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Trump The Super-Spreader; How The Trump Propaganda Machine Operates; Town Hall Debate To Be Replaced By Dueling Town Halls; What D.C. Insiders Are Saying About The Polls; The Mass Trauma Of COVID-19; Texan Thought Coronavirus Was An Overblown Media Hoax Until He Got Infected. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired October 11, 2020 - 11:00   ET



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

This hour, the right-wing media's dear leader script, how President Trump's TV and radio allies are part of his propaganda.

Plus, an exclusive interview with Twitter's top spokesman previewing the company's plans for Election Day disinformation. What will the company do? We'll get to the bottom of that coming up.

Plus, the latest on Joe Biden's plans now that there is no debate happening this week.

And later, the story about the election that everyone is too scared to say out loud. What is it? We will tell you in just a few minutes.

But, first, the U.S. president's health remains top of mind, both his physical as well as his mental health. The United States is heading into what pandemic expert Bill Gates says will be a very difficult fall.

But Trump is not preparing the population for that reality. Instead, he is sticking to his discredited script, saying the virus is disappearing. The same thing he tried to say seven or eight months ago.

You know, columnists are always reaching for new ways to describe this aberration of a presidency. They will say he is the liar in chief or conspiracy theorist in chief. Well, here is the new one, here's the new chief, super-spreader in chief. What a 2020 title.

These headlines say he is a super-spreader of the virus, of disinformation, and of anxiety about the election since he won't accept the outcome. Trump's re-election story is much bigger than any single headline or anything he is tweeting because the president is yanking on every lever of state power in an attempt to prop up his campaign.

I am thankful at a time like this for beat reporters who cover all of these agencies. For example, the Postal Service, who are uncovering examples of Trump using and abusing the system. Of course, we know about him trying to stymie the post office. He's also been trying to use taxpayer money for an advertising blitz through the HHS Department. He has been using officials to declassify documents, to push Russian disinformation about Hillary Clinton.

Some of this is happening out loud right in front of us, and other stories are happening in private. Trump is demanding that the attorney general indict his rivals, including Biden and former President Barack Obama. That move "The New York Times" calls taking a page from authoritarians.

The "Times" story points out there is no precedent for this kind of behavior, this authoritarian behavior. And the examples go on and on. The president, for example, promising to deliver drug discount cards to seniors by Election Day. He even wanted a letter with his signature to appear in every food aid box around the country.

This is all found out about, all discovered, thanks to great reporters across the country. And all of these efforts seem to be a bid to prop up his flailing campaign.

Trump is also using the ornaments of state power, like by staging that rally yesterday on the South Lawn. You know, the biggest news out of that rally was the lack of social distancing. It all comes back to COVID whether he wants it to or not.

For a real-time sense of what the president is thinking, how he is feeling, how he is doing, we have his Twitter feed, and it's been a useful guide this week because he started out the week barely tweeting when he was in the hospital, then a sudden burst of tweets, lots of nonsensical re-tweets.

He's been tweeting out absurd claims about Democrats. For example, saying that Democrats want to shut down churches permanently and he tweeted to a video that wasn't from a church. Sometimes he even re- tweets messages that Twitter blocks or deletes from the site like this message attacking Barack Obama.

He called Senator Kamala Harris this week a monster after her debate performance against Vice President Mike Pence.

All these stories, you know, feels like they happened weeks or months ago, but they must be remembered because these are all examples of how the president is feeling, how he's doing, how he's performing in office.

Let's be honest. This week was about the president's physical health, yes, and he just called in to Fox to brag about how well he is feeling. But this week is also about the president's mental health -- how he is feeling, how he is coping with coronavirus, how he is coping with all of these polls showing him more than ten points down.

There are, once again, questions about the president's mental as well as his physical health.

So let's talk about how the press should be approaching this subject with two veteran journalists with me now. Thomas Friedman, the columnist for "The New York Times," and veteran anchorman Dan Rather, author of many books, including "What Unites Us", which I do want to bring up in a moment because it can feel like nothing unites us these days.

