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The Unique Burdens Of Black Journalists; Inside The Op-Ed Fiasco At "The New York Times"; White House Turns Press Corps Into Anti-Social Distancing Props; Trump To The Public: Don't Believe Your Own Eyes; Fallout From Facebook's Refusal To Take Action. Aired 11a- 12p ET

Aired June 07, 2020 - 11:00   ET



BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter, live in New York. And it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES. This is our weekly look at the story behind the story.

More protests are expected today in Times Square and across the country.

We're going to talk this hour about "The New York Times" and the op-ed by Tom Cotton that "The Times" says should not have been published. So, then, what happened? An insider is here to speak out on what this says about journalism in 2020.

Plus, President Trump telling Americans not to believe their own eyes or ears. Masha Gessen is here with analysis.

And later, I will show you what happened when the White House turned the press corps into props. Yes, anti-social distancing props. Alexi McCammond and Oliver Darcy are coming up as well.

But, first, to the power of pictures and the power of camera phone videos, from the video of George Floyd dying, to the videos of these marches in big cities across the country, we are able to see it all these days. Also in small town America, don't sleep on what's happening in small town America, protests in hundreds of cities.

"BuzzFeed's" Anne Helen Petersen has been keeping a list of hundreds of these protests in towns and small cities. In many cases, these are unprecedented. Reporters in these towns are saying they've never seen anything like it.

This weekend, there were anti-racism protests from Hickory, North Carolina, to Loveland, Colorado, from Richmond, Kentucky, to Palmer, Alaska, and in so many places in between.

We've also seen action in capitals around the world, peaceful, powerful protests around the world. In the iPhone age, we are able to see it all, including scenes like this, videos that can expose the use of excessive force by police. Videos can also reveal criminal behavior by people in the streets. Photos can shock the conscience. Videos can also complicate the narrative. Videos and photos can show

unity. Photos can expose lies from people in power. Videos can show injustice wherever and whenever it happens.

But even these images don't capture the full picture for what it's like for black reporters to see these images day in and day out and be covering these moments as they happen and be living this story.

I don't think I can possibly ever fully understand how my African- American colleagues are feeling while facing a unique set of challenges, unique burdens, covering this story while living it.

So, that's where I want to begin this hour.

There's been some headlines about this recently. Here's a headline saying many journalists of color are fed up and they are speaking out. Staffers calling out management at places like Refinery29, and BuzzFeed, "The New York Times" and "Philly Inquirer".

In fact this weekend, the top editor at "The Inquirer" resigned. There was an article published in the paper with the title "Buildings Matter, Too", which understandably caused an uproar from staffers at "The Inquirer". In fact, more than 40 journalists of the paper called out "sick and tired". That was a protest earlier in the week.

Look, this is something that is bigger than any one moment, bigger than any one newsroom. But let's start a conversation about this. I want you to hear from the three guests that I have standing by.

Let me bring them in now, beginning with Jemele Hill, she, of course, is a staff writer for "The Atlantic", formerly of ESPN; Nikole-Hannah Jones of "The New York Times", and, of course, the founder of the 1619 Project, the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project; and in Washington, Karen Attiah of "The Washington Post". She works on -- she runs the Global Opinions Project there at "The Washington Post."

Thank you all for coming on the program today.

Jemele, I'm just hoping you can set the table for us about the reality for newsroom diversity and for what it's like for African-American reporters and writers to be covering but also living this story.

JEMELE HILL, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Well, the reality is that newsroom adversity is still awful and that it has remained a consistent problem in our business. And so, I think what you're seeing is that a lot of black journalists who are having to experience the trauma of what is happening generally to black people in this country are also having to deal with newsrooms who are inadequate when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

How can you cover this moment when your own newsroom doesn't reflect the community or the country that you cover? So, it's a constant battle I think a lot of black journalists we face in newsrooms, in different media outlets across the country is these problems have been systematically unaddressed. And it just is a poor reflection of our business and also, frankly, a reflection of this nation. STELTER: Karen, has progress been made in recent years?

