Return to Transcripts main page

Reliable Sources

Headlines From "Axios" And Other Web Sites Point Out Joe Biden's Plan Is Dull by Design; Fox News Mocks Biden's "Unity" Message; WAPO's Final Count: 30,573 False Or Misleading Trump Claims; Biden Press Secretary Pledges 'Transparency' To Media; One-On-One With White House Correspondents' Association President; Larry King's Lesson For Aspiring Broadcasters. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired January 24, 2021 - 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 we figure out what is reliable.

Today, with President Biden now in office, former Trump aides are speaking out. I will show you brand-new comments from Dr. Deborah Birx about how Trump hurt America's pandemic response.

Plus, what should we expect from Biden's press shop. Press secretaries from the Bush, Clinton and Obama White Houses are all coming together here for the first time to talk about that.

And later, Trump's final act in office, literally as he was touching down in Florida, his final act was a favor to a Fox News star. We will have the pardon details.

And we will close with some wisdom from the late Larry King.

But first this question: Is President Biden making the news boring again?

People are always asking what the media will do post-President Trump. This week, after Biden's inauguration, they've been asking, are reporters going through withdrawal? Are they missing Trump's tweets? Are they lost without outrages to cover?

These headlines from "Axios" and other websites point out that the Biden's plan is dull by design. So, is he making the news boring again?

Let me answer all of those questions the way Biden would -- come on, man! No way.

The Biden White House is clearly a break from the chaos and incompetence of Trump world. But we are living through history right now. January alone has been one of the tumultuous months in all American history. The follow-ups will take many months and maybe years. There is so much to report.

And there is nothing boring about the COVID-19 crisis, nothing boring about this national emergency as Biden has rightly identified it.

With more than 3,000 Americans dying from COVID-19 every single day, it is a story that demands our attention, demands our focus, even though so many Americans feel desensitized. Biden continues to warn the death toll will continue to rise and models show the same.

Now, what we are seeing from the Biden White House in regards with the pandemic is a clear presentation of a national strategy, a clear break from Trump and a lot more clarity from Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Here's how Fauci put it this week on "Rachel Maddow Show".


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I've been wanting to come on your show for months and months. You've been asking me to come on your show for months and months. And it's just gotten blocked. That's -- I mean, let's call it what it is. It just got blocked.


STELTER: We are now hearing the truth about what the prior administration did to hurt the country's response to the pandemic. Fauci is telling us. Birx is telling us. We're going to show you more on that in a minute.

So, I tweeted out that video of Dr. Fauci, and White House chief of staff Ron Klain responded and said, it is great to see Dr. Fauci on Maddow and anywhere else where he wants to speak him mind. And Maddow then responded and thanked Klain and said, hey, I will hold you to it.

And that's the really important part -- I will hold you to it.

The Biden team is making big commitments. Now, the press will follow up and check for follow through.

I used to say during the Trump years that no president should be graded on a curve. But Trump was. He was often graded on a curve.

His team thought he was mercilessly criticized but actually the bar was set way lower for Trump than it would have been for any other president. Many people stopped noticing his multitude of mistakes every day. Trump was constantly credited with a new tone just, you know, for being able to read the prompter once in a while.

The bar was so low, but not anymore. The Biden White House is happily, willingly, gladly raising the bar up. They are saying, hold us accountable. We will tell you the truth if you don't call us out.

They are raising the bar. And so, that's the work now underway for the Washington press corps.

Let's talk about it with Karen Attiah. She's the global opinions editor for "The Washington Post".

Also, CNN Medical Analyst, Dr. Seema Yasmin. She's the author of a new book "Viral BS: Medical Myths and Why We Fall for Them."

And Zeke Miller is here. He's the president of the White House Correspondents Association this year and he's a White House reporter for "The Associated Press" who's been covering Biden's response, his announcements about the pandemic this week.

So, Zeke, I wonder what it's been like at the White House this week. Are there visual signs of change in how the pandemic is being handled by this new administration?


