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Trump Mocks MSNBC Anchor's Injury; Tracking Fox's Supreme Court Flip-Flops; Local T.V. Station Apologizes For Cover-up Insinuation; What Trump's Patriotic Education Push Is Really About; Longtime WAPO Editor On The Importance Of Voting Rights. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired September 20, 2020 - 11:00   ET



BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter and it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES. This is our weekly look at the story behind the story, and there are a lot of them today.

This hour, a big difference between bogus information on Twitter and B.S. on Fox News.

Plus, how the press should cover the titanic power struggle now under way for the Supreme Court.

Later, bracing for election chaos to come. The legendary former "Washington Post" editor Len Downie will be here with some lessons from the year 2000.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, David Zurawik, many more also coming up.

But, first, there are new signs of democratic backsliding all around us. Is America slouching toward autocracy? And if so, what pro- democracy steps should be taken? And by who? And what's the role of the press at the time like this?

I have answers coming, I promise.

But, first, look at the evidence with me, because every day, it is something new. Political scientists are issuing starker and starker warnings about erosions of democratic norms in the United States. Warnings about things like -- like this -- President Trump stoking fears about voter fraud, saying the election will be rigged unless he wins.

There are so many disturbing stories in the news, many of them that tie back to the government's failures in ways that point toward authoritarianism.

Look, America's failure to control the coronavirus pandemic is related to all of this. The country is nearing 200,000 plus deaths and yet the falsehoods continue from the Trump administration with he and his appointees undermining career scientists who have been trying to get this virus under control.

The CDC, for example, bowing to pressure from the administration. "The New York Times" has had great reporting on this in the past few days.

The president continues to talk about a vaccine as if it's right around the corner and everybody's going to be fine, spreading false hope. These disturbing stories in the news. And I always wonder, how does the rest of the world see this? How does the rest of the world viewing this?

So, we're going to get to that in a moment. There have been headlines this week about Bill Barr that have shocked a lot of political scientists and other experts.

And then the president's continued attacks on the media. He actually said one of the worst things he's ever said about the press the other day at a rally in Minnesota. This was on Friday.

The president's been up there talking lately about MSNBC anchor Ali Velshi, who used to work here on CNN.

So, a couple of thing you should know. First, the president also gets his name wrong, and calls him by the wrong name. Second, the president sometimes said he works at CNN, he actually works at MSNBC now. But that's kind of beside the point.

The president is celebrating the fact that Velshi was hit and injured while covering a peaceful protest in Minnesota last spring.

Let's play the president's words so you can see for yourself.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I remember this guy Welshi (ph), he got hit on the knee with a canister of tear gas and he went down. He was down. My knee, my knee.

Nobody cared. These guys didn't care. They moved him aside and they just walked right -- it was like -- it was the most beautiful thing.


STELTER: The most beautiful thing, he says, and his supporters cheered.

Let's show what actually happened, first of all, it didn't happen the way the president described. But we can show that video of what actually happened. Velshi was hit by a rubber bullet. While he was not in any sort of sense intruding, he was not in the way of police. It seemed like he was targeted at the time.

So, we'll show you the video of what actually happened here. This was in Minneapolis. This was months ago, but for some reason, the president keeps bringing it up and keeps mocking this reporter's injury. That's not democracy.

That's an autocratic thing to do, to sow hatred of the press and celebrate a reporter being injured. He was putting himself in harm's way in order to explain what was happening on the streets of Minneapolis.

He did not break any law. He was not in the way of the police. The president doesn't care about any of that. He brought it up against last night at a rally.

So, let me show you the statement from MSNBC because I think it's important that news outlets show solidarity at moments like this. MSNBC is absolutely right when they say, quote: Freedom of the press is a pillar of our democracy, and when the president mocks a journalist for the injury he sustained while putting himself in harm's way to inform the public, he endangers thousands of other journalists and undermines our freedoms.


