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The Radicalizing Power Of Right-Wing Networks; Tucker Carlson Fans Flames Of Vaccine Skepticism; Institutional Failing By "The New York Times;" "New York Post" Issues Criminal Correction; One-On-One With Top WAPO Editor Marty Baron. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired December 20, 2020 - 11:00   ET



BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter, live in New York, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES, where we examine the story behind the story and figure out what is actually reliable.

This hour, Tucker Carlson fanning the flames of vaccine skepticism, the significance of what he's doing and why it's so troubling.

Plus, Dean Baquet, the executive editor of "The New York Times" admits to an institutional failing involving one of its most popular podcasts. Is the paper getting off too easy after this scandal?

Plus, "Washington Post" executive editor Marty Baron, he is with me to talk about "The Post's" expansion around the world. We are also going to do a postmortem of the Trump presidency.

Many great guests coming up in the next few minutes.

But, first, the best word for what's happening in America right now is radicalization. That's what it is. That's what this hyped up right- wing media machine is doing.

That's why it feels harder to talk about politics with other people, harder to speak a common language about right and wrong, harder to meet in the proverbial middle, because some news junkies, some relatives, some neighbors are being radicalized.

When Trump lifers are calling for troops in the streets because they lost an election, that's radicalization. When they start speculating about breaking off and creating their own country, that is radicalization. All of this election-denialism talk is radical. And yet it is infesting the airwaves. It's everywhere in the pro-Trump media.

When a former Houston police captain points a gun at an ordinary air- condition repairman because he believes the repairman is the mastermind behind a voter fraud and scandal, that is evidence of radicalization having real-life consequences.

These conspiracy theories spreading all around, millions of Americans clinging to conspiracy theories, this is all evidence of radicalization. And that's not easy to say. It's not an easy word to use. But it's way

past time to talk about this honestly. No one should tip-toe past this predicament.

Disinformation networks like QAnon are causing people to lose touch with reality. This professor told CNN that QAnon believers can get radicalized very quickly, sometimes in a matter of weeks -- there is that word, radicalized.

In other cases, this process is much more gradual. I mean, this right wing rabbit hole problem. But it's all over the place. I mean, numerous sources at Fox News have said to me that they are worried about what the channel's most popular, most incendiary shows are doing.

One long term on-air staffer at Fox recently said to me, quote, our audience has absolutely been radicalized by the programming on the air, from "Fox & Friends" in the morning, to Laura Ingraham's show at night. And if Fox is not radical enough for those viewers, what do they do? They go to Newsmax instead. They go to One American News.

And if those channels aren't enough, well, you just go on to Facebook. You log on on your web browser. There are live-streaming networks full of the most inane election conspiracy theories you can imagine.

But they're right there. They're all over the place online, on radio, and on TV.

Now, are all the radicals on the right? Of course not. Do some liberals have radical ideas? Of course.

Radical thought is nothing new in America. But radicalization is specific because it is a process -- a process with a dangerous edge, a process that takes hold when people feel alienated, when they lack social trust, when they are vulnerable to the rage and resentment of talk show hosts who promote fear and anger and offer solutions, crazy solutions, as Michael Flynn did the other day, talking about martial law.

Flynn made it to the Oval Office on Friday, and we'll get to that in a few minutes.

This is a process, radicalization. It often comes up in coverage of terrorism. That's usually the context you hear that word.

We ask, how did ISIS members become radicalized? How did the shooters in El Paso or Orlando or Las Vegas become radicalized?

Well, the answer very often is the Internet. The digital land of make believe. The same pipeline that helps my children learn, helps you connect with your loved ones also poisons some adults and distorts their reality.

The body of research about radicalization is very clear. The Internet creates more space for extremism and the echo chamber effect accelerates the process. QAnon is one really clear recent example, but so is "Stop the Steal". And so are some corners of the anti- vaccination movement.

Reporters see what's going on. They are seeing signs of this radicalization in American politics and some are calling it like it is. Let me give credit to this report from NPR, saying that domestic terrorism analysts are raising concerns, saying all the conspiracy stuff out there, all the disinformation led by President Trump is amounting to go a mass radicalization of some Americans.


