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Analyzing Media Coverage Of Biden's Biggest Month; The "Big Lie" Is Being Transported To California; Analyzing Media Coverage Of Biden's Biggest Month; Eighteen Months Since Everything Changed; DOJ Sues Texas Over Six-Week Abortion Ban; Reporters Raise Questions About U.S. Drone Strike. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired September 12, 2021 - 11:00   ET



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

This hour, how low will they go? GOP media laying the groundwork to lie about the California recall result. We'll have an analysis from L.A.

Plus, what is everybody getting wrong about the abortion law in Texas? We're going to go live to Austin for a fact check on that.

And we are at the 18-month mark of the pandemic. So, what is the two- month cycle and why is delta such a media dilemma? We have COVID insights coming up that you won't hear anywhere else.

But, first, how news sources should be covering a critical point in Biden's presidency. He is facing some serious headwinds right now. These headlines tell that story.

He is coming off the Afghanistan withdrawal, and now, this may be the single most important month of President Biden's tenure, between vaccine pressure, booster plans, infrastructure talks and a potentially life-changing social policy bill.

We've all heard the numbers, right? The dollar figures: $3.5 trillion is the usual shorthand heard on TV news.

Today, Senator Manchin says he won't vote for a bill that is that big.

So, we hear the price tag constantly, but what's being purchased? How much do you know about the purpose of the social safety net bill?

Democrats are, in the words of "The New York Times," undertaking the most significant expansion of the country's safety net since the war on poverty in '60s, devising legislation that would touch virtually every America's life, from cradle to grave.

But how much do you know about the proposals? How much are you hearing in the news coverage about what's actually being presented? And do you know the money is being budgeted not for one year, but for ten years? I guess calling it a $350 billion a year plan over ten years, for ten years is more complicated. It takes more time than just sticking a big round number on it.

And come to think of it, don't advocates on both sides have reason to amp up the number and make it sounds as big as possible?

Let's talk about the coverage and how it's framed, and how this bill -- how this bill should be covered.

With me is David Leonhardt, senior writer for "The New York Times"; April Ryan, CNN political analyst and White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief for "TheGrio"; and Will Bunch., national columnist for "The Philadelphia Inquirer".

Welcome, everybody.

David, we just heard on the "STATE OF THE UNION", Joe Manchin say that he's not going to go for a $3.5 trillion deal. It's a big number. It's a round number.

Democrats want to sound like they're making huge progress. Republicans want to oppose massive spending. So, it's in everybody's interests to amp this up and make it sound as big as possible.

But doesn't that single big round number, whatever it ends up being, isn't that an incomplete story?

DAVID LEONHARDT, SENIOR WRITER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yeah, I think incomplete is the right word, Brian. Meaning, the cost of it is a relevant detail and we should be using it in the coverage. I certainly use it.

But I think there are two problems with the extent to which we've all fixated on it. The first is that the human mind doesn't actually know what 3.5 trillion is. In fact, we can't really distinguish between $3.5 trillion and $3.5 billion. I mean, we just don't ever deal --


LEONHARDT: -- I know the difference between two and three, because I deal with two and three in my life. Do I want two slices of pizza or three? I never deal with trillions or billions. So, the number itself is a little bit -- is a little bit vague. It just means like big number.

And then I think the second thing is that it plays into the hands a little bit of the opponents of the bill.


LEONHARDT: The opponents really want to emphasize its size, but its size is relevant. But what it does is also relevant.

So, if we'll ever do is use the size as opposed to saying this bill, it would make pre-K universal for 3 and 4-year-olds. It would reduce carbon emissions, and probably slow climate change. It would bring a tax benefit to the child tax benefit to every family with a child in the country, or almost every family.

In a weird way, it's sort of form of bias. And I actually think in part that highlights a political weakness of how the Biden administration has been selling it. They haven't given anyone any other way of selling the bill because it's sort of such a hodgepodge of different things. There's really no way to describe it easily except the $3.5 trillion bill.

STELTER: Yeah, I was trying social safety net bill, which doesn't roll off the tongue either.

