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What Would A "Citizen's Agenda" Look Like?; Yale Professor Explains 10 Pillars Of Fascist Politics; Is Fact-checking The President Futile?; How Magazines Are Trying To Meet This Moment?; A New First Amendment Challenge To Trump. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired August 30, 2020 - 11:00   ET



BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter, and it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the story behind the story. This hour, you're going to hear from the author of "How Fascism Works", because he's so concern about he's seen in the past week.

Also, Daniel Dale shares the story behind this RNC fact-checking moment that went viral.

And later, a new First Amendment lawsuit targeting Trump. Find out why groups like Rock the Vote are sounding the alarm.

We had a lot ahead this hour, including "Vanity Fair" editor in chief, Radhika Jones, and many more.

But, first, a comment about the news agenda, and maybe it's time for a reset for that agenda. The most important story this week was never the lead story on the nightly news or the top story on the homepage.

Instead, it was a story on Friday's "Washington Post" front page, below the headline about Trump drawing battle lines, across the story about Hurricane Laura, the headline there says: "Unemployed Americans feel the sting of abandonment," abandoned by Congress, by lawmakers who let jobless benefits lapse in the middle of a pandemic.

This story is about the jobs crisis that too many people are still in denial about, that too politicians are still ignoring. The story is about Americans like Shawn Gabriel, a single father of two in Parma, Ohio.

Let me read from "The Washington Post" story here. It says Gabriel has learned what it means to struggle since he lost his construction job in March. His landlord sent him an eviction notice after he was a few days late on August rent. Gabe keeps looking for work.

But for now, his family is living off $189 a week that he gets in unemployment benefits, which is not enough to cover his $950 rent, let alone food, electric, Internet, and other expenses.

A hundred eighty-nine dollars a week, is this the best America can do? No. But this is how the Gabriel family is surviving right now. Do you think their top concern is, I don't know, the president's

tweets or street violence in Portland, Oregon? Now, of course, the overnight shooting in Portland is important. It matters, and so does Kenosha and so does the recent march on Washington.

So many of these stories are connected. They all relate to a wake-up call about systemic injustices, inequality, a society under duress.

And I know it can feel overwhelming. It can feel like stories break once an hour, instead of once a day. To be a journalist in the year 2020 is to be a juggler. There are so many stories to juggle, from COVID to the Supreme Court, there's so much every day. There is even an asteroid coming just in time for the election.

But my argument to you is that the voices of the people need to be prioritized more. More than 1,000 Americans are dying every day due to the virus. Let's hear more from their loved ones.

A million American workers are filing for first-time unemployment benefits every week. Let's hear more about their concerns.

That's why "The Washington Post" story was so important. The reporters interviewed a cross-section of 20 Americans who said things like this, what do I care about? I care about putting food in my son's stomach.

Quote: When I figured out that executive order from President Trump wasn't going to mean squat for me, I cried.

Quote: People are going to be homeless and in dead. Quote: I don't even know if they realize in Washington what's going on because they don't see it. They don't see it.

Do those Americans feel seen by the national news media? Or do they think that we spend so much time reacting to whatever story Trump was tweeting about? Are we letting Trump and to a lesser extent Joe Biden set the agenda, instead of the public set the agenda?

Journalism professor Jay Rosen has been advocating to something he calls a citizens agenda for many years. He says he knows it's a dorky title, but it's a way of approaching coverage that begins by asking you, what do you want the candidates to be talking about right now?

Rosen writes: You cannot keep from getting sucked into Trump's agenda without a firm grasp of your own. But where does that agenda come from? It can't come from campaign journalists. Who cares what they think? It has to originate with the voters you are trying to inform.

Voters like Sean Gabriel. Rent is due in two days. He doesn't have the $950 he needs. He may be evicted. It's not his fault. He didn't do anything wrong.

We are still stuck in the middle of a national health emergency. And I get that if you're employed and health, it may not always feel that way, but the Gabriel family feels it, so do millions and millions of others. You know, maybe he should be the next person to interview Trump

instead of Laura Ingraham tomorrow. Maybe he should be the next person to interview Biden. Maybe he should moderate a debate.