One of the people quoted, one of the experts quoted in that story is Elizabeth Neumann. And she is joining me now. She's a former assistant secretary of homeland security under President Trump.

Also with me is Rosie Gray, senior reporter for "BuzzFeed News", who's been writing about this. She wrote this week about Trump's, quote, increasingly radicalized supporters.

Elizabeth, thank you for coming on the program today.

You talked about conservative infotainment and you said that three out of ten Americans are consumed by this alternative universe.

Why is radicalization a fair word at this point?

ELIZABETH NEUMANN, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP: You know, the concept of radicalization we have been studying for two decades now after 9/11, trying to understand why people jump to a view that, in a small case of radicalized people, leads them to violence, right? So from a government perspective, we are not so interested in policing thought as we are preventing somebody from carrying out an act of violence.

And then in all of that research, and there is a wide variety of theories of why somebody radicalizes, but it's starting to hone in on a couple of key parameters and it tends to not be about the ideology, although it's really important to understand ideology and understand the belief systems and a de-radicalization process.

But what brings somebody to that place of radicalization and eventually potentially carrying out an act of violence tends to be some basic psychological needs that are unmet. You hear Christian Picciolini, a former white supremacist, talk about potholes that happen and why you not -- have just -- you don't have the infrastructure in place to be able to protect and you're not resilient enough to carry through those potholes.

So loss of significance is a key factor here. And I think one of the things we are watching in this -- both the pandemic and then Trump being -- having the bully pulpit and the increasing polarization in our media cycles, your -- Trump fed a grievance that conservatives, that people on the right, people in the middle of the country are hated by the left, that they are ostracized, that they are not important anymore, and that anger and that grievance has led certain people to believe that they -- they've lost their significance in their country and the challenge or the concern that I have here is that those belief systems when carried out to an extreme.

And that's what we're watching happen, is a huge portion of the base of the Republican Party has now bought into a series of lies that the election was stolen from them, that there is rampant fraud, and, therefore, their voice is no longer heard and they feel justified in the calls to arms in carrying out potentially violent acts to protect themselves.

And anytime you get radicalized thought, this idea that you are at an existential threat, that's when we see violence occur. I am very concerned that's the environment we are operating in right now.

STELTER: See, and you are further along than I am. I'm not even -- I'm -- obviously, I am worried about what you are saying, but I am thinking this more about Christmas and how it's impossible to talk to relatives because they've been radicalized in their thought.

Now, obviously, you know, there are even deeper concerns, and that's we are going, talking about possible violence. But, you know, I'm just worried about people not being able to communicate as if they live in the same country.

Rosie, is that what you found when you were interviewing Trump voters recently at the "Stop the Steal" march?

ROSIE GRAY, SENIOR REPORTER, BUZZFEED NEWS: Well, I mean, I definitely found that, you know, regular people, you know, not far-right Proud Boys who are openly sort of interested in violence are talking about violent ideas, like secession, even like civil war. And I think that that actually goes back to the phenomenon that you were talking about in your intro, Brian, which is the increased fragmentation of the right-wing media has allowed people to sort of pick and choose the most extreme content that they want to see.

And in the case of the sort of crisis post-election, with President Trump denying the results of the election, it's led to this increased demand among the audience for media that affirms this idea that the election was stolen and they are seeking it out. It's just leading down an ever more extreme path.

STELTER: Right. There is always something that's going to fill that demand. There is always going to be supply. Even if Newsmax or OAN are not extreme enough, there are plenty of live-streaming networks that will fill that -- that demand.

So, here's what I'm witnessing this weekend, Elizabeth, and you've seen this reporting from "Axios" and CNN and "The New York Times". I am witnessing sources inside the Trump White House leaking to reporters, because they are afraid of Trump's behavior.


They are afraid that Trump is meeting with Sidney Powell, meeting with Michael Flynn, talking about martial law, fantasizing about ways to stay in office. Here's what Jonathan Swan of Axios tweeted on Saturday, saying this is

the most intense concern he's ever heard from senior officials. He says the people that are concerned are not Never Trumpers but people who stood by Trump the whole time, and he -- those sources are now sounding the alarm.