April, do you think viewers and readers are reading enough about the substance in the bill?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know what, Brian? I'm glad you asked that. You know, as we talk about the commas and zeros, billion or trillion, the issue is, how does it impact me?


And the messaging is not necessarily there.

In this moment of crisis, when this administration is trying to stop the economy from faltering, what's in it for the average person? They are hearing all this back and forth, who is supporting, who is not, what they want in it, what they don't. But how does it specifically impact the American person, the average American?

And that's what's being lost in all of this, the messaging. If the Biden administration could come out with those -- they used to call them the victims in other administrations, when they stand next to them saying, I -- this would do this for me.


RYAN: They're not doing that as much. And people want to feel connected. And there is lack of connection here.

STELTER: Will, what do you see about this? You know, do you think the average American has figured out what's in this bill? Or is it a Biden White House messaging failure? Is this a press challenge? What do you say, Will?

WILL BUNCH, NATIONAL COLUMNIST, THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Well, I think one thing that's really been missing for the messaging is the other side of the equation, which is, how do you pay for this? Now that -- I mean, the Biden administration really wants to pay for this by increasing taxes on the wealthy and to some extent increasing taxes on corporations. And that is a very politically popular idea. You know, the majority of Americans support raising taxes on the wealthy.

And, you know, when you talk about the messaging in this bill, you know, maybe it should be portrayed as a fairness act because we're talking about two different related things here. One is helping the middle class through these programs like child care, like free community college. But the other is bringing some fairness back to the system and having billionaires and millionaires pay their pair share for all of this.

STELTER: But, David, as we go along in the weeks to come and let's say it ends up being a $2 trillion bill, the way Senator Manchin wants. Shouldn't we be saying it is a $200 billion a year bill for ten years? Isn't that the more accurate framing?

LEONHARDT: Yeah, I do think that's the more accurate framing. I mean, maybe even better would be if we could compare to other programs, right?


LEONHARDT: What are other programs that cost $200 billion a year? Because I still think there is still this problem that $200 billion --

STELTER: Still too big.

LEONHARDT: -- is a number most of us can't deal with. It's still too big, yeah.

STELTER: It's still too big. Right, OK, that's interesting.

Will, I want to ask you about coverage of Afghanistan because you've been outspoken about the media's coverage of the withdrawal of Afghanistan. You know, now, a couple of weeks have passed. Now we have a little bit of perspective about what went right and what went wrong last month and how it was covered by the media.

So, now, now that we can take a breath, what's your assessment, Will, of how the American media covered the withdrawal this summer?

BUNCH: Well, it's kind of a mixed bag because we are seeing some amazing individual pieces of journalism right now. You know, just this weekend, both "The Washington Post." and "New York Times" did a remarkable job digging behind this drone strike that, you know, the Pentagon claimed hit members of the ISIS-K terrorist group that were about to attack the airport.

Well, it turns out it appears to have been an aid worker who was on our side who had no weapons, and as part of the collateral damage, seven children were killed.

STELTER: And we're going to have both reporters -- we're going to have reporters from both outlets on later this hour. Just let everybody know. So, there is that reporting going on. But also --

BUNCH: But also, you know, by and large, the feeding frenzy that we've seen in the mainstream media over last month, you know, has really been driven by a combination of factors. You know, I mean the media has been so anxious to find an adversarial role in the Biden era. And, you know, they've seen this as their opportunity to pounce on this. As a result, there has been, I think, a lot of overkill.

And part of that is personal. You know, there is a lot of good reporters, including some on this network, who kind of made a name for themselves covering the war in Afghanistan. And I think they don't like the idea that maybe the war was maybe fought for nothing for these last 20 years.

And, you know, they have a lot of personal ties. People have these personal connections in Afghanistan who worked there as journalists, to translators, to aid workers, and whatnot. It makes it at more personal story for them.

But you know, we need to take a step back and think about the average American citizen who doesn't have those ties who's wondering what we just spent $2.2 trillion for.

STELTER: April, you're a White House correspondent, do you agree there was a feeding frenzy among White House reporters and others when it came to the Afghan withdrawal?