Tom Friedman, how should the press be approaching this president who, you know, flails about on twitter like a madman? You have been very blunt and outspoken lately.


How do you think the press should be covering this?

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, Brian, the way I see it is that we are dealing with an engine, and the engine is a president without shame backed by a party without spine, amplified by a network without integrity. And it's what Trump does when he is healthy or seemingly healthy, mentally healthy, let alone unstable that really matters.

And what he is doing right now is running a campaign down two tracks simultaneously. One is using conservative media to gin up as much of his vote as he can usually basically fear tactics. There isn't much of a positive program there.

And the other is to use that president without shame, party without spine, network without integrity to engage in the greatest voter suppression enterprise we've ever seen in American history, basically, to delegitimize any mail-in ballot, because he believes they will favor Democrats, and try to basically create confusion so on Election Day, he will be declared the winner before the mail-in ballots are counted. He will try to prevent those mail-in ballots from ever being counted and try to win the presidency that day.

It's happening before our eyes. And I believe we can't say it often enough and loudly enough.

Brian, there was a biography of Ariel Sharon that was written years ago. It was called "Doesn't Stop at Red Lights," and we always should remember that is Donald Trump. He does not stop at red lights.

STELTER: So who is going to stop him then?

FRIEDMAN: Well, the only thing that can stop him is the American people. Our job is to inform them. Their job is to vote every way they possibly can. Hopefully, in person. If by mail if necessary.

Then we just have to hope that if Biden does win the election and the votes are tabulated, that there will be enough decent Republicans who will not tolerate Trump's efforts to steal the election after the voting.

STELTER: Right, I'm glad you brought it back to this election issue, because the last week for understandable reasons the press has been focused on the president's health, his testing history, all of that, this White House outbreak. But we are -- we are right coming down to the final stretch here. We

can all see what's in front of us, what's about to happen. It's almost like a hurricane we know is going to hit the shore and it's time to board up, which is a terrible thing to say about a U.S. presidential election.

FRIEDMAN: Right. You said it exactly right.


STELTER: Sorry, I apologize for having you both at the same time.

Dan, you covered so many presidential elections. Obviously, this one is different. So, how do you want the press to approach it differently?

DAN RATHER, VETERAN JOURNALIST: Well, first of all, I am a little bit concerned with the press and I do not accept myself in this criticism. Still (INAUDIBLE) too often contortions of, quote, trying to be fair.

There is a line of fairness that we need to adhere to, but we have to report on what is, not what we hope would be the case. And as members of the press, we have to keep doing our job, which is keep telling people, keep reminding people through use of facts and quotes of how unusually unique this is to have, number one, a president who says in advance of the election that if it doesn't appear to go his way, he is going to try to tie it up in the courts and he will not commit to a peaceful transfer of power at the top, even if the indication is that he has lost.

And, number two, there has never been anything approaching this in the way of voter suppression by any president of the United States. And the president has to continue to frame things in that way.

As to his mental condition, I know there is a theory, he is mentally unstable. I am not qualified to say that. I will say this. He is constantly engaging in anger, manic behavior, abusive behavior, mocking behavior, and so often indicating that he would score in the higher 90s in a down (ph) test.

So, you know, we have a combination of selfishness and stupidity operating out of the White House. People, I think, will see that eventually. Will they see it in time to avoid what is ahead for us?

Frequently, in the past, and what I will call normal times, Brian, that there is a fine line between a tragedy and farce. Unfortunately, that was a very long time ago. And the story of the Trump administration is both tragedy and farce.


STELTER: You know, Tom, I am thinking about the debate a few days ago, the vice presidential debate, and how other than the most important question asked was about presidential disability with two candidates in their 70s. Of course, neither vice presidential nominee up there answered the question, right? Nobody wants to talk about it, but it's the most important issue when you have folks this old running for president or are currently in office.

FRIEDMAN: Look, there's no -- there is no question. It was not likely that they would answer it because we all kind of know what the answer is, which is that there is a high probability that Biden or Trump might not be able to finish out his term and, therefore, the vice president does matter.