ZEKE MILLER, PRESIDENT, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENTS' ASSOCIATION: Yeah. I think the -- the most telling one is on Thursday afternoon ahead of President Biden's event signing those executive orders related to the pandemic. Dr. Anthony Fauci walked into the room a few minutes earlier where the press pool was gathered and just talked to us for 5 or 10 minutes. White House aides saw it happened, but nobody batted an eye. It was a clear and candid conversation with one of the nation's top science and medical experts about the pandemic.

That sort of interaction, the expectation we will be hearing from more of these science and medical experts and public health experts in the coming days and weeks is certainly a refreshing tone and a change from the prior administration.

STELTER: Have the protocols changed at the White House? I know that the press corps has been really careful about wearing masks, but the Trump aides weren't doing that in the White House.

Are the protocols different now with the Biden White House?

MILLER: Yeah, certainly, things are different. The Biden administration has mandated that anyone working at the White House wears a mask. They have expanded testing for the press complex. There's been sort of -- essentially, sort of a COVID capacity for almost every space there, how many people can safely be in that room during the pandemic. And that is a bit of a change.

All of those things make that workplace a little bit safer. And, you know, our goal has been to allow the critical work of journalists to continue at the White House, holding any administration accountable but also doing it in as safe a way as possible to prevent the spread of the virus among members of the fourth estate.

STELTER: Right, right.

Dr. Yasmin, you are our doctor here. Is the Biden administration getting the rhetoric right so far? What I heard Biden say two days in a row, national emergency, to me that was a very clear contrast to Trump right there.

DR. SEEMA YASMIN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Oh, totally. I think we're hearing the right words. Of course, now the work needs to happen, Brian. But what I worry about is that while I think that the new

administration bodes really well for those journalists covering D.C. and covering federal policy, we can't take our eye off the health of the media ecosystem at large.

STELTER: What do you mean?

YASMIN: What we've seen in just -- well, I mean like in just the first few months of the pandemic last year, 60 local newsrooms shut down, tens of thousands of journalists lost their jobs right when we need them most to function as our immune system, as our barrier to the misinformation and disinformation about health and science. So, I worry about the fact we see these ever expanding news deserts --


YASMIN: -- across the U.S., regions where people lack good, credibility, accountability journalism. And while we studied the impact of the local newsroom shutting down and what that means for governance on local level, taxes go up, government salaries increase, voting polarization increase when you lose your local newspaper, my research and what I really lose sleep about is what impact do these new deserts have on vulnerable communities, what impact does it have on public health and health at large right at a time when pandemic responses rely on the public having accurate information, not just from national media outlets, but really on a local level.

You need to know what's happening locally. You need to know what your local leaders are doing and not doing in order to stay safe.

STELTER: Right, Biden represents change from the top down. He's talking about fighting disinformation campaigns, getting the truth out about COVID. But at the bottom up level, right, from the bottom up, there is a real lack of that local coverage.

Karen, what's on your mind as Biden takes over in the media and adjusts to this reality?

KAREN ATTIAH, GLOBAL OPINIONS EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yeah. You know, I think already it's refreshing just to hear the T word, just to hear the truth word. Even Biden in his inaugural address, it was a -- it was a feature of his inaugural address, respecting the truth and all that.

I would agree with Dr. Yasmin. I'm joining here from Texas, and this is a state where it's pretty much the spring of two different types but very dangerous types of skepticism. This is the state where vaccine skepticisms, this is one of the epicenters of vaccine skepticism for a long time. And this is also the state that launched the lawsuit that challenged the electoral results.

So, again, I would agree that it is very, very important for local and state media to be able to still combat, you know, misinformation from -- particularly your GOP lawmakers that have peddled mistruths about voting, about the state of the pandemic. And, so, I look at that angle and then, you know, of course, I keep my

eye on the rest of the world. And knowing that we are in a global pandemic, leaders around the world are going to be looking for what Biden is going to say in terms of the federal response to the global pandemic.

And, so, it is key for -- for our allies, for governments around the world to know that they can trust what is coming out of that White House press briefing room because as we know, the U.S. is leading in terms of deaths unfortunately with the coronavirus pandemic.


And so, it's going to be critical for the entire world to be able to trust what is coming out of the White House press briefing room.

