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U.S. Surpasses Five Million Coronavirus Cases; What the Pro- Trump Media is Saying About Joe Biden; Avoiding Stereotypes While Covering Biden's VP Pick; Trump's Executive Orders: Merely Media Stunt?; Newsrooms Can Barely Keep Up With The Growing Death Toll; President Trump's Potemkin Village. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired August 09, 2020 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brian Stelter, live in New York.
And we begin this hour with breaking news. The 5 million mark. There now have been at least 5 million cases of coronavirus confirmed in the United States. That total is the highest in the world.
This is data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, data that CNN and other news outlets use to come up with these figures you always see on the screen. And just in the past half hour, this 5 million mark has been passed.
And, let's remember, when we say 5 million cases, every single case, every single number, is a person with a family, with a friend set, with a group of people that are affected by this virus. The exact number, according to Johns Hopkins right now, 5,000,603 confirmed cases.
We all know the true number is higher because of embarrassing testing failures in the United States.
Meanwhile, President Trump keeps saying COVID-19 is, quote/unquote, disappearing. He said it at his golf club the other day. He said the virus is disappearing.
He should tell that to the tens of thousands of Americans who just got sick yesterday.
Now, that's our entry points for this week's RELIABLE SOURCES. We're always here examining the media world.
In this hour, we're going inside a Florida newsroom that's on a mission to honor every life lost to COVID-19 in that state.
Plus, we're going to look at why the president's response to the virus is being likened to a Potemkin village, a fake facade.
Also coming up in the next few minutes, the veepstakes. Hilary Rosen is here. She's calling out stereotypes and tropes in the news coverage.
And we're going to see what happens when a mostly female band of reporters forced the president to face facts. Jeffrey Toobin and others are standing by.
But first, let's go on a trip together to a totally alternative universe. You never hear what's happening there unless you tune into right-wing talk radio. But you need to know what they are saying because the most popular, most powerful talkers in the country have trained their sights on Joe Biden. What you are about to hear them say is mind-boggling.
Look, whether you like Biden or not, this stuff is offensive and other-worldly.
So, let me set the stage for this before I play the clips. Keep in mind that news and talk radio is still really popular, even in the Internet age. Guys like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity can influences tens of millions of listeners.
As this "Huff Post" headline pointed out earlier this year, talk radio stars were shopping dangerous claims about the coronavirus, they were downplaying its severity.
But, nowadays, if you listen to those shows, you hardly hear about COVID at all. They have shifted to big-time Biden bashing instead.
You know what this is? This is negative partisanship in action. So, what's negative partisanship?
Well, these researchers from Emory University define it as a pretty simple concept. They say in this article for "Politico" magazine that over the past few decades, American politics has become like a bitter sports rivalry in which the parties hang out -- hang together mainly out of sheer hatred of the other team rather than a shared sense of purpose. The researchers showed that partisans, meaning strong supporters of a specific party, have grown to dislike the opposing party, quote, more than they like their own party.
So, when the president, for example, says that Biden is against god, that's negative partisanship. It is so hateful. But I want to be clear, there's a lot of negative partisanship that happens on the left as well. Disdain and nastiness directed at the right.
This is happening in all directions, but it is especially extreme, especially vitriolic on the right, directed at Joe Biden, and directed at other Democrats right now. We see it all the time on Fox News, a channel that often seems more anti-Democrat than pro-Trump, right? These shows are the pro-Trump media, but they have so much venom towards the Democrat, they use that to distract from Trump's failures. And some commentary on the radio is even worse.
That's why this week our producing team listened to these right-wing radio shows, took them seriously, tried to get a sense of what they are saying about Biden because they're barely talking about COVID anymore. They're all focused on Biden.
This stuff is outrageous, but it does impact the campaign. So, listen --
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW: The contrast and knowledge of events and issues, mental acuity, the contrast between Trump and Biden is striking.
It's why they're keeping Biden in the basement.
