Return to Transcripts main page

Reliable Sources

Should TV Networks Air The RNC In Full?; Fox News Secrets Revealed In New Book "Hoax;" How Trump Turned The Word 'Hoax' Into A Weapon; Meet The Executive Producer Behind The Dem Convention; Local Papers Keep COVID-19 Crisis Front And Center. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired August 23, 2020 - 11:00   ET



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

This hour, brand-new reporting about what we will see from the Republicans convention, just coming in now. And also this question, will the TV networks carry it live?

Plus, we're going behind the Democrats' big show. How did it work? We're going to talk to the producer who made the virtual all happen. And, of course, all of this going on in the midst of a pandemic.

"L.A. Times" sports columnist Bill Plaschke will be here later this hour to share his COVID-19 story and what the media is missing in its coverage of the virus.

Oh, and Alisyn Camerota is here to interview me about this.

But, first, one DNC down, one RNC to go. And what we are going to see in the next few days is a truth in balance, because if we've learned anything from the Trump years, it's that there's a real likelihood, there's a real forecast of lies coming fast and furious from the president and, sadly, from many of his allies, in these speeches, in these videos, in these events that we are about to witness.

There's a real difference, there's a real contrast in how much lying and deception takes place between Trump world and other parts of the political universe. I don't think we can paint with too broad of a brush, Democrats versus Republicans. But it's definitely Trump world versus other political leaders. I think it's something call asymmetric lying.

I mean, look at this, this is from the DNC. A CNN fact-checking team led by Daniel Dale, checked out the DNC speeches. Here's a review of the first two nights saying the major speakers mostly spoke in generalities but when they made assertions of facts, they have been largely accurate. The checking of Biden's speech on Thursday found pretty much the same thing.

But at the RNC, at the Republican convention, starting Monday, we can expect a grievance convention where speakers will rant and rave against the media. We know there are going to be right-wing Internet celebrities, kind of straight off Fox News, speaking at this virtual or partly in-person convention.

I think we can expect, sadly, misinformation about voting, which is going to put news outlets in tough positions about when to interrupt, when to fact-check and how. There's probably also going to be headlines about COVID-19 and safety concerns, since the president really wants to have a crowd, he wants to have an audience, some type of audience when he is speaking.

And we know that he will be speaking in some fashion every night. CNN now reporting he plans to speak in some form every night in the 10:00 p.m. hour. The 10:00 p.m. hour is when the broadcast networks carry the conventions live. Of course, CNN and MSNBC carry the 9:00 p.m. of the Democratic Convention live as well. And that's going to be the plan.

But there are discussions in newsrooms about how to handle what is likely to be a stream of lying. All of this, of course, ironic, is that the word? Given the promise the president made at his convention, when he was the nominee in 2016.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here at our convention there will be no lies. We will honor the American people with the truth and nothing else.


STELTER: You know what? I don't need to respond to that. His sister can.


MARYANNE TRUMP BARRY: This goddamn tweet and the lying. Oh, my God, I'm talking too freely, but you know. The change of stories the lack of preparation, the lying, the -- holy (EXPLETIVE DELETED).


STELTER: The lying.

Trump is already lying about the convention. He's been lying about the Democrats' convention. He was out there on Twitter claiming the Democrats cut out the words under God during the Pledge of Allegiance, which they did not. Of course, it happened at two caucuses, not part of the formal program.

The president heard about it on Fox News, got misled and spread the misinformation to millions on Twitter. And it was just another day. It was just Saturday, right? Today is Sunday, tomorrow is Monday. The convention begins on Monday.

And the television networks are going to have interesting choices to make, interesting decisions to make about whether to cut away if there's this stream of disinformation happening live.

Now, I can tell you, Daniel Dale, CNN's fact-checker, he will be standing by. I think you will see him in primetime here on CNN, providing fact-checks which necessary.

But I also think we're going to see asymmetry in the way Fox covers the convention, right? The 9:00 p.m. hour, Hannity was live during the Democrats and not really showing the Democratic convention. I suspect he will show a lot more of the Republican convention.

Here was the scene on Fox when CNN and MSNBC were showing the Democratic campaign ads. Look, I get it, they were campaign ads. But there's an asymmetry in the political universe.


Sometimes it's called "asymmetrical polarization" where there's more extreme behavior going on on the right than on the left.

