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GOP Media's Tactics: Lie, Rinse And Repeat; Scrutinizing A Story From The New Book "Peril"; Interview With Rep. Adam Smith (D- WA); "Wall Street Journal's" Jaw-Dropping Stories About Facebook; The Problem With Four Seemingly Innocent Words; The New Wave Of Social Media Sleuths. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired September 19, 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. We examine the story behind the story and figure out what is reliable.
This hour, brand-new stories, scoops you haven't heard yet from the new book "Peril" about Trump's final days in office.
Plus, fallout from the Facebook files. Why this new "Wall Street Journal" series is different from all the past reporting about social media problems.
And later, what Nicki Minaj and Sean Hannity have in common. They do have something in common and the answer is coming up.
But, first, the political tactics that are causing so much chaos. It's a three-parter: lie, rinse, and repeat. And we have to see it clearly and cover it clearly.
Let's start in California where the recall was an example of lie, rinse and repeat. Fox and other GOP promoters acted like Larry Elder had a real chance to win. They swore that Californians were desperate to dump Gavin Newsom. Some right-wing talking heads lied about voter fraud and someone even set up a website calling the election rigged before the election even happened.
But then when the recall failed predictably, Fox just made excuses and quickly moved on, like the GOP was determined not to learn any lessons. And thus may be destined to repeat the same mistakes.
The even farther right channel, One America News, pretended like Newsom didn't win. They pretended like the recall result was a mystery until I called them out on Twitter. And some of these shows still portray Elder as a winner, I guess just for trying. I guess it's like a participation trophy.
See, lie, rinse and repeat. Don't expose the audience to a reality- based point of view.
If it accidentally happens, if the truth slips through, do you know what these channels do? They cut it off. This actually happened in primetime on Newsmax this week.
(BEGIN VIEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know that Trump's administration's efforts here were fairly weak. That they were trying to limit the number of people that would get out, and so, there was coordination problems for a long time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe, I'm going to cut you. I'm already weak -- I'm already low on time, Joe.
Cut him off, please. Cut him off now. Cut him off now.
You're not going to blame this on President Trump on my show. That's not happening.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Cut him off now is a useful summary of the pro-Trump media's approach to inconvenient information. Cut it off! Change the subject.
Take the latest news about the Durham probe. That's the investigation into the origins of the FBI's Russia probe. In and around Fox News land, the Durham probe is a very big deal. Guys like Sean Hannity have been hyping it for years, promising it would knock the socks off the deep state.
But it's basically been a total bust. Poor Sean.
Quoting CNN's Katelyn Polantz here, the cases Durham has brought were both false statement charges, accusations of lying, have focused on peripheral characters flubbing details that would not have altered the main focus of the Russia investigation which, as she reminds us, ended in the convictions of six Trump advisers and found the Trump campaign welcomed and exploited Russia's election interference.
So the pro-Trump fan base was misled, again. And what does Fox do? They go back to calling the Russia collusion stuff a hoax. Lie, rinse and repeat.
Donald Trump is doing the same thing, emphasis on the repeating. He just wrote a letter asking the Georgia secretary of state to decertify last year's election. I mean just for laughs, try to imagine Hillary Clinton sending a desperate letter like this.
Imagine Hannity's coverage. Do you think he would spontaneously combust? I think he would.
But here's the thing. The right-wing media machine has barely touched that story. They have barely mentioned Trump's delusions about getting the transaction decertified. These are lies of omission. A refusal to admit what the GOP has become.
And through lies of omission, they enable more of it. Someone like Hannity would then say, well, Brian, you lied too. You ignore stuff too. Your network ignores the border crisis, which is obviously not true. It's been a lead story on CNN.
But lies about the media are an essential part of this political tactic. The rest of the media must be discredited in order to keep up the charade, right? Cut them off now. Cut off inconvenient information. Say the media is just a bunch of screw-ups, that's key to this entire technique.
These are all signs of a broken party. And signs of an unhealthy reliance on political entertainers and grifters and radio hosts and TV stars who are partly responsible for breaking it. And they're getting rich at everyone else's expense.
Rupert Murdoch, $31 million last year.
His son, $27 million.
People often ask me about CNN anchors who do these monologues -- you know, these types of essays, these straight-to-camera essays usually at the start of the show. We do these a lot more than we did five years ago.
Other anchors may have other answers for why they like to use this format, but I always tell people it's because this format can cut include the blather and baloney so much more effectively than a news package or sound package or he said/she said debate.