MARK LEVIN, TH MARK LEVIN SHOW: I actually don't believe Joe Biden is working out of his house. I believe he's working out of a nursing home or an assisted living home, because that's what he needs.
BEN SHAPIRO, THE BEN SHAPIRO SHOW: The big problem for Joe Biden is that he is falling apart. He's just falling apart.
MICHAEL SAVAGE, THE SAVAGE NATION PODCAST: He's not really running for the office. It's the communist that he picks as his number two who will be running America within three months after he gets sent to the long, long rest he has worked for all of his life. You know, a blanket over his hips, around the clock sweets, around the clock care, the man needs the care right now. I pity the man.
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: My physical as well as my mental --
(END AUDIO CLIP)
STELTER: Every day, every day, this is what's airing on the radio. There's Michael Savage saying, I pity the man. There's Mark Levin saying, I think Biden's in a nursing home.
What the heck is going on on these programs?
Look at what Fox News saw on Saturday at a Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. This is Joe Biden out there on a vigorous bike ride. Not wearing a helmet but definitely wearing a mask, by the way.
Fox's narrative and talk radio's narrative for months has been that Joe Biden is falling apart. You just heard Ben Shapiro say it, falling apart.
There he is riding a bike, out for a bike ride. And Fox, of all networks, is the one that showed it happen.
Look, we are going to see negative partisanship fuel the next three months. The last three months of this never-ending campaign. It is a key part of what is going on. It is a potion, an ugly potion that's only, only getting worse.
Let's talk more about it with David Zurawik, "The Baltimore Sun" media critic. He's here with me. Along with Columbia University scholar Nicole Hemmer, she's the author of "Messenger of Right", all about conservative media and American politics. And also with us, Errin Haines, editor-at-large for "The 19th", the brand-new website covering the intersection of gender and politics.
Nicole, first to you, negative partisanship, it kind of explains everything about what is broken in our media environment because there's all of these media outlet, all of these talk radio stars and TV shows that are just constantly attacking, fueling hatred of the other side. Am I right to say this happens on the left and the right but it's more severe on the right currently?
NICOLE HEMMER, AUTHOR, "MESSENGERS OF THE RIGHT": Yes. I would say it's more severe on the right currently, in part because the right just has a longer tradition of these overtly ideological media outlets, right? There is this sort of habit of attacking Democrats that goes pretty far back. If you look at like the 1990s and the way that Rush Limbaugh and others sort of sharpened their teeth on Bill Clinton, this is the way they built audiences for these decades now.
STELTER: Yeah, I don't want to claim it's new, I just -- I'm arguing that it's getting worse, it's more severe.
Errin, your view of this, you know, when you see entire media companies essentially exist to tear down Joe Biden, is there an equivalent of that on the left, tearing down Trump?
ERRIN HAINES, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE 19TH: There really isn't. What I would say is it's really a diet of this type of information that a lot of these voters are getting. A lot of the voters I talk to, I can -- when I interview them, I do hear them saying a lot of the talking points that sound very familiar from some of these shows which I try to listen to when I'm out on the campaign trail or when I'm home, watching TV.
HAINES: You know, you can hear these comments being echoed by voters. You know that this is the diet they're on, you know, A.M. radio, conservative talk, also social media. I mean, the Trump campaign is running a full-blown campaign on social media that is completely off the radar for a lot of regular, you know, media is not covering this, but, I mean, you have folks, Lara Trump, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Katrina Pierson, the campaign is running, you know, kind of a parallel campaign online.
And if that's all they're getting, you know, to the exclusion of kind of the more traditional legacy media, you know, then it really is no surprise kind of what their understanding is of this country and of our politics.
STELTER: Such an important point though. What the Trump campaign is doing on Facebook and on these web video series, they have a right wing version of "The View", they have other shows that just constantly reinforce their talking points. It's an even safer space than Fox News that they created on for the Trump campaign. David Zurawik, let's listen to more of these radio comments, because I don't think these crazy right-wing comments about Biden break through to the rest of the media often enough. Let's play some more of them and then talk about it.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
BIDEN: My physical as well as my mental fitness --
LEVIN: Oy, yoy, yoy, at least get new dentures, for god's sake.
