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Reliable Sources

Media's Role In Clarifying COVID Confusion; Frustrations Of Covering COVID From Hot Spots; Fox News Loses One Of Its Top Advertisers (For Now); Jared Holt On Trump's 'Parallel Media Network'; Interview With Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA); Personalities, Profits, And The Shift To Streaming. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired August 01, 2021 - 11:00   ET



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

This hour, Mike Lindell, no longer in bed with Fox News. A reporter who dined with Lindell is here to explain why this is no laughing matter.

Plus, what does political affinity -- when does political affinity cross into dangerous, cult-like support? Congressman Jackie Speier, who survived the Jonestown massacre, is here to share her perspective.

And later, what Scarlett Johansson and Simon Biles have in common? Two of the week's biggest stories in the media world and in the business world. We're going to link those a little bit later.

But, first, it is time for a reset, a reset in how COVID-19 is covered by the media, given there is so much confusion right now. It is, as so many public health experts keep saying, a pandemic of the unvaccinated. So the news coverage needs to reflect that.

For example, the word "cases" doesn't mean the same thing it did a year ago. Because a breakthrough case when vaccinated, when you're infected and vaccinated, it is very, very different from a case when unvaccinated. And about that word "breakthrough", there is not enough data to really know how often it happens. That is a problem, a significant problem.

But the data is crystal clear that the vaccines are preventing hospitalization and deaths. "The New York Post" showed that. But these squares equaling 161 million vaccinated adults, let's rerack it and show it again, there's a tiny, tiny, too small of a naked eye box in the corner showing hospitalizations and deaths. That's the whole story right there, in that front page.

I mean, my big takeaway reading about the Provincetown outbreak that's been all over the news is that no one died. No one died.

But "This Washington Post" headline hyped the fact that most of the people were vaccinated. The paper got called out for that. And it added the more salient fact that you now see in the headline, the more salient fact that only a few people wound up in the hospital. Scary, sensational headlines about P-town has sparked confusion this week.

But the problem is much bigger than a single outbreak in a single town. The problem starts with the CDC and its absolute failure to communicate clearly and effectively. Sloppy news coverage then makes a bad situation worse.

So, maybe hospitalizations is a better metric for the media to highlight now, not cases but hospitalizations. This nationwide chart shows that hospitalizations are rising. But I would argue just showing this chart is misleading if you don't show more details, because hospitalizations are not rising as quickly in highly vaccinated locales.

They are rising quickly in places like -- let's show this, Louisiana. That's a scary line toward the end of that chart. That's a real problem. There are tons of unvaccinated adults in states like Louisiana that are at real risk.

But let's now switch to Vermont, the number one vaccinated state. Look how dramatically the different is in this chart. Yes, there are slight rise in hospitalizations in states like Vermont, but the difference is so dramatic, and people need to see the differences in these charts.

In Vermont, there are more neighbors protecting their neighbors. It's simple as that. This is why the coverage needs more nuance, because there is no single national story right now about COVID-19. There are two very different stories.

Clearly, at this point, many unvaccinated adults have made a choice and they have settled on it and they're not going to be swayed. They don't fear COVID. They don't mind getting sick. They think they're going to be. They're wrong not to get vaccinated but they made that choice.

But again, even there, there is no single story because right now daily vaccinations are ticking back up. Some people clearly are listening.

Look, let's hope this Fox News graphic works. Let's hope Fox viewers see this. Let's hope the message is clear.

There are two different COVID-19 stories in the U.S. right now. One story about the vaccinated who are essentially safe, and another story about the unvaccinated, who are not.

And we took down the banner because a single six-word banner really can't capture the complexities of this story right now.

With me now for more on that, Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist. She was a member of the Biden/Harris transition COVID advisory board.

Also with me, Robby Soave, senior editor at "Reason" magazine. And Oliver Darcy, CNN senior media reporter who has brand new reporting about the White House and its frustration with the news coverage of all of this.


So, Oliver, what have been hearing this weekend about the White House being frustrated by hyperbolic COVID headlines?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Yeah, Brian, the White House is very frustrated and they are frankly concerned that the news media is overly focusing on these breakthrough infections and not focusing on the larger issue, which is unvaccinated Americans spreading the coronavirus to their family, friends, and coworkers.

