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A Disturbing Forecast For American Democracy; How To Make Sense Of D.C.'s Budget Battles; How Substack Is Reshaping The Media Landscape; COVID False Alarm On The Set Of The View; Three Competing Documentaries About Britney Spears. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired September 26, 2021 - 11:00   ET


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


This hour, Nikole Hannah-Jones on Fox's hypocrisy and what she's doing to call out censorship of her 1619 Project.

Plus, the CEO and cofounder of Substack, Chris Best, who has some sharp words about Facebook and Twitter, quote, driving people crazy.

And later, brand-new report about the Britney Spears reckoning. What could this multimedia moment for the pop star mean for her continuing fight for freedom?

But, first, a story that affects everyone in America. There is a gathering storm. Most of us can feel it in the air. But is it being reflected on the air?

In the words of "Peril's" co-author Robert Costa, what happened in January was not a passing storm in American politics. The peril remains. Donald Trump's attempt at a coup was not the end of the story, he's still trying to steal the election by claiming it should be decertified and he's already clearly planning to run again. He held a rally last night.

So, what does that tell us about 2024? It tells us that there is a gathering storm.

But when the authors of "Peril" revealed that a Trump lawyer wrote a coup memo, a six-part plan to keep Trump in power, some news outlets ignored it. The memo came out days ago but networks like NBC, ABC, CBS, nightly newscasts of record, they didn't deem it newsworthy.

The only NBC program to mention the Trump coup this week was -- "Late Night with Seth Meyers." And to Seth's credit, he covered it well. But the newscast did not cover it.

Look, I get that there's a lot going on, but a slide toward autocracy should merit some airtime. The same goes for the Arizona audit results. First, Trump blamed the media but now, he's literally claiming the audit showed he won, even though it showed he lost. And everybody should have seen this coming, right? One humiliation

simply led to new lies and new conspiracy theories and now more calls for more audits in more states, because there are broken incentive structures in place, a broken GOP media pushing those incentives, thus a broken GOP, thus broken politics.

And reporters are treating this like it's normal because they want to sound fair and balanced are part of what's broken.

So, let's think about it a little differently, like a gathering storm. What do weather forecasters do? They take all of the data and all of the inputs, atmospheric conditions, historic weather patterns, map it all out and make a forecast about what's coming. They warn people about what's coming.

Do some of them over-hype it sometimes? Yeah, they do. But they don't purposely forecast rain on a sunny day. They are trying to get it right. They are trying to warn people when a storm is brewing.

And that's the challenge for news rooms right now, to warn people about the dangers to democracy.

When a former president and 2024 front-runner is out there saying things like this --


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're destroying other country. Our country will not survive this. Our country will not survive.


STELTER: That's evidence of a gathering storm. When voting rights are being challenged like never before, when lawmakers are afraid of political violence, afraid of the party's leader, afraid of even investigating the rioting he incited.

When the party's media outlets mainstreamed the French and maligned the moderates, and when the lies are lopped up with cheers, daily journalism is not sufficient. It's important but it's not sufficient.

In these moments, it is not enough. The public needs journalism that goes beyond the normal formats and typical practices. We need journalism infused with context and history and blunt honesty.

The public needs to hear about democratic principles and what exactly is at risk. The public needs a storm warning.

And frankly, I think CNN is providing -- a lot of shows on CNN are calling out the danger of this moment, calling out this democratic backsliding that's happening.

But others are not. It shouldn't only be Seth Meyers on NBC who issues a storm warning. And, frankly, these storm warnings need to include a recognition that Americans do not share these realities, not even close.

While the GOP is acting like an anti-democratic faction, the GOP media storyline is that Democrats are anti-democratic. This propaganda is everywhere from Trump saying he won to Tucker Carlson saying Democrats are importing migrants to ensure a one-party rule. It is everywhere.

I know it's tempting to watch what happens on one American news or Newsmax because, you know, those are relatively small channels but they're a glimpse of what is coming, they are a preview, they're a reminder of a gathering storm.

Last night on Newsmax, you've got Michael Savage saying the Democrats stole the election and over on OAN, you got Donald Trump sitting there saying it's very sick.


You know, Democrats are bringing in very sick people from other countries trying to change the electorate.

Let me show you just a little bit of what aired.


MICHAEL SAVAGE, HOST, THE MICHAEL SAVAGE SHOW: The Democrats stole the election and they're spitting on 51 percent of the American people.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: This is an attempt to change the demographics of the United States in order to give permanent power to the Democratic Party.