The things that are broken in our politics and media are so much bigger than a sound bite. Giving it just 30 seconds or reducing it to on paragraph down the bottom of the story minimizes what's happening, minimizes what's broken.
But I also recognize that my reach is limited on here. America is one country in two completely different media worlds. The people with the real power to break through and call out the GOP's lying -- well, they tend not to employ that power. They lie, they rinse, and they repeat.
So we try to document it and debunk it and figure out where the lies are leading us.
Here to help with that, "New Yorker" staff writer and CNN contributor Evan Osnos, author of the great new book "Wild Land: The Making of America's Fury." And also here with me, media critic David Zurawik, formerly of "The Baltimore Sun", now a professor of media studies at Goucher College.
Welcome to both of you. Thanks for coming on.
Evan, I think you can tell I'm increasingly struggling with, you know, how the press, the reality-based press, is supposed to get its arms around what's broken when, you know, we have these old formats like a 1,000-word story or two-minute piece on the evening news that just fundamentally are not able to capture what's happening.
So that leaves me to think does it take an entire book? Do we all have to do this like you've done with "Wild Land" to try to capture it in 400 pages?
EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I guess I've done it so that you don't have to do it too. But, look, you know, one of the things that's so interesting that you identified is there is a -- there's a toolbox. There's a set of techniques here that we see deployed over and over again and they go back a ways. I mean, they go back in fact to the tobacco industry.
OSNOS: I'm often thinking these days of -- there was a fateful memo, in fact, written by Brown and Williamson Tobacco in 1969 in which they said doubt is our product. They were facing new regulations. They were facing a new understanding of the truth about tobacco. And what they said is doubt, by manufacturing doubt, that is the way that we fight back as what they identified as the body of fact.
You've seen that deployed decade after decade, first against climate change. Then against Barack Obama's birth place, eventually against the results of the 2020 election and the vaccine. Doubt is the product.
STELTER: Doubt is the product. David, how do you react to that?
DAVID ZURAWIK, PROFESSOR OF MEDIA STUDIES, GOUCHER COLLEGE: Brian, the thing -- what you came out of the box with this morning is great because the one thought I had, even about this protest rally that fizzled, is, look, we may never reach the 30 percent that gets its information from Fox and the farther right-wing media, the pro-Trump media. But there's 70 percent of people based in reality.
And the thing we have not been able to convince many of them of is how much danger democracy is now in because of the last five years with Trump.
You know, when we have Tucker Carlson going to Hungary and promoting Victor Orban as a great leader, we've got media and we've got Trump pushing for autocracy. You know, Joe Biden was right when he said it's a struggle between autocracy and democracy right now.
But, you know, we grew up with the civic books and pictures of our monuments in Washington. We think of democracy as something immutable, powerful, unshakeable. It isn't. It's an idea and an experiment, and it's frightening how far down the road, how much damage has already been done to democracy and engaged, smart people still don't seem to get that.
And meanwhile, the big lie keeps going. The big lie keeps going and it's reinforced by Fox, which is God help them. I don't know if there's an afterworld how badly they're all going to be punished for Rupert Murdoch's money.
But what they're doing, this is not a game. This is America at stake here. And it breaks my heart to see what's going on with this.
And, Brian, that's our challenge. You know, you said I'm not sure is this the way we should do it. I don't have the answer either, of course, how we should do it. But I know we have to keep screaming democracy is in danger, democracy is in danger. We have to take steps to protect it.
STELTER: And you mentioned that rally yesterday, which was a dud. I think a lot of us knew ahead of time it was probably going to fizzle out. I was on CNN on Friday. This rally -- what matters about this rally is not what happens in D.C., it's the digital version. It's this idea has been mainstreamed that these criminals who sacked the Capitol are actually freedom fighters and martyrs.
So let's just go right at that, Evan. Did the media overreact to the rally? Did we over-cover the rally?
OSNOS: Well, no, I think you have to approach something that's on the horizon with seriousness, because part of what happened on January 6th was the political world and the media were essentially caught flat- footed by the scale of what was coming.
So there's a certain inevitable overcorrection when people say, okay, we're not going to get caught flat-footed this time. Some of the images can get ridiculous when you have reporters surrounding a single protester.
OSNOS: But I think we're also wise to remember that in a way just because yesterday was a dud, it was defused before it ever began, is not a sign that these kinds of divisions have gone away. I think there's actually -- there's a risk that when we sort of look at what happened yesterday we say, oh, okay, clearly these folks are fading away.