But I have to reinforce, Brian, what Dan and I said. I think there is only one story in the country right now.


FRIEDMAN: We are seeing something we have never seen before in American history, a massive voter suppression effort. An effort to steal the election even beforehand, before our eyes, and we have to understand, America is on the ballot in this election. America as we have known it.

This could also break and fracture on the morning after November 3rd.

STELTER: Dan and Tom, hold that thought. Tom, we're going to come back to you in a moment. Dan, as well. Both are going to be back with me later in the hour.

Coming up here, the story of one Texas man who thought the virus was an overblown media hoax until he got sick.

And up next, Trump's top source of campaign commercials. Exactly how much free air time did Fox dole out this week?



STELTER: President Trump and his propaganda machine are touting his strength as he recovers from COVID-19. He just told one of his biggest fans, Maria Bartiromo, that he is feeling great, he says he feels fantastic, he says he is immune.

He makes it sound like getting COVID-19 was a good thing.

Here's a clip.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president is in very good shape to fight the battle.


STELTER: He says he is ready to fight the battle. That's what he says.

See, by doing these interviews, the president is seeming like he is accessible. He's acting like he is accessible. He can say he does a lot more interviews than Joe Biden does. On Thursday and Friday, he appeared on three different Fox News shows.

He also called in to Rush Limbaugh's radio show for a two-hour rant session and called into Mark Levin's radio show as well. That totals nearly four hours of presidential talk time.

Perhaps it's good for his lungs. And it was reassuring to hear the president speaking at length, seeming to be on the mend from his COVID battle.

He did also, as I mention, just called back into Maria Bartiromo's show on Fox today and then, of course, what happens is on Fox and on these propaganda shows they then repeat everything the president is saying. So, it's an echo back and forth that happens.

They can recycle misinformation about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and discredit mail-in voting, all these topics he ranted on Twitter about as well in the past week. This propaganda machine tells a deep story. The president and the propaganda machine together tell a deep story.

This is a concept in Arlie Russell Hochschild's book, "Strangers in Their Own Land". She talks about how Tea Party supporters in Louisiana embraced a deep story about the president and about Republican politics, and we can see a deep story now forming about the president and COVID where he battled COVID, he succeeded, he is victorious, and thus, the nation is victorious.

This is straight-up propaganda, but it's a deep emotional story that is being sold to the nation. Most people don't buy it, but some people do.

So, let's talk about it with CNN's senior media reporter Oliver Darcy and Texas A&M communications professor, Jennifer Mercieca. She's the author of "Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Genius of Donald Trump".

So let's start with that rhetorical genius, Jen. When I say deep story, how does that resonate with you? What deep story do you see the president telling?

JENNIFER MERCIECA, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATIONS, TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that Donald Trump ran on in 2016 was American exceptionalism. And most presidents and presidential candidates use American exceptionalism, and when they do that they really are talking about America's obligations to the rest of the world.

But when Trump talks about American exceptionalism, he really means winning. And he considers himself to be the apotheosis or the greatest example of America winning. When he tells his story, he says, I was born on Flag Day, right? That kind of makes him like America himself.

And so, what you are seeing here is Trump trying to perform American exceptionalism, to try to perform America winning because it's a zero- sum game. Either you are winning or you're losing, and he doesn't want to be losing. STELTER: So his body is healing, so the country is healing. He is

strong, so the country is strong.

Are there historical examples of that in a democracy, or is this really just an authoritarian technique?

MERCIECA: It's typically used in authoritarian regimes, that's true. Like I said, American presidents have used American exceptionalism but they use it in a different way and usually don't refer to their own person. Usually it's about American values and how American values are going to see us through hard times. It's not about winning or losing, which is how Trump always frames it.

STELTER: And Fox News is helping with this through these interviews. For example, Dr. Marc Siegel, one of the network's medical analysts, taped an interview on Friday with President Trump.


And it was presented lake presented like a medical visit, Oliver. Why was this so strange to you?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Well, it sounded like something when I was watching it that you would see an authoritarian do in a state-run television network, you know, out in some other country, not in the United States.