That's absolutely correct. This is not just about MSNBC and it's not just about Ali Velshi. It's about the role of the press and the society, the role of the press in a democracy, right?

I know a lot of people don't care about the president's words anymore. His words are worthless, he contradicts himself all the time and he lies through his teeth.

But his supporters, his base does listen and does believe what he says. So, when he mocks and celebrates a reporter's injury, they hear that loud and clear.

It's dangerous. And it's autocratic.

Of course, we're in the season of democracy, the season of an election, and Americans are exercising their freedom, their freedom to vote. The election is already under way and we should cover it that way.

We see the lines in Fairfax, Virginia, for example. We see in other states lines of people making sure they cast their vote early. But in Virginia, let's put that video back up, in Virginia, a group of poll workers and some voters said they felt intimidated when a group of Trump supporters showed up and held sort of a mini rally, a peaceful protest near the voting center. That happened on Saturday.

"The New York Times" headline was pretty clear, saying those folks felt intimidated outside. That doesn't happen in the United States. It's not supposed to happen here.

So, we have to cover these events clear-eyed, their stories clear- eyed. There has always been a segment of the population, a minority of the population that has authoritarian preferences, basically a desire for a stronger leader to provide protection, fewer checks and balances to get in the way. There's always been a minority of Americans who would cheer for someone being shot at a protest. Hit by a rubber bullet. That's always been a minority of the country.

Trump has activated that segment, created permission structures for those Americans to get very loud about their authoritarian preferences. And that's what we see with this talk about Ali Velshi back in Minnesota.

So, I guess what I'm wondering this morning, what I want to find out from our guest is whether Americans are too close to these stories to see what's going on. Do people in other parts of the world see creeping authoritarianism much more clearly than reporters in D.C. and New York? What does it look like from the outside?

Let's talk about it with reporters from around the world. With us now from London is a foreign correspondent for "The Guardian", Luke Harding. In Mumbai, India, Rana Ayyub. And in Nairobi, Kenya, the co- founder of Africa Uncensored, John-Allan Namu.

Thank you all for being here. I want to get to everybody in a moment here.

So, very quickly, John-Allan, first to you, what do you see happening in America? What does America look like today from Nairobi?

JOHN-ALLAN NAMU, CO-FOUNDER, AFRICA UNCENSORED: Well, it's interesting that you ask that because I was just reflecting on what's been going on in America. And it's very Orwellian, how authoritarian starts to establish itself. This is exactly how it happens. So, you establish your own set of facts. You demonize people who have an opposing view and start to divide people into different sections or sub-communities in order for each to win in whatever fight you're winning.

So, it looks fairly clear what's happening in the States, although I have to add a caveat to that. Because of the strength of your institutions, having been built over time, I think what Donald Trump might come away with is a very new and interesting kind of authoritarianism that, perhaps, isn't as complete as we've seen in other parts of the world but is certainly far, far, far away from what Americans have experienced. It's true that Americans are too close to this story to understand what is going on. And they should wake up before November.

STELTER: From Nairobi to Mumbai, Rana Ayyub, you were a contributor to "The Washington Post", to the global opinions section there, an investigative journalist, well known throughout India, how do you view what's happening with President Trump in light of what's happened in India with Modi?

RANA AYYUB, GLOBAL OPINIONS WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, Brian, everything that you said about what's happening in America with Trump taking jive at journalists, calling them out, mocking them, I think India is living in a parallel reality right now under Narendra Republican Modi. And we must not forget, both Narendra Modi and Donald Trump have displayed this bromance over the years.

It was Donald Trump was in India in February, of course, to appeal to the 1.3 million Indian-American voters, invoking the Muslim Ban, invoking Hindu nationalism, invoking China. And hard line sentiments to basically -- and that -- I was there at the rally where millions of Indians were present and the moment he spoke about Muslim extremism, there was a loud cheer.


