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Media Offices In Gaza Leveled By Israeli Airstrike; Why American Newsrooms Need A Democracy Beat; How To Cover The Ongoing Assault On Democracy; Confusion Abounds As CDC Changes COVID-19 Guidance; One-On-One With "The Washington Post's" Next Editor. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired May 16, 2021 - 11:00   ET



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

This hour, a jam-packed program. A great unmasking in America but there's contradictions and confusion. So, what should the press be doing to help us all return to normal? Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here with answer.

Plus, as Liz Cheney calls out Donald Trump, calling him a continuing danger to our democracy, how should newsrooms approach this story? We have answers from three experts coming up.

And later the story behind the story of Jake Tapper's new novel. I learned a thing or two about writing from talking to Tapper about it, and I think will you too. So, that's coming up.

But, first -- this Sunday has been the deadliest yet in the week-long conflict engulfing Gaza and Israel. Palestinian officials reporting 188 killed in Gaza. Israeli officials reporting 10 killed in Israel.

This weekend, there's been widespread condemnation of that Israeli air attack on a Gaza building that housed "The Associated Press" bureau and the al Jazeera bureau in Gaza. This building also contained homes, residences, and according to the Israeli defense officials, it also contained Hamas military intelligence officers.

Look at the video, as we see it again, as we see the smoke rising -- remember, this was shown live on international television. It was damning and emotional video. But is it the whole story? Does it show us the full story?

There's obviously a literal fog of war in this conflict. And so many, so many different accounts, so many conflicting stories, so many partisan and so many personal, emotional reactions and components to it.

So we're going to take extra time today to explore what happened, why this building was targeted, whether members of the media are being targeted by Israeli forces, and what that means. The questions aren't easy and the answers might be even tougher. So,

we have several guests to get into it.

As I mentioned, Israel claims the demolished building housed Hamas targets. If that's the case, many would say it was a fully justified attack. If Hamas was there, however, why haven't the Israelis offered proof? Documentation, evidence?

Now, it raises a broader question as well about press access and how the press should be treated in conflict zones.

Let's remember that although these pictures are horrific, there were no casualties. And the occupants including the "A.P." and the al Jazeera journalists were given some time, in some cases maybe an hour's notice, in some cases, less than an hour, to evacuate the building, to take their cameras, to take their gear out.

So, no lives were lost. But, certainly, years and years of work was lost. Bureaus, offices for media outlets contain, you know, so much, so many records and frankly, so many memories for the staffers. And we have heard from some of the staffers saying that this is something they're never going to forget, something that has changed their lives, their careers forever.

It's also very rare to see international media organizations, you know, in the midst of an airstrike like this. It almost never happens. So it is an important moment for press freedom. That's why media advocacy groups all around the world, including in Israel, are demanding more information about what happened and why.

So let's get to that with three guests, including Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus. He's the IDF international spokesperson. He's with me.

As well as Sally Buzbee, the senior vice president and executive editor at "The Associated Press".

And also with me, David French, he's been writing about this subject as a senior editor with 'The Dispatch" and a columnist for "Time".

So, we have David and Sally standing by, but let's start with you, Lieutenant Colonel Conricus. Thank you for coming on the program.


STELTER: It's been 24 hours since the Israeli airstrike demolishing the building in Gaza that contained these bureaus. Are you able to provide proof now that Hamas was in the building?

CONRICUS: Not only was Hamas in the building, they were actively using it to fight against Israel. They were using the infrastructure as their command center and intelligence center.

[11:05:03] They had special technological equipment in the building, which they used to actively fight and disrupt Israeli actions. And as such, it is a -- as you said in the beginning, we deem it to be a legitimate military target, and out of consideration for human life and for the people who work there, we chose to forfeit additional military gains by surprise attacking and instead, we did what, of course, is the right thing to do, advanced warning and allowed everybody to clear, vacate the premises, and made sure that everybody were out before the building was struck.

STELTER: Can you show us the evidence? Can you hold it up? Can you show us the pictures, the intelligence you have?

CONRICUS: That's in process, and I'm sure in due time, that information will be presented. So far --

STELTER: But shouldn't that have happened 24 hours ago?

CONRICUS: Again, we've said very clearly what's in the building. And again, like the opening statement said, let's have a more nuanced and comprehensive view at what's going on here. It's not as if this was --

STELTER: Right. If you all knew Hamas was in the building and you're about to bomb a news bureau, you could have provided the evidence an hour or two later.

CONRICUS: Well, it's not about bombing a news bureau. It's about the fact that Hamas systemically uses civilian infrastructure for their military purposes and I -- my assessment, our assessment is that this time, Hamas thought that "A.P." and al Jazeera and a few other smaller outlets would render them safe against any Israeli attack.

That's probably the way Hamas thinks, just like they think when they plan rocket attacks and then they place rocket launchers next to hospitals and next schools, and when they dig tunnels underneath -- underneath their own homes. It's exactly --

STELTER: Journalists as human shields is a very, very concerning thing.

However, "The Associated Press" says it had no idea. It's never been told. Why didn't Israel inform the "A.P." and al Jazeera ahead of time, if you're saying Hamas intelligence units were in the same building as their bureaus?