RYAN: Well, generally, the White House press corps is a hypersensitive group that kind of goes in one meld.

But when it comes to this president and meeting this critical moments, I believe that the White House correspondents that are legitimately covering this president are being very sober in their approach because he at this moment has got to meet the moment -- the moment of Afghanistan, the moment of COVID, the moment of so many things that we've never seen before. And it's not just a moment of history.


It's a moment of life and death.

And I do believe that we are not hypersensitive about this. We are able to bring you detail that we haven't been before.

And this president is looking for a win. And Afghanistan is not necessarily that win, but we are covering every moment of it. So I give the press a great grade for covering this president and Afghanistan, and primarily, this whole administration, this entire administration thus far.

STELTER: April, thank you. Will and David, please stick around on different topics, I want to bring you back later in the hour.

We have stunning, as I mentioned with Will, those new stunning reports from "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" reconstructing the U.S. drone strike in Kabul that killed civilians. We're going to talk about this new type of forensic journalism, coming up.

But, first, live to California, with two days until the California recall, are right-wing media lies about cheating really the new normal?



STELTER: Two days until the California recall election, and the right- wing media is setting the stage for something. What should we call it? Maybe it's act two of the big lie. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOMI LAHREN, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: The only thing that will save Gavin Newsom is voter fraud.

STELTER (voice-over): That's a new narrative on the right that's sounding all too familiar. Fox News star Tomi Lahren diving deep into voter fraud conspiracy.

LAHREN: Pay attention to the voter fraud going on in California because it is going to have big consequences not only for that state but for upcoming elections.

STELTER: She's directing her warning at the Democratic governor of California, Gavin Newsom, who is fighting to keep his office in next week's recall election.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ballot harvesting that Democrats will do.

STELTER: This is an emerging storyline on Fox, a prebuttal to the election, basically claiming the Democrats can only win if they somehow cheat. It is the big lie playbook flown from D.C. to Sacramento.

GRANT STINCHFIELD, THE MORNING ANSWER AM870: They are going to cheat to win. The mail-in ballot scheme is rigged.

STELTER: And let's be clear, there has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud but the trusted voices on Fox like Tucker Carlson has been issuing veiled warning for weeks, which are false.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Non-citizens can vote.

STELTER: History never repeats itself, but it often rhymes.

Trump's tactics last winter now seem to be applied to the recall with Newsome's chances of surviving looking pretty good, fraud is presented as an excuse to explain away any future Republican loss.


STELTER: And with me now from L.A. is "Los Angeles Times" columnist Jean Guerrero. She's also the author of "Hatemonger", a book about Stephen Miller and Trump.

And back with me is "The Philadelphia Inquirer's" Will Bunch.

First to you, Jean. Is the amount, the intensity this voter fraud cry, is it in direct relationship to Newsom's strengthening performance in the early vote n the return of ballots, in the polling? You know, there is this sense that Newsom has an advantage. Is that why Larry Elder and others are talking about voter fraud?

JEAN GUERRERO, COLUMNIST, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Exactly. Polls are starting to reflect that people largely want to keep Newsom in office. We have 60 percent saying they are against the recall they want to keep Newsom in office. A lot is driven by voters of color, particularly Latinos, who are now 66 percent against the recall.

So, you see Larry Elder relying on this big lie because he understands that Californians are very likely to reject him as the next governor of California. And the only way that he can sort of explain this loss away is by claiming that it was stolen from him in the same way that Trump claimed that the 2020 election.

He has always been an agent of Trumpism. I think that reflects him and disenfranchising voters and attacking democracy in a way that Democrats have been doing across the country.

STELTER: You have been an outspoken critic to elder. He has been a right wing radio host for decades. But then he sparred with the media that's been covering the campaign. He's still the leading contending among the Republicans in this recall. So, do you think he was able to get around the media and reach voters in California? Was he able to run a Trump playbook in the state.

GUERRERO: I mean, kind of. He's essentially been running his campaign on Fox News and right wing media outlets. He refused to talk to nonpartisan media outlets and journalists who are critical of him, has refused to answer media questions, uses the time he has on social media to denounce those journalists and playing the victim.