SHAPIRO: Joe Biden is just mentally inept. He is -- he can't string sentences together anymore. He sounds like -- he sounds like a normal person after they've had a bunch of Ambien.
LEVIN: An invalid, and that's what Joe Biden is.
He's an invalid.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
STELTER: I'm not here to claim Joe Biden is perfect. He screwed up a couple of times in an interview with minority journalists from NABJ and NAHJ earlier this week. But I am here to say, Joe Biden is not an invalid, like even Fox carries his speeches live. So, is it, David, they're just setting the bar so low that it's going to be easier for Joe biden to climb over it?
DAVID ZURAWIK, BALTIMORE SUN MEDIA CRITIC: Brian, you know, what's happening here is this is interesting to me. We talked about the two parallels, social media and talk radio. And the interesting thing is, Trump is -- Trump's messaging machine is getting squeezed a little bit on social media.
Tweets are -- well, tweets are being marked as warning. We've put attention on it. Facebook is taking stuff down. Twitter is taking stuff down. He's being watched in a way he wasn't in 2016.
ZURAWIK: The irony is, is that we have Federal Communications Commission that's supposed to monitor, supposed to watch talk radio and yet they can get away with all of this on talk radio. Not just because we in the mainstream media don't pay enough attention to it, and it's true, we don't, but it's because the regulators don't pay attention to it.
It is so far out there now that it's frightening. And it wasn't always that way. Just as conservativism has been debased by Trump in the era of Trump, so has right-wing talk radio. There used to be legitimate conservatives on radio who were honorable men. We had one in Baltimore maybe when you were here, named Ron Smith, who was beloved in Baltimore, which is a very liberal city.
STELTER: Oh, yeah.
ZURAWIK: And he had an audience of 120,000, but he was a man of honor. He lost 40 percent of his audience when he went against the Iraq war in 2003.
We don't have that anymore since Trump. All we have is sycophants and I think it's part of -- a key part that we have to watch in this 2020 campaign of his messaging machine.
STELTER: Well, the Biden bash is going to go on for three more months.
One more note about this, Nicole, to the extent these talk show hosts do talk about the coronavirus, how would you describe the coverage of the coronavirus from right-wing talk radio? Is it mostly conspiracy theorizing? What is it?
HEMMER: Yeah, so it's a couple of different things. First, it's this notion that the virus isn't as bad as people are saying it is. And that very quickly leads into this idea that Democrats and the liberal media are conspiring together to make the virus look worse than it actually is so they can take your freedoms and seize power.
And so, that's sort of channeling the pandemic back into the normal flows of conservative talk radio because that theme that Democrats in the media working together to take away your freedoms is kind of a backbone of conservative talk radio. So, it's a kind of return to the main line of argument through the pandemic. So, conspiracies, yes, but conspiracies here.
STELTER: A reality check about the alternative reality from everybody. Thank you.
Stick around, everybody. I want to talk about why these facial expressions may be a defining moment of the campaign cycle.
Plus, how to right our wrongs. The media's challenge in the coming days as we cover Joe Biden's vice presidential pick.
STELTER: With Joe Biden set to name his vice presidential pick in the coming days, a group of Democratic women leaders wants everyone to know that, quote: We have her back.
In an open letter to top newspaper and network executives this week, the organizers wrote this, they said: We believe it is your job to, not just pay attention to stereotypes, but to actively work to be anti-racist and anti-sexist in your coverage.
Democratic strategist and CNN Contributor, Hilary Rosen is one of the organizers of We Have Her Back. She's with me now.
And Errin Haines is back as well. Errin has been covering the veepstakes for 19thNews.org. Hilary, what mistakes, what stereotypes have come through in the news
coverage that you are trying to challenge and counter?
