crossing your T's and dotting your I's is so important, and why "New York Times" media columnist Ben Smith is now questioning Ronan Farrow's reporting. Hear from Ben Smith in a moment.



STELTER: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will be holding his daily briefing on the coronavirus at noon Eastern Time. And CNN will bring it to you live when it begins.

Now to the story that's had journalists buzzing all week long. It's a re-examination of Ronan Farrow's epic reporting streak from the past few years. Farrow's reporting, of course, shook the internal power structures of journalism, of Hollywood and beyond, of companies like CBS and NBC, the New York attorney general's office and many more.

Well, now, "The New York Times" media columnist Ben Smith is essentially re-evaluating, scrutinizing Farrow's reporting. Smith said he's found examples of inconsistencies, omissions and misleading story-telling. This has sparked a debate about Farrow, about his work and about what Smith suggests is resistance journalism.

What does that mean?

With me now to talk about it is the aforementioned media columnist, Ben Smith, who started at "The New York Times" a few months ago, formerly the editor-in-chief of "BuzzFeed News".

Ben, what is resistance journalism?

BEN SMITH, MEDIA COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: You know, I think it's something that every reporter feels to some degree, which is that there are these incredible powerful narratives, many of them I think broadly true, that kind of drive -- the media conversation drives social media, and that there's a strong impulse to play to them in every case, to always sort of fulfill that expectation.

I mean, this story I begin with in the piece this week -- and this is certainly not something that is, you know, that Ronan Farrow is the only person who does this, I think probably every person feels this gravitational pull in some ways.


But the story I began with was about -- a story about sort of suggestion of a cover-up in the Department of Treasury of sensitive files regarding Michael Cohen. The headline was that missing files have motivated this high profile leak of Michael Cohen's financial information, and the story just turned out not to be true at all.

It was -- Michael Avenatti had gotten this junior analyst to -- as his defense put it, watched too much cable news to leak him some files. And it got sort of spun into a sort of recognizable sympathetic narrative in a way that was a huge splash on the internet but just kind of dissolved. It turns out that the files weren't missing at all, they were restricted. Somebody who went looking for them would have hit a notice that basically said that if you need these, call the librarian.

STELTER: So perhaps a source or several sources led Farrow astray, doesn't that happen to everybody?

SMITH: Absolutely happens to everyone. And I think -- and I was actually surprised that that wasn't the "New Yorker's" defense of that story which is, you know what? We got it wrong.

But I think if you read the writing of this story, there is a caveat. Maybe this could just be that they were restricted, but even in that case anonymous sources indicate that would be a bombshell. That every piece of evidence toward confirming sort of people's expectations.

By the way, not wrong --


STELTER: And towards conspiracy. One of your main critiques of Farrow's book "Catch and Kill" is that he suggests conspiracy but then doesn't always prove beyond reasonable doubt that there is a conspiracy. Farrow's argument is he presents the evidence, lets the reader decide. And he says that's good enough. That he doesn't go beyond the facts.

SMITH: You know, I think that's -- I think -- I'm not sure he actually quite said that. But I think that is actually like our jobs. I think reading "Catch and Kill" but, again, this isn't something specific to his work. Maybe he's the highest profile practitioner. For instance Hillary Clinton's spokesman calls him -- and he describes it as ominous and he later says it was an instance of power protecting power.

It suggests that Hillary Clinton is taking Harvey Weinstein's side, and there's just really no evidence that that happened at all. It's a theory that many, many Americans are very eager to believe, that there are these conspiracies of powerful people against them.

By the way, that's I think often quite true, but it's -- you have to prove it. You can't just sort of imply it and then when called on your implications say, hey, I never literally said it and to take these kind of legalistic defenses.

STELTER: There are a lot of people including people watching this program who really admire Ronan Farrow. And I want to be clear, you're saying he's not a fabulist, he's not making stuff up. You just seem to be saying sometimes he doesn't cross his Ts and dot his Is. That's essentially your critique, is that right?

SMITH: I mean, that's a quote from Ken Auletta who's I think a friend and kind of mentor of Ronan's. And I think in the case for him is that to the degree he contributed to the fall of Harvey Weinstein, who is a monster, that was a great service. And I wouldn't ever want to take that away from him.