STELTER: Let's take a look at what Dr. Deborah Birx is saying about the past administration, because now that Trump has left office, we're going to hear a lot more honesty about what went wrong in 2020.

Here's Birx this morning on "Face the Nation".


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE COORDINATOR: So this day, I mean to the day I left, I'm convinced there were parallel data streams because I --

INTERVIEWER: Disinformation.

BIRX: I saw the president presenting graphs that I never made. So I know that someone or someone out there or someone inside was creating a parallel set of data and graphics that were shown to the president.


STELTER: Seema, I know you're not surprised by this, but it is still shameful. Like, we're going to learn so much in the coming months about what the heck went wrong last year. And this sounds like to me the beginning of -- it's not going to be a truth reconciliation -- truth and reconciliation commission. But there's going to be an informal version of that through these interviews about telling the truth about what went wrong.

YASMIN: Sure, but also, it's so frustrating to hear, Dr. Birx, because we're sure that she knew some of this while she was in the administration. And it feels like now she's on a national apology tour, but where was her skepticism, or her concern about the president's showing data that she hasn't looked at, when she was in the administration and had the platform and the position potentially at least to be honest with the public, to be transparent with us.

So it's really painful to see this happen, Brian, after the fact and to not have had scientists. I mean, she was really credible before she joined the administration. And now, I think she's lost so much of her credibility among the public health community, which is unfortunate. But besides that, it's just the impact that that lack of transparency has had on the pandemic.

And, of course, it's not -- that doesn't just end because we have a new administration. We're going to be doing the work to try and undo some of the polarization, the politicization of mask-wearing is one example for a long time to come and it's just taking up so much precious time on the pandemic response.

STELTER: Yes, it has.

Karen and Seema, thank you. Zeke, please stay with me. I want to come back later in the hour.

We've got one new president but two Americas. I want to show you what the right -- the far right is seeing and hearing about Biden's first days.

And later, how Janine Pirro cashed in on her four years of Trump sycophancy. It's a story you'll only see right here.



STELTER: President Biden seems to understand that right wing radicalization is a real problem. His team seems to recognize how Fox and Facebook and QAnon fantasies and all of that has caused the separate realities in the United States. He said in his inaugural address he understands many of his fellow Americans are the future with fear and trepidation. And, again, that's partly because of all the nonsense that's heard every night in prime time over there.

But then Biden said this.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I promise you, I get it. But the answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don't look like, don't like you or worship the way you do, or don't get their news from the same source as you do.

We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue.


STELTER: His reference to news sources is telling you. He insisted that politics doesn't need to be a raging fire, but that profitable -- that fire is very profitable. And we are seeing Rupert Murdoch's media empire just doubling and tripling down on the fire, on the arson.

This week, there were layoffs at Fox News, layoffs on the news side. Journalists were laid off. At the same time, opinion programs took up even more space on the schedule.

A Fox staffer telling "The Daily Beast" there is a concerted effort to get rid of real journalists, but we don't need anonymous sources to tell us that. We can see it on the air.

Listen to how stars on Fox and Newsmax have been describing the new administration, beginning with Greg Kelly saying he is not wishing Biden well at all.


GREG KELLY, NEWSMAX HOST: I wish Joe Biden no success.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Biden's hollow calls for unity are both laughable and completely disingenuous. Total and complete B.S.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You thought you voted for a moderate. You got a radical. Here we go.

HANNITY: The weak, the frail, the cognitively struggling Biden. He's attempting to ram his party's radical socialist agenda right down America's throats.

SEBASTIAN GORKA, COMMENTATOR: This is a clown car of hypocrisy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A foreigner's first agenda that is sure to usher in economic armageddon.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: What self-indulgent, self-righteous goof balls they are.


STELTER: You said it, Laura.

Did you catch how Hannity described Biden there? He's weak. He's frail, but he's also ramming things down your throat. It's violent and sexual and pathetic all at the same time.

And when those attacks are not enough, and I want to be clear. That is a 24/7 narrative on multiple channels, every day, every hour. These channels are more anti-Democrat than they are Trump, and the Biden bashing has been turned up to 11 and 12 and 13.