So, what's happening? I mean, I like many Indians is viewing what's happening in America with a great deal of apprehension and fear and anxiety because this is what authoritarian regimes all over the world that are repeating. And despite their failure in dealing with the pandemic, I mean, India is right behind America with million cases.

And despite their failure, despite unemployment, the fact we end up electing -- re-electing these leaders is kind of unfortunate. It's disheartening to see what's happening in America. It's something very close. I hope Americans wake up and realize that this is -- this really can't continue.

STELTER: Or that it can happen here, right? To say that here in New York, it can happen here and maybe it is happening.

What about you, Luke, in London? You're the author of numerous books, including "Shadow State: Murder, Mayhem and Russia's Remaking of the West" -- do you see what's happening in eastern Europe and Russia as what is happening now in the United States?

LUKE HARDING, FORMER CORRESPONDENT, THE GUARDIAN: Yeah, Brian. I do think there's some kind of depressing parallels. I spent four years in Moscow where attacks on journalists were happening all the time, where authoritarianism was rampant, where the courts did what they were told, where institutions are being hollowed out made servile and you see similar trends in the Trump presidency. I have to say speaking from London to you, it looks like a rolling horror show.

One of the questions that keeps churning in my head is if Joe Biden wins and is able to become president, whether he can reverse everything. Whether he can have restoration of his presidency and we can go from a worm hole back into 2015. I'm not convinced he can. I think the forces with which Donald Trump represents in Congress (ph) you might say are too powerful, too potent.

It looks from the outside as if America is sleepwalking towards what you might call a cold civil war. I know that sounds a bit hyperbolic, but those forces and the fact that people are living in different cognitive bubbles, those who watch Fox, those who watch CNN, parallel realities almost where there's no kind of mutual understanding.

I mean, I think that American democracy is in the most precarious place it's been in the 21st century. I think there's no guarantee necessarily that it will continue if Trump wins again in November.

STELTER: Let me get a sentence from each of you about answers. If the United States is experiencing an autocratic attempt, if there is this Democratic backsliding happening, what should the press do differently?

Luke, first to you and then the others.

HARDING: Well, I think we just have to insist on factuality. I mean, what we've seen, it's interesting you're talking to India and countries where there are sort of right-wing populists in power, is an attempt to sort of attack truth and construct narrative. It's no longer about what's real. It's about who tells the best story and which has an emotional resonance with viewers and with voters.

So, I think what we need is we need proper news. We need CNN, we need good investigations. We also need people to give us their money, actually, to fund decent journalism --


HARDING: -- because it's tough. And we need more --

STELTER: And, Namu, your sentence on what the press should do differently?

NAMU: Well, the thing the press needs to do differently is include as many voices as possible. Yes, Luke is right in terms of being able to have a lot of factuality up front in your bulletins. But the truth of the matter is because of these sub-communities, watching the different news in the same country, then you're never going to be able to bring those people together in terms of seeing the country perhaps as it is.


NAMU: So, it's trying to bring as many diverse voices onto your channels so that people who don't -- who don't share the same views can feel somewhat represented. And that then is able to attack the lie that, you know, presidents like Trump and authoritarian presidents elsewhere would have their supporters believe. Because you believe differently, therefore, the other side is wrong.

STELTER: And, Rana, last word to you.

AYYUB: Well, Brian, what's happening in America, what's happening in India has happened less for us, lesson for journalists all over the world. Modi has not taken a single press conference or spoken to a single journalist. He has discredited almost every journalist.

And I think now is a time when journalists should use all their might to not be intimidated and silenced by those in power because now is a time when journalism should shine. I mean, there is a backlash against journalism and there should be a backlash against this backlash.


We should come out with the truth. We should not be silenced by this regime because journalists have become the new enemy of the state. And both Trump and Modi see us as enemies, number one, which is why we should present the truth as it is without being threatened by the regime.