TRUMP: They come in from all countries that are very sick countries, very sick.


STELTER: Very sick.

There is a gathering storm. Pretending it's not coming won't stop it.

With me now is Timothy Snyder, someone who's been warning about it. He's the Levin professor of history at Yale University and author of "On Tyranny."

There's a lot we can talk about, Professor, and I wanted to start with the "Politico" headline this weekend that says, you know, what if 2020 was just the beginning? What if 2020 was just the start?

That is a way to help people think about what's coming, what's going to happen next.

So, let's pretend you're the weather forecaster here. What's your forecast for the next few years? TIMOTHY SNYDER, LEVIN PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, YALE UNIVERSITY: I guess I

would say it's less about weather and more about climate.

STELTER: Climate, right.

SNYDER: The climate we've been experiencing since at least 2016. January 6th begins in 2016. Mr. Trump says way back then he's not going to expect the election results. When he's running for office in 2020, he said he's not going to respect the election results.

What he's trying to do, and what he's in large measure succeeded in doing is creating an atmosphere precisely where people don't take the vote seriously, they take what he says about it seriously, and then all of these various reviews, all of this vandalism around the elections, is just there to support that atmospheric, to create an America where the vote doesn't count, only the voice of one man counts.

STELTER: And right wing media's role is to -- is what in this scenario you're describing?

SNYDER: Well, the right wing media, with a few honorable exceptions, is one giant safe space for the big lie. What's happened is rather than facts coming out from below to shape stories, we now have one enormous fiction, which is that Mr. Trump won this election and that one enormous fiction, you know, rather than casting light on things, just cast a huge shadow. Anything that doesn't fit that fiction can't be talked about. Anything which seems like it might somehow support that fiction gets all the air time.

And so, people's emotions, the things about what they would have liked to have happened now replace the reality that we have to live in, which is that sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose.

STELTER: Do you agree with the "Politico" notion that 2020 was just a rehearsal? Like are you actively thinking about what's going to happen in the next midterms and presidential and trying to game out how, you know, well-intended voters should respond? I guess what I'm trying to ask, Professor, should we be thinking today in the press and talking about worse case scenarios for 2024 given these audits and stop the steal BS that's going on?

SNYDER: What you're talking about, Brian, those aren't worst-case scenarios. Those -- that's the mainstream. That's -- I mean, you have a political party which is basically saying that they no longer have issues, aside from lying about the vote and messing around with vote outcomes.

In that situation, you have a two-party system and one party is lining up against democracy. We're not talking about a worst-case scenario. We're talking about a situation where democracy is not something that can be taken for granted as a background to all the other news. Democracy itself is the foreground and struggle as to whether this country will be democratic in the future, as you suggest in your opening, is the main story.

So, of course, I'm gaming this out --

STELTER: You're gaming it out.

SNYDER: -- because the Republican Party is gaming this out.

And the game is we cast doubt on 2020, we pass memory laws and voter suppression laws in order to create an atmosphere in which people will, you know, will believe the only thing that matters is what we say about the vote. If we get ahold of the House and the Senate in 2022, we plan not to certify a Democrat if he wins in 2024.

We pass laws at the state level which gives the states themselves the right to allocate electors rather than -- rather than having to vote count matter, and we do all of that to aim for an outcome in 2024 in which the guy who loses is nevertheless the winner.

That is not worst-case scenario. That is what's happening right behind before our eyes right now, and we're just too cowardly to look at it.

STELTER: It's why Robert Kagan's essay for "The Washington Post" has been one of the most read pieces all week. Check it out at if you haven't read it yet. He lays out one of those -- you know, exactly what you're describing, how this could all happen in 2024. It is -- it is quite unnerving.

And you say there are cowards out there who don't want to talk about it. What do folks in reality-based media do in the coming weeks? What's your advice for the press corps?

SNYDER: My advice for the press corps is to make -- is to drop the fair and balanced about the one party and the other party.


Who cares about the parties, right? The parties aren't really the story. The story is whether we have a democracy or not. And the behavior of the parties is the actual story.

So I think the main thing we have to do, and you guys have done a lot in this direction, is drop the pretense of American conceptualism, drop the idea that democracy is just out there like the air we breathe, and make democracy the story itself. We had -- we had minimal excuse to be surprised by 2016. We had no excuse to be surprised by the coup attempt in 2020.