You know, Dr. Marc Siegel didn't ask in I tough follow-ups. There were softball questions. And, it frankly stood in contrast to what he asked in the past. In 2016 when Hillary Clinton fainted at that event, he wanted her brain scans. But in this interview with President Trump, he didn't show any interest really in asking for that kind of information.

And I think this goes to a larger point, one that you are making, is that Fox is producing propaganda. You know, there is a difference between honest opinion, holding the same standards for politicians on different sides of the aisle, but coming at the news with a world view.

I don't think anyone has a problem with that, but that's not what Fox is doing. They have totally different standards for Democrats and Republicans, and they produce propaganda on behalf of this White House. I think we should be clear eyed in saying that.

STELTER: The counter from Fox is, they asked Joe Biden to come on, they asked for interviews with Biden and Biden turns them down. So, when the president calls in, of course they say yes.

Let's go back a few days, to the president at Walter Reed, and the photos released by the White House, the videos that were released after the president returned to the White House because, Jen, I know you talked about this in your class with your students. You talked about this kind of approach here. He is signing what appear to be blank documents.

What was the impact of these propagandist I can propagandistic photos and videos?

MERCIECA: Yeah, my students actually brought it up. In my propaganda class, I always invite them to share, you know, what they've noticed in terms of propaganda in the news, and this was what they brought up.

You know, they really saw them as staged. They really saw it as the illusion rather than the actuality. And I think that's very common with Trump. He doesn't care so much about how things really are. He is really interested in how things appear it be one of the things that I noticed about him is that he has a very interesting and sort of distorted version of what it means to perform the presidency.

So the video of him, you know, that seemed like a movie trailer when he came back from the hospital, that to me wasn't presidential. It wasn't presidential in any way. But that's what he thinks it is, to be presidential.

STELTER: Hmm, that balcony shot, you know, on Saturday, I think we're going to see more of that as the head -- the president of the -- the founder of the "Politico" said, nothing really ends well with a balcony shot.

Oliver, let's turn to the debates, the debate about the debates, the president not wanting to have a virtual debate, to Joe Biden said, OK, I will have a town hall on ABC instead.

What do you know about what's going to happen this Thursday? It looks like there will be dueling town halls. Biden will be on ABC. Where is Trump going to be?

DARCY: Trump might be on NBC. My understanding is that NBC town hall is contingent on the president testing negative for the coronavirus for safety reasons and we haven't seen that from the White House yet. So maybe that's why it hasn't been announced.

I am also hearing that if this does go forward, which I think it will, Savannah Guthrie is being talked about as a possible moderator for this event.

But, Brian, we should point out how stunning this is, that the president backed out of that last debate, virtual debate. He is going to maybe get, let's say, 10 million people on NBC town hall if he does it. He could have been in front of 60 million people right before the election.

And this is something that he needs. He needs to change the state of the race. Biden doesn't really need this. And he gave it up for, you know, I don't understand why. It was a political miscalculation, I think, most people will agree on.

STELTER: Let's show the ratings graphic. Seventy-three million viewers for the first debate this year, well over 50 million viewers for the vice presidential debate, that was way up from 2016.

People want these debates. And so, it's a failure not to hold the debate on Thursday. I think this idea of dueling town halls, it's a reflection of where the country is, right? You have to watch different channels to see both candidates.

But as you said, Oliver, this NBC town hall is likely to happen. It will be simulcast on MSNBC, and CBS, and Telemundo. So, it will queue (ph) up a decent audience, but not nearly as many viewers as the debate would have had.

Jennifer, Oliver, thank you both for being here.

Make sure you sign up for our nightly newsletter. Oliver and I will be sending out the nightly RELIABLE SOURCES newsletter later today. You can sign up for free at

Coming up here on the program, the president using his Twitter account to cast doubt about the outcome of the election. So what will social media platforms do when this escalates on November 3rd?

We're going to have answers from Twitter's communications chief, Brandon Borrman. He joins me next.