So, they have actually taken the step of reaching out to news organizations trying to get them to do what you're saying, to reset the coverage, to focus on the real issue, because we know these breakthrough infections, at least from the data we have seen, don't really result in hospitalizations or deaths. It's the unvaccinated who are ending up in the ICU and needing some medical attention.

STELTER: News outlets shouldn't just blindly follow what any White House says, Biden or Trump or any other. But it is notable that they are making these complaints. And, frankly, I think what they are trying to do is clean up some of the mess caused by the CDC.

Robby, what is your reaction to the media coverage in the recent days, the headlines and all the rest?

ROBBY SOAVE, SENIOR EDITOR, REASON: Yeah, I think it's been utterly, shamefully hyperbolic and fear-mongering. It's scaring people, unnecessarily, as you noted.

You know, it's still the case. The vaccines are extremely effective at reducing transmission and specifically against preventing severe disease and death. We're not seeing among in vaccine -- in highly vaccinated areas, we're not seeing deaths ticked up. We're not seeing hospitalizations ticked up.

In D.C., where we're reimposing mask mandates, even though we have fairly high vaccination rates, and we got a handful of serious COVID cases all month. Why? It doesn't make any sense.

And no one -- no one is going to follow it. The mayor herself isn't following these mandates actually. She held a --

STELTER: What was the mayor doing last night, Robby?

SOAVE: The mayor -- she held a maskless birthday party immediately before the mandate went into effect. And now, it appears she performed -- she presided at a maskless wedding after the mask mandate was in effect.

So, this is just -- you know, we've seen this time and time again, right? Everyone from Gavin Newsom to I think Lori Lightfoot to a thousand other politicians who can't follow the rules they put in place for everyone else.

But now, we know these rules are really needless for the vaccinated. It is different for the unvaccinated. But nothing has changed about the vaccinated themselves.

STELTER: I said it last week. I'll say it again. We need two different newscasts.

SOAVE: Yeah.

STELTER: Two different newspapers. One for the vaccinated. One for the unvaccinated.

The headlines that scare the bejesus out of the vaccinated are meant for the unvaccinated.

SOAVE: Yeah.

STELTER: And yet, I'm not sure how many unvaxxed folks are tuning in to that news coverage.

All right. Let's turn back to a little bit more with you, Dr. Gounder. You are our medical expert.

What am I getting wrong -- what are we getting wrong -- what are we getting right here?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST AND EPIDEMIOLOGIST: Brian, I think the headline this week should have been this is what our post-pandemic future might look like, what we saw in Provincetown, which is that we saw very few people getting sick. We had very few people in the hospital, we had no deaths.

You know, people have been comparing COVID to the flu throughout this pandemic, clearly --


STELTER: Wrongly, wrongly. But now, it's accurate if you're vaccinated.

GOUNDER: Well, if you're vaccinated. Exactly, we could convert COVID into the flu by vaccinating people.

STELTER: Right, that is the story. And yet maybe was the problem eight, nine months when the vaccines were introduced, or when we learned they were effective, was the message not conveyed that, yeah, people are still going to get COVID, but they're not going to end up in the hospital? Was that maybe -- was there a communications failure eight months ago?

GOUNDER: I think there was an attempt to set expectations that vaccines are not perfect. They are highly effective. They are very safe. We've repeated this over and over again. But I do think there is an expectation that vaccines be perfect in a way that we don't expect really much of anything else to be perfect. STELTER: Right.

GOUNDER: We don't expect that of pills that we take over the counter. We don't expect that -- you know, and so, we have a much, much higher standard in our minds for vaccines that are just not realistic.

STELTER: Robby, you're an example of this. You told me a couple days ago, you had a breakthrough case of COVID. So, what was it like? And how are you feeling?

SOAVE: I'm feeling completely fine. I was mildly sick with kind of a bad cold for about a day, day and a half. And I am vaccinated. So, it was unfortunate that I got COVID anyway, but it was a very mild illness that was over really in just over 24 hours.