CONRICUS: Again, there's an issue of a military objective. The objective here was to deny the enemy military capabilities. We choose to win less in terms of -- we choose to gain less militarily speaking by giving advanced warning. Had we not warned, then we would have been able to strike additional pieces of equipment and hardware and facilities that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad uses.

That's why there was an advanced warning of about an hour, which is a good enough time for people to vacate. But the aim here was to hit a military target that's Hamas and Islamic Jihad used in combat against us. STELTER: Israel has abilities to have pinpoint attacks to take out one

room in one floor of one building. Why level the entire building? Were you trying to send a message to the media in Gaza?

CONRICUS: Not at all. We operate freely. We allow access. We interact daily with the media, hourly, every minute. So, that is not the cause.

STELTER: Well, let me show you what al Jazeera is saying. And I recognize al Jazeera is funded by Qatar. Qatar has close ties with Palestine. Let me show the statement from al Jazeera saying, the destruction of this tower is a blatant violation of human rights and is internationally considered a war crime.

That's the statement from Al Jazeera. Your reaction?

CONRICUS: Well, I think that they're wrong and I think that whoever wrote that statement doesn't know enough about the law of armed conflict. Once infrastructure -- military purposes for fighting, it qualifies as a military target. And if you strike, we as the military, if we strike with proportional force causing minimal collateral damage, and you said so yourself, nobody was even injured because we made sure nobody was injured, then that is a strike that is acceptable when you are fighting against a terrorist organization.


STELTER: Two more questions for you. "The Jerusalem Post" reports that Israeli intelligence has presented the intelligence to the United States, that the Biden White House knows about this intelligence.

Can you confirm that report in "The Jerusalem Post"?

CONRICUS: Unfortunately, I cannot. I don't know what they based the report on. I know that there are very extensive ties, of course, between us and the U.S., the entire defense establishment. But at this time --

STELTER: What about a timeline? Sir, what about a timeline for the proof that you say will be provided? Today, tomorrow?

CONRICUS: No, I cannot commit to that either. I don't know -- I mean, I know that you know we're in the middle of fighting here. Our civilians are being bombarded by up until now, 2,900 rockets. We have nine dead Israeli civilians, one dead soldier.

The country is under constant, relentless bombardment. Civilians are in shelters. (INAUDIBLE) Israeli civilians are in shelter almost the entire day.

So, yes, it's very important, and I understand that many people are very concerned about it. I am sure that Israeli officials will get to it as soon as possible.


But at now, the order of the day is to beat Hamas and to overcome the military challenges that are life-threatening for our civilians.

STELTER: I wonder, broadly speaking, if you feel like Israel is losing the media war, losing the media or losing the propaganda war right now?

CONRICUS: Let me tell you this. I think that Hamas is getting a free ride.

And I'll give you an example. Most of the international outlets, they rely on figures for casualties in Gaza based on one single source, the Gaza Health Ministry. Guess who runs the Gaza Health Ministry? Hamas does.

Hamas has an interest in enlarging the amount of noncombatants, women, children, et cetera, allegedly killed in battle, while they have an interest in making all those 20 to 30-year-old men who are part of their fighting force disappear out of their lists. I think that's a very convenient strategy.

And I think that too many people, too many news outlets are taking their word for granted and they're making us go through very hard scrutiny. And I think it should be the other way around, actually.

STELTER: There are questions about your credibility. Let's put back up on screen those examples.

These headlines from the past 48 hours about what happened when spokespeople for the IDF said it was ground invasion, an invasion of Gaza was happening. Then the story changed. There was no such invasion. You can see the headline, Israeli military accused of using the media to trick Hamas.

What happened, Lieutenant Colonel?

CONRICUS: You used the term which I'm about to use, you said it, fog of war. It's human to make mistakes. We make mistakes. And as soon as we understood that a mistake was made, I corrected it. And we're moving on.

STELTER: You're moving on, but I think many journalists are very suspicious of what happened. They feel like they were tricked. They feel like they were used.

How are you going to regain trust? Rebuild trust?

CONRICUS: Well, you know, we have been through this at length with lots of people. We explained ourselves. I explained myself. My seniors have done it. We even issued an official letter to the head of the foreign press association explaining what happened.

And again, emphasizing how important it is for us to be able to have gained the trust, maintained the trust of international media and Israeli media. Our commitment to an unbiased, fair, and true information, that is what I have been doing for my last four years here on the job. That's what I will continue to do. And I think that mistakes are part of the business, and it's part of the environment. It is a very chaotic, dynamic environment. And sometimes small bits of information have great importance. This was an unfortunate such occurrence.

STELTER: That's certainly true. I appreciate that you are here and willing to take the questions. It is an incredibly complicated media environment, as well as a geopolitical environment.

As we are speaking, I'm getting a story across the wire about six Israeli police officers injured when a car slammed into a police checkpoint. You know, what would sound like an attack, although we don't have all the details yet.

So every hour, you must be getting more and more information, sometimes conflicting information, and trying to keep up with it like the rest of us.

CONRICUS: Yeah, not only that. I mean, we have rocket attacks from Lebanon, from Syria the last few days. We've had lots of unrest and rioting. This event now in Jerusalem, which is, of course, potentially very, very escalating, and there is definitely a lot going on.