There is an asymmetry in our media as well where Fox is out there on the right in ways that other networks are not, in the middle or on the left. And what we're seeing currently in our political system in America is asymmetrical lying where one side does it a whole lot more than the other, where one leader and his followers mislead the public a lot more than the other side.

And if we don't tell that story truthfully and honestly, then we're part of the problem. Then we end up misleading people as well.

Let's talk a lot more about this. It's going to be really important in the days to come. What is going to happen, how are the networks going to handle a stream of misinformation? I know my guests have been thinking about this already.

Sara Fischer is with me, a media reporter for "Axios". Peter Hamby is here, the host of Snapchat's "Good Luck America". He's also contributing writer for "Vanity Fair," and a former CNNer. And CNN political commentator Amanda Carpenter, she's a political columnist for "The Bulwark", and the author of "Gaslighting America: Why We Love It When Trump Lies to Us ".

OK, bracing for the lies, Amanda. Let's say it's -- it's 10:15 on Monday night, the president is speaking, he is once again lying to the public about voter fraud, about mail-in voting, about threats to the election. What should the major networks, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, what should they do?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think the networks need to be making preparations now to cover this as a major medical and political disinformation event based on two themes. One, the election is rigged and, two, that Donald Trump thinks that he has a miracle coronavirus cure on the way.

Both of these ideas are dangerous to our health and democracy. And it will call for expertise. I think networks should not be afraid to break in and put an election integrity expert or medical expert on the air. And please keep in mind, this is not just Donald Trump pushing this message. I'm very concerned people are going to be taking the main stage like South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, whose major calling card, the reason she's a star in Trump universe right now is because she's resistant to lockdowns, masking and social distancing.

And so, we know what has happened by airing out this kind of thinking. Our nation has 175,000 Americans dead. And the news networks need to take a deep reflection and look inside themselves to see if they are going to be responsible for pushing more of this kind of thinking with a free pass for the next four nights.

STELTER: Let's talk about the power dynamic here, Peter. You know how this world works. There's a tug -- there's a balance. There's a power balance here between the networks and the Republican convention organizers, because the Republican convention organizers want the entire event to be shown live or as much as possible.

And the broadcast networks, the cable networks other than Fox, they might want to take commercial breaks. They might want to break in for commentary.

Who has the power in this relationship?

PETER HAMBY, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, VANITY FAIR: The president, obviously. I mean --

STELTER: Think so?


STELTER: I think the networks have the power to cut away when he says CNN's fake news, CNN can cut away. Don't we have the power?

HAMBY: You have the power to do that. My point is that, intentionally overall the president of the United States has the ultimate power here because if CNN does cut away to fact-check or interrupt with commentary or punditry, that presents an immediate imbalance to how the Democratic conventions were covered --

STELTER: Oh, right, right.

HAMBY: -- which was essentially two-hour infomercial. So, the president and his supporters are, you know, successful traffickers in bad faith and, you know, asymmetry is the word you used. And they can just say, you know, even if CNN is interrupting with medical expertise, or, you know, knowledge about the elections or mail-in voting, you know, what is stopping Republicans from just saying, here the media goes again? Like you know, like that is where the power lies.

It is a -- they win either way because they have an enemy in the media they have self-styled as the enemy. And if the press cuts into these conventions, that's how they're going to be portrayed.

STELTER: It's so interesting.

Let's look at the ratings for the Democrats because this gives us a sense of how many people are paying attention.

Sara, this is a chart from your "Axios" story showing the ratings for 2020 versus 2016, go up higher, 2012, the highest part of the chart, 2008. So, this has been on the decline for a while. Here's a bar chart with just 2016 and Hillary Clinton versus 2020. The ratings were down 20 percent on an average night. Joe Biden had about 25 million people watching live on TV when he spoke on Thursday night, when exceeded expectations that seemingly everybody agreed upon.


More people watched on streaming but there's no real way to measure it. So, what is your impression of the ratings? Was this a success for the Democrats? Were they able to reach undecided voters, do we know?

SARA FISCHER, MEDIA REPORTER, AXIOS: Yeah, I think it was mostly a success. And you look at the third night, and the ratings were barely down on that third night when Kamala Harris made her historic speech. But I think we shouldn't underestimate not just streaming options here, Brian, but also social media. Because this is a virtual convention, the Democrats were able to prepackage a lot of these clips, prepackage a lot of social moments that people can consume it in real time on social media --


FISCHER: -- like you said, that's really hard to measure. But I think it would wrong to say the engagement and enthusiasm wasn't there.