But he has been able to reach the minority of voters in California who embrace his white supremacist world view. He co-opted this line by my fellow columnist in from the headlines, calling him the black face of white supremacy.

But he refuses to engage with the actual substance of our reporting, you know, the idea that his views were shaped by a well-known white supremacist, a man named Jared Taylor, who we quoted in early writings, that he plans to reverse all the state's progress on immigrant rights and racial justice. And that he poses a real threat to communities of color for all the reasons that we have reported in the past.

STELTER: Clearly, "The L.A. Times" opinion folks, you and others, have been very much against Elder. We will see what impact if any that has had in two days.

I like the word you used about Elder and the media, his performance. He performs his anti-media pose when he's on Fox and elsewhere. That's what we hear from the former president as well.

I want to play a brand-new clip that I think should be getting more attention than it is getting from Donald Trump. This is an interview from the Gateway Pundit, which is a fringe right wing organization that has been so awful, so toxic in terms of election disinformation that Google has taken its ability to sell or to put ads up. So, it's demonetized the Gateway Pundit.

So, in the same week that Google took that step, a dramatic step, Trump calls in to the Gateway Pundit. Here's what he said about the 2020 election.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (via telephone): I do believe they are going to decertify this election.


STELTER: That's his fantasy now. His fantasy is they are going to decertify it.

But, Jean, as you said, when these folks don't talk to real journalists or to, you know, people who are going to challenge them, we don't actually get answers to what they are talking about.

So, Trump is saying they are going to decertify the election. Who? Who he's talking about, right? It is just a fantasy.

But I want to play what he also said about the press, because he complained that even Fox is not taking his fantasy seriously.


TRUMP: It's never been a stronger issue. The only problem is the press doesn't like talking about it, including Fox. The press doesn't like talking about it. And some day, somebody is going to tell me why.


STELTER: Will, can you tell the former press why the press doesn't like talking about his lies?

BUNCH: Right. Well, I mean the 2020 election has been audited and re- audited and recounted and --

STELTER: It's like boring at this point.

BUNCH: Yeah, exactly. But you know, it won't go away.

And I'm glad you are doing this segment because it's not just a California story. I'm here in Pennsylvania. We had news this week that the Republicans who have a majority in the state legislature in Pennsylvania are now launching this official review with subpoenas and whatnot of the 2020 election.

You know, I mean, if you want to credit Donald Trump for anything, it's persistence. I mean, he refuses to let this go away. You know, he keeps prodding for openings. You know? And, look, I mean, California is a state --


STELTER: Here's a problem, right, Will -- he might not believe it, but his fans do. So, this stuff gets spun up on the right wing web. It goes from the Gateway Pundit over to OAN. It gets spread around to millions of people who are still living a real time fantasy or, you know, nightmare about the 2020 election even though it is 2022. BUNCH: Yeah, but there is a symbiotic relationship between the right

wing media and right wing politicians because the more that the right wing politicians like these legislatures in Pennsylvania launch these investigations and reviews and call them audits even though they are not really audits, the more they do that, the more oxygen they are giving to these reporters to keep these stories alive.

And, of course -- of course, viewers are going to think there is something to it. You know, why would -- why would the Pennsylvania state legislature launch this investigation if there wasn't fraud, you know? Well, there wasn't fraud but they are doing it anyway.

STELTER: Hmm. Well, let me give a preview of what's coming up next week, everybody. The new Bob Woodward book, written with Bob Costas, it's called "Peril". It comes out in nine days. That means the leaks are going to start in a day or two. So, we're going to see leaks from this book in the coming days.

Let me read what Jean's paper, "The L.A. Times" reported about "Peril". Details about the book are locked down, but publisher Jonathan Karp promises, quote, it will be newsworthy on an international scale.

That's an interesting quote. We don't quite know what that means. But we are going to hear about "Peril" a lot in the coming days.

My question for you, Jean, as the author of a book about Trump and Stephen Miller, do these books still matter? They do matter? Do the revelations, every month or two about Trump's conduct, do they matter anymore? Because Trump's fans probably won't hear about them.