Who and what is setting the news agenda right now and does it need a reset?

Let's talk about this with "The New Yorker" columnist and CNN global affairs analyst, Susan Glasser. A technology columnist in "The New York Times," Kevin Roose, and White House report for NPR, Ayesha Rascoe.

Thank you all for coming on, for joining me today.

And I'd like to start with you, Susan, because the reason I've been fired up about this agenda-setting issue is that the president presented this alternative reality during the RNC, where the pandemic is mostly contained and the economy is rebounding. You wrote about this for "The New Yorker" this week. You said the big lie, the biggest lie of all, is that the coronavirus crisis is mostly over.

Do you think that's seeping through into the press and into the public?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, look, Brian, thank you for that provocative opening because I do agree it is extremely important right now to cover what's actually happening and that the Trump campaign is an act of willful projection, it's a big lie.

Now, go back to four years ago, that was also the case, but fast forward, Trump has unspeakable powers compared to four years ago and we're in the middle of this national crisis. In fact, the unemployment crisis is likely to get worse in the coming months as companies realize that the coronavirus isn't just miraculously going away and it doesn't matter what the president says, that reality is reality. But for a journalist, it's a particular challenge, though. We can't just ignore because Trump's saying it and it's not true.

So I think that right now is our big problem. The president of the United States has done something pretty extraordinary in hosting a partisan party on the lawn of the White House in inciting violence among his followers. These aren't just tweets anymore. And so, you have that big challenge, number one.

Number two, I'm just struck by the fact that somehow, it's old news and it can't be that we're in the middle of this coronavirus pandemic. I just was around downtown Washington. There is no urban warfare hellscape that the president painted. What there is, is even little children walking with masks on that the Republican elite apparently can't abide by these public health regulations. So, it's a challenging moment.

STELTER: So, let's talk about where the narratives come from, this narrative in particular about the cities being disaster zones. I hear it every day on Fox. I see it every day on my Facebook feed.

And that's why, Kevin, I'm hoping you can tell us about your findings about Facebook. It seemed to be algorithms are doing a lot of damage right now, disturbing American politics, making folks think that the biggest threats in their lives are, I don't know, anarchists in Portland or Seattle.

What have you found, Kevin, on Facebook recently?

KEVIN ROOSE, TECH COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I've been looking closely at Facebook data for the past several years, and in the past few months it's amazing how dominant the Facebook sort of right wing has become, the pro-Trump part of Facebook. And I pulled a bunch of numbers on this that are in a column I wrote this week about what about Facebook is the silent majority Trump has been talking about.

And it's amazing how little the people who work in the mainstream media don't understand about what's going on in Facebook. It's a completely parallel universe, in which, you know, Trump's response to COVID-19 has been fast and effective, in which these riots in Portland and other cities are the biggest new story in the world in which --


ROOSE: -- in which these sort of culture war controversies become much bigger than anything that happened at the RNC or the DNC, frankly.

I just think we have very little sense of what's happening there, and so I wanted to dive in and investigate it. I was kind of shocked by what I found.

STELTER: It's really important to read your piece on "The New York Times" website about this disconnect, these different realities.

I wanted to go to you, Ayesha, on how you cover the White House with all this in mind, because the president sees all this on his Twitter feed, he tweets out law and order constantly. He's retweeting sensational videos, scary messages about cities.

How do you put this into context while covering the White House for NPR?

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR: What I try to do is step back and not necessarily get into so much the day to day. We have to cover breaking news, but what I try to do is step back and look at this law and order message that president Trump has been throwing out over and over again.

Look at the origins of it. Obviously, there's historical context. Back in the '60s using the law and order message is something that's been used over and over again to appeal to white voters and to scare them about black -- you know, black people in cities coming to, you know, harm you.

And I also looked at the way president Trump has changed the way that he talks about law and order. It used to be that he would talk about -- in 2016, he talked about how he was going to fix the cities and that Democrats were in control.


But vote for me and I'm going to fix the cities.

And now what he says is, I'm going to protect the suburbs from the cities.

