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"New York Times" Was Bound By A Gag Order; How Newsworthy Was Trump's Recent Speech?; One-On-One With W.H. Press Secretary Jen Psaki; Should Local Journalism Be Considered Infrastructure?; A Sneak Peek At The New Reporting In 'Hoax'. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired June 06, 2021 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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.
This hour, a special interview with the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She has answers about how she tries to make sure the briefing room does not become a forum for propaganda. Interesting insights in an exclusive, in-depth interview coming up.
Plus, as D.C. debates infrastructure spending, what about reporters? The faces of local news layoffs and cutbacks. We're going to talk about whether local news should be considered infrastructure.
And later, a first look at my brand-new reporting about Fox News from the new paperback edition of "Hoax."
But, first, a big story just developing this weekend: gag orders against the American news media. That sentence doesn't make any sense, right? It's oxymoronic.
The media can't be gagged, or shouldn't be gagged. But that is exactly what happened.
The government forced a gag order against "The New York Times" in a leak investigation earlier this year. There is the front page headline: Justice Department waged secret fight to get emails of "Times" reporters, and "The Times" couldn't even talk about it.
The newspaper lawyers were gagged. They couldn't even tell the people involved about this secret fight.
This is part of a wider pattern seen first in the Obama years, then in the Trump years of leak investigations that end up involving snooping on reporters.
So let's just be clear here, spying on journalists is an affront to the First Amendment. There's no place for it.
And now notably this weekend, President Biden's Justice Department said it agrees. This DOJ will no longer seize reporter records when investigating government leaks. That's the commitment as of this weekend from the Biden era Justice Department.
So why is this coming out now? Well, because we've been learning all spring long about the leak probes that ensnared reporters. You're seeing faces on screen now.
Reporters of "The New York Times" had phone records secretly obtained, CNN's Barbara Starr had her phone and email reports obtained, reporters of "The Washington Post" also had their information obtained.
What the government was getting was phone logs and some cases email logs showing who these reporters were talking with in an attempt to root out leakers.
So after Biden recently was asked about this and he said he didn't want it to happen on his watch, he vowed to end this practice, the DOJ on Saturday came out with a statement saying we are putting his promise into practice, saying all of the reporters that had their records taken during the Trump years have now been notified and that this Justice Department, this Biden DOJ will stop the practice.
But this is Justice Department, right, they're saying it's going to change for now but is this going to be put into permanent practice or will the next administration that comes along just go ahead and resume spying on journalists. That's one of the many questions that looms right now.
There are others including what's the Attorney General Merrick Garland going to do? Is he going to follow through and meet with reporters and talk about these issues?
And what about that "New York Times" gag order? We heard from the publisher of "The New York Times," A.G. Sulzberger, over the weekend there, saying, there is significantly more that needs to be done and we are still awaiting an explanation about why DOJ moved so aggressively to seize journalists' records.
"The New York Times" is now out from under that gag order. But what about "The Washington Post"?
Here's a statement from the executive of "The Post", Sally Buzbee, saying she wants a full explanation from Biden's DOJ about what happened in the Trump years and what may have happened more recently.
Is anyone at "The Washington Post" under a gag order? Is anyone at CNN still under a gag order? These are questions that demand answers. It's an important story because what reports know and whether reporters are able to do their work freely affects all of you at home, affects everyone watching this program.
So let's talk through this with three people who have unique perspectives about the story, beginning with Adam Goldman. He's a reporter at "The New York Times", one of the four whose phone records were subpoenaed by the Trump era Justice Department, but it also happened to him in the Obama years. So we're going to get into that.
CNN Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins is also here.
And Dan Abrams, the chief legal analyst for ABC News, the founder of "Mediaite" and author of a new book called "Kennedy's Avenger", we'll get to that a little later.
But let's start with Adam Goldman and this recent reporting.
Adam, we've learned about the Trump era what I view as an abuse of power here, seizing records belonging to you and other reporters. But this also happened to you in the Obama years.
So, here's a simple question, what's it like to have your phone records secretly subpoenaed by the U.S. government?
ADAM GOLDMAN, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, it's certainly disappointing but I wasn't surprised. Some of the same prosecutors who were involved in seizing my phone records earlier this year and unsuccessfully trying to get my emails were involved in secretly obtaining my phone records in 2013 when I worked at "The Associated Press".
This office, the U.S. Attorney's Office in D.C. has a history of trampling on the First Amendment. So, that's why I wasn't surprised. They treat the media. They treat newspapers like drug gangs.
STELTER: Like drug gangs?
