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Contrasting Trump And Biden's Media Diets; AP Calls Trump "Increasingly Detached From Reality;" The Coronavirus Crisis And Psychic Numbing; Radio Host Dealing With Coronavirus Myths First-Hand; New Questions About The Interview That Rocked The Monarchy. Aired 11a- 12p ET
Aired December 06, 2020 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter. Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES. This is where we examine the story behind the story and figure out what is reliable.
Well, this hour, we're going to introduce you to a brand-new reliable CNN contributor who knows Joe Biden almost better than anyone.
Plus, how news sources are covering a shrinking, flailing President Trump. We're going to go inside one of the nation's top newsrooms for insights.
We're also going to show you the reason why one New Jersey radio host has snapped. He says he is so angry, talking about coronavirus. Hear from him coming up.
And later it is the interview that changed the course of royal history. 25 years ago. Now why Martin Bashir and the BBC are facing tough new questions? We're going to go live to London coming up.
But, first, here is a unique way to evaluate presidents. Just look at their diets. Look at what they are consuming.
I'm talking about their media diets and what those diets reveal about their leadership, because policy, personnel picks, everything flows from sources of information.
And we all know about Trump's top sources. Talk shows on Fox News have distorted his view of the word and his presidency has suffered as a result. In my view, the junk food weighed him down and contributed to his defeat in November.
But some of these shows keep telling him that he won. They are deceiving millions of people, including the outgoing president. It is a feedback loop of fictions that is fundamentally why Trump's final days in office are full of rage and denial.
Today's "Washington Post" quotes a senior official saying Trump is hold up in the Oval Office, quote, just going nuts about voter fraud. I don't know how else to put it. It occupies seemingly every waking moment of his day. There is a cause and effect here. He is tweeting about Newsmax and One
American News more than ever before. He is showing all of us what he's watching.
His favorite TV shows are telling him he is a victim of a massive crime. Then he tweets all about it. Then he flies to Georgia and he plays a montage of clips from those Newsmax and OAN shows at his rally.
A montage. It's like he wants my job. We usually make the clip reels around here.
But I really shouldn't joke because there is nothing funny about this. Trump is telling his fans that he is the victim and, quote, we are all victims, all these thousands of people here -- victims.
And I suppose they are victims in one sense. The sorry truth is that they are being duped by people like Sidney Powell, by people like Rudy Giuliani, by far right fantasy media.
So let me show you a sad new example of this -- a sad new example of Trump's delusions. On November 27th, One America News ran a short segment claiming only 1,000 people watched Biden's Thanksgiving speech on the web.
That's totally bogus, of course. Dozens of websites showed Biden's speech, millions of people watched it. OAN's fake segment was just based on some random tweet.
But Trump loved it. He watched it on OAN. He gorged on this lie. He tweeted about this lie.
It was like another crowd size debacle, and he has continued to repeat it because he cares so much about popularity and attention and power.
He has continued to repeat the lie even at Saturday's rally. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But when he made a Thanksgiving Day speech on the Internet, they say he had less than a thousand people. How do you have 80 million votes and you have a thousand people?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: This is like a seven-layer cake of lies -- fakery on top of falsehood, on top of fiction. People like Jeanine Pirro and Greg Kelly and Sean Hannity, people like Chanel Rion and Maria Bartiromo and Lou Dobbs are cooking this stuff up.
And it's not just them. It's anonymous anchors you never heard on channels like OAN. It is the producers at Newsmax that write these scripts. It is the leadership teams at these networks that let this fraud go on, these fraudulent claims about mass voter fraud. Just 30 minutes ago, Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, was on Fox
making up this crazy conspiracy claim that someone in Washington sent out instructions to Democratic-run cities to rig the election. These lies are happening every hour of the day in far-right media. They are going essentially unchallenged by many of the president's favorite talk shows.
The president's media diet is poisoned. And so in that way I suppose he is a victim. So that's the outgoing president's diet.
Now what about the U.S. president-elect?
What is his media diet?