I feel completely fine today. I credit the vaccine for helping me with that.


SOAVE: Everyone should get it. But you shouldn't -- you shouldn't be so afraid if you're vaccinated. Look at the numbers. You don't really have to be.

STELTER: It's all about risk tolerance, and what your personal level of risk is.

Oliver, maybe the word "breakthrough" is part of the problem. Breakthrough implies rare, breakthrough implies something went wrong. And that's not actually the premise of the vaccines.

DARCY: Right, the premise is that you don't end up in the hospital. And we've seen that they work.

I think news coverage almost needs to reflect that -- maybe cases like you said are not the best barometer for how we measure the pandemic anymore.


It should maybe perhaps be on hospitalizations because if we are telling people that hospitalizations is why you get the vaccine, then perhaps we should be measuring hospitalizations and putting more of an emphasis on the fact that low vaccinated -- or high vaccinated areas have low hospitalizations and low vaccination areas have high hospitalizations versus just a case count which doesn't really capture the picture quite as well in 2021.

STELTER: Well, and going a step further with that, Dr. Gounder, I heard you on "Firing Line" the other day saying, you know, this is going with us for a long time. And yet I think there's an impression sometimes among some members of the public or some in the media that the goal is good-bye COVID, we're never going to be think about it again.

And that's not realistic, right? Tell us what is realistic. GOUNDER: Yeah, I think what's the realistic is that COVID is something that we vaccinate along with all the other childhood diseases, and that's how you convert COVID from this deadly disease and to something much more akin to the flu.

And at that point of time, we would largely see hospitalizations and deaths among people who are not vaccinated and perhaps some of the elderly, where you have waning immunity overtime. But, you know, I really do think that we need to steel ourselves for the idea that this is not -- we're not post pandemic.

You know, I've heard many people in the media say to me over the course of the summer, oh, COVID is over. I've even heard some public health officials I think over the summer who are really declaring "mission accomplished" much too soon.

This is going to be with us for a long time, for -- really, indefinitely. And we have to learn to live with it. And vaccines are how we learn to live with it.

STELTER: Let me just try something out on you and this may not work. But after 9/11, we were all introduced to a threat level idea of red and orange and yellow and green. And for a while in this country, the pandemic was red. And in certain places right now, it's red or orange.

But in a lot of other places in this country, it is yellow or green. Is that a fair way to think about it? There is a threat but it is substantially reduced especially if you are vaccinated and we need to make sure we're not covering green areas as if they're red.

GOUNDER: I think that's right. And the way you transition from red to green is through vaccination.


GOUNDER: And that's how we bring down that level of threat. Yeah.

STELTER: So, Robby, as we think about the headlines around COVID, we're seeing lots of red headlines when they should be yellow or green. Maybe not blue, but you know what I'm saying. Bring the threat level down for -- because it is down, for the vaccinated.

SOAVE: Yeah, studies have shown that the media -- and this is criticism of right-leaning and left-leaning media -- have tended to be, in America, have tended to be overly negative about the pandemic even at times when that was not called for. In some sense, it's unavoidable because bad news sells. News is things that happen, not things that didn't happen, right?

Today, things were better, and nobody died, and nobody got sick doesn't -- I guess doesn't excite people in the same way.

But, really, the media has to be more responsible about it or we are going to get exactly what you saw after 9/11, which is permanent restrictions and security measures. I mean, you still have to take off your shoes and your belts to get on a plane even though everyone on Earth, we all know that's pointless and doesn't enhance security whatsoever but we still do it because it's hard to get those policies to go away.

I'm quite worried that some of the pandemic policies will still be in placed decades from now even though they will they just as pointless as whatever the TSA requires from us.

STELTER: That's very interesting. Security theater, COVID theater can both have consequences, can have flaws.

Robby, thank. Oliver, thank you. Dr. Gounder, thank you all.

For more on this, check out our nightly newsletter. Oliver and I are covering this every day in our nightly newsletter. You can sign up for free at

Continuing on the point that there are no single national COVID story right now, there are two different stories, I want to hear what it's like for reporters in hot spot states, where lot of their readers don't believe their news. We're going to go live to three reporters who are covering three of the least vaccinated states of the Union. That's next.



