Return to Transcripts main page

Reliable Sources

Social Media Echo Chambers Fuel Sectarianism; Major News Organizations On Clean-Up Duty This Weekend; NYT's David Leonhardt On Irrational COVID Fears; A New Era Of Leadership At "New York Times" Opinion; How Late Night Is Adjusting From Trump To Biden. Aired 11a- 12p ET

Aired May 02, 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 figure out what is reliable these days.

This hour, we're talking about unmasking. The changes in how COVID-19 is being covered and how interviewers are challenging President Biden and members of his administration.

Plus, despite his legal trouble, Rudy Giuliani is celebrating a win against "The Washington Post" this weekend. We have all of the details on that coming up.

And later, the new story of late night. Bill Carter on how comedians are adapting to post-Trump life.

Plus, we have a lot of good guests coming up. Daniel Dale and Nicole Hemmer both standing by. And we have the first TV interview with Kathleen Kingsbury. She's the top editor of "The New York Times" opinion pages and she'll be here in a moment.

But, first, let's talk about a better way to understand what's broken in American politics. I was going to start today by walking through all of the big and little lies of the week. But the truth is we only have an hour. And repeating the garbage just makes everybody feel dirty.

So let's skip that. No more burger B.S. Instead, let's ask why? Why are there so many non-stories, so many nothingburger narratives spread by right wing, anti-Democrat media outlets? Why were there so many false and misleading claims and video edits after President Biden's address to Congress?

Why do so many Republicans insist that the Biden didn't really legitimately win the election he won? What is the root cause of all of this? What's causing all these desperate little lies?

And this in Arizona, all these attempts to prove the big lie about the election. Maybe it's political sectarianism. Political sectarianism.

Now, that word referring to hostilities between groups of different beliefs may conjure up in your mind images of the Middle East. We are accustomed to hearing about sectarian violence in places like Iraq.

But there is a different broader way to look at this and some experts are saying the idea of warring factions, they say it's happening now in the United States. They call it political sectarianism.

In fact, 16 researchers who came together and wrote a paper about this, they defined it as the tendency to adopt a moralized identification with one political group and against another. They say sectarianism is surging and they cite this chart, for example. It maps out how in the United States, feelings of warmth toward the opposing party have been on the decline since the early 2000s.

In many cases, it just boils down to hate. Hate of the other side. And you could see how demonizing, dehumanizing language in the media contributes to this. I mean, just the other day, Tucker Carlson likened journalists to animals and said he truly hates them.

So this notion of political sectarianism is a new way to think about why figures like Carlson express so much vitriol for people they consider to be on the other side. And I'm sure you see all of this nonsense about how he feels about mask, right? His extreme view, talking about child abuse which makes it hard for anybody else to have a rational conversation.

When you see stuff like this on TV like Jesse Waters on Fox last night saying -- look at his banner, is liberalism a mental disorder? You could see in these banners, you could see why political scientists say sectarianism is surging.

America is one country, with multiple media realities. One population with sects that perceive the other side as aliens, as enemies. And one Internet that makes it all too easy to exist in an echo chamber. Of all of the tech giants making insane profits off of those echo chambers, the rest of us might be broke because of it.

So when I see all these lies in the news, almost every story this week involving lies, big and little lies, I think why? What's the root cause? Is it about sectarianism festering in America?

Well, let me ask one of the researchers behind that study. Eli Finkel is a Northwestern University professor of psychology and management and he is with me to start off this hour.

Doctor, thanks for coming on the program.


STELTER: Sectarianism 101 -- give us the definition, give us how you see it taking root in America.

FINKEL: Yeah, we're no longer really just battling over policies, even over ideologies. We've gotten to the point where politics is to a large extent becoming a holy war. Sort of like the Protestants and the Catholics in Northern Ireland in 1970s.


And once you're battling a holy war, the rules about appropriate conduct, the rules about whether lies and violence are appropriate, those things start to get thrown out the window.

STELTER: You wrote -0- you and your colleagues wrote, along the way, it makes people increasingly willing to support candidates who undermine democracy and to favor violence in support of political goals.

So I read that and, of course, I think about the riot. I think about January 6. I think about the ongoing attempting to suppress the vote in various states. Do you see linkages there?

