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Trump Administration In Lockdown Mode?; What Election Denialism And COVID Skepticism Have In Common; How The Biden Era Might Change The News Business; How Local Papers Are Informing Readers About COVID- 19; Fox's Biggest Shows Continue To Spread Voter Fraud Lies. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired November 22, 2020 - 11:00   ET



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

Nineteen days now since the presidential election, 19 days, yet, President Trump is still pretending that the election is not over. I have an expert lineup here to weigh in on that.

Also standing by, "Axios" CEO Jim VandeHei on what the Biden administration will mean for the news business.

Plus, Barack Obama's chief complaint about the news media, and then the biggest story of the week, absolute heartbreak across the country as COVID-19 rages out of control. We are going to hear how newsrooms in three heartland hot spots are covering the crisis.

But, first, how much longer will the outgoing president delay the inevitable? And how much damage will he do along the way?

While Trump is obstructing the transition of power, his administration is obstructing the free flow of information.

This is the ultimate show of weakness, being afraid to answer questions or even stand there and field the questions and then try to dodge them. Press briefings have basically disappeared from the White House and from key government agencies.

Let's start at the White House in the press briefing room which we haven't seen much of lately.

Now, Kayleigh McEnany, the press secretary, did show up on Friday. It was her first briefing in seven weeks. She's been avoiding the press just like her boss.

This is the calendar from October when the president spoke to the White House press corps all the time in the days and weeks leading up to the election.

But let's fast forward in November, and you'll see he has not answered a single question from the White House press corps in 19 days. This is an unprecedented streak of silence from the president of the

United States. He is instead choosing to attack the democratic process and try to overturn the election via Twitter, via his tweets, with some of the media using words like attempted coup to describe his actions.

Look, we knew this was going to happen. He telegraphed this years and months before Election Day. He was eroding trust in voting all the while.

And now, his appointees are doing his bidding, avoiding questions, avoiding answering the public's questions.

We still really haven't heard from the General Services Administrator who is choosing to hold up the transfer of power. We have barely heard from Trump's COVID-19 task force, including Vice President Mike Pence.

You know, there was this so-called press conference on Thursday, but it wasn't a press conference at all, because Biden -- excuse me, not Biden -- Pence abruptly left the room when reporters wanted to ask questions.

So Pence didn't take a single question. Look at Jon Karl, like all of us, taking his mic off angrily because the vice president would not answer questions from reporters.

This behavior is not just happening at the White House or the GSA. Let's look to the Pentagon, where acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller has not taken question from reporters when he announced this important step, the withdrawal of thousands of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq coming up just before Inauguration Day. He went out to the briefing. He used the briefing room to announce this and then again he did not answer questions from reporters.

Here is CNN's Ryan Browne pointing out on Twitter, saying Miller refused to take questions on that decision or about anything else.

You know, the last time the Pentagon spokesman when a full-scale, full-fledged press briefing? That was back in July.

And what about the former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper? He last held a briefing in June before being replaced.

This trend, this phenomenon continues throughout Trump's government. The last time Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took questions from State Department journalists was back on November 10th. He's been traveling the world with reporters, but staying away from those reporters.

This is a show of weakness. It is actually an insult to you. Not just to the press. But to you, the American people, when we are in the midst of turmoil, this transition, this state of limbo in America.

For government agencies, taxpayer-funded spokespeople in government agencies to avoid questions and deny the reporters a chance to ask questions is an insult to the American people. It's a show of weakness. So what about the incoming president? What about President-elect

Biden? He has been somewhat available in recent days.

He did hold two sessions this week on camera where he fielded questions from reporters, taking questions from five reporters on Monday, I think four reporters on Thursday. And notably, this Sunday morning, on all five of the biggest Sunday morning shows, Biden's spokespeople, Biden aides are available. They have all been interviewed on "STATE OF THE UNION", on "Face the Nation", on "Meet the Press."

That is notable because Trump White House aides are totally MIA. Nobody from Trump world is out there defending this reckless legal strategy, this undemocratic conduct.


It is very notable the differences we are seeing between the Biden camp and Trump camp right now.

For more on that, let me bring one of CNN's best, our White House reporter, our White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, who had an interesting experience with Kayleigh McEnany the other day.