But again, our focus here, and you know, too much talk is about the less relevant parts. Let's go back to what really matters. What really matters is safety from our point of view. What really matters is safety of our civilians and the fact for seven days, our country is under fire.

And so many people around the world find it acceptable, and they expect us to find it acceptable that our civilians are bombarded by a terrorist organization that is recognized by such in most of the Western countries around the world. They're an extremist jihadi organization that are trying to murder our civilians.

So many times, that's overlooked and we deal with all kinds of other interesting topics. But let's not forget how this started. It started with them firing rockets at our capital, and then continuing to fire at almost all of Israel with a range of about 5 million to 6 million Israeli people within rocket range.

Had it not been for the Iron Dome, many more of those 2,900 rockets would have landed in Israel and caused many more casualties.

So I understand the interest, and I'm sure that the coming guests will speak about it a lot, but from our perspective, there's interesting stuff and then there's the really essential stuff.


The essential stuff is Israeli civilian lives. They are at risk. Our job is to protect them. That's what we're doing in Gaza. Those are the terrorists that we're attacking and that's their infrastructure that we're attacking.

And as the prime minister said and my chief of staff said just a few minutes ago, this isn't over and we are continuing our operations until Hamas gets the message.

STELTER: Lieutenant Colonel, thank you very much for coming on the program and discussing what happened and what continues to happen there. Thank you.

CONRICUS: Thank you very much.

STELTER: As we press for a proof of the allegations that Hamas was inside that same building as the "A.P." and al Jazeera bureaus, let me bring in the "A.P.'s" top editor, Sally Buzbee.

Sally, we booked you because you're about to take over "The Washington Post". But you're in charge of the "A.P." newsroom for a couple more weeks. You must have had quite the experience yesterday finding out that you're staff had to evacuate that building.

How are your "A.P." colleagues in Gaza doing today? Are they all right?

SALLY BUZBEE, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT & EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: They're doing fine. They're extraordinary resilient and committed journalists who are focused on telling the story fairly from both sides and they're doing fine. They're rattled but they are working today, and we are enormously grateful they are safe.

STELTER: They -- I've read that AFP, another newswire, is providing space for the bureaus that were affected. How -- on a physical level, how are you all operating in Gaza today with your bureau bombed?

BUZBEE: Well, we're looking for some temporary quarters. AFP has been wonderful and we thank them.

We are attempting to obviously ensure that this does not disrupt the important mission of telling the world what is happening in this conflict right now. I think the reality of the situation is that that office in Gaza is in a critical location and this does impact the world's right no know what is happening on both sides of the conflict in real time.

But that's a very important thing to keep in mind. It impairs the ability to report events in Gaza in real time. It reduces the flow of information coming from Gaza. It hampers the ability to tell the story fairly on their sides.

It does now, however, silence "A.P." and it is not going to from doing that, and we are scrambling to ensure we can report the story and we are reporting it at this moment.

STELTER: Do you believe the Israeli government's -- the Israeli military's explanation that Hamas was operating in the same building?

BUZBEE: Look, we're not taking sides in the actual conflict. "The Associated Press" does not take sides in conflicts. But we are in favor and what we do believe in is protecting the world's right to know what is going on in this conflict or any conflict. This is an important story and because of the actions yesterday, the world is going to know less.

So, what we want --


STELTER: Yeah, but did you ever have any warning -- were you ever informed before yesterday that Hamas might be operating there in the building?

BUZBEE: No. At this point, Brian --


STELTER: Because there have been stories in the past, including from a former "A.P." reporter who claims that, you know, rockets would lift off from Gaza toward Israel and the Gaza bureau would look the other way. There's been questions in the past about the Gaza bureau.

BUZBEE: Our Gaza bureau reports fairly on what is happening on Gaza side of the conflict and our bureaus in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv tell -- report fairly on what is happening, and we take evidence on both sides and we put that together and we come up with what we believe is a fair look at the conflict over the years and has been repeated conflict.

We have been in that building for 15 years, and we have operated in Gaza under very tough conditions and have tried to tell what is said. Our reporters go out in the field, they see things, eyewitness and they report them.

STELTER: Before I --


BUZBEE: What the "A.P." would like at this point, really, Brian, is an independent look at this, an independent investigation into what happened yesterday. We are in a conflict situation. We do not take sides in that conflict.

We've heard the Israelis say they have evidence. We don't know what that evidence is. We think it is appropriate at this point for there to be an independent look at what happened yesterday, an independent investigation into what happened yesterday.

STELTER: Sally, thank you very much for talking about this. I'd like to bring you back later in the hour as we planned for a conversation about your next job.

Let me bring in David French now. You caught my eye yesterday because you were talking about the international laws of war and how they're applied in this situation. You said some reporters don't know those laws. Don't understand it.

So, where do you -- how -- tell us your perspective after hearing the IDF spokesperson and the "A.P." editor?

DAVID FRENCH, SENIOR EDITOR, THE DISPATCH: Right. I served in Iraq during the surge and made some of the very same targeting decisions that are being made right now. And I served as an army lawyer and applied the laws of war in these contexts.

And the laws actually that apply are pretty simple. The facts are complicated. The simple truth is that you do in fact convert a civilian target to a military target if a military force uses that civilian target and -- or that civilian facility.


