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Former Facebook Exec Breaks His Silence; Vaccine Misinformation And The "Big Lie" Are Linked; One-On-One With Author Michael Wolff; The Big Question For Reporters Writing Trump Books; 'Culture Of Fear' Author On COVID-19 Coverage. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired July 18, 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, Michael Wolff has been every where this week. He's a lightning rod author but I have questions for him you haven't heard yet. He's going to join me live in a moment.
Plus, is media coverage of COVID-19 hindering the country's vaccination effort. Sociology professor Barry Glaser is here with a provocative take. You're going to hear that in a few minutes as well.
Later, what is it like to interview this guy, Tucker Carlson, and what is with this photo shoot? I'm going to speak with Charlotte Alter about that and more.
Perry Bacon Jr., Susan Glasser all standing by for this hour of the program.
But, first, the Biden White House calling out the misinformation machine, accusing Facebook of killing people by letting anti-vaccine lies linger on the platform. It reminded me of an old quote by a French philosopher Paul Virilio who taught that when you invent the ship, you invent the shipwreck.
Let's put the quote on screen for one of his books. He wrote: To invent the train is to invent the trainwreck. To invent the family automobile is to produce the pile-up on the highway.
So, to invent Facebook is to prevent what else? How would you describe the pile-up that we're all in right now?
Kara Swisher read that quote aloud at a book party we hosted for the authors of that new expose about Facebook called "An Ugly Truth". The book is full about insights about Facebook's ugly underbelly. And, of course, some of that involves mis- and disinformation including about vaccines. That's what the Biden administration is focusing on right now.
It's not hard to find anti-vaccination propaganda on the platform. We took a look and this is the result. If you search #vaccineskill, you'll see it live on Facebook right now and you'll see hundreds of posts. Some of them sowing doubt about the vaccines, expressing not just skepticism or hesitancy but hostility, rejecting basic science and medicine.
As you look at that scroll which we kind of blurred because we don't want to show too much of that nonsense, you'll see faces like Tucker Carlson. You'll see Alex Jones of Infowars. You'll see an entire ecosystem of this content.
And that's -- let's take one minute before I bring in my guest, OK? That's why I'm a little uncomfortable with the obsession over Facebook as -- as if it's the only source of misinformation and disinformation about vaccines. That's, you know, the Biden White House is focusing on right now, Facebook. The surgeon general came out this morning focusing on social media platforms, including Facebook.
But we have to recognize there are dozens of reasons for vaccine hostility. And Facebook is intensifying many of them because of the sense of community that forms there. When you look through that "vaccines kill" hashtag, it gets really sad. You see lonely people trying to connect with one another by sharing lies, forming community around those lies, enhancing each other's fears, but trying to make friends.
The impact of this technology is so profound. It's something that Mark Zuckerberg couldn't have possibly imagined when he invented the ship and invented the shipwreck.
And the truth is we just don't know that much about it. We don't actually know much about the platform. And it's unclear whether Facebook actually knows the inner workings of what its algorithms do, of how the platform affects people.
That's the subject of this exclusive interview now -- to go behind the scenes into how Facebook handles negative press, negative attention, revelations about its platform.
Brian Boland was a vice president of partnership strategy at Facebook for 11 years. He quit late last year. He saw issues with Facebook's approach to transparency and accountability or lack thereof.
Brian is speaking out now. This is his first TV interview since leaving Facebook.
Brian, thanks for coming on the program.
BRIAN BOLAND, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT IN CHARGE OF PARTNERSHIPS STRATEGY, FACEBOOK: Good morning, Brian. Thanks for having me.
STELTER: I was going off script at the beginning because I think there's all this blame that's being apportioned and there's a lot of blame to go around for the lack of vaccine uptake in this country. I mean, jeez, you know, Canada had to wait months for the vaccines, and now, Canada is ahead of the U.S.
There's a lot of blame to go around. It's not just Facebook. I just want to say that up front.
But when you hear President Biden say Facebook is killing people -- let's go ahead and play the clip and hear your reaction since you worked there for 11 years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're killing people. The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they're killing people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: How did you feel when you heard that?
BOLAND: You know, Brian, that was a truly stunning thing to hear. Obviously, it feels terrible to hear the president say something like that.