But to your point, are they reaching independents and are they reaching out to Republicans across the aisle that may be likely to vote for Joe Biden in this cycle? That's harder to say.


FISCHER: We know that Fox News, the viewership dropped dramatically after Sean Hannity's 9:00 p.m. hour. I think what we know is that --


FISCHER: -- enthusiastic Democrats tuned in, but others may not have.

STELTER: And we know that Fox News will have the highest ratings during the Republican convention. That's guaranteed.

Peter, I know what you think about this dynamic, about these ratings. You think there's a lot of fatigue in the population. That's why I wanted to talk to you today because I think all of us in the press who are junkies, we need to remember most people are not junkies.

HAMBY: Yeah. The last time I was on your show, Brian, was after I wrote a piece for "Vanity Fair" about low information voters and some focus group I had had some access to. That's not pejorative term, by the way, low information. Regular people in this country don't follow this stuff the same way you and I and, you know, Amanda and Sara do every single day on Twitter. And I think if you look under the hood in the convention ratings, I

think Sara is absolutely right. It is difficult to divine political outcomes or enthusiasm from these ratings as eyeballs are splintered across the Internet, but, you know, broadcast ratings, you could say, are maybe a little more reflective of general population interests. Those are down 50 percent from the last election cycle.

STELTER: Interesting.

HAMBY: That's a lot. That's a lot.

STELTER: It is, yeah.

HAMBY: But the cable engagement, which I think might be more reflective of sort of high information engaged voters who follow this stuff constantly, that stuff was up.

I wager to predict the inverse for the Republican convention won't be true. In other words, I think CNN and MSNBC will both be up again, you know, unlike Fox this time when during the Democratic convention when those ratings were down.

So, I think you're going to see CNN, MSNBC and Fox go up because not only are you going to have, you know, Republicans watching Fox, I think you're going to have a lot of Democrats who are going to be watching the convention in horror. You're going to have a lot of resistant moms pouring chardonnay to watch the Republican convention. You're going to have people just eating popcorn watching this stuff because the programming that Trump is likely to produce is, as it has been for four years, you know, simultaneously scary for a lot of people but also just purely entertaining.

So, I think you're going to have a lot of people tuning in to CNN, MSNBC to watch the Republican convention as well.

STELTER: And to that point, Peter, Amanda, we're going to hear a lot of commentary about how the GOP convention is dark, how they're painting this dark, dire portrait of America, and then a lot of Trump fans are going to say, no, it's accurate. They're speaking accurately and I feel hopeful watching this thing. It's incredible that our country is so split up into pieces that you can watch the same event and some people will think it's really optimistic and others think it's pessimistic for the same speech, same event.

CARPENTER: Yeah, I mean, people will draw their own conclusions. I think we need to focus on the point what the news networks choose to put on their air.

STELTER: OK, good, yeah.

CARPENTER: As Peter pointed out, there's a lot of low-information voters tuning in for the first time. This is not a normal political event. If Donald Trump wants to stand up and make fun of Joe Biden being in the basement, fine.

But if he's going to go down this road of sowing distrust in the elections with conspiracy theories and peddling harmful health information, the networks have the responsibility to keep people safe.

We know what Fox News is going to do, fine. We know what the Republicans are going to say, fine.

You don't have to play their game. I really hope CNN is responsible for airing truthful information to those voters.

And Donald Trump, he's going to speak all four nights. He doesn't -- given his track record, he doesn't deserve a free pass to do that four nights in a row because there's one number that matters, so much more than the polls or ratings, and that this is the death count. And I hope we don't forget that.

STELTER: Amanda Carpenter, we will not let folks forget about it.


Thank you, Amanda, Peter, Sara.

Speaking of conspiracy theories, Amanda was talking about the disinformation campaigns. I have a big announcement. For the past few years I've been working on a film with documentary filmmaker Andrew Rossi. It's now time for the CNN premiere of "After Truth," the subtitle is "Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News." The cost is sometimes measured in lives. And you can see this for yourself, this Saturday night is the premiere on CNN, Saturday at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time here on CNN.