STELTER: And there are other stories as well that he broke wide open and he added important reporting on. Let me show Ronan's tweet in response to some of this. The "New Yorker" supported him, expressed support for him and Farrow tweeted out a simple, I stand by my reporting.

Do you think there's a lesson for journalism students or aspiring journalists in what you've looked at last week?

SMITH: I'm not trying to be a professor here.

STELTER: Come on, Ben.

SMITH: I mean, from my perspective, and this is an argument you and I have had for a long time. That is probably -- I probably don't totally agree with the "New York Times" on all these things, but you should err on the side of transparency. You should write what you know and what don't know. You should show the readers to the degree you can what you've got.

I think this has come up around the Tara Reid story in a certain way, too. I just think that audiences look so closely at us and are examining not just what we find but how we find it so intensely that you shouldn't try to spin people.

STELTER: Let me give you an example involving your paper. That incredible front page this morning with the thousand names of COVID-19 victims. Some sleuths on the internet found that one of the thousand names died of a homicide, not of COVID-19. And then all these trolls on Twitter tried to act like this entire thing was discredited, that it was all fake news.

Now, of course, shame on them for trying to take one error and smearing the entire "New York Times" with it. But that's the world we live in, isn't it? We have these bad faith actors that take good reporting, good but flawed reporting and try to smear with it.

SMITH: You know, I'm not sure about good faith and bad faith, I just think all reporting is going to be flawed.


SMITH: It's always the best we can do. It's always -- we're trying to get you as much as we know when we know it. And I think to the degree that we pretend otherwise, that sets us up for a kind of criticism. Every journalistic project has errors.


Sometimes you get things totally wrong. Often you get things a little wrong and the best thing you can do is correct them as fast as you can. And I think we ought to be straight with our audiences about that.

STELTER: My concern is that we live in an environment where any error turns into a conspiracy and turn into a proof of a plot and that's damaging. I don't know how to fight back against that though. I don't know how to show folk that journalists are mostly acting in good faith.

SMITH: Yes. I mean, I do think that there is broadly this moment when people in this unbelievably disoriented and kind of dark moment are looking for wheels within wheels. And one the really strange things for me about working for the "New York Times" where I just arrived but also about these stories that everything you write is interpreted through these kind of institutional motives.

It was an incredibly wildly shared tweet suggesting -- I do not think Ronan believes this or suggested it at all, but that Smith must have written this because Farrow has something coming about the "New York Times." STELTER: Yes.

SMITH: And this is a sort of an institutional defensive maneuver and -- on one hand, I mean, I think for someone who's not paying -- you can see why that has a certain logic to it and why -- and how compelling that logic is. And I think we kind of have to resist that kind of seduction.

STELTER: Yes, we really do. Ben, thank you for being here.

It turns out that former "Today" show host Matt Lauer had also been scrutinizing Farrow's work. And when Smith's column came out Lauer then came out with a column of his own saying that Farrow betrayed the truth to accomplish his -- quote -- "activist goals."

How does Lauer back up his claims and why did "Mediaite" publish his column? "Mediaite" founder Dan Abrams is next.



STELTER: That Ben Smith column in the "New York Times" about Ronan Farrow prompted a -- kind of a response of sorts from former NBC "Today" show anchor Matt Lauer. Lauer, of course, was fired in November 2017 for what the network said at the time was inappropriate sexual behavior with a colleague. That colleague later told Farrow in the book "Catch and Kill" that Lauer raped her during the Sochi Olympics in Russia in 2014.

Lauer has admitted to wrongdoing but has absolutely denied any rape allegation, any unwanted sexual contact. And he has spoken out in a column that was published this week by "Mediaite." Ben Smith's column said, is Ronan Farrow too good to be true? Lauer says, yes. Farrow is indeed too good to be true.

Let's talk more about that with Dan Abrams. He's the founder of "Mediaite." Dan, you're also the chief legal analyst for "ABC News," founder of the "Law & Crime Network" and host of "The Dan Abrams Show" on SiriusXM. So, you think about these legal and media issues all the time, Dan.