STELTER: That's an interesting difference.

RASCOE: Yeah, and he's basically written them off and said I'm going to protect the suburbs. And the subtext there is I'm going to protect white voters from the cities which have black and brown people.

STELTER: I really don't think that narrative works. All the Fox shows running scary on a loop over hour.

And I guess what I want to say is, I'm not denying that there are issues in some of these cities. There's obviously terrible street violence taking place in Portland, for example. But this is about perspective. Susan, I think folks can easily lose their sense of perspective or sense of context about how big and serious the situation is when they see it constantly in a loop on Fox and on Facebook.

GLASSER: Brian, I think that's the key point. It seems to me listening to the Republican convention that Donald Trump and his advisers believe he cannot win if the public has accurate information, and their campaign is based on a systemic campaign of disinformation.

And I can't underscore that enough. It is about creating an alternate reality. And that is something that is just -- I don't think we've ever seen before in a systemic way.

This morning, you have the president of the United States in the middle of this economic crisis, as you pointed out, and the health crisis tweeting -- I think it was 90 tweets by 9:00 a.m. essentially seeking to incite further division and violence in the country, number one.

Number two, he has the same playbook. He doesn't change his script. Fear and law and order were exactly the things that he said at the convention in 2016.

He sort of changed the narrative in an interesting way, as Ayesha pointed out, but he's still law and order is the all-caps slogan. He's using it four years later as an incumbent.

So, does he have no accountability? He ran and promised to do certain things. How can he run to make the country great again that he's currently running? It's a very difficult position for anybody, even a master of disinformation to sustain.

STELTER: And, Kevin, does Facebook -- does Twitter or these platforms care about the confusion that they are sowing about the messaging they are amplifying? ROOSE: I think they say that they care and they certainly have lots of

policies and they make lots of noise about taking down violent extremism or certain misinformation, but I think that the baked-in reality into these systems is they do amplify conflict and controversy, what looks good to an algorithm is when something gets your attention.

And, you know, street violence, danger of Antifa riots coming to the suburbs, that all activates people's fear and fear is a salient emotion. And if you're running on platform that is designed to capture and sort of amplify divisive messages, that's going to happen whether you want it to or not.

STELTER: Yeah. And none of this helps, Sean Gabriel. None of this helps feed his kids. That's why I'm so fired up right now. None of this helps the people that are suffering across the country.

Susan, Kevin, Ayesha, thank you. I wish I could end on a hopeful note but I don't have one yet this morning. We'll try to find one as the hour goes on.

And I do want to take a moment before the break ask thank everyone for your support of my book, "Hoax" because it's a best seller now. And Simon and Schuster is working on printing another 100,000 copies.

So, I want to thank you all of you who have supported the book in the past week. And if you don't have your copy, go to I really think the Fox element of this story is critical to understand and unfortunately it's going to be remain relative until the election.

A quick break and here on RELIABLE SOURCES, and then we're going to turn to the author of a provocative book titled "How Fascism Works". Why does he think there's an important message that you need to know about this week. We're going to talk about that.

Also, "Vanity Fair's" Radhika Jones standing by on the Black Lives Matter in print.

Much more coming up.



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

My next guest says he sees a fascist movement on the rise in the United States. He cites examples like this moment at the RNC the other day when President Trump encouraged his followers to chant "12 more years." Of course, Trump will always say he was joking.

Compare that with headlines like this, Trump continuing to dodge questions about whether he will accept results of the election this November.

So let's talk about that other "F" word, one that doesn't talk about enough.

Jason Stanley is a professor of philosophy at Yale University. He's the author of "How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them."

Jason, I think we should start with, you know, the first day of class, right? The definition of fascism.

JASON STANLEY, AUTHOR, "HOW FASCISM WORKS": Fascism is a cult of the leader who promises national restoration in the face of supposed humiliation by immigrants, minorities, and leftist radicals. The fascist leader creates panic and fear about a takeover by Marxists and leftists and presents himself as the only solution.

STELTER: You've been talking about this for years, of course. You wrote your book a couple years ago. I think only recently I started to see you break through in the media, you know, in national interviews. Do you think the press has been tiptoeing around this for too long and it's finally waking up to a fascist movement in America?