But coming up next this hour, we're going behind the scenes of the Democratic National Convention with the man who oversaw it all, the executive producer, Ricky Kirshner, he's coming up.



STELTER: And welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

And you may have heard aim coming out with a brand-new book all about President Trump and Fox News. "Hoax", it's titled, "Donald Trump, Fox News and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth." It's on sale Tuesday. And copies are already starting to leak out.

So, to tell you about the book, let me try something a little different. I've asked CNN's Alisyn Camerota, the co-anchor of "NEW DAY" to interview me. Alisyn was a Fox News veteran before joining CNN who this week was back here on the "NEW DAY" set.

So, Alisyn, I figured it was -- it's your show now. You ask me whatever you want.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": I love when you turn the tables like this. This is going to be fun. Riveting, Brian, riveting.

STELTER: Thanks. CAMEROTA: I mean, you know, I consider myself a Foxologist of sorts

and there's a lot of stuff in here that I didn't know the history of. So, why now, why did you want to write this book now?

STELTER: You know, three-plus years into the Trump presidency, I think the only untold story of the Trump years is just how addicted to Fox he is. I think we all know it, we see him tweeting about Fox News segments, but it's even deeper and even worse than people realize.

It's as if President Trump has hijacked Fox News. He has taken over the channel. And because Fox News is the most important media company in America, it's affected all of us. Even people who never watch Fox are affected because the president is misinformed by the channel.

CAMEROTA: And so, how hard was it to sort of figure out all of those interwoven ties between Fox and the Trump administration?

STELTER: Well, actually, a lot of people wanted to talk to me. This I think was the surprise. Hundreds of people in and around Fox News wanted to talk. I felt like I had to write the book because there were so many journalists at Fox News, kind of screaming, trying to blow the whistle on what's happened. They feel like they've been suffocated. They feel like they're being squeezed out by pro-Trump blowhards.

And you don't have to take it from me. If you look at the schedule, that's what's happened hour by hour, programs have been replaced by Trumpier, and Trumpier opinion. That's what works and that's what the viewer wants. And that's partly what's so complicated by this story, right? It's a vicious cycle, a vicious circle.

Viewers want more pro-Trump opinion. That's what they get. It gets more and more extreme. Trump reacts to it. It's like a dog eating its tail at some point.

CAMEROTA: I think you bring up an interesting question that people have always wondered. It's the chicken and egg question.


CAMEROTA: Is Fox giving President Trump instructions or is he giving them instructions for what to cover? Who's leading in charge?

STELTER: Isn't it both? Isn't it both at all times? Like I had producers at "Fox & Friends", again, speaking anonymously, but they said to me, we started programming the show for the president because we knew he was watching.

I had a former producer of "Fox & Friends" say, people think he's telling us what to say. No, we are telling him what to say. There's a power dynamic here unlike anything in the history of modern media.

I think the answer to your question is, it is both. Trump is -- he is feeding talking points to morning and evening hosts. That is happening behind the scenes.

But a lot of the time, Trump is just reacting to what he's watching. For example, this week, the Goodyear Tires thing. That came straight from Fox.

It came straight from Fox News that morning. Trump digested it, kind of spat it back out on Twitter. Created a multi-day waste of a news cycle.

What about you? You left Fox in 2014. How much do you think the channel has changed since then?

CAMEROTA: It's hard for me to say. I mean, that's part of why I read your book with such interest because I can speak very fluently about the Roger Ailes years.


CAMEROTA: You know, I studied him. I knew what he wanted. But the question about what the vision is now, as a viewer --


CAMEROTA: -- it seems like the vision is Trump TV.


CAMEROTA: But what did you find out about what's changed since the Roger Ailes years?

STELTER: So, this is hard to say because it sounds so crazy but most of the people I talked to wish Roger Ailes were still there. They wish he were still in charge. And I hate even saying that out loud because he harassed so many women, he abused his power at Fox.

But all these sources at Fox said to me was, at least we knew who was in charge, at least we knew who the boss was, and at least he stood up to Trump.

I think that's the interesting thing, Alisyn, is that, you know, when Ailes was still in charge, he challenged Trump. He put out statements saying, you need to learn how journalism works. And I think a lot of staffers there feel like Trump wouldn't have been able to take over if Ailes hadn't left a leadership vacuum.