GOLDMAN: Yes, like drug gangs. Seeking process to get -- to get phone logs and emails, to root out information, it's preposterous.
STELTER: But in 2013, when this came out during the Obama years, didn't the DOJ back then vow changes? What happened?
GOLDMAN: Well, that's the irony of this whole thing. That, right, when they seized my records in 2013, along with my colleagues, they vowed to change the guidelines to make them -- to make them stricter because of what these prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's Office in D.C. had, in fact, done.
And then they turned around and they did it again, and there are no consequences at all. Meaning they got --
STELTER: What are the -- what should the consequences be, Adam?
GOLDMAN: There should be -- there should be teeth to these guidelines. It should be codified. There needs to be an enforcement action for when these prosecutors take these outrageous steps, they're held accountable and they are not.
STELTER: So when this all started to come out this spring, we learned about "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" and CNN. Right after we found out that CNN's Barbara Starr was caught up in this, meaning she was out doing reporting and doing her job and her phone and email records were obtained.
Kaitlan, you asked President Biden about this very subject. Do you think it happens that because you were able just in an informal moment to ask him about this problem and he said, it's never going to -- is not going to happen under my watch, is that why this is all changing now?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think it certainly plays a major role. I don't think we can safely say that it is the primary reason that this happened, but it did not appear that the White House was on this path to change this policy given what we found out on Friday night about this gag order to "The New York Times" because, remember, all of that was happening after Merrick Garland was confirmed as the attorney general, months after President Biden had taken office and they had not taken any changes to change this policy or to drop that effort to get those emails.
And so, that was why we asked President Biden about it. You see in there, he was just leaving a room after a press conference with the South Korean president and it was after we found out that Barbara Starr's emails, they had tried to obtain those logs and her call logs of her cell phone, her Pentagon phone, several different phone lines and her emails.
And so, we asked -- I asked President Biden, is this something, a policy that you want to continue and we were told that that actually surprised not only White House officials but Justice Department officials as well when he answered that.
And I think it's notable how long it took the White House, which they should get credit for this but how long it took them to send out a statement from the Justice Department, in a statement saying that this is a new policy because he made those comments on May 21st. Of course, here we are in June and they have just now put out this statement saying this is changed.
But I think Adam is right. Just because they changed their policy doesn't mean it is going to be the policy going forward and I think there are a lot of unanswered questions about what this policy is going to look like.
STELTER: And, Dan Abrams, the big picture her of the Trump era. It was CNN, "The Washington Post", "The New York Times," three of the outlets Trump despised the most, three of the outlets that were involved in these leak investigations through no fault of their own, because the DOJ targeted these reporters and these news outlets.
Do you view that as a coincidence, Dan?
DAN ABRAMS, FOUNDER, MEDIAITE: No. I think it's probably not a coincidence. I think you need to separate out two issues here. One is the lack of transparency and the other is the leak investigation, right?
The lack of transparency to me, you know, is really indefensible. There's really not much you could say to the argument for why you wouldn't even inform members of media, why you would impose this gag order, et cetera. When it comes to leak investigations and without getting into the specific investigations, I think there are going to be cases, much to the media's chagrin, where maybe it is justified. I know that many in the media will say that that's horrific, that I'm suggesting that.
But, you know, some of what WikiLeaks has done, et cetera, I think is legitimate for the government to say, we need to figure out how this is happening.
This is so important, this is so damaging to national security, we need to do what we can to prevent it from getting worse, et cetera.
So I think there are two issues here and both need to be looked at. But agree with Adam about codifying a set of standard and a standard ought to be really high for snooping on journalists.
STELTER: Adam, is there ever a reason to do it?
GOLDMAN: In my opinion, you know, I don't think so. But what's particularly egregious about what the prosecutors do is -- what they did is they snuck this under the wire, right?
STELTER: Right before Trump left office you mean?
GOLDMAN: Well, right before Trump left office when a new administration came in. You know, they saw -- they got -- they got -- they saw the order to get the -- to get the information in late December of 2020. You know, I believe the judge signed it on January 5th.
You're telling me they couldn't wait throw weeks after fumbling around on this investigation for years which was a dead end, right, and then they throw this Hail Mary. They couldn't wait several weeks for the new administration to get in there, for a new DOJ leadership to get in there who might have different thinking about whether they should pursue these types of -- these type of subpoenas? No.
And they knew what the stakes were, but they went and they got it in there and they snuck it in there. And the whole behavior is completely sneaky. It's sneaky.
STELTER: Shady, shady, yes.
STELTER: Yeah. Yes, indeed.
And as we've said out some more questions here that still deserve answers.