STANLEY: Absolutely. The process is enthralled to what we're all enthralled of. America is a special country. We represent democracy. What happens in every other country surely couldn't happen here -- but it can.

STELTER: And how far down the road would you say it is happening?

STANLEY: Well, we don't have a fascist regime, but arguably, Trumpism is something akin to a fascist social and political movement. And at the very least, we have massive use of fascist tactics. We've got militias roaming the streets.

We have -- we have one of our political parties turning into a cult of a leader. The RNC platform was just whatever Trump wants. That's an extremely worrisome sign.


STELTER: So I'm going to say to you, I'm going to say to you, let's prove it. I want you to prove it, show us rather than tell.

In your book, you have ten pillars of fascist politics. Let's put the first five on screen if we can and let's go through this one by one and tell me how you think these are being shown right now.

The first is a mythic past, appeal to the make America great again because it's not great anymore. Number two, propaganda. Number three, anti-intellectualism.

Did you these on display at the RNC?

STANLEY: Absolutely. In "Mein Kampf", Hitler talks about Germany being humiliated, the empire has been lost, there are foreigners everywhere, the liberals are taking over.

Here we have Confederate monuments are under attack, our history is under attack. We're supposed to be ashamed of our history. We must restore our history in the face of this attack.

So that's the mythic past. He's going to restore our glorious past, meaning the sort of white nationalist past.

STELTER: But, of course, you just said Hitler. That's a way to shut down a conversation. People are going to say, come on. Stop it, Jason.

STANLEY: I'm talking about the propaganda and the messaging, not the policies. We don't have a genocidal regime by any means, but these are tactics used across the board by authoritarians who don't intend genocide or anything like Hitler.

So, there isn't a comparison here between what Trump is doing and his policies. Just in the propaganda he's exploiting, as we'll see.

STELTER: Let's keep going through pillars. Number four is unreality. Number five is hierarchy.

What do you mean by unreality?

STANLEY: Unreality is conspiracy theories. So we had the protocols of the Elders of Zion, a shadowy group of elites is trying to bring communism to the country. They're in cahoots with the media and the bankers and what we have now is QAnon, which is much the same function.

Manhattan elites and Hollywood moguls are destroying the country. The deep state, we need a strong leader to protect us. And behind that we have the threat to our children of pedophilia and sex rings. So this is the kind of conspiracy theory thinking that destroys an information space.

STELTER: Let's go to the next pillars. Victimhood, we see a lot of conservative victimhood in right-wing media. Law and order, well, that's the president's favorite thing. Sexual anxiety, Sodom and Gomorrah.

And tell us about the tenth pillar.

STANLEY: Arbeit macht frei, work shall make you free. So, the idea here is social Darwinism. The idea is that only the fit survive, winning is the only thing that matters.

Hitler's book is called my struggle, "Mein Kampf". The idea is one group has emerged in struggle victorious. We can get rid of the weak. We don't need them.

You know, a pandemic is something that's just going to clear the weak. They have to be sacrificed for the strength of the nation.

STELTER: But no one is literally saying that. Are you talking about what the subtext of the rhetoric is?

STANLEY: The subtext of the rhetoric, why do we have to -- you know, the economy becomes more important than lives of the vulnerable. So what we have in these liberty liberate America, free America rallies is we have people calling for -- you know, we have to return, we have to sacrifice people to the strength of the economy.

So we also have this winning rhetoric, winning matters more than anything. In a liberal democracy, winning is not the primary thing. Equal respect and dignity for all our fellow citizens is.

STELTER: What I hear from pro-Trump media is that the left is fascist. Look at Seattle, they say. They're trying to shut down free speech and terrorize your families with mobs.

What -- are they misusing the word? How do you react to that rhetoric?

STANLEY: So, fascism -- the propaganda, as I say in the propaganda chapter, fascist always call you, call their opponents what they are. So, their opponents are nepotistic, their opponents are corrupt, their opponents are the fascist. So, this is classic.