GUERRERO: You know, I think they matter by incentivizing people who otherwise would not vote to come out and vote. I mean, honestly, I can't really say. I just -- I mean, I think it is important to continue to shed light on things that happened in the Trump administration, and you know, hope that the information reaches the people it needs to reach.

But Trump supporters, they already live in a parallel universe. That information is never going to reach them. It's very unlikely that they're going to change their minds. So, it's about informing and reaching audiences who are still engaged with reality and with serious journalism and who understand the importance that journalism plays in our democracy.

STELTER: Jean and Will, thank you both for the conversation.

Up next, sweeping mandates for shots. How is the media covering vaccinations? Is it still being treated as 50/50 issue when it is not? We're going to have fresh insight from David Leonhardt, next.



STELTER: Has the pandemic changed your sense of time? It has definitely changed mine. I measure months and seasons differently now.

This weekend, it has been 18 months since America began to shut down. 18 months since that unforgettable day when the NBA canceled games and Tom Hanks said he had COVID and it all started to go down.

My son was six months old then. I thought all this would be over by the time he went to school. I hoped he would never have to learn how to wear a mask. But he just turned 2, and school starts tomorrow. So, he is masking up. That's how I measure time now.


America is stuck in a strange phase of this pandemic, this in-between time with unnecessary pain and suffering among the unvaccinated. Hospitals, still unfairly overwhelmed in some places, offices, still empty in too many places, buildings, frozen in time, but at the same time, tentpole events are back.

The media business is back, the vaccinated NFL season is underway, the vaccinated Met Ball is tomorrow, the Emmys are on, Broadway shows are reopening, life can feel quite normal.

But then, you see headlines like this, those Broadway shows, well, they're seeing sluggish ticket sales, and those shots, those live shots of full stadiums can make some people uneasy. It's a weird in- between era of normal, but also not normal, frozen, and not frozen at the same time.

Back with me as David Leonhardt of the New York Times, he has been taking the lead on talking about rational risk. And I noticed President Biden citing one of your data points this week, David, tell us what that data point was and why it's important?

LEONHARDT: So, there's been so much talk a breakthrough infect -- infections and breakthrough infections are real. But I think a lot of vaccinated people have heard so much coverage about them, that they have almost come to think that they're the norm and so I set out to calculate just what are your odds of getting a breakthrough infection.

And the nationwide average, which obviously mixes people taking lots of risks and no risks, and mixes people in low vaccination Mississippi, and high vaccination Massachusetts, it seems to be about one in 5000 per day. If you live in the northeast, it's probably below one in 10,000. Now, that's every day, so over time, you know, over a week that would build up.

But basically, it looks like your average odds of getting a confirmed breakthrough infection of COVID over a three-month period would be about 1 percent. So, it's still extremely unusual. It happens but it's extremely unusual.

And I think a lot of vaccinated people have come to overestimate the odds that they're actually going to get a breakthrough infection, let alone that they're going to get very sick. If they do get one, the odds are it'll be quite mild. STELTER: Yet, grossly generalizing here. Vaccinated folks are safer than they tend to think, and unvaccinated folks are in more danger than they tend to think, and there's an imbalance that exists. And Delta's made that more difficult, isn't it David? Have you struggled with how to cover the variant?

LEONHARDT: I have because I mean, look, before Delta, the chances that a vaccinated person would get sick, really sick and that's what we care about, right? We don't shut down schools, and shut down Broadway, or stop going to Broadway because of the flu, and we have the flu every year, so what we care about is really, really sick. Before Delta, the odds that a vaccinated person would get truly sick were infinitesimally small, I mean, really approaching zero.

They are still approaching zero, but they are higher than they used to be. Delta has raised the risk while still leaving it very small and that's really hard to talk about.

I mean, I think I -- do think for, if you are immunocompromised, if you are over the age of, I don't know, 70 or 80, looking at the statistics, Delta seems to have changed in a meaningful way, taking it from extremely, extremely low, maybe just too very low.

