Return to Transcripts main page

Reliable Sources

How Four Years Of Trump Changed The Media; Daniel Dale's Fact- Checking Tales; Trump And The MAGA Media Universe; Challenges Of Covering The Trump Presidency. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired December 27, 2020 - 11:00   ET



BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I am Brian Stelter and this is RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the story behind the story, where we figure out what is reliable.

This hour is a program five years in the making. We are looking back at how President Trump changed the media and how the media changed him.

Plus, we are looking ahead at what this polarized news environment means for the Biden administration.

Daniel Dale is here with a tale or two from the front lines of fact- checking.

And Jake Tapper is here to assess the MAGA media and the best and worst coverage of the Trump White House.

Plus, lots of Biden voters are so tired of Trump, they want the media to stop covering him. Is that realistic? Will it happen? We are going to have a candid conversation about that in just a few minutes.

But I want to begin by rewinding four years back to the very beginning Trump's very first full day in office in January 2017. I know everyone remembers when President Trump freaked out about crowd size at his inauguration.

But most people don't know that his fury was triggered by this segment on CNN. It was at 5:19 in the morning on January 21st. Yeah, crowd size-gate started right here on this network.

It was a short accurate report, but it drove Trump up a wall. It was the first sign that his entire presidency will be ruled by what he saw on television.

He screamed at Sean Spicer that day. He flipped the TV over to Fox. He felt better over there watching "Fox & Friends." And the rest is history.

That same day, Trump went to the CIA and stunned everyone by giving a rage-filled political speech on hallowed ground. The stars behind him represented agents who died in service of the country. And yet in this space, he said things like this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth, right?


STELTER: A running war with the media. Back then, in 2017, media leaders wondered, would he change? Would Trump grow into the role?

We know the answer now. Historians one day will write that Trump's conduct deteriorated during his four years in office. He lied more and more dangerously as time went on.

But his approach to the media was clear all along. He called major networks like CNN the enemy of the people after just one month in office, and as you can see in this chart from fact base, he deployed those destructive words more and more often with every passing year.

That's why I call this the fake news spiral. It goes down and down.

Just to give one example, a White House correspondent says something that's true, but hard to hear, and then Trump rejects it and then he tells his fans to hate that guy and then Fox News trashes the guy, and then everyone forgets what the real news report was about to begin with and we end up in a fake news spiral, where the people who need the information most are the ones least receptive to it.

Trump loyalist Matt Schlapp said this to me one day in 2019. Schlapp is the chairman of the American Conservative Union. He said, Brian, when the media calls our president a liar, they make it impossible for 50 percent of the country to see you as unbiased.

Maybe so, Matt. But people who lie all the time are liars. A reporter who pretends the abnormal is normal, who pretends fiction is fact, that reporter becomes a liar. If I pretend I'm dry in the middle of a soaking rainstorm, then I'm a liar.

But this is what causes the fake news spiral. It's a real problem. It was for four years and it's not going away.

Trump did damage on this front. And he was proud of the damage he did to media literacy. He told two of his friends, quote, I think that one of the most important things that I have done, especially for the public, is explain that a lot of the news is indeed fake.


Well, for one subset of the public he did, for his base. Disdain for the media is what glued his base together.

So, a running war with the media. After four years, did Trump win or lose that war? Well, I would argue there are no winners. No one wins in a situation like that. But I want to hear from reporters who lived this story for the last

four years, reporters in and around the Trump White House. That's what this hour is all about.

So, let's bring in four veterans of the Trump White House press briefing room, Jim Acosta, Abby Philip, Kaitlan Collins and Jeremy Diamond.

So, Jim, to you first as our chief White House correspondent, you were there for the Obama years, you've been there for the Trump years. We know that Trump's anti-media rhetoric, his words were disturbing, but it also bled into actions. He tried to take away funding from PBS. He moved against Amazon, making moves or suspected to be moves against Jeff Bezos because Bezos owns "The Washington Post."

He took action, his DOJ took action against AT&T when AT&T was moving to buy CNN and the rest of Time Warner. It goes on and on. Lawsuits against TV stations, et cetera.