And that includes any kind of civilian facility. That includes a mosque, that includes a hospital, that includes a school. There are no targets off limits once an army decides to use it.

So then the big question becomes exactly the one you asked. What's the evidence? What's the evidence that this was being used by Hamas?

And if it was being used by Hamas, it's a legitimate military target, end of story, and Israel was right to warn people to minimize or to remove any civilian casualties.

So, that's why I say the law is relatively simple. If Hamas used that building, it's a military target, period, full stop. If they did not use that building, then, of course, that strike is unjustified by the laws of war.

The law here is simple. The facts are complicated. That's why you need to ultimately see the facts here.

STELTER: It feels to me like everybody involved walks around like they're stepping on broken glass, sometimes literally. But in conversations about this conflict, everybody is walking around on broken glass, is incredibly complicated and sensitive. And so many minds are made up.

How do you recommend news consumers make sense of this conflict?

FRENCH: Here's a good rule of thumb. Don't believe anybody automatically is one thing. Don't decide that -- I am definitely going to believe this statement that I see or this statement that I see based on my preconceived biases.

But there are still some facts that are undisputable and some laws that are undisputable. So, for example, it is in fact a war crime to direct un-aimed rocket fire at a civilian city. That's a war crime.

It is a war crime to do, for example, what Hamas does, which is not wear military uniforms often and try to blend in with civilian populations. When the facts show that, that's a war crime.

If Israel did not have evidence Hamas was in the building, and it targeted a civilian building without evidence Hamas was there, that would be a war crime.

So these are things where you need to understand the law, you can't blend in with civilians. You can't intentionally target civilians if you're a combatant, and -- but if a combatant uses a civilian structure, then that civilian structure loses its protection.

All of these legal standards are pretty easy to understand. What becomes difficult is discerning the facts.

However, we have to be -- we have to be clear that some of the facts are pretty clear. It is absolutely clear that Hamas is volleying rockets that are not (ph) aimed at Israeli cities. That is a war crime. Every one of those rocket launches is a war crime.

And sometimes I feel like what we do is we sort of just presume Hamas is going to do that and don't hold them to the same standard that we say hold Israel. We should hold the combatants to the same standard.

If we know one combatant is committing war crimes on a wholesale basis, they need to be condemned for that universally by the same international media and the same international establishment that is holding Israel to a high standard. It's right to hold Israel to a high standard.

STELTER: David, thank you very much for coming on and sharing this. Thank you.

FRENCH: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: Coming up, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Jake Tapper, and more.

Plus, Liz Cheney's message to Fox News and why her ouster from GOP leadership was the clearest sign yet that the news media needs a democracy beat. What is that? I'll explain next.



STELTER: Hey, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

From the former president's big lie blog posts to a fishy audit in Arizona, last year's U.S. election is still being screamed about. The GOP is erecting new barriers to voting in some states, and the newly ousted Liz Cheney is calling out her party for caving in to liars. She says Donald Trump is very much willing to unravel the U.S. democracy to get back to power some day.

And all of this news, all of it, has stoked partisan squabbling, but all of it is bigger than partisan politics. It's really about the future of America's democracy. That's why newsrooms need a democracy beat.

As media critic Dan Froomkin wrote here, he used this phrase a few months ago, and so did Michael Calderone of "Vanity Fair". He said the beat involves voter suppression, extremism, election disinformation.

Whew, it's quite a stew. A very newsworthy stew. And my next two guests know all about it.

Jocelyn Benson is the Michigan secretary of state, an elected Democrat, and a target of the so-called "stop the steal" protesters who were actually trying to steal the election.

You may remember that armed protesters showed up at her house during Christmastime.

Also with me is Ari Berman, senior reporter for "Mother Jones" and author of "Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America".

Jocelyn, thank you for coming on.

You're a former investigative journalist. You wrote this week for about people you called "democracy deniers". So, are journalists doing enough to spotlight the democracy deniers?

JOCELYN BENSON, MICHIGAN SECRETARY OF STATE: It's better, but we have to do more. I think it's clear the attacks on democracy, the efforts to sow seeds of doubt amongst citizens about the reliability of their vote and the accuracy of the count have only escalated in the months following the certification of the election and even the inauguration.

So we need more coverage, not less, because they are counting on -- those democracy deniers are counting on us not paying attention in this moment and not paying attention to their effort to build more barriers to the vote and make it easier for them to continue to deny democracy in future elections.



Ari, I feel like you're on the democracy beat. You've been on for years covering voting rights. When I say democracy beat, does that resonate with you? Is that something that more newsrooms should have?

ARI BERMAN, SENIOR REPORTER, MOTHER JONES: Yes, absolutely, Brian. I think I've been on the democracy beat for the last decade. And I've been urging a lot more reporters to cover these issues. And there's a lot more coverage now than there was a decade ago, but we still need a lot more coverage.

And I think the media needs to understand that the most important dividing line in American politics right now isn't between Democrats and Republicans. It's between Republicans versus democracy, and that we need to cover this not just through a partisan lens, but treat attacks on things like voting rights as a tax on the most fundamental rights in our democracy, and not ask which party is this benefiting.