STELTER: Vaccine hesitancy, a term we heard six, eight months ago. The term's faded away. It's about vaccine rejection, vaccine refusal at this point, especially in parts of the country where vaccination rates are the lowest and skepticism is highest.

You see the list there, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Wyoming and Louisiana.

So, let's hear from three reporters who are on the so-called front lines in those states that are among the least vaccinated.

We're going to talk with reporters of "The New Orleans Times Picayune", "The Clarion-Ledger" in Mississippi, and Alabama's leading news website,

So, here's everybody -- Emily Woodruff is the health reporter at "The Picayune" and "New Orleans Advocate"; Keisha Rowe is a reporter for "The Clarion-Ledger"; and Leada Gore is a veteran reporter at It's known as the Alabama Media Group, which includes a lot of physical, printed newspapers, as well as digital operation there.

Thank you all for coming on the program and sharing your personal stories.

Keisha, how frustrating is it to be covering this story every day and feeling like people aren't listening?

KEISHA ROWE, REPORTER, CLARION-LEDGER: It is really frustrating, because on one hand, you have all this new information that's coming out from, you know, health experts every day like the CDC and NIH and everything like that. But on the other hand, you have people in influencer roles or, you know, political figures that are arguing against all of this information. And not only that, but we also have misinformation that's circulating around on social media.

So, we all have to report on that and it creates a really confusing ton of voice for our readers which, you know, obviously, because we're the ones reporting it, that obviously makes us kind the lightning rod for people who are saying, well, what's really going on?


STELTER: Right. That's what I am wondering. Does it get personal? Does it -- Leada, do reporters face backlash, Leada, for just reporting the COVID truth?

LEADA GORE, REPORTER, ALABAMA MEDIA GROUP/AL.COM: Oh, every day. I can have a story that shows you we added 1,000 cases and I will receive 20 emails saying that the numbers are made up.


But it goes back to the distrust of the source, and then we're the conveyor of that source. And that's what we're seeing here in Alabama.

STELTER: So, what do you do about that? When you get those emails, people are saying this is made up?

GORE: Well, there are some people whose minds you are not going to change. And then there are some people whose minds, you know, that they are still wanting to hear more. And a lot of it is just people are very, very frustrated in our state with changing information. Not necessarily misinformation, but just where do you go for the most accurate information? Because it changes every day.

STELTER: Right, right.

Emily, I know you recently were interviewing people in the field about why they only decided to get vaccinated in July instead of, you know, March.

What have you heard on the ground?

EMILY WOODRUFF, HEALTH REPORTER, THE TIMES-PICAYUNE AND NEW ORLEANS ADVOCATE: You know, I've heard some surprising things, honestly. I think the vaccine hesitation is very nuanced. And there are many reasons why people haven't gotten it.

But I've heard, you know, everything from -- I just wasn't that scared of it to, you know, I meant to get it, but I just didn't, or delta really scared me. Or I thought I would be able to fight it off. So, you know, reasons are varied -- as varied as the people are.

STELTER: I do hear all of you bringing up misinformation, people telling tall tales and made up lies. How do you react, Keisha, when you were interviewing someone in

Mississippi who has bought this misinformation? Do you try to present the facts to them neutrally? How do you handle it?

ROWE: You try to be as neutral as possible, but even when you present those facts, you know, people do their own research. Google is free. So, unfortunately, a lot of people try to make a counter-argument or something like that and, oftentimes, leads to a big roadblock because once people, you know, have a viewpoint that butts up against what they believe, obviously, they're going to shut down.

So, that just makes it supremely difficult in some situations.

STELTER: Emily, same thing for you?

WOODRUFF: Yeah. I mean, you -- you're there to listen to them, right? You're there to hear them out. And I find sometimes that's helped. But I do find myself sharing, you know, more resources with these people, more of my personal information about getting the vaccine.


STELTER: You did it personally? That's interesting.

WOODRUFF: Yeah. You know, I was with a woman recently at one of these vaccine sites, and we got the same vaccine. And I could see how nervous she was.