Here is Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times" backing up Swan's reporting. She was breaking a lot of this on Saturday. And she says sources that have gotten used to Trump's eruptions, they sound scared by what transpired in the past week.

So, to be clear, Trump world insiders are leaking to reporters, because they are frightened by the president's delusions.

Elizabeth, does that frighten you as well?

NEUMANN: I -- it frustrates me. I mean, this -- the man is who he is. They should have seen this long ago.

I think they were prideful in thinking that they could control him and now they realizing they can't, and I'm glad they are speaking out. But let me tell you that the biggest concern I have is not that the president would be able to get away with declaring martial law. I think that the guardrails are damaged, but I think they are still there, and he wouldn't be able to pull something off like a coup.

But here is my concern, that in the conspiratorial conservative base of supporting Trump, that there are calls for using the Insurrection Act to declare martial law. When they hear that the president is actually considering this, there are violent extremist groups that look at this as a dog whistle, an excuse to go out and create the violence that could justify the use of the Insurrection Act.

So we do know that one of the key ideologies or themes for violent extremist groups, especially white supremacist groups, this concept called acceleration, they are trying to bring about the overthrow of the U.S. government. They think that will happen through a civil war. And their idea is we should accelerate the chaos, accelerate the coming of the civil war.

So when they hear that the president is open to this idea of martial law, we may see certain groups mobilizing to (ph) commit acts that, in their minds, a justification for the use of the Insurrection Act.

STELTER: Rosie, there's also a direct pipeline here, Newsmax to the White House. Thursday, Michael Flynn is on Newsmax saying, send in the military to rerun the election in certain states. And then, Friday, he is in the Oval Office talking to the president.

This is a direct pipeline.

GRAY: Right. I mean, I think it shows how this is, you know, kind of a vicious cycle in which these radical ideas are being floated in these media outlets and then they are making their way directly to the president because he is paying attention and then he, in turn, floats the idea himself. And it shows that, you know, these are not just, you know, these are

obviously radical fringe ideas, but they are not just that. They are actually making themselves -- making their way to the highest levels of American power and it's obviously a really disturbing situation.

STELTER: Yeah, it really is.

By the way, President Trump called in to Rudy Giuliani's radio show half an hour ago here in New York. No news out of the interview, just the same crackpot theories. But, you know, 43 days after all of the major networks, including Fox, called this election, Trump is still in denial, still lying to listeners about that.

And, you know, it's not even lead-worthy anymore because it's irrelevant. But it's still happening, right? And people are still listening to it on the radio and believing it.

Rosie, Elizabeth, thank you both.

A quick break here on RELIABLE SOURCES. Coming up, a split in the house of Murdoch. Rupert gets vaccinated while one of his biggest stars tells people to be nervous about the vaccines. What is going on there?



STELTER: This morning more help is on the way. We are seeing trucks rolling in Kentucky. We are seeing trucks rolling in Mississippi.

This is the distribution of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine that is rolling out of the distribution facility for the first time this Sunday morning. And CDC director, Dr. Robert Redfield, is expected to sign off on the vaccine at any moment. That's the final step before shots will be administered and we do expect to see the first images of people being vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine this time tomorrow, sometime Monday morning.

We are going to see more of these scenes that have been really inspiring all over television in the past week, giving people a boost of confidence about all of the vaccines that are coming on to market. However, at the same time, we are seeing disturbing rhetoric from some corners of right-wing media.

Did you see the stories this beak about Rupert Murdoch? Rupert Murdoch is the big boss of Fox Corporation, the patriarch of Fox News and the rest of the media empire. He is in the United Kingdom isolating, trying to stay as safe as possible.

He was able to receive his first dose of the COVID vaccine in the U.K. on Wednesday. In a statement, Murdoch encouraged everyone to get the vaccine once it becomes available to them and he thanked the amazing scientists who made this possible. How do we square that with what one of Fox's biggest stars is saying? Fox's Tucker Carlson, the 8:00 p.m. host on Fox News, oftentimes the

highest rated program on cable news, is on the air undermining people like Rupert Murdoch, undermining efforts to get the vaccine as widely distributed as possible.