Let's see if we lost Finkel.

Are you there? Let's see. We may have a connection problem. So we'll try to get it fixed.

Let me see if we could bring in our next two guests. We'd try to get Eli Finkel back. CNN's reporter and resident fact checker, Daniel Dale, and Nicole Hemmer, the associate research scholar at Columbia University, and a CNN columnist.

Nicole, I want to get your take on this political sectarianism and whether you think it relates to all of the news story this week about lies, mostly right wing media lies but all of the lies out there. Is it because there is some massive audience, this hunger to be told the other side is evil?

NICOLE HEMMER, ASSOCIATE RESEARCH SCHOLAR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: I mean, that's definitely part it. There is an audience hunger. It is a ratings winner to say that the other side is inhuman, right.

At the same time, I think as your examples have pointed out, it is none an equivalent holy war, an equivalent sectarianism. So much of what you are talking about, undermining democracy is coming from the right. And so, I don't know if sectarianism kind of washes out the difference between different sides of the political spectrum.

STELTER: There is something that's going on. Asymmetrical lying where more lies happen from one side than the other. At the same time this weekend, a big error at "The Washington Post", we're going to get into that in a few minutes.

But, certainly, Daniel Dale, it seems to me, post-Trump, you certainly are fact checking Biden and we're going to get into your new data about that in a minute. But a lot of what you're doing now is fact checking right wing media because it is "The New York Post", it's Fox News that's advancing these false narratives. It seems to me like that's something that's taking up more of your time. Is that fair to say?

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: It is taking up more of my time. Part of it is these kinds of right wing media lies also existed under Trump, but Trump was lying so much that there was basically no time to deal with anything else.

Whether it was fall claims from Democratic lawmakers or from Fox News, because Biden does make false claims but makes many fewer as we'll get into, I can delve into these narratives coming from media outlets and others that are driving the conversation even though in this case, in a couple of case this is week, they were just entirely completely wrong.


I think we have Eli Finkel back. So let me put the fourth box.

Thanks for rejoining us, professor.

Let's get into the reasons why hate of the other side is on the rise. This notion of inhuman, and demonizing the other side. How much blame do you put on media for this phenomenon?

FINKEL: Well, quite a bit. You know, there was a time when there were voices that were able to speak to everybody. Walter Cronkite and others were able to talk to the center. These days we self-select into our preferred media ecosystems, Fox News, MSNBC. Even on Twitter and Facebook, we end up with algorithms feed us the content that we like.

So I do blame the media, although I think we have to acknowledge the hard problem which is, to a large extent, media companies are pursuing profit and it looks like people like to have their own outrage stoked at the morally egregious behavior of people on the other side.

STELTER: It seems to me the hyper partisan content clouds reality. Meaning, if you're on social media, you're reading all these ugly stores about what you perceive to be your political opponent. You end up thinking the country is more divided that it really is, right?

FINKEL: Yes, that's --

STELTER: America is actually not as split as it appears on social media or Fox.

FINKEL: That is exactly right. That is one of the major findings from the last five years in political science and psychology.

And, frankly, one of the reasons I'm most hopeful is that we're actually battling phantoms, right? If we think about, at least the people on the other side, some of the politicians really are as bad as we think they are.

But if we think about what Republicans believe, what Democrats believe, we have a grossly distorted perception of what the other side actually believes, how much money the other side actually has, and what that means is that there is room here for us to clarify, like where is the actual disagreement, how much actual disagreement is there and the truth is, there's far, far less disagreement that we actually think there is.

STELTER: I was introduced to your work through Nate Cohn of "The New York Times" who wrote about it last week, last month. He said sectarianism is more popular because the risk of being consigned to minority status. He said it's not easy to accept being ruled by hostile alien rival.


Do you view this as a right wing phenomenon or both left and right?

FINKEL: Oh, it's happening on both sides, but Nate is correct. There is something a little bit disconcerting as -- if you're a Republican strategist trying to make sense of how you keep winning national elections. It looks increasingly it's going to be hard to get to, you know, 51 percent. And so, there are a lot of incentives to try to you know reduce voter turnout among people who are less likely to vote Republicans.