No, the truth is that risk is metastasizing and the folks who are betting on in a sense the non-reality-based world, the idea that Donald Trump had the election stolen from him, that is not going away. If anything, it's digging in.
STELTER: My EP John said this morning on our conference call, he said, just because you're not sneezing doesn't mean you're not sick.
STELTER: So, you know, thank goodness it was peaceful yesterday, it was no big deal, but there's still a sickness that this rally represented. Now, of course, you know what's going to happen? The pro- Trump media will say the press went down there trying to make trouble and nothing happened. There's going to be egg on the face of the news media. I'm sure that's how they're going to portray what happened yesterday.
ZURAWIK: Well, and yeah, as you said in your opening, it's always attack the media, attack the mainstream media, attack the mainstream media, but you also saw the rinse and repeat cycle with this. As soon as it looked as if this rally was not going to be an event, then leaders like Trump started to say, oh, it's a setup, don't go. They started to move away from it. The night-time hosts on Fox started to move away from it. Who even cares, who's going to go?
But honest exactly what was just said is so true. It metastasized, it's there. The message of this non-rally yesterday is not that things are getting better, things are okay, Trump is losing his influence.
No, that's not true. Look at the congressman who resigned this week because he dared to vote for impeachment on Trump. He knows what's going on in this country with Trump and the Republican Party.
It is not safe. Our danger keeps growing by the day. Honestly, I don't know how we deal with Trump. In five years, we have not found a way to counter his mendacity and serial lies.
We hired -- CNN, "Washington Post" hired fact checkers. We did everything we could to do it and we should admit, we still haven't figured it out. Let's keep trying as hard as we can.
Evan, thank you for being here.
And, David, please stick around.
I want to bring you back later in the program.
But, now, I want to bring in Mary Trump, a clinical psychologist and author of "The Reckoning: Our Nation's Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal."
Mary, I was going to introduce you as America's most famous or infamous niece. I don't know if you like that title. But I wanted to talk to you this weekend because "The Reckoning" gets into what happened at the rally yesterday or what didn't happen at the rally -- you know, the trauma this country is still experiencing nine months after the riot on January 6th.
What were your impressions of the media coverage of the rally and was it overhyped?
MARY TRUMP, AUTHOR, "THE RECKONING": I agree with your previous guests that we can't pretend these things aren't happening. I've been told many times that all we need to do is ignore Donald and this will all go away, and that's absurd.
He's a clear and present danger. He continues to be propped up by his entire party. Republican leadership continues to find him useful and continues to help him spread the big lie about the election and the big lie about the insurrection.
So, I -- I don't believe that we can look away. I'm very glad that nothing happened yesterday. But as you said earlier, that doesn't mean we can let our guard down because right-wing media will spin it in such a way that the rally-goers were silenced somehow or they weren't allowed to exercise their rights. And it's going to continue to be an issue going forward because at the very beginning of the show when you were talking about how they continue to shape their message depending on how it's landing.
STELTER: Uh-huh, right.
M. TRUMP: And, unfortunately, they're pretty successful at doing that.
STELTER: Yeah, there is brand new data from PRRI, one of my favorite groups, that shows the impact of media diets on people's beliefs about what happened last year in the election and what happened in January in D.C. Here's one of the slides saying if you trust Fox News and right-wing media, you tend to believe the election was stolen, 76 percent of those folks saying they believe that it was stolen when it wasn't.
Other sources, you know, much, much lower percentage of people buy into that fantasy or that nightmare.
So, do you see any solution to the media diet part of this puzzle?
M. TRUMP: It's tricky, because obviously we have a First Amendment. But you can't yell "fire" in a movie theater. So I'm not entirely sure why these media outlets are allowed to lie so blatantly to the American people, to the point where our very fragile democracy is on the brink, it really is. We have not dodged the bullet yet.
And people are actively being told to put themselves in a situation vis-a-vis COVID where they're putting their lives, their children's lives and other people's lives at risk.
I think one thing that absolutely needs to happen outside of the media is the Democratic Party needs to start taking this as seriously as the rest of us. We are under constant threat and we're not going to get anywhere if we continue to pretend that the Republican Party is acting in good faith.
STELTER: I have a Democratic congressman coming up. I want to hear what he says about that.
Mary, thank you very much for coming on the program.
M. TRUMP: Thank you, Brian.
STELTER: Also coming up, in the case of the missing woman, Gabby Petito, are digital detectives helping or hurting?