By the way, that's probably Ailes' fault. He didn't want anybody else to rise up the ranks so he left a leadership vacuum and I think Trump felt it. I had an anchor at Fox say to me, a host of Fox say to me, the network was also produced for an audience of one, Roger Ailes. And once Ailes was gone, it was still produced for a person of one, but that person became Trump, that the channel started become produced for Trump.

And whether you're the biggest Trump fan in the world or his worst critic, that's a bad thing for the country.


It is not a good thing for the country to have a president with a propaganda network at his disposal. It actually hurts him. I think it hurts him all the time.

When stars like Hannity try to help him, it actually hurts him because they're feeding him, you know, poisoned information -- obsessing over Portland, obsessing over hate crime hoaxes, other stories that don't help Trump reach the rest of the country. They only please the base.

CAMEROTA: We'll see. I mean, we'll see. They did help elect him. We'll see if it works again. I mean, if all the Portland stuff that he and Fox are hitting so hard, if that ends up resonating, we'll see. I mean, I think the jury is actually still out on that.

STELTER: Coming back live here, what Alisyn just said in our interview, that is the cliffhanger of 2020. What's going to happen with Fox and Trump if Trump wins, if Trump loses? I have a lot of reporting at the end of the book all about that.

So, "Hoax" is available in store and online on Tuesday. E-books, audio books, lots of versions. I do want to tell you, print copies are starting to sell out. We are printing more. But you should go to right now to order your copy.

The narrative is really about the last five years, 2015 to 2020. How this Fox/Trump alliance changed over time, what would have happened if Ailes was still there, and I did have to rewrite a lot of the book when the pandemic began. So, the beginning of the book is the pandemic.

It is -- it is so sad to go back to those months in February and March and think about the missed opportunities. But I think it's also really important we do that and we see how the president was lulled into this false sense of security by what he was watching on Fox News.

Now, it is your turn to ask me questions. So, for the next 30 minutes or so, email me any questions about the book, to, or tweet at me, and I'll try to answer a few of those questions at the end of the show. My email is

After the break here, I want to get into the word "hoax", what it means, why the president uses it so often and how he's destroying the common ground that we all stand on.

Peter Pomerantsev is next.



STELTER: The effect of the term fake news has started to wear off, so President Trump has switched to a new more malicious word.



Hoax. Hoax. Hoax. Hoax. Hoax.

One of the great hoaxes.

Hoax. Hoax.

The greatest hoax.

Hoax. Hoax. Hoax.

Illegal hoax.

Hoax, it was all a hoax.


Hoax. Hoax. Hoax. It was a total hoax.

Dangerous hoax.

Hoax, it was a total hoax.

Hoax, hoax, it was a total hoax.



STELTER: Right, Brian Kilmeade said. Hoax, this year alone, Trump has tweeted the word more than 100 times. He often relies on in speeches and interviews. He has said it more than 250 times total so far this year on Twitter, at speeches, or rallies, etcetera. He used the word just yesterday on Twitter. And Trump is not alone. The right-wing media, Sean Hannity in particular, often repeat the word as well. It's been said more than 1000 times on Fox so far this year.

What are the corrosive effects? That's actually one of the reasons why I titled my book Hoax. We're going to call it Wingman, but when the pandemic began to upend our lives and Hannity use the word hoax and Trump used the word hoax, they were blaming the Democrats for making too much of a fuss, I realized that the language he uses is poisonous. Hoax, the word hoax is poisonous. And you don't have to take it from me. Let me bring in the senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins University's Agora Institute. Peter Pomerantsev is with me from London.

Peter, as I e-mailed you, I asked you for help, when I was finishing my book because I needed to understand what the effect of the word hoax is. You've written books like This is Not Propaganda, you know, about the war against reality. You've written the book, "Nothing is True and Everything is Possible." We'll get into that in a moment, but first, just the word hoax. What do you think the President of the United States is doing with that word?

PETER POMERANTSEV, SENIOR FELLOW, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY AGORA INSTITUTE: Look, it's quite a clever word. I mean, hoax kind of comes from the word pocus, hocus pocus. It sort of seems to imply that there's some, you know, malign plans, some, you know, devilish agency behind the criticism of him. And that the criticism isn't, you know, is an objective, isn't sort of a thing in itself, that it's actually part of a game or an information war game.