Adam and Kaitlan, thank you. Dan, please stick around.
When we come back, a deplatformed former president returns to the podium. I think silence was actually the biggest story of last night. I'll tell you why in a minute.
STELTER: Donald Trump's newsworthiness is still being debated in a big way. So let me tell you why I think it warrants five, maybe six minutes out of this hour. OK, just 1/10 of the hour.
Trumpism is more newsworthy than Trump himself. So, that's why I thought the biggest news last night was the silence. The silence.
Trump was speaking to the North Carolina GOP convention. It was his first televised speech since CPAC back in February.
And it was most of what we'd expect, right? A lot of lying about the election, a bunch of vague 2024 promises, a lot of loud cheering when he vowed to ban critical race theory. Never mind the fact that it's impossible to ban an academic concept. You can't ban an idea. But I digress.
I want you to listen to how loud the cheering got when he said that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ban critical race theory in our schools.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
And we should ban it in workplaces. We should ban it in our states. And we should ban it in the federal government. That it should be done immediately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: You could hear that loud cheering. That was one of Trump's biggest applause lines of the night. The audience loved it.
So it tells us something about the state of GOP and that's why Trumpism matters. It's why the story matters. That's why the speech matters.
I wanted you to hear how loud the crowd could be because it makes the silence even more striking. And the silence was my biggest takeaway from the speech.
When Trump brought up COVID-19 vaccines, you could hear crickets in the room. When he took credit for investing in vaccines and pushing the FDA and saving lives, you could hear the vaccine hesitancy, you could hear the vaccine resistance in the room. It was like Trump had broken some unspoken rule not to bring up the pandemic. It's a real problem, the silence.
So let me show it to you. You hear this clip. This is about two minutes into his vaccine talk and it's getting so awkward at this point that I feel like you could hear Trump pivot. He started to compliment the crowd to try to get some applause, some cheering, some emotion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We saved a lot of lives. We saved -- all over the world, we saved millions of millions of lives, and I'm very proud of it. And nobody can ever take it away from us because that's something that's very, very special and the people in this room are very, very special. The Biden administration --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: So, did you hear it? There's a smattering of applause because he started to compliment the crowd.
Lifesaving vaccines are allowing us to get back to normal life. If that's not worth cheering, I don't know what is.
But that is the divide in America today. You could hear it in the silence at Trump speech. One America is vaccinated, the other is far behind.
As CNN's Harry Enten put it, the 2021 vaccination map looks like the 2020 election map. And that's Trumpism writ large, right? One America doesn't want to hear anything about Trump anymore, the other America hangs on his every word.
Newsmax and One America News cut into regular programming and carried his entire speech live last night.
Trump is in the words of "The New York Times" that once diminished and also dominating, both are true. That's why it's still newsworthy.
Look at this "New York Times" reporting, saying that people in Trump's circle are joking that his most senior adviser is Christina Bobb. She's a host on One America News Network. They're apparently on the phone all of the time and Bobb has been cheerleading for the Arizona election audit, the so-called audit, and so, Trump has been relying on her for that.
So there is one America that never heard of Christina Bobb, and probably never will, right? It's an obscure -- she's on obscure channel. She's an obscure host on a channel that's so low rated, doesn't even have Nielsen ratings, OK?
But in this other America, Trump is hanging on her every word and she's hanging on Trump's every word. And so, that's why I say Trump is worth five minutes, not the whole hour.
But Trumpism is still quite newsworthy for the reasons we just listed, the denialism, right? The vaccine hesitancy and, of course, the big lie that continues every day.
And I know a lot of people don't want to hear it any more but when Trump is telling friends that he might get reinstated, that's a news story.
Hey, let me bring back Dan Abrams. Let's see if I'm right or wrong.
Dan, tell me if I'm wrong. Maybe -- maybe all of this reinstatement stuff should have been ignored by the press this week.
ABRAMS: Absolutely not. I think it is absolutely newsworthy and that's the distinction, right? Which is if the former president just repeats the same lie about the 2020 election, that's not necessarily news, right? I do think it's important to keep covering it. But it's not necessarily big news.
When he says he thinks he's going to be reinstated in August or that's the reporting on it, of course, that's newsworthy. Of course, the media ought to be focusing on that.
I know there are a lot of people out there who want to say, I don't want to hear anything about Donald Trump. Well, that is their choice and they could go into a -- a media cocoon and achieve that.
But I think a network like CNN and other cable news networks, of course, have to be covering news that former President Trump is making. Why? He's the former president and he's the leader of the Republican Party.