These were not just words. They were actions. What stood out to you the most?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I mean, I think -- I think all of those are perfect examples of what President Trump was trying to do, trying to accomplish during his four years in office. I think what he was trying to accomplish is move the United States in the direction of what I describe as state supported media.

We see this happen in other parts of the world where you see countries like Russia and so on drift away from having some semblance of a free and independent press to essentially state controlled or state supported media.

The president showing preference for outlets like Fox News and OANN and so on, while trying to punish institutions like "The Washington Post," "The New York Times," CNN, major news networks, I think he was trying to cow the rest of the country into the direction of having either a pro-Trump media or an anti-Trump media.

STELTER: Abby, you were at "The Washington Post" at the beginning of the Trump years and then joined CNN. "The Post" was another outlet that was a subject of Trump's ire, just like CNN. Was it different in some ways at a newspaper versus a television network?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it's different in a lot of ways. We all know that this president is very focused on television and particularly cable TV. And so, the degree of scrutiny that he would -- he would place on CNN was, I think, pretty unique in a certain way. I mean, he also has a pretty significant amount of negativity directed at "The Washington Post" for all kinds of reasons, but, you know, being on television is, for President Trump, often the most important thing.

And so, he really fixated on what was being said on our air, what was being said from the north lawn, and also his aides. It's almost a little bit of a game within the administration to channel the president's behavior towards news networks like CNN with his senior aides sort of acting out in that way as well.

STELTER: Jeremy, what were press relations like with the Trump White House press shop with the press secretaries and the deputies and the aides? How would you characterize it?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I would characterize it in the sense that they were overshadowed by everything that the president did day in and day out. You know, in the earlier parts of the administration, the storyline was often that the press shop was trying to do one thing, trying to plan out a message, trying to strategize, Infrastructure Week, of course, became the epitome of that because it happened so many times without anything getting done. So, that was a storyline with the president undermining his own press shop.

But then in the later years, I would say it just became that the press shop really was something, someone you went to for comment to kind of tick a box. But it was rare for the press shop to actually engage with us on substantive storylines in a way that the presidents would. I think we got to a place where the press shop really was no substitute for what the president himself was saying. And, frankly, given the amount of access we had to the pretty during these last four years, you know, there is no substitute for a comment from the president himself.

And so, the ability to ask him questions on a regular basis was obviously much more important to me and I think to my colleagues here than whether or not the press shop was going to ultimately give us a comment that perhaps didn't mean much because it might get stomped on by the president on Twitter anyways.

STELTER: Right, they're contradicted by the president.

And, going a step further there, Kaitlan, were there times when the press shop would lie, would deceive? I think what we were used to pre- Trump with the Obama White House, was spin, a lot of spin from the White House. But was it different from this White House press shop?



I think it's different than any other press shop that existed in politics before because there is always a little bit of tension between the reporters and those who are speaking on behalf of a politician because often you are asking the questions that they don't want to answer.

But the way that the press secretaries who worked for Donald Trump took it to a different level was often their attacks were personal or they took it personally when you asked them tough questions about something that the president himself had said. Someone they willingly went to work for and, of course, were doing so while getting a paycheck from taxpayers.

And I think we saw a little bit of a different iteration of that with every press secretary. Of course, Sean Spicer set the bar incredibly low with the way he began his tenure as press secretary. We certainly saw it in between with Sarah Sanders, with Stephanie Grisham, who refused to brief the press at all.

But it really culminated with Kayleigh McEnany, being the last press secretary for Trump, having probably the most adversarial relationship with reporters, to where as Jeremy was noting, you know, having a press secretary almost seemed irrelevant because they weren't answering your questions whether behind the scenes or on camera in any substantive way.

STELTER: And, Jim, everyone remembers the day that your press pass was revoked, the legal battle that ensued. That was the most visible of a series of confrontations and stand-offs between the press and the press shop. Whatever Trump wanted trickled down. And they tried to revoke Brian Karem's press pass. And then there was another court battle.

You know, every time these things happened, Trump lost. And yet was there still a chilling effect? Do you think it still did damage?