He implied to his viewers that the vaccine is a marketing ploy. The banner says there will be no questioning the corona vaccine. Have a vaccine and a smile. Just do it. How are the rest of us supposed to respond to a marketing campaign like this? Well, he said, nervously.

What's his message? What's his intention here?

With me now is Oliver Darcy, CNN senior media reporter.

Oliver, this is Tucker Carlson, typical contrarianism.


He does this all the time. The elites are bad and stupid. You at home, you the viewers are the smart ones. That rhetorical trick that he does actually has consequences in this case.

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Right. And it is a rhetorical trick, you know? He is mocking the, quote, glitzy campaign rollout and he is also playing up the few incidents where people had some allergic reactions to the vaccine.

But, Brian, I think this really shows, it exposes the grift of Rupert Murdoch, right? His shamelessness. He is apparently okay with his top host going out on his network, and casting doubt on the vaccine while the very next day after Tucker delivered this monologue, he went himself and got vaccinated.

STELTER: Yeah, we found out he had it. That's right. We found out that he had in the United Kingdom.

You wrote for CNN business this week about how the press should responsibly cover these rare episodes where there is an allergic reaction. Not surprising. totally expected this was going to happen. And yet "The New York Times" is on a push alert when they heard about one of the cases in Alaska.

So, what did you hear from experts about basically how not to be Tucker Carlson?

DARCY: Right. Well, to be clear, no one was saying to cover this up. We should be reporting on adverse reactions when they happen. It's important for people to know about it. That's not the message that's coming from experts.

But they are saying put it in context. You know, hundreds of thousands of people have been vaccinated in the past week. Millions and millions are going to be vaccinated in the next few months. There are bound to be a few instances where someone has an allergic reaction to this vaccine. That's just the way this works. So, you know, we expect that to happen. Don't play it up as something

that's unexpected or that means that there is widespread, you know, allergic reactions to this vaccine. Most people got vaccinated this past week, they didn't have this reaction, they had a normal side effect or didn't feel anything at all and life went on.

So, you know, the next week or so when the American public's impression of this vaccine are malleable, we need to be careful about how we present the news to viewers.

STELTER: Proportionality.

DARCY: Exactly.

STELTER: All you have to do. Put it in proportion.

Here's what Renee DiResta wrote, Renee DiResta wrote for "The Atlantic", talking about what to come in the next few weeks, she says bottom up network activism is driving the spread of anti-vaccine propaganda. Americans are going to see a deluge of tweets, post and snarky memes that will attempt to erode trust in the vaccine rollouts.

I think she's on to something really important there. It's not that you're going to hear people say the vaccines are going to kill you. It's the snark. It's the trolling. It's the "be skeptical" for no good reason. That is so -- that's what can erode trust.

DARCY: Exactly. That's exactly what Tucker Carlson frankly was doing on his top rated --


STELTER: That's what he does. That's right.

DARCY: Yeah, exactly. He was being snarky. He was using rhetorical tricks.

And I think other things we're going to see, too, is people play up these isolated incidences of someone having an allergic reaction. I think, you know, one of the memes that was going around this past week which Tucker Carlson actually seized on himself was this nurse who passed out after having the vaccine. We learned later that she has a medical condition that can cause her to faint sometimes. The meme going around is nurse passes out after vaccine and it's devoid of all context.

So, I think you're going to see a lot of -- a lot of stuff like that in the next few weeks.

STELTER: Right, sadly.

DARCY: And we need to be careful.

STELTER: OK. So, Twitter, Facebook, what the heck are you going to do when those ridiculous memes that mislead the public spread, what are they going to do? That's going to be a question. Let's talk about election denialism and Fox's response to this legal threat from Smartmatic. Smartmatic is one of the electronic voting systems companies that's become the source of conspiracy theories, has become a target of these conspiracy theorists. Smartmatic sent letters to Fox and other networks basically threatening to sue, demanding that they detract false and defamatory claims.

And, incredibly, Fox kind of -- kind of retracted. I mean, Lou Dobbs on the air with a fact-check of himself on Friday. There was a video where he had a person asking questions debunking when he claimed about Smartmatic. Same thing happened on Judge Pirro's program. Same thing happened on Maria Bartiromo's program.

So, I suppose legal threats actually have an impact. Fox followed through.