And I kind of just told her what happened to me, you know, which was really nothing, and, you know --

STELTER: Right, what didn't happen. Yeah.

WOODRUFF: Right, right.

STELTER: Well, maybe what we're sharing here can help each other in this conversation and help viewers at home.

But, Leada, how do you handle the misinformation issues that Emily and Keisha are describing?

GORE: Well, one of the things we undertook -- because we're in the least vaccinated state in America is -- as Alabama Media Group, we decided to take questions from our audience and just say, what are your -- you know, what is keeping you from getting this vaccine? And then we broke those questions down and went to experts all over the state.

And experts at a real super hyper local level as opposed to like a state health doctor. So, it was a local doctor talking about concerns. And I think -- we broke it down into digestible, you know, topics that allowed people to -- I'm concerned about this, what does a local doctor say?

Because I really think we're realizing in Alabama that that -- that information needs to come from the ground up as opposed to the top down. And I think the response to that has been a lot more positive than just, this is what a state health officer told us today.

STELTER: Right. You know, the end of the day, this is hopefully a way to win the trust of the audience. But, clearly, there are some folks who don't want to hear what is true and they would rather live in this misinformation bubble.

So, Emily, do you come away feeling, you know, like more or less confident in journalism throughout all of this?

WOODRUFF: You know, I don't know. I think -- yes, people do get their information from -- you know, what I say might not convince someone, right? Like -- but what they say, and their friends and their family -- those are very convincing things.

STELTER: True, yeah.

WOODRUFF: You know, what was said about hospitals and, you know, the person that you know their credentials are, you know, from LSU, for example, that's going to convince someone a little bit more. But, you know, I'm that person who is putting that information out there.

STELTER: What about you, Keisha? How has COVID changed how you view journalism?

ROWE: It's -- it's realize -- it made me realize that it's a lot tougher of a job than I ever imagined honestly, you know?


I love journalism. Obviously, I wouldn't be here if I didn't.

But, you know, reporting this day in and day out, and facing those difficulties, and trying to inform the public and just having so much backlash, it sometimes makes you question a lot of things. But at the end of the day, it just makes me a little bit hungrier to get the information out there even more.


ROWE: Because, obviously, there is so much information around. Somebody has to correct it. And that's our job.

STELTER: We have to keep trying, yeah.

Thank you all for what you're doing in each state.

Up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES, the ad that even Fox News refused to run. Why the network is in an escalating pillow fight with MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.



(COMMERCIAL BREAK) STELTER: A good night's sleep more like a nightmare. I'm talking about

My Pillow CEO, Mike Lindell, pulling his ads from Fox News after the network declined to run one of his commercials, promoting crazy claims about voter fraud. So, Lindell is trying to hold a live stream later this month about how, you know, Trump is the real president and Biden really lost, yada, yada, yada, and Fox rejected the ad.

And maybe they're just afraid of the lawsuits from Dominion and Smartmatic. But for whatever reason, they have broken off ties with Lindell because when Fox refused to run that one ad, Lindell said, I'm not going to run any ads on your channel anymore. Lindell was one of Fox's top advertisers, often supporting hosts like Tucker Carlson, when other advertisers avoided him. According to The Wall Street Journal, My Pillow spent almost $50 million with Fox last year, and about $90 million so far this year.

So, they have had a mutually beneficial relationship. Lindell has sold a lot of pillows thanks to Fox. But now, he says he's leaving Fox, he's going to go off and do his live stream and try to prove how Trump is going to be reinstated. And these delusions are dangerous to democracy. You know, we'll see what happens with Lindell and his defamation lawsuits, and he's being sued. And He's countersuing over all these voter fraud claims.

But his descent into this fantasy land, where the big lie is all consuming, where he's selling something that he can't possibly deliver, it has repercussions well beyond Fox News. Let's talk about it with Jared Holt. He's the resident fellow at -- for the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council.

And Anne Applebaum, staff writer for The Atlantic who just profiled Lindell and interviewed him. The profiles title is "The MyPillow Guy Really Could Destroy Democracy." So, Anne, that's not subtle. Tell us why he could.