ACOSTA: Oh, it certainly did damage. I mean, no question about it. The thing that I warned about the entire time we were covering Donald Trump is to the conservatives out there who were cheering him on as he was revoking press passes and booting people out of events like what happened with Kaitlan and so on, you know, listen, a Democratic president could come in, a Democratic administration could come in and do the very same thing to members of the press that they care about.

And so to me, it's just sort of an arms race that we don't need in covering American politics. You know, Donald Trump did not just do this all on his own and the way he lashed out at the press and went after the press. There were taxpayer-funded employees of the federal government, paid for with your tax dollars, who are out there retaliating against reporters, too.

And keep in mind, you know, it's not just what was going on inside the White House, the president and his people. There were Trump supporters all over the country absorbing this hostility that the president was directing at the press and lashing out at us as well. And in ways that made us feel endangered. I am not the only reporter who covered this White House who has had death threats. There have been a number of us who experienced death threats.

We can't be at a place in this country where political reporters need bodyguards to cover political campaign events and so on. And so, you know, it's more than just pulling a press pass or yelling at a reporter at a press conference or calling somebody names like we heard President Trump do with Abby from time to time.

It is just a pervasive hostility towards the president, anti- democratic hostility towards the press that I hope we never see the like of ever again. It is so damaging and destructive for our democracy.

STELTER: Right, multiple reporters were shoved and assaulted at various Trump rallies and events.

At the same time, let me just add, and, Jeremy, you know better than I, a lot of Trump voters wanted this. They wanted to see Jim Acosta on the lawn with you treated as a hate object. So that's something we have to square. We have to square that circle as a country.

DIAMOND: Yeah, there is certainly a blood sport aspect to it that the president's supporters bought into and relished in seeing.


DIAMOND: You know, we saw that at the rallies. Every time any of us attended one of the rallies, there is always that part during the rally where the president points out the press in the back and directs everybody to roundly begin booing and insulting, and all kinds of different things towards the press. That has become, you know, a normal part of the run of show of a Donald Trump rally.

And I guess the difference is, you know, we saw that during the 2016 campaign. It's just very different once it becomes elevated to the president of the United States. And I worry most not about what it says to us and the impact that it has on us as White House correspondents, but really about the message that it sends to the world and to our colleagues who are reporting abroad in far more dangerous situations and the signal that it sends to dictators around the world who you have seen employ the same rhetoric of the president of the United States, fake news, enemy of the people, all of those kinds of things are words that dictators and tyrants around the world are now using to try to discredit good journalism that is shedding a light on things happening in those countries. That is the most disheartening part of the president's attack.

STELTER: That's right. We are talking about words turning into actions. CPJ reporting this month, a record number of journalists around the world imprisoned in 2020.

All right. Jeremy, Kaitlan, Jim, Abby, stay with me. Kaitlan, you're up next after the break.

Coming up, was our country run by Trump's television remote for the past four years? And what are the consequences? We are going to talk about his obsession with TV right after the break.



STELTER: Looking back at news coverage the last four years, four overwhelming years of the politics, one word that probably wasn't used enough is narcissist. Do you know what I mean? Another word the press should have used more often is narcissism.

Trump's obsession with media, especially news coverage of himself, was a defining feature of the past four years, all of these news stories here talking about his obsession with news coverage or the economy, of his rallies, of his impeachment, et cetera. And this addiction gave his favorite network, Fox News, an enormous amount of power.

As I wrote in my book "Hoax" earlier this year, the joke around Fox was that Trump watched more of the network's programming that management did. According to my sources, Trump aide Hope Hicks hated the drum beat of stories about the president being glued to Fox. She thought it made him look ill-informed and small.

The problem was the stories were accurate. By 2020, I reported that numerous executives at Fox wished Trump would watch less TV. There is something there about a Frankenstein and about what you have crated and it turning against you. I don't know.

But let's continue the conversation about Trump's media habits and more with Jeremy Diamond, Kaitlan Collins, Jim Acosta and Abby Phillip.