So, you know, you need -- they're going to come and they're going to police college campuses and police speech to make sure there's free speech. Well, if you're policing speech, that's not free speech. When you're attacking the media, that's not free speech.

STELTER: And, finally, what do you want the press to do differently between now and Election Day?

STANLEY: I want the press not to normalize. I want the press to call out when laws are being violated, to be clear about how, for instance, about the statistics about violent crime.


We have very low violent crime in the United States today historically, especially compared to unemployment rates. So I want the press not to normalize and not to consistently do both-siderism, but to call the facts as they are.

STELTER: Professor, thank you very much. The book is "How Fascism Works".

Coming up here, we're going to talk about propaganda -- the lies, the smears, that came from President Trump this week. How can fact- checkers break through at this point?

You know who I'm about to bring in -- CNN's Daniel Dale, the hardest working man in media, is next.



STELTER: I know it's not a news story anymore. Lies, misinformation from President Trump and his allies, this was evident all week long during the Republican Convention. As I said last week, there is a symmetric lying happening when it comes to Republicans versus the Democrats right now.

And CNN reporter Daniel Dale has been out on front about this. He identified more than 20 false and misleading claims right away as President Trump spoke on Thursday night. He rattled them off live with Anderson Cooper less than 30 minutes after Trump had left the stage. How does he do that? Let's ask him.

Daniel Dale is with me now from Washington. Daniel, at the start of the Trump presidency, you were up at the Toronto Star, you were the Washington correspondent, you were fact-checking for the Toronto Star. You are one of the most important hires CNN has made in years and I would say you're probably the hardest working man in the business right now.

What I want to know is how do you do it? You went viral on Thursday because you seem to get three minutes in fact-checking out without a breath. So, what's the secret?

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: That's a kind question, Brian. Honestly, it's not magic. The thing is that President Trump tells the same lies, makes the same false and misleading claims over and over. I've read or watched every single word he's uttered as President, and so when you read that many Trump words you say, you know, OK, in this speech, he's probably going to say that he's the one who got the Veterans Choice Program passed or that Republicans always protect patients with pre- existing conditions, you know, you have the fact-check in your head. So when he says it again the next time, you can recite the fact-check pretty quick.

STELTER: And the breathing, how to get to this also quickly?

DALE: I had never thought about my breath until people started talking about it. I was just determined to get it in fast. Like I know, you know, post-convention, we have a lot of programming to do, a lot of smart guests to get on, so I just, you know, didn't want them to cut me off and wanted to get another content as quickly as I could.

STELTER: Yes, absolutely. Hey, Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post is out with a column this weekend that is titled "Fact-checking Trump's lies is essential, but it's also increasingly fruitless." She calls you a national treasure, but says, it's increasingly fruitless job. Do you agree at all with her?

DALE: I'm just more optimistic, Brian. I think there are clearly millions of Americans who are not currently receptive to information that's contrary to their belief system. But I think there are millions of Americans who are across the political spectrum. I may not, you know, change how they vote, but that's not the point. The point is to make them more informed.

And I'd also say, Brian, that the principle is important. Even if we are indeed reaching a smaller number of people than we used to in previous eras, we can't just say, oh, Trump has a base of millions of people, they don't care that he lies, so let's abandon this whole thing. I think as journalists, it's incumbent upon us to stand up for truth, really, no matter how many millions of people do or do not believe us at any given time.

STELTER: Let me give you an example for your next article. Here are the ratings for the Democratic Convention versus the Republican Convention. Three of the four nights, the Democrats prevailed. And on the fourth, night you see at the bottom of the screen there, Joe Biden's speech outrated President Trump's speech.

So, he's been on Twitter this weekend, Trump, saying, actually, in the online numbers, the Republicans won big time. So, this is like an apples and oranges thing where he tries to say web video views are the same as T.V. ratings. And this is just one of those, you know, I think -- you know, we don't know if he's lying, about it, he certainly misleading people about it.

What do you think about the concept of something even larger than individual lies, which is narrative checking, reality checking? How do you decide when to do a fact-check and when not to?