So they really do face some challenges that push them toward anti- democracy tendencies.

STELTER: And that's a story we're going to keep seeing for years to come as these laws passed state legislatures, et cetera.

So, Finkel, your most recent book is titled "The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work." And that's really been your specialty, working at psychology and in marriages, in relationships. So how do you come to study political sectarianism?

FINKEL: Well, I wrote the book, "The All-or-Nothing Marriage", is a book that focuses on how we can make our marriages better and when I looked around what is happening in our political system in the U.S., I realize that we basically built the most toxic marriage, the most toxic union, if you will, that I can imagine.

If you try to set yourself the goal of saying, well, what is everything we know about how relationships work, what would it look like to build the worst marriage you could think of? Well, you would maximize the amount of contempt you have for your spouse. You interpret all of the behavior in the most nasty way that you can. You could surround yourself by people who completely hate your spouse.

You can go down the list. And, look, we built it.

STELTER: You know, my wife is listening. She's going to laugh at this, but she knows I'm a big talker. All I want to do is talk.

But isn't that the solution -- isn't it the way out of sectarianism? We have to hear from each other?

FINKEL: Honestly, I don't really see many shortcuts to fixing the problem, like we need to have some level of open mindedness. As I said before, one of the things that I think we should view as very promising is the fact that the demonized people on the other side aren't nearly as bad as we think they are. They aren't nearly as different from us as we think they are.

So, you could imagine sitting on the marital therapist's couch, what does that therapist going to do? You know, she's going to confront you on your aggrieve narrative about how evil the other side is and our side is the only one that's right. And it's not that the grievance is always incorrect. Grievance in relationships, grievance in politics, they're often legitimate.

But if we're going to stay a nation, if we're going to value patriotism in general, that there is something here that we like to salvage about America, it looks like we're going to have to find a way to listen to each other and understand each other much more than we do at the moment.

STELTER: Yeah, and marriages or democracy, it's got to have honesty to thrive.


STELTER: Eli Finkel, thank you so much for being here.

FINKEL: Thank you for having me.

STELTER: Daniel Dale and Nicole Hemmer will be back after the break. Dale has brand new reporting about his fact check of President Biden's first 100 days. Plus, we're going to talk about fighting against irrational COVID fears.

And the Giuliani scoop that wasn't. Why major news organizations are on clean-up duty this weekend.



STELTER: This weekend, a major black eye for "The Washington Post." And it has to do with anonymous sources.

When I say that phrase, remember that the reporters and their editors who do know who the sources are. But the rest of us don't.

So, a few days ago, unanimous sources, right, accurately enabled "The New York Times" to break the news about the FBI raid at Rudy Giuliani's apartment. But the anonymous sources also apparently led "The Washington Post" astray when the paper reported that Rudy was given a warning by the FBI.

It was front page news. The alleged warning was that he was a target ever a Russian dirty tricks campaign to take down Joe Biden. And the story was that Rudy was warned about it but then went along with it anyway. It's pretty -- pretty damning.

"The Washington Post" said the far right wing TV channel One American News was also warned.

Now "The New York Times" and NBC News both matched the story. Matched in newsroom speak means that you found your own source and you confirmed someone else's scoop. But maybe they were all misled by the same set of sources because on Saturday they all walked it back. They all issued corrections and retract those reports.

The news story is that FBI agents planned to warn Rudy and OAN that they might be used as Russian puppets but they didn't actually deliver the warning.

Let me bring in CNN's Oliver Darcy. He's been covering this. He has a story for us on about it.

Oliver, the president of One America News, Charles Herring, said, I appreciate the retractions but how could major national papers confirm something with sources and still report fake news. What's the answer?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Well, let's be clear, Brian, these aren't fake sources like Herring is saying. In fact, the news organizations, they know like you said, exactly who the anonymous sources are when a reporter gets information from an anonymous source, they go to their editor, they look at this person, they vet them, they say, how does this person know the information that they're giving us? Are they a credible source? Do we have other sources who can confirm what they're saying?

And if those things check out, they might go forward and report the information like happened in this case.