STELTER: Yeah, we are not the enemy of people. We are the enemy of liars, an enemy of liars. I'm going to say it over and over until my face turns blue.

Thank you to everybody for joining me and starting us off this hour.

Speaking of attacks on journalists, the president has been blasting the 1619 project. Nikole Hannah-Jones is here to react.

Plus, you're going to hear what the pro-Trump media is saying about the Supreme Court fight. We've got brand-new reporting in just a moment.


STELTER: And we are back here on RELIABLE SOURCES.

Of course, on a weekend that is so somber and so mournful in the United States, on Friday night, I think we'll all remember where we were that moment when we heard about the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.


Now, of course, there's in Supreme Court fight, this titanic struggle under way, hypocrisy in many different directions, and I do want to show you what pro-Trump media stars are saying about this fight.

But, first, let me bring in my guests. David Zurawik is here, "The Baltimore Sun" media critic and Julie Cohen, co-director of the extraordinary CNN film "RBG" which is going to rebroadcast at 10:00 p.m. Eastern today.

Julie, thank you for coming on, and I wonder -- I was watching your film last night here on CNN and thinking what lessons can we take from the film, and from your documentary, that apply to this epic struggle that's now under way?

JULIE COHEN, CO-DIRECTOR, "RBG": Well, you know, things have changed quite a bit since RBG was confirmed to the Supreme Court in 1993. She liked to harken back to those days when she was confirmed 96-3 and her great pal, Justice Antonin Scalia, was confirmed unanimously to the Supreme Court, like in her view, if the person was qualified, like that should be the answer.

Of course, things at this point are so political that that -- that seems kind of like a dream world to talk about things that way.

STELTER: Yeah, it really does.

Let's take a look at what Jesse Waters was saying on Fox News last night, one of the president's most reliable allies on the network.

Here's -- here's the level of the rhetoric that he was using to describe this fight for RBG's seat.


JESSE WATTERS, HOST, FOX NEWS: Mitch, don't overthink this. Push hard for a vote before the election. Whip the vote and pull the trigger.

We're dealing with blood-thirsty political killers on the left. Buck up and do your jobs, Republicans.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: Talk about authoritarian and creep. He's talking about Democrats as blood-thirsty political killers, David Zurawik.

DAVID ZURAWIK, BALTIMORE SUN MEDIA CRITIC: You know, I watched that, Brian, last night. And I thought, oh, my god, you know, this is going to be so ugly.

We already had six weeks ahead of us that were going to be epic in terms of the battle between Biden and Trump. In terms of media, what they were going to do.

Then you put this Supreme Court fight on top of it, and then you have the right-wing media -- this isn't cheerleadering. This is beyond rabble-rousing. This is waving the shirt and calling for blood.

And I'll tell you what, Brian, we have to admit, we in the mainstream press have to admit that we are at a disadvantage in this. We were founded and we operate -- CNN operates at a journalistic institution. We play by those rules.

Fox News, as you so -- as you chronicle in your book so well, Fox News, Breitbart, "Daily Caller", many of these right-wing outlets were founded as political tools to aid an ideology and to aid candidates.

If your goal as a political outlet to just simply win, you can lie -- you can be just like Donald Trump. You can lie, you can smear, you can libel, slander, do all of that. The goal is to win.

STELTER: It's the rhetoric of war --

ZURAWIK: We can't do that. We have to think about that.


STELTER: The rhetoric of war. It's the rhetoric of war, and, unfortunately, there's a lot of it right now.

Let's take a look at 2017, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity talking about the Supreme Court fight back then.


LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: Merrick Garland didn't get a hearing and the Democrats are really mad about that.

The last 70 years, you know, of Supreme Court justice was not confirmed in the final year of a president's term, so that wasn't really out of the ordinary. But it doesn't matter. They wanted that seat.