KAREN ATTIAH, GLOBAL OPINIONS EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: You know, I think a lot about how the Kerner Commission report after the Civil Rights Movement explicitly talked about this problem about diversity in newsrooms. And here we are in 2020 still addressing the same problem.


There have been studies that said newsrooms are actually less diverse overall than other workplaces in the United States.

So, personally, I actually really don't like the word "diversity" when it comes to all of this. Diversity is natural, it's a given. We are still fighting for integration in our newsrooms, integrations so that the communities that we cover and we are apart of actually trust us and actually feel heard.

And so, I think this is -- we are uniquely unprepared, I think, overall, to cover this moment.

However, again, a shout-out to the black journalists, a shout-out to local news that are capturing a lot of what's happening. But I think on a broader level, our industry should be ashamed at this moment actually.

STELTER: And the black-owned press, the press as well.

Your point about the word "integration" is really interesting.

Nicole, is that a better word for us to be using?

NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES, STAFF WRITER, NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE: Yes, I mean, a say all the time that I find "diversity" to be a useless term. It's a term that makes everyone feel good and also pretends the particulars of being a black American are the same thing as being, you know, any other type of marginalized group, and it's not.

I think what is really critical to understand is newsrooms are, you know, our job is transparency and yet newsrooms don't want to be transparent about their own diversity numbers. The American Society of Newspaper Editors has stopped doing its annual diversity survey because so few newsrooms are willing to participate in it.

And so, we have newsrooms that, you know, are attempting to explain racism and racial injustice to the largest society while being unable to actually deal with racism and racial injustice within their own institutions. And that's highly problematic.

STELTER: You know, looking at the coverage of the past week, I would love for all of you to assess the positives and negatives of the news coverage of this current movement.

You know, Jemele, I noticed Sean Hannity's show Friday night was running -- was rerunning old video of riots and looting. And I thought it was so incredibly misleading, to the point where he's lying to the audience, pretending like that's happening currently.

Clearly, there was unrest. There was vandalism on Sunday and Monday night in New York City. It's not happening today.

And I wonder if we're almost going to see riot porn, which is a problem because it's going to mislead people about what's happening today, what's happening now.

HILL: Well, I mean, consider the source when it comes to Sean Hannity.

STELTER: I know, that's true.

HILL: This is not unusual for what they do. It's like asking a zebra to change its stripes. It's not going to happen.

So, what I will say is that I've seen certainly a lot of things that have, I thought, put the unrest and rebellion, just using those words, I think, is a significant step. I saw those used a lot more in the media as opposed to maybe at previous times like after Ferguson.

I think there was a little bit of a shift compared to the coverage that we saw after Ferguson. Nevertheless, there were still some really awful moments. I mean, the headline that -- at "The Philadelphia Inquirer," "Buildings Matter, Too." I mean, that's -- that gets back to what we've all been talking about when it comes to what your newsroom looks like and how that's allowed to happen likely because you don't have adequate representation.

Or at least if you do, maybe they're not in a position to actually speak to why something like that is an awful reflection of what we're seeing.

And so, while I have seen --

STELTER: Do you think "The Inquirer" is also an example of people power because journalists in the newsroom spoke out and they were able to affect change?

HILL: Yes, I do. I mean, I think -- look, this is what we all got in the business to do, is that journalism is not a profession of being friends. Journalism is a profession of agitation. And what we're seeing from inside of these newsroom in Pittsburgh, in Philadelphia, in New York, that is what we're charged to do, is hold everybody accountable, even the people who sign our checks.

STELTER: A job of agitation -- that line is going to stick with me.

Nikole, how would you size up the news coverage in the past week?

HANNAH-JONES: I think, overall, I've been pleasantly surprised. There were certainly moments at the beginning of last week where there was a lot of focus on looting, a disproportionate focus. At one time, I was on a division show trying to talk about the systematic and historic nature of the uprisings, and there was live footage my entire interview of someone looting a Foot Locker in -- or people looting a Foot Locker in Philadelphia. And I thought that was irresponsible. I think you have to show it, but

you don't show it out of proportion with what is happening.