Now, I think your point is super important up front that there is a whole ecosystem of misinformation out there. And it's important to understand what happens and the impacts of that ecosystem. And, you know, there's this debate back and forth of what impact is misinformation on Facebook around a whole broad array of topics. But today, this misinformation on vaccines that we could understand the impact, and that's the important point.
There's this saying at Facebook which is data wins arguments. And you could understand whether this is a massive problem or a smaller problem if everyone was looking at the same data. And that's part of the problem is I feel like the president is left without the data that he needs to really understand what role Facebook is playing in the issue.
STELTER: So, the White House doesn't have the data, news outlets don't have the data. Does Facebook internally have the information? And do they look at it? Do they want to know?
BOLAND: Yeah, so, I think there's a couple of layers here.
One, Facebook absolutely has the data. You know, these are -- the misinformation that you talked about up front, these kinds of sources, whether it's Tucker Carlson or Alex Jones or others or a broad array of people who create the misinformation, because remember, there's not people at Facebook making the misinformation.
BOLAND: There are other people who create it and then it gets distributed on Facebook and it goes viral.
So Facebook absolutely has that data. And they look at it. But do they look at it the right way? Do they look at it enough? Are they investing in the teams as fully as they should and getting other partners to look at that data the way they should? I don't think so.
STELTER: "The New York Times" reported this week on internal clashes, what Kevin Roose called "data wars" involving this tool called CrowdTangle.
What is going on with this tool, and why does it matter?
BOLAND: So, CrowdTangle is a really great tool that takes public content -- and it's important that people know these are public posts and public content and it makes a set of the data available to researchers and journalists to understand what things get interacted with on Facebook. What are people clicking on? What are they commenting on and sharing?
That helps them to research and understand the distribution -- or, sorry, the engagement with information on Facebook. It's a critical tool that I've heard from researchers that gives them an incredible ability to start to see some things but it's not complete. There's a whole array of information around the reach of content, what gets sent around the impressions. There's missing information that you could put in there around links that get shared on Facebook.
All of that data gives the world the opportunity to understand the impact in ways that Facebook can do to some degree but it's such a big problem that it would be helped by more people having access to that information.
STELTER: And is it fair to say that Facebook has been clamping down or has thought about clamping down on that access, suggesting they don't want to see it, they want to cover their ears and eyes to this stuff?
BOLAND: Yeah. I think -- these stories are uncomfortable for them when questions are raised. And I haven't seen a focus or desire to be more transparent. You know, with transparency come hard conversations. And I think it's important to welcome those.
But, you now, I haven't seen that kind -- that willingness seems to be more about let's avoid the story or let's control the narrative rather than let's do the hard things.
STELTER: Is that why you quit?
BOLAND: It's one of the main reasons that I quit, is that I started to see after spending 11 years there building things that I was proud of, that I was concerned about the information that could be shared on the platform and it can impact communities large and small in ways that we don't understand. And there wasn't being enough effort being put to really understand that.
STELTER: Right, to understand what it does. Is Facebook a radicalization engine? Is it radicalizing millions of Americans?
BOLAND: I don't know, and I'd love to know. A great way for us to understand that is to have more access to the data that will give researchers and journalists and teams the ability to do that hard work. STELTER: Here's what Facebook said when we booked you. They said: We
simply disagree with Brian. We offer more transparency than any other consumer tech platform around our quarterly transparency report, our real-time dashboard and our programs that grant researchers open access to privacy-protected data.
So, are they basically saying, you know, we're not doing what we want but we are doing these other things so we are more transparent than Twitter or Google?
BOLAND: Yeah, that's what they're saying. But being the most transparent of a very un-transparent industry is nothing that I would be proud of.
It's important that we look at this.
To your point, this is a new thing. All of these technologies are new to the world. And we need to look at what it means to invent the shipwreck.
And part of that is increasing transparency and really demanding that transparency from all these companies. Being the most transparent of the least transparent is something that I just fundamentally disagree with.
STELTER: And on a week when "An Ugly Truth" is making news, when you've been speaking out, when the president is calling -- is saying the company is killing people, Facebook did not agree to put any guests on this program. I haven't seen Facebook give any guest to any program.
You know, normally what happens, just to tell our viewers to how it really works is, we'll say, hey, we'll take Zuckerberg, we'll take Sheryl Sandberg, we'll take your spokesman, we'll take this and like, you know, we're not -- we're not choosy, you know?
We'll take any spokesperson from the company and they said no. And they have been saying no to other shows as well.