And if we're not prepared for the attempt for people to take power undemocratically in 2024, then we're just at this point pathetically naive. Preparing for that and getting the facts out so that people can prepare for that and prevent it is what, you know, colleagues and journalists -- journalism should be doing.

STELTER: Yeah, that's the assignment.

Timothy Snyder, thank you very much for being here.

SNYDER: My pleasure. STELTER: Coming up, a lot in the hour ahead. We're going to tackle

missing white women missing syndrome.

But, first, how to make sense of D.C.'s budget battles right now amid this broken political space that we just talked about. We're going to hear advice from Josh Marshall and Catherine Rampell, next.



STELTER: It's hard to sum up all of the news coming in from Capitol Hill right now. If you're confused, you're not the only one. Democrats we know are trying to pass monumental legislation, amid government funding deadline. a looming debt ceiling deadline. It is chaotic.

And there's a clear language barrier. Take a word like reconciliation, which you probably heard 100 times this week. What does it mean? Is the media slowing down and explaining it or speeding right by the basics?

And there are labels like $3.5 trillion, huge numbers thrown around. They can be incredibly misleading. We know there are multiple bills encompassing dozens of policy proposal but not a single abbreviation like Obamacare or a sense of what this movement will be called, and there are countless headlines about the personal political drama.

I think if you're an insider, you think all of the news coverage has been legally helpful. You're probably totally up to speed. For everyone else, I fear it's indecipherable and almost impenetrable. So can we do better?

With me is Catherine Rampell, "The Washington Post" opinion columnist and CNN economic and political commentator.

And Josh Marshall, founder and editor-in-chief, of "Talking Points Memo".

I've seen you both sharing your media critics on Twitter. Let's bring those on television now.

Catherine, you first. What is the one biggest thing you would change about the budget battles if you could change anything right now?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, there's many things, but I think would prioritize but the number one priority would be more discussion about what's in the bill, as opposed to the top-line figure which itself is misleading of $3.5 trillion. There are good ways to spend a huge sum of money. There are bad ways to spend a huge sum of money.

But the kind of media coverage we've been getting doesn't really explore whether the kinds of things that are in this bill are meritorious or not. I would love to see more people commenting about should we invest in childcare this way or paid leave that way or in climate. Instead, it's the number. STELTER: And why is the number misleading? Why is that $3.5 trillion

figure misleading?

RAMPELL: Because it doesn't represent anything. It's a weird shorthand used but the bill itself will not cost $3.5 trillion in the sense it will be entirely paid for. So the actual cost will be smaller than that, perhaps zero, although I think that's unlikely.

And it's not even fully spending, it's not even right to call it a $3.5 trillion spending bill because there's probably a trillion dollars worth of tax cuts in it too.

So, it's really hard to boil down the essence of this legislation because it does so many things and because -- you know, they're still negotiating over the basic parameters.

STELTER: And it will be over in ten years, et cetera, et cetera. Isn't the broader point because the Senate is broken and they don't create laws -- work on legislation all year long, they're trying to do everything at once in one big bill.

RAMPELL: Well, it's partly what you just mentioned, partly we no longer have majority rule in the Senate. In order to get anything through, through a party line vote, which is what theoretically should happen when we have unified control of government by the Democrats, they have to cram everything into this one major piece of legislation, so-called reconciliation bill, whatever shorthand we use for it. So, it has to cover all of the bases, or at least everything that can ostensibly get pushed into a budget bill.


RAMPELL: They have to do climate. They have to do paid leave. They have to do childcare. They have to do green energy tax credits for cars and things like that. They have to put everything into this one piece of legislation because they can't do piecemeal, regularly ordered bills because it doesn't work that way anymore. There's only one this narrow to get the legislation through.

STELTER: We hear it all at once and then it's confusing and people tune out and give up and don't pay attention at all. Josh, if I could hand you the magic wand, one thing to fix about the coverage, what would you fix?

JOSH MARSHALL, FOUNDER, TALKING POINTS MEMO: Well, first, I would stipulate to everything Catharine just said, by not discussing what is in this bill, as she said, you get this big number and it's sort of like if someone said do you want to spend $100,000, right, in some home context -- well, $100,000 is lot of money on its own. If I don't know what I'm getting, I will be skeptical.

