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One-On-One With Facebook VP Nick Clegg; Can Anyone Keep Up With The Congressional Chaos?; Deceit In The Media Landscape; AP Reporter Shares Personal Battle With Breast Cancer. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired October 03, 2021 - 11:00   ET



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

This hour, gaggle, squabble, battles, endless stories about Dems in disarray, but how much of that is just media hype? We will have a report from a veteran Capitol Hill reporter, coming up.

Plus, "The New York Times" columnist who exposed the high profile digital media company as a house of cards. Ben Smith will join me live talking about the remarkably rapid collapse of OZY Media.

And later, the incredible journey of a journalist battling cancer and months of chemotherapy, all while still meeting deadlines five times a week. Her inspiring story is ahead.

But first, Facebook back on the hot seat. This time, the conversation is about children and the damaging effects of platforms like Facebook and Instagram are having.

This conversation has been largely driven by a whistle-blower, who apparently leaked documents to "The Wall Street journal," documents exposing Facebook's own findings that the platform is negatively impacting the mental health of teen users. There were many other revelations in "The Journal" series, and now the whistle-blower is set to testify at a Senate hearing in the days ahead.

But first, that person will share their side of the story, their experiences inside Facebook on "60 Minutes" tonight.

"60 Minutes," of course, the highest rated newscast in America. So this is going to make a lot of news.

So how is Facebook dealing with these revelations, with this whistle- blower? And what change, what concrete change or changes is Facebook willing to announce and share and commit to?

With me now is Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs of Facebook. That means he is the company's top spokesman. He's reportedly a part of Facebook's strategic response team, alongside Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, dealing with the compounding issues that have been in the news. Nick, thank you for coming on the program.

I suspect you're here to prebut the whistle-blower on "60 Minutes."

Are you willing to acknowledge that Facebook is contributing to society's woes, polarization, and all the rest? I know you're going to say they're not the primary cause, but are you willing to acknowledge that Facebook is a contributor? It's pouring gasoline on the burning fire in front of us?

NICK CLEGG, VICE PRESIDENT OF GLOBAL AFFAIRS, FACEBOOK: Well, look, obviously, for a platform which has, what, a third of the world's population on it and social media is what it says on the tin, it's social. It's people constantly changing views, feelings, the ups and downs of their lives, of, course, you see the -- you know, you see the good, the bad, and the ugly of humanity show up on our platform as well.

Our job is to mitigate the bad, reduce it and amplify the good. And that's what this research is all about. So the research that you referred showed earlier --


CLEGG: -- that for some teen -- teens, some of the time, if they're feeling bad about themselves already. You know, they're, I know, dealing with sleeplessness or anxiety or body issue -- body image issues. But for some of them, some of the time, going on to social media, you know, can make them feel not great about themselves, because they're comparing themselves to others.

I think in many ways, you know, any parent of teens -- I'm a parent of teens -- or indeed any teens who might be watching this program, that's not wholly surprising, because it's what we've always said. It's what external research has always said. And we do that research so that we can then try and act to mitigate it.

We're never going to be able to eliminate the basic human tendency to compare yourself to others. I remember many years ago, you may remember this, this research saying I think women -- 70 percent of U.S. women even within minutes of reading fashion magazines felt depressed.

So, you know, the psychological, anthropological tendency to compare yourself to others, and sometimes therefore feeling worse about yourselves, is not something we're going to change.

What we can change if our products. That's why, for instance, we've announced that we're going to give parents of teens new optional controls so they can supervisor what their teens are doing. We're also going to introduce new tools that will nudge teens away from dwelling on particular kinds of content over and over again.

I think this is a good example of the company doing exactly what I hope people would expect we should do, which is not pretending that everything is perfect on social media. It isn't. Researching where there are minority of instances where it's not working out right for people, and then trying to fix it as much as we can on our own apps.

STELTER: Well, there are a couple of different topics to go through. Let's continue on this issue about Instagram for teens. For teenage girls, is the world better with Instagram in it or is it worse?

CLEGG: Well, the vast majority of teen girls and, indeed, boys who have been covered by some of the surveys that you referred to say that for the overwhelming majority of them, it either makes them feel better or it doesn't make a difference one way or the other.


The thing that everyone is quite rightly focusing on, and again, I don't -- I don't think this is intuitively surprising, if you're not feeling great about yourself already, then, you know, going on to social media can actually make you feel a bit worse. And here's an interesting --


STELTER: You say a bit worse, you say a bit worse. We're talking about girls trying to kill themselves because they're addicted to these platforms and what they're seeing on the platforms.

CLEGG: No, I think the research you're referring to earlier is about -- is simply, first, asking teens -- so, first, teens were asked on I think a measure of 12 measures. Do you -- do you suffer from anxiety, from sleeplessness, food issues, from body image issues and so on? Then those teens who said "yes" to any of that were then asked, and do -- do you feel better or the same or the worse on those 12 counts when you go on to Instagram.

And on all counts, the people who said either, it -- together, it made no difference, would have made them feel better outweigh those who -- the minority who said it made them feel worse. For those who made feel worse, particularly when it came to body issues, body image issues for teenage girls, we want to understand what we can do to help them in those instances. That's why some of the things that I mentioned to you about providing greater parental supervision --


STELTER: So then why not release the research? So when the research is revealed and exposed by "The Wall Street Journal," why not release this research to the public before it gets leaked by a whistle-blower?