So has the media bashing, by the way. Take a look at some of the banners from Fox's air in the past few days. Fox, a huge member of the national news media, pretending like it's not a member of the media at all, claiming that the media is out to praise Biden, fawn over Biden, he's the media's messiah. Every hour, every day, that's the narrative, and it's going to be like this for the next four years.

So Biden can talk about politics not needing to be a raging war, that the fire doesn't have to be raging. But it is. It is today and it was yesterday and it will be tomorrow on these shows that millions of people watch.


Unity is impossible, okay? The United States is living in this parallel -- this parallel universe within the United States. Unity is not feasible.

It's just not. But can the temperature be lowered just two or three degrees? Wouldn't that help? Isn't that possible?

With me now is Stuart Stevens, a senior adviser to the Lincoln Project and former chief strategist for Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign and he's the author of a great book, you should check it out, called "It Was All A Lie."

Stuart, am I naive that maybe we can lower the temperature just a tiny bit, just like two or three degrees, maybe, somehow?

STUART STEVENS, SENIOR ADVISER TO THE LINCOLN PROJECT: Well, I got to read (ph) a great book about this called "Hoax", you should check it out. It's not the most optimistic portrait of this, but I think it's realistic.

Listen, I laid the burden of this at the feet of the Republican Party because ultimately, Fox exists as an organ of the Republican Party. And it's up to the responsible people in the Republican Party such as we can find them still existing to speak to truth. They have an ability to talk directly to their voters. But when you

have something like we have over the last 60 days where they refuse to accept the outcome of a not very close election, they are just feeding this. They don't want to live in reality because reality doesn't suit their own immediate political needs.

STELTER: What is the deep reason for all of this? I was talking to Ron Brownstein on RELIABLE SOURCES podcast. He always points to demographics. He says this is about a reaction to changing demographics, that some members of the GOP are viciously reacting to a multicultural America, a diversifying country, soon to be a majority- minority country.

That's Brownstein's narrative. This is all a reaction to changing demographics. Is that how you see it?

STEVENS: Yes. I think Ron is exactly right on this.

Ultimately, all of this make America great again is to try to just stop progress. Look, if Americans 15 years and younger, the majority are non-white. Odds are good they're going to turn 18 and still be non-white, and that's a reality that terrifies Republicans because primarily this remained a white party. And they can't exist in a world of a changing America, so they tried to just create their own reality. It's easier to say the sky is green if you have Fox News saying, of course, the sky is green, and that's the world they want to live in.

STELTER: In some ways, I have been thinking about it as a persecution complex. The narrative on Fox this week has all been about prosecution, that the right is trying -- that the left is trying to cancel the right, that the left is trying to deplatform or deprogram Trump supporters.

Does this have religious roots as well, this sense of persecution? STEVENS: Well, you know, listen, I find the whole thing so bizarre

because for a lot of us drawn to the Republican Party, one of the aspects that appeal to us is the idea of personal responsibility. We always accuse the Democrats (INAUDIBLE), probably unfairly, but we did.

And now, the Republican Party, the whole ethos of it is we're victims. It's so anti-American enemy. I mean, when Ronald Reagan was president, to be born in America was to win a nice lottery. Now if you're a Republican, you're a Trump voter, to be born in America is you are a victim. You're a sucker.

These powerful forces out there in the world like Canada that are taking advantage of us. It is a pathetic way to look at your role in the world and to look at America's role in the world.

STELTER: But unless the Murdochs and other power brokers in this universe make a change, well then nothing is going to change. Is that a cynical but true statement?

STEVENS: Yeah. Look, I think Rupert Murdoch, you know, for all this talk of how dangerous immigrants are, I think Rupert Murdoch is the most dangerous immigrant in America. He's the perfect example of somebody who never assimilated American values.

If he understands America, he profits off of the appeal that he doesn't understand it. I -- again, we can't change Fox News, but I think that Republicans could speak directly to their voters and that that would have an effect changing Fox News.

If you have Republicans going on Fox News, they get invited on Fox News and just spoke the truth and said, look, Joe Biden was elected president. It wasn't close. We don't like it maybe, but that's how our system works, I think that would have profound impact on this because ultimately they are arbiters of this. They have to form a certain sort of circuit breaker function here, and they haven't done it.