STELTER: Now to social media and its many effects on the American election. Everywhere you look from Instagram to TikTok, users are being urged to register and to vote. But those positive messages are being counteracted by pollution, by Twitter posts from the president and others questioning the legitimacy of the election.

Now, the company adds warning labels to some of Trump's more outlandish claims. And it now says it has a specific plan for Election Day and beyond.

Here to explain what Twitter is doing to prepare for this coming election storm is Brandon Borrman. He's the vice president of global communications at Twitter, which means he's the company's top spokesman.

So, Brandon, 2016 versus 2020. I sometimes say that social networks were newborn babies at the last election and now, they're toddlers trying to walk around, trying to learn how to walk.

Is that fair? Is that offensive? How do you describe 2016 versus 2020?

BRANDON BORRMAN, VICE PRESIDENT GLOBAL COMMUNICATIONS, TWITTER: Look, first of all, Brian, thank you for having me on.

I hope we're more than toddlers now. I think --

STELTER: I hope so, too.

BORRMAN: -- we are taking a very -- we are clearly taking a very different approach to the election.

We learned a lot over the last four years. We've done elections around the world, in India, Brazil, the E.U., the U.K.

So we had a lot of opportunity to learn and apply all those things in 2020.

And I think if you come to Twitter today, what you're going to find is an application that's a lot more informative. It's easier to find the information you want about candidates and how to vote. You're going to find that we've labeled all of the candidates. So, you know the offices they are running for.

You'll find that we're taking a much more aggressive approach to misinformation, especially misinformation around how this election runs. So, we're providing links out to authoritative third-party sources. In some cases, that's the press. In other cases, that's people like the secretary of state for North Carolina.


BORRMAN: You won't see political advertising because we banned that across the board 18 months ago because of our concern about how that type of paid advertising interferes in the conversation around an election. And you won't see the immense amount of work we have done to address foreign interference in this election, but we have removed tens of thousands of accounts and hundreds of networks that we have been able to connect back to foreign powers.

So, if you look at all of that, I think our approach to 2020 is substantively -- substantively different than where we were in 2016.

STELTER: These labels are a big difference, for example. But sometimes it takes hours to label presidential disinformation from the president's account.

Why does it take so long sometimes?

BORRMAN: Look, every time we introduce a new product feature, a new policy, it's iterative and it takes time to really get better at applying those. I think if you look, we've really only been applying those labels in the last four to six months or so.

I think we have gotten consistently better. As we go into an election night, we understand that the potential volume that we're looking at will require us to be very rapid and in the moment.

And so, we have teams around the world that are already working on this, because 10 million people have already voted. And we'll have teams around the world on election night to be even more aggressive.

STELTER: So 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time on election night, California polls just closed. Trump goes on Twitter and says, "I'm the winner." And, of course, that's nonsense because the networks have not called the race yet, called the election yet.

What does Twitter do to that tweet at 11:00 p.m. on election night?

BORRMAN: To just -- before I answer that question, I just do want to remind people that election is about more than just election night. That's why we've done so much work waiting into this period. We're seeing voting right now we have never seen before, the volume of voting.

STELTER: Right, right.

BORRMAN: Specifically to your question, on the night of -- on Friday, we announced what we think will be our last major changes prior to election night. Part of that was being very clear that you cannot use Twitter regardless of who you are, you cannot use Twitter to declare victory if the race has not been called. And if you do, we're going to put a warning that covers the entire tweet. It will provide an update on that warning of the actual status of that race and then link out to a third-party, whether it's press coverage or election officials to give you an actual source so that you can know the actual status of that race.

STELTER: It sounds like you are, I mentioned earlier, preparing for hurricanes. Is that what it feels like? You're expecting a lot of mis- and disinformation and you're having to brace for it today?

BORRMAN: It's not just about the mis- and disinformation. I think we've gone into this election with our eyes wide open. None of us have experienced an election like this.

I mean, Brian, I've -- I'm a news junkie. Election night is always exciting. It's always entertaining.