DARCY: I was actually pretty surprised that they ran this fact check. It was stunning. It was a point-by-point fact check on things that Lou Dobbs and others have been saying on the network for the past few weeks. It was remarkable to watch, you know?

And it does seem like it was compelled by this legal letter. That said, I was talking to the company yesterday and they are still reserving the right to go forward with litigation. So we'll see -- we'll see what happens there.

STELTER: Right. And it's not nearly as strong to have a random guest saying --

DARCY: Right.

STELTER: -- all those things were lies after weeks of lies repeated by people that are trusted by the Fox audience.

Oliver, thank you very much.

Oliver is my co-pilot on the nightly RELIABLE SOURCES newsletter. And you can sign up for free right now at

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After a break here, what went wrong at "The New York Times"?

Margaret Sullivan and David Folkenflik were here with the lessons learned from the caliphate podcast errors. A stunning admission by the editor of "The New York Times" here.


DEAN BAQUET, EDITOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: This failing isn't about any one reporter. I think this was an institutional failing.



STELTER: Now to a podcasting scandal at "The New York Times," but this is bigger than just one media. After external pressure and internal review, "The Times" issued a major correction to its hit 12-part podcast "Caliphate", saying the podcast fell short of standards.


STELTER: The central figure of the podcast, a young Canadian man who claimed to have worked as an executioner for ISIS has now been accused of lying about those experiences, and executive editor Dean Baquet is now calling him a con man. The series won a Peabody, which The Times is now returning. Yes, it's been un-awarded. That's how serious this is for the New York Times.

Now let's talk with two people who've been following this closely. David Folkenflik of NPR interviewed Baquet about the errors. And Margaret Sullivan is the media columnist for The Washington Post, formerly the public editor for The New York Times. David, what went wrong here?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, MEDIA CORRESPONDENT, NPR NEWS: Well, Dean Baquet said -- called it confirmation bias. That is you believe what you want to hear because you want to believe what you hear. There are a number of chances at which even though this -- it's hard to know if somebody really wants to lie to you, that they're lying.

There number of points at which there were clear signs that this was somebody who was lying about at minimum, his timeline about when he traveled and where he traveled. And there were clear signs, they couldn't prove a lot of his assertions, and yet, they put it in this highly produced, very evocative, very raw, visceral, vivid podcast about a young man who gets radicalized in Canada, travels to Syria, and becomes an execution for ISIS. The Time cannot now prove that any of that happened. And now fact believes that none of it did.

STELTER: So, they're adding editors notes, they're adding corrections. But you know, they're claiming this fall short of a retraction. I agree with the way you characterize it, though. They're retracting the core of the podcast. Even though they're not deleting it from the podcast app, they are essentially walking this entire podcast back.

FOLKENFLIK: I think that -- you know, I joked with Baquet when I talked to him on Thursday as rueful. But I said, you know, it sounds to me as though you're not through all of the stages of the Kubler Ross here. You're maybe at stage four out of seven. And he kind of gently laughed. He said, that's probably right.

They're still grappling with what this means. I think that there's no way to intellectually argue anything other than that the core, the heart of this series has been retracted and Baquet acknowledge that the problem is that the series doesn't cohere without it. The problem is that there isn't a series without it.

And that this is I think, ultimately, even if they haven't removed this from their feeds, this is an acknowledgment that it doesn't -- it's not that they doesn't quite reach their standards, is that there isn't something there to have reported on. And that in their view, in their view, they simply didn't have enough to go with in the first place.

STELTER: And one of the excuses, Margaret, that's being given is that because this is a podcast, relatively new medium for the New York Times, a new way to tell stories, there wasn't the same level of examination and scrutiny at the top layers of the New York Times than there -- that there is for a big article, a big written article. Does that make sense to you as someone who used to work there that they just didn't have the right standards in place for audio that they have for articles?

MARGARET SULLIVAN, MEDIA COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, it shouldn't be a different standard. And I'm sure The Times would be the first to say that now that you have to -- you know, your standards for an article, your standards for podcasts, your standards for a photo essay, they all have to be based on truth and verification. I think we would all agree on that.