That said, the safeguards, you know, there are human error. The safeguards only work so much. So sometimes sources get something wrong and they -- the news organizations report the information and here back from the source and they learn that the information was incorrect. In this case, that appears to be what has happened with all of these news organizations.

The bottom line is there are safeguards in place. Unfortunately, human error is still at play and news organizations do get burned like this.

STELTER: I always say that the big dividing line in media these days is between outlets that try to get it right and outlets that don't give a damn.


And obviously, outlets like "The Post" do try. As they're saying, they have layers of oversight and ethics guidelines and corrections process but a bogus report of this magnitude allows bad faith actors to lump them in with and it ends up tarring all of the media.

DARCY: Right, it's not even your, it's outlet's like "The New York Post", look at what the New York post did, they had a front page error this week, and online they didn't issue a correction. They put an editor note and walked back the entire story.

They're online today making a big deal on their front page about this "Washington Post" and "New York Times" and NBC News corrections. The bottom line is that these organizations, they were responsible.

When they learned that they made an error, they owned up to it, they issued corruptions and outlets in "The New York Post and others and MAGA media, they do everything they can to avoid issuing corrections to own up to their mistakes. And sometimes, they are intentionally, you know, promoting falsehoods and moving on. That's some of the folks in MAGA media.

STELTER: Oliver, thank you. And, by the way, I don't have a dog or a blog. But maybe I should have both.


CNN's fact-checker Daniel Dale is back with me, along with columnist Nicole Hemmer.

Talking about lies, it's kind of world full of lies.

Nicole, your column nailed it this week. The headline was referring to just living in the world of pants on fire lies -- whether it's a news report article that screws up and asked to be reacted, or all of these right wing media narratives that are bogus and make no sense.

What -- do you think the press should be doing differently in this world of pants on fire lies?

NICOLE HEMMER, ASSOCIATE RESEEARCHER SCHOLAR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: So, I actually think those are two pretty different things.

STELTER: How come?

HEMMER: So when "The Washington Post" screws up, it's not doing it in order to get misinformation in front of the public. It looks differently when we talk about right wing media sometimes. A lot of time, the goal is to just get the misinformation out there.

And that's really difficult for news organizations who are used to exposing lies, who are used to trying to get information out there, there's a way in which they amplify misinformation and that's -- that's the goal for these outlets. And that's -- that's a big problem for journalism going forward.

STELTER: To be rude, he (ph) would never believe that, right? He would say he was targeted. He was attacked by "The Washington Post" on a political campaign.

That is the state of the right-wing, right? They believe the media is out to get them. So that's the dynamic we're in.

Look at all of these fact checks just from this week. I noticed a new trend maybe from "The Washington Post" and others, the way they're putting the headlines up for fact checks. It all said, no. No, officials are not handing out the VP's book. No, Virginia is not eliminating advanced high school math classes.

Like, Daniel Dale, we're at the point where it's -- fact checks are so simple sometimes, you can literally just say in all in the headline, no, no, no.

(LAUGHTER) DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: I think that for -- when I use "no", I think it's because rather than being able to say a single person made the claim, like President Joe Biden falsely claimed, I would put no because so many people are making the claim.

This is a narrative that has become widespread. That it doesn't do it justice to say like, you know, Congresswoman Lauren Boebert falsely claims it's like, you know, 20 members of Congress and five big media outlets. And so, the no is shorthand for wow, this has become widespread even though it's entirely wrong.

STELTER: Hmm, right.

All right. Let's talk about your new data about President Biden's first 100 days. How did you stack up compared to former President Trump?

DALE: So he's far from perfect but there's also no comparison. I counted 29 false claims from President Biden in his first 100 days. Again, I'm not throwing a party for President Biden for 29 false claims, but that's about one every 3.5 days. For Trump in his 100 days, I counted 214 false claims, so about more than two per day.

And that was a slow period for Trump, Brian. In subsequent years, like the year I counted as a CNN reporter --


DALE: -- he was averaging eight false claims a day.

So, again, Biden not perfect. This is not a compliment to say he's much better than Trump, but it's a fact that he's much better than Trump.

STELTER: People forget that Trump deteriorated in terms of his accuracy.

DALE: He did.

STELTER: He got worse and worse over the four years.