So, right now, the company seems to want to put out statements but not have Q&A and not take on this kind of forum to answer these questions.
So, Brian, what else do viewers need to know? Is there something we're leaving out here or something else that viewers need to know about what you said is a very hard problem and lack of transparency makes it harder?
BOLAND: Yeah. Look, I think people need to understand that these are incredibly complex issues. And, you know, when you're the person who's inventing the ship, you're not dreaming of the shipwreck. And part of the problem is that there are optimists who are building these things that don't dream of the bad outcomes.
And we have great entities in the world that are really good at researching things and understanding the bad outcomes -- the things that Facebook can't dream of that are going to go wrong on the platform. And this global community could really play a role in shaping things.
And it's not just the U.S., think about every country that Facebook is in and every language and every context. That's incredibly hard. And if we don't have the companies being transparent, then we need to look at ways that we can create regulation around helping them be transparent. Be clear of what information that we want them to share about these public posts that can help us understand the negative impacts from the platforms.
STELTER: Right. That's ultimately where these conversations are all going. What is government going to do and are they doing to do anything that's effective or not.
Brian Boland, thank you so much for coming on the program.
BOLAND: Thank you. And I appreciate you having this conversation.
STELTER: Thank you.
Coming up, the latest on the trial of the "Capital Gazette" gunman, a crucial verdict in the case.
But, first, what is the glue that holds together vaccine hesitancy and the big lie and January 6th denialism? We're going to show you, next.
STELTER: All right. This next segment might make you a little hungry, okay? I'm going to tell you how a newsroom is like a sandwich. This is my lunch. I just pulled it out of the fridge, ham and cheese on whole wheat. All of these ingredients taste just fine on their own but they are a whole lot better together.
So how is a newsroom like a sandwich? Well, let's say the people covering politics are the meat. This is a little gross on its own, right? Let's say the people covering science and medicine are the cheese. OK, I disassembled an entire sandwich for you. Others are the lettuce and tomato and the mustard.
It's all tasty on its own but you need the bread to make it work. A sandwich is not a sandwich until it's put together and the news landscape works the same way. Can I eat this later? I put that over there.
The news landscape is like a sandwich, because some of the biggest beats today from politics to science and health to crime and justice, they are all connected by the war that's raging, this information crisis that's raging, this sense that people can choose their own reality, whether it's disbelief about election results or distrust of public health officials or disregard for democratic principles. It's all connected. These stories are connected. And that's why you need the proverbial bread. You need newsrooms and
anchors and columnists and others to connect it and to bring it altogether and explain the links.
I think this is a major challenge for the press right now, because you've got one team of fact checkers covering misinformation about the vaccines and then you have another team of people covering the fight for voting rights. But these stories are linked in ways that help people understand what's actually happening, understand this war on truth that's been raging for years.
I mean, it's easier for people to tune into an opinionist, an entertainer who just tries to fill in the blanks by asking questions and dodging the facts rather than try to connect dots and explain how this media landscape, this news environment, is connected in its different strands of war on truth.
Look, I bring up Tucker Carlson. I put him on screen there because he's part of a political party that's taking advantage of this war on truth and creating an alternative reality.
So in this environment, how do we all make healthier sandwiches?
Let's talk about it with Perry Bacon Jr., columnist for "The Washington Post", and Charlotte Alter, national correspondent for "TIME Magazine", who interviewed Tucker Carlson for this brand new profile about so-called Tuckerism.
All right. Charlotte, it is very, very rare for Tucker Carlson to go on the record, talking with a reporter from "TIME Magazine". So I want to know what you learned from him.
You call it Tuckerism. I know everyone's heard of Trumpism. So, what's different? What is Tuckerism?
CHARLOTTE ALTER, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: Tuckerism is sort of a -- it's more of a posture or an attitude than a real ideology. I mean, Trumpism is really defined by this kind of blunt force that Trump brought into the political system.
Tuckerism is a little bit more nimble. It's a little bit more about sort of dodging -- you know, walking right up to a conspiracy theory, putting your toe in the water, then kind of jumping back when you're challenged and wrapping -- wrapping yourself in the mantle of free speech, which is something that Tucker does often.
ALTER: You know, it's sort of more -- it's a little bit more nimble than Trumpism and, therefore, it's very, very, very appealing to broad swaths of the conservative base.
STELTER: Yeah, you say he legitimizes right-wing conspiracy theories and dodges when you try to nail him down about it. So, it sounds like he was very slippery in this interview.