They have just been completely irresponsible. That's how you end up with them hiding under their desk at the capitol while their own voters assault them.


STELTER: And, of course, the more we learn about the attack on the capitol, the worse it looks. And I worry that the Fox audience isn't hearing the truth about how close we came to a mass execution of lawmakers. They're already trying to move on. They don't want to talk about the riot at all.

Well, Stuart, let's meet back here in a few months, see if things improved or worsened.

STEVENS: Okay. Good to see you.

STELTER: Thank you. You too. Coming up here, some more shocking details about the final days of the

Trump administration. Did you see the papers this morning? There were front page stories about the depths of the coup attempt. We're going to get into that.

Plus, Jim Acosta is here with his reporters notebook from the very last days of the Trump years.



STELTER: New information is coming out this weekend about Trump's final flailing coup attempt. New reporting from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, other outlets showing it was worse than we knew. And that was true up until the final days. "The New York Times" is out with stories about this dashed plan to depose the acting Attorney General, bring in a different lawyer in a desperate bid to overturn the election results in Georgia.

This was, of course, scrapped only after the acting A.G. and Trump's favorite contender made their cases in a, quote, bizarre White House meeting. Two officials compared to an episode of The Apprentice albeit one that could prompt a constitutional crisis.

Overnight, The Wall Street Journal revealed Trump's attempt to pressure the Supreme Court -- well, to pressure the DOJ to pressure the Supreme Court to invalidate Biden's victory. So, while his term has ended, Trump is continuing to make news indirectly, because of all these leaks about what happened about his desperate bid to stay in power.

Joining me now is the journalist who has been front and center for all of it, CNN's former Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta, now the newly-minted chief domestic correspondent here at CNN, and you're going to see him anchoring on the weekends pretty soon. Jim, you were the pool reporter on the final day. What are the odds of that?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. Well, you know, perhaps it was fitting, I guess, to be there at the very end. You know, Brian, the way it looked like, to me, was that, you know, essentially what we saw was the undoing of the Trump presidency, the undoing of the Trump phenomenon in this country, what I describe as the Trump disformity (ph) -- deformity in American politics, essentially, that you know, what we saw the president build over the course of four or five years out on the campaign trail, and over at the White House, just sort of unraveled at the end.

I was there at Joint Base Andrews watching, you know, about 200 people gathered to bid the president farewell. And, you know, it was sort of a sad and pathetic sight. I've never seen him this alone. The entire time he was, you know, at the level of presidential politics. And, you know, it was --

STELTER: Well, alone, but he still has some boosters on T.V. Tell us about his very last part in -- was it -- was it announced while you were on Air Force One about to land in Florida?

ACOSTA: Yes, it was announced when we were on Air Force One that the ex-husband of Jeanine Pirro was getting a pardon from the President, the outgoing president, who was just hours away from leaving office. And it was just another example of, Brian, of what we were reporting. It was consistent with the reporting we were doing right at the very end that there are allies and associates of the president who were trying to cash in on their connections with Trump to get pardons.

And some were -- some walked away disappointed and some didn't. And it just sort of raises the question, once again, of this quid pro quo nature of this presidency that, you know, Donald Trump was essentially interested only in quid pro quos. And I think it sounds like Jeanine Pirro cashed in on one at the very end.

STELTER: Yes, she certainly did. Let's talk about what we're not hearing now, Jim. The world seems a little quiet without Trump tweeting all the time. And the impact of Twitter's ban is palpable in this data from NewsWhip, as well, showing a serious dip in engagement with news about Trump all across the internet. You can see the decline since he lost his Twitter account. So, do you think this quiet period is temporary?

ACOSTA: I think it is temporary. I mean, I do think what this country faces right now, and you know, I describe it as the disinformation industrial complex. And that is, you know, Trump and his people, conservative outlets like Fox News. And then, conservative Web sites and organizations aligned with the president and conservative platforms.

These three pillars of this disinformation industrial complex, essentially helped put Trump in power, kept him in power, sustained his, you know, grip on the Republican Party, and it remains a threat to our democracy. It is -- it is the reason -- it is the reason why there were hundreds of Trump supporters storming the Capitol on January 6th.