Here's what I think is most interesting about Biden. I've noticed and you've noticed he changes when he's fact checked. He course-corrects. So, you or other fact checkers call him, point out something's inaccurate, he does stop saying it in several different instances, maybe not fast enough. But that's a big difference from Trump.

Biden or his team or whoever is writing his scripts does seem to be reacting to fact checking, is that right?

DALE: It is, and at least in some cases. So there are some false or misleading claims that Biden has repeated without correction, but I've counted at least two cases in which he or his team said something wrong, I fact checked it as false and others fact checked it as fall and then they never said it again. They significantly amended their language. And one notable example is they rolled out their infrastructure plan by saying this will create 19 million jobs. Biden himself used a slightly more correct formulation but it was still pretty misleading. And then when I said, look, this is false, this is misleading, they just never used that 19 million figure again. In fact, it's closer to 2.7 million jobs.

So, again, it's better if they never get it wrong in the first place. I'm not saying, you know, let's congratulate them for fixing their false claim. But it's much better and it's much different than what we saw in the Trump era where you might see the president repeat the same false claim literally a hundred times even though it's been fact checked. You know, 30 of those times, they just didn't care.


Nicole, 30 seconds left, this impact of the choose your own news culture, all these crazy lies coming out of Fox, should we just ignore them? Should we just ignore the nonsense?

HEMMER: Well, yes and no. I think that we should ignore, you know, the little instances and try not to amplify them. What we should do is we should work to put them in context.

So rather than just saying, no, Joe Biden isn't coming for your hamburgers, we could talk about the role that lies play as a rhetorical and a political strategy for trying to discredit the Biden administration and to advance a different kind of politics. And that contextualization I think is a much better way to approach this that keeps us from simply spreading or amplifying these false stories.

STELTER: Yeah, let's add value. Absolutely.

Daniel and Nicole, thank you both.

Up next on our rundown, a look ahead to this year's World Press Freedom Day. Plus, the new pandemic split screen. Hope in the U.S. but heartbreak in India. Here is Zeynep Tufekci and David Leonhardt, next.




STELTER: In the past two weeks, there has been a dramatic shift in national news coverage of COVID-19. It reflects a reassessment that's clearly underway, a rebalancing of risk now that 100 million American adults have been fully vaccinated. For some, this seems way too late.

For others, it still seems premature, but it's happening. It's clear that the masks are coming off, including in these live shots that we see all across T.V. Influential media outlets like the Atlantic and Slate and "The New York Times" were questioning weeks ago, the need for outdoor mask mandates. And after the CDC relaxed its guidelines a little bit this week,

interviewers pressed for answers about why the Feds aren't going further. And experts like Dr. Leana Wen criticized President Biden for short selling the vaccines, she says, through the visuals of masking and the distancing at his recent address. This is fascinating, right?

It's a clear change in tone from mainstream media outlets. And there's obviously a couple things going on here at the same time. One, pandemic trauma is real, and we all have different reactions to it. Different people are handling the anxiety and the trauma in different ways.

And unfortunately, there are irrational voices that are drowning out the rational ones, making it harder for folks in the middle to find common ground. I mean, when Tucker Carlson is on T.V., equating kids wearing masks to child abuse. It's a lot harder to have a nuanced conversations about whether kids should be wearing masks and when and where.

But even if these Fox figures are the wrong messengers, they are right to be pointing out the government's mixed messages. Dine indoors without a mask they say, but make sure your kids cover up in school. Even if you think you can rationalize all the rules, others can't or won't.

And so, the social fabric phrase some more. I think newsrooms based in the northeast need to acknowledge that many people in many states changed their masking habits months ago. And interviewers need to keep challenging, inconsistent, confusing claims from the CDC.

David Leonhard is one of the writers who's been doing that. A senior writer for The New York Times, and he's here with me now. David, here's a few of your recent articles talking about irrational COVID fears, et cetera. Do you feel like you've helped change the conversation when it comes to outdoor masking?

DAVID LEONHARDT, SENIOR WRITER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I don't know whether I've helped change the conversation. But I've really been -- I really have learned a lot from the people who I've talked to, who calmly walked me through the data on outdoor masking, on just how powerful the vaccines are.