And that kind of -- you know, it's a very clever thing. I see used across the world. Putin does a lot as well. You know, you get rid of the space and the arena where you can have, you know, critical thinking and objective criticism. And instead, every kind of debate becomes a manipulation. So, it's all about the bad guys out to get me rather than the substance of the argument.

STELTER: It is very effective. The reason why I wanted your insight on this is because of one of your other books. It's titled Nothing is True and Everything is Possible. This is about Russia. But that phrase, that that idea, nothing is true and anything, everything is possible, that feels like what America is going through, this destruction of truth.

Just the other day, Rush Limbaugh went on the radio to millions of people and said that Joe Biden might not have given a speech live because it was too good, he must have taped it. There were dozens of reporters in the room. But you know what, nothing is true anymore. Everything is possible. Does that term you applied to Russia, does that apply now to the United States?

POMERANTSEV: You know, I think it's something -- we're actually seeing across the world and we could like go very deep (AUDIO GAP) but very, you know, very simply as a tactic. What it does, you know, it's kind of like undermining people's faith in anything. Just sitting doubts the way Donald Trump likes to go, well, it might be true, but it might not. I've heard about a conspiracy theory out there.



POMERANTSEV: And what it does -- yes. And what it does in the long term, I think, it makes people feel helpless and passive. Because if you can't rely on anything out there, that means you can't change anything, which means you need a strong leader like a Trump or a Putin or a Bolsonaro or Viktor Orban to lead you through this murky, uncertain world. So it has a very, very specific kind of powerful effect, I think.

STELTER: Yes, I've been thinking to myself, you know, you wonder, why is it the one-third of the country, one-third of Americans are unplugged from the normal news system, and they're relying instead on what Trump says and what Fox says. And the reason is, they're told multiple times a day that everything could be a hoax, Russia, the Post Office, you know, hoax, hoax, hoax.

If I said that word to you 1,000 times, you'd start to wonder too. It is -- it's so incredibly demoralizing to think about what's happening in the information world. Do you see any reason for hope or optimism, Peter? Can you end on a positive note for us?

POMERANTSEV: Look, you know, the COVID crisis is horrific, and the human cost is huge, but it does signal I think a lot of people are returned to reality. I mean, kind of the medical profession is the one place where we still trust. You know, we don't really care if our doctor is Trump voter or a Biden voter or whatever. So, the kind of a hope is that the coronavirus is something that shakes people back into, you know, putting their faith firstly in people they can trust, doctors, and secondly, into kind of looking for some sort of objective reality as well.

STELTER: Peter, thank you. Thank you for being here. Folks, I highly recommend Peter's writings on this. It helps understand what's going on. Coming up, pulling back the curtain on this year's Democratic Convention. As I promised, executive producer Ricky Kirshner is next for an exclusive interview.



STELTER: So how did they do it? How did the Democrats pull off a virtual convention with virtually no hiccups? I can barely get my Skype video calls to work. So how did it happen and what can the Republicans learn from it? Let's ask the man who coordinated at all, DNC Executive Producer Ricky Kirshner. He has produced Democratic Convention since 1992. He's also produced many Super Bowl halftime shows, the Tony's, he's won nine Emmy's for that work, and he has nominated for two more Emmy's this year.

Ricky, congratulations on this -- on this work, first of all. I'm curious to see, you know, if Republicans have an equally error-free event. What was the secret? Like how did this work behind the scenes?

RICKY KIRSHNER, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION: Well, thank you, Brian. You know, first of all, if it makes you feel any better, I couldn't figure out how to get this call working either. So, it just proves that --

STELTER: That's true. I didn't want to tell anybody but that's true.

KIRSHNER: So, it just proves that it's really not one person. I mean, there were hundreds of people on our team, technicians, our tech managers, our producers, field producers, advanced people that made this work. And it's nice of you to interview me and give me credit, but I just want to give them all the credit for what happened.

STELTER: Yes, let's look at those pictures. We've got Glenn Weiss, the director there calling the shots in his family room in California. But here are photos of some of the other hundreds of staffers. How many people does it take to pull this off?

KIRSHNER: Well, I mean, our staff was probably about 100. But then when you add in the local stagehands in four different cities, and then advance people out doing the roll-call and filmmakers who contributed to the films are probably in the five, 600 by the time you're done. And actually --

STELTER: I imagine --

KIRSHNER: I'm sorry. You know, the convention doesn't have a credit roll at the end. We're going to publish our credit list somewhere and if you guys would link to it so people can tell their mother they really worked on the show. That'd be great.