And until that poison, that toxin is drained from the national political discourse in this country, Brian, I do think that these forces represent a potential existential threat to this country and have the potential to come back and cause more suffering in the days to come.

STELTER: Let's look at Glenn Kessler's final count of Trump's false and misleading statements. The number is final now as of Wednesday, 30,573 false or misleading claims. And as folks can see in the graphic, the number rose over time, so the line became more intense more often over time. Only a psychologist can explain to us why that was. But, Jim, now that we are looking ahead, you're back in D.C. there is no Palm Beach Bureau. Even Fox has not set up a Mar-a-Lago bureau. It seems the press has mostly moved on. Do you think that's a fair assessment?


ACOSTA: I think to some extent, yes. I mean, I do think Trump is going to lead at least a fringe movement in this country when he stands at 34 percent. He really doesn't have the potential to lead a major political party and win back the presidency. He tries to compare himself to Grover Cleveland. But Grover Cleveland was still popular when he won that second nonconsecutive term in office. Trump is not going to be able to do that where he stands right now. But listen, you talk about Glenn Kessler and some of the fact checkers that have been out there, great fact checker at CNN like Daniel Dale.

We need to devote in our news organizations some resources to fact checking these fringe ideas that are going to continue to exist on the far-right in this country. Brian, that continues to represent the kindling that, you know, set off the -- what I call the bonfire of the insanities -- on January 6th. And yes, I mean, Donald Trump will continue to be, as I call him, the Lord of the lies.

And while he may be licking his wounds down at Mar-a-Lago, he's still poses a threat to this country. And I, you know, it's -- this is not a time to put away our fact checkers in some sort of, you know, box on the shelf. They're going to be needed to fact check this movement that, you know, is not going away. Trump may be going away, but Trumpism is not, as you know, Brian.

STELTER: I agree with that. Absolutely. Jim, thank you so much for all you've done.

ACOSTA: You bet. Thanks.

STELTER: Turning back to the Biden White House now, press briefings are back. So, now what? Press secretaries from the Bush, Clinton and Obama White Houses are coming together for the first time to share their insights, next.



STELTER: The Biden administration is making truth a tagline with the President himself saying that everyone, every American has a duty to defend the truth and defeat the lies. He said that's especially true for people in leadership positions. Of course, all of this, a contrast to the Trump years. Also a contrast in the press briefing room, where the new press secretary Jen Psaki, previously a CNN contributor is promising to restore transparency and truth to the podium. How can she do that? Is she able to do that? And what's that going to look like?

With me now on T.V. together for the first time, three former press secretaries: Joe Lockhart, worked for Bill Clinton and is now a partner at Rational 360. And a CNN commentator, Scott McClellan, worked for George W. Bush, and is now the V.P. for University Affairs at Seattle University. And Jay Carney worked for Barack Obama, and is now Senior Vice President for Global Corporate Affairs at Amazon. Jay, you are the most recent of our three press secretaries here. So, how would you evaluate Jen Psaki's first week?

JAY CARNEY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Not only was I -- am I the most recent, Brian, I got the pleasure of working with Jen when I was in the Obama White House. And I -- you couldn't -- you couldn't have a better choice, honestly. She is so ready for this, so prepared, and I think you saw that already this week. She's unbelievably knowledgeable and fluid in answering questions. She is sincere and conveys sincerity.

And she has a lot of respect for the independent, free, working press, which reflects her boss, President Biden, just as it did President Obama. And I think she set a great tone. I really am so pleased at the rollout, so far. It's not going to be easy, obviously. But I think they're hitting -- they're hitting their marks really well.

STELTER: We know, Scott, since you worked with a Republican president, Republican distrust the media, distrust of government is especially heightened. That's been true for years, it's even more dramatic now. Do you think the Biden White House can help restore trust even among Republicans perhaps?

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, CNN COMMENTATOR & FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I do. And I think it's already started to some degree. You know, we've seen over the last four years, this view and this treatment of the press as the enemy of the people. And you know that tone is just so destructive. It's so dangerous to approach it that way.