So, that I think is one of the biggest things wrong. That's why you end up, and if you're not talking about the substance, you inevitably get down to sort of personal drama about Joe Manchin and Joe Biden and Kyrsten Sinema and people like this. So that is the biggest thing. What we really should be -- if we got it even in the shorthand about

the specifics, we would be saying we already got the bill that bills roads, do we also want to try to tackle the climate issue and give a big child tax credit to almost all families?


That get's -- that is still shorthand but that gets you to something like that.

The other thing I think is that none of us tend to focus on the things we take for granted. In a lot of the coverage most reporters take for granted a high level of Republican misbehavior, for lack of a better word. One of the things complicating it this week is that Republicans -- Democrats are trying to basically keep paying the the government's expenses.

Republicans are using the filibuster to basically drive the country into a debt default. I have not heard that. What the Democrats are forced to do is put in avoiding debt default into the reconciliation package, into that $3.5 trillion package. Now, people who follow the ins and outs of this very closely, I'm not saying anything they don't already know, but most of the reporters, even a lot of the best ones, we've seen this before, this happens every few years so it's entertain for granted.

And when you don't discuss that, you get a very distorted understanding of what is happening. You get headlines that say, oh, Democrats have another problem, they've got to do something called the debt ceiling limit. Well, again, this is about the filibuster but you don't hear that. Again, reporters take for granted what they just -- what they take for granted.

STELTER: Or what they already know, compared to what the public knows. You hear the Google trending data and people search for that because they don't know what it means. We should respect that as a media, press corps and try to help them understand it.

Josh and Catherine, thank you both for your thoughts. Thank you for the magic wand.

Up next you hear it every day from right wing media, cancel culture, stop cancel culture. So. then why are they trying to cancel journalism and some books? Interesting, right. Award-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones is coming up to tell us about it next.

Stay tuned.



STELTER: Let me try to get this straight. Whenever I watch Fox, I hear about the perils of cancel culture, right. GOP media's always worrying about cancel culture. Yet some of the same folks are leading the charge to cancel anti-racism books, and journalism products like the 1619 Project. Am I getting that right?

Look at this, from education week, an analysis finds 27 states have taken some form of action to restrict the teaching of critical race theory, or to limit how teachers can discuss racism in the classroom. We've seen specific cancellations of specific books about race. This has been in the news a lot lately -- certain books being taken out of certain school districts.

The Pennsylvania district this week that banned a series of anti- racism books, like books about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. The school board reversed its decision after parents and educators protested and pushed back. So, that's an interesting example of the tug of war that's going on. It's not just about books, it's also about acts of journalism. As I mentioned, the 1619 project, created by my next guest, Pulitzer-Prize winning Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Her work in "The New York Times" about to come back in book form, television productions in the works, all of this made her a huge target for right wing media. There are certainly so much -- mostly conservative white panic about the teaching of racism and examination of America's history and Nikole Hannah-Jones is right in the middle of it.

So, let me bring her in.

Nikole, thank you so much for coming on and talking with me.

NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES, AWARD-WINNING JOURNALIST: Thank you for having me and discussing this important topic.

STELTER: I wanted to talk about this week because it is banned books week. The right wing media doesn't explain it to me. What are you doing with it?

HANNAH-JONES: Banned books week is commemoration the American Library Association does every year with all of the efforts to censor really text that are considered controversial or texts that largely conservatives don't believe children or others should be reading.

It's really to push back against this idea that controversial ideas are uncomfortable ideas, uncomfortable works shouldn't be allowed to be taught in a country where the first amendment is right to free speech and free exchange of ideas.

So, my publishing company, One World, is doing an event with authors from across the country whose works are currently being banned from all types of places from prisons to public schools.

STELTER: I think we're going to look back some day and say, wait, they tried to ban the 1619 Project? We're going to look back and it's going to make no sense in 30, 40 years. But is this the white lash in another form, Nikole? Some white Americans afraid to deal with reality, don't want to hear it and try to ban it be some day their kids are going to laugh it off.

[11:30:04] HANNAH-JONES: I mean, I don't know. I think that this is a particularly dangerous moment because there's one thing to have right- wing media saying they don't this -- they don't like the 1619 Project, they don't agree with this 1619 Project, but it's quite something else to have politicians, from state legislators down to school boards, actually making prohibitions against teaching a work of American journalism or really any of these other texts.

The fact we're all talking about this fake controversy called Critical Race Theory really speaks to how successful the public propaganda campaign has been. I don't think it's just about scared white parents, it's about a politician savvily stalking racial resentment in response, I think, to the global protest last year in order to divide Americans from each other, and they're being quite successful.