But if you aren't in one of those categories, the odds are still so, so, so small that you're going to get very sick, but they're a little higher than they used to be. And getting that balance right is just inherently difficult for the media to do, and it's inherently difficult for people to think about in their own lives.

STELTER: Right. We see the CDC and the White House having communications challenges and the press when it comes to this. Do you think that it's fair to say that the COVID reality about vaccines is being distorted by fringe voices, by the minority because, you know, this is not a 50-50 story anymore, three and four adults have gotten one shot at least, you know, have one dose of vaccine. So, this is not a 50-50 story.

If anything, it's a three on one -- three versus one story with one- quarter of the country not getting vaccinated. But I don't know, I hear a lot of stories, I read a lot on social media about fights at school board meetings, and angry unvaccinated Americans and I think it seems to me like those minority voices are being overly amplified, perhaps.

LEONHARDT: I think that's true. I mean, some of that is natural, right? I mean, the loud voices are always going to be the ones that get heard the most. But as you say -- and it's not even just adults. I mean, you -- as you just pointed out 75 percent of people 18 and older have had at least one shot, 74 percent of people 12 and older have had at least one shot.


LEONHARDT: And so, we really are talking about the overwhelming majority of eligible people have gotten at least one shot. Unfortunately, we trail most other rich countries in the sheer vaccinated, and so we're in this really messy situation.

One way I think about it, Brian is Delta is a problem but vaccine hesitancy, and skepticism, and opposition is a bigger problem than Delta. If you look at the number of breakthrough infections, if you look at the amount of illness in highly vaccinated places like Seattle, which publishes detailed data, it is still so, so, so low.

And so, Delta is a problem, but actually, the bigger problem is the fact that we have large numbers of Americans who haven't gotten vaccinated, thus, allowing the virus to spread much more than it needs to spread.


STELTER: And that's partly because of the right-wing media. Let me just give people a sense of what the reaction to President Biden's mandate was like on Fox.


RACHEL CAMPOS-DUFFY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: Joe Biden declared war on freedom yesterday.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: Cancelled all medical freedom.

CAMPOS-DUFFY: Took authoritarianism to a whole new level.

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE FEDERALIST: He's going to require everybody to stand up, and resist, and fight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Enough is enough.



STELTER: That's the tone. I just want folks to know that's what it's like out there, David.

LEONHARDT: I mean, there are two ways to think about freedom, right? One is, does someone have the freedom not to get a vaccine shot? That's a legitimate question.

The other is, do we as Americans have the freedom to go out and know that we are less vulnerable to a deadly virus? That is also a form of freedom.

And that's why I think that the sort of pro-freedom case for vaccine mandates is actually stronger than the anti-freedom case.

Americans deserve the freedom to go to school without fear, they deserve to have the freedom to go to school without health risks, they deserve the ability to go to football games and go to Broadway plays.

And the long history of vaccine mandates shows two things. They make a lot of people mad, or at least a small percentage that often translates to a lot of people in a big country, and they save lives.

And I think that is the likely effect of these vaccine mandates. They are going to push a whole bunch of people who weren't getting vaccinated before to do it because otherwise their lives are going to be really inconvenient, and they're going to save lives.

STELTER: And I'm over on time, but just real quick. We might have peaked on Delta, right? We don't know yet, but you call something -- you call it a two-month cycle. What is a two-month cycle? Where are we?

LEONHARDT: Yes, I want to make clear, the two-month cycle isn't guaranteed to continue but if you look over history, the most common pattern is that from the trough of a COVID cycle to the peak of cases is about two months.

We're about two months since Delta started rising and Delta started falling over the last week, so it is possible, not guaranteed, but it is possible that we have hit a peak of Delta.

STELTER: David, thank you for more on the two months cycle, And for the latest on our media coverage, sign up at for CNN's free Nightly Media Newsletter.

Coming up here after a quick break, what the press is getting wrong in its coverage of the Texas Abortion Law? We're going to go live to the Texas Capitol. And Emily Ramshaw, next.



STELTER: The DOJ's lawsuit against Texas over the state's new Abortion Law is one of the reasons why that law will remain on TV news rundowns in the months ahead. So, how should it be covered, conveyed, talked about?