ALTER: Well, listen, for somebody who loves to defend his right to ask questions, he sure hates to answer them.
STELTER: And when you asked him if he's been vaccinated, how did he react?
ALTER: He let us this wild cackle and then he sort of pivoted into this, how dare you ask me a personal question like that. And then he -- and then I said, you know, you can ask me whatever you want. He asked me about my HIV status and then asked me about my recent sexual activity, so that was an interesting twist.
STELTER: So he always turns it around, always plays the victim.
And, Perry, I think all of this is related. Like Tucker Carlson's claims about a riot, about the insurrection, his refusal to talk about being vaccinated, it's all of a piece. Do you see those connections? And how would you describe them?
PERRY BACON JR., COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yeah, he's -- he is practicing -- I think Trumpism is what he's practicing if not exactly that. But yes, he is part of something that is described as a news network but is sort of a broader conservative Republican apparatus that its intention has the effect of like dismissing truth, evidence, and the media and the government to try to implement policy and rely on evidence and facts.
The enterprise is to sort of dismiss all kinds of authorities and institutions. And I think that's at times done by directly undermining vaccines and other times by not answering questions. But the whole goal is to undermine any idea of facts or evidence.
STELTER: And in that environment, what in the world should news outlets do? And I ask you, Perry, because you have a new column for "The Washington Post" talking about news outlets need to rethink how they cover this upside down environment. When you -- what's your number one response for what news outlets should do?
BACON: They should move on from this idea that they're trying to -- the audience is trying to get equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats or not offend Mitch McConnell's office or whatever it is, and to really get focused on what is our core mission. And I would argue the core mission is to present facts, present evidence, present an evidence-based view of the world and to also in my view defend the ideas of a democracy and a multi-racial democracy I think is part of what the media should be doing.
What that looks like, I think, is defending and being unabashed, vaccines work. Joe Biden won the election. Black lives do matter and we should be honest about when black people are treated unfairly. And sort of start in the place of, do we have some clear-cut values that we can articulate, articulate those in some ways on our websites, in our programming, to be honest about like, we're trying to fight this bias thing.
We are biased in terms of facts. We in the media are biased in terms of we support vaccines. We in the media hire LGBT employees. We are biased against bans against trans or gay people.
So, we can be honest about those biases and sort of we are in favor of a multi-racial democracy. That's why journalists behave the way they did when Trump -- we are in favor of the person who won the election being president.
So once we're honest about those things, that may turn off some people, but it will help us be better as institutions and better as journalists if our first goal is here are the values we stated we are trying to implement and then secondary, we will take the audience who embraces those values.
That doesn't mean our values are Democratic and not Republican, but our values, we're talking about a small-D democratic and not authoritarian or something like that. So, I think if we get clear on values, of course, the media is for against authoritarian people like Trump. The media cannot exist in a functional way without having -- you know, without having a free press, which dictators usually oppose.
So I think we should be honest about some of the core values we have and stop trying to pretend we don't have any values because then readers don't trust us on the left or on the right. Of course we have values and we should just honest about them.
STELTER: Charlotte, how has that resonated with you?
ALTER: I -- listen, I agree with a lot of what Perry says. I also think that the right-wing media apparatus is almost specifically designed to present an alternate reality to the -- to the values-based system that he describes here.
I mean, one of the things that I learned in reporting this profile was the extent to which Tucker and by extension the rest of the conservative media universe has begun to take objectivity as a sign of conformity and conformity as a sign of cowardice. So, in some ways, the more objective the facts are, for example, about vaccines, about mask wearing, about climate change, the more inclined they are to distrust and to spread disinformation regarding those things.
So I think we're in a really difficult position for the media because the more true something is, the more likely somebody like Tucker Carlson is to undermine belief in that thing.
STELTER: The more contrarian he has to be, the further he has to go to reject basic reality. Oh.
Perry, what do we -- what do we do in that environment? By the way, Perry, you also wrote local news outlets need to be democracy- defending institutions. So you're not just talking about the CNNs of the world. BACON: Yeah. We need like -- it looks like some of the most dangerous
politicians in terms of being anti-science, anti-vaccines, anti-truth are Kristin Noem, and people like that, you now, the governor of South Dakota. So you've seen -- we've had a very important last year of policy. A hundred thousand people have died and we have to get serious about the idea that vaccines work.