But how is it hurting voters? How is it hurting democracy? And I think that's the lens that I'd like to see the media cover this story through more often.

STELTER: Jocelyn, what about you? What do you see from local media in Michigan? You know, what do you want to see more of?

BENSON: Well, certainly, we're in the middle of a lot of challenges right now and as a state and as a country. And so, yes, we do need to continue to cover everything from escalation of gun violence to the need to continue to promote public health regarding the pandemic.

But our ability to see change and improvement on any of those issues, all routes back to whether or not we have access to the vote. And so, we have to continue making those connections, that any issue you'd care about, the climate change or access to education or anything in between, our ability to impact anything, impact is impacted by our access to the vote. And so, making that connection to every issue that's covered is critical to help citizens stay vigilant amongst against attacks on our democracy and our access to democracy.

STELTER: The Banner, right now, says is an assault on democracy. Is that -- is that too strong, Ari?

BERMAN: No. I mean, there is an assault on democracy right now, Brian. In the first four months of this year, 361 bills restricting voting access have been introduced, 11 states have changed their voting laws already this year to make it harder to vote in such a short period of time in such a coordinated way.

And what I want to see the media do is talk about exactly what's happening. I don't want to see headlines that say Republicans allege election integrity, Democrats allege voter suppression. This is voter a suppression that we're seeing right now. This is an attempt to try to weaponize and institutionalize the big lie. And we should be very clear what's happening.

We should talk about the impact that it's having on voters in Florida, in Michigan and Georgia and Texas and other states. We had the highest turnout in 120 years in 2020. We should be building off that high turnout, trying to make that the new normal as opposed to going backwards and trying to institutionalize voter suppression and put new barriers in front of all the people that turned out successfully in the last election.

STELTER: Well, I've been seeing CNN adding reporters on this beat. ProPublica was out there recruiting for a democracy reporter, job, pretty awesome sounding job. I think this democracy beat does need more investment for sure.

Jocelyn and Ari, thank you both for giving us context around it.

Let's take a step further here and look at the recent coverage of Liz Cheney's ouster and the poisonous riot denying that's going on, because it's all related to that democracy beat. Politicians can't rewrite history on their own. They need enablers. They need media enablers.

And that's what the GOP has right now, thanks to right-wing outlets that looked the other way and ignore the daily fallout from January 6, and ignore the newly obtained video that CNN aired from a police body cam. They basically ignore all the attempts to hold people accountable for the crimes that occurred at the Capitol.

Downplaying the interaction while dialing up it was rigged rhetoric is obviously destabilizing the democracy. And Cheney said so, challenging Fox on Fox, to tell the truth out unclear. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): We all have an obligation. And I would say Fox News, especially, especially Fox News, has a particular obligation to make sure people know the election wasn't stolen. Fox News -- Fox News --


CHENEY: Bret, I'm going to answer your question. Fox News needs to make sure that the American people --


STELTER: He wasn't happy about that. Did you notice what The Banner said? It said Fox -- Cheney is taunting Trump. That's what Fox was saying, which is also challenging Fox and new poll numbers show why.

Let's dig into it with Peter Wehner, he's a senior fellow for ethics at the ethics and Public Policy Center. He's the author of the book, The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Afraid Republic After Trump, and he's no Democrat. He served under President Reagan and in both Bush administrations.

Peter, thanks for coming on. Let me show the new PRRI data that shows 66 percent of Republicans say they support, at least in part, the election conspiracy theories, the big lie. Then if you look at Republicans who trust Fox News, the number is higher 86 percent of those Fox News Republicans.

And if you look at folks who love Newsmax and OAN, the percentage is even higher 96 percent of those viewers, those Republican voters believe in the big lie. To me, Peter, this is pretty clear evidence, and Liz Cheney is right that the Fox's of the world need to tell the truth more loudly, more at all.


PETER WEHNER, SENIOR FELLOW, ETHICS AND PUBLIC POLICY CENTER: Yes, I completely agree with you. Liz is right. I'm glad she went on Fox and made hat indictment. I mean, Fox has some serious journalists Bret Baier is among them, so as Chris Wallace. But by and large, the Fox lineup, the Primetime lineup in most of its stars, in particular, Tucker Carlson, are spreading malicious lies about the election. And these are not just quote unquote, any lies. These really go to the heart of democracy because they're undermining faith and the foundation of our Republic, which is trust in the election.

And remember, Brian, that the Trump administration itself, declare that this was the most secure election in history. These are the specialists who follow these things. There's no evidence that the election was stolen or rigged.

And, yet, because these news outlets and politicians in the Republican Party, and others threw their hat over the Trump wall, the more delusional he became, the more delusional they became. And it's, it's a real threat to our -- to our democracy.

STELTER: Your op-ed for the New York Times this week -- I'm sorry, it's called a guest essay now at the New York Times.

WEHNER: Right.

STELTER: It's something that really stuck with me. You said, the Trump base is addicted to the big lie, you said addictions are hard to break. That's, you know, it's kind of uncomfortable, right, to think about tens of millions people been addicted to something. Why don't you say it and how do you back it up?

WEHNER: Yes. Well, the reason that I said it is, of course, because I think it is true. And let me explain what I meant by it. There are -- there are physiological addictions, cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, and what that means that the body craves. And that's the reason that they're so difficult to break, but they're also psychological, emotional addictions.