But we know there's a lot of unknowns. So, we've spent a lot of time preparing for unknowns that we think we can expect, partially because we know the things we are prepared for are probably not the things that will happen on election night, but we need to be flexible and nimble and able to move quickly.

STELTER: Interesting.

BORRMAN: And part of that, as I said earlier, it is an understanding of our role at Twitter is to protect the conversation around this election. We're one part of a much bigger ecosystem that includes the press, that includes government, and we all hopefully are approaching this election differently in how we work together, should be different as well.

STELTER: Twitter gets a lot of push back from the president and from other conservatives saying that there's a censorship underway here. You all are biased against Trump and biased against Republicans.

You've donated yourself to Joe Biden's campaign and to many other Democratic groups.

Are you biased against the president? Does it matter that you donated to Democrats?

BORRMAN: So I think I'm able to bring objectivity to my job. But more importantly, actually, if you go on my profile on Twitter, you see it's my pinned tweet. Spokespeople at Twitter, the communications department at Twitter, we do not write the policies. We do not make the enforcement decisions.

Our job is to take the decisions that are made by the experts at this company and convey those to the public.

STELTER: I'm looking at your profile right now. It is there. You are B Borrman on Twitter.



STELTER: Do you feel like these platforms get lumped together when they're actually very different? Facebook is making different choices than Twitter, than Reddit, than LinkedIn. Is it frustrating to be lumped together?

BORRMAN: I understand why people do it. But, yes, I think we serve a very different purpose than most of the other platforms do. I think we all have a relatively unique space.

You also have to look I think at the size of the companies. We're much smaller than Facebook or Google. But I think we understand our unique position and that's why we make the decisions we make.

And, again, I go back to the advertising decision, right? Our job is to protect the conversation. And our feeling on paid advertising when it comes to politics is that there is a lot of unknowns.

A single vote can impact millions of people. There is a lot of advertising tools that you let you very specific in targeting individuals. We don't think --


BORRMAN: -- it's fully understood what the risks there (ph) are, and that's why we made that decision, which I think is the decision that Twitter, and Twitter alone --


STELTER: One of the announcements on Friday, it seems like on Friday, you all said you're -- you don't want things to go viral as quickly. You want people to slow down and think twice before posting.

Those are big changes, right, to a social media environment.

Does it feel like this game of whack-a-mole is ever going to get -- it is the world's worst game of whack-a-mole. You're just -- you're always whacking different content.

Somebody on Twitter recently said, yes, we were late to respond to QAnon, the spread of QAnon on the platform.

Will there ever be a day where it feels like the social media platforms are winning this whack-a-mole game and the propagandists are losing?

BORRMAN: Look, I think as you said, as you pointed out in your earlier segment, there's very little said on Twitter that isn't said elsewhere, whether it's going to be on the press or through press conferences or debates. We have to be able to address on our service. And I think we've shown over the last six months our willingness to enforce our rules in a very clear and distinct way. We're going to continue to do that.

There's no question we have room to improve, but we've made significant improvements especially in the last 18 months. You mentioned QAnon. Even the work we've done there in just the last several weeks has reduced engagement in QAnon-related content by more than 50 percent.

Now, there's a lot of space to improve, but we're very clear we're willing to take these actions and we absolutely will.

STELTER: Brandon, thank you for being here. Please come back soon. It's going to be a wild few weeks.

BORRMAN: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: A quick break here, and then a revelation, something that's an open secret among D.C. insiders. So why isn't the press talking about it more?



STELTER: Another day, another national poll showing Joe Biden with a double-digit lead over President Trump. Today, it's a poll by ABC in the Washington Post. CNN's recent poll had Biden up by even more. Head to head matchups have been showing Biden beating Trump all year long. Look at the breakdown of CNN national polling since April, right. It's been a crazy year and yet this looks like a really saying quiet time, just gentle waves lapping up and down Biden always ahead of Trump.

And yet, there are still so many people so nervous about this election, and nervous to believe the polls. I'm seeing it all over the place from MSNBC to Fox.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even if the polls are off, Biden is still very much clearly ahead.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I don't trust it.