Kaitlin Collins, you joined CNN from "The Daily Caller" in 2017. I remember earlier on, you were on RELIABLE SOURCES as a "Daily Caller" White House correspondent, certainly a right-wing Web site, Tucker Carlson's website.

So to go from there to CNN is really interesting, first of all. Second, I wonder if you have a unique way of viewing Trump's obsession with right-wing media and how it affected his presidency.


COLLINS: Well, I think the transformation you saw among right-wing media was often you saw some of them anti-anti-Trump, and they were taking a role of defending the president. That's not something you had seen during the level during Donald Trump's time in office and it also became something he relied on. Yu know, just the other day, he tweeted that he thought the biggest difference in the election in 2016 and 2020 was not the pandemic and the way he handled it and how voters thought about that, but was Fox News.

And so you saw how the president really did rely on them and often thought that the reason he was getting poor coverage was not because of something he had done or something he had said. It was because he believed the media was pitted against him.

And I think something I learned going from a website like "The Daily Caller" to coming to work at CNN and how you viewed things before was really how Donald Trump loves the media and just how his relationship with them can be behind the scenes because, yes, sometimes his frustration is genuine. He had yelled at me in a few briefings and I had gotten heads up from officials, the president isn't happy with you today, so be warned.

But oftentimes, Brian, the president had a good relationship with reporters and often liked to chat with the reporters off the record at the back of the plane on Air Force One as they came back from those Trump rallies that we were just talking about where he would often yell at reporters. And that's something that viewers at home and the Trump supporters at home don't always recognize. STELTER: Yeah, Abby, I played that clip earlier of Trump saying he was

in a running war with the media. This is also sometimes a love affair with certain outlets. He relied so extensively on Fox News.

I think that did him a disservice. I think that misinformation on fox ended up hurting him.

He thought it was helping him. I wonder going forward if every president will have these favorite outlets that they just use and only rely on to give interviews.

It's amazing looking back, Abby, that president Trump never gave a single interview to CNN in his four years in office. So he had a real divide between the Maria Bartiromos and Sean Hannitys who he relied on, versus the CNNs he used as his foils.

PHILLIP: Yeah, I mean you know, I think that there is -- there can be a debate about whether this whole reliance on Fox News's echo chamber will backfire on Republicans in general and perhaps Trump in particular. But, you know,I do think that the president used it in a way that was unlike anything that we have ever seen in the history of the presidency.

He had a news outlet that was an extension of his campaign, an extension of his administration, that was out there every day not only echoing that he had to say about things, but also planting ideas in his mind that then became part of the official agenda.

That is an extraordinary relationship that I hope, frankly, never continues. It is unhealthy for the media to be in that kind of environment. I don't think that you will see, for example, a Biden administration following in that mold.

But, you know, at the same time, you know, I think President Trump believes that the media ought to be pro or anti a particular public figure. He always resented media that was not explicitly in favor of his presidency or his agenda, and he just had a twisted view of the role that the media played, and perhaps this goes back to his relationship with sort of tabloid media in New York.

But that is the view that he brought with him to the White House. It may not end with him, but I certainly hope and I do expect that future administrations will not have that kind of toxic relationship because it's corrosive to our democracy.

STELTER: It's a propaganda pipeline. It certainly is on at the right.

Jeremy, Jim, Abby, thank you so much.

ACOSTA: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: Kaitlin had to jump for some breaking news. I texted her to say, what are all those beeping noises behind you? She said they are working on inauguration preparations at the White House. Construction underway for Joe Biden's inauguration. And that relates to a question that many of you at home have emailed

me about. After inauguration day, will the media stop covering Trump? We are going to get into that after the break.

Plus, what is the future of fact-checking in the Biden years? Daniel Dale is next.



STELTER: Do you remember early in the Trump years that it was controversial to say he was lying? There were all these debates in newsrooms about when and whether and how to use the L-word, when something was a lie more than a fib or a falsehood, but an outright lie.

Of course, over the years, Trump's lying became more and more pervasive, more and more egregious, and that is why Daniel Dale became the journalistic version of a star. Dale was fact-checking Trump before it was cool, so to speak. He was well known as a truth teller at "The Toronto Star". He was the D.C. bureau chief early on in the Trump years doing these fact checks.