Well, the Texas-based nonprofit news outlet, the 19th has been covering this nonstop. Emily Ramshaw is the Co-Founder and CEO of the 19th, and she joins me now from Austin. Emily, should this be called a law or a ban? Let's start there.

EMILY RAMSHAW, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, THE 19TH: Yes. I mean, it should be called both of those things. You know, the reality is that this is a six-week abortion ban, but you know, the truth of the matter is, and as the 19th fact-check this particular week, it's really more like a two-week ban because most women -- most pregnant people do not even realize they're pregnant until four weeks of gestation.

So, I do think, you know, we're going to talk a little bit about how the media has covered this, but I do think fact-checking that has been a really critical piece of this conversation.

STELTER: Well, yes, let's start right there. You've fact-checked the Texas Governor about this, so he's out there saying, no, at least six weeks and you're saying that's bull? RAMSHAW: I mean, you know, look, there's a lot of party line around this and I also think you're seeing a lot of rhetoric coming from men, and from not just certain male politicians, but also from men in the media around what this bill really does.

I think, you know, one challenge with the way that this story has been framed is that there has been so much conversation around, you know, the politics of this conversation, versus what it actually means for pregnant people on the ground.

I mean, you think, you know, when you saw the media finally pick up on this story, the conversation was, you know, is this actually going to be good for Biden in the long run? Or is this going to, you know, cripple Republicans down the road, instead --

STELTER: No. Right.

RAMSHAW: -- about how people were being affected on the ground here in Texas, and probably eventually, in many more southern states.

STELTER: The politics instead of the people. I saw a great piece on CNN this morning from San Antonio about the people affected, we need more of that.

You also mentioned the media being late to this. Do you think, in general, there wasn't enough attention before this bill became law?

RAMSHAW: Yes. I mean, if you look at the New York Times homepage today, you will see two stories right now leading the homepage that are more on the people than the politics, but I think, you know, for the first couple of weeks of this story, there was this sort of national media disbelief.

Everybody was really late to the game. There was this sort of eye- rolling, you know, well, of course, this is Texas and, you know, there have been more attention even on a 20-week ban than there was on this six-week ban that really had no exception, even for rape or incest.

And so, you know, the -- I think the sense was, well, Texas might do this because Texas do that -- does this. But then, a district court will overturn this, or the appellate court will overturn this, or even this Supreme Court that we've seen sort of, you know, done things that maybe we didn't expect they would do around vaccines, this Supreme Court is not really going to uphold something this extreme.

The reality is this time was different. Those of us on the ground knew it was going to be different this time around. And I think you just didn't see the national media getting into the conversation until suddenly it was almost too late.

STELTER: Emily, thank you for that analysis and critique, I appreciate it.

Up next, it was described as the final U.S. strike in Afghanistan. But what really happened, who died, and why? Two new visual investigations have come out into the loss of innocent lives in Kabul, and we're going to talk with the reporters next.



STELTER: Think back to last month after the ISIS Attack of the Kabul airport, killed 13 servicemembers, and scores of Afghans. There were grave fears about a second attack. U.S. officials were under pressure to stop a follow-up.

That was the context when a drone operator pulled the trigger and fired a missile at a car in Kabul causing multiple explosions in what was described by the Pentagon at the time as a righteous attack taking out would-be terrorists.

Now, there's a new story evolving, developing. A story from the New York Times and The Washington Post through their investigations, their reconstructions of events that day.


STELTER: Their stories suggest that the U.S. actually targeted and killed an aid worker and wound up killing seven children and two other civilians. So, not only were there're civilian deaths as we found out right away from reporters on the ground, but they may have targeted a completely innocent man.

The New York Times is suggesting this or coming to this conclusion based on reporting, using surveillance footage, satellite imagery, real-life interviews, social media clips, and more, and basically mapping out the exact movements of this person in the final hours of his life.

Now, the Washington Post, also piecing together evidence going through -- looking at the evidence from the explosion, showing it to experts who say, that doesn't seem like there was a secondary explosion, it doesn't seem like this was a car full of bombs.