JESSE WATTERS, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: The President is doing much better than the polls are saying. These are suppression polls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm personally still scarred from 2016, the poll numbers. Do you believe the polls right now?

(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: What about you? Do you believe the polls should you trust the national and state polls? Let's ask Ryan Lizza, Politico's Chief Washington Correspondent and a CNN Senior Political Analyst, and a first time guest on the program, Clare Malone, Senior Political Writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Clare, these polls point to a potential Biden landslide. Should people believe these polls that have Biden up 10, 12, 16 points?

CLARE MALONE, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: So the short answer is yes, I think you can trust the polls. And yes, the national polls show them up by quite a bit. So, I think there is, you know, in some of those clips you were playing, people do have this emotional reticence to accept polls because of that 2016 hangover.

My caveat is, you should also keep a close eye on state polls, especially key swing state polls. So Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Biden is still up in those states, but by fewer points, by seven or eight points, which is still quite a lot. And he's up by like an average of four in Florida.

So, trust the polls, but also look at the state polls to kind of balance a little bit. But either way you spin it, Biden is doing very well.

STELTER: Right. They're -- all this -- all this data, it's all pointing in the same direction. It's all consistent. And yet, Ryan, every stakeholder has an incentive not to talk about it that way, right? Democrats want people to vote, the Republicans want people to think that Trump is going to surge, and the media wants people to keep watching, is that right?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right. Well, you know, we have an interest in a horse race, I suppose. But look, in 2016, we in the media probably did not prepare the public for the slim chance of a Trump victory, right? As Claire knows, I think FiveThirtyEight and other sites gave Trump a one in three or one four chance of winning. And you know, that's a that's not so bad, considering it's the presidency.

And I think people were so burned by getting it so wrong, because the overwhelming majority of people who cover politics really did believe and predict a Hillary victory. So, there's quite a bit of shock. And so you know, it's like people are always fighting the last war, always readjusting, and now there is this reticence to predict or believe the story that the data has been pointing to as your graphic showed all year.

And I think about two weeks ago I started hearing especially from Republicans, you know, a sense of this thing is over he has collapsed among especially seniors, and the numbers since the last debates have been, you know, particularly bad. A lot of the Pennsylvania numbers, probably the most important state, looking really bad. And just, you know, people don't want to say it out loud, because we don't want to happen -- we don't want a repeat of what happened in 2016. I noticed even the Trump campaign, one of the data people from the

Trump campaign today is tweeting out some state polls that show some similarities in the numbers from 2016 and 2020. So, they're starting to push back against this a little bit and starting to say, oh, this is just going to be a repeat.

And look, I think the responsibility in the media is to prepare the public for the range of outcomes.


STELTER: Yes, there are ranges, right.

LIZZA: A narrow Trump win to an absolute Democratic Biden landslide, and point out that the most --



LIZZA: Right. And point out that's the -- you know, that is the range. And we didn't do a great job of pointing out the range in 2016. But while also letting it be clear that the data is pointing more in the direction of the Biden victory than the narrow Trump win.

STELTER: So, Claire, finally, is this really all about emotions? It's less about the information and more about people's emotions that are wrapped up in these polls.

MALONE: Yes. I mean, I think we -- so data scares people, right. Probability scare people. And I think one of the things that we've been trying to do with the way that we forecast the election is be a lot more accessible to people about how they process those numbers. So, instead of saying, we say Trump has an 86 in 100 chance of losing the election, or Biden has an 86 and 100 chance of winning the election, because that's easier to grasp.

We want to make people understand probabilities, which I do actually think is not an intuitive thing for everyone. And we want to make sure that we're balancing people's emotional reactions with smart data journalism, teaching people how to use the data, think about the data. In some ways, I think, attention to the polls in 2016 was the best learning tool for America or the media that's made us smart (AUDIO GAP) information.

STELTER: Clare and Ryan, thank you both. Let me show you one more poll. This is the most interesting poll that I've seen recently. In 2016, on the question of trust, Trump had the advantage over Hillary Clinton, but now it's a blowout. People think Biden is so much more trustworthy than Trump. And I wonder how much that's going to matter in a few weeks.