And I think what has happened here, I think, the polling and the evidence, and certainly my own conversations with people who are Trump supporters underscore this, which is that they decided there was a psychological need or longing or craving to believe that Donald Trump won that it was too difficult for them to accept that a person that they had such a high regard for, and people and a movement and a party that they considered dangerous and malicious of the Democratic Party and progressivism, one, they simply didn't want to accept that, because that created all sorts of uncomfortable feelings.

And it was just much better and easier, not better, but easier for them to say, look, the election was actually stolen, that this was ours. And this plays in, by the way, something on the American right, the conservatives and one stood against, which was a kind of grievance and victimization mentality. That is so rampant on the American right, right now. So, they got addicted to that.

And then they have these new sources feeding that addiction, giving them the information they wanted, playing into confirmation bias and motivated reasoning. And that explains in part on how we are where we are.

STELTER: Yes. This radicalization, the sectarianism is the -- is the story that affects every other story that we cover. You said, you know, just now, right? Trump is treating his voters like victims. And what I think you and I both fear is what that sets up down the road.

WEHNER: That's right. My real fear is, is that if this continues, there's going to be a normalization of political violence, because these are links in a chain, right? When Donald Trump is sending out as he did yesterday, statements saying that that the election was the prime of the century, what that is signaling to his people -- we know this from the -- from the protesters in January 6, which is this is saying, this is the most fundamental attack possible in a democratic society, and you are victims of it.

And in their own mind, what that then means is we have the green light to use any means possible, up to an including violence if necessary and force to undo this grave injustice. And unless Republicans stand up and resist that, we're going to end up in a worse place than we are and they will be largely responsible for it.

STELTER: Peter Wehner, thank you. Hope you're wrong.

Coming up here, mass confusion about masks. There's contradictions all over the place, and it's bigger than masking. So, what can the media do to model the return to some sense of normal? Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here with answers, next.



STELTER: Thanks to vaccinations, America is reopening and many Americans are relaxing for the first time in more than a year, but confusion and contradictions abound. And the press is bringing all of this to the forefront. It's like we've all been enrolled in a class that few of us wanted to take, call it risk management 101. And historically, a lot of us have been pretty lousy at that.

Plus, what's sensible to one person seems way overly cautious to another. So, we're all in this strange in-between phase as the pandemic recedes in the U.S., with cities and companies and media outlets catching up to the new CDC guidance.

At this point, it's about so much more than just masks. It's about playgrounds, for example, all sorts of parks, public areas, common spaces, some communities that just restarted opening playgrounds, and they're still disinfecting and sanitizing the equipment, even though the risk of surface transmission of COVID was way overstated last year and that science has been settled for months. Same deal with some libraries that are quarantining books, theoretically to disinfect them, though it's not needed.


And in D.C. that's so-called dancing ban is still in effect. The city's never really been clear about what it means, but it's staying in place until next month.

On the other coast in Portland, Oregon, these high schoolers are practicing swimming on dry land, because they have no pool to practice in. Their pools are closed, but other pools and other neighborhoods are open.

In some towns, senior centers remain closed, even though most seniors were vaccinated A while ago.

So, I have to admit, when I see some of this stuff, I am thankful for local reporters who are exposing it. Sometimes news outlets, news stories can serve a secondary role as a plea for common sense. And some media companies can double as models as role models, modeling and return to normality. Here are the fully vaccinated anchors of The Today Show embracing in

Studio 1A. Vaccinated reporters of the White House also ditched their masks for the daily briefing. But again, science of that in between phase you'll see the press corps is still implementing social distancing.

And I can tell you, there are some reporters who are annoyed that that is still in place. New guidance in the White House is coming soon. Everywhere coming soon, it seems. We have to now acknowledge pandemic trauma is real. But facts have to win the day over fears.

So, let's talk about that with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He is here, he is our chief medical correspondent and the host of a new podcast, out get us back to normality. Dr. Gupta, tell us why you ended the daily coronavirus updates podcast and now with this new series about getting back to life.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Brian, I've always looked at the entire pandemic, sort of from the lens of a patient that was very sick, needed to be in the intensive care unit. You know, we saw that, we experienced that, you know, collectively as a world.

There's signs of improvement, the patient maybe on the general care floor and now still, you know, needs care, but more in the recovery phase of things. And we wanted the podcast to, sort of, reflect that. I mean, we're still in this, but how do you start to transition to recovery?

And also, what is that going to look like? I mean, do we just say that we had this traumatic experience that traumatized us physically and mentally? And it just feels like this huge interruption to our lives or is there opportunity to also become a little bit more resilient from what has happened and prepare to make sure it doesn't, you know, it's not as bad next time around? That was the real -- the real goal of Chasing Life, the new podcast.

STELTER: I love it. I love the first episode with you and your wife. What do you think the press, the CNNs of the world should be doing to model a return to normal?

GUPTA: Well, you know, it's very interesting, Brian. I mean, I think this is -- this has clearly been the biggest, most impactful, broadest sort of certainly story that I've ever covered a true pandemic in our lifetime. I think we have to report the science and report what the CDC's new guidelines are. But I do think there's a larger obligation here, I think, to your point.