But, first, a shocking story from Bob Woodward and Robert Costa's new book. It's about Congressman Adam Smith. And he is here to tell the story, next.
[11:20:56] STELTER: Bob Woodward and his new reporting partner, Bob Costa, begin their book tour for "Peril" on Monday. The book comes out on Tuesday, and it's already the country's number one best-seller, thanks to early excerpts that led to lots and lots of preorders.
I read an early copy and came away thinking, you know, ten years ago, this would have been a thrilling, horrifying piece of fiction. But now, it's a nonfiction warning that we still live in a perilous political state.
I want to show you a nugget that stood out to me on a little lighter note. It's about the day that President Biden took office and new Chief of Staff Ron Klain was waiting around, stuck outside his new White House office because Mark Meadows was running late.
So, Meadow calls Klain and says, our meeting will have to be briefer than intended. Why? Well, Trump had unexpectedly signed a final pardon for Al Pirro. That's the ex-husband of Fox News star Jeanine Pirro.
Meadows had to run the pardon physically to the Justice Department before noon so it could be legally registered. So, one final favor for Fox.
"Peril" is full of these nuggets, but the one that hit me the most was about Congressman Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
So, Smith is -- here's what the book describes. Smith is flying home to Seattle the day after the Capitol riot and all around him, there are Trump fans. People talking like they were part of the riot, bummed that they failed.
With me now is Congressman Adam Smith.
Chairman, when I read this story in "Peril", I emailed your office and said, has he ever shared this story before? It's shocking. They said you had not.
So I imagine you slinking down in your seat just hoping that none of these rioters recognize you. Is that what happened?
REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): Well, no, I did not fear them in any way. Actually, I found the whole thing fascinating, you know, because you rarely get the opportunity to hear, you know, sort of unfiltered to a certain extent because they were talking to each other.
SMITH: So I was really interested to hear sort of what did they think of the whole thing? And I -- it definitely was educational because the big point is what your earlier guests were talking about and the threat to our democracy and our representative government itself.
So I think understanding why people are willing to throw aside that representative democracy at this point is really important.
STELTER: Let me quote from the passage in the book that describes your trip.
It says: Ugly talk about conspiracies to steal the election filled the plane. So did chatter about QAnon. And several passengers also mentioned 6MWE.
Smith did not know what they were talking about. He was horrified to learn, listening to some passengers explained and discussed openly that it meant 6 million weren't enough, a reference to the 6 million Jews exterminated in Nazi concentration camps.
SMITH: Yes, Brian --
STELTER: Is that accurate?
SMITH: No. And that's one of the unfortunate aspects of this.
When I spoke to Mr. Woodward, we spoke about what I heard on the plane. We also spoke about what I saw and heard on January 6th at the Capitol and in the couple of days leading up to it.
The people on the plane didn't say anything racist or anti-Semitic. The reference you make was to something I saw at the January 6th rally. And in that conversation, I think Mr. Woodward conflated the two.
But I want to make it very clear that I don't know -- I don't know if they did or didn't. I did not hear anything from the people on the plane about racism or anti-Semitism.
What I heard was a feeling that they had lost their country and they had to take it back by any means necessary.
Then it was interesting to sort of sort through why they thought they had lost their country.
But the racism and anti-Semitism was stuff that I had seen on January -- that we all had seen on January 6th, not that I heard on the plane.
STELTER: Yes, yes.
SMITH: I do feel bad --
STELTER: That's curious. So that's curious. So I just pulled it back up in the book, page 261. Let's put on the other full screen we prepared for this.
The way that your con -- the way that your experience is relived, it's in the form of a conversation with Mark Milley. So, it says: I just had the most unbelievable, unsettling experience, Smith said in a phone call on January 6th to Chairman Milley.
So, the way that Woodward presents it, he's describing you on the phone with Milley. And as the reader, you're thinking, wow, you know, you're in on this phone call. [11:25:02]
So, is this how --
STELTER: -- the reporting works, sometimes where you told Woodward about your phone call and you're saying a little bit of it was conflated?
SMITH: Yeah. In a way, it is true that I spoke with Chairman Milley about this. I spoke with Chairman Milley a great deal in the last six months of the Trump administration mainly to make sure that we had a peaceful transition of power.
But I think it's really important to understand where a lot of these Trump supporters are coming from. And I think it is a fundamental lack of faith in representative government itself. And there's a lot of things we have to do about QAnon and conspiracies and all this other stuff. I think it's really important that we shore up the very ideas that underpin representative democracy and how politics works.