My next guests have some answers, starting with Thomas Friedman, the foreign affairs columnist for "The New York Times" who had an hour- long phone call with Biden earlier this week.
Also with us, Julie Pace, the Washington bureau chief for "The Associated Press."
And in his debut appearance as a CNN commentator, excuse me, CNN contributor, I don't want to screw up your title, Evan, it's Evan Osnos, "The New Yorker" staff writer and the author of "Joe Biden: The Life, The Run and What Matters Now".
So, Evan, welcome aboard as a CNN contributor.
And as a Biden biographer, you know him better than almost anybody. What -- what is the president-elect's media diet?
EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Brian. It's great to be with you.
I -- look, the president-elect's media diet is what we would call the classics. Look, he relies on things like "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," "The Wall Street Journal."
He reads some of the economists in "The New Yorker", a lot of it in print. He also relies on Apple news to help him get headlines from other reputable media sources.
What he is not doing, of course, is reading things like Newsmax. He's not watching One America News Network.
He pays a lot of attention to the columnists. He relies on people whose names he recognizes over the years, people like Tom Friedman who we will hear from in a second.
But one thing I know from experience that's interesting is he doesn't parse every word that is written about him. He doesn't pay all that much attention to it. With one exception. You go back to 1988, it was a great classic portrait written of him by Richard Ben Cramer in the book "What It Takes". It was not all together flattering. But he took it onboard. He then ended up giving a eulogy at Cramer's
funeral in which he said that if somebody tells you something about yourself that's insightful, you have a responsibility to pay attention to it.
STELTER: Reading books. Reading columns. This is going to be very different from we've seen in the past four years.
So, Thomas Friedman, you have been on the receiving end. How does it work when Biden just calls you up? Did you ask for this interview? Was he out seeking your advice? How did this work?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I asked for it. I was pleased that it came through, Brian.
And, you know, to pick up on Evan's point, one of the most striking things in talking to the president-elect, and you saw this in the comments on the column, is how many people said, I forgot what it was like to listen to a president who was not entirely self-reverential, not entirely, you know, exclamatory, not entirely promoting fake news -- just a sound, sober, thoughtful conversation about the big issues of the day. I forgot.
The other thing that really came through to me is that we are really lucky, I think, to have a president who is just really hard to hate at a time when our politics is so infused with hate. That's one of the things that I think is going to do him and the country well, I hope, in the coming months.
STELTER: Do you have an impression that he reads "The New York Times," cares about your columns, cares about, as Evan said, the classics in media?
FRIEDMAN: You know, yeah. I -- fortunately, I actually traveled to Afghanistan with Joe Biden when he was head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. So I have known him for a while. He is a man who is curious about the world, who is informed about the world.
But again, to pick up on something Evan said, there is an adult nature about him. He is wise to all the shtick out there. He doesn't chase every rabbit. There is a maturity to him that I hope he will benefit from as well.
STELTER: Julie, why does it matter? Why do the media diets matter? I think it's obvious why right-wing Trump diet matters. But why does the Biden media diet matter?
JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: I think it matters because it helps explain the president-elect's world view. You know, where he gets his media from, how he is consuming information is very related to decisions he is making about policy, about personnel.
I do think that in this instance, you know, we're not going to see a president who is as fully shaped by media coverage as we have seen with the Trump administration. President Trump is someone who is sort of the media. Even before his presidency, he was very fixated and very involved in shaping his media image.
Joe Biden's not going to be that way, but he is going to be aware of the coverage because the coverage matters. The coverage matters in helping shape public opinion and public opinion is directly related to the presidency. So, while he might not be as in tune with the minute it minute coverage that he's receiving, he is going to be well aware and we should know where his information is coming from.
STELTER: Yeah. Now, from Biden to Trump -- Thomas Friedman, Trump desperately wants to be the story, he wants to win the attention war, he wants everyone's attention.
But look at this Google search data from the past month, a clear decline in interest in the outgoing president. And yet at these rallies, we see super fans are very excited to see him. There's live coverage on all the right-wing channels last night.