Kaitlan, good to see you.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you, Brian. Thanks for having me on.

STELTER: These access issues, it's not just the White House, it's throughout the government. Do you have a sense of why, of what's going on?

COLLINS: I think really what it all boils down to and why you're seeing people like the vice president not take questions at a coronavirus task force briefing, the first one of those kinds since the month of July when they last held one at the Department of Labor is because they don't want to answer questions about what the president is doing. This attempt to overturn the results of the election, which, of course, is going to be one of the number one questions every single person is asked.

And so, you are seeing time and time again officials are refusing to either comment on this or put themselves in a situation where they know they would be asked about this right off the bat by reporters.

And so, with Kayleigh McEnany, returning to the briefing room for the first time since early October, it's -- you see that it's not just this pattern where she is only taking a handful of questions. It's a broader effort throughout the entire government. And I think the reason that this is so concerning is because this isn't this quiet two-month period where the president is on his way out, Joe Biden is on his way in.

We're seeing him actively block the Biden transition team from getting access to resources, to emails, to money, things that they need to get started on their transition into federal government.

But also, you're seeing all this other activity on behalf of the president, where he is purging the top leadership at the Pentagon. He is making moves about drawing down troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are taking all of these efforts that are things that typically a government would have to talk about.

But, of course, you are seeing time and time again, officials are avoiding talking about it because they don't want to talk about what the president is doing.

STELTER: Right, right. They don't have answers.

When McEnany insulted you and called you an activist, what was that moment like in the room? To me, it's a reminder of just how far this White House has fallen, how pathetic the behavior is.

If that happened in the Clinton, in the Bush, the Obama years, like it's unfathomable. We can't even imagine that happening. It's so pathetic. Sorry.

COLLINS: Well, and, you know, really the sad state of affairs is it didn't faze me or the other reporters in the room that much I don't think because we have seen something like that time and time again.

STELTER: Right. Great point.

COLLINS: And it is not typical behavior of a press secretary in any way.

STELTER: No. No, it's not. That's the bottom line.

You're doing your job, and I love how you defended yourself and said, you know, you're taxpayer-funded. You're supposed to be up here. And, Kayleigh, you're not doing your job.

Kaitlan, what about the headlines this week? Coup, attempted coup, sedition. I wonder what the view is, you know, there at the White House.

How do you and fellow reporters view this? Is this more of an attempted coup or more just like a bad comedy?

COLLINS: I think when you step back and you look at this, it's easy to dismiss it as silly, to look at what Rudy Giuliani is doing and people kind of roll their eyes at him or see Sidney Powell, the other Trump attorney, making the claims that she's made without presenting evidence from that press conference last week.

But what's important to remember is this is incredibly serious because you're right what you said at the top of the show. What the president is doing is not surprising but it's still shocking that he is actively trying to overturn the results of a free and fair election --


COLLINS: -- firing the official who said it was free and fair.

But it's incredibly serious, the claims that they are making, and to see the Trump attorney Sidney Powell go on television last night and accuse the Georgia governor of crimes because they don't like the way the results turned out in the state, even though they did a hand recount that still affirmed Joe Biden's win. And now, they're going to be doing another one at the request of the Trump campaign.

You know, it's incredibly serious what they're doing, because while we have been very sure about saying Joe Biden won this election, he is going to be inaugurated in January and he will be the president, the president is misleading millions of his supporters currently by undermining the vote, undermining Joe Biden before he even gets into office. And so, he is setting it up for people to not view Joe Biden as a legitimate president.

And those were the same accusations that Donald Trump felt like he faced his first years in office. But instead of learning from that, he is now trying to inflict that on his successor.

STELTER: Hmm, right. What a great insight.

Kaitlan, thank you very much for being there today and always.

Let me bring in our panelists. Errol Louis, CNN political commentator and political anchor for Spectrum News New York 1, Jane Lytvynenko is a senior reporter for "BuzzFeed News," focused on disinformation, and Brendan Nyhan is a professor of government at Dartmouth College specializing in disinformation and media criticism.