People have rejected politics in this country. I think back on a book that I read 30 years ago by E.J. Dionne, "Why Americans Hate Politics." And he points out, if you -- if you hate politics in a democracy, that democracy is going to struggle. We have to figure out how to make our system work instead of turning to the extremism that so many of these people have turned to.
STELTER: On the subject of Milley and Trump, since you mentioned speaking with Milley quite a bit, there's this debate that "Peril" has sparked about Milley's role in trying to put up some guardrails. The way I read it, he's trying to protect the country from a president that's lost his marbles. That's how it's presented in "Peril."
Was that your impression as well? Was -- did Milley do anything wrong?
SMITH: No, absolutely not. No, I think you -- I think you summed it up perfectly.
Milley is first -- he believes in his oath to the Constitution and that is, you know, to preserve this country and support the representative democracy. And very early on, he had legitimate concerns about the president of the United States' commitment to that idea and he wanted to make sure we could get through this election and preserve the country. Most importantly, to make sure that the Department of Defense and the people who work there were not misused by President Trump for his own personal and political purposes.
So I am a huge fan of Chairman Milley's. I think he performed admirably throughout this process, and I still think he's doing a great job. So I'm glad he was there and I'm glad he took his oath as seriously as he did.
STELTER: I feel like some people aren't going to understand how dangerous this was until it's made into a movie. You know, the movie version of this I think will make it clear what kind of situation we were in last January.
Hey, since I have you, Chairman, I have to ask you about the Pentagon's admission that the drone strike in Kabul late last month killed ten civilians. This -- you know, this is something that "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" reported about a week ago pointing to evidence that the Pentagon has said was wrong and now the Pentagon has admitted to this awful mistake.
What needs to be learned as a result of this? Do there need to be resignations or firings?
SMITH: Well, I think the biggest lesson from this is fundamentally, why it was so important that our military get out of Afghanistan. This is a great example of the fog of war. It is so difficult to know, because this was not a fight where we had their army and our army and they were going at each other.
There was a counterinsurgency. It was an insurgency, and it was very hard to tell who the enemy is and who they are not. I mean, if anything, the biggest thing to me this points up why it was so important to do what President Biden did and withdraw.
Our ability to be successful in what we were trying to do in Afghanistan simply wasn't there. This makes that clear. These sorts of decisions are split-second decisions, incredibly difficult, especially in this context because we had already had an attack on the airport that had killed 13 service members, dozens of Afghans and injured hundreds of Afghans.
There was high tension, there was clearly a threat, and they were worried that if they didn't act, this would result in casualties at the airport and they got it wrong.
And that happens. And that's why we have to be so careful about the way we use the military in the world. I believe strongly we have relied too much on it over the course of the last 20 years.
STELTER: I hope folks don't just move on from what we learned the other day about the strike, because we do have to learn from it.
Congressman, thank you very much for being here.
SMITH: Thank you, Brian. Appreciate the chance.
STELTER: Ahead here on RELIABLE SOURCES, what "The Wall Street Journal" uncovered about the seemingly perfect images and videos on their endless Instagram scroll. But will the paper's exposes spur any real change?
STELTER: And I feel like we've been here before. There's a big expose about Facebook that details negative impacts of big technology. There's outrage as politicians pledging to hold the companies accountable, and then, nada, nothing happens. So, will the Wall Street Journal's Facebook files make any difference?
It's a blockbuster series based on internal Facebook documents. Many of the articles show that Facebook's own internal researchers show that they are well aware of the flaws of the platforms, whether it's about Instagram causing young women -- girls to feel terrible about their bodies, or whether it's anti-vaccination organizers using Facebook to spread lies and propaganda.
The stories have been all over the Journal front page, they've spread all across the media world, there's lots of attention on the Facebook files. There are even lawmakers on both sides of the aisle comparing Big Tech and Facebook specifically, to Big Tobacco. Facebook hasn't had a lot to say about the series, the company declined our interview requests today.
STELTER: They did issue a statement over the weekend and Nick Clegg saying the articles contained the deliberate mischaracterizations of what we are trying to do and saying the motives were impugned. There wasn't really a lot, specifically, the Facebook objected to.
So, let's talk about whether this time is any different with the Former Global Head of Elections Integrity Ops for Political Ads at Facebook, Yael Eisenstat, and Research Manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, Renee DiResta.