STELTER: Julie, do flip-flops even matter because Americans view politics as totally hypocritical anyway, Americans are so cynical anyway? Does it matter at all anymore? COHEN: I think you're right. The level of cynicism is so huge. I think

Donald Trump has actually helped to create this mood of, like, everybody's a liar. You can't trust anything.

You know, what's so sad, trying to reflect back on the life of Justice Ginsburg, not just what her death means politically, is how much she tried it stand for and symbolize greater principles, the rule of law, civility, the things that seem like they've gotten completely lost in the political conversation of 2020.

STELTER: Yeah, absolutely. Julie and David, thank you both.

As I mentioned, Julie's film "RBG" is airing later tonight here on CNN, 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time on CNN.

Make sure you've seen it, if you haven't already.

Coming up, how coronavirus denialism is continuing to have deadly consequences. I have new examples to show you.

Plus, what the press and the public need to do about it.



STELTER: Coronavirus denialism continues to have deadly and destabilizing consequences. On Saturday, here's the headline, coronavirus conspiracy theorists clash with police at anti-lockdown protests. That was in London.

Here in the states President Trump held multiple indoor events without any social distancing, almost acting like the virus has been defeated. Television networks kept their crews outside for safety reasons during those events earlier this week.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond interviewed folks heading into one of the rallies and he ran into some clear misinformation.


UNDENTIFIED FEMALE: Doesn't the science say outside and in the sun kills the virus?

UNDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that, too.


UNDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, that's what it says.

DIAMOND: No, it doesn't.


UNDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that's what they said.

UNDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're not reading --


STELTER: Notice how the woman corrects Diamond when she is wrong about that.


Outside in the sun is evidently safer than inside, but the death toll has been gutting all sunny summer long.

Look, denialism takes many shapes. Sometimes it's about seeding doubt, making people think there's a cover-up suggesting they cannot trust the people in charge. Take this story from Tennessee that sounded explosive. The Fox affiliate in Nashville, a station owned by Sinclair accused the city officials of covering up how many cases of COVID-19 were connected to bars and restaurants.

The claim was that there were e-mail showing the case count was actually really low that the bars were safe, but that these big bad city officials were hiding the truth to keep businesses shut down. That was the claim. Nonsense, but right-wing media ran with this claim and attacked the city officials. Tucker Carlson even led with the story on his Thursday night program.

He declared our leaders are lying, he said. And Donald Trump Jr. was so excited he exclaimed the Democratic mayor of Nashville knowingly lied about COVID data. They were so excited about this story, because it's a claim of a cover up, OK. Because it made it seem like the virus wasn't as bad as these evil Democrats were saying. But the crux of the story was simply not true.

As CNN's Oliver Darcy explained in our nightly newsletter, the local station left out critical context. Nashville's Mayor called for an apology and the station did say sorry, along with "we do not believe there was any cover-up. But by then, the story had already spread all around the pro-Trump media ecosystem, making countless conservatives even more dubious, even more distrusting. This nonsense happens all the time.

The other day, Carlson interviewed a "whistleblower" who claimed that she had evidence of a COVID-19 conspiracy in Wuhan, China. But when videos of the interview were shown on social media, Facebook and Instagram intervened by putting a false information label on it, pointing out that fact-checkers had had a really hard time with this.

Twitter has been doing a lot of labeling too. They've slapped multiple warnings on Trump's tweets lately, manipulated video of Joe Biden looking like a loser, false information about mailing voting. Twitter, Facebook, they're actually taking action. Now, they still do have a long way to go when it comes to how they handle demonstrably false information, but they're doing more than Fox News is.

Think about it, right. At least there are labels. At least, these platforms are trying to do something. In the reporting for my book Hoax, I found there's just not a level of accountability at Fox when these mistakes happen or when this misinformation gets spread. Maybe it's not always a mistake.

Look, let's talk more about this issue of labels, right? There's no way to put a label on Fox, but here's the thing. The people who can best inform the rest of us about what's true, the people who can debunk the COVID denialism are the people who have been sick and who have recovered. Let me tell you about one of them. Her name is Anne Robinson, and she was profiled by the Casper Star-Tribune newspaper.