ANNE APPLEBAUM, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: I think it's important to understand that Michael Lindell is not sui generis. There are -- have been other people like him in history, there are people who have been so deeply convinced of -- on something that can't possibly be true, and nevertheless have put all of their energy and all of their money and all of their time into seeking to prove it.

And who -- and who perceive every reaction, every counter reaction, every attack on themselves as Lindell does is further proof that they were right. And so, he's somebody who's going to continue to pursue his elaborate theory about voter fraud, which involves Chinese meddling with machines in all 50 states, something that can't possibly have happened it nevertheless, he believes very deeply, and he's going to pursue it, you know, until he runs out of money, I presume.

STELTER: Yes, it seems that way.

APPLEBAUM: And although he may not -- he may not succeed, what he will help to do is loosen further American sense that their democracy works, that their voter system is secure, that the people who observe and monitor their elections are honest, people are beginning to lose that sense probably on all sides of the political spectrum because of these constant attacks. And he's someone who's not going to stop.

STELTER: Jared, when Mike Lindell says, hey, Fox is being unfair, they're being libs. Some Fox viewers might ignore him, but it could actually hurt Fox, could it?

JARED HOLT, RESIDENT FELLOW, DIGITAL FORENSIC RESEARCH LAB AT THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL: It could hurt Fox. You know, historically, Fox has had a pretty solid grip on the larger conservative base. But after the 2020 election as this misinformation, and false claims about fraud in the election have circulated and been amplified by major power brokers in the GOP, including former President Trump himself, it seems like part of the GOP faction is almost moving faster than, you know, further right than Fox News can keep up with.

STELTER: Interesting.

HOLT: And especially with the threat of lawsuits and, you know, just appearing completely off base, part of the Trump, you know, following is moving off into its own direction. And with Lindell pulling ads from Fox News, I'm curious to see if that money he was spending there will go towards the kind of misinformation and disinformation that's, you know, rampant online that he's also involved in.

STELTER: Interesting. The banner right now -- I wrote this banner, says, you know, Fox has lost him for now. I'm skeptical about how long this is going to last. I think he'll come back when people stop buying sheets and towels. Certainly, the view at Fox is that they, you know, they don't need him as much as he needs them. But we'll see if that's actually true in the months to come.

So, Anne and Jared, stick around. I want to come back to you both on the point you were just making, Jared, about this alternative universe. The big lie does keep spreading in new directions that don't get a lot of attention from mainstream media, but it's out there on the fringes. It's Googleable, it's live streamed, and right now, it seems like Mark Meadows is trying to portray Donald Trump as the alt president.



STELTER: If you want to understand the American divide, just look at the Nielsen ratings, look at the ratings for the January 6th hearing when police officers testified about the attack and the violence. The red line is the Fox News audience. The Fox News ratings fell in half.

The CNN and MSNBC audiences obviously rose because there was a big news story. It was a big news event. So, Fox viewers turned to the channel, they turned it off they, did not want to hear about the police officers being attacked and brutalized and called those words.

Back with me is Jared Holt and Anne Applebaum. Sorry. It just -- it pisses me off, you know, to see we're in this country where you've got these right-wing channels, even when they air the hearings and, by the way, one American news act like the hearing wasn't even happening. When Fox and Newsmax aired the hearings, viewers didn't want to see it. So, Jared, what is that? What do you call that? Do you have a name for that?


HOLT: Yes, I think of this as a parallel media universe, almost. You know, if you look at people like Michael Lindell or some of the things coming out of Fox News, it can almost seem like they're on a different world, they came down from a spaceship, and they're not existing in the same reality. But as far as where people are getting their information that have these kind of ideas, they might as well be.

You know, there's a whole series of media operations of live streams, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, that are running parallel to news media that is trusted and factual and reported. And the two lanes don't touch. You know, the folks walking a (INAUDIBLE) --


STELTER: They don't touch at all. Let's underscore that, Jared. You think it's like two train tracks, and they do not ever cross at all?