And if you cover his lies, you cover them and you talk about why they're lies and I think that that's all and why for example he can't get reinstated. It's important to provide that context. It's important to not just ignore it.
STELTER: Yeah, and the other America, it's being covered without fact checking. So it's got to be addressed.
Hey, you're a founder of "Mediaite". Do stories about Trump on "Mediaite" still get a lot of clicks? Does anybody still pay attention?
ABRAMS: Oh, yeah. They still do very well. People are still very interested in Donald Trump. That's not the reason per se to cover him, right? But there is no doubt that there is still great interest, because, look, he still says outrageous things, right, and as you know, outrage works on the Internet.
And so, Donald Trump, and there is no question that without Donald Trump in the news cycle every day, you're seeing a decrease in the amount of people clicking on stories, watching cable news, et cetera.
STELTER: Originally, I booked you here Dan to talk about your new book "Kennedy's Avenger". The subtitle is "Assassination, conspiracy and the forgotten trial of Jack Ruby". Frankly, there was a lot I didn't know until I opened this up. So I wonder, since your book shows that a lot of JFK conspiracies stemmed from the Ruby trial, are there lessons from those conspiracy theories in the '60s all the way to today?
ABRAMS: Yeah. And I think it's a lot about what we're talking about, right? In the book, we give examples of times when things were left unanswered. The defense said to the prosecution, will you stipulate that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone? Prosecutors say, we're not stipulating to anything. Oh.
An FBI agent is questioned, did -- do you have any evidence of Oswald and Ruby knowing each other? Objection to relevance. The question goes unanswered.
People don't address the questions. Because they didn't address these issues earlier, the conspiracy theories in my view flourished and that's why it is important to continue talking about these topics, because as we saw in the Jack Ruby trial, there were so many hints and suggestions.
And look, they didn't know everything at the time. And so, you know, people were still asking very legitimate questions about what happened, who else might have been involved, et cetera. But I think that one of the problems was that in the '60s, people didn't take on in particular conspiracy theory about Ruby head on because as we lay out in the book, based on the facts, it would have been almost impossible for Ruby to have been part of a conspiracy.
STELTER: And that is the best thing we could do then and now. Just lay out all of the facts, let people see for themselves where conspiracy theory crap doesn't add up. Let people see it for themselves and I think that is a change that over time, we're making more progress with media outlets, primary source material, letting people see for themselves why this stuff doesn't add up.
Dan, thanks so much.
ABRAMS: And remember -- yeah, OK. See you, Brian.
STELTER: Go ahead.
ABRAMS: No, I was just going to say one more thing, which is more than half of the American public still believes there was a conspiracy in the JFK assassination and the reason for that it had hadn't been back in the day adequately addressed.
STELTER: Interesting. "Kennedy's Avenger" is on the book. It's on sale now. Thank you, Dan.
ABRAMS: Thanks, Brian.
STELTER: Up next, how Chinese and Russian state TV helped White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki prepare for her current role. Interesting, right? Psaki joins me with answers in an in depth interview, next.
STELTER: In this era of media bunkers and alternative realities, the White House press secretary faces some unique challenges. So let's hear from Jen Psaki to get her perspective five month news the job and what might lie ahead.
Jen, thanks for coming on RELIABLE SOURCES.
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: My pleasure.
STELTER: Busy summer ahead, infrastructure, election reform. What does the press get wrong when covering Biden's agenda? When you watch the news, when you read the news, what do you think we get wrong?
PSAKI: Well, look, I think some of the our muscles have atrophied a little bit over the last few years and there isn't a lot of memory, recent memory or longer memory on how long it takes to get legislation forward or how messy the process of negotiating and the process of getting legislation across the finish line can be.
So we know, we understand everybody is always looking for a deadline, a timeline, things like that.
But at the end of the day, our focus is on getting these bills across the finish line, doing it in a bipartisan way if we can. And we certainly recognize that that can be messy along the process. So, I don't know if that's the press getting it wrong. I'll leave you to the critique of that, Brian.
But I think sometimes we forget how strange the last four years were. And when we return to a place where democracy is working, where we're talking with Democrats and Republicans, where we're trying to get bills and legislation passed, it feels foreign, but this is actually how it's supposed to work.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: There are times in your briefings where you seem so comfortable, then there's times where you seem frustrated by the lines of questioning. So, I want to know what the job is like versus what you expected it to be like?
PSAKI: Well, I'm a human being, so even though every day I try to be completely even keeled, and always my objective per the President's direction is to treat people with respect and take questions and provide accurate information, that's my goal every day, but I'm also a human.