The paper said, she's taken to Facebook to push back on conspiracies. She posts the case counts and the death toll numbers on her Facebook page. And she tries to push back on her neighbors and her friends who still think it's a hoax. Look at what she told the paper. "I still -- I keep still seeing posts saying, Oh, it's just a hoax. It's going to go away on Election Day. And it's like, no, it's not and it's not a hoax. I can tell you firsthand.

Reporter Seth Klarman writes, "When one friend declared that she didn't know anyone who was sick, Anne replied on Facebook, you know me, you know us. That's the ultimate way to counter COVID denialism, one on one, person to person. Instead of spreading disease, spread the truth. For more on this topic, check out our podcast. This week's RELIABLE SOURCES podcast is with Megan Garber of the Atlantic, all about Fox News and the Fox News language. Now, check that out wherever you consume your podcasts.

A quick break here on RELIABLE SOURCES. When we come back, Nikole Hannah-Jones is standing by. We're going to talk about the 1619 Project and the President's attempts to rewrite history.



STELTER: Why is President Trump talking about launching a 1776 commission and giving kids a patriotic education? Well, clearly, it's because of the 1619 Project, the Pulitzer Prize-winning product from the New York Times, an extraordinary piece of journalism, about America's roots, America's roots in slavery.

The creator of the 1619 Project is Nikole Hannah-Jones. And she is with me now to talk about why the President seems to be using this as a culture war issue, attacking the project and attacking journalism. Nicole, thanks for being here.


STELTER: I know you've been dealing with this in the past few days. I suspect it's pretty personal when the President is calling you out saying your project is totally discredited. What's it been like for you personally? I'm worried about you getting threats and things like that. I hope not.

HANNAH-JONES: It's been a tough few weeks. I certainly would not have expected that the President of the United States would be holding press conferences against the project, would make the arguments that learning this history is toxic for children. And yes, I've certainly received threats.

And the project came out a year ago, and to see that it is still there's still such an effort against the project, I think speaks to how challenging this history is and the acceptance of this history is for many Americans.

STELTER: Yes. This weekend, he's out there saying that he's going to get $5 billion from this TikTok deal that he's engineered. And that he wants that $5 billion, according to this Bloomberg headline, to go to funding patriotic education. Are you surprised he's using that phrase patriotic education?

HANNAH-JONES: I'm not surprised by the phrase. I mean, clearly Trump sees this as a tool in the arsenal of the culture war of trying to stoke anger and ire amongst his white supporters. So the idea that conservative viewing of history or history that plays up American exceptionalism and downplays the role of slavery is not surprising to me.

I do think, however, that all Americans no matter their politics should be deeply, deeply concerned that the federal government is trying to indoctrinate students into a specific reading of history that is "patriotic," and that he is trying to, in effect, censor a work of American journalism.


To be clear, the federal government does not set curriculum. We know that, in general, the curriculum that most American students learn does not give them much grounding in the history of slavery. In fact, the Southern Poverty Law Center found that somewhere around only 16 percent of American high school students even though the Civil War was fought over slavery.

So, it's not as if our children need to be saved from a history that overplays the role of slavery. Right now, our children are actually not getting a truly factual understanding of our history as it is.

STELTER: When you look at all the stories in the news, you know, from Bill Barr's speeches, to the intensity of the Supreme Court fight, to Fox's full-throated defense of all things Trump no matter what, do you think they're all related? Is it all about preserving a White Christian culture in America that feels it's under threat? Is that what it's all about?