But I think in terms of really working to explain this moment, to imbue this moment with history --


HANNAH-JONES: -- to talk about kind of the racial injustice, the systematic long-term racial injustice that communities have experienced, I think the news has done much better than I've seen in the past. I think there's been much more of an effort to explain that to the American public.

And I think polling that shows 76 percent of Americans -- the highest that we've ever measured -- believe that systematic racism is a major problem.


It's reflective of our coverage.

STELTER: Karen, final word to you.

ATTIAH: Yes, you know, I agree with Nikole that this is a moment -- this is an historic moment that we're in, and I think -- the entire world is watching us. And I'm having friends and acquaintances who are cheering us on from around the world.

And I think, right now, again, we, journalists, we're the first draft of history. And so, we have to keep that in mind as we're trying to navigate this moment and, you know, I just -- I just hope everyone in power is listening.

STELTER: Karen, thank you. Nikole, thank you. Jemele, thank you all.

I'm going to bring Nikole back in just a moment.

I want to show you the president's newest lie about these protests and also talk about all the news that is fit or not to fit in print. "The New York Times" publishing an op-ed that has really roiled staffers and readers alike. Hear from Nikole and many others in just a moment.



STELTER: Staffers at "The New York Times" told me they've never seen anything like this, the reaction, the internal rebellion to an op-ed.

The op-ed was by Republican Senator Tom Cotton. It was entitled "Send in the Troops". He was reacting to the vandalism and the violence seen in major U.S. cities last weekend.

There was massive backlash from staffers at the paper, as well as some readers. There was a planned virtual walkout. There were some cancellations of subscriptions. You can see some reactions here.

A number of "Times" reporters and columnists tweeted out the column and said, whoa, running this puts black "New York Times" staffers in danger. That was a show of solidarity by staffers of the paper.

Look, obviously, there are times when columns and op-eds in "The New York Times" caused a lot of controversy. That is sometimes the intent of columns and op-eds at "The New York Times".

What makes this difference, I think, is how widespread the reaction was inside "The New York Times", with more than 1,000 staffers talking about it in internal chat rooms and by what management then did as a result, OK, because at first "The New York Times" editor, A.G. Sulzberger, acknowledged the concerns but kind of tepidly defended the op-ed, saying he believes in the principle of openness to a range of opinions, even those we may disagree with, and this piece was published in that spirit.

The editorial page editor James Bennet defended the publication, saying, readers who might be inclined to oppose Cotton's position need to be fully aware of it and reckon with it, if they hope to defeat it. So, that was his defense.

But then hours later, the paper walked back that defense, and said, whoa, we just reviewed this and we found that a rushed editorial process led to an op-ed that did not meet our standard. In other words, it shouldn't have been published at all.

There was a tense town hall meeting with staffers on Friday. Sulzberger said Cotton's piece should not run and Bennet announced that it would not run in print and there's not going to be as many op- eds in the future.

On Friday evening, this is morning than a day after the controversy started, "The Times" added an editor's note to the piece explaining the reasoning behind why it was published and what went wrong and expressing regrets and fact-checking the piece.

And all of this is just cannon fodder for Senator Cotton who went on Fox News and elsewhere, blasting "The Times" saying the paper caved to a mob of woke kids in the newsroom.

There are generational divides here but that's not entirely what this is about. There are other aspects as well.

So, let's bring in Nikole Hannah-Jones back. She's a staff writer at "The Times" and the founder of the 1619 Project.

Nikole, what happened from your perspective?

NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES, STAFF WRITER, NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE: Well, I think we saw kind of a bunch of things occurring at once. The opposition -- so let me just say that "The New York Times" journalist who oppose this column love the institution of "The New York Times" intensely and also care deeply about journalism. What was the main issue was that you have a U.S. senator in the party of power saying that he wants to use the military to repress dissent, not going into the normal fact-checking process that anyone making such claims should go through and making, you know, assertions that our own reporters had discredited through their reporting. And that was the main concern.