HILARY ROSEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first, you know, we thought it was important to get this message out before a specific person was named so that they would be more generic, as Errin knows.
ROSEN: But, you know, in this -- in this run-up to this pick, we've seen so many disappointing things, whether it was a kind of mocking of Kamala Harris' ambition as if every politician running for president is not ambitious, A. You know, just -- just this week, a story in "The L.A. Times" comparing the V.P. search to the TV show, "The Bachelor", saying that the woman is, you know, get a rose, as opposed to a real, thoughtful consideration of qualifications, whether or not candidates are likeable.
You know, there were so many examples that kind of nauseated us. And we thought, the media really did something significant, in my view, after the George Floyd killing and the racial justice protests. You know, we really saw an examination internally in newsrooms about, you know, the systemic racism, the stereotypes, do we have, you know, people of color covering these issues, are black people involved in the decisions?
And what we're saying is, you ought to have the same kind of thinking around covering a woman because we haven't seen it before.
And, in fact, the last time we saw it in 2016 was awful. And so, let's use that learning that people took seriously, that you reported on regularly, Brian -- use that learning to make a difference now.
STELTER: Sarah Palin was also subjected to sexist tropes in 2008.
ROSEN: She was.
STELTER: And if we go even further back to Geraldine Ferraro, this is something she wrote, reflecting on her experience in 1984, saying this to "Newsweek".
She said, in my case, "Meet the Press", "Face the Nation", these shows felt they had to give me a foreign policy exam and asked me if I was strong enough to push the button. These were questions they never asked men. But in 1984, I couldn't say stop it because I couldn't look like I was whining or upset about it.
Has the world changed since then, or can women still not say -- you know, can they not stand up to it because they'll be accused of whining?
ROSEN: Well, they were accused of whining as we saw the women in presidential campaign. That's why organizations like Time's Up and Supermajority and Planned Parenthood, that's why those of us on the outside have to have her back because she can't say things. Even the campaign can't say things because it inures (ph) to Joe Biden whining.
Really those of us on the outside and you in the news media have to pay attention to this in a way that the candidates can't afford to.
STELTER: I still can't believe we're talking about this in 2020 when we're showing video from 1984 with a female vice presidential candidate back then, and now, we're in 2020, we're still having to talk about whether we're going to have a vice presidential candidate -- a vice president who's a woman, not to mention a woman president. It just -- it pisses me off to no end. But I'll leave it to that.
Errin, you've been covering these veepstakes. Here's CNN's headline saying these top Biden V.P. contenders are facing sexist tropes even in 2020 in this final stretch. What -- what mistakes have you seen in the press coverage? Like what -- what tropes have you seen recently in the news coverage?
ERRIN HAINES, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE 19TH: Well, I mean, I think I would echo everything Hilary said, and to her point and yours, even someone should start a newsroom that deals with that. Oh, wait, we just did, a week ago today.
HAINES : I mean, listen, we don't know -- we're all waiting to find out who Joe Biden is going to pick as his vice presidential running mate, right? But what is known are a couple of things. One, that she will be a woman and the other is that she can expect to be attacked, vilified and criticized for daring to have ambition, capability and a voice in American politics.
And this is really fortunate, to your point, Brian, because we are on the verge of celebrating the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment for which our newsroom is named, but obviously with an asterisk for the omission of black women who had to fight twice as hard to get that vote.
And American women 100 years later are still fighting for respect and a democracy that threats him with special interest group rather than the majority of the electorate, which is who we are. And so, for the women of color in this conversation, what we have seen is a disrespect that is a dual assault on their race and gender.
STELTER: Errin, I'm really glad you mentioned "The 19th", because I also want to plug, it's at 19thNews.org.
And on this week's RELIABLE SOURCES podcast --
HAINES: Thank you so much. Yes.
STELTER: -- I spoke with co-founder and CEO, Emily Ramshaw. So people can check that out. The Apple Podcast, Spotify, whatever podcast service you prefer.