And I think the reality is with outdoor masks, unless you're in close conversation with another person, you don't need a mask outdoors, even if you're not vaccinated. And if you're vaccinated, you certainly don't need a mask outdoors.

And really the only reason to wear one indoors which I'm vaccinated, and I do wear one indoors is as a sort of social signaling, contributing to the larger product -- project of mask wearing for the unvaccinated, which is deeply important indoors.

STELTER: You wrote about as more broadly this issue of irrational COVID fears. And I'm sure you got hate mail from some readers, who said, you know, how dare you? You know, people are trying to be really cautious trying to protect themselves and others. How do you figure out a way to communicate to an audience about rationality and irrational fear?

So, what I would say is, I think it's important to keep a couple things in mind. One, your point about Tucker Carlson is really important, Brian, I mean, there is really damaging irrational behavior going on. That is that is basically saying we don't need to take any precautions or precautions are even damaging, and so let's acknowledge that.

And also, let's acknowledge that a lot of the hostility to mask wearing was more damaging than any of the overcaution that people have been displaying, that's important.


The second thing I think that's important to think about is we've all been obsessed with COVID. It's been horrible. It's killed more than a half million Americans. It's closed schools. It's had us all working at home. It's dominated our lives.

So, of course, it's difficult for us to return to normal. But it's also really important for us to start returning to normal. And normal doesn't mean waiting until there is no COVID risk. It means thinking about the fact that if you're vaccinated or you're outdoors, COVID presents the sort of risks that we accept all the time in life, it's sort of struck by lightning or attacked by shark level risk, it's not the kind of thing that should reorder our lives.

And I think it's important for all of us to start thinking about it in that way, we're not going to get to zero risk. And if we stay kind of button up inside our homes forever, we're actually going to be doing much more damage to ourselves than if we start to get out a little bit.

STELTER: We had some tech problems earlier, but I think they're fixed. Let me try to bring in Zeynep Tufekci, associate professor at UNC, contributor to the Atlantic. She's been communicating about the pandemic, and is so effectively all along.

I've learned so much from Zeynep, so I'm glad we've got your connection up here. You wrote this week that the new CDC guidelines are too timid, too inconsistent. Have you noticed a change in the media's narrative about this as well, that questions are now being challenged, you know, to the government about why the rules, the guidelines do seem so timid and inconsistent?

ZEYNEP TUFEKCI, CONTRIBUTOR, ATLANTIC: Well, I want to acknowledge that, you know, it's a great step forward. Like I like the fact that we have new guidelines, I like the fact that they are relaxing a lot of the rules.

But I think we need a clearer, consistent explanation on why we're wearing masks indoors when we're out, you know, indoors, and also what it means to sort of face risk outdoors. Because from all the epidemiological research we have, outdoor risk was already very low, even before the vaccines. I just published with my co-authors this week in the British Medical Journal, a piece arguing for removing mask mandates outdoors.

And this was even in the context without vaccinations, because if you look at the raw numbers, you see, like, you know, around one percent, less than that after transmission, among the vaccinate-- unvaccinated, and even that when we trace the cases, is to prolong close contact.

And there's a reason for that, because this disease is transmitted also through these little flow to aerosols that just disperse outdoor. So, it is already much safer. When you add vaccination on top of that, it is really, really safe in outdoor environments.

So, there's really no reason to have the mandates, although we should also be understanding some people have immunocompromised, you know, members at their household, some people feel more confident (AUDIO GAP) don't have vaccine. They work in places where people might not be vaccinated.

So, we should have the-- you know, we shouldn't have a sort of shaming either way, but we don't really need a rule that forces people to wear masks outdoors while also being understanding, you know, some people may choose to do so. Now, when it comes to indoors, I think we need to keep the mask mandates indoors more for a while, not simply because like it's a big risk even for the vaccinated, but we can't really have a grocery store like trying to please who's vaccinated, who's not, all of that, like there because the risk is real to the unvaccinated.

You can't-- I don't think you can kind of have these selective rules but that's a sociological reason. It's not saying the vaccinated are like at higher risk, it's kind of saying indoors, we still have risk for the unvaccinated. We're going to be careful, and we're not going to have these like, you know, mix and match rules for people.