Errol, let's contrast Trump and Biden. Biden made a little mistake yesterday. He went to church without his protected press pool. Normally, there's a small group of reporters that are with the president or the president-elect at all times, even when they're heading to mass. And there was a kerfuffle among the press why Biden left them behind. It's a mistake and probably won't happen.

However, Biden's team was out there on the Sunday shows today, giving interviews.


Biden has been holding press conferences, answering questions from reporters. Trump is in hiding and refuses to take questions from the White House press corps. It just seems to me these two approaches could not be more different between Trump and Biden.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right. And, listen, Joe Biden I think has decided if he is not going to have a regular transition, the way all of his predecessors got, he is going to have his own transition.

He is the news. What he and his incoming administration are going to do are a thousand times more important than the insults and the obstructionism coming out of the current administration. And so I think reporters will naturally gravitate to him and they'll notice little things like him slipping off to church without telling the press about it.

This overall is a good thing because, you know, to the extent that we have got norms and customs as opposed to firm laws that guide the transition, it's going to be up to us to decide what a transition looks like. In this case, somebody who starts assembling a cabinet, talking policy, leading by example, and preparing to take the reins of power. That's the essence of a transition and that's what we have.


A transition official source said to me this morning, there is a new sheriff in town. By the White House not giving interviews today, quote, they are basically admitting defeat but not even showing up to defend their absurd position. And that does speak volumes.

Brendan Nyhan, you have an old adage, an old saying that you often use on Twitter in crises like the one we are still in. What is it that you say? How do you want Americans to view what's happening in American with this election denialism?

BRENDAN NYHAN, PROFESSOR OF GOVERNMENT, DARTMOUTH COLLEGE: Well, I often ask is, what would you say if you saw it in another country? We get tied up in all of the details and all the things we know about this context.

But the story, if you pull back, is very clear. A leader with authoritarian tendencies has lost a free and fair election and is trying to overturn the results of that process. He is trying to overturn the peaceful transfer of power. He told us he wouldn't follow through on his duty under the Constitution to enact a peaceful transfer of power, and that's continuing.

And the fact that it won't succeed doesn't make it any less pernicious, especially given that so many Republicans are going along with this clownish effort. What if it were actually a serious effort? What if this election were closer?

What if they found 500 cases of fraud somewhere they could use as a pretext instead of talking about the ghost of Hugo Chavez? We are far from anything credible, yet still the president is pushing our Democratic institutions to their very limits.

That's incredibly dangerous and we need to think about what's happening and not lose sight of the real danger being revealed here even if it won't succeed.

STELTER: So, Brendan's question, what would you say if this was happening in another country? Jane, you are based in Toronto. So, as our Canadian, you answer it.

JANE LYTVYNENKO, REPORTER, BUZZFEED NEWS: Well, this is a result of a disinformation problem that has been rampant not just over the last four years, but for the better part of the last decade globally. And the U.S. feels like it's one of the last countries to feel the full effect of that disinformation problem. The issue with the U.S. grappling with what's real and what's not real

is that it has a huge effect on global politics, including Canada, which is, you know, America's hat -- as we are often described.

So, to allow for this distrust, this public distrust, for this disinformation problem to go forward, it's going to be a case where it's not just the U.S. and the U.S. democracy being affected, but also other democracies around the world that rely on the U.S., as a beacon of Democratic norms.

STELTER: That's an important part of the story that we have to keep bringing up in our coverage, that this does affect the entire world.

Everyone, please stay with me.

Coming up here, Fox's big announcement that contradicts Fox News Channel's on-air commentary.

And later, my brand new Rudy Giuliani's new favorite channel, Newsmax TV.



STELTER: What is the link between election denialism and COVID-19 skepticism? Well, actually, I heard an answer on Fox News earlier this week when liberal commentator Marie Harf articulated that very connection.

Here's what she said.


MARIE HARF, LIBERAL COMMENTATOR: This week, those Republicans have pushed two stories. They rejected COVID restrictions that doctors are asking us to follow and many of them are pushing to reject the election results.

Both are broader trend that are really disturbing. Both are a rejection of math, of expertise, of science, and both are really dangerous to the American people and to our democracy.


STELTER: So what does that say about the Republican Party, and their right-wing media complex? Does it speak to radicalization that is going on?

Back with me, Errol Louis -- Errol, Jane, and Brendan back with me.