DALE: It's hard. It's subjective. You know, often I tried to stick to the clearly false claims. In that speech, I did false and misleading because some of the things he said, like when he says Joe Biden voted for the Iraq war and attacks him for that, that's not false. That's true. Biden did attack him -- Biden did vote for the Iraq war. But it's misleading when you attack someone for voting for the Iraq war without acknowledging that you yourself supported the Iraq War at first.

So, I think, you know, I've been trying to broaden what I do fact- check because I think the dishonesty that Trump is increasingly presenting is at the broader narrative con in addition to the usual false claims.

STELTER: Right, it is about a broader narrative at this point. What about Joe Biden's comments about fact-checking during the debate? There's actually a faulty narrative going around about this. Can you explain that to us?

DALE: Yes. So, Biden made a comment the other day where he said that people including Republicans had advised him that there should be a fact-checker like on the ground on the debate floor fact-checking Trump's lies. But he said, since there won't be, I myself, Joe Biden, will serve as the fact-checker.

Now, some people in, you know, so-called -- so-called resistance Twitter are tweeting, Joe Biden has announced there will be a fact- checker in the debate. Biden has not -- has not said that, no.

STELTER: But I do think now that we are one month from the first debate, the question needs to start being asked. The moderator, what will the moderator do? When will the moderator interrupt? When will the moderator not interrupt? This is a journalistic question of the Trump age and it's going to be on a big stage in one month.


DALE: It's a very tough question. I think, you know, with Trump challenging him when he repeats a false claim is much easier than with Biden or literally almost anyone else in politics because, again, Trump repeat the same lies over and over. So, I think, you know, it's a challenge for a moderator because if Trump lies, you probably know it.

If Biden were to lie, you might not know it, because it might be new, you might be accused of having a double standard. So even though you know, I'm obviously pro-fact checking, I think there are real challenges in the idea of live checking. There are pitfalls. I think it should be done -- I think it should be done when possible, but it's not as easy as some people might suggest.

STELTER: Right. Right. So, I'd be caught up on your sleep this weekend yet. Are you still recovering?

DALE: A little bit? I slept more than I did during the convention, but not fully yet.

STELTER: Well, bad news. But the President has tweeted or re-tweeted like hundreds or like 90 times today, so you've got to check out. Yes, no, go ahead, please.

DALE: Just including false or misleading stuff like he re-tweeted a false or misleading QAnon woman's tweet about Coronavirus stats, so the barrage never stops, Brian.

STELTER: I didn't even -- I admit, I haven't even seen that yet.

DALE: Yes.

STELTER: There's so much to keep up with. All right, Daniel, thank you. Check out our nightly RELIABLE SOURCES newsletter for all the day's media coverage. Sign up for free at After a quick break here on the program, Vanity Fair editor Radhika Jones talking about how magazines are meeting this moment, covering the national conversation around racial injustice.



STELTER: The media is covering America's reckoning with race from every angle, the politics, the policy, the journalism, the human stories. Vanity Fair has dedicated its stunning September issue to the larger questions around racial injustice and police brutality, honoring the life of Breanna Taylor, in this issue that was guest edited by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Several other magazines are also capturing this moment in America. Glamour Magazine spotlighting black hair and issues of discrimination. Here's the Wall Street Journal magazine, Esquire. There are so many really powerful examples. But I wanted to highlight the Vanity Fair issue given that magazine's history.

The editor in chief of Vanity Fair, Radhika Jones, is joining me now. Radhika, tell me about the choice to basically blow up what your plans were for this September issue and try to go head-on and covering the Black Lives Matter Movement and addressing it in Vanity Fair.

RADHIKA JONES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, VANITY FAIR: Well, 2020 has definitely been a year for all of us doing things differently, journalism and publishing.


STELTER: Radhika, thank you very much. Everybody, check out that September issue of Vanity Fair. After the break here, details about a brand new lawsuit taking on President Trump.



STELTER: Voter advocacy groups are suing the Trump administration. So let me show you why. Back in May, President Trump signed this executive order about so-called online censorship. It was widely seen as an attempt to escalate a tit for tat fight with social media platforms since the order came out just days after Twitter flagged one of Trump's tweets about voting has been misleading for the first time.