So, the two of you study this world, you know it better than anybody. Renee, will anything happen now? Now that there have been five days of incredible stories about how these sites are toxic, and they're hurting society, will anything happen?
RENEE DIRESTA, RESEARCH MANAGER, STANFORD INTERNET OBSERVATORY: Well, I think one of the challenges is where is it going to happen? Washington DC, yes, both -- the lawmakers on both sides see that there are problems, but there's no real consensus on what to do about them.
We've seen some momentum on the antitrust argument, looking at the kind of breaking up of the company that doesn't necessarily solve all of the problems, but the perhaps smaller company, you know, would be more manageable.
We see a little bit in the way of thinking about, are there particular consumer harms that perhaps the FTC would have some authority over?
But there doesn't seem to be a real cohesive sense of an ability to kind of, come to a consensus about what to do between the Democrats and the Republicans, particularly because a lot of the focus is actually still on content moderation, as opposed to more and more structural issues.
STELTER: Tell me, what will you mean by structural issues? DIRESTA: I mean, ways in which the lack of, for example, outside access to researcher data, is one representative example. So, we don't have very good visibility into what's happening within Facebook, we have a lot of need to see leaks like this come out because they kind of confirm what people speculate about on the outside, but we don't really have very much in the way of the capability to study the company.
So, the actual mechanics by which recommendation engines and curation manifest themselves, the way in which they influence audiences, the way in which you know, some of the various, different communities that were discussed as having been harmed in the Wall Street Journal studies, we don't have a very good understanding of that from the outside, so we're really at this point, very dependent on finding things like this out through leaks and whistleblower actions.
STELTER: What about these comparisons, Yael, to Big Tobacco? You know, I was struck by here, it -- now, this came up all week long, all these comparisons to Tobacco Companies, knowing the product is harmful and covering it up and keeping this secret. Do those comparisons take us somewhere new in this conversation that we haven't been before?
YAEL EISENSTAT, FUTURE OF DEMOCRACY FELLOW AT THE BERGGRUEN INSTITUTE: Thanks, Brian, it's a great question and I hope it does. So, at this point, you know, up until this point, there have been -- there's been so much noise every time there's a revelation about something that happened to Facebook. And Facebook's been able to discredit it by saying that research isn't accurate, that former employees like me, they accuse of being disgruntled, that journalists just have an ax to grind, there's always a response.
But these documents, let's just be clear, they are internal documents from Facebook's own researchers that demonstrate some of the harms created by the platform, and it shows that leadership knew about these harms, honestly, had been lying to Congress and the public about some of it, and chose not to prioritize public health democracy in the public over their profit, business model and ability to grow. And so, I do hope that lawmakers take this as seriously as possible.
And again, it doesn't mean to Renee's point, there's no silver bullet, there's no one piece of legislation that's going to create the healthier information ecosystem that we all want but it is time for lawmakers to finally say that Facebook, based on what we have seen in this Wall Street Journal expose, these five articles, as well as the MIT review piece this week about troll farms, does not make Facebook a truly trusted partner when they claim they want regulation and when they claim they want legislation, and it's time for the government to step up and protect the public.
I'll give you just the most clear example. So, when -- the report in the Wall Street Journal about Instagram and about how they knew, their internal reporting showed that it was causing depression amongst teen girls, whether that was 1 percent, 5 percent, or 50 percent's not the point.
It's the point that it was a problem with their platform, and instead of prioritizing how to fix that, they, with the knowledge of that report claimed they didn't know about it and then tried to launch Instagram kids.
And it is on our government to decide that that is not OK to launch a new Instagram for children based on what we have seen in this reporting, and based on what researchers have been saying for years.
STELTER: Geez. And what I struggle with is a lot of kids, a lot of young adults benefit enormously from new technology, and yet they -- many also suffer and both they're true, and we need to know the proportions, and this is just such a struggle.
STELTER: We could spend hours talking about it. Well, all I do want to ask you about is a different tech story though because Facebook was not the only Tech Giant in the news week, Apple and Google are under a lot of scrutinies for removing a voting app that's linked to Kremlin critic Alexie Navalny. They've removed it from their app stores in Russia ahead of elections.
So, it seems like Apple and Google appeasing Russia, you see the headline there, human rights activists decry these companies for pulling the app. Is this what's going to happen now, you know, in every country, in every situation, autocrats using Big Tech to stamp down, you know, to tamp down on rivals or challengers or critics?