And I want to know why you thought it was appropriate to publish the column? Because media critic Tom Jones, for example the "Poynter Institute," said he would welcome a chance to interview Lauer but he didn't think it was appropriate just to publish Lauer's column. Why did you think it was?

DAN ABRAMS, FOUNDER, MEDIAITE: Yes. So, this was definitely a controversial piece but I'm not convinced that the decision to publish was that controversial.

I run a media site. We cover media critique. And what Matt Lauer did is he reached out to four different witnesses who were cited in Ronan Farrow's book. And checked with them as to whether Ronan Farrow had talked to them and whether the accounts that were described in Farrow's book were accurate. And according to all four of them they weren't. Ronan Farrow hadn't contacted them. And these were critical pieces to the story about what Ronan Farrow was telling about what happened to Matt Lauer.

Now, that doesn't mean that by publishing it it's somehow a defense of Matt Lauer. It's simply saying that this is newsworthy. This was fact checked with regard to the four people that Matt Lauer said that he spoke to, and we felt that it was certainly worthy of publication that Matt Lauer should be able to defend himself.

But that doesn't mean that Ronan Farrow loses any of the credit that he deserves. He deserves enormous credit for the work that he's done. But I also think he's got questions to answer in connection with what Matt Lauer has been saying.

STELTER: Yes. Look, Farrow didn't take down Matt Lauer. Matt Lauer took down himself essentially and Farrow then followed up with additional reporting with Brooke Nevils, the accuser, who described this alleged rape.

For example, here's what Lauer focuses in on the column. He says, according to "Catch and Kill" Nevils said that she broke up with her boyfriend over her anguish about the encounter with Lauer. But according to Lauer, Farrow did not call that ex-boyfriend and talked to the ex-boyfriend.

So those are the sorts of issues that Lauer is raising. "Mediaite," you site, then followed up with these individuals like the ex- boyfriend. So, you all essentially fact checked Lauer's re-reporting, is that right?

ABRAMS: Right. I mean, look, we treated it the way we would any opinion piece where someone makes these sorts of allegations right? He's citing four conversations that he claims he had with critical people that undermined Ronan Farrow's reporting. We weren't just going to publish it and take Matt Lauer's word for it. They spoke to these people.

So before publishing they reached out to these four individuals, these four witnesses who were cited in Ronan's book to find out if Matt Lauer's account was accurate and they said that it was.


ABRAMS: Again, that doesn't answer the ultimate questions here, but from a media critique perspective I think that there's no question that it was worthy of publication.

STELTER: Yes. It adds more grays to the black and white. I suppose what I wonder is, are we heading into a world where men who have been accused in this MeToo movement are going to re-report the stories and in some cases report on their accusers?

ABRAMS: I mean, look this is -- this, I don't think, can be compared for example -- people have said to me -- the main critique I've gotten is why did you wanted to publish Matt Lauer's story at all? [11:45:07]

I don't want to hear from Matt Lauer. The only thing I would say to those people is I would ask that you read it first before you critique it. Because this isn't just like publishing a piece by Harvey Weinstein saying, I didn't do it. This is a media -- an important, I think, media critique of what was the essential and key allegation against Matt Lauer.

And he's saying, look, about the reporting on this, about the witnesses who are cited to bolster the account, they didn't say what the book suggests that they said or this didn't happen as the book suggests that it happened. And if you care about accuracy, and you care about journalism, I think that's important. And again I'll say it --


ABRAMS: -- Ronan Farrow has done a terrific job of amplifying important voices here, but I think it's for that same reason that he ought to at least respond to the specifics of Lauer's response and also more of the specifics with regard to Ben Smith's piece as well.

STELTER: And for the record, Farrow tweeted this about the column by Matt Lauer. He said - and we'll put it up on the screen as well. He said, all I have to say is that Matt Lauer is just wrong. "Catch and Kill" was thoroughly reported and fact-checked including with Matt Lauer himself.

But as you said he didn't address those other questions about who he didn't call for the story. Yes. Final thought?

ABRAMS: He didn't address any of the specifics. And, by the way, we wrote a separate piece on Farrow's denial.


ABRAMS: We did a whole piece about what his publisher is saying et cetera. So, it's not as if we're trying to pick a side here. It's just about doing media critique and media analysis.