HOLT: They will maybe sometimes overlap a little bit. But most of the time, people in this parallel track on the right-wing side, won't ever encounter information that would counter, you know, falsehoods that they're believing, except in the context of mockery or cherry picked out to serve that parallel track in its own way.

STELTER: What I hear you saying is, hey, hey, political reporters, it's worse than you think. It's not just about left-leaning and right- leaning, it's parallel worlds, never the train shall meet. And, Anne, is this related to what happened on Newsmax couple days ago? Mark Meadows was over on Newsmax talking about Donald Trump as if he's the current president, saying President Trump, not former president, and saying, there's a Cabinet meeting.

Trump's holding a cabinet meeting with cabinet members at his golf club, moving forward in a real way. Now, he's probably just talking about the midterms, right? He's referencing the future elections. But that idea of Trump as the alt president, that's something I see in far-right TV, it's what I see on one American news, where they talk about Trump as if he is President Trump, like they're pretending he's still in power.

APPLEBAUM: And in that world, he is. He's still, in their mind, he really is still the president, he was cheated out of the election. And at some point in (INAUDIBLE) as soon as this month, he will be reinstated. That's a deep and widely held belief.

And it's really important that news channels like yours report on its existence, and that was why I wrote about Mike Lindell, because I felt that, you know, people who don't normally read him or follow him should know that a part of the Republican Party, a part of -- I wouldn't even call them conservatives. I mean, but a part of the alt media, the alternative universe genuinely believes this, and it's not a joke. And their actions are going to have consequences for the rest of us in due course.

STELTER: Anne and Jared, thank you both for the warning. Coming up, a question that I know many people tiptoe around. We're just going to take it head on, the cult of Trump. Congresswoman Jackie Speier narrowly escaped the Jonestown Massacre. She was shot there and she was left for dead. She's going to share her thoughts about cults after the break.



STELTER: Hey, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES, live in the U.S. and all around the world. And one of the great things about being shown on CNN International is that I hear from viewers who observe American political dysfunction from an outsider's point of view. These citizens and other countries sometimes e-mail me and say, you know, why doesn't the American media just call out Trump for what he is, call Trump fandom for what it is? Sometimes they use the word, cult. I know that's a sensitive word. It doesn't come up a lot in American news coverage.

So, I wanted to put it to an expert, an unfortunate expert, Congresswoman Jackie Speier started out her career in politics, working for a lawmaker. She's on a fact-finding mission to Jonestown. She sadly knows firsthand about the weight of that word, cult. She was able to escape with her life, others were not able to that day. So, I wanted to hear her thoughts about the comparison, the notion of the cult of Trump, especially in the light of January 6th, and the mass delusion that led people to a riot of lies on Capitol Hill. When I brought this up with her, she did not mince words.


REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): There's no question that you could compare Jim Jones as a charismatic leader, who would bring his congregation together, forced them to do things that were illegal, and then took 900 of them into the jungles of Guyana, where over the course of time, he then convinced them that they should die. I've never been able to say they committed suicide because I don't think they were in control of their faculties, to be quite honest with you.

So, you look at Donald Trump, charismatic leader, who was able to continue to talk in terms that appealed to those who are disaffected, disillusioned, and who were looking for something, much like those who became part of Jim Jones's congregation, the People's Temple. They were lost souls. And the only difference between Jim Jones and Donald Trump is the fact that we now have social media. So, all these people can find themselves in ways that they couldn't find themselves before.


So, he basically was a merchant of deceit, both of them merchants of deceit, both of them making people not look at facts, not think independently. And so, a story for them that was indeed destructive.

STELTER: It's scary to hear that when you have observed the Trump phenomenon, you have seen similarities to Jonestown.

SPEIER: Well, it wasn't something I wanted to connect the dots to. In fact, I wrote my memoir two years ago and did a book tour. And that question came up over and over and over again. And then, it really forced me to think about it. And then, we saw what happened on January 6th.

How can you not recognize that that was an illegal act, that you were being asked by this charismatic leader to go do something that was going to be destructive? And you went and did it anyway.

STELTER: So, after January 6th, you're saying you started to see even more of these parallels.