So, these investigations have clearly cast doubt on the U.S. military's actions. What may have been the final U.S. drone strike of the Afghan war? I mean, that is what it was.

As of now, 12 days into September, no further drone strikes in Afghanistan by the U.S. So, what we hear -- have here is an example of a new kind of visual storytelling by newspapers at the Times and the Post.

I want to talk more about that with Evan Hill, he's a member of the visual investigations team at the Times, and Nadine Ajaka, she's a Senior Editor at the Visual Forensics Team at the Washington Post. So, we'll get into what those titles mean in a moment but first, let's talk about what you all found.

Nadine, in a minute, what is the Washington Post finding based on interviews with experts about what happened in Kabul that day? NADINE AJAKA, SENIOR EDITOR, VISUAL FORENSICS, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. So, what we found by asking experts to analyze imagery of the damage caused by the strike, as well as speaking to the nonprofit that employed the driver targeted in the operation, who was the focus of the Times' great investigation is that there was no evidence that the car contained explosives.

In fact, two of our experts said what could have caused a small secondary blast, could have just been fuel tank vapors from the car.

STELTER: Evan, you all interviewed some of the same people and found a lot of security camera footage that tells us more? What did you all learn?

EVAN HILL, REPORTER, VISUAL INVESTIGATIONS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. So, we, as you said, tried to retrace August 29 in the life of this man, this employee of a U.S.-based NGO, and we obtained security camera footage from the NGO in Kabul. And what that security camera footage appears to show, and we confirmed it in various ways that we can talk about is that this man was an aid worker going about his normal day.

All of his colleagues said, this is what this man did every day, he drove around Kabul, he made food distributions for the NGO, he took his colleagues to different places, and what he loaded into the car were water containers, and laptop bags.

And so, what we showed, challenges and perhaps contradicts the Defense Department's case about this man being "Islamic State facilitator," or a man carrying explosives, and it definitely suggests that they struck this man in the courtyard of his family home with children around his car without knowing really much of anything about him.

STELTER: So, the final strike of the Afghan war may have been a fatal mistake or a fatal screw-up by the U.S. military. Why is it so important to do this evidence? Why -- how did you do this in ways you couldn't have done 10 years ago? Is it that now that you have satellite imagery, security camera footage, you can piece things together that you couldn't before?

HILL: Yes, that's exactly right. Our visual investigations team and the Post's really excellent visual forensics team is part of this new wave of open-source reporting that relies on things that you can get online.

Videos, photos, data, metadata, as well as sort of a lot of advances in satellite imagery, things you can purchase commercially that allow both us and this community of online open-source researchers to piece together things that no one can piece together a decade ago.

So, whereas before we might have had, you know, the account of the government versus the account of the witnesses, and Americans, maybe at least in the past, were inclined to give their government some credence in what it said in the claims that it made.

Now, we can take all of this visual data that you can see for yourself, piece it together for you in a very transparent way and use that to create a story that holds the power to account and challenges the government's narrative.

STELTER: Nadine, the Washington Post calls it visual forensics. Why forensics? What does that term mean to you?

AJAKA: I think forensics to me implies just a level of extremely detailed analysis. You know, this work of and I'm sure Evan can agree of deciphering grainy out of focus visuals that are almost always a small part of the entire story is very labor-intensive, but it has the great benefit of adding to the public's understanding of an event and also can reveal instances of overreach by those who are in power.


AJAKA: You know, video and visual reconstructions, as sort of implied by the term forensics, I think have become really important tools in our arsenal of reporting mechanisms.

And this type of work, I think, can be profoundly transparent because it allows readers to understand precisely what we know and what we don't know by plainly showing it.

STELTER: That's remarkable. It's a new innovation in journalism. Evan and Nadine, thank you both for being here.

AJAKA: Thank you, Brian.

HILL: Thank you.

STELTER: Tonight, Afghanistan is the subject of a new CNN Special Report by Jake Tapper. It's called America's Longest War. What Went Wrong In Afghanistan?

That's airing tonight at 9 p.m. ET here on CNN. And we will see you right back here this time next week.