We're not just seeing bans on the 1619 Project, we're seeing parents saying we don't think you should teach the story of Ruby Bridges because that makes white children feel bad. We are seeing bans against the teaching of Martin Luther King's works, right? So, this is actually trying to control the collective memory of this country, and trying to say we're just going to purge uncomfortable truths from our collective memory, and that's very dangerous.

STELTER: You know, it's coming from the same direction that I always hear condemnations of cancel culture. I'm always hearing that they're against cancel culture, and then I'm seeing cancelations happening.

Hey, can I get your read on Gabby Petito in the last week of news coverage about, you know, both Gabby, and now we know she passed away, and now that the search is on for her fiance, but also the reaction, the description of a missing white women syndrome, the observations that there are many people of color, native Americans, others who disappear, and there's not national news coverage. Do you think this week has been an important reckoning about that? Maybe it's going to be different now in the future because of all of the attention this week?

JONES: I think every few years we have the same so-called reckoning. You know, Laci Peterson, Natalee Halloway, we can do down the line of cases where we see these young white women and they become national news.

Now, let me say, this is a tragic story and she certainly deserves to have her story covered. But it's the proportions, and it's also the absence of that coverage, of course, when black and brown women go missing, and even black and brown men, or men at all, go missing.

So, you know, I wish I could say that we learn our lessons, but we largely don't seem to learn our lessons, and we have these same scenarios that seem to occur again and again.

And it really goes to who we value in our society, and whose stories we think are interesting, or who we think are somehow undeserving of being killed, as if, you know, a lower-income black and brown woman is deserving of her fate somehow, and so we should be shocked when a middle-class white woman comes up missing. But women are coming up missing across this country all of the time, and particularly when it comes to domestic violence.

STELTER: And, you know, not just 20-something's either, right? There's such a variety in age, in the background, and the coverage doesn't seem to reflect that. Hopefully, we're not back talking about this together in a few years. Nikole, thank you for coming on.

JONES: I agree. Thank you.

STELTER: When we come back, do Substack have standards? Why is someone like COVID Contrarian, Alex Berenson, have a platform on Substack? What's the argument? Well, we're going to hear it. My one on one with the Substack CEO and Co-Founder, Chris Best is next.



STELTER: Substack is a platform, a fast-growing platform, that lets journalists, and writers, and pretty much anybody go independent and starts publishing directly to subscribers without necessarily the standards of a newsroom or even any editing at all

It is a platform for lots of individuals, including controversial opinion writers, the likes of Alex Berenson, Edward Snowden, Andrew Sullivan, Barry Weiss, just some of the high-profile names, now drawing big audiences, and in some cases, big revenue lines, thanks to Substack.

So, how does the platform's Co-founder and CEO handle questions about content moderation and free expression? Are there any lines to be drawn at all -- should there be any lines to draw at all?

Well, I spoke with Substack CEO and Co-founder Chris Best about all of this, and here's part of our conversation.


CHRIS BEST, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, SUBSTACK: I think this -- the model at the heart of Substack, which is as a writer, I can go independent, as a reader, I choose for myself who to trust, who to support with my money, I take back my mind from these, you know, social media feeds I have been giving my time too, and instead spend it on something I think is valuable. It works great for writing and for newsletters, but it's powerful beyond that.

We've already seen some success with comic book writers who are leaving their major studio things to go independent on Substack, we're seeing some success in podcasting, which is a similar kind of direct relationship with an audience. We think this model is quite transformative.

STELTER: How do you compare this to let's say Netflix or any of the other subscription services that people have become accustomed to? I mean, think about where we were a decade ago versus day, do you think of Substack as being part of this internet-wide phenomenon? BEST: I think that that cultural chain is a very important one. In the early days of the internet, there's this idea that everything is going to be free forever, right?

There was this, you know, LandGrab, where you have to get everyone's attention, and there's an idea that no one's ever going to pay for anything on the internet.

The work the Netflix's, and Spotify's, and etcetera of the world have done, getting us used to the idea that's worth paying for good stuff is incredibly important.


BEST: That said, the Substack model goes beyond that because on Netflix, you're subscribing, as you say, to this huge bundle of stuff, and I'm kind of getting all of it through this a giant buyer hose, whereas, on Substack, you can subscribe directly to a writer that you trust and you can support directly to the kind of work you want to see more than the world.