Hilary and Erin, thank you.
Coming up here on the program, what President Trump's walk off at Bedminster yesterday reveals about fact-checking.
STELTER: Let's talk about President Trump and the way he handles male reporters and female reporters. There are differences. I think we can all see them with our own eyes.
There are times when he is questioned by a male reporter. Let's take Jonathan Swan of "Axios" and this incredible interview. If you haven't seen it, you should watch it on YouTube. It is really remarkable.
Repeatedly, Swan fact-checked Trump. Trump barely even reacted. He just kept barreling through with his misinformation, but he did at least tolerate Swan's corrections.
On the other hand, often times, at least several times we've documented, when the president is challenged by a female reporter, he tends to storm out. This is what happened at Bedminster on Saturday. CBS News correspondent Paula Reid pointed out that Trump has been lying about veterans choice for years so Trump walked off the stage.
We've seen this before as well. Let's run the clips from previous times when he's walked out in response to tough questioning from reporters like Kaitlan Collins of CNN and Weijia Jiang of CBS.
As New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen put it, this is a pattern. When women reporters challenge him and make it clear that they will keep insisting, his perimeter defense light up, his systems shut down and he can't process what's happening, so he ends the briefing. Is that what it's all about?
David Zurawik and Nicole Hemmer are with me.
David, do you see what I see, this difference in the way he reacts to men and women?
ZURAWIK: Yes, I do, Brian, I absolutely do. I mean, it's so pronounced some ways that it's an embarrassment to us to have someone who reacts -- who's that problematic in terms of gender as our president. And what I think it is --
STELTER: The flip side, though, when he is forced -- it is notable when he's forced to face the facts, as Paula Reid did yesterday, when he has to hear he's lying, he does -- he didn't -- he didn't double down in that particular case, at least.
ZURAWIK: Well, yes. But it's the combination. It's a -- I think it's about patriarchy, and, control and power, all of those things. He cannot accept being, A, corrected, B, seeing a woman in authority dare to correct him.
And so I think this -- you know, his answer is, I'm going to end the press conference. It's a form of control. And it also, you know --
ZURAWIK: -- I think his advisers would say, keeps him from really hurting himself.
But it's the act of control. He's losing control, because a woman who is in a righteous position representing the people of America and the press is questioning them. And she's right. She's got facts on her side.
STELTER: Yes, she has facts on her side.
ZURAWIK: I'm surprised his head doesn't explode given his history and his background in terms of gender.
STELTER: At the press conference, he was announcing these executive orders that are both possibly unconstitutional, so using powers in new ways, but also underwhelming when you actually look underneath the hood. A lot of these details do not add up. So, he got really big, bold headlines where he appeared to be taking big action, Nicole.
But then, when you look at what he actually did, three of the four executive orders are just memoranda with requests for different government agencies to do different things. This is essentially a media -- I would argue a media stunt where he wants to appear to be in control, helping people or who are suffering, but there's not a lot actually happening beneath the surface.
NICOLE HEMMER, ASSOCIATE RESEARCH SCHOLAR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Right. And we've seen this again and again from the president throughout the course of his administration that he makes these big, bold pronouncements and either doesn't follow through or you scratch the surface and you see there is no, there-there.
And it really comes down to how journalists report on this. How are push notifications look whenever he makes these kinds of announcements because normally, he does get those headlines that he's looking for, and then the follow-up stories a week or two later don't have the same impact. So, I do still think that there's a problem in the coverage where his claims are being amplified before they're really put to the test.
STELTER: Exactly. The headlines missed the mark when they treat it like it's a, you know, a monumental thing. And then only the next day do we actually find out that a lot of this can't be done or that in the case of the payroll tax cut, most companies aren't going to do it.
You know, David, do you think the press still hasn't learned, three and a half years in, still hasn't learned to not just, you know, use a pinch of salt, but to use all the salt when it comes to taking claims with a grain of salt.