But I think what happened is a larger symptom that we're seeing in news organizations across the country, which is they are really struggling to cover in a non -- in a way that appears to be nonpartisan a kind of political landscape where one political party had in many ways has gone rogue and is not following the rules. But there's a sense if you just cover that straight down the line, you look like you're picking sides.

And so, this adherence to even-handedness, both-sidism, the view from nowhere doesn't actually work in the political circumstances that we're in. And what a lot of people said is that, you know, it is fine. We as a news organization must air the opinion of someone like Senator Tom Cotton, but in a news article where we can check the facts, where we can push back, that you don't just hand over your platform to someone that powerful making assertions that might have been unconstitutional and most certainly some of them were not accurate.

So, it is not just a "New York Times." News organizations have been struggling with how do you cover where we are politically without always having to get those calls that somehow the coverage is in opposition to the Republican Party as opposed to just covering what is happening.

STELTER: I agree with you that other news outlets are struggling with this as well, these dynamics.

But, you know, I think there are probably a lot of people who are not even subscribers of "The Times" who hear about this and say, this is just liberal intolerance. What happened to free speech? Just meet more free speech with more speech. That's the kind of a bedrock idea.


And are you saying that it's -- that bedrock idea doesn't hold up anymore?

HANNAH-JONES: Well, free speech is not that I as a sitting senator or I as someone sitting in my living room has the right to run my opinions in "The New York Times" unedited and unchecked. That's not what free speech is.

Senator Cotton certainly has the right to write and say whatever he wants in this country, but we as a news organization don't -- should not be running something that is offering misinformation to the public unchecked.

So, yes, we do absolutely believe that his views should be aired. That is necessary that we know that someone with this power thinks this way. But that's a different thing all together than simply allowing someone to say things that are not true, to make assertions that might be unconstitutional without a check.

Many of us journalists said there should have been a news article where his views were aired but in a way that was factual, because we know we are struggling with Americans getting this information and our role as journalists is to give people correct information so they can make decisions.

STELTER: Yeah, my reaction to the op-ed was, he's overreacting, you know? Everything's OK, these cities can get through this on their own. It was ugly in New York City, but we don't need federal troops. I mean, he was just overreacting.

Nicole, let me bring in another guest. Karen Attiah is back with me from "The Washington Post", and Oliver Darcy of CNN who's been reporting on this controversy.

Karen, you run the global opinion section for a competing paper, for "The Washington Post." So, how do you think "The Times" handled this?

KAREN ATTIAH, GLOBAL OPINIONS EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: You know, there's a long-standing norm that we're not supposed to criticize competitors, but --


ATTIAH: No, but -- no, but, in this case, this was a case where, you know, I was very vocal about even this notion, right, that Tom Cotton doesn't have any other platforms to make some of these assertions. He's a sitting lawmaker. There are plenty of other platforms.

And as an opinion editor, having an opinion -- opinion journalism is still journalism.


ATTIAH: It's still do (ph) fact-checking. We still -- you make your argument but it needs to be based in fact and not mischaracterize reality in order to fit your agenda.

So, you know, in this case, when people say, oh, but let him say what he wants, this is an attack against free speech if we're not letting him write -- frankly, basically what Tom Cotton is arguing is that largely peaceful protesters, their free expression of anger should be met with force. So, it's interesting to me the people who are crying censorship don't see it from the other side that calling in the U.S. military, the most lethal military in the world, should come in and crush Americans, right? So, I think that's part of it.

And I think, also, it's an issue of, again, how we cover violence? What is both sides to violence? What should the other side of that be? Should then -- the onus be to find an op-ed that says, protesters, go arm yourself, defend yourself against the military?

You know, I think that that -- those are the questions that aren't thought through when there's a rush to get a provocative piece that, again, right now the debate right now is moving towards defunding the police. We're not even really talking -- nobody seriously, I think, is talking about bringing the military in, as you said. Things have been largely calm and peaceful.