Brendan, first to you, you study this as a professor of political science, these links between COVID skepticism and rejection of all expertise and science and math and data.

What do you think is the troubling nature of Fox's coverage the rest of the time? Marie was right about that during the day. But when I turned on at night, I hear about masks and how, you know, masks are not that helpful and all of this kind of stuff that seems to be more about identity politics than public health.

NYHAN: That's my worry, is that they are turning these public health measures into a kind of "own the libs" mentality, having a giant Thanksgiving is somehow going to own the libs or not wear a mask.


NYHAN: And that's actually the opposite of what we need. When President Trump wore a mask, we saw positive surges in sentiment online about mask-wearing, like he could really set an example.


We need conservatives embracing public health measures, saying you will really own the libs by having a really small, socially distanced Thanksgiving. That would be wonderful.

That we need -- we need everyone -- these measures aren't liberal or conservative. They are just going to save lives as we head into this likely very deadly winter. It's critical to not turn the public health measures that will keep us safe into a matter of identity politics.

And that's unfortunately what we're often seeing, especially in the kind --

STELTER: Yeah, yeah.

NYHAN: -- of "own the libs" industrial complex that thrives on Fox and online.

STELTER: "Own the libs" industrial complex, I'm going to use that. That's good.

The -- it's also hypocritical, by the way. Here's a headline from "Variety" this week. Fox Corporation, which owns Fox News, is keeping staff at home at least until April, right? Essential employees are making sure the networks stay on the air, but most staffers still stay at home until April, including some Fox anchors, who you can tell they are anchoring from home, as they denounce this lockdown mentality.

Errol, let me ask you about the election denialism part of this. There's COVID skepticism, there's election denialism, does it all speak to a failure of the Republican Party leadership to lead its supporters?

LOUIS: Well, yeah. There is a failure of leadership. Let's not give it a title like election denialism as if there were some --

STELTER: That's too weak?

LOUIS: Far too weak. And not quite accurate, honestly, Brian, because it's a power grab is what it is, right? The refusal, for example, to confirm Merrick Garland a couple years ago, that wasn't rooted in any political or legal philosophy. They might dress it up with a couple of words, but it was a power grab. And that's what's going on here.

There is an organized strategic attempt to cripple and constrain the incoming Biden administration to deny some of its credibility before it ever is sworn into office. That's what they're doing. I think that's what should be reported. And it's very unfortunate because they are now putting pro Republican voters into the untenable position of having to deny plain facts in order to be a part of the team.

This is not something that anybody should ever want to do. It further sort of degrades our democracy, frankly, and again I think the power grab should be reported as exactly what it is, and we should not help them by pretending this is some kind of a philosophy or theory behind what happened with what were clear, plain outcomes in this election.

STELTER: I have been impressed by the television networks calling out this undemocratic conduct, including on, you know, "This Week" on ABC and "STATE OF THE UNION" on CNN this morning. Anchors are not mincing words about what's going on. Neither or the national newspapers. That's a good thing.

Jane, what about Twitter and Facebook's role? Twitter has put up a flag or label on Trump's tweets more than 100 times since Election Day, according to the "Boston Globe". This is unprecedented to see this kind of behavior by a social media firm.

Is it working though? Do we know if it's effective?

LYTVYNENKO: Well, there is two things to keep in mind here. One is that Twitter is just one social media network, and each social media network is treating disinformation coming from the U.S. president differently. Facebook, YouTube, different types of labels. Of course, audiences across those social media networks are different.

The other thing to remember is that the falsehoods that Mr. Trump is tweeting are part of an ecosystem environment. They are a part of hyper-partisan news websites, of commentators and influencers who support the president, who also are very actively engaged in spreading false information that social media networks might not always catch.

And one last point I want to make sheer is that while this seems like an extreme measure, and particularly in the U.S., to bring back to what I was saying earlier, this is not a feature that is available to all Democratic countries globally as they grapple with their own issues of disinformation and politicians spreading falsehoods. So, while it is a step forward, it is a small step.

STELTER: Right. A small step.

Thank you all. Thank you to the panel.