ZURAWIK: You know, Brian, I think the press tries and tries. We are always behind the curve with this guy. You know, I think in February 2016, I said if I was more religious, I believe Trump was put on this earth to test American and world journalism. He does. He does this. He is getting away with that. You're absolutely right.
But then you see the fact-checking that CNN does, and the Post does especially, and you say they're going all out. There trying to do it, but he -- nobody has ever transgressed so many sort of boundaries the way he does. And in some cases, we are -- it does kind of blow our minds. We have to sort of settle back and go, wow, nobody could do that. He did it. It's awful. How do we respond to it?
And also, we have to be careful. There are a lot of people out there fed by him and by right-wing messaging that say you're being unfair to Trump, you go out of your way to criticize Trump, blah, blah, blah, and it undermines our credibility even though we have to question him the way we do.
You know, it started back when the New York Times decided to call him a liar on page one. Remember our great hand wringing about that. Well, he was a liar which -- but our traditions go against being that hard in terms of -- and clear -- and clear in a way in terms of labeling someone like him because we've never had the labels. Lyndon Johnson lied, but not like this.
STELTER: David, Nicole, thank you both. T-minus two weeks until my book about Trump and Fox News comes out. It is called Hoax, and it is the untold story of the past five years of Trump's T.V. addiction. Go to buyhoax.com right now to preorder your copy.
Up next, we're going to go live to Tampa, Florida, to hear from a newsroom that is overwhelmed by obituaries for COVID-19 victims.
STELTER: Nearly every day, the Coronavirus crisis is claiming more than 1,000 lives in the United States. The scale is almost unfathomable. The numbers are heart-wrenching. And some news outlets are setting out to honor the individual lives lost. Here's the project of the Seattle Times called lives remembered. And here's the Boston Herald Tribune. It gives prominence to "people more for how they lived than how they died."
Here on CNN, Wolf Blitzer has an "IN MEMORIAM" segment for the people behind the pandemic in the evening during the "SITUATION ROOM." And in Florida, where death counts are soaring, the Tampa Bay Times has committed to honoring every life lost to COVID in the state, but it has been a struggle sometimes to keep up. Reporters have been working on this since April, profiling individuals with moving vignettes, but there have been a deluge of deaths since then.
Joining me now is Claire McNeill. She's a Tampa Bay Times reporter, one of six working on this project. Am I characterizing it fairly, Claire, that this has been hard to keep up, that you've been overwhelmed by the number of obits that you need to write? CLAIRE MCNEILL, ENTERPRISE REPORTER, TAMPA BAY TIMES: Absolutely. I spent two weeks recently chipping away at this project while reporting on other stories and even spending hours coming through medical examiner's records and searching for obituaries. We just can't keep up with the daily death toll.
STELTER: Do you think you'll be able to eventually write vignettes for each life lost?
MCNEILL: We of course hope so, but at this point, we have about 300 collected in our project and the death toll has already passed 8,000. So, we have fewer than four percent. And this is with a weekly effort with rotating reporters to make sure that we can stay attuned to this and it's just hard to watch the numbers pile up like this.
STELTER: Very hard, yes. You know, the newspaper, if you read the print paper, sometimes people see paid death notices, which means a family decided to buy what looks like an obit. But then what you're doing is editorially driven. It's by the newsroom. These are obituaries where you interview family members and loved ones to write these stories.
What I've noticed reading local papers is there's an increased number of both. There are more death notices because there are more deaths and there are more obituaries. What's the secret to writing an obituary that you feel proud of at the end of the day?
MCNEILL: I think the key to a good obituary is talking to a family member long enough that you get past the things like their smile, lighting up a room, and you get to the real details that tell you about person's life, like that they were an amazing sandwich maker, or that they lived their whole lives waiting for their sports team to make it to the playoffs. Like these things that make them a real person that stays with you beyond cliches and beyond the language of grief.