After the break here, Dan Rather and Tom Friedman are back. Stay with us.


STELTER: COVID-19 is a mass trauma in the United States and around the world. I know there are so many stories going on, but look to the front pages across the country for a reminder of this mass trauma. Let's look first at Alaska there's a new outbreak being covered by the local paper there in Fairbanks COVID spreading in Alaska.

We head to Colorado, front page this morning in Loveland about deaths in the state. Papers across Iowa are coming together today to profile loved ones who have been lost. Nine papers creating a special feature called Iowa mourns. And other news outlets are covering the ongoing economic catastrophe. It is what it is.

Back with me are the legends Dan Rather and Tom Friedman. Dan, is there anything about this pandemic that unites us? I mentioned the title of your book earlier, What Unites Us. Is there anything about this pandemic that does that?

RATHER: I do think what unites us is a determination to defeat the virus. And we know to do that, we need the very best of our science. And you know, it hasn't been that long ago, the Democrats and Republicans in the country as a whole agreed that the United States should maintain its leadership in science. And now here we have an election in which there is an anti-science administration on the ballot.

And make no mistake, I think climate change is a very important part of it, because climate change ties into unemployment, our national security, how we deal with future pandemics, and it's on the ballot this time. So, I think one of the things that unite us at the moment is the determinaton to defeat the Coronavirus and to do so by maintaining our leadership in science despite the effort in the national leadership to be anti-science.

STELTER: Right, to be anti-science. That's optimistic, but Tom, I'm pretty pessimistic right now. And I wonder where you are on that spectrum when it comes to this test that American democracy is undergoing as we speak.

FRIEDMAN: But, Brian, I'm really worried. You know, Brian, everyone comes to journalism, you know, from some pathway and my introduction to journalism was covering a civil war in Lebanon. I saw a country break apart. I saw what happens when people go all the way. I saw what happens when extremists go all the way and moderates just go away. And to think that it can't happen in America, I think is a real illusion.

What has distinguished us -- you know, Americans are always slow to rise to war. It's not in our blood. So, World War Two, war in Korea, Cold War, you know, we're always slow to get going. But in the past, we always actually were able to come together to be united to face down the enemy. And what is new here, Brian, and what should really worry us is this time, we have not been able to rise together in this war because we have a president whose entire business model is to destroy truth and trust. Unfortunately, we have social networks were really helping him along. STELTER: They absolutely are. And as much as Twitter talks a big game about the plans they have, the steps they're taking, it's all in in the actions they actually put into effect. And we'll see what Twitter, Facebook, and the rest actually do. Dan and Tom, thank you both for being here today.


Before we go, I want to tell you -- share with you the words of Tony Green as told to Eli Saslow of the Washington Post. Tony's quote of talking about COVID, saying, "When President Trump got sick, I had this moment of deja vu back to when I first woke up in the hospital. I know what it's like to be humiliated by this virus. I used to call it the scam-demic. I thought it was an overblown media hoax."

But of course, Tony was sick, as were so many members of his family. He goes on to tell Eli "There's no relief. This virus, I can't escape it. It's torn up our family. It's all over my Facebook. It's the election, it's Trump, it's what I keep thinking about. How many people would have gotten sick if I'd never had a party that weekend? One, maybe two, the grief comes in waves, but that guilt just sits."

There's that word hoax again. He says, he thought it was a hoax, until it happened to his family. Now, there's continuing new studies showing the impact of that rhetoric. Pew is out with new data showing that Republicans are paying less attention to the virus. But this virus is not partisan.

I want to thank all of you who have purchased copies of my book Hoax, who have checked it out so far. It is on sale or wherever books are sold, e-books and audiobooks as well. If you want a signed bookplate for your printed edition of Hoax, e-mail me, The first 100 people to e-mail me, I'll put a signed bookplate in the mail in time. Well, I guess for the election, right?

Thanks for joining us on this week's program. We will see you back here this time next week.