And sometimes, when you're answering the question, the same -- the same question the 10th time or when a question more likely the things that get under my skin, or when a question -- the premise of a question is based in inaccurate information, misleading information, that can be frustrating. I try not to show it too much, try not to let people see me sweat too much. But occasionally, I have a moment of humanity.
STELTER: Well, so those questions that are based on falsehoods, they come from brands like Newsmax, which it does sometimes get called on the briefing room. I know a lot of liberals don't want Fox News get called on. I think they should be, but I know a lot of liberals (INAUDIBLE) don't want it. So, why do you call on Fox News and Newsmax?
PSAKI: Well, Brian, we know there's a lot of different points of view on this, as you just referenced. But my point of view, and more importantly, the President's point of view is that this story is not about me or a debate with news outlets. The story is about the plans of the administration, and what we're trying to project to the American people.
And when he pledged to govern for all Americans, that means talking to a range of outlets, liberal, conservative, people who have different areas of interest. So, that's exactly what I try to do every day in the briefing room.
STELTER: He said in his inaugural, we all have a duty to defend the truth and defeat the lies. Five months in, do you feel you've made any progress with that, defeating the lies?
PSAKI: I try every day to. And Brian, I think one of the things I try to focus on, or we all do in this administration, is not undervaluing the intelligence of the American people. When people ask an-- a question that is based on a false premise, or a question that skips over some details, what we try to do on our best days is be informative. Explain how the process work? How does a bill become a law? What's the importance of communicating or going to the G7 or NATO?
We don't need to completely dumb things down. We need to speak about things in an accessible way, but we have a responsibility to peel the curtains back in governing and government and how things work. And you know, we think the American people will hopefully respond to that.
What our assessment is of our success, I will tell you, I never thought we would be successful in rebuilding every element of trust with the public in five months. It's going to be an ongoing process, and something we'll keep working on every day.
STELTER: Obviously, the Press Corps wants to talk to the President more often. Why haven't you hailed more than one press conference, one big press conference?
PSAKI: Well, Brian, I have an interesting statistic just for you in my back pocket. That Martha Kumar, I'll credit, gave -- shared with me last week. In the first 100 days of this President's presidency, he took questions from the press 77 days, I don't know how that compares historically, but he takes questions several times a week is always is -- almost always open to have that engagement with reporters. And I expect that will continue to be the case.
STELTER: On Friday, a reporter shouted a question, it was answered. But the setting for a formal press conference, that demands the country's attention, you all have chosen not to go that route. He doesn't get many interviews either. Is that part of an attempt to lower the temperature, be less visible, be boring?
PSAKI: Certainly not. I don't think anything we're doing around here is boring. Getting the pandemic under control, going on our first foreign trip, putting millions of Americans back to work. I don't know what version of that is boring.
But I will tell you that there's an opportunity several times a week for the President to have an engagement and answer questions from reporters. I understand there's questions about a formal press conference, but that may be driven more by the media than it is by the American public, Brian.
STELTER: I figured you'd say that. You know, you used to be on this side of the camera. You were a CNN commentator in between your time working for the Obama administration and now working for Biden. What did you learn here? What did you take from CNN, and how does it apply to your job now?
PSAKI: I mean, a lot. One, you know, when you're a CNN commentator, a commentator for any network, you do spend a lot of time sitting on a set, being prepared to give your input on a breaking news issue, or an issue that's developing in real time, and that's certainly good preparation for standing in front of the camera at the briefing every day.
And there also are a few people who I may have sat on that set within the past who had strongly different views from mine. And that sometimes is replicated in the briefing room with the -- with some questions or the line of questioning that comes up. So, I tap into a lot of things I had the honor and pleasure of doing in the past, including being a CNN commentator, including serving at the State Department. And I know that that helps me in the briefing every day.
STELTER: Well, there's a version on the liberal blogs of something that goes like this, Psaki smackdown this -- Psaki shuts down a questioner. It's this narrative that we're seeing, people celebrate you for doing it. And yet, that kind of reminds me of cable news, and the way that the cable news engages. I'm not sure that's always actually good for the country, even though it might be entertaining.
PSAKI: Well, look, Brian, I think, one, I'm not putting out those assessments.
STELTER: True. True.
PSAKI: What I will tell you, though, is that I also have a responsibility not to allow the briefing room to become a forum for propaganda, or a forum for pushing forward falsehoods or inaccurate information. My best preparation from that was actually serving as the State Department spokesperson when there were representatives of the Russian and Chinese media in the briefing room asking me questions that were directed by their government.
So, we see that from time to time in the briefing room, not every single day at all, but I have a responsibility to the public to make sure they're getting accurate information. And the premises of questions that are propaganda pushing are not giving them inaccurate information.