It's the accumulative effect of these four years. And what you saw on Wednesday at the inaugural was the beginning of a return to normalcy and decency. And then, that evening, when Jen Psaki went out there to brief the press, which I think is a good move on that very first day to go out and brief the press, not something you normally have to do. You saw a return to truth and accountability, a sense of truth and accountability returned to that briefing room.

And it's so critical to, you know, know that what's coming from the White House is accurate information and that you're conveying that accurate information that you're not engaging in unsubstantiated innuendo or accusations. And so, it's a positive step forward. And I think part of that is also building that trust with that White House Press Corps. That relationship is so important. And Jen Psaki is someone they know well, they trust. And so, I think you're going to see much -- well, it's going to take time, but you're going to see a return to some of that trust in the media over a course of time, and it started last week.

STELTER: I love the title of your book about the Bush years, which I loved, what happened. There's got to be a version of that for the Trump years, by the way, but looking ahead now, Joe, there's obviously a lot of complaints from right-wing media, saying the questions in the briefing were softballs. That's noise. They're going to say that no matter what happens in the briefing. But there's also complaints from the left, liberals complaining about tough questions being directed to the Biden White House. Can you set us straight about that?

JOE LOCKHART, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yes, listen, I -- you know, I think people are overreacting. And I say that as a liberal, but also, as someone who's in the room. Listen, I think the big difference between the Biden administration and the Trump administration on this front is the Biden administration is going back to this old-fashioned thought that reporters and the news are a participant in our democracy, not a prop in our democracy.

So, you won't see Jen Psaki coming in and giving a long-winded speech at the beginning, taking a couple questions and then doing a mic drop with another political speech at the end. She's going to take the questions; she's going to do her best to tell the truth. And the reporters have a function as a participant to ask tough questions, to be skeptical, to hold her feet to the fire.


That's the way it's supposed to work and, you know, I think you know, people who oppose Trump like myself, you just have to get used to -- that's the way it works. Because it works the -- you know, it works well, when they are pushing hard and holding the White House accountable, because accountability is what makes you sometimes take that extra step to be transparent to, at times, not push something too far. So, I think that really is an important part of this.

STELTER: I'm tight on time. But I want to know, from both Scott and Jay. 15 seconds, what should the press be doing in the Biden years? What are your priorities for the -- what's your message for the media going forward? Scott, for you first.

MCCLELLAN: Well, I think the message for the media is that, you know, you know what your role is; your role is to hold the government accountable; and to hold the White House accountable for their decisions and policies. And you've got a return to something we haven't seen in four years with a daily briefing. And Jen Psaki doing a good job of bringing in administration officials already to that room, so that access is important. It's a new day. And -- yes.

STELTER: By the way, bringing in experts, I was great that she did that last week. I'm told that will continue. She's going to continue to be joined by various administration aides who can answer questions with the press. So, Jay, what is your assessment? What should the media be doing maybe differently in the Biden years?

CARNEY: Well, I think the media, again, the independent media, the nonpolitical media has been through a trauma. They've been charged, you know, accused by the President of the United States of being the enemy of the people, which is so corrosive and damaging and false. As Joe points out, the media, the independent media are an important part of our democracy.

So, they -- I think they have learned over these four years, how important their role is, whereas in previous years (INAUDIBLE) Joe, Scott and I were doing it. There -- you know, the briefing had become, at times a bit theatrical unnecessarily and not serious, I think. And I hope we'll see from the good reporters, the serious reporters a seriousness of purpose, and not that reflexive sort of, you know, running down the ball, everybody's chasing the same ball at the same time over some, you know, supposed scandal that that doesn't bear out.

I also want to say that (INAUDIBLE) I mean, the administration telegraphed very early. This is how they were going to be honest and truthful, instead of spinning about it's, you know, today, Joe Biden is President, tomorrow COVID (INAUDIBLE) the beginning of the end is near. They've been very clear that it's going to get worse before it gets better. And I think you begin to make deposits in the integrity bank, when you -- when you're honest with the press, and therefore, the people. And I -- and I was glad to see that, and I know we're going to see more of it.