STELTER: So, a one-to-one relationship, one person paying for one person's voice. Is that where we're all going to be in 20 years? Am i still going to be here, Chris?

BEST: That's an interesting question. You know, I think that the -- you know, the individual voices is an important and powerful piece of the model. That said, we already see -- now, the joke is that you know, as soon as you're done unbundling things, you have to re-bundle them.


BEST: We already see writers on Substack were working together, who are banding together to form companies, form communities, to work with each other, so I don't think the magical piece of the model is that the writer necessarily goes it alone, I think the magical piece is that the readers and the writers are in charge and you have this direct paid relationship.

STELTER: There's also been, earlier this year, a lot of bad press around certain writers on Substack that other writers object to, specifically around transgender issues, for example.

BEST: Yes, we started the company with a really strong commitment to kind of the idea of a free press. We want to have a strong presumption of, you know, if I want to sign up for your e-mails, and you want to send me those e-mails, that's between you and me that should be allowed.

And we want to have a really, really high bar before we would ever intervene in that as kind of a matter of principle. And you know, that's something, it's like -- I think become a little unfashionable.

I think the idea of defending free expression or the free press is kind of like falling by the wayside a little bit, but for us, it's not a matter of something we say to sound good, it's something that we deeply believe in.

STELTER: So, Substack has an antidote to cancel culture?

BEST: I do think there are some people who thrive on Substack, who found it hard to thrive in traditional media, I mean, that's certainly the case.

STELTER: But isn't that partly because some of those folks are just peddling disinformation? When I Google Substack, and then it gives me suggested possibilities, Alex Berenson's name comes up right away.

Alex Berenson, the former The New York Times writer, has been dime out on his New York Times days for a decade, now best known for his vaccine contrarianism -- his COVID contrarianism, what many what say is denialism, but he's clearly pretty popular on Substack. People are googling, looking for him to find him on Substack.

So, where do you decide -- when do you decide that COVID misinformation or malinformation is not acceptable on your platform? Where is that line?

BEST: Yes. I think the way that we see this is that having an information ecosystem where we can discuss things and hear different sides in how people argue about things.

Even when the people are wrong, and maybe especially when the people are wrong, and especially when the people are questioning kind of like conventional wisdom and governmental policies, all of that stuff is really important.

And it's important not just -- you know, not just for things we like and agree with, it's kind of important to have a space where readers feel like they can read the things they want to read, and writers feel like they can write about the things they want to write, even if it's wrong, basically.

And part of the reason that we can have a society where we know -- we know there are things we can trust, is because dissent is allowed, and because discussion, you know, the discussion of unpopular things is not suppressed. And we just think that that's like an important principle for anybody.

STELTER: But in general, what I hear you saying is if you make a relationship with a writer and you want to pay that writer, we're going to let you do it. That's fundamentally your principle?

BEST: The best way to improve what's out there is to design systems and create spaces where a great stuff is rewarded, and where people are making thoughtful choices about what they want to read and who they want to trust that allows the good stuff to be surfaced.

And if you create an environment where, that's like, disproportionately amplifying stuff that's driving everyone crazy, that is a problem by itself, right? If you're finding that the stuff that's driving everyone mad is bubbling up to the top of Twitter and Facebook, that is a problem by itself. And if as your mechanism to address that, you add on top of your existing problems a heavy-handed censorship policy where you're putting yourself in the position as a platform to decide what's true and what's not, what's politically OK to talk about, and what's not.

In my estimation, you haven't fixed the problem, you just got two really bad problems now. One is you built an amplification machine for stuff that's driving people crazy, and the other, which is, you're having this perception of putting your thumb on the scale and telling people what they can and can't see. Just doesn't feel like the right solution to me.


STELTER: You're saying that Twitter and Facebook are in a tough spot and it's not going to get any easier?

BEST: I do think that.


STELTER: Facebook is now promoting its own newsletter product, so the Substack model is definitely here to stay in some form. Check out the full interview with Best on this week's "RELIABLE SOURCES" podcast.

And after the break here, brand-new reporting about what really happened at The View on Friday.



STELTER: Now, to that COVID false alarm on the set of The View. And that's what it was, a false alarm.

CNN's Oliver Darcy is here, he has reporting on what happened on Friday, what we thought at the time versus what we know now. What do we know, Oliver?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Yes, this is really remarkable, Brian. The entire country was told, basically, that the Vice President could have been in danger of getting COVID-19 from people who are supposedly infected because of a positive test, and now, we're learning -- I have a source that tells me that both Sunny Hostin and Ana Navarro, they both tested as negative, three times subsequently since the initial positive test, so basically, a false alarm.