Right now, we're looking at locally defunding and de-escalating police. So, I feel they also missed the mark on what the true conversations are right now. So, yeah, it was a mess all around. Sorry, "New York Times" but --

STELTER: I think it's worth reminding people there is a division between news and opinion. Opinion is separate from news, these newspapers.

But, Oliver, what's remarkable in this case is news staffers at "The Times" were speaking out against the-on-section, and a little vice versa. Tell us about your reporting inside the paper, because we did ask a "Times" executive to come on, we did ask the editors to come on and they did not respond.

What's your sense, Oliver, of how much this roiled the newsroom and the opinion section?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: This is probably been the biggest controversy inside "The New York Times" newsroom in some time. It does remind me of a larger war that has been sort of waging inside "The New York Times" newsroom, particularly throughout the Trump presidency.

So, you saw last year, for instance, there was a big debate about whether you call Trump a racist or whether you describe his actions as racist. So, you know, this is the first time, however, this has really spilled out into the public view with "New York Times" reporters tweeting in solidarity of their colleagues who are opposing this. So, I think that is certainly very interesting here.

STELTER: Yes, more with Oliver a little bit later. Thank you, Nikole and Karen.


And we will continue to cover the fallout from this controversy in our nightly RELIABLE SOURCES newsletter. You can get on the list for free at Tonight's letter will be out in about 12 hours.

Up next here, from press corps to press props. How President Trump is using reporters for his empty power moves.


STELTER: The news really never stops in 2020. Reporters have been covering the COVID-19 pandemic for about three months, and now this uprising on top of it, a movement against racism and police brutality that has been marked by an aggressive police response.

This is in some cases affecting reporters who are trying to cover the story.


According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, there have been more than 300 total what they call violations since May 26th. These are assaults these are arrests of reporters on the scene. Most of these have occurred at the hands of police when there's been tear gas and rubber bullets used.

In some cases, protesters vandals have also attacked reporters in major cities. We saw journalists describing NYPD officers stealing his bike and striking him with a baton. T1he NYPD also shoving and yelling expletives at two journalists from the Associated Press in this video. A local San Francisco reporter was briefly detained while covering protests in Oakland. This is an iconic photo as a result.

And we've seen now in Minneapolis, the ACLU filing lawsuits to protect journalists' first amendment rights. Advocacy groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders are demanding the governors and mayors, step in and make sure that these assaults on reporters are halted.

Now, these assaults, these arrests, etcetera, were mostly last week. I want to be clear the violent chapter seems to be over and this newer chapter is about people, so many of them. Here is the Washington Post front page showing the crowds, the Chicago Sun-Times front page talking about peaceful and powerful protests across the country. So massive protests in the age of a pandemic, and the U.S. president who doesn't seem to have a handle on either.

With me now is Axios Political Reporter, Alexi McCammond. First Alexi, are the President and the press and the public forgetting about the pandemic amid all this?

ALEXI MCCAMMOND, POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: Hey, Brian, thank you for having me. No, I don't think that anyone is forgetting about the pandemic and all of this. We can obviously focus on different things that caught our attention and demand our attention like the protests against police brutality.

I mean, we can't go outside without wearing masks or gloves. The way in which the coronavirus has penetrated our lives is impossible to ignore. But one thing is clear and has been clear with President Trump, he hasn't forgotten about the pandemic but he wants to move past it. He talks about reopening the economy weeks ago when experts advise against it, and now we're seeing the way he's talking about the economy again.

STELTER: Yes, we're up to 110,000 confirmed dead in the U.S. That total will be -- probably hit later today, unfortunately. Let's talk about what happened in the Rose Garden the other day when the President seemed to want to put on a show against social distancing.

So reporters and news crews went out to the Rose Garden to set up for what they thought was going to be a news conference, but it turned out not to be. And they put their cameras in place. And you can see on the left side of the screen, the chairs were set up the way they should be in the age of the pandemic with social distance. A few minutes later, when everybody came outside for Trump's event,

the reporters have been all moved together, the chairs were all moved together by the White House, because they said this looks better. It looks better to be seated closer together. The President liked it. He referred to it.