And he joined CNN in June of last year, continuing to track Trump's false and misleading claims time and time again. So many articles we can barely keep track.

As I mentioned, Dale's gotten a lot of attention for this. You have probably seen some of the stories, some of the praise for his work because so many Americans, some of many people around the world have been hungry for fact checks.

Let me bring Dale in for a conversation about what these four years have been like.

Daniel, do you think fact check is the best word? Or is it -- is it reality checking at this point? What is it that you do?

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: I think fact check is fine. I think, you know, the broader pieces where we take a step back and look at the dishonest narratives rather than a particular claim, you can call that reality checking or something of the like.

Fundamentally, whatever you call it, it's about providing readers, viewers with the truth behind the lies and other deceptions, if you don't want to use the word lies, that they're getting from the president and other public officials.

STELTER: What about you and the word "lies"? This used to be a big deal. People would debate for hours and hours. And now, I don't hear those debates anymore.

DALE: You know what? I would disagree there. I think that in many newsrooms, thankfully not ours, not at CNN, but I think in much of this country, newsrooms are still to this day, you know, at the end of the Trump presidency reluctant or even unwilling to use the word lie.


Certainly, in news copy, they might leave it to the columnist, you know, they might leave it to the editorial board. In those realms, It's fine. But I think objectively, it should -- it could and should be in a news story every day about President Donald Trump, and it still isn't happening.

Thankfully, CNN took a different approach from the beginning. In my negotiations with CNN to come over here from the Toronto Star, I asked them, you know, is it OK if I keep saying lie? You're fine with that? And they're like, oh, yes, no, that's cool. That's accurate. So, that was -- that was a big relief to me. And I think it says something that I didn't just take that for granted because I -- you know, other newsrooms aren't the same way.

STELTER: Yes, come to think of it, you are right about that. There is still some reluctance to just bluntly say what is going on. I remember when he lied about Alabama during Hurricane Dorian, and he claimed that Alabama was at risk of being hit by a hurricane. And showing the National Weather service graphics, showing the maps was the best way to debunk his claims about Alabama.

Also, I can't believe that happened. I can't believe a lot of these events happen. Our job is to call lies lies and stand on the side of truth. It shouldn't be hard. Like you said, it's not the hardest job in the world as long as we keep our backbone on, our backups straight.

DALE: That's exactly right. I think for a lot of reporters, and even beyond reporters, for editors, publishers, CEOs, you know, people who run media outlets, I think for a lot of them, it's like, well, we're going to be called bias if we say in our news copy that someone is lying. Or even if we don't use the word lie, even if we say in the news copy that someone is not telling the truth or saying something false.

And so, I've tried really hard to argue that calling a lie a lie or false a false, if you're afraid of the word lie, that's not bias. That is objective truth. That's objective reporting. And when we shy away from that, Brian, I think it does damage to readers and viewers trust in us because, you know, readers and viewers want people, journalists who tell it like it is. And if we're afraid to tell it like it is. I think that erodes our credibility with a significant segment of the population.

STELTER: It sure does. So, the trend right now is toward asymmetric line, one sideline a lot more than the other. Now, if it flips, you know, if Biden turns out to be the biggest Pinocchio out there, then you'll be back on this program pretty soon telling us, but we just have to keep telling him like it is.

DALE: It would almost be easier if Biden was an equal liar to Trump for me because then I could go in and sort of surely demonstrate, look, you know, I'm independent. I'm treating them the exact same way. The fact is, though, that Biden is not the same. And so, the coverage of Biden is going to be equally rigorous. But the final product when we cover Biden is not going to be the same.

STELTER: Right. Not the same volume, not the same volume. Daniel, thank you so much.

DALE: Thank you.

STELTER: For more of these inside the newsroom insights, sign up for our nightly RELIABLE SOURCES newsletter. Sign up for free right now at When we come back here on the program, we are going to look ahead to the Biden years. What about Trump's tweets? Will they be covered after Biden takes office? Should they be covered? Are they going to be newsworthy? Well, Jake Tapper is here of answers about how to cover an unprecedented post-presidency.



STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES, I'm Brian Stelter. Trump's presidency unfolded in two parallel universes of media, two parallel universes of information. And that made the job of journalists in some ways more complicated, more interesting. I want to get an anchor man's assessment now from Jake Tapper, of course, the anchor of "THE LEAD" and "STATE OF THE UNION" here on CNN. Jake, great to see you.


STELTER: I've heard you recently talked about MAGA media. That's a reference to the Foxes and the Breitbarts, all of these Web sites and networks that propped up the Trump presidency. Because there has been this MAGA media, did it change how you did your job in the Trump years?

TAPPER: Well, you had to know that there was this alternate universe were things that were true were being portrayed in the exact opposite way and things that were false were being portrayed as true. But I don't know how much it influenced how I did my job. It was just important to know that it was there.

And you know -- and I said MAGA media because it's not really right to call it conservative media. There's a lot of conservative media that did not bend the knee for President Trump. And it's not really accurate to call it necessarily even right-wing media, because it's really -- it's just those shows and channels and publications and Web sites that are just devoted to the prospect that President Trump can do no wrong, and his critics can do no right. So, that's why I use the term.

STELTER: How do you think Trump changed CNN over these four years? You know, I see on the air more monologues than I did before. I do them, you do them, different ways to tell stories. How do you think he changed us?

TAPPER: Well, that's a tough one. Look, I mean, Donald Trump, because of his disruptions, and the way he disrupted just how presidents and public figures behave, and his actions too change the way that the news media writ large behaves, in terms of he was -- he hated not being in the news. So, there was constantly not just on his Twitter feed, but in terms of, you know, presidential actions and rallies and there was just this constant need to be the center of attention.


TAPPER: And the news media basically granted him that wish, although not necessarily in the way he wanted. We felt in many ways the need to do more aggressive fact-checking. The monologues, the -- well, whatever you call them. On Sunday, we call homilies.

STELTER: Well, what do you call them?

TAPPER: Well, on Sunday, we call them homilies, and during the week we call them morrows but that's just, you know, nickname for what we call them. But it's basically a time to just turn to the camera and just present some facts in a way that might clear up where there is obfuscation whether it's about matters of decency or matters of fact.



TAPPER: And so, that's how -- you know, I don't know that we're going to have the need to continue to do those quite the same way in a Biden administration. Maybe we will. I mean, maybe he'll be -- look, before Donald Trump came along, Joe Biden was known as a fairly gaffe-prone individual, you know, known for sticking his foot in his mouth all the time. I don't think he was known as somebody who was indecent necessarily, but we'll see.

Look, I mean, I guess it's entirely possible that this will happen, and we'll be doing it. But I kind of suspect that news media coverage will change as a more, you know, "normal President" takes office, whether it's, you know, Donald -- I'm sorry, Joe Biden, in 2021 or, you know, Nikki Haley in 2025, whatever. I mean, I think generally, there will be a return to some sort of non-Trump obsessive coverage.

STELTER: Yes. I'm curious what you make of expectations past January 21st, right. So, what happens after Inauguration Day, and Trump is either at Mar-a-Lago or somewhere else in Florida? Will you on your programs cover his tweets? Will you focus on what he says? Have you thought about that editorial judgment?

TAPPER: I mean, I'll cover him the same way I covered any other former president, which is to say, a little bit, but not to a large degree. I mean, I have covered Barack Obama and George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. I mean, they have been people I have covered on my show.

I mean, they have not dominated my coverage in any way. And I don't anticipate that Donald Trump will, either when he -- once he's a former president.

STELTER: It's going to be so different, right? He's maybe going to have a network or streaming service, or at least a big Twitter platform. And he's going to be throwing darts at Biden every day, and it's going to be lying about what's going on in the new administration. So, there's going to be an entire media apparatus that does take that very seriously, as you said, the MAGA media.

TAPPER: Well, then they can do that. I'll focus on the news of the day, whether that's the pandemic or the new administration or foreign policy. I mean, I'm sure that he will try to remain as much in the news as possible. But the truth of the matter is, he will not be as relevant.