So, there's a dichotomy here, right, where he might be winning the attention war with his fans, making more money off the grift, and yet, maybe the rest of the country is moving on.
How do you view this as a columnist?
Are you moving on, or are you still interested in writing about Trump or should we just ignore him at this point?
FRIEDMAN: Brian, I pray to God I never, ever, ever have to write another column about Donald Trump again. I don't think that's likely.
But I will tell you this -- you know, I think one of the reasons he doesn't want to call the election is he knows something, because this is a guy who understands power. He knows that the minute he actually concedes, Brian, those phone calls, they don't get returned so quickly. Fox doesn't put you on so quickly.
You know, Jim Baker used to say, how do you know you are out of power in Washington? Is when your limousine is yellow and your driver speaks Farsi.
And I will tell you, Donald Trump will not be the same Donald Trump when his limousine is yellow, when he is hailing a cab and his driver speaks Farsi. And he knows that more than anyone.
How much he will have influence, absolutely, there's no question about it. He's got a cult of personality. No question about it.
But this is what Biden actually talked about in the interview with me. How many Republicans will still be with him? Maybe, maybe I can peel off 20, 25 percent.
And if he can, maybe we can actually start to govern again in an effective way.
STELTER: And yet, "The Washington Post" found after asking every House and Senate Republican, only one in ten admit that Biden is president- elect. You know, there is this awful undemocratic situation we're in.
And, Evan, Biden's mostly ignored it. Does that come from his leadership team? Does that come from Ron Klain, this idea to try to ignore the noise?
OSNOS: Yeah, it's actually a mantra that they have used internally going back to when Ron Klain was the Ebola czar in the Obama administration. He used to say that people the noise, by which he meant ignore the rising levels of anxiety and fear. Focus on the science, focus on the facts and what we need to do.
This day from the moment that this election was over, and let's remind ourselves it really was over on the nights those votes were counted --
OSNOS: -- they had not participated in the invention of a controversy. They don't want to be a part of the delusion that this was in any way in doubt. That is an idea that starts at the top and certainly filters down.
STELTER: It's good to hear. Yeah.
Tom and Evan, thank you for being here.
Julie, please stay with you me after the break. I want to ask about what Biden's picks for his press shop tell us about his plans for 2021.
And, later, there were ma flags placed to represent COVID-19 deaths to show the scale of the losses. But is it sinking in? Can it ever really sink in? Two experts are here with answers.
STELTER: Just tell it like it is. Simple advice for journalists and, well, really for everybody. But it is sometimes easier said than done. Tell it like it is.
Well, how did you accurately tell it like it is? How do you describe the outgoing president's conspiracy-mongering? How do you capture all the last-minute lame duck decisions while still sounding neutral?
As NBC's Mehdi Hasan wrote on Twitter, the great divide in American political life right now is not between the left and right, but between the hinged and the unhinged. The great divide in the American media right now between those who are willing to call out the unhinged and those who want to pretend they don't exist.
Well, the word "pretend" shouldn't exist in the media vocabulary. There should be no pretending. So kudos to the news outlets that are telling it like it is -- the CNNs and "Posts" and "A.P.s" of the world. Look at this. This is -- here are some of the phrases used by "The
Associated Press" this week. "The A.P." is the most sober, down-the- middle news outlet there is. But "The A.P." is using strong language about a president who is, quote, increasingly detached from reality.
Julie Pace is the D.C. bureau chief making some of these decisions.
Julie, is it difficult when you talk about how to describe what the outgoing president is doing, or is this just pretty commonsensical at "The A.P."?
JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: I think it's common sense, you know? And I really think that this in keeping with our approach to our coverage of the Trump presidency and our coverage broadly, which is we are always going to be assertive and clear and plainspoken when it comes to the facts.
And I think -- you know, what is getting attention in this moment, of course, is the gulf between the president's statements about the election and the reality is so wide. And that is requiring us to be, again, quite assertive in the way that we are describing this, but that is our mission. Our mission is to come down squarely on the side of the facts. And I believe that we have done that quite well over the last several weeks.