But this is relatively new medium for traditional newspapers to take up. And there may be some reason to think that it didn't get scrutinized in the same way. But I think it's interesting to note, Brian, that there have been questions that have come up in the past about Rukmini Callimachi's reporting that the New York Times has heard about.

I wrote a little bit about her when I was public editor. You know, a lot of -- there was a lot of internal warning about it. And so, there really should have been a lot of scrutiny. There's no question that she's a very talented journalist and that she's a great storyteller. But the fact is, you have to get it right.

STELTER: And now, she will be reassigned. She's off the terror beat. They haven't said what her new beat will be. This gets to a broader criticism I've seen, David. Some people saying, why was no one fired for this?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you're seeing that there's the question of accountability. Let's talk a little bit about the medium. I used to be a newspaper reporter. I've been at NPR, so I've done audio for 16 years.


FOLKENFLIK: You know, The Times deserves credit for transparency for rereporting it, for sharing information with us, for subjecting Dean to an outside interview with somebody like me. On the other hand, if you look at what they did, they said, well, we've got to do an audio version of our accountability. We've got to talk to the Daily -- you know, which their hit daily podcast about news as a way of holding ourselves accountable on the platform on which this occurred.

But it was interesting. The Times did not put that interview with Baquet on The Daily itself which has four million downloads listeners a day, which is really like their front page of audio. They put it on the Caliphate, which is no longer producing original content except for this corrected.

In addition, I've got to say I have great respect for Mike Barbaro, in some ways, the face of the audio franchise for The Times, a very honorable guy. But you know his fiance is the executive producer of The Daily but also of this podcast, The Caliphate. So, whether he and the team of The Daily that was detached to then work on The Caliphate, were the best people to press Baquet and hold him accountable for The Times, I think, is a fair question.

At minimum, that's the sort of thing that should be disclosed. There's -- because their audio, which does some amazing stuff is so (INAUDIBLE) and still trying to grow, you know, that's part of the birthing pants, I think they need to think about that kind of transparency as well as they try to hold themselves accountable in the audio space.


STELTER: And on the topic of accountability, Margaret used to be the version of the ombudsman there, the public editor. This is a case that kind of needs a public editor, isn't it?

SULLIVAN: Well, it certainly would have been something that would have been I as a public editor would have taken up immediately, you know, and possibly would have come to my attention beforehand. It's interesting that The Times' media columnist, Ben Smith, did write about this a few weeks ago.


SULLIVAN: However, that's a different role. And they're really not -- you know, the role of the media communist, which is what I do now, I'm quick to tell people I'm not the ombudsman, I'm not the ombudsman for the Times or The Washington Post. I don't do that anymore. So, this is a different thing.

But just to David's point, quickly, it is interesting that, and I think laudable, that The Times went out and reported this and reported on the failings of what had happened in a four byline story that ran just the other day. So, that's -- it's not just on The Daily, there were many ways that this sort of accountability was rolled out and I think that's should be noted.

STELTER: Margaret and David, please stay with me. It has been a roller-coaster week for journalism, full of lows. We're talking about a low but also highs, like this CNN investigation prompted a response from Vladimir Putin. Some highs in journalism and some more lows. Those are next.



STELTER: As I mentioned, this was a week of big eyes, big lows for journalism. Let's review some more of those with Margaret Sullivan and David Folkenflik. Margaret, we saw Reuters help break the hacking story wide open. Other outlets now digging for information about this massive cyberattack on U.S. government agencies. And it goes to show that you need reporters to be scrutinizing, looking for this, uncovering what's going on to hold the government accountable when it's been broken into.

SULLIVAN: That's right, Brian. I mean, the reporting is there. It doesn't make the situation any better, but we need to know about it. And that was certainly a very good piece of digging that we should be grateful for.

STELTER: Yes. The more digging on this, there's going to be so much more to learn. An amazing, really embarrassing situation of the New York Post, they mixed up to Robin Hood's, a Robin Hood Foundation, and a Robinhood App. And they put the CEO of the foundation on the cover -- not on the cover, but in a Photoshopped picture as a criminal, looking like a criminal, and how to run a correction for this.