Trump's string of legal losses also extend to the First Amendment arena. I know you heard all the times the team is losing in court, including Pennsylvania yesterday with regards to the election. Well, let me show you these other examples as well.

His administration's attempt to overall the government-funded Voice of America outlet suffered a big setback on Friday. Here's the headline, a federal judge issuing an injunction and saying Trump's appointee has to stop investigating and interfering with the journalists at VOA.

Now, this battle is going to go on. But this on Friday was a big win for editorial independence. Reporters at VOA were telling me and others that they were feeling smothered, they were feeling under attack by these Trump appointees. So that's interesting news of VOA.

Here are two other recent examples of Trump losing in court.


You might remember that Trump sued a bunch of news outlets earlier this year. Well, his libel case against CNN was rejected the other day by a Trump-appointed judge, by the way. And a few days later, Trump's campaign abandoned another suit, this one against a small TV station in Wisconsin that aired an anti-Trump TV ad.

So, loss after loss after loss in court, not just when it comes to the election outcome, but also when it comes to attempts to interfere with the press.

Coming up on RELIABLE SOURCES, how will President-elect Biden change the media business? Jim VandeHei is standing by with answers.

And later, what Jesse Watters really means when he claims, look at that, he claims he is protecting the republic.



STELTER: Hey, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter. Obviously, the media ecosystem has been altered by the Trump years. Now, what about the Biden years? How will the Biden era change the news business?

Joining me now to discuss that more, Axios co-founder and CEO, Jim VandeHei. Axios has been riding high in the Trump years breaking all sorts of stories. But he has a new piece out about blunt 2020 lessons for media and for America. Jim, the Biden years, are these going to be less profitable times for news companies? And if so, does that matter?

JIM VANDEHEI, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, AXIOS: I don't know that they'll be less profitable, I'd be shocked if there's not a pretty big dip in cable ratings, a pretty big dip in traffic around politics, just because politics has been so visceral and so hot the last four years. That doesn't necessarily mean it's bad business. Most of these businesses now are not tethered to having this mass audience.

I think there's some really big challenges coming up with a press who's been a ton for the last four years. Two that come to mind, like one, Donald Trump's not going away. Like, at some point, yes, he's not going to be president, but he's going to be loomed large. He's going to announce that he's going to run in 2024. He's going to have the RNC under his control. He's going to be the titular and kind of literal head of the Republican Party.

Is the media going to ignore him when he's shooting spitballs at Joe Biden every day? And are they instead going to cover Joe Biden who's going to be, and I say this in sort of an affectionate way, more boring, like more conventional, you're not going to have the theatrics, you're not going to have the tweeting?

And media is going to have to somehow return to normal in an environment where half the country literally kind of hates the work that we do and doesn't even really believe in a common definition of truth. And so, the media is in the middle of this. And I think we have to do a lot of reflection about how can we do a better job of this, of serving people who do care, and who still do have some level of trust in the work that we do.

STELTER: You know, when you bring up distrust, Jim, I'm almost finished with Barack Obama's new book. It is by far the biggest seller of the week. Move over Mary Trump, it's going to be the biggest book of 2020 in terms of overall sales. And in this book, and especially in Obama's interviews, he's talking about a divide in the country, a media divide, that media bubbles are getting harder and harder to pop, that the media landscape is deeply divided. Do you have any answers or solutions to what I think everybody agrees is a -- is a huge problem?

VANDEHEI: I do have some thoughts on that. And I do agree with it with the former president on this, and I probably have a darker view than he does. I legitimately fear now that we're going to have a decoupling, that you're basically going to have not just like two Americas in quotation marks, but you're literally going to have two Americas where half the country gives up on a lot of the work that we do and even starts to create its own social media and communication ecosystem that is much more sort of safe and soothing, because it's people who share their views. And that's dangerous.

The minute if we lose this war on truth, I wrote it this week, I believe it, we're screwed. If we cannot collectively figure this thing out, if we can't figure out that there are certain things that might be needed but that are true, and from there we make good decisions, I don't understand how you have a democracy or capitalism that continues to be the dominant force in the world. And I think overall, a dominant and very good force for the world.