And it seems to me, Alexi, that the reporters were being used as props to show hey, everything's OK now, back to normal. There's no more pandemic threat. You can all sit next to each other.

MCCAMMOND: Well, there's two things to be true about President Trump based on his pattern of behavior. One is that he has little respect for journalists across the board. Two is that he is obsessed with optics and the aesthetics of things. We can think back to when he was first president and he was reportedly going through pages of these extravagant curtains to put in the Oval Office.

We don't have to think too far back to the border wall and how he was, you know, floating these ideas about making it matte black and having spikes on the top of the fence so that it looks good and was more effective, he thought. And now we see this. He's violating the norms and the guidance from his public health experts that we should be maintaining six feet apart from each other. One of the easiest things to do during this global pandemic simply for the optics because that is what matters.

STELTER: Right. There's plenty of room in the Rose Garden for more space. Look, a lot of protesters also we're not following social distance. This is a challenge, I think, as this movement goes on. But what about the president shushing reporters this week? NBC's Kristen Welker and PBS Yamiche Alcindor both said that they were shushed by President Trump at various events. Is it a coincidence that he's shushing women reporters?

MCCAMMOND: And they're both black women, Brian. It's not a coincidence because he's done it so many times. And if we think back again to the President's pattern of behavior, he often says disrespectful things to and about women, and specifically female journalists.

We can think back to the election when he said those nasty things to Megyn Kelly about -- after a debate. The President is threatened by strong female journalists and strong women around him. And that's why we see the way in which he behaves and acts out against them.

STELTER: But here's the most important thing I think we can say this hour. This is all much bigger than the president. This story is really not about him even if he wants it to be, even if he has photo ops in Lafayette Square etcetera.

MCCAMMOND: That's exactly right, Brian. I mean, the President's words matter because he's the president. But this is a much bigger movement that I think can get lost, whether it's Fox News showing riots days after they've happened, or the ways in which right-wing folks are trying to characterize this as all loaded and rioters and not protest. We're losing sight of the bigger picture of all of this. We talk about policy or forums which of course are an important step

in how we move forward, but I think what this situation has laid bare, what George Floyd's murder has laid bare is the deep disconnect and misunderstanding that we have between white Americans and black Americans.

And what we don't understand about the lives black experience and the frustration and sadness and pain that comes with that, not just when we're being murdered by police, but because we're dying at higher rates because of coronavirus, because we're losing our jobs at higher rates because of this pandemic. Not to mention all the other forms of systemic racism that have plagued our community since the inception of this country.


STELTER: Alexi, thank you so much for saying that. Thank you for focusing us on the big story here. And you all at home, you can hear from six more journalists on the front lines of these anti-racism protests on our podcast. I moderated an event put together by the Society of Professional Journalists. You can check it out. Just search RELIABLE SOURCES wherever you hear your podcasts.

Up next, the President and his photo-op, I do want to talk about this with the author of the new book Surviving Autocracy. We're going to hear from Masha Gessen on the significance of this moment and the President's role in this story in just a moment.



STELTER: Do not believe your lying eyes. That was a Groucho Marx bid and the Richard Pryor punch line decades ago. It is now a message from the president. Today, the president is saying that the historic day of peaceful protests in Washington actually had far fewer protesters than anticipated. He said the same thing on Twitter Saturday night. He is ignoring the point of the protests and saying we shouldn't believe these pictures. We shouldn't believe our own eyes.

The same thing happened earlier this week. There was almost a full week of deception about whether tear gas was used against protesters. We all saw it live on CNN. Reporters felt in their lungs. The White House said we shouldn't believe our own lungs.

In the brand-new book Surviving Autocracy, Masha Gessen hits on this strategy, hits on this idea. She talks about power lies. She says the Trumpian lie is the power lie or the bully lie. It is the lie of the bigger kid who took your hat and is wearing it while denying that he took it. There is no defense against this lie because the point of the lie is to assert power. To show I can say what I want when I want to.