I think David Folkenflik, you know, it's the New York Post, not the New York Times. People have their expectations for a tabloid. But this needs to be called out when they're Photoshopping the wrong guy.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, they're Photoshopping the wrong guy. And let's be honest, they're Photoshopping an African American CEO of this non- profit trying to help people, mixing it up as you say, with an app with a very similar name. I've acknowledged the reporter on it, gave one of the most heartfelt apologies on Twitter I've seen in a long time from a journalist, seemingly not acting under legal threat, but just expressing his heartfelt sorrow and also acknowledging, which is often true, that he had nothing to do with the graphic that was created.

But the New York Post has a history of getting these kinds of things wrong, particularly when it involves people of color. I'm not saying that's what happened here, but I'm certainly saying that -- there's been a pattern of that. And The Post has given, in some ways, grudging, but real correction and apology for that.

STELTER: Now, to a different Murdoch owned property, The Wall Street Journal, which had that op-ed about Dr. Jill Biden that caused a week of controversy. Was this such a waste of time, Margaret, all of these reactions and the backlash to the backlash to an op-ed?

SULLIVAN: Well, it was a bit over the top, I think, that we seem to -- and I will joined in at myself that we seem to want to discuss this ad infinitum. But I think it does go to an issue which is that the Wall Street Journal's editorial page has had a number of very questionable op-ed pieces, you know, including one by Mike Pence, saying that there was no second wave and all kinds of other things like that.

And then, you know, the Wall Street Journal's reporting staff is so strong and has done such good work that the split between the editorial page, the opinion side, and the news side was very, very noticeable. And I think that added into the story.

STELTER: Yes, it definitely did. I think the highest high journalism this week was CNN and Bellingcat collaborating on this investigation into the poisoning of the Russian opposition leader. Remarkable work by Clarissa Ward knocking on the door of a suspected agent. You know, she deserves all the praise she's getting this week for doing that.

And it's great to see CNN collaborating with it with a new organization, Bellingcat, which does these global investigations. Margaret, David, thank you both. Coming up here on RELIABLE SOURCES, democracy dies in darkness. That's been the slogan on the Washington Post masthead since 2017. But will it disappear at the end of the Trump presidency? I'll ask the top editor Marty Baron. He's up to this.



STELTER: The Washington Post does end in the year 2020 with about three million subscribers and announcing big expansion plans for 2021. I spoke with The Post top editor again, Marty Baron, about the plans for 2021, but also about the end of the Trump years. What we learned from the Trump years and what to expect in the Biden years.


STELTER: Well, all these new subscribers that are coming in, all of these new milestones, they used to be called the Trump bump back in 2017. You know, you in the New York Times and other outlets were gaining in large part due to interest in all things Trump, but it's not a Trump bump anymore. So, what do you attribute the growth in subscribers to at this point?

MARTY BARON, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, I think it's a lot more than a Trump bump. That's for sure. I think it's a bump in the desire for quality journalism and a bump in the number of people who are willing to pay for quality journalism. I think people realize now that in order to get a high-quality journalism, you have to pay for it.

And they want to support it. They're worried about the information ecosystem as it exists. It's contaminated with -- contaminated with all sorts of falsehoods and conspiracy theories. And they want to support organizations like ours.


STELTER: Yes. It does seem there's more awareness. That if you want the news to survive and thrive, you have to subscribe. What are you going to be doing in 2021, in part, with these additional revenues? Where will you be growing?

BARON: Well, we're setting up some hubs, one in Europe, one in Asia, that will provide 24/7 coverage. We're adding a large group of people to our technology coverage, which has already grown tremendously. We already have 19 people covering technology that we're going to add to that. That'll be one of the major pillars of our coverage going forward. And we're focusing, of course, on social media, particularly on

Instagram. That's been a primary way that a lot of -- a lot of people, particularly younger people have gotten their information. And so, we're going to dedicate some more resources to that.

STELTER: It's notable to see any outlet adding foreign bureaus, in your case, Sydney and Bogota. And these hubs you're going to have in Europe and Asia, is this a way to more thoroughly compete with the CNNs and the New York Times of the world that have these 24/7 global operations? Is that where the post is heading?