STELTER: And speaking of inaccurate information, you were asked on Friday at the briefing about Facebook, and about the ban against former President Trump that's in effect now for almost two more years. You said the Biden White House wants the platforms to crack down on disinformation. But what does it actually mean in practice? What do you envision that looking like?
PSAKI: Look, there are a range of ways to do that, Brian, including, you know, these platforms, how they attract users, how they're tracking the information that is going out there to the public. Certainly, it's a decision by them who is allowed to use their platforms.
As I also said on Friday, we know a lot about former President Trump and how he uses these platforms, and it feels pretty unlikely he's going to massively change his approach over the next two years. I guess, we'll see. But there's a lot of ways that these platforms can take initiative, can take steps themselves to ensure that the American public is not getting -- or the global public, to be honest, is not getting inaccurate information.
STELTER: For other P.R. professionals who watch what you do, for journalists who watch what you do, what's your advice for them about trying to stay close to the truth in this world of lies?
PSAKI: Well, I think what I tried to do is stay grounded to the facts. And what I mean by that, the details, and what we can help provide publicly to clarify context to make it more understandable to the press, to the public.
And it's -- sometimes it's not more complicated than that, really talking to policy experts and gaining an understanding myself, so that I can communicate in a way that my mother, my mother-in-law, you know, other people who are not involved in politics, like you and I are, every day would understand what we're trying to do. I keep grounded in that, but try to go deep in the details, so I can kind of pull out and make it accessible.
STELTER: Well, that's the common thread. I know, this is often adversarial, but it also has to be functional. Is the relationship between the White House and the Press Corps now at least functional in ways that wasn't in the Trump years?
PSAKI: I think so. Look, I think we go into the -- I go into the briefing room every day. And I think the reporters do the same thing. They're going to ask tough questions. They're going to push me where they want more information. They want me to give more information. That's their job. My job is to provide as much information as I can. The President's point of view, what our policies are to the American
public, sometimes I can't provide every single detail as what's happening privately, because it's a private negotiation or a private discussion, or there's a national security issue at play. You know, that's a push and pull. But that's a healthy push and pull part of our democracy.
And something, frankly, returning the briefing is something that sends a message to the world that we're not afraid to engage. We're not afraid -- we believe in the Free Press. And it's part of the message that we're going to now project, you know, even as we go on our first overseas trip next week.
STELTER: I should mention that we pre-taped with Psaki on Friday, before those new revelations about the gag order at the New York Times. Otherwise, obviously, we would have asked about it. I did ask her when the press briefing room will return to pre-COVID norms. So, let's get to that. But first, some personal questions.
STELTER: You recently told David Axelrod that you envision being in this job for about a year. And that's partly because, you know, it's a grind, and you're going to hand it off to the next person. Is that still what you're thinking timing wise? So, does that mean next January is when you envision handing it off?
PSAKI: We'll see, Brian. I mean, I always serve like any of us at the pleasure of the President. He asked me to serve in this job. Hopefully, he doesn't fire me tomorrow, but, you know, I'm -- it's always who he wants to serve in this job. I'm not walking out the door at day 365.
I think what I was conveying to my old friend, David Axelrod, is that, you know, there's an opportunity -- one of the roles I love to play in this job is an opportunity to lift young talent and new faces up, and give other people an opportunity to be the front face and shine. I also have two little kids who were in preschool.
But this is a job of a lifetime, a huge honor to serve this president in this time. And, you know, I'm not running out the door at a specific mark, but I do want to give others an opportunity. And I do have my kids in mind and spending time with them.
STELTER: I appreciate thinking like you're in a relay race, you have the torch, you're going to hand it off to the next person, we're all bigger than our own individual role. So, I get that. I wonder if also you think about the history making aspect of this job right now, the historic time that we are in, in the midst of a pandemic, you started in that briefing room with social distancing. Now, it's at 50 percent capacity. When will the briefing room return to what we would call normal, 100 percent capacity? PSAKI: Hopefully, very, very soon. We are working to implement our own process here with bringing staff back to work fulltime in the EOB and in the West Wing. Certainly, opening up the briefing room to 100 percent capacity. We're working with our COVID team on that, but very soon is certainly my hope.
STELTER: Do you feel like there's going to be other moments like that where you'll feel like you're working under more normal conditions, and not in the midst of a crisis?
PSAKI: I hope so. But I will say, having served in a White House before, you're always in the midst of some version of a crisis, that's sort of what we do here. That's what the President knows he was elected to do. And those of us who have served before, know that in any White House, you're dealing with a number of competing challenges and crises on any given day. That's what we do. And, you know, that's what we know we're walking into when we took these jobs.