We cannot -- masks work. And we have certain states that wouldn't or criticized the idea of having masks or the idea of getting vaccines. This is not -- this is way too serious. We're beyond the idea that, you know, we can talk about both sides. This is a life and death matter, as Joe Biden and the White House are talking about on Friday in terms of Facebook. We are now in a life-and-death situation where accuracy in media really does matter now.
STELTER: It's not about censorship. That's what they're going to say. I can argue --
BACON: That's a good point, right.
STELTER: It's about reality. It's about just reality-based information.
BACON: Yes. Emphasizing reality.
STELTER: Perry and Charlotte, thank you both. I'm grateful for this. We deal with this every night in our RELIABLE SOURCES newsletter. We write about these issues, and you can sign up for free at reliablesources.com.
Up next here on the program -- stupid, ludicrous and dangerous. That's how Fox boss Rupert Murdoch sees Trump, according to Michael Wolff. But if that's the case, then why are Fox and Trump still attached at the hip? Wolff is here, he responds, right after this.
STELTER: Book sales can tell us a lot about the state of American politics. The New York Times bestseller list is considered the gold standard. And last week, the number one book on the list, the top seller in the country was "Nightmare Scenario." That book about Trump's mismanagement of the pandemic, packed full of reporting by two Washington Post pros.
It was a really important contribution to history. Now, this week's number one book, also a huge hit was Fox host Jesse Waters making fun of liberals and himself in a memoir called, "How I saved the World." Donald Trump endorsed the book by plagiarizing from the publisher. So, rigorous reporting one week, right-wing rhetoric the next week, and virtually, no overlap between the two types of books. And the same dynamic will be true this coming week. The number one
book in the country will either be the latest screed by Fox host Mark Levin, or the latest Trump investigation by Michael Wolff. They are both near the top of Amazon's bestsellers list right now. So, the Wolff book, landslide. It is one of many a bevy of Trump-related books out right now.
It has some of the most shocking details. So, let's bring in Michael Wolff for a conversation about what he learned about his trilogy of books involving the former president. Michael, I think you had to move up your publishing date, because other Trump books were coming out this month also. Was this sort of a gamesmanship thing where the publisher was trying to get yours out ahead of all your competitors?
MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR OF "LANDSLIDE: THE FINAL DAYS OF THE TRUMP PRESIDENCY": You know, I'm not exactly sure the mechanics of the publishing business. They always seem opaque to me, but I think we were first, then somebody else was first, then there was a leap frogging.
STELTER: Leapfrogging, yes.
WOLFF: And the end result is that we all -- that we all came out on the same day, but the more the merrier, I say.
STELTER: The more the merrier. You report about Trump's relationship with Fox News, and Fox News has come out and denied some of what you said. For example, you say Rupert Murdoch was involved in the election night decision to call Arizona for Biden.
Now, I've never heard such a thing. Fox denies that's true. And your response was basically when we tweeted about it with each other, we kind of got into it on Twitter, you said, well, they're liars. Fox is a bunch of liars. That's your response. So, here's my question for you, if Rupert Murdoch hates Trump so much--
WOLFF: Well, I actually -- but it's an -- but it-- but it is an interesting thing that week after week, all you do is question Fox, question its veracity, question it's honor, question, et cetera, et cetera, but suddenly, now you think that they might be a (INAUDIBLE) to a fall.
STELTER: I've never questioned the decision desk. I never questioned the decision desk, the professionals who made the call.
WOLFF: But even -- but even -- let's go-- let's go back -- yes, let's go back to that -- to that -- the issue that began this, which is that I told the story of election night, then making the call about Arizona, and then Bill Hemmer, before they made the call, the on-air call, him calling the Trump election headquarters and telling them that they were going to make this call. OK. Then the Fox people came out.
[11:35:12] STELTER: And Fox denied that. Yes.
WOLFF: They denied this.
WOLFF: And then, you jumped in and said, you know, you had a headline that they denied this. Then -- and the person they had called, was Jason Miller. And then, I had suggested that someone should call Jason Miller. You didn't, but then the Washington Post did (INAUDIBLE) --
STELTER: And Eric and Jason Miller said, Yes, it's true.
WOLFF: Jason Miller said, yes, it's totally true. And others heard this. Then, just to point out, I said to you, well, hey, you should probably acknowledge that. And you wrote a thing, but you buried that. So, you know, what can I -- what can I say? This is -- this is the world we seem to be -- we seem to be in. You want this to be true and --
STELTER: What do I want to be true?