BARON: Yes. We've been moving in the direction of having a full 24/7 coverage, but there's much more for us to do. As you note, others have that way. We think it's important for us to have that as well. And in order to do that, we have to position people in different time zones. And having a group in Europe, having a group in Asia will help us accomplish that.

STELTER: So, you'll have over 1,000 newsroom staffers in the months ahead. Are we increasingly in an American environment of haves and have nots where there are these big newsrooms that are getting bigger, and at the same time, local newsrooms are struggling and some papers are closing? Is it a tale of two news worlds?

BARON: I worry about that. Certainly, we're succeeding. We'll have the biggest staff we've ever had in the history of The Post, and at the same time, local news organizations are hurting. But at the same time, I should note that there are some success stories out there. I think we'll find a way for local journalism. I think we're beginning to find our way.

If you recall, that it wasn't that long ago that people were talking about news organizations like the Washington Post and the New York Times being on their deathbed. And here we are. We're growing, they're growing. There are enormous signs of success for news organizations like ours around the country.

But now I think they will start to see some success with the local news organizations as well, as long as they have the right model. And particularly for the commercial enterprises, they ask people to pay for the comprehensive coverage that they provide of communities. And there will be some nonprofit models as well.

STELTER: Looking toward the inauguration, what's your post mortem of the Trump presidency? Because you famously said, we're not at war against Trump, we're at work. That was the Washington Post's view of handling and covering the Trump years. How do you -- what's your assessment now?

BARON: That's exactly what I believe. I believe we did our job. We did our job as defined under the First Amendment. That's why we have a First Amendment in this country. That's what James Madison talked about was essentially holding government accountable. And that's what we -- that's what we have done over the last four years. That's what we'll do in the next four years as well. This is not unique to any particular administration, any particular

party. It's something that we intend to do, and that's its core to our mission. That's core to who we are. And it's always been part of The Post heritage.

STELTER: Some people have wondered if the slogan at the top of the paper is going to go away. It says democracy dies in darkness. It was a very Trumpy phrase, or at least some people read it that way. Is that going away?

BARON: No, absolutely not. It was not created in response to the Trump administration, notwithstanding what the accusations that people made against us, and it's not going away. It's very much a part of who we are.

STELTER: Viewers can see that you are at home, just like most of your staffers at The Post. How has the pandemic and staying at home affected the paper, affected the news outlet this year?

BARON: Look, we'd much rather be in our newsroom. It helps in terms of collaboration. We like the social aspects of it. It's really important. But with the technology that's available today, we've been able to function remarkably well. I think obviously, with a pandemic, that has put limitations on our ability to be out on the -- on the streets to the extent that we wish to be. Although, of course, we have many reporters who are out in the field and as does CNN and other news organizations.

So, we've been able to function. We would much rather be together. But we've been able to do our jobs and I think do it well.

STELTER: Yes. What I miss is being able to stand around the cubicles and just throw out story ideas with everybody.

BARON: Yes, that's missing. That serendipity of sort of exchanging ideas as you pass people in the hallway, as you see people on the elevator, as you see them as you're having lunch, just exchanging ideas without any real structure attached to it.

STELTER: Yes, yes. Hopefully soon. Hopefully soon. There's been a lot of speculation about you and your future. I know it's always strange but it's true. At the Post, people have been talking about the boss, what's going to happen to Marty, is he going to retire soon. So, is there anything you want to share with them and us right now?


BARON: I can only share three letters, TBD. So, I don't really have an answer for you. I think more important than my own future is the future of The Post. And as you can see from our expansion, that's going to -- just been announced. There's overwhelming evidence in the future of The Post.


STELTER: Finally, today, as we head toward Christmas and the New Year, let's take a moment to acknowledge what a feat it's been producing live TV amid a pandemic with so many people working from home, producing from home. I want to extend a thank you to everyone that you don't see here on the screen, to John and Marina, to Katie and Diane, and all the members of the RELIABLE SOURCES team who get us on the air every week. To Andrew, and Mallory, and April, and Jordan, and Chloe, thank you all.

Pandemic era media productions, one of the topics on our end of the year podcast. You can hear from Oliver, Chloe, Frank, Kerry and Donie on the latest episode of our podcast. And we will see you right back here this time next week.