STELTER: So, it's just part of it. So, Annie Leibovitz was spotted at the White House taking your photo for a portrait for a magazine feature. Has it all gone to your head a little bit? Is there ever a moment where you feel like it has?
PSAKI: I certainly hope not. My mother, my husband, my children, and my friends from my college life would certainly smack me back down if that did. Look, at the end of the day, I'm hugely honored to be here. And I know being the White House Press Secretary means you're front and center in an administration.
It's not about me, it's about this administration, about repairing a lot of the challenges that were built up over the last four years. And when I go home from work, Brian, and you'll get this, too, I get on the floor with my kids and play trains or princess or whatever it may be. And that's who we all are when we're not on camera.
STELTER: Well, so about that. This is what I really wanted to ask you. You mentioned your kids, you have a daughter going into kindergarten, I have a daughter going into pre-K. And I think to myself, what kind of countries is this going to be when they are our age? Do you -- do you fear that, given the craziness we're seeing from the GOP? Do you fear that for our -- for our kids, your kids and mine?
PSAKI: I think a lot about a lot of the big issues that we're making decisions on now. I guess, I don't think about it through a political prism. Maybe that's funny given I'm in democratic politics, but I think about it on what we're going to do on the climate crisis, and how we're addressing that on whether we're going to have what kind of jobs and industries we're investing in now, and what that means for my kids.
I also think about it as it relates to things like LGBTQ rights, and what kind of message we're sending to the next generation about who they can grow up to be, and they should grow up to be whoever they want to be and whoever they're meant to be. And, you know, that's something that I hope we can keep projecting from here. So, that's how I think about it, not less from political lens. STELTER: Right. But when I hear the former president talking about trying to get reinstated, thinking he's going to be back in the White House, I think to myself, what kind of country are we creating?
PSAKI: I think about it, that that's a circus over here, and we are in a -- in a different circus here. And we are working toward addressing the crises the American people are facing, and that's what we're going to keep our eyes focused on with blinders.
STELTER: So, you're saying that you have a reality-based circus at the White House currently?
PSAKI: That's right. I don't know if there's reality-based circuses, but, yes, exactly.
PSAKI: We keep our blinders on and what our job is here every day.
STELTER: Jen, thank you very much for being here.
PSAKI: Thank you. Great to talk to you.
STELTER: Up next, we go from the White House to the home of the opposition party. Just listen to the level of hate and vitriol that's being pointed at Biden every night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: President Sippy Cup Joey is just too incompetent, too week. I don't even know if he knows what day it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Dripping with hate. So, what's going on inside Fox? Is anyone in charge? I'll have new reporting from my book, "Hoax," coming up.
STELTER: It will be one of the stories of the summer, the infrastructure bill, we've already been hearing about it for months. Outlets are all over the story covering the bill's many layers, the Congressional wrestling match over the offers and counteroffers, what might be left out. But what should be included?
What about money, money for the ailing local news industry? Report for America co-founder and President Steve Waldman is pushing for Congress to fold local news funding into the bill, explaining that local news should be viewed as civic infrastructure. And Steve joins me now to talk about why. Great to see you.
STEVE WALDMAN, CO-FOUNDER & PRESIDENT, REPORT FOR AMERICA: Great to see you. Thank you.
STELTER: Let's lay out the 30-second argument, local news. How is that infrastructure?
WALDMAN: Well, it's the infrastructure for democracy and it's crumbling also. You know, we've had a 60 percent drop in the number of reporters in the last two decades, which means that thousands of communities literally have no local newspaper or Web site to provide basic information.
Meaning, you know, families don't have information about whether their schools are improving, or whether their drinking water is safe, or who to vote for. And as a result, we know that in communities like this, corruption goes up, waste goes up, and voter participation goes down. It makes it very hard for communities to solve their own problems.
STELTER: Well, these are some of the papers on screen that have either closed or begged for help. In some cases, being taken over by hedge funds. In some cases, losing staffers for a variety of reasons. There's a venture called the rebuild local news coalition that you're involved with. We can put it up on screen, this group that you founded, calling on Congress to try to take action here. Who's on board now? How many people are on board in this coalition?
WALDMAN: Well, it represents now almost 4,000 local newsrooms, especially smaller local newsrooms, so includes nonprofit newsrooms, weeklies, Black newspapers, Hispanic newspapers, it's a -- it's a very broad range politically and types of different newsrooms, because everyone is seeing that the crisis is not only horrible, it's accelerating. Because of what you said that the fact that now hedge funds own half the daily news circulation in America, and lobbying groups are now creating local news Web sites. So, there's real urgency to why this needs to be addressed quickly.