WOLFF: And I'm pointing out, it's not true. You seem to want it to be true that Fox is questioning my reporting.
STELTER: It's this issue of Rupert Murdoch making the decision. That's what so shock--
WOLFF: OK. Well, then let's -- then let's go --
STELTER: If that's true, that is such an egregious abuse of power by Fox News.
WOLFF: Well, it is an -- it is an --
STELTER: That's on the top 10 list for history. You know what I mean? If Bill Hemmers calling the White House ahead of time, that's an egregious ethical lapse.
WOLFF: OK. Well, let's go to-- let's go to -- yes, fine. Just give me a -- Brian, give me a chance to talk. I'm the guest here. At any rate, the Rupert Murdoch thing is -- I reported that at that point, the decision desk got in -- got in touch with Lachlan Murdoch.
WOLFF: Lachlan Murdoch called his father. His father said, you know, to go with this report, obviously, including a quite a fetching obscenity directed at Trump. Now, how do I know this? Well, I -- STELTER: So, something like -- something like, screw him, but even
stronger. So, if Rupert said, screw him, and have Trump, then why is --
WOLFF: Again, and how do I know this? How do I know this? I mean, I know this -- I'm just -- let me point out how I -- I'll give you the background here. I mean, the background is that I am Rupert Murdoch's biographer.
STELTER: One of many.
WOLFF: I have certainly spent more time -- well, no, not one of many. That's totally ridiculous. I am the singular biographer.
STELTER: (INAUDIBLE) to Rupert book. I love your book. I thought it was a great book. If Rupert told Donald -- if Rupert said F Trump --
WOLFF: The singular biographer who was given enormous access --
STELTER: Yes, you were. Right.
WOLFF: -- has enormous access to him. I am well sourced throughout the company, and throughout his family. So, therefore, I know that this happened. I'm -- you know, my sources are extraordinarily good. And without a doubt on this point.
STELTER: Here's what I wonder, you know, there are a lot of sources who say Rupert despises Trump. So, why is Fox still so attached to him? Why do you think he hasn't changed Fox's editorial strategy? If anything, they've tripled down on Trump?
WOLFF: You know, because I think that there are two worlds going on here. There's Rupert Murdoch's world, which is -- which is all powerful, but he doesn't -- it's actually not quite all powerful. Because you have Fox -- the Fox -- the Fox Network has moved its business model -- or the Fox News Network to an old Trump model.
That's where the money comes from. Does Rupert -- would Rupert Murdoch have an alternative to that, that would supply that much money? Rupert hates Donald Trump, hates him, but Rupert loves money. Those are two warring things.
STELTER: It's that simple, Michael? That's so sad.
WOLFF: Now, this is -- this is -- this is -- yes, this has created an enormous tension in the Murdoch family. People in the Murdoch family don't speak to each other, partly over the issue of the --- of Fox News and Donald Trump. One of the reasons that that Murdoch sold most of the assets on his company is that his children could not come to any kind of agreement about who would ultimately run the company, partly because of this -- of this tension over Fox News.
STELTER: Yes, this Fox and Trump problem. You've written now a trilogy of Trump books. And my takeaway of reading all of them is, he's incompetent. He's ignorant, but he's not a dictator. He's not an authoritarian. Is that the right summary that it's really more farce than it is threat to democracy? Is that your takeaway?
WOLFF: Well, I mean, certainly, my thesis is there is no plan here, there is no strategy. And in some sense, it might be worse than we have ever thought because there -- we just don't even know how to think about this, that a crazy man has managed to become the president of the United States. And you know, you have this twisted psyche and this through the looking glass dysfunction in the -- in the White House.
And I think to date, no one really has been able to make sense of this to understand what this means for the future, for democracy, for the media itself. Because how do you -- how do you -- how do you in the media who are, you know, earnest to a -- to a fault attentive to the workings of cause and effect? How do you write about someone who is -- who has no idea what cause and effect is, who doesn't care, who exists only in the moment?
STELTER: So, you're suggesting he broke us, Michael. He broke the normal system (INAUDIBLE)
WOLFF: I -- yes. And may well be.
STELTER: All the norms of, you know, how we think about politics, he broke them. He broke how we cover politics.