EISENSTAT: So, this is a really good example, and to be clear, I actually think what happened. It leaves us with more questions than answers, right? Like, I have no insight into how Apple and Google made those decisions, and what was behind them?
But the questions that I do you think we need to ask are, if your companies are claiming to be about democratizing information, and about free expression, and helping the entire world connect and use your platforms for greater knowledge sharing, then you can't reconcile that with bending to an authoritarian regime.
You didn't -- they didn't just take down Navalny's app, right? They took down the app while continuing to let the incumbent use their platforms and that is 100 percent tipping the scales.
So, it does lead to a lot of questions about are you or are you not companies that believe in democratic norms? And it should make everyone whether they're lawmakers or the public really question the motives.
And just to your previous point, I want to really emphasize one more thing. These companies, Facebook, in particular, like to respond that they do more good than harm. And you're right, there's so much good that can be done by social media, but first of all, they've never actually quantified that statement, they've never proven to us with any sort of data that that's true.
And secondly, all the good in the world does not excuse knowing behavior that your tools and business decisions are enabling in terms of drug cartels, human trafficking, crimes, helping our teens get more and more depressed, these things are very serious, and all the good in the world doesn't excuse it.
STELTER: Very well. Put -- both of you please don't go anywhere. I need your help to help me dissect four words that may seem innocent, four words that may seem insignificant, four words that have been hijacked. Do you want to know the words? OK, hold on, we'll be right back.
STELTER: Four words. Four little words that are hurting America's pandemic response. What are they? Here, let Sean Hannity tell you, he loves these words.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: Do your own research. Please do your own research. Do your own research. Do your own research, there's a ton of it right on, you know, at the tip of your fingers on your own phone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Right. And that's the problem, do your own research. Everybody has a supercomputer in their hand that empowers them to do their own research, which is great, right, isn't it?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TREVOR NOAH, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH TREVOR NOAH": Can we all stop saying I need to do my own research. Nobody who's saying that is getting in the lab and doing tests. At best, you're reading other people's research, and more likely, you're probably reading a tweet about a headline, about a blog post, about someone else's research.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Sean Hannity could learn a thing or two from Trevor Noah. That phrase, do your own research, it's popping up a lot in conversations about Coronavirus and about COVID vaccines.
Nicki Minaj used similar wording in that tweet this week saying she was doing research. But this going alone in approach, doing your own research, it seems so innocent, but it can have serious consequences.
Let's talk about with two actual researchers, Yael, Eisenstat, and Renee DiResta are back. Renee, what are the roots of this phrase? I feel like I used to hear it around QAnon craziness.
DIRESTA: You know, it became -- got a lot of coverage in the context of QAnon, but it dates back to the 1890s, it dates back to the origin of the anti-vaccine movement, where there was a lot of debate about whether allopathic doctors or homeopathic doctors were accurate in their findings about inoculation. Is -- this goes all the way back to the kind of the era of smallpox in the 90s.
You actually saw the phrase used positively in the context of the internet, particularly you know, there was a shortage of Doctor time, and so they would say, hey, you know, you can do some of the research about your condition by reading these websites.
And they would point people to websites online, like things like WebMD, and that kind of more authoritative sources in the early days of the internet prior to the kind of proliferation that we've seen today of less reputable sources.
STELTER: Right. I say.
DIRESTA: One of the real challenges -- oh, go ahead.
STELTER: No, I just -- the idea this has been around forever, but now we all have these phones, we all this ability, do your own research, you know, it's supercharged.
And Yael, I wonder how you view it in the context of Nicki Minaj? Like this idea that, oh, yes, she's just doing her research. Isn't that just her way of saying, I want an excuse to reconfirm my priors, not to get the vaccine?
EISENSTAT: So, it's so interesting, right, because in and of itself, the idea of doing your own research is not a bad idea. We should have a healthy skepticism of the information that is fed to us.
But in a world today where so much of our information is actually dominated by clicks and engagement and salacious, all the things that we were just talking about the way social media is designed, and honestly, the way a lot of different media companies, unfortunately, are competing in that space.
Nobody's going to the library and looking up authoritative sources to do their own research. They're doing a Google search, a YouTube search, and they're getting information that it is always easy to find information that confirms your biases, that points to what it is you want to know.
Now, with Nicki Minaj, I don't assume ill-intent with her. But don't forget, the same phrase, do your research, is being peddled by some people who do have ill-intent who want to push you down certain paths, who want to either for profit reasons or for geopolitical reasons want to make sure that you are reading certain information as opposed to listening to authoritative sources.