STELTER: "The A.P.'s" customers are newspapers and TV stations and websites across the country and around the world. Many of those in the United States in red states, right? You are serving newspapers that have a lot of Trump readers.
Are you getting feedback from folks saying, hey, y'all are being too harsh, too tough, too intense about this?
PACE: I think one of the great things about working for "The A.P." is exactly what you said, that we have this incredibly diverse audience. Our members are in every corner of this country, and we are very transparent with them about our mission is.
Our mission is to sort out the facts, to provide evidence to back up those facts. So when they have questions, we tell them why we are making decisions. We are very deliberate about that.
We also get really good feedback from them. You know, one of the great pieces of feedback I got earlier this year from some of our members was, they said, hey, when you just say that something is without evidence, when you just say that when the president is saying is baseless, that doesn't give the readers enough information. And so, they actually encouraged us to do more, to fact check more, to provide more information.
I took that feedback really to heart. And I think if you look at our coverage, what it ultimately resulted in is more evidence to back up the facts that we were putting forward for people.
STELTER: That's really interesting.
You know, I have been -- I have been playing ping-pong lately. Go back from Trump to Biden, Trump to Biden.
Let me go Biden for a moment. We heard about his picks for his communications team this week. Jen Psaki will be the press secretary.
So, what do these picks tell you about Biden's plans for the New Year?
PACE: Yeah, they told me a couple of things. I think, one, there is more of a traditional approach to the relationship between the White House and the press that I think that we could hopefully look forward to.
I also think that there is a recognition by the Biden team that he has a lot of weighty issues that are going to be on his plate at the start.
Jen Psaki is someone who briefed at the State Department during the Obama administration. That's a pretty intense briefing job. You have to have a real mastery of a lot of policy positions.
What I'm hoping certainly from this new press team is that they approach their relationship with the press in the way that we've always thought of it, which is we are the conduit to the public. You know, these daily briefings, the restoration of the daily briefings, that's not about the reporters that sit in that briefing room. That's about the public.
We are the conduit. We are there to ask questions on their behalf and there is a responsibility by the White House staff. They are taxpayer- funded staffers. They have a responsibility to answer those questions -- again, not for us as journalists but for the public.
Julie, thank you so much. Great to see you.
PACE: Thanks, Brian.
STELTER: Talking about the revolving door, by the way, cable news, government and vice versa, Jen Psaki was a CNN contributor from 2017 up until this fall. You see there are a couple of others, Symone Sanders, of course, formerly of CNN. And true to MSNBC as well, several MSNBC expert contributors have joined the Biden transition team.
You know, most of these cases, these are not journalists that are moving from news to government. These are experts, doctors, lawyers, et cetera, who are moving from contributor posts into the governmental. But it is notable to see that revolving door.
And I also find it striking that there is now going to be one thing in common from the outgoing White House press secretary and the incoming White House press secretary. Kayleigh McEnany, of course, was a CNN contributor before joining the GOP and the Trump White House. Jen Psaki will take her place in late January. And let's hope for more regular and more accurate briefings from the
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After a break here, in the words of "The Boston Herald", it is time for the cold hard truth about the pandemic. And statistics are not enough to capture the depths of the crisis. We're going to talk about something called "psychic numbing", next.
STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.
When it comes to the coronavirus crisis, the media really has very little media to work with, meaning very few pictures of the front lines. Privacy rules and hospital restrictions and ethical concerns all mean that it's hard to show the viciousness of this virus.
Here, though, is a rare exception. This is a series of heart-wrenching photos from United Memorial Medical Center in Houston showing Dr. Joseph Varon and his colleagues caring for COVID-19 patients. We still can't hear their pain or see their suffering.
But these next photos show what happens after some of the patients pass away. As the deceased are placed into body bags and staff members carefully zip up the bags. And there is barely a minute to pause before moving on before trying to save the next life.