Outdoors is safe anyway for even the unvaccinated outside of like prolonged close contact. I really have a rule of thumb that Dr. Dr. Lindsey Marr at Virginia Tech wrote about recently in a-- or she was interviewed is that outdoors, you can-- even the unvaccinated, you can either mask or be distant--

STELTER: Or distance, yes. Yes.

TUFEKCI: -- if you're going to have like (INAUDIBLE) someone if you're unvaccinated. Like one of those is probably enough, but we don't need a mandate playing this to people.

STELTER: We need a balance between, we are all in this together, which we still are, and at the same time, live and let live. Don't judge someone else for wearing a mask or not wearing a mask outside.

TUFEKCI: Absolutely. We need to (INAUDIBLE) people because some people have --

STELTER: You do you. Yes. Yes.

TUFEKCI: -- like household members that are, you know, extremely vulnerable or just feel comfortable. So, there's no need to go on about, you know, don't do this, do this because we don't need a mandate though.

STELTER: Well, yes, it's the tougher child abuse thing, right? Yes. David and Zeynep, thank you both for this conversation.

TUFEKCI: That's the--

STELTER: Next, we are going inside a big change at the New York Times' opinion section. Editor Kathleen Kingsbury will fill my questions and yours, next.



STELTER: Everyone has opinions about our next subject. It's the opinion section of the New York Times. Last spring, we were covering controversy after controversy from The Times including an internal revolt about Senator Tom Cotton's op-ed and the exit of opinion editor James Bennett.

Now, Bennett's successor is Kathleen Kingsbury. And she has already proven to be an agent of change at The Times. One was announced this week. She's retiring that old-fashioned term op-ed and replacing it with something new. So, let's dig into why.

Kathleen Kingsbury joins me now for her first T.V. interview in her role. So, Kathleen, you served as an interim editor last summer. You were officially named the job in January, now you're making changes. Does retiring the term op-ed relate to last year's controversies?

KATHLEEN KINGSBURY, OPINION EDITOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: No, it doesn't. It was an overdue change, Brian, you know, the New York Times really invented the modern op-ed page 50 years ago. It was called that because it was literally the print page that was opposite the editorial page, hence op-ed. But that doesn't really mean very much to anyone in the digital age. And so, we wanted to acknowledge even the most beloved traditions need to change sometimes.


STELTER: So, you're calling them guest essays now, which I think is a much better term.


STELTER: I like how you call-- you said in your piece that it's clubby -- you know, op-eds clubby newspaper jargon, there's no -- there's no need for it. So, what is the purpose, more broadly, of having an opinion section in the digital age?

KINGSBURY: Well, an opinion report does something very different than a newsroom. What we are trying to do every day if our news pages are telling -- showing the world as it is, our opinion pages are really trying to tell our readers how the world can and perhaps should be.

STELTER: Hmm. And, you know, you think about all of the stances -- your opinion section takes, your editorial board takes, for example, endorsing both Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar in the Democratic primary. How does the editorial board assess Joe Biden so far?

KINGSBURY: You know, I think that we endorse Joe Biden in 2020, I should say, of course, he went on to win.


KINGSBURY: I think we all -- I think we can all agree that things seemed calmer, particularly the news cycle. But you know, what we are really trying to do in opinion is to elevate honest and good-faith debate, our readers are going to encounter things that they agree with every day, they're going to encounter things that they don't. And I think that's really important to a thriving democracy under Joe Biden or Donald Trump. And I also think that it's what readers need.

STELTER: Also about that -- about that Kate --


STELTER: -- there's also arguments about cancel culture. And there's an episode in the last couple of weeks, it's Simon & Schuster, the big book publisher, they bought the rights to Mike Pence's book, two books, actually. And some staffers are calling the publisher out, saying, we oppose this book, there should be no deals with any Trump administration authors. As an opinion editor, what's your view of that?

KINGSBURY: You know, I, of course, can't speak for Simon & Schuster, but, you know, it worries me. It's a challenge that newspapers all publishers are facing right now. You know, Mike Pence was elected -- was voted for by millions of Americans in November to be their Vice President.