HANNAH-JONES: I wouldn't say it's all about that, but it is certainly playing an outsized role. I mean, what we're seeing right now just confirms the thesis of the 1619 Project, why the 1619 Project has to exist. This corrosive divisiveness that is at our founding, this paradox of saying we were founded on the individual rights and freedoms and universal freedoms that we were a democracy, when in fact, we were not, we're still struggling with that tension about who's a full citizen, who should have the right to vote, to some people's votes count more than others. That's what we're seeing the struggles and throes of that right now. Even things like the Electoral College, the fact that we could have a president who wins not by the popular vote of the people, but by representatives of states that actually have smaller populations than the will of the people, that is a throwback to slavery. So our inability to really grapple with the way that these racial divisions that are there at our founding, these racial contradictions that are there at our founding, we can trace so much of the struggles that we see today.

STELTER: 400 years. Hey, by the way, you're working on a couple of books, right? So the project isn't going anywhere.

HANNAH-JONES: The project is not going anywhere. And you know, we are expanding the project into T.V. and film, as well as books. Vast numbers of Americans have appreciated this work, has not made them hate their country. It has made them better understand their country. And really what the 1619 Project is a charge for us to work to live up to the majestic ideas of our founding.

A true great country doesn't have to lie about its past. We were not a country that lived up to our ideals at the founding, but we can work to become that country. And that's really the argument of the project. And I don't understand how anyone can do that is somehow unpatriotic.

STELTER: I wish the President would read it, and then disagree with it, but read it first. Nicole, thank you very much. After a quick break here, these front pages show what's going on. The election is not on November 3rd, the election is already underway. These headlines are about voting in multiple states. So, how should the press be framing this election conversation? Len Downie is next?



STELTER: President Trump continues to chip, chip, chip away the integrity of the U.S. election. He's chipping away at confidence in the results ahead of time. Here he is on Twitter two hours ago saying voting by mail is a scam. It is not. At interviews on Fox and at rallies, he's going further saying that the only way he will lose is if Democrats steal the election from him. He's saying this out loud. He says things like, "it's the only way we are going to lose."

Washington Post opinion columnist Greg Sargent asks a great question about this. He says, "Why isn't this bigger news?" Quoting Sergeant, "Trump is telling untold numbers of supporters that they shouldn't accept a losing outcome as legitimate. So how should the press prepare for this already unprecedented election?

Leonard Downie Jr. is the former executive editor of The Washington Post and the author of the new book coming out Tuesday, all about the story, news, power, politics in the Washington Post. There's some great material in your book, Len, about the year 2000. And the contested election back then. 20 years later, what should the press be doing to prepare for this time? LEONARD DOWNIE JR., FORMER EXECUTIVE EDITOR, WASHINGTON POST: Well, the implicit in your question, Brian, is that we weren't prepared in 2000 for that long count. And we weren't prepared for what was revealed about the difficulties that many people had voting, particularly in Florida. And so now, the press needs -- the news media needs to cover voting as much or more than it covers the rest of the campaign.

Voting has already begun, as you pointed out earlier in the program, and it's time to be covering voting in great depths. But what are there enough polling places? Is a healthy way to go voting and polling places? How are the lines being managed? What are the voting hours like? What is access to voting like? Are people being denied access to voting? Are there things going out on outside polling places designed to intimidate people to prevent them from voting? And then how is the votes going to be counted? How is mail ballots being handled? What are the -- what are the deadlines for that? How will they be counted later?

A couple of -- there have been a couple evening news programs that are taking us inside some of the state -- some of the county counting places and that's important for people to see how their votes are going to be counted.


STELTER: Yes, absolutely. What about this asymmetric ugliness where President Trump is re tweeting somebody calling Joe Biden a pedophile? There's nothing like that happening on the left. Now, do you think that the press is doing it fair enough job of making sure there's not false equivalences, that we're not treating this like it's an equal situation?

DOWNIE: Well, even more so, I think has been covered unequally too much, particularly on television where you get to see what Trump has to say, what the Trump surrogates have to say whether it's telling untruths, and there's not enough from the other side about why that's not true. And I think -- I think beyond false equivalence, there needs to be -- you know, fact-checking exists. There's that wonderful fact- checker on CNN who goes on so fast, who talks even faster than I talk.