STELTER: Jake, let me put in a break. I want to ask you what you thought was most difficult about covering the Trump years. We'll take a break. More with Jake Tapper in a moment.



STELTER: Four years of leaks, lies, and laments, controversies, cover- ups, and covfefe. So what now? Back with Jake Tapper. Jake, what was most difficult for you about the last four years. I found it sometimes really hard to explain all of the whataboutism, all of the rhetorical techniques that we've seen from Trump in the pro-Trump media?

You know, I say there's disinformation campaigns out there. And they say that CNN is producing disinformation. You know, it's this, whataboutism, saying whatever you're doing actually they're doing. I found it very difficult these campaigns have confusion. And our job is, as you said, look to the camera and explain what is actually true. What did you find most difficult in the last four years?

TAPPER: Well, there are two things, I think. One is just the notion that President Trump was very skilled at making facts and decency into partisan issues. So, if you stand up for just something that's not true or you stand up for something that is -- you know, I stand up against something that the President was doing that was indecent, you know, the way he went after John McCain is a very early example. You know, I prefer people who weren't captured, smearing just the very concept of prisoners of war as people that we should be honoring.

That -- a lot of people fell for that, you know. And a lot of reporters, we should point out, tried to -- they ran away from it. You know, they bought in to the -- to the proposition. Well, Donald Trump is making facts and decency into partisan football, so I don't want to be aligned with standing up for that fact because somebody might tag me as a Democrat. That I think was challenging. And I think, frankly, a lot of our colleagues in the news media fail that test.

Then the second thing is, look, running -- doing interview shows is -- you know, we're not wired as human beings for conflict. We're actually wired against it. You know, that's why people get away with lying on so many interview shows because it's difficult to confront somebody.

And I think one of the things about the Trump era was you kind of had to steel yourself for interviews with people that might misrepresent the facts and might -- and might -- so, you know, at a certain point, once somebody like proved themselves to be a liar, I just stopped booking them. But sometimes, you know, you just had to steal yourself for an interview because you just didn't know how off the rails it might go.

STELTER: I noticed that about Trump aides on CNN. I mean, there were times in 2017 when Kellyanne Conway was on this network all the time. I remember interviewing her a few times and feeling like each time it was less valuable, like I was getting less of value in substance each time. Did you have similar experiences?

And you were doing it almost every week. And of course, for weeks, the White House wouldn't provide any White House Trump administration guests. Did you feel like there were diminishing returns because you weren't getting the truth?

TAPPER: Well, there were some people that are such -- they're just so mendacious, I just wouldn't put them on air. Kayleigh McEnany, I never booked her. Jason Miller from the Trump campaign, I would never book him. I mean, these are just people who just -- they just tell lies the way that, you know, most people breathe and there was no value in that.

I don't view Kellyanne Conway the same way. She was a Senior Advisor to the President. She was more of a filibusterer and a subject-changer I thought --

STELTER: Yes, a subject-changer That's right. That's what she was doing.

TAPPER: -- than a liar. And I think it's different. I really do. And there is a -- there is a risk in just like, lumping everybody together. There's a big difference between something like Kayleigh McEnany who just like, this is what she does. She tells lies all the time. She can't acknowledge reality. So, I'm just not -- I'm just not going to put somebody like that on air.

Now, I think a big challenge for the news media going forward is what do you do about the 126 House Republicans including a couple of the House Republican leaders who signed on to this crazy Texas lawsuit that even conservative legal scholars were calling garbage insanity? Like, what are we supposed to do with these people going forward knowing that they are willing to sign on to something that dishonest?

And not, not all of them did it, by the way. There are a number of them who didn't, Kinzinger and, you know, Michael McCaul. There are a bunch of congressmen who didn't, Liz Cheney, but there are -- a majority who did. What are we supposed to do with the knowledge that these people are willing to sign on to such garbage?