WOLFF: Yes, I think -- I think we would have to agree on that. Yes.
STELTER: Can I ask you about something four years ago? Last time you were on the show. I think I know what you did. You came on "RELIABLE SOURCES." This is like three weeks into the Trump presidency. And Trump was brand new. And, you know, people were saying that he hated the media, and the media hated him. And you came on, you called me ridiculous.
And you bashed the media. And then, the next day, Trump called you and you guys chatted for half an hour and you were all friendly. And he said, come on, visit the White House, come hang out with me in the White House. Is that how you got into access by coming on CNN and making fun of us? I'm just curious.
WOLFF: No. I mean, my agreement to go into the White House predated that. And --
STELTER: But Trump did call you the next day and thanked you.
WOLFF: But I -- he did. He did. You know, and that's what Trump does. He has spent most of his administration seeing people on television and immediately calling them.
STELTER: But maybe that's how it works sometimes, huh? Is that how it works? That's how you get access? WOLFF: But I don't want you to think -- I -- but -- yes, but I don't
-- yes, but I don't want you to think that what I said at that point was in any way inauthentic. I think the media has done a terrible job on this. I think you yourself, you know, well, you're a nice guy, you know, you're full of sanctimony.
You know, you become part of one of the parts of the problem of the media. You know, you come on here and you -- and you have a, you know, a monopoly on truth. You know, you know exactly how things are supposed to be done. You know, you are why one of the reasons people can't stand the media. I'm sorry.
STELTER: You're cracking me up.
WOLFF: It's your fault.
STELTER: It's my -- how -- so, what should I do differently, Michael?
WOLFF: You know, don't talk so much, listen more. You know, people have genuine problems with the media. The media doesn't get the story right. The media exists in its own bubble.
STELTER: That's true. I agree. Yes. Yes.
WOLFF: You know, you -- you know, you got to stop me in that last segment that I just had to listen to. Of all the people saying the same old stuff. Also, you're incredibly repetitive. It's week after week. I mean, you're the flip side of Donald Trump, you know, fake news. And you say virtuous news. You know, there's a problem.
STELTER: No, we just figure out what is real. Yes, I must say.
WOLFF: I mean, we -- well, figuring out -- yes, figuring out what is real is not so -- it's not so -- it's not so easy. And, you know, most people don't want to talk -- turn to Brian Stelter to tell us what's real. I'm sorry.
STELTER: Well, then why'd you bother coming on CNN a few times this week?
WOLFF: You know, I'm a -- I'm a book salesman.
STELTER: Michael, I love talking to you. I'm grateful you came on. And I guess let's do it again in four years. Thanks so much.
WOLFF: See you.
STELTER: So, Wolff's book is one example of this broader phenomenon that you've been hearing about, this bevy of Trump books. It's as if now these sources are coming forward to tell us what really happened. Six months after Donald Trump vacated the White House, now sources tell us that General Mark Milley was concerned that Trump might attempt a coup.
Now, they tell us Milley privately compared Trump's lies to Adolf Hitler's rhetoric. These shockers are showing up in the new books. And it's begging the question, why now? I've heard from a lot of you over e-mail saying, why are these stories only coming out now? Why weren't these sources leaking to reporters in real time? And if they were, why didn't the reporters tell us? What's going on here?
Let's just dig more into that part of the story of all these Trump books with Susan Glasser. She is working on one of her own with her husband, Peter Baker, and she shared some of the reporting in an article for The New Yorker this week about Millie, et cetera. Susan, thanks for coming on the program.
SUSAN GLASSER, STAFF, THE NEW YORKER: Thanks, Brian.
STELTER: Let's just get into the ethics of this. How do you approach this as someone who writes a weekly column but is also working on a book? When do you withhold information for the book and when do you share it?
GLASSER: Well, you know, I don't think there's any playbook. I'm still -- I'm still trying to recover, frankly, from that last segment then (INAUDIBLE)
STELTER: Oh, that little thing.
GLASSER: -- with Michael Wolff. You know, look, I got to say this, it's very important to understand that, you know, everybody's accountable for their own credibility. I really don't like these conversations that paints such a broad brush. You know, Michael Wolff should be accountable for whether what he reported is accurate or not, vice versa.
You know, there's a lot of different ways of reporting about the Trump story. And I think it's very important that these accounts and these books merged for history, but also, that as accurate and complete a portrait as possible, is compiled of the last few years, because the truth is, number one, we're not done with the Trump story yet. And the reporting suggests it's extremely important.