SPEIER: Not only did I see more of those parallels, but I then saw it in my own colleagues in Congress, the big lie is now been embraced by the majority of members on the Republican side in the House of Representatives. They are now paralyzed to speak truth. They know it, they know that the election was not stolen.

They know that it was held properly. They know that there was not massive fraud, and yet, they will continue to mal those words because their leader, Donald Trump, wants to hear them. And because they are so linked to him.

STELTER: Are you saying they are in a cult? Are they in a cult?

SPEIER: Well, they may not know they're in a cult. But in fact, if they cannot think independently anymore, if they cannot look at the truth and speak the truth, they are, I think, exhibiting cult-like behavior.

STELTER: You'll hear voices on Fox say, they're trying to call every one of the 75 million Trump voters terrorists and racists, or in this conversation, they would say cultists. So, how do you differentiate -- how do you try to differentiate between people that are just totally given into the whatever Trumpism is versus other voters? Do you -- do you differentiate?

SPEIER: I would say that, you know, Trump voters are on different levels. A Trump voter who came out in January 6th, who believed the big lie, who then attacked the Capitol, who was -- who were looking to assassinate the Vice President and the Speaker of the House, they are members of a cult. They have embraced Donald Trump, and they will do anything he wants, even if it is wrong, illegal, and harmful to themselves. I don't put every Trump supporter in that category now.

STELTER: Right, far from it. You know, you mentioned last souls, loneliness, isolation. There have been a couple of writers talking about this subject this week, as it pertains to Trump and Trump support. Michelle Goldberg, Matt Lewis, to name two. They're suggesting, you know, what is the link between loneliness, isolation, and communities and support for the former president?

SPEIER: I think those who find themselves engulfed in cult-like organizations are looking for something, either they're isolated and alone, don't have family, they're looking for a new family, or they have somehow been disillusioned in life. And so, they're looking for something that can, you know, give them a sense of empowerment.


STELTER: Empowerment, really interesting there. Speier also said that voters need to recognize the media is the means by which we were able to protect democracy. We're going to share more from the interview on After the break here, did NBC's pressure to succeed play a role in Simone Biles withdrawing.



STELTER: Now, to the intersection of media personalities and profits beginning with Simone Biles. She stood up for herself in her own health this week, generating headlines around the world including one from slate, saying Olympics broadcaster NBC seemed oblivious to its role in ramping up the pressure on her. Columnist Matt Buckler also weighed in on NBC's hype machine saying the network once stars and its Olympics coverage, and stars produce ratings.

That's all true, but an Olympics rating slump was inevitable to some degree with or without Biles. And so many people are streaming T.V. on their own schedules instead of waiting till 8:00 p.m. to watch the highlights in primetime. NBC says it's Tokyo Olympics bet will still be profitable, partly thanks to streaming, but there's ample reason to be skeptical about that.

For a giant like NBC, old school broadcasting is the easy way to make money. Streaming is a lot trickier right now. And Scarlett Johansson can relate to that. A bit like Biles, she stood up for herself this week by suing Disney, alleging breach of contract because they released her film Black Widow on Disney+ and in theaters at the same time.

Her suit says streaming ripped her off, depriving her a box office bonuses that she banked on. Basically, for her, streaming is less profitable. This is as CNBC's (INAUDIBLE) put 2021's biggest entertainment dilemma. If you're confused about where to find your favorite Olympic sport, if you're unclear why some movies go straight to streaming while others don't or costs extra, it's all because companies are trying to find the most profitable paths for their content while holding on to your eyeballs.

We're in this confusing transition period of pluses like Disney+, but the alternative is irrelevance. Considered today's big birthday boy, MTV. Today, Sunday, is MTV's 40th anniversary. Most media critics would say MTV is like a historical artifact at this point. Important back then, but mostly irrelevant right now. It's a big profitable business for Viacom, though.

It still makes a lot of money through cable, but will it find enough streaming success to survive for another 40 years? The Washington Post said it best early this year. All these media companies doing the same thing, they're trying to hold on to old money while pursuing the new. That's a wrap for RELIABLE SOURCES this week. We will see you online and back here on T.V. next week.