These photos are rare and they are important. Journalists are pressing for more access to more ICUs to show this reality. But most of what we see all across television and online are the numbers, a slew of statistics, a barrage of broken records.
These headlines capturing an exploding number of cases and hospitalizations and deaths, telling, but not really showing. It calls to mind the famous quote, the infamous quote attributed to Joseph Stalin that one death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is merely a statistic. This is a concept sometimes known as psychic numbing. As national geographic pointed out, earlier this year, quote, more tragedy doesn't always elicit more empathy. It can bring about apathy.
Is there anything that can be done about that? Is there a role for the press as journalists cover this war without really seeing the battle?
Well, Dr. Esther Choo is here, a CNN medical analyst and professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health and Science University, and, David Kessler is here. He's a grief expert and author of "Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief".
David Kessler, thank you for coming on with me. Do you this see phenomenon that I'm describing? Am I characterizing it correctly? DAVID KESSLER, GRIEF EXPERT: You are, and it's hard to put into words. The reality is grief must be witnessed. And how do we do that in this horrific scenario?
I wish every American could go online with me and see daily the thousands of people who are grieving family members who have died. We don't understand that in terms of numbers, 19 planes crashed yesterday -- 19 737 planes crashed and left millions of family members behind, that their pain goes unseen, and our hearts and our minds block out the enormity of it.
STELTER: Right, right. And in some ways, that's human adaptation. You know, our brains try to protect us from ourselves and the world around us and it makes sense.
But, Dr. Choo, if Americans are desensitized to this pandemic, it could have real consequences this holiday season?
DR. ESTHER CHOO, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Yeah, I think that's right. I think there is a disconnect we are seeing between the numbers. As the crisis deepens, people are feeling a little bit disconnected just for the reasons that Dr. Kessler said. It's almost too much to comprehend. I will say among health care workers it's so devastating to look at those numbers and to go to the hospital day after day.
And it's not psychologically possible, I think. Even if you could see what we see, I think it's not psychologically possible for people to grasp the enormity of this and to live there.
And in some ways, it's kind of a relief that people don't have to because it is -- it is really hard and health care workers are suffering anxiety and PTSD and we wouldn't want to inflict that on other people. And yet, we need people to absorb enough of the tragedy, that it actually drives their behaviors so that we can get to the other end of the pandemic. And that's the hard thing.
And in lieu of actually showing direct patients, which of course we cannot do, you know, many, many people are really dedicated to telling part of their story to try to reach a middle ground where you can understand at least what we're seeing a little bit.
STELTER: Right. At least nurses and doctors can come on via webcam, share their accounts. David, what's should the media -- what can and should the media be doing in addition to what has already been done?
KESSLER: Well, I think the more we can talk about the reality and help people get educated to this. You know, it was heartbreaking to me. I saw a newscaster on a business channel, go on and on about everyone gets to make their own decision. We would never say everyone on a plane has a right to open the door.
This is a virus. It is a medical emergency. And I recently did an online grief counseling and education program for so many frontline doctors and nurses in Texas hospitals who are trained to deal with death, but they have never seen anything like this magnitude that we are seeing today.
STELTER: And people can find more on that at grief.com. Listen, David, I've never seen my inbox erupt with emails from viewers the way I did in April when I said it's OK to not be OK. Nobody is OK right now. And sadly, we're at the end of this year, and it's still true. I don't think anybody is OK right now. And if you are, you're lying to yourself.
You know, everyone has suffered some loss this year, even if hopefully you don't know anyone has actually died to this virus. And you must, you know, find that -- you have to remind people that there's lots of forms of grief. And when you lose your children schooling, when you lose something in your life, that's a form of grief, is it not?
KESSLER: Absolutely. We talk about grief usually as only when a loved one dies. But grief is the wedding that got postponed. It is your kids not getting to have playdates. All those are micro griefs that we're dealing with. And we don't even realize the grief, the pain, the discomfort, the overall sadness and depression we're feeling his grief.