That new book is called Surviving Autocracy. Masha Gessen joins me now. Is that what this week is about, Masha, essentially a week full of power lies by the President and his aides? MASHA GESSEN, AUTHOR, SURVIVING AUTOCRACY: You know, the power lies are such a part of our regular reality now that I wouldn't even say that. I mean, certainly, first of all, this week was about the protests. But as far as the President is concerned, I think this week was about an escalation of the way that he performs power, which in a way is much more important than the power lie and much bigger than the power lie.

STELTER: So what do you -- how would you assess, you know, his call for troops, his treatment of the military? Was this the closest to autocracy that we've seen thus far in the Trump years?

GESSEN: You know, a power claim always begins with a performance. And I think that Trump is performing the way that he imagines power. He thinks that power looks like control. I mean, we've heard him say these many times, right? It looks like dominance.

He perseverated on the word domination or dominate when he was on his call with governors last week. He -- you know, the Black Hawk helicopters, the tear gas, and then the unidentified full combat troops in in front of the Lincoln Memorial between those columns. All of those to him are images of power. That's what he thinks power looks like. And that's what he's, he thinks power sounds like.

STELTER: There's been so much pushback.

GESSEN: And we shouldn't make mistake about it. This is a (INAUDIBLE).

STELTER: Was there -- was there sufficient pushback this week from the military, from former generals? Did the -- did we avoid a worst-case scenario?

GESSEN: I don't think we can say that we have avoided worst-case scenario. I think we have maybe gently put the brakes on it. I was very concerned that Secretary Esper's defense was basically I don't know where I was going.

I mean, think about this for a second. The Secretary of Defense said that he blindly followed the president and he cannot be held accountable, because he didn't know what troops were going to be used for and where he was going and how he was going to be used in a photo- op.

This is not reassuring. This is not pushback. This is a kind of, you know, it's a very half-hearted attempt to distance himself in case this president fails in his power grab.

STELTER: Look, in your new book Surviving Autocracy, you say that we should be covering Trumpism not as news but as a system. I was wondering if you could explain what that means.

GESSEN: You know, Trumpism, in a way is a trap for journalists. If you cover his tweets, if you covered his statements, if you've covered his lies, you are inevitably perpetuating them. And yet you don't have the option of not covering them, because they have consequences. Even when he says things that are absolutely meaningless on the face of it, they have meaning because he's the president and they have consequences.

So I think of reporting in the -- in the age of Trump as a kind of harm reduction, right? It's not -- we're not going to fix it by reporting, we're not going to be able to resist much by reporting, but we can try to reduce the harm that this man is doing to our politics, our society and our country.

STELTER: And that is the job of journalists.

GESSEN: And one way to do that is (INAUDIBLE) more context, and always to try to describe it as a system rather than just separate news stories.

STELTER: You think that is the job of journalists to engage in harm reduction?

GESSEN: I think it is the job of journalists to engage in harm reduction. I think that, if anything that -- if we should have learned anything from the last three and a half years, it's that journalists are political actors. Journalism is a part of our politics or politics is impossible without journalism. Journalism may be possible without politics but not the other way around.

And journalists cannot perform neutrality, cannot pretend that there are always two sides to each story when this is happening.


STELTER: Masha, thank you. And again, the new book is titled surviving autocracy. Coming up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES, Oliver Darcy is back with a report on chaos at Facebook, a kind of a rebellion among the staff against Mark Zuckerberg.


STELTER: President Trump's controversial looting starts shooting starts post incredibly irresponsible is still untouched on Facebook. Twitter, on the other hand, flagged the post for "glorifying violence." This is just a you know, kind of a small symbol of a big, big problem at Facebook. So let's talk about it with Oliver Darcy, CNN Senior Media Reporter. He is back with me now.

I hate to say a post like that is small but it's one example of a huge problem Facebook has. And Oliver, at this point, it's Mark Zuckerberg versus some of his own employees. Tell us what happened this week.