STELTER: Yes. And you can find it on Dan, thank you very much.

Coming up here on the program, is president Trump's dream of actually state-run TV coming true? We will unpack the president's pick to lead an obscure federal agency that spends your tax dollars. And this week he got one step closer to the job.



STELTER: "Voice of America" is funded by the American government but is proudly independent. President Trump doesn't seem to like that. He seems to be trying to gain control of the VOA and he took a step in that direction this week. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty has the story for us.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Conservative filmmaker Michael Pack, friend of former Trump's strategist and right wing lighting rod, Steve Bannon, President Trump's nominee to lead the U.S. agency for Global Media, which oversees the VOA. Pack's nomination is moving forward on Capitol Hill even as new questions are being raised over his finances. The D.C. attorney general now investigating the non-profit run by Pack for possible misuse of funds, according to Senator Menendez.

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): Why are we voting on a nominee who is the subject of an investigation for unlawful self-enrichment? Is this really the person you want running a U.S. government agency with a budget of almost $1 billion?

SERFATY: CNN's calls to Pack have not been returned. It's just the latest development in a nomination that has languished for two years.

MICHAEL PACK, NOMINEE, CEO OF U.S. AGENCY FOR GLOBAL MEDIA: I feel called back to international broadcasting. America's adversaries have stepped up their propaganda and disinformation efforts.

SERFATY: But now as Trump focuses his ire increasingly on the VOA --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: "Voice of America" is run in a terrible manner. Terrible. They're not the voice of America. They're the opposite of the voice of America.

SERFATY: The White House Web site even accusing VOA of spreading Chinese propaganda in its coronavirus coverage so too has President Trump focused his sights on getting Pack into the position.

TRUMP: And he's been stuck in committee for two years preventing us from managing the "Voice of America." Very important. And if you heard what's coming out of the "Voice of America," it's disgusting.

SERFATY: With fears that Trump might try to convert the VOA into a megaphone for his policies abroad Democrats are concerned about Pack's independence.

PACK: I guess it comes down to that we need to say no when you get a call from somebody -- a political person telling a journalist what to do. But I will look for ways to make sure that journalist --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you capable of saying no?

PACK: I think so. I have said no before.

SERFATY: On Capitol Hill, these political dynamics spilling out into a contentious meeting Thursday of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with Republicans pushing forward on Pack's nomination, the chairman holding the meeting off camera. Democrats' leader releasing their own video of the meeting --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman -- Mr. Chairman --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please don't interrupt right now.

SERFATY: -- and made repeated attempts to block a vote in the committee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, I move to postpone the committee vote on Michael Pack.

SERFATY: The committee ultimately voting along party lines to advance Pack's nomination out of the committee. Now just one step away from final confirmation in the full Senate.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: The Republican majority of the Foreign Relations Committee is turning the cameras off so the press and the public can't see what they're doing. Giving a promotion to Steve Bannon's business partner, in the middle of a health crisis.


SERFATY: And sources within the VOA tell me that there's a sense of apprehension about what comes next. And adding to the concern, Michael Pack would potentially have unilateral control over the agency.

There were some changes made in the final few months of the Obama administration. They actually disbanded a bipartisan board, replaced that with a advisory board. It was all meant to make things move more efficiently within the agency but it also means that there will be less of a firewall if and likely when Michael Pack is confirmed -- Brian.

STELTER: And, Sunlen, do we know how long -- do we know when that Senate vote will happen?

SERFATY: Well, as of now, Brian, the Senate is on recess next week.


He was pushed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been mum so far as to when he will take up that final confirmation for vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Brian.

STELTER: Got it. Sunlen, thank you so much.

We're out of time here on T.V. but we want to remind you about our weekly podcast, special programming on our podcast. This week's guest is NPR's head of news, Nancy Barnes, SVP of news and editorial director of NPR, hear about how her organization is covering the pandemic.

Quickly, a reminder, as well, for an interesting event happening later today on some of CNN's sister channels. Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady are playing. Capital One's "The Match: Champions for Charity" at 3:00 p.m. eastern time on TNT, TBS, TruTV and HLN. That's one way to have new programming in the midst of a pandemic.

We will see you right back here this time next week.