We are all still living together. But more importantly, we can't be afraid to hear out and interrogate all ideas, especially bad ones, because in my opinion, that's the most effective way to knock them down.

STELTER: So, read it, challenge it, rebut it. That's the opposite of cancel culture, isn't it?

KINGSBURY: Exactly. I would argue, yes.

STELTER: I think in some ways, though, framing like cancel culture and wokeness. These are right-wing frames that seems like have won the argument or won the day. I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing.

KINGSBURY: You know, I don't want to really get into right-wing media. The reality is what we do every day, my editors who are the best in the business, is go out and find the best solutions, interrogate ideas, and really examine the human condition. And we want to publish a wide range of opinions, arguments, ideas, whether it's across the left, right spectrum, but as most Americans, you know, really looking far beyond that spectrum. STELTER: More solutions, though. We should all want more solutions- oriented writing, offering solutions. Kathleen Kingsbury, thank you so much for being here.

KINGSBURY: Thank you so much, Brian.

STELTER: After the break, late night hosts, are they going easy on the new president? Expert and veteran journalists Bill Carter joins me with answers.



STELTER: And welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. Tonight is the long awaited premiere of CNN's "The Story Of Late Night" an outstanding new series, executive produced by the man you're about to see on screen, Bill Carter, the CNN media analyst, longtime New York Times reporter, author of the late night books that everyone grew up reading.

Bill, great to see you. Congrats on launch day. This project has been in the works for a long time. You're looking at the past, and what it tells us about the future late night, as well. So, let's start with the present. All right?



STELTER: Here's the question I've been wanting to ask you for a month. These late night shows. Are they going easy on the new president? Is there less to laugh about now the Donald Trump's out of office?

CARTER: Well, it's a complicated question in some ways, because they're not going any easier than they did in any other previous president who does -- when he does something dumb like or clumsy like falling down the stairs. They go after him. In a poll-- PolitiFact did an -- did an examination because the right-wing has complained and whined about they're not making jokes about Biden, and they said it was false. They are making jokes about Biden.

They just make jokes in the normal way that they used to for any other president except Donald Trump, which is that when he screws up, when he does something dumb, they make a funny joke about it.

STELTER: Here's a couple of examples of finding humor at Biden's expense. Let's watch.


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, CBS: At a cost of $1.8 trillion. That's a big chunk of change for a guy who still thinks a nickel will buy you a meatloaf sandwich and a ticket to the Jack Dempsey fight.

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, NBC NEWS: Of course, Vice President Kamala Harris sat behind Biden. She had a spray bottle just in case he started drifting off topics. Joe, Joe, Joe.


STELTER: Hey, isn't there -- there is -- there is some humor to be had. At the same time, Bill, humor is so polarized. Fox News trying to launch a late-night comedy show, trying to compete with Colbert and Kimmel. How's it going?

CARTER: Well, you know, the "Gutfeld Show" is what I expected, which is that it's not really about comedy or satire, it's about revenge. The idea is to tell jokes that get them riled up and they're not being entertained, they're being incited. And the idea is for them to say, yes, that'll show him.

Instead of kind of laughing. It's all based on we're going to get back at you for attacking Donald Trump. And I want to say the thing -- the difference with Trump really is that Trump was a farcical administration. There was farcical things going on every day from drinking bleach to altering maps of hurricanes, to throwing paper towels, and God knows what else.


And so, the comedians really went after him for that. But also, they felt like he was menacing. I mean, (INAUDIBLE) said something to me the other day saying he thinks he was hurting people, and that made them wear their opinions on their sleeves about him, which I don't expect them to do about Biden. I really -- I think that will be the big difference.

STELTER: Right, that is the big change. Bill, thank you so much. And happy launch day again. Tonight's episode of "THE STORY OF LATE NIGHT" the series begins by going back to the past, the roots, the birth of late night. You can tune in tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time and Pacific here on CNN.

Thanks for joining us on RELIABLE SOURCES. Tomorrow is the U.N.'s World Press Freedom Day. The theme, information as a public good. I know there's all this talk about disinformation including on this show, but information is a public good. That's something hopefully we can all rally around. We'll see you right back here this time next week.