And I think Dr. Choo had such a good point there that, you know, we want to make sure we're taking care of our frontline workers, our family, or we are going to come out of this with enormous post- traumatic stress. And I want to help people bring meaning to this, to do our part, so we can come out with post-traumatic growth.
STELTER: And one of the only good things about the social media swamp we all live in is that we can connect, we can find ways to work together through this. Same with television. Dr. Choo, the downside of social media, of course, is crazy conspiracy claims, disinformation campaigns. There was a photo the other day of a doctor at a COVID ward, and it looked empty behind him. People were claiming it was a hoax.
The president of the United States retweeted and said, hey, there's fake election results too. So, Trump was promoting this idea of a hoax. Obviously, this doctor's selfie did not show a fake Hospital in Nevada. This is disinformation spread by the President. But here we are, Dr. Choo, we're in this environment where the President doesn't care about this pandemic anymore and he's spreading lies about it on social media.
CHOO: It's so sad to me that this is how he's using his remaining time. But yes, that doctor is Dr. Jake Keeperman. He's a fellow emergency medicine doctor and really among the best of us. And what he was doing there is really incredible. I mean, he's setting up an extended -- he set up an extended care facility because they are out of spaces in the main hospital. They cared for hundreds of patients there.
He of course, took a picture at a time when they were just opening that facility. And he took time out of his busy schedule to do a shout out to the people on the ground working so hard in this pandemic, who are, you know, exhausted, demoralized, and just was trying to keep spirits up, really the best of us, and then got that backlash. And of course, the President has been, you know, one of the leading
sources of disinformation in this pandemic. He's hugely influential even when he says kind of ridiculous things like that. And so, it's hard to counteract that. You know, if you are saying things like that in, you know, in counter to facts and in science, how do you -- how do you respond to that?
It doesn't matter how many facts and narratives. It doesn't matter that 100 -- you know, hundreds of thousands of frontline health care workers are telling a very consistent narrative about what's going down in this pandemic. You just -- you just hope that, you know, that most people can see through to the truth of what is happening.
STELTER: Yes, and most can. I believe most can. David and Dr. Choo, thank you both for being here. After the break, meet a radio host who says that after 25 years on the air, COVID-19 has his listeners turning against him. Hear his story next.
STELTER: While national news outlets work to debunk all the misinformation and nonsense about COVID-19, local outlets are really dealing with this firsthand. They're on the front line so to speak. In New Jersey, a state where cases and hospitalizations are on the rise, radio host Jeff Deminski says his listeners, some of them at least, have attacked him for reporting the truth about COVID-19.
And Jeff joins me now. He's the co-host of Deminski and Doyle on New Jersey 101.5 FM. What kind of calls do you get, Jeff?
JEFF DEMINSKI, RADIO HOST: Hey, Brian. Thanks for having me. Well, you know, I think -- honestly, I think the hoax nonsense and the misinformation. I think it really started with, you know, President Trump declaring this a Democratic hoax and then just filtered on down there. Social media has not helped. Anything seems to pass for news today.
But we've gotten everything from the virus is a complete hoax, doesn't even exist, to the death toll is completely fabricated--
STELTER: So, what do you do? You wrote a column about this and you're so angry about it? What are you doing response?
DEMINSKI: Yes. You know, I stick to my guns. And if people are going to discount the top medical scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci and go instead for a guy who has been discredited by the FDA like a Dr. Mercola, there's nothing much I can do about it. But we just are intent on constantly telling the truth. Facts matter in this because the lies are killing people frankly.
You know, back in the 1918-1919 Spanish flu, there was also an anti- mask league, and you would think that we would have learned something in the last hundred years. But here we are still pushing against the CDC recommendation to wear masks. And it's all -- honestly, it's lunacy.
STELTER: At the same time, what you're doing matters. There's a power in that one to one communication when a listener calls in and you call out nonsense. That is what we have to do. I don't know if it gains you followers or fans though.