STELTER: Right, right, absolutely. Claire, thank you very much for being here and best of luck with this project. Tell people how they can find it, and how they can help.
MCNEILL: Sure. On TampaBay.com, you'll see a link to our obituary project, as well as a Google Form within that page where you can submit memories of your loved one. And I think for us, it's just a way of saying that even as the death toll grows, we're still going to be here, we're still paying attention. Every life matters and no death is faceless. So please help us make this project a reality as we -- as we keep marking the losses.
STELTER: Claire, thank you. And let me just note, you know, we have to always remember in this coverage, America doesn't know the true death toll. The death toll is higher than we all know. The excess deaths in this country may already be over 200,000 this year, because there's not enough testing, and the testing is full of delays and failures. We don't know the true of this calamity. You know, as bad as we think it is, as bad as the data indicates, it
is even worse. If you're not angry about that, you are not paying attention. More RELIABLE SOURCES in a moment.
STELTER: Now to President Trump's Potemkin village. There is some disturbing new reporting in today's Washington Post titled, "How Trump fell short in containing the virus." And there's a quote in the story from an administration source saying that Trump's aides are trying to build him a Potemkin village every day.
So, what is that? Let's go to dictionary.com. Here's the definition. A pretentiously showy or imposing facade intended to mask or divert attention from an embarrassing or shabby fact or condition, a Potemkin village. This is a concept often covered in politics, in economics. It's got roots in Russia as well where, you know, these buildings will be put up to appear to be impressive facades, but they're not.
Here's how the art -- the photographer Gregor Sailer depicted this concept. He found these artificial constructions all around the world, these Potemkin villages, where you're supposed to be impressed by the outside, but there's nothing going on inside. And that is a way to summarize the Trump administration's failures about the Coronavirus.
The President is being fed information by his aides to make him feel good that is actually misleading him and making the situation worse. Again, front page of The Washington Post today, here's the quote from a senior administration official involved in the epidemic response.
"Everyone is busy trying to create a Potemkin village for him every day. You're not supposed to see this behavior in liberal democracies that are founded on principles of rule of law. Everyone bends over backwards to create this Potemkin village for him and for his inner circle."
That's scary. That's cultish. But I want to show you how this, this behavior about the pandemic is actually linked to the President's behavior of about three and a half years, how his bad sources of information where people cherry-pick what to show him what to put in front of them, how Fox News stars mislead him, how that's crippled his entire presidency. And I think one of the ways it crippled his presidency is in relation to the Mueller probe.
So, let's bring in CNN's Chief Legal Analyst and New Yorker Staff Writer Jeffrey Toobin. Toobin is out with a big brand new book titled True Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Investigation of Donald Trump. Toobin, I would think it toward the end of your book, as you were writing this as the pandemic was upending the country this spring, so you had to address the epidemic toward the end of your book.
And you do see some connections you have some parallels between Trump's handling of the Mueller probe and how that affected his presidency, and what's happened this year. So, can you tell us what those connections are?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think, you know, the through-line of all of this is lying. He's lying about what went on in the past and what's going on in the future. You know, one of the things that we heard from the President over and over again, even after the Mueller report came out was, you know, no obstruction and no -- and no collusion.
You know, there was an abundance of evidence of obstruction of justice, but the sheer repetition of that mantra became, you know, factual to the people who supported him. You know, in the pandemic, it has been a constant stream of similar lies from the president. You know, anyone can get a test whenever they want, you know, we're doing great, we're doing better than other countries. The only reason the numbers are going up is because we're doing more testing.
All of these lies are consistent with how he dealt with the accusations throughout the Mueller investigation and especially during the impeachment proceeding where you know, he kept saying that the phone call with President Zelensky was perfect. You know, repetition is not truth, but repetition is how Donald Trump deals with inconvenient facts.
STELTER: Right, absolutely. And arguably, it worked. I mean, let's look at the result of the Mueller probe, the way you end your book, you know, through impeachment, as pandemic is beginning, like it's worked for him at least to the -- in the short term?