So, I think on our side of things, and the media ledger side, I think we do have to do some reflection. I'm sorry, but our profession missed that 10 million more people voted for Trump than last time around, that in the hundred counties we have a highest percentage of a Hispanic population that Trump did better in 78 of those, 78 out of 100 than he did in 2016. And some African American communities, Trump even better.

And so, something about what we're doing isn't working. We're not able to fully appreciate how the other half of the country might live. I think that there is a tendency for a lot of us in the media, a lot of reporters, a lot of editors to come from the same institutions, live in a very similar cities that are very disconnected from the rest of the population. And we somehow have to figure out a way to understand the complexities

of this country and be able to communicate to them in a way that they trust us. And part of that is maybe stop popping off on Twitter, maybe calm down when you're doing a segment with Brian Stelter and not make it so clear what your ideology is. Maybe think about that person out there who's persuadable wants to believe in the journalism that we're doing and be very clinical in our language, clinical and how we hold ourselves.

It is possible. In Axios you're prohibited from popping off or talking about your views in public forums. And almost in every case, everybody's done that (AUDIO GAP) journalist or not a journalist. And so I think these things are very possible but they require a lot of restraint. And I think some rethinking by us in the media.


STELTER: You know, Jim, I didn't schedule the blocks this way, but you just set me up for the perfect transition so I'm going to say thank you very much. And everybody, please read that piece on by Jim. We're actually going to go now to Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wisconsin to see how small-town journalists are dealing with COVID-19 both at work and at home. Hear from these editors and reporters in just a moment.


STELTER: Local newsrooms across the Midwest are feeling the effects of the Coronavirus in a way that national news may not be able to capture. Just take a look at some of these headlines from papers in Nebraska and elsewhere. Here's Nebraska, the Journal Star, rural hospitals running out of room.

Over to the Leader-Telegram in Wisconsin, critical situation, emotionally exhausting these front pages say. And in Rapid City, South Dakota, a daily headline about the rising number of cases and deaths. Look at this. 23 deaths, 53 deaths, every day another number of rising death toll.

With me now reporting from those three states, Kent Bush, he's the top editor of the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota. Sarah Seifert, she's a reporter for the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram in Wisconsin. And Dave Bundy, he's the editor of the Lincoln Journal Star in Nebraska.

Dave, to you first, the Coronavirus case is at a peak there right now. How do you gauge your readers' level of interest or concern or fear? What are you hearing from readers there?


DAVE BUNDY, EDITOR, LINCOLN, NEBRASKA JOURNAL STAR: Well, we've had a tremendous amount of reader engagement. I think self-isolation drove people to write letters to the editor, start commenting on Facebook. And, you know, it's pretty easy to gauge what people are interested in. It's hard to strike the right balance. There's a little nuance involved, but I think I sort of broken-down

our readership into three areas. There are the folks who say, just give me the data. There folks that say, just tell me what I can and can't do. And then there are folks that say, don't tell me what I can and can't do. And we got to strike that balance for them.

STELTER: Do you sense COVID fatigue in that latter group? Is that a big problem?

BUNDY: I think there's COVID fatigue, there's COVID conspiracy, there's lots of things at work. But by and large, people understand we're reaching a peak week. We set another record this week and it's getting way worse.

STELTER: Right. Sarah, same for you in Wisconsin. What challenges have you experienced in getting community members to speak? You know, it seems to me, we don't see enough faces. We don't know the names of these victims. That's on a national level, but maybe on a local level that's not the case.

SARAH SEIFERT, REPORTER, EAU CLAIRE, WISCONSIN LEADER-TELEGRAM: Well, for us here in western Wisconsin, the most surprising thing is folks in our community are much more willing to talk now than they were earlier this year about their loved ones struggling with COVID-19 or their own experience on a ventilator.

We didn't get hit hard here until about September. Right now, our hospitals are full. Our doctors and emergency room nurses are overwhelmed and struggling. In the last few months, the community's been much more open than they normally would be. But we did -- we did struggle with some of that not wanting to talk about the virus, you know, in the first six months of the year.

STELTER: Interesting. Yes. Kent, you're in the newsroom in Rapid City, South Dakota this morning? How are you all dealing with, you know, folks who don't want to cooperate, don't want to talk, people don't want to tell their stories or worse people, who think this is all conspiracy?