We can report what the news is but then we have to explain the relevance of it. And I think, you know, to be honest, you know, I think the CDC made a critical error here in surprising basically everyone with a very significant change last week. I mean, it was -- it was significant.

And I can tell you just for my own reporting, days before that announcement, I was talking to senior people at the CDC who told me that indoor masking would probably be the last thing to be lifted, because it is so effective and it's not that hard to do, in most situations, just to put a mask on. And yet, just a few days later, they basically said for vaccinated people, masking no longer necessary at all. So, that was a surprise.

And a strategic mistake was the stakeholders, the implementers, the businesses, the governors of states, whatever it may be. They were, kind of, all shocked as well. So, when you show that, sort of -- that collection of various responses across the country playgrounds over here, what they're doing in Oregon, Nevada says casinos now could possibly be open without masks with no proof of vaccination. On the other hand, Hawaii is still saying mask mandate in place. It is a mishmash and that could have been avoided.

STELTER: Do they need a better PR person? I mean, I'm saying that sarcastically or I'm trying to use humor, but I'm also serious, like, they have a lot of comms professionals at the CDC, and yet, I sometimes don't feel like there's any -- there's a -- there's a lack of PR leadership sometimes I feel like.

GUPTA: I think that's a huge problem. You know, and I think sometimes, you know, to be fair to my own profession, but also be critical, is that I think scientists sometimes say, hey, look, science, evidence, facts, that's our currency, that is what we get out there.

But how you implement that and what it ultimately means in terms of your own risk as an individual, your risk or obligations as a -- as a particular entity or business, whatever it may be, that's somebody else's thing. And I don't think that's the right approach.

I mean, you know, the CDC could have basically said a couple things. One is that we're going to get all the stakeholders, sort of, on board here, explain this to them, hear from them, but also tie this to a particular thing.


Once we get below 10,000 cases per day, I'm making up the number, but I'm just saying, once we get below 10,000 cases per day, then this is what's going to happen. And all of a sudden, the country's galvanized behind, we're going to get to that number, and that means we can then gradually, you know, start to take off masks.

It is tough, Brian. Everybody wants to give good news. Everybody wants to cast a rosy disposition on things. But I think sometimes doctors, scientists, public health people have to just be honest, hey, we're getting better but we're not there yet.

STELTER: Hard to say, but important to say. And at least you're saying it with us. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you very much for being here.

GUPTA: Anytime, Brian, thank you.

STELTER: And his new podcast, Chasing Life, like I said, it's excellent. Let me bring back Sally Buzbee now. We had earlier in the hour. So, Sally, top better the AP in two weeks, you're taking over the Washington Post as the first woman executive editor of The Washington Post. It's a historic moment that I would like to talk to you about.

But let's start on the pandemic. Do you have a sense of when newsrooms like the AP and The Washington Post will be back full of life, full of staffers again? Is it soon?

BUZBEE: Well, I think both news organizations are in the process right now of working on that and trying to figure that out. And in the process of starting to communicate and, you know, talk to employees and hear employees. So, that's going on. And I think both news organizations are very focused on doing that in a thoughtful and also just very inclusive way.

STELTER: You take over the Washington Post on June 1st. Martin Baron, of course, retired a couple of months ago. What are your top priorities as you take charge of The Post?

BUZBEE: Well, obviously, what I'm going to do is a lot of learning and listening when I first come in. I mean, The Post is just as enormous fire field -- firepower of reporting, and is right now just -- has coverage that is extraordinary across so many areas.

And I think what I'm really interested in is thinking about how we can expand that and keep it growing, really making The Post an essential, the essential news source in this -- in this country, and expanding its global footprint. But I need to do a lot of listening and learning as we enter into that process.

STELTER: What is the significance of all the recent appointments from ABC to MSNBC, and now you with the Washington Post, we are finally seeing this new generation of women leadership in newsrooms after, you know, let's be honest, many decades of mostly white men in charge. What's the meaning and the significance to you?

BUZBEE: But just for me, personally, I am always conscious every day I go to work. Every day, I talk to my daughters that I stand really on the shoulders of really brave women, and you know, other people who push for diversity and people of color who have been pushing for diversity. I mean, they were brave, and they were strong, they worked very hard, and they really open doors that many people like myself are lucky enough to now walk through.

So, I have an intense feeling of gratitude for the people who have been pushing for this. I also think it is critically important. Improving the diversity of newsrooms is something that takes consistent ongoing dedication in every aspect, not just gender but, of course, incredibly important in terms of people of color, and just ensuring we are bringing in as many divorce -- I'm sorry, as many diverse skillsets and voices as we can into our newsroom. And that is something that newsrooms need to stay committed to going forward.

STELTER: There's a political story this weekend, we just put the headline up about, it says, a missing generation of women at The Post. It sounds like you're addressing that saying, we've got to remain committed and focused on this, on diversity -- on inclusion in the newsroom.

BUZBEE: So, I'm coming into a structure where I have three very strong women reporting to me, but I do fundamentally think that this is critically important to the future of the profession we love so much. And that as I said, we must continue to have sustained focus on diversity both in terms of gender and also in terms of people in color.