And I'm still in the process of working on this book with my husband, Peter Baker, that you go back and you understand. Our book is going to be not a book about 2020. And I think that's why you see a lot of these books coming out, which actually is very quick and important.
But we're going back and looking at important things that happened throughout the four years of the presidency, many of which we still don't fully understand, or where there's more information to be gleaned. And that's what we're doing. And I think it's very important for the historical record.
STELTER: Is the issue partly that these sources, including your own, just would not talk in January, but now they are willing? Is that why the stories only come out now? GLASSER: Well, first of all, Brian, think about the mechanics of book
publishing. These books that are coming out this week and last week, Michael Wolff's book, Michael Bender for the Wall Street Journal, Carol Leonnig, and Phil Rucker, they were interviewing these sources almost in real time.
It takes a while to write a whole book of several 100 pages. So, you know, I think this is actually very fast, first of all. Second of all, when it comes to Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who, by the way, is still the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, you know, unreasonable expectation, do you -- do you think that it would be appropriate for him to -- he's not holding a press conference, right? That's not his job. That's not his role. You know, is it important for the historical record that we understand what was happening behind the scenes? I think it is.
I would also point out that when it comes to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he actually did take some extraordinary steps that were public. He apologized last summer for participating in the June 1st infamous Lafayette Square photo op (INAUDIBLE) that was remarkable, very straightforward apology, said, soldiers in uniform do not belong at a politicized event like that.
And we're here for all the American people. He gave other interviews that suggested that, you know, the military would follow the Constitution, would follow the independence and not be used for political purposes by Trump. So, we actually had, you know, I think a fair sense of where they were at.
What I was shocked in my reporting to find what -- how worried the people at the very senior levels of our military were that Donald Trump was pursuing potentially both a military strike on Iran that could lead to war, and also pressuring the military that they were worried about being used in a coup-type attempt.
STELTER: As you said, it was terrifying to hear these details. And it sounds like we're going to hear even more of them in the -- in the months to come. Susan, thank you very much for the preview.
GLASSER: Thank you.
STELTER: More RELIABLE SOURCES in just a moment.
STELTER: Is hyped up media coverage of COVID-19 doing more harm than good? Is it hindering the vaccination effort? I mean, there are daily headlines about surges in states like Louisiana and Missouri. There are real concerns about the Delta variant, but largely relating to people who are unvaccinated.
What are the effects of these headlines? What are the impacts? One of the best books I've ever read was titled "The Culture of Fear" by author Barry Glassner. It is relevant today. In fact, he recently updated the book for the Trump era. And Barry is with me now. Barry, one of the issues with the headlines you're seeing about COVID-19, a pandemic that's not over, but of course, it's in a much more manageable state than it was.
BARRY GLASSNER, SOCIOLOGIST & AUTHOR OF "THE CULTURE OF FEAR": Absolutely. And my criticism is very straightforward. We -- you talked a lot on the show and other times about Fox News. And when it comes to vaccination, they're kind of the sledgehammer of the truth, and of getting the right word out. But I think most of the rest of the media, frankly, or certainly much of it is chipping around the edges. So, let me tell -- let me say what why I think that.
OK, an important survey came out this week from the Kaiser Family Foundation. And among their findings was that 10 percent of Americans, one in 10 Americans is still considering whether to take the vaccine, whether to get their shot. That is they have not decided that they're not going to do it, they have not decided that they're going to do it.
What they say is I want to wait and see how it works out for other people. So, when you have these stories, these headlines about how breakthrough cases are going way up and people who were vaccinated are in the hospital, and I mean, you know, some of these are ridiculous, these headlines, in terms of sending the wrong signal. So, what is the news? OK. The news, the headline is that so far as we know at this point, the vaccines are about 99 percent plus effective against hospitalization.
Get your vaccine. OK? You're showing some right now that I consider, you know, some of the -- some of the worst offenders, OK? Look at that, that 4100 people have been hospitalized or died with COVID breakthrough infections after vaccination. I mean, that's the message that you want to send?
STELTER: I think this is a great challenge for -- and obviously a lot of journals are watching this. It's a great challenge for them about how to write headlines and how to make sure that the clearest truth is getting through. Barry, I'm out of time. Thank you very much for coming on the program. And thank you all of you for joining us. We'll see you right back here this time next week.