STELTER: Yes, right, exactly. I can imagine you don't want to give the Republicans help about their convention, but what might they learn from what you did?

KIRSHNER: You know, here's the thing. I always -- it always bothers me when other producers talk about my show. Critics are supposed to talk about it. And I just think producers know how hard these things are to do. And so, if you know how hard it is to do, you shouldn't critique someone's work.

Since they haven't done it yet, I can say that there's a lot of coordination going on. You know, we had four or five, six different plans. We're supposed to be in the Fiserv Arena in Milwaukee, and then we move to a smaller venue, and then we spread out to virtual. But our plan was always to reach out to America and it was always to bring America into the convention.

And so we had the technology set up and you know, people, even CNN, I just saw an article the other day, like a week before, was calling us a Zoom call convention, which wasn't very nice, but I think we got past that and we had the technology way past the Zoom call.

STELTER: Yes, it does seem like it did. And I think what people liked the most is seeing real Americans, seeing the entire country. Do you think that the pandemic and being forced to produce it this way is going to change conventions from now on?

KIRSHNER: I do. But I do also think that we need some human interaction. So I think it'll be a bit of a hybrid as you go forward. People still want to get together. There's still a lot of business of the convention that behind the scenes people don't realize what's going on, caucus meetings and things like that, which are happening via Zoom. But I think you know that -- once again, I do think the reaching out to America.

And I just want to point out that Stephanie cutter, who's a person that's on CNN a lot was the person responsible for, you know, all of the messaging, most of the messaging, her and her team, and Addisu Demissie from the campaign side and (INAUDIBLE). So, I don't want to take credit for a lot of the work that they did either.

STELTER: Yes. Hey, what did you think when Rush Limbaugh lied to the country and said that you all taped the speech with Biden? It's a crazy idea.

KIRSHNER: You know what, if they taped it, then they taped into -- they send us a tape and we weren't, they really fooled us, because we're in the control room shooting it live. So, it would have been amazing how they slip that in on us.


STELTER: Right. Right, right, right. It's crazy. All right, Ricky, thank you so much. Thanks for being here. Coming up, one columnist experience with COVID-19. It broke to the norm. This was a must be column in the L.A. Times. Sports Columnist Bill Plaschke joins me in just a moment.


STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. Newspapers are keeping the local impact of the Coronavirus front and center. Here's some of this morning's papers. An average of 1,000 Americans are still dying every day from COVID. I know the story seems repetitive. We have to repeat it.

One journalist broke through an extraordinary column in the L.A. Times. He said behind every Coronavirus statistic, there is unquantifiable human suffering. Those are the words of L.A. Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke. He offered readers a very personal glimpse of the things nobody tells you about having COVID-19.

Bill joins me now. He's well enough thankfully to join. How are you feeling today, Bill? How long have you been fighting this battle?


BILL PLASCHKE, SPORTS COLUMNIST, LOS ANGELES TIMES: I've been fighting for almost a month now. I was cleared and tested negative several days ago, but I still have this cough that just keeps me up at night. And you're like, when's it going to go away? And you realize, nobody knows. Nobody knows what can I get from the doctor for it? Nobody knows. It's a simple cough. It just drives you out of your mind.

STELTER: Is that's what -- is that is the scariest part of this? You wrote in your column about the fear, and I heard -- hadn't heard anybody put it that way before, the fear.

PLASCHKE: Yes, I think that's the thing -- that's the thing nobody talks about is that I had all the regular symptoms, and thank God I avoided the hospitalization. You know, I had chills and fever and hallucinations and the taste and the smell and all that. But what nobody talks about is from the moment the doctor tells you, you have it, you're -- every waking hour, you are scared. You're scared to death that the next few is going to end the hospital. The next cough is going to kill you.

You live in fear and it just, it's insidious. And people say, well, it's just a two-week flu. Well, this is a two-week flu that nobody can cure. So, you've got something in your body that they can't fix. I'm just an ordinary guy with ordinary symptoms, but it's something that they can't fix, and that scares the hell out of you.

STELTER: How did you cope with the fear?