DARCY: Yes, staffers are really at this point fed up with Zuckerberg inaction on Trump's posts. And they feel that they violate their standards, they violate the terms of service, but Zuckerberg time and time again, pumps the ball, does not take any action.

What you saw on Friday was he said that he's going to review the policies and maybe they'll implement new policies and that will allow them to take action. But staffers seem at Facebook, a lot of them, to have lost a lot of confidence in the leadership's you know, ability to take action or will to take action I should say.

STELTER: Then this weekend, 140-plus scientists who have been funded by the Zuckerberg Chan Initiative from the family, they wrote a letter to Zuckerberg yesterday speaking out against his inaction on this particular post. But Oliver, this is bigger than any particular post. Look at the most popular content on Facebook the other day. The top- performing posts of the week was this post by Candice Owens, a far- right-wing commentator and a favorite on Fox denigrating George Floyd.

You know, she was at the White House the other day meeting with Vice President Pence. You know, she goes on there denigrating George Floyd, and she gets tens of millions of views on Facebook. It just shows how this Web site is a radicalization engine.

DARCY: Yes. Zuckerberg talks about how he wants Facebook to, you know, elevate good voices in the public conversation. But if you look at the voices that Facebook is elevating, if you look at the content that is going viral, you have you know, for instance, like you said, that Candace Owens video was the top video on Facebook this past week. And she's, you know, saying all sorts of things about George Floyd and denying any systemic racism problems.

And so there's a deeper fundamental issue with what the Facebook algorithm and all social media algorithms, what kind of content they reward. Is it the provocative, incendiary kind of content or are they trying to promote more reasonable voices? And I think time and time again, you see the former do well on social media platforms. And I think that's the issue that these policies, these terms of service, things that they come up with, those don't really address that deeper issue with the social media platforms.

STELTER: Meanwhile, Fox News, they're this ridiculous infographic showing that what happens when there's unrest in cities, and how the stock market doesn't seem to care how the markets go up in the wake of Michael Brown's death or George Floyd's death. This was so foolish. Fox had to apologize for it. But hey, look, at least to Fox's credit, they apologized. There's a difference here between news outlets or media outlets versus the Facebook's of the world.

DARCY: Although I think it's actually very interesting to see what Fox does apologize for, Brian, and what they do not apologize for. Kudos for them for apologizing for this, but there's so much other content every single night on the primetime lineup that they stand by, they're silence, they don't apologize for. And so, you know -- you know, I hate to give them too much credit for doing the right thing in this instance.

STELTER: Yes. Well, like I said earlier, when they're talking about riots and violence, they're lying, because that's not happening this weekend. So when they focus on what happened seven or six days ago, it's a lie. Oliver, thank you so much. Let's take a quick break here on the program and then talk about how this network and networks like it are staying on the air in the age of a pandemic.



STELTER: In the age of COVID-19, we are coming up on three months since the newsroom suddenly moved to work from home methods. Almost nobody is in television networks or studios or offices anymore. So I want to introduce you to the team that's responsible for keeping CNN, CNN International, and our other networks on the air. This is the master control operations team. They made a work from home video.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch your step by to roll the break. We're going to copyright him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Standing by to roll the breaks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roll the brake, Master.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In three, two, one, and you're clear. Two minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are moments that define us.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Test what we are truly capable of.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But we do not waver.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. 30 seconds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We adapt, we change.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We keep moving forward.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Standby in five --






UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Knowing that this too shall pass. CNN Master Control, we stand together through these tough times.


STELTER: This too shall pass. I love to those words. And thank you to the master control operators who are steering us through this storm in the meantime. These are unprecedented days and weeks and now months, but networks are staying on the air thanks to these employees.

Now Master Control is about to hand off to "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper. He has a very news-making interview with Colin Powell coming in just a few seconds. But I also want to tell you about one special that's airing later today here on CNN. The title is Unconscious Bias.

What is it? How does it affect us? Join Fredricka Whitfield for a special conversation. The program is "Unconscious Bias: Facing the Realities of Racism." That's live tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time on CNN. And I'll see you back here this time next week.