Now, voting groups are arguing that this order is placing a chilling effect on speech about voting, and discourages platforms from moderating disinformation. This is a really interesting case. Let's talk about it with one of the presidents of one of the groups that is filing this suit. Carolyn DeWitt is the president of Rock the Vote and she's with me now. Carolyn, what's the core of the First Amendment argument here?

CAROLYN DEWITT, PRESIDENT, ROCK THE VOTE: Hi, thanks for having me, Brian. So, you know, the reality is this executive order is threatening First Amendment --

STELTER: I think we might be losing her. Let's see if we can get Carolyn back. You know, the same thing happened to me yesterday on MSNBC. I was doing an interview about my book and all of a sudden mid- sentence, the signal freezes. I was so embarrassed. I felt bad for the anchor.

I think we'll try to get Carolyn back in a moment. We'll take a break for now and see if we can get her back in just a sec.



STELTER: And we are back live on RELIABLE SOURCES. Some technical gremlin interrupted the start of my interview with Carolyn DeWitt. So, we've had her call in instead. We want to hear about her lawsuit. She is the president of the nonpartisan voting advocacy group Rock the Vote. Rock the Vote along with other groups is now suing the Trump administration over its social media executive order.

Carolyn, I got you on the phone. Tell me what the argument in the lawsuit is.

DEWITT: Yes. Hi, Brian. Thanks so much. So, the argument and the issue here is that over the last several federal election cycles, we've seen an increase in both foreign and domestic campaigns, using online platforms in an effort to manipulate our elections by spreading misinformation. And so in response, social media companies and online platforms have updated their terms of service to prevent the spread of that misinformation and interference in our elections.

And so, what the executive order that President Trump issued is that, you know, it's actually pretty deceitfully named. It actually threatens retaliation against those online platforms from trying to correct misinformation. So, it is actually a threat to their first amendment right and to voters receiving accurate information about our election.

STELTER: I see. So that's the lawsuit, it was filed a few days ago. What happens next? What's the next step in this case?

DEWITT: Yes. So, you know, for the sake of our democracy, it's critical that this gets resolved and we're hopeful that the legal system works quickly, but until then, groups like Rock the Vote are, you know, burdened with this kind of absurd extra additional work beyond the critical mission that we have to encourage those to participate in our election. We actually also now have to correct misinformation that is out there, you know, that is coming from not just foreign in domestic actors, but government officials themselves as well.

STELTER: We will keep a very close eye on this. I think it's very interesting. Carolyn, thank you for calling in. Sorry about the technical hiccups earlier.

DEWITT: No, thanks so much. I appreciate it.

STELTER: I tell you, nothing is normal, nothing is easy these days when it comes to media and politics and technology. But I do want to close by thanking you again for the support for my new book Hoax. The title is Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth. We have really exceeded expectations and Simon and Schuster is printing 100,000 more copies to keep up with demand.

I just -- I want to tell you about the core argument in Hoax because, you know, you may have read reviews, you may have heard a star at Fox making fun of me, you might have heard about the book. But here's the core of the argument in Hoax. I say at the beginning of 2017, President Trump, hot off his first election whenever needed help, he needed vetted information. He needed to hear hard truths from people he respected, and he needed to be held accountable.

Instead, so many get Fox fed his worst impulses and helped him deceive the people who voted for him. They encouraged him to perform like a cable news bomb-thrower to pick fights instead of finding common ground, to govern for T.V. ratings instead of tangible results, to supply endless content for their talk shows, and in 202o, to stoke denialism about the pandemic.

That's why this story matters. It's not about me, and at the end of the day, it's not about anybody at Fox. It's about the president downplaying the pandemic and why that happened. That's what Hoax is all about. So thank you for your support thus far. If you're interested in buying a copy, go to

We're out of time here on television, but I do want to let you know about an important film that is streaming right now on HBO Max. This is of course, CNN's behind-the-scenes look at the -- at the campaign season. And it is streaming right now on HBO Max.

It is called "On the Trail." Up next here on television, "STATE OF THE UNION." Stay tuned.