KENT BUSH, EDITOR, RAPID CITY SOUTH DAKOTA JOURNAL: Yes, you know, I mean, we have some of that here. We had a mask mandate passed by our city council just this week. We had 150 people who were at a rally to actually protest having that mask mandate. So, you know, we have some of that we have people who are, you know, tired of the restrictions, tired of thinking about it. Of course, in South Dakota, we have very few restrictions.

So, you know, no -- you know, for us, it's a very important story to tell. And like Dave said, striking that balance between the data, the hard news, the difficult news to tell. Yesterday, we had five deaths reported in our county. If these people died for any other reason, it would be a major news event that we talked about years from now. Yesterday, it was the third paragraph of the story.

I mean, the magnitude of the pandemic makes it so difficult to maintain perspective. And that's why I think daily local reporting is important.

STELTER: That's a great point, Kent. If a man broke into a nursing home and shot and killed five people, you're right, it would be the biggest story of the month, the biggest story of the year there. But it keeps happening every day --

BUSH: Yes, and we're probably going to hear that story next year.

STELTER: Right. Let me just squeeze in a quick break and then bring you all back. Kent, when we come back, I want to hear about how COVID- 19 impacted your election coverage in an unexpected way.



STELTER: We can all see the COVID-19 numbers rising. The case numbers, the hospitalizations record, deaths are rising rapidly, and some states are being hit harder than others. Back with me is Kent Bush in South Dakota, Sarah Seifert in Wisconsin, and Dave Bundy in Nebraska.

Sarah, your newspaper, how is life, how is work changed these past nine months of the pandemic?

SEIFERT: Well, everyone, from our entertainment reporter, to our sports, and investigative reporters, is writing about COVID in one way or another. This pandemic has completely changed how we approach our jobs.

It's been tough not to be able to meet face to face with the people that we cover. And we've had to get used to covering this virus from every possible angle from, you know, your school meeting will end up being about COVID, your zoning meeting will being end up being about COVID. But that also means that it's a big relief to work on a story that's not about this virus.

You know, we have headlines in the paper every day with hundreds of new cases and a couple deaths each day. Those numbers are a shock in a community our size, but it also makes you really grateful to be able to report a story about the strength and the humor that our community has as well.

STELTER: Yes. And I think it builds trust in the community and with newsrooms as we cover this story. Kent, what about you? What about your staff? Because, you know, reporters are not immune. Obviously, reporters are at risk when they're out there covering, everybody else being at risk.

BUSH: Yes, you know, Brian, the pandemic really got to South Dakota in March. And since then, I've sent my reporters to cover things that I really worried that I was putting them at risk. You know, the July 4th Mount Rushmore fireworks celebration, with no social distancing at all, the Sturgis motorcycle rally, local fairs and sporting events.

You know, I just worried that I was sending them into a situation that was unsafe. We went more than eight months without the pandemic really affecting us directly. And then suddenly, we covered an election night. And in 25 years in the newspaper business, I've covered more than my share of election nights and I didn't have any concern at all about sending them to cover that.

And within a week we have more than half of our staff had tested positive. And so it's really hit us hard lately. And you know, it's something that we worry so much and we've done so many things to try to keep the safe. And then to have something as simple as election night really shows you how contagious and how difficult it is to stay safe when the pandemic is going is as hard and raging as much as it is here.


STELTER: Geez, what a warning ahead of Thanksgiving. And you know, speaking of Thanksgiving, Dave, I've been thinking about all the pictures we're seeing, people in airports, people at bars, people ready to travel, right? What we don't see are all the folks who stay at home. What we don't see are all the folks on ventilators in hospitals.

The hard part of covering COVID-19 is we don't see the people A, that are being responsible and they were doing a risk assessment and being really, really cautious, and B, we don't see the people that are sick and dying, do we -- do we, Dave?

BUNDY: No. And it's funny that you bring that up. Today's front page of the Journal Star was really about some of those stories. And it's an interesting thing because we talk -- we frame the conversation in journalism about stories. But a long time ago, COVID stopped being a story and it started being real life. And reporters have been up to their armpits in all the same issues that our readers are.