DEMINSKI: Yes, I know. Everybody's getting angry at each other and it's been a bad year politically for that to begin with. But, you know, I never get angry at anybody who just has a strong opinion, even if I don't agree with them. If like the big three with auto safety, you know, versus the number of dead for auto advancements, people make decisions like that all the time. What isn't acceptable --
STELTER: Right. That's right.
DEMINISKI: If that's your opinion, if you think OK, survival of the fittest, let them die. OK, that's an opinion. But to say that masks do nothing, or mass do more harm than good, that's a lie and I can't abide that.
STELTER: Jeff, thank you so much. Great talking with you.
DEMINSKI: You, too.
STELTER: Coming up, it was the interview that shook the British royal family, and now it has shaken up the BBC. The details from London next.
STELTER: It was the interview that changed the course of royal history, and it is now under reexamination. The big question is this. Did Martin Bashir land his famous 1995 sit down with Princess Diana by violating basic norms of media ethics? Did Bashir get palace access under false pretenses? And if so, what's going to be done? CNN's Max Foster knows the story.
MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It was the interview that rocked the monarchy and caused a worldwide sensation.
MARTIN BASHIR, BRITISH JOURNALIST: Do you think Mrs. Parker Bowles was a factor in the breakdown of your marriage? Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.
FOSTER: Confirmation that Prince Charles' extramarital relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles and an admission of her own infidelity. Diana also went on to question Charles' suitability and desire to be king.
RICHARD KAY, COLUMNIST, DAILY MAIL: It seemed like a slam dunk. It seemed like one of the great journalistic curves and scoops of the decade if not the century.
FOSTER: Why exactly did Diana do the interview? How was she convinced to lift the lid on what was really going on behind palace walls?
BASHIR: Why have you decided to give this interview now? Why have you decided to speak at this time?
FOSTER: The recurring allegation is the BBC journalist Martin Bashir knew exactly why that he had used forged documents the suggested the palace staff were working against her and being paid to spy on her. A graphic designer then working for the BBC Matt Wiessler admits he mocked up the statements, but on Bashir's instructions and without knowing how the forgeries would be used.
MATT WEISSLER, GRAPHIC DESIGNER, BBC RADIO 4 TODAY PROGRAMME: He started talking to me about needing some bank statements. I asked him just to sketch me up what he was looking for, because he was always saying, well, I've seen it. I've seen the stuff but, you know, I can't get hold of it and I need copies made of it.
FOSTER: Diana's brother, Charles Spencer, claims Bashir use the false bank statements to trick him into getting an introduction to Diana.
KAY: So, his point is that the whole premise of the interview was set up on false and dodgy grounds. It might never have taken place and the whole course of history could have changed.
FOSTER: The interview took place. And according to the Queen's press secretary at the time, the palace was blindsided.
CHARLES ANSON, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY TO QUEEN ELIZABETH II: At the time that we were told about the program that Monday morning, it was already in the can and edited for the next week ahead. So, it was my task to bring the Queen at Windsor and inform her, but of course, without knowing what the content of the interview was. there wasn't -- there wasn't much that we could say.
FOSTER: Behind the scenes, soon after the interview was broadcast, the Queen penned a letter to Charles and Diana giving her approval for a divorce, a royal source tells CNN. Meanwhile, palace staff were instructed to support the princess.
ANSON: It was a mixture of not wanting to make it worse, as a result of the interview, combined with really want him to start looking at ways in which we could help Princess Diana to find a way forward in her life that would provide her with more satisfaction and stability. And the Queen certainly supported the idea that we should be constructive about it.
FOSTER: Then there was the question of the BBC's conduct. An internal BBC inquiry in 1996 concluded that Diana had not been misled. Whilst documents were forged, the inquiry found they played no role in Diana's decision making.
[11:50:13] But Charles Spencer has continued to build his case against those findings. And the corporation's new director general, Tim Davie, has committed to a fresh independent investigation led by a retired senior judge. Davie said the BBC is taking this very seriously, and we want to get to the truth. In a wider BBC statement, they said we'll do everything possible to get to the bottom of this.