STELTER: And you are hearing from some Democratic lawmakers who are on board with this, Senator Maria Cantwell, for example, saying local news is a critical infrastructure. Let's give 2.4 billion to the industry. What are the odds this is actually going to be included in the final bill, though, Steve?
WALDMAN: Well, that's a big deal. She's the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee. And so, her advocacy on this is really important. And you're seeing this very broad coalition of different organizations supporting it. And you're seeing Republican support for the idea of helping local news.
There's a real distinction, I think, between local news and national news. There's a bill in the House that has 30 Republican co-sponsors, and what it would do is give money to consumers to buy local news subscriptions. So, it's a way of helping local news without having the federal government be making decisions about which newsrooms ought to get aid.
STELTER: And the bottom line is, there's been government subsidies for news and lots of different ways for centuries, going back to Postal Service rates, going back to ad spending and local news. I know it can sound like a foreign crazy concept, but this has been going on for many, many years, many, many decades, centuries.
And so, the question, I think, now is what's the digital age version of support for local news? Steve, thank you for having that conversation going. And by the way, your piece is up on pointer.org for people to read the whole thing. Where can they find -- by the way, where can they find the rebuild-- or the rebuild local news coalition, you can also Google it. Sorry about that. On the other side of the break, a confession from inside Fox News, quote, we turned so far right. We went crazy.
STELTER: The lies are virtual, but the pain is physical. That's what I concluded as I wrote the last chapter of this new book, "Hoax." It's all about televised propaganda, provoking physical pain. So, let me share some of the new reporting about Fox News with all of you first, before I go off on a book tour this week and try to sell "Hoax" to everyone else.
Paperback editions usually just have quickie updates to the hardcover. But with "Hoax," I decided to crack the whole thing open, and update the entire book. Why? Because it came out last summer when Donald Trump was still President. So, it kind of ended on a cliffhanger.
Would Fox be able to help him win reelection? Would the Murdochs keep Trump in power? And now we know the answer. Fox lost. They wasn't able to get Trump across the finish line.
My sources of the network said that morale sank to a new low when Biden was named president-elect. Some Fox fans fled to Newsmax where they didn't have to face the truth of Trump's loss. Fox lost its monopoly on right-wing T.V. So, what did it do? It followed the Trump base further to the right, to voter fraud fantasy land.
And there were layoffs at Fox, and there are lawsuits pending, and so much happened that I ended up adding 12 new chapters to this edition. These are some of the comments on screen that I heard from insiders as this was all going down. "We turned so far right, we went crazy." One Fox commentator said to me. "The pressure from the audience was debilitating." "We are bleeding eyeballs," a producer said, "we are scared."
That was the tone, that was the tenor inside Fox. Some employees were embarrassed as the COVID-19 case kind of exploded over the winter and Trump's legal challenges imploded. A dissenting Fox staffer said to me we denied the pandemic.
And now, we're denying the election outcome. I know of some staffers who could not take it anymore, they left the network. But there are lots of true believers still there. Lots of folks who believe in the conservative mission. And so, the result is that there's less dissent in and on Fox now than there was a couple of years ago.
The news side keeps losing, denial of the news keeps winning, and the Fox bosses keep crowing about quality journalism while squeezing out the journalists who are left. And here's the thing, it's working. Newsmax's ratings have come way back down. Fox has recovered from its losses last fall.
Fox has been radicalized, and the Trump base is rewarding it. That's why I think this story, this subject matters to everyone. I opened the new edition of "Hoax" with a scene from January 6th, showing how people internalized Fox's 24/7 talk of taking our country back and actually tried to do it. This is history now. And I tried to write it for history, but it's also still unfolding every day.
So, if you're interested in learning more, buyhoax.com is the Web site. The new edition comes out on Tuesday. And if you ordered the e- book last year, it'll be automatically updated on our device with all the new chapters. If you're interested in hearing the story, an all- new audio book edition will be out on Tuesday, as well.
And if you have questions about the Fox-Trump merger or ideas about what's next, I'd love to hear them. I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org, that's my real address, not a hoax. And I'm grateful for your interest and attention. Thanks for joining us here on this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
Later, Monday evening, here on CNN, a big interview. Anderson Cooper sitting down with Barack Obama. And I hear Obama has a lot to say about the state of the media. That's Monday 9:00 p.m. -- 8:00 p.m. of course. 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time on CNN. We'll see you right back here this time next week.