And because of that, you know, the appetite, our natural curiosity parallels exactly with our readers. Our city editor early on said, this isn't going to be a sprint, we need to pace ourselves. And our coverage struck me as more of a four by 100 relay. There is always somebody in our staff sprinting, and there are always other people ready to sprint, and the readers are counting on us to do that.

STELTER: It's great way to put it. Dave, and Kent, and Sarah, thank you all for being here and thank you all for your service. As a reminder here, as always, when you subscribe, you help local news survive. After the break, new research that helps explain the demand for election denialism content. It's kind of like these pictures. So don't go away.



STELTER: On most major networks, the election is over of course, but in the pro-Trump media universe, it's still far from over. I want to show you a new way of interpreting these lies. And they are lies about mass voter fraud, machine rigging, and the crazy global conspiracy theory advanced by Trump's lawyers. Some of the biggest shows on Fox News are still giving ample airtime to Trump dead-enders, including members of his own family.


LARA TRUMP, SENIOR ADVISER, TRUMP 2020 CAMPAIGN: There are about 74 million people out there who do not feel like the result of this election that has been presented is accurate.


STELTER: Feel? Facts do not care about your feelings. That's what conservative commentator Ben Shapiro famously said several years ago, and it's still true today. The facts are the facts. Biden's win is been certified. And Lara Trump is wrong, by the way, to say that every Trump voter feels that this thing was rigged. Not every Trump voter does.

But 77 percent of Americans who backed Trump did tell pollsters from Monmouth that they believe voter fraud tipped the scales for Biden. This conspiracy crap is just like Trump's anti-media enemy of the people smear. It's a slow-acting poison that is crippling the American body politic. Election denialism is like a middle finger to democracy. In the same way that Rich Lowry said that a vote for Trump was like a middle finger, a rude gesture to the left.

But it's something else too. It's tribal. It's entertaining, almost like a sporting event. I know that sounds strange, but let me show you what I mean. These professors from UT in Texas State say it's all about my team. They say for highly identified Trump fans, the electoral loss poses a personal identity threat that must be mitigated. Refusing to conced,e refusing to admit the other team won provides a psychological insulation from the loss.

So, it's about tribalism, allegiance to a team. In fact, quoting here, sports communication research has found that the more closely you identify, the more closely your identity is wrapped up in a team's identity, the more likely you will blame a loss on the refs. You'll blame the referees, you'll say the other team cheated, because it's about identity.

But at least in sports, people believe on the numbers. They believe the numbers on the scoreboard. In politics, the game is over at this point and the losing players are still working the refs. They are still trying to change the score.

But this is not a game. Undemocratic conduct cannot be excused. Authoritarian tendencies cannot be covered up with right-wing rhetoric, the kind we saw from Jesse Watters program last night. Protecting the republic, he says, protecting the republic.

He and his colleagues who are defending Trump to the bitter end are only protecting their profits, Rupert Murdoch's profits, and his Fox Corporation board member Paul Ryan. You know, the former Speaker of the House, Ryan, his disdain for Trump is no secret. I'd love to know what Paul Ryan was thinking when this happened on Thursday, when Fox News and Newsmax and One America News all showed Rudy Giuliani's meltdown live for 90 minutes. What an irresponsible thing to do. Does Ryan care? Does Rupert care?

Look, Fox is feeling pressure from the right, from Newsmax. I think that's why they aired the press conference because Newsmax was airing it. Newsmax's ratings are going up, up, up because they are providing an alternative reality for Trump fans. They claim the election is not over.

Look at Greg Kelly. He's the highest-rated host on the network. He's on there saying he thinks Trump will still prevail. They are taking the old line about telling people what they want to hear to its illogical and point. Kelly and people like him are ignoring Trump's delusions. That's what it is at this point.

Look what happened on the Twitter feed the other day. Trump thanked his sister for tweeting her support for him. But the account appears to have been a parody. Look at the --- look at the headline at "The Washington" - "The New York Times." No, Trump's sister did not publicly back him. He was duped by a fake account. He was duped by a fake account.

He was fooled by someone pretending to be his sister. It's sad at this point. It's sad. If you're going to be seeing your sister or some other family members this Thanksgiving and you're going to be talking about politics, all I could say is good luck. We'll see you next time for more RELIABLE SOURCES.