In an unusual intervention, Diana's son, Prince William, has publicly welcomed the reinvestigation. He said it should help establish the truth behind the actions that led to the panorama interview, and subsequent decisions taken by those in the BBC at the time.
In 25 years, Bashir hasn't defended himself publicly. He hasn't responded to our requests for comments either. But in another statement, the BBC said that Bashir is signed off work by his doctors recovering from heart surgery and complications from COVID-19.
For 25 years, there have been calls from within the palace, but also within the BBC, for a full independent investigation into exactly how Martin Bashir secured the biggest media interview in modern British history. Where was the oversight? Was it ethical for the BBC to investigate itself? Was there a cover-up?
ANSON: On the human level there's a there's a perfectly valid interest on the extent to which perhaps, you know, the methods used to get the interview might have added to the princess' concerns that she was being followed or perhaps being monitored or at a phone being listened to, or whatever it may be, which would have increased anxieties.
FOSTER: If it's found that Diana and her brother were convinced by the BBC to think she was being spied on, that it raises the profound question of whether her path would have been different in the final months and years of her life.
This new investigation may also call into question the core values of accuracy and fairness for the public broadcaster at a time when the BBC is trying to negotiate a future funding package with the British government. Its publicly funded model has already been called into question, not least by the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.
The media landscape has changed beyond recognition since Martin Bashir sat down 25 years ago with Princess Diana. Max Foster, CNN, BBC Headquarters, London.
STELTER: And our thanks to Max and his team for that report. So, what does this all mean for the BBC and Bashir now? Legendary British journalist Andrew Neil, a 25-year veteran of the BBC is with me.
Andrew, this interview made Martin Bashir a star. He joined ABC in the United States. He anchored on MSNBC. Now, he's back at the BBC. Could he face criminal charges?
ANDREW NEIL, FORMER PRESENTER, BBC: He could face criminal charges. Scotland Yard hasn't ruled it out. He could phrase private prosecutions from those he maligned. But it couldn't be more serious. We now know the way they conned Diana into giving this interview. We all wondered why she's given it to him. No one in Britain had ever heard of at that time, nevermind the United States.
He played on her paranoia. He said senior officials in the palace are selling stories to the tabloids. He has the bank statements that prove it. You can't trust anybody even your security. And what she did was she got rid of her official security. When I met Diana in 1996, she had no security with her at a lunch that I had with her in the country.
And then she meets Dodi Fayed, son of the Harrods' owner, billionaire. He provides all the security. He provides the limousines, the armor- plated cars. And there's a clear line now between that interview and that terrible night in Paris in 1997. Because if she had still had British security, either they would never have left -- let her leave the Ritz Hotel that night, they certainly wouldn't have driven at the speed that she was driven, and the driver would not have been drunk. So, there's a clear line from 95 to 97.
STELTER: Extraordinary. So, now the pressure is on this former judge to investigate this. And at the same time, the BBC is fighting for its publicly funded future. You know, this seems like a terrible time for the BBC to be scrutinized for its journalistic standards or in this case failures.
NEIL: It couldn't come at a worse time for the BBC. It's under assault on all fronts. It's clear that its original investigation into this, if not a cover-up, certainly totally inadequate. People in the BBC knew a lot more about this than ever became public. This is a very distinguished and important judge. It would be an equivalent to a Supreme Court judge in the United States. The BBC is in the dark as well as Martin Bashir.
STELTER: At a really critical time for the BBC.
NEIL: It sure is.
STELTER: Andrew, thank you very much for explaining this to us.
NEIL: Thank you.
STELTER: We're out of time here on television but join us online. Sign up for our nightly newsletter at ReliableSources.com. You can also find our weekly podcast there. I spoke with Professor Kate Starbird this week about election denialism and what she calls participatory disinformation. Think about that, participatory disinformation. People are contributing to the voter fraud conspiracy.
Also, don't forget about the big TV event later tonight. It is debate night in Georgia with live coverage of the Senate debate here on CNN at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time. We will see you back on RELIABLE SOURCES this time next week.