And make no mistake. It is the President and his minions who are responsible, not the millions of people who have been lied to and misled. They have been misled. They need to be told the truth. And we -- that's part of what we need to do in the news media is try to help some of these people understand the truth once Trump goes away from the White House -- from the White House. [11:50:57]

STELTER: That's why I'm so critical with Fox is that on Fox, that's the platform to tell a lot of these millions people the truth, and oftentimes they fall down on the job. It does sound like you have some disappointment in some of your journalists colleagues around Washington from these past four years.

TAPPER: Yes, I do. I think that -- I think that, you know, we've been calling out lies from Donald Trump since 2015, 2016. And I mean, the first time like I did like a homily or a morrow or a monologue, whatever you want to call it, was when he was going after Ted Cruz's dad over the Kennedy assassination, that nonsense. And I said, this isn't a pro-Cruz position or an anti-Trump position, it's a pro-truth position. That was in I think spring 2016.

And I think that that position, the idea of, I'm going to take the stand, I don't care. I don't care if you -- if you falsely labeled me a tool of this party or that party, this is the truth. I think that Donald Trump succeeded with many of our colleagues in, you know, throwing the ball close to the batter so that they were scared. You know, the brush ball. I think he -- I think he scared people away. And I think a lot of our colleagues failed to rise to the challenge.

Now, look, I also think there are people on the far-left that went way too far, you know, calling Trump Hitler. And you know, and I think people on the far-right who defended every single thing he did no matter what it was. I mean, I'm -- but I'm not talking about the extremes right now when I talk about my disappointment.

STELTER: Jake, thank you so much. Great talking with you.

TAPPER: Happy Holidays, Brian.

STELTER: You too. One final thought about finding reliable sources of news right after the break.



STELTER: And finally, today, what Jake Tapper would call a homily at the end of the program. What the press learned in the Trump era cannot be abandoned and now, cannot be forgotten, cannot be neglected. I'm talking about the cowardice of certain political leaders, the hypocrisy, the racism, the resentment. I'm talking about the so-called whitelash, the backlash to a diversifying America. I'm talking about the willingness to lie and be lied to.

These themes of the Trump years need more exploring in the years ahead. The Press also needs to keep scrutinizing power structures and analyze the motivations of political players. We need to explain the greed, the fear, the vengeance that drives people, and understand the cultural forces that make a strong man possible. Understand the business forces that take advantage of a populist movement. This is what journalism is meant to expose, meant to bring out into

the light to make sure everyone can see it, everyone can know who and what they are voting for. And there is a long, rich history of this kind of journalism in America, truth to power journalism, adversarial muckraking coverage. We saw lots of it in the Trump years. Lots of it was necessary.

Trump was a catalyst, but the need will not fizzle out when Trump flies to Mar-a-Lago. This hard-edged approach, this adversarial approach should be here to stay. If the sky is blue, and Joe Biden claims it is orange, then by all means the press has to call that out. And I believe the press will.

The assignment is to keep telling the American story, even the ugly parts that in some ways have been revealed over the past few years, the prejudice and the poverty and the pain. This pandemic continues to steal lives, so many lives. And more than 20 million people are unemployed in the United States. Some parents are unable to feed their children.

Those are the stories that count. And the press when it works well, works for them, not for Donald Trump, not for Joe Biden. The Press works for them, works for all of us, so we can better understand each other.

Thanks for joining us on RELIABLE SOURCES this week and all year long. Hey, all throughout the Trump years. As I mentioned earlier, make sure to sign up for our nightly RELIABLE SOURCES newsletter at And when you are there, also check out our podcast. We have two extra podcasts for the end of the year. One, looking back at 2020, the other looking ahead to 2021.

Have a great new year and we'll see you back here this time next week.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: End in sight. The Coronavirus vaccines are here.

ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I strongly recommend that when the vaccine becomes available to get vaccinated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But as cases continue to spike across the country, is the worst behind us or still to come. I'll speak exclusively to Dr. Anthony Fauci and leading Governor's Gretchen Whitmer and Larry Hogan next.

And burn down the house. President Trump sows more chaos on his way out, pardoning loyalists, vetoing legislation, and going after leaders in his own party.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): There is a real, real danger of this whole thing falling apart.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Has he taken his fury too far? Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger will be here to discuss.