But nevertheless, in terms of, I think, actual minutes, there's a lot less minutes devoted to what is the truth is, as opposed to what is being said by Trump and his allies.

STELTER: Right. Right. Hey, your title of your book, All About the Story, this incredible book, it made me think that the real bias in journalism, it's toward the story. And I don't know if viewers understand that. That what journalists really crave is not a political win or lose, it's a great story.

DOWNIE: That's right. That's right. I think I say in there -- I said in a column that I wrote in the Post at one point about why we are being completely unbiased in our coverage. It is not that we favor a particular political party or particular candidate, we just are interested in good stories. And this is this where the rise of Trump came from, he was a great story.

He was a great story before he ran for president. He was a big story when he was running for president. He got a disproportion amount of coverage because he was such a good story. And the media need to find time now in these 40 some days remaining before the election to not be so persuaded by the sexiness of the story as they have to be about finding the facts and producing the facts for the public.

STELTER: Right, and then covering the Democrats as well. I have to be honest with you, I'm feeling kind of giving myself a media critique today because I'm talking so much about Trump and not about his challenger. I think that'll change in about a week because we're going to have these debates. And that's going to really put the two men front and center as equals.

Len, thank you so much for coming on. Again, the book is titled All About the Story, and it's on sale on Tuesday. Coming up here, one more story. We've been saving time for this, a lesson for all of us, including those of us in the press via C-SPAN's viewer calls.



STELTER: Right now, perhaps the world's dominant emotion is pain, the pain caused by the coronavirus and exacerbated by it, the hospitalizations, the job losses, the change to all of our lives, the anxiety about even hugging a loved one. The Press needs to see and hear and reflect this struggle, especially when there's political propaganda claiming that the virus is fading away, that it's around the corner when it's not, and when the damage and the lingering pain will be with us for so long.

In the United States, millions and millions of Americans are struggling because of the pandemic and the economic crisis that is on top of it. And sometimes it's hard to see that. So, C-SPAN's long history of viewer call-in segments have really provided a critical public service in this regard. C-SPAN has been bringing the pained voices of the American people right into our living rooms.

I want you to take a listen to how on Friday some viewers responded to this question from C-SPAN, "How is the pandemic impacted your job?"


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've been unemployed since March 13th. I applied on the 16th. I'm from New Jersey, I have not received yet my first unemployment check.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We like Trump. You know, I helped him win. I really did. But we need some relief now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't go back to work. It would kill me if I did.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm disgusted about the whole situation with the epidemic and the unemployment. And I cannot believe America has turned into this. We are facing eviction right now because of all this.


STELTER: Now, I want you to hear Thea. Thea is 57 years old. She lives in South Carolina.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For some reason, I just can't get no help whatsoever. And I got foreclosure on my -- on my house. I just paid off my car and I just be like in the next couple of months, I'd be living in my car. I don't want to depend on nobody because I've taken care of myself for years, forever, and my children. And I just think this is so awful. I just needed somebody to hear me, to listen to me, because this is wrong. I'm 57 years old. How am I going to make it? I feel like I'm going to be homeless.


STELTER: That's America. This is America. C-SPAN is just making it easier for all of us to hear and see it, and that is vital right now. My wife's a morning show host in New York. She had a couple of callers on the phone on Friday. One of them was in tears about the situation with the schools. What can we do? What can she do in that situation?

She can listen, all of us can listen. All of us can remind each other it is OK not to be OK right now. It's still true. It's true six months ago, it's still true today. None of us are really OK. We need to make sure that the press is bearing witness to the suffering and the pain of the American people and the people all around the world as this pandemic rages on.

So on that note, I want to thank you for joining us on this week's RELIABLE SOURCES. We will see you here this time next week for more RELIABLE.