STELTER: Deposits in the bank to be withdrawn later, but those deposits are necessary now. That's a great point. Thank you all for being here and sharing this with us. For the latest on the Biden press shop, sign up for our nightly RELIABLE SOURCES Newsletter. You can sign up for free right now at After a quick break here, the biggest ins and outs, the media ins and outs of the new White House.



STELTER: And this just into CNN, another milestone in the coronavirus pandemic. There have been at least 25 million total cases of Coronavirus in the United States since the pandemic again -- began. That's according to new data just in from Johns Hopkins University. 25 million cases across the United States, and of course, the true total, even higher than we know.

Zeke Miller is back with me. He is the president of the White House Correspondents' Association and a reporter at the Associated Press. Zeke, I was hoping you could look ahead with us about the White House in the Biden years, what the Press expects. We've seen Biden on camera several times in the last -- in the first few days. But there have not been extended Q&As. So, what's your expectation about his accessibility to the press?

MILLER: You know, I think we're hoping for a return to sort of regular press briefings, not only with the press secretary and subject matter experts, but also with the president and an opportunity for the American public, for journalists to hear directly from the president and to challenge the President about his thinking what he's looking to do, but also not just at the White House, as well.

One of the things that fell away over the last few years have been regular briefings at the State Department, at the Pentagon, at HHS, and CDC during a pandemic, bringing those back, allowing subject matter experts, my journalist colleagues who are experts on the military, experts on health care policy, to ask and hear directly from the leading experts who were tasked with crafting that policy on a more regular basis. I mean, all those things would help the American public understand what their government is doing on their behalf with a lot more clarity than we have them.

STELTER: Right. That's a great point about briefings across the government. One little point I want to mention, newspaper subscriptions are back at the White House. Jennifer Jacobs shared this picture of the Biden White House making a point of restarting print subscriptions to the New York Times and The Washington Post. I think these symbols are significant Zeke, but accuracy and tangible access of the president are much more significant.

MILLER: I mean, that's exactly right. And you know, that I think -- we're on day four, we've seen these briefings come back, we've seen an effort on the administration to put people who are crafting policy in front of reporters, and hopefully that will continue.

STELTER: Absolutely. Zeke, thank you so much for being here.

MILLER: Thank you.

STELTER: Coming up, Larry King, in his own words, about the power and the intimacy of the microphone.



STELTER: CNN is in mourning this weekend, paying respects to Larry King. The talk show Trailblazer and broadcasting legend died Saturday. King's luminous media career spanned more than six decades and three mediums, crossing from radio to television to streaming. And his death registers as another end of an era in the television world. In the last six months, we've lost several T.V. luminaries who united the country through the screen.

Regis Philbin, a staple of morning television and game show fame, passed away in July. And Alex Trebek left us late last year, another T.V. great, who brought people together every evening around "Jeopardy." And now, Larry King, who helped put CNN on the map.

People rightly wonder in the digital age, will there still be trusted news anchors and broadly popular T.V. shows and game shows and shared experiences under the media umbrella? And the answer is yes. For the reason that King's death hurts so much, for the reason that Trebek's passing and Philbin's passing were such miles -- such mile markers. People long for steadiness, for comfort and connection. And that's what these stars provided.

So, I want to end today's program with Larry's own words from his 2011 book, "Truth Be Told," he said he looked at the microphone on his desk. It wasn't a working mic. It was a prop, but more than a prop. It's a symbol of where I came from. I've always looked at television as radio with a camera. To me, that microphone is a symbol of connection.

I was a creature of comfort to millions of people who were up at night during my coast-to-coast radio days. That's the closest tie you can have as a broadcaster. If you were a student or a pilot at that time, you counted on me at night, and I did my best to bring that same connection to television. Just being there, saying "Good evening," night after night. After a while, it may not even matter who the guest is. Just that you're there to say, "Let's take a call," or "I'll be right back."

I've always said, this ain't brain surgery, but in one small way it is. You feel like you don't ever want to let down the people who have come to see you. I remember Joe DiMaggio being asked why he hustled so much.

He said, the people who were there today may never see me again. I know just what he meant. Whenever I look at that microphone, it reminds me: I owe them my best." And that's what he gave us. For 25 years, his best.

That's broadcasting. That will endure. So to Larry, thank you.