EISENSTAT: So, what should be an actually smart idea, especially in the U.S. with such a lack of funding in media literacy and all of these issues? It can really actually help make things worse.
STELTER: Yes, it's a sneaky little phrase, like, that has all these implications. Renee, what can the media do? What should the media do? DIRESTA: Well, the challenge that we face today is really that the media is fragmented. You can get information from a proliferation of media sources and so, the media has to think about the ethics of what information that conveys to people, there has to be a transparency. This is what we understand now. This is a real solid understanding versus this is still a theoretical understanding.
We don't see that communicated to the public particularly effectively at the moment. And so oftentimes, what you'll see is something that is, you know, the way that science develops, you have something that may be a consensus opinion on one month that shifts as more information and facts are found.
So, I think one area where media can really come into play and be helpful here is to explain that process of consensus. Yes, last month, we didn't know what the origin of this virus was.
This month, this is where new information has come out, new verifiable scientific research has come out suggesting the following thing is the most accurate understanding of the problem at this moment in time.
So, a little bit more in the way of transparency, a little bit more in the way of conveying what we know, when we know it and helping the public understand that science is a consensus-building process, not something where we know the facts immediately the moment that someone wants to be googling for them. And that I think is one of the key challenges, helping people understand that that's what's going to be happening.
STELTER: Right. That's a literacy lesson right there. Thank you both for these lessons.
After the break, a related story. How the search for Gabby Petito has gripped the country and united social media, created a new wave of armchair investigators? But is that for better or worse?
STELTER: This missing person's case has captured America's attention. Gabby Petito's face and story are all across cable news and the web and many, you know, digital detectives are trying to aid investigators. They are trying to solve the case, they're scrolling through her social media accounts and her fiance's accounts, they're analyzing photos and Google Maps, they're talking about in Reddit threads and Twitter and Facebook, and trying to provide solutions and answers. But is this helpful? Is it hurtful? Is it a mix of both? David Zurawik is back with me.
David, I was thinking about this in the context of Ted Cruz sneaking away to Ken Kuhn and the internet crowdsourced where he was. And now, there is a much more serious situation with possibly two missing people, the woman, and the man, and we have these digital social media sleuths trying to figure it out. What's your reaction? DAVID ZURAWIK, PROFESSOR OF MEDIA STUDIES, GOUCHER COLLEGE: You know, what the first thing I thought of, Brian, was in 2014 if you remember the hit podcast, the Cereal on NPR --
STELTER: Oh, right.
ZURAWIK: -- the murder of an, yes, a murder of a young woman, 18 years old High School Senior in Baltimore County. People -- groups were formed. That means, it was a social media phenomenon as well, was a cultural phenomenon that was huge. But people played sleuth online and went back through all the clues and offered their theories.
And when I saw this, I thought that's it, that's fascinating the way it invites interactivity to the point of you play the detective and I think that spurs more people to get involved but this is huge.
I mean, the TikTok #GabbyPetito has 275 million views. That's astonishing, that kind of rage. But you know, it's -- police have done this in local level. You know, they show a picture on TV, if you've seen this man or woman, please call us. And sometimes it helps, sometimes it also adds confusion with people calling in information.
So, I guess the answer is, is it a good or bad thing? Depends, maybe you need a law enforcement expert for that. But in terms of media, it's a -- it's an absolutely fascinating and important cultural change in the way we engage in these true crime stories. Yes, I'm sure there's people pitching the Netflix docu-series already on this.
STELTER: Well, and to your point about the True Crime Podcast era, the era of Cereal, the era that Cereal helped usher in, you know, people feel invested in these stories, they want to help, it's a wonderful impulse.
But then you look at some of these threads online, you think it can also go too far, and they can get to the point where it can almost seem dangerous. There's already a backlash to the backlash.
There's a headline on Mashable, saying this disappearance -- this real-life disappearance shouldn't be an internet true-crime thriller. But that's the environment we're in where something is both happening in real life and also simultaneously in the digital world, and they do cross back and forth. David, thank you very much for being here and sharing your analysis.
ZURAWIK: Thank you.
STELTER: Tonight on CNN, a special documentary titled The Price Of Freedom, about mass shootings, gun violence, and the NRA's role in America. What are the costs of the war on gun control?
The CNN film premieres at 9 p.m. ET, followed by a special presentation with Chris Cuomo afterward. We'll see you back here this time next week for more RELIABLE SOURCES.