STELTER: Nobody's fault, of course, other than, you know, a faulty test, I guess. But it is the -- you know, it reinforces the idea that facts change, stories change, initial reports are often wrong, this is the environment we're in, and with COVID, it's even more complicated.

Now, speaking of initial reports being wrong, there was just controversy about the Border, these photos -- these viral photos of Border Patrol Officials on horseback using horse reins -- the rein of the horses.

So, these were described as whips by some -- in the media, some commentaries on social media. This was a faulty media in there that involving the word, whips, that -- it kind of seem like, the horse was out of the barn and wasn't able to get reined back in.

DARCY: Yes, this spread quite quickly. You know, some news organizations where I'll work careful than others, but it was not a case -- of it looked, you know, if you looked at the still photography that came out, those images that went viral, it looked like one thing and ended up being another thing when there was more reporting.

And I think that's really what the public should want. News organizations to continue to report out these stories, get to the truth, and then report what they find.

STELTER: But the whips narrative, it took hold, and then, you know, it was -- do you feel like some news outlets who didn't do enough -- didn't -- weren't scrutinizing that narrative enough on day one, or hour one, and that's what went wrong?

DARCY: I think it's just a case where something went viral on social media, Brian, and news organizations said did we have that? And they probably should have looked a little more into the matter, talked to people on the ground before perhaps running with this. But it was really -- I mean, it was based on -- it was a lot of social media commentary, you know.


DARCY: This wasn't something where major news organizations were running with this, it was something where journalists, maybe were commenting on social media about some viral images, and I think it's a good lesson to be a little more careful. But it's good that reporters got to the truth. They got to the bottom of the story and they accurately reflected that in the follow-up reports.

STELTER: And the fuller story always comes clear, you know. In the case of The View, two days later, we now know it was just a false alarm, but we didn't know at the time. All right, Oliver, thank you very much. Everybody, sign up for Nightly Newsletter

After the break, brand new reporting on Britney Spears. We're going to head over to Chloe Melas to preview her documentary premiering tonight.



STELTER: She's a prisoner. Britney Spears is the prisoner. That is the takeaway from the latest forum by The New York Times called, controlling Britney Spears. It came out on Friday.

Tonight, Sunday night, CNN has a special about Spears. Premiering at 8 p.m. ET, it's called, toxic, and it is incredible.

And Netflix also has a documentary coming out on Tuesday about Spears, all of this, of course, leading up to her big day in court on Wednesday, when her conservatorship could be terminated for good after 13 years of what seems like imprisonment.

With me now is Chloe Melas, one of the Reporters behind CNN's Special Tonight. So, Chloe, you and Alisyn Camerota put this together, you have brand new interviews no one has ever seen before. How have you been able to get access? I mean, for 13 years, it seems the lid was held so tightly but now, whistleblowers are coming forward.

CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: Thanks for having me, Brian. It was incredibly difficult. So many people who have worked with Britney, anybody who ever stepped foot into her house, worked with her, had to sign an NDA, a non-disclosure agreement, so people had to decide whether to or not they were going to break those agreements. And we had one person in particular who did.

Many people are scared about, you know, the professional repercussions they could have about sharing, you know, secrets about a big profile -- high-profile celebrity like Britney Spears. But we did manage to explain to people that this was going to be a good thing.

Britney spoke out, and too emotional testimonies this summer emboldening people to come forward. It was Britney -- it was Britney's words, Brian, that emboldened these people to decide to sit down.

Not so much (PH) me or Alison. It was -- it was Britney. And they want to put pressure on the court system so that hopefully, Wednesday, or sometime soon after that, the conservatorship gets terminated.

STELTER: So, it's all leading up to Wednesday, and it seems like media attention has been positive after two decades of media attention being a negative for Britney Spears?

MELAS: Yes. I mean, look, it's one of those watershed zeitgeist moments. In a span of five days, you have three different documentaries, but I would say that, to me, there's no competition. They're all different, and they're all for the exact same purpose, the same outcome, to free Britney. And that's what it's all about.

STELTER: Chloe, thank you so much. As I mentioned, "toxic," yours, is premiering tonight at 8:00 p.m. ET here on CNN.

Thanks for joining us, we'll be back this time next week for more "RELIABLE SOURCES."