TOOBIN: Well, it has -- it has to a certain extent. I mean, I think, you know, in the sweep of history, the President will still look terrible based on what went on in the Mueller report. And as I lay out in the book, I think Mueller himself made some mistakes that allowed Trump to defeat the -- you know, the worst accusations that then Mueller leveled.
But you know, this is a president who has never been particularly popular with the American people. This is a president who is behind when it comes to reelection. Now, obviously, the most important thing in terms of Trump's legacy and in terms of the legacy of the investigations I write about is what happens in the election. Because if he is reelected, it will be a complete repudiation of Mueller, of the impeachment, and a recognition that the public simply didn't care about that.
But the election hasn't happened yet, and if he loses the election, then I think the historical legacy will look a little differently than perhaps it does today.
STELTER: Right, right. You just say with regards to the Mueller probe, the drip, drip, drip of news coverage, you know, bombshell after bombshell coming out over days and weeks and months, it wound up benefiting Trump because by the time Mueller came out with this detailed, you know, damning report, people thought they already knew what had happened. TOOBIN: You know, I mean, that's something that was really
fascinating, and it wasn't -- it wasn't Mueller himself. I mean, as you know, this was a leak-free operation, but the excellence of the journalism that we saw from the New York Times, from the Washington Post, and from CNN, among other places.
You know, think about the disclosures. You know, the fact that, you know, the June 2016 meeting, where the e-mail to Donald Trump Jr. and to Jared Kushner said, clearly that this was a Russian government effort to help Donald Trump get reelected. Think about Don McGahn being told to go fire Mueller and then being told to lie about that.
All of those were bombshell, arguably impeachable offenses. But the fact that they came out in piecemeal fashion, and you know, the Trump journalists -- the Trump journalistic infrastructure at Fox News and related entities had the opportunity to process them and excuse them. That really did lessen the impact of the Mueller report even though those facts remain incredibly devastating.
STELTER: Right, the crimes are right there, they're in plain text, but also Bill Barr's letter made all the difference in the world, and you call out the press for that.
TOOBIN: Well, you know, I call out the press but I also -- and of course, the real fault is ma is Barr's because it was an egregious distortion of what -- of what Mueller did and what Mueller found. But Mueller himself, you know, who is someone who really believes in institutions, whether it's the Marine Corps or the FBI or the Department of Justice, he sort of turned the process over to Barr for the public disclosure of his work. He trusted Barr to do an honorable job.
And I think that was indicative of Mueller's -- the fact that he was in many respects a man out of time, that he is someone who had faith in institutions that had been warped by Donald Trump and by our contemporary political culture.
And he left himself helpless to this distortion, especially because as you remember, Barr's letter came out in the middle of March, and the report didn't come out for a month. So Barr's words were the only thing the public had to go on for a month, allowing those impressions to settle in, even though they were deeply contradicted by what Mueller himself wrote.
STELTER: Right, right. Toobin's book is True Crimes and Misdemeanors. It's one of these books where you think you know the story, but you have no idea. Toobin, thank you. More RELIABLE SOURCES in just a moment.
STELTER: Last but not least this hour, a new study from Gallup and the Knight Foundation, with some good and some bad news about the press. First, the bad news. This is a poll based on 20,000 Americans' views of the press. They increasingly feel the media's role is compromised by increasing bias, Republicans more so than Democrats.
They're also overwhelmed by the news. Look at these findings about overwhelming amounts of news overload. Americans feel overwhelmed by the mix of news and non-news on the web, and some tuning out altogether.
But here's the good news. More than eight in 10 Americans have confidence in the media's ability to serve as a healing force, the healing force. The key these people surveyed say is to show respect and understanding for each other. That, of course, is the basics, the building blocks of trust in media.
And there's a lot of interesting findings in this report. You can look it up on the Web sites of Gallup and the Knight Foundation. We'll see you back here on RELIABLE SOURCES this time next week.