PLASCHKE: I just -- I just tried -- I tried not to think about it, and I tried to -- basically I'd curled up in a ball and prayed. I mean, that's all -- that's what you can do. You wake up in the middle of night in a quarantine house, nobody can take you to the hospital, you're sweating through five shirts, you're coughing up a storm. And again, it's all flu stuff. People have had it before. But you know now, you can't call a doctor because he can't do anything for you.

So, you'd say, you go to the (INAUDIBLE) and you call the ambulance. You go to the hospital. If you're going to go there, are you going to -- are you ever going to get out or you just being a baby, you have to suck it up. You curl up basically in a ball for two weeks hoping it goes away because there's nothing anybody can do.

STELTER: I was looking at some of California's front pages today, Bill. Up in San Francisco, up in Northern California, the fires, these awful fires need to be getting more news coverage than they're getting. Mercury News, the front page says, "2020, when will it end?" Everybody just wants this here to be over. Probably you're feeling that way after having gone through this. Does it feel to you like this country is just careening from one crisis to another?

PLASCHKE: It's unbelievable. And journalists are on the front lines of this. But it's like, it's everything. And I felt even bad to even write about myself in COVID because I felt like this is nothing compared to what people are going through. But there's people -- you know, we have journalists on the front lines, we have journalists taking bullets from police.

One minute we have journalists in standing in fire zones in the next minute. We have journalists in hospitals in next minute. I mean, it's unbelievable. The newspapers have never been more important. I'm so glad you have this show, Brian, because journalism and local journalism has never been more important than it is today.

STELTER: I'm a proud la time subscriber, but I also pay for all my local news services.

PLASCHKE: All right. My man.

STELTER: We've all got to do it. We've all got to do it. And most importantly, you know, think of all these crises, I think we just got to remind each other, it's OK to not be OK. We are almost six months into this pandemic in terms of how it's upended the United States. It's OK to not be alright right now. Bill, thank you very much for telling --

PLASCHKE: It's OK to be scared. You're right. Thank you.

STELTER: It's OK to be scared. Yes. Bill, thank you very much for being here. Before we go, it is your chance at home to interview me. Some of your questions are flooding my inbox. I'm going to answer them in a moment.



STELTER: Before we go, as promised, some of your questions about the findings in my new book Hoax about Donald Trump and Fox News. Two years of reporting here, and here are some of the answers to your questions. Jim asks, why so much fixation on Fox, which gets 3 to 4 million viewers in a country with 330 million people? I get the question a lot. I pulled the data to answer this question.

Fox does have about four million viewers at night, but different people are watching on different days and at different times. Over the course of an entire month, 60 to 70 million people see some of Fox News. That's also true for CNN. 60 to 70 million of people will see some of CNN during the month. So, the power of cable news is not in the moment, it's in the month, it's over the long term. Narratives are set on Fox. Trump hears those narratives gets misled and then lies of the public.

Lori has a question here about the hosts like Hannity who go to campaign rallies, who show up for Trump's events. How is that ethical? It's not ethical, but Hannity is more of an entertainer than a journalist. It is a breach of ethics, but my findings are that there's really nobody in charge of Fox News who can tell him no. And that's a big theme of the book that there's a lack of leadership at Fox News.

The next question here is about the future. What happens if Trump loses and takes all his supporters away and creates his own channel? That is a very real concern inside Fox News and we will talk more about that next week.

And here's one more from Anne. She says, should we expect changes in Fox editorial policy based on the next generation of Murdochs? Yes, James and Lachlan Murdoch, the sons of Rupert. Lachlan is running the company. He is pretty conservative. He's happy with the way things are. James is not. James left the family business, and there are some people out there who think James might try to take over someday. I'm going to have more reporting about that on in the coming days.

Here's one last question coming in from e-mail from Brad. He says, as a father, when your children are adults, will America still be a democracy? Well, I'm probably a little younger than you, Brad. But I know the answer is yes. I absolutely know the answer is yes, period, full stop.

America will still be a democracy because we won't let it slip away. You, me, all of us will not let it slip away. Most people see through the hoaxes that are fogging up America right now. Most people seem to have to keep our eyes wide open and insist on the truth. We're coming up on the top of the hour, so let me just remind you. If you want to order "Hoax," you can buy it at or check it out in stores beginning on Tuesday.

Thank you for your interest. Thank you for your time. Thanks for joining us. And stay tuned. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper is up next.