STELTER: Sally, thank you so much. Hope you can get some rest --

BUZBEE: Thanks so much. Thank you.

STELTER: -- job that takes effect.

Jake Tapper has been on the Amazon bestseller list all week long. The CNN anchor is out with a new novel titled, The Devil May Dance. It's the second in his series about a family named the Marders that has some similarities to the Tappers. His debut novel was the Hellfire Club, it came out in 2018. So, the Devil May dance is the sequel going from the underbelly's of '50s D.C. in the first novel, and now to Hollywood in the '60s in this new one.

I talked with tapper about fiction writing and how it factors into his day job.


STELTER: Jake, congratulations on the book release.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Thank you so much, Brian.

STELTER: I don't know of many other television journalists who are best-selling novelists on the side. Tell me what about novels, what about thrillers scratches a different itch for you.


TAPPER: Well, the late great Jim Lehrer used to do it and I used to watch in admiration as he did. And so, it's actually very fun because you can just walk away from the normal day gig of horror and death and pestilence and everything that we have to cover on a normal day, especially the last few years, which has been rough, and just live in your own brain and your own imagination. So, for me, it was living in 1962 Hollywood and hanging out with the Rat Pack, which was a lot of fun.

But then second of all, something you can do when you're a fiction writer, as opposed to a nonfiction reporter is have the characters do whatever you want them to do. I mean, there's a certain amount of control that you have, that you don't have when you're working in journalism and our normal jobs, and that's also a friendly and welcome departure.

STELTER: It must be hard to have an on/off switch, when you're going from the real world to this partly fictionalized world, using real- life figures like Robert Kennedy and Frank Sinatra. Did you find that to be hard sometimes, the on/off switch or changing of it?

TAPPER: It's a good -- it's a good question. I found it hard in the sense that I always -- I've written two novels now that have been published. And both times I had, kind of, first draft blues, like, after I finished the first draft, I wasn't happy with it.

And there was like a big period of emotional struggle where I tried to figure out how to make it better. And that period is when I'm able to step outside of my comfort zone, which is the comfort zone that I have created from covering actual events and being a journalist and covering nonfiction.

And being able to leave that and saying, you know what, you can do anything you want with Frank Sinatra in this book, you -- or in the first book, you can do anything you want with Joe McCarthy. You don't have to keep him only in places that he actually was. This is a novel, this is fiction, people understand it, you can have fun. And so, yes, that's the struggle and I usually solve it in between the first draft and the second draft.

STELTER: And you do have so much fun with the Marders, your lead characters in both novels. Where do you find inspiration about them? Where do they come from in your mind?

TAPPER: Well, Margaret, is -- she's the heroine of the book. She's -- you know, she's kind of based on my wife, strong, independent. Loves Charlie, but tough on Charlie. And Charlie, I think, you know, he has qualities that I aspire, I mean, I wish I were a World War Two hero. I'm not.

But also, I mean, I think Charlie has weaknesses that are my own weaknesses. And I just -- I play them up as much as possible. So, to a degree, they're based on me and my wife, but obviously, they're fictitious and, you know, I -- they're not us, but they're based on us.

STELTER: Is there symbolism or significance in the fact that he's a Republican congressman as opposed to a democrat? Is there symbolism there?

TAPPER: Well, he's the hero of the book, and he's a Republican congressman, and I thought it would be interesting to have a hero who's a Republican congressman, and you know, the book starts -- the series starts in the -- in the '50s, so the kind of Republican that Charlie Marder is, he's a congressman from New York, is he's an Eisenhower Republican, he's a Rockefeller Republican. He's what the Republican Party was at that point.

And, I mean, there's no symbolism, per se, but it's just I'm an admirer of Eisenhower and Rockefeller. And I think that this country needs to have a thriving, fact based Republican Party. So, there's no symbolism, but Charlie does embody qualities that I admire.

STELTER: I did like when you said that on State of the Union recently, there should be two thriving parties that's good for everyone. And that basic statement, unfortunately, you know, that can even be seen as controversial these days when it's not.

TAPPER: Well, there's a lot of that going around, right? I mean, Liz Cheney, earlier this week, or last week said that -- you know, she said a number of things that weren't controversial on their face. They're just true about the lies that President Trump's spread and the, you know, the insurrection that he helped inside. I mean, these are just facts. These are not opinions and yet, you know, look at what happened to her.

STELTER: Look at what happened. With the Marders, you must know where they're going next. Have you decided on a third novel and you want to give us a preview?

TAPPER: Either in the '70s or the '80s, I was originally thinking the '80s, but a friend of mine has been suggesting that I shouldn't bypass the '70s because I did the '50s and the '60s. And, you know, Charlie and Margaret have kids also now Dwight and Lucy.

Dwight Will you know, Dwight will be eight turning 18 and 1976. And I've been thinking, well, maybe Dwight should be the hero of the next book. His nickname is of course Ike. So maybe Ike Marder should be the hero of the next book and it can take place in 1976. And Charlie Marder can still be there.

But maybe we need like a different kind of character, maybe a little bit more of an antihero kind of type.

STELTER: Stay tuned. Once again, "The Devil May Dance" is on bookshelves now. Thanks for joining us on this week's RELIABLE SOURCES. "STATE OF THE UNION" is next.