CLEGG: But we release a huge amount of research. We have a thousand PhDs working in Facebook. They are published or involved in thousands of peer-reviewed academic papers and academic conferences. I think 400 papers this year alone.

We run, I think the world's largest COVID survey in cooperation with two universities, Maryland University -- University of Maryland and Carnegie Mellon.

We have an industry-leading project with a number of academics to look into how social media was used in the run-up to the U.S. elections. In fact, last week, I announced that we've been investing $50 million as an initial fund to fund research into augmenting virtual reality.

So we do a huge amount of research. We share it with external researchers as much as we can. But do remember, there is a -- and I'm not a researcher, but researchers will tell you that there's a world of difference between doing a peer-reviewed exercise, in cooperation with other academics, and preparing papers internally to provoke an informed internal discussion.

I'm sure at CNN, by the way, there's internal research on how different demographics in the population react to your -- to your program. And some of it will be public and some of it will be internal.

Facebook is no different. And I think the really important thing to remember about sharing more data --


STELTER: Will you all continue to do -- there's been questions about whether Facebook will clamp down on research now that some of the research has embarrassed the company.

CLEGG: Right.

STELTER: Will you commit to continuing this research?

CLEGG: Yes. And I think this is really important. I think many companies, I suspect, in our position would just say, well, maybe we should just not ask ourselves these difficult questions, because it causes so much grief.

We're not going to do that. We are absolutely not going to do that. We'll continue to ask ourselves these difficult questions.

I personally think that some of the assertions made over the last week, that we commission this research, which raises questions, which we deliberately brush under the carpet, has literally got it back to front.


CLEGG: If we didn't want to address those questions, we wouldn't commission the research in the first place. We do it precisely so that we can work out in the minority of cases where people are not having a good experience on our platforms, what we can do.

And, look, we do that across the board. So, you know, I often read that it is asserted that Facebook is awash with hate speech. In fact, what we've done over recent years, we have now 40,000 people working on this. We've invested $13 billion into research, into technology to bear down on that.

The prevalence of hate speech is now as low as 0.05 percent. Now, we're never going to get it down to zero, but that's a good example where we've used research and technology and investment to actually deal to mitigate the bad while amplifying the good.

STELTER: So I think you're arguing that the media coverage on Facebook -- you're arguing that the media coverage on Facebook is getting it wrong. That we are portraying sins and failures of Facebook that are actually being mitigated and minimized. That is what you're saying?

CLEGG: Well, actually, no, where some of the comment is fair comment and fair criticism, we need to be not defensive. We need to be open and acknowledge that we haven't got things right.

Of course, we haven't got everything right. There's no such thing as perfection in social media as much as in any other walk of life.

And then what we do is we have to act on it. Which is why, for instance --


CLEGG: -- last week, we referred one of the episodes of "The Wall Street Journal" series, something called "cross check", which is an internal mechanism where we apply additional checks to certain accounts, we refer that to our independent oversight board, because we felt there was a legitimate criticism being made there. We don't plow on regardless.


STELTER: An independent board that y'all set up. I mean -- yeah, I guess -- I hear what you're saying.

A part of me feels like I'm interviewing the head of a tobacco company right now. Part of me feels like I'm interviewing the head of a giant casino that gets rich by tricking its customers and making them addicted.

The big tobacco comparison is everywhere right now. And I -- how do you feel about those comparisons to big tobacco?

CLEGG: I think they're profoundly false.


CLEGG: I mean, I understand (INAUDIBLE) quit.

Well, I don't think it's remotely like tobacco. I mean, social media apps, they're apps. People download them on their phones and why do they do that?

Then why -- I mean, there has to be a reason why a third of the world's population enjoys using these apps. They do it because they like exchanging their views, their feelings --


STELTER: And I admit I enjoy using Instagram. I admit that. But I also feel the tug of an addiction. Don't you feel the addiction? CLEGG: Well, that's why we need to make sure that people are not being

drawn towards bad experiences. That's why -- and I gave you a very good example earlier. I think in the past, it is true that there was more hate speech on Facebook than there should have been. We applied a huge amount of resources and research.

And by the way, let me give you one very simple reason why this is such a misleading analogy. The people who pay our lunch are advertisers. Advertisers don't want their content next to hateful, extreme, or unpleasant content.

We have absolutely no commercial incentive, no moral incentive, no company-wide incentive to do anything other than to try to give the maximum number of people as much as a positive experience as possible. And that is what we do day in and day out.

STELTER: My next quest for you, are advertisers withdrawing in the last few days because of the Facebook files and whistle-blower? Are you seeing damage to the business -- the bottom line of the business?

CLEGG: Not to my knowledge, but, as you know, in the past, there have been moments where some advertisers have said they're not happy with the way things are playing out on the platform. We engage with them. We explain as we did last summer, that we are actually way, way ahead of the rest of the industry in identifying and bearing down on hate speech, and then, by the way, holding ourselves to account.

So, just with our -- along with our financial reporting, every three months, we report on all the content that we've taken down, how we identify it and so on.

And we're doing something which no one else is doing in the industry, because in a sense, why should people believe, in a sense, our data. People don't want us to be the judge and jury of our own performance.

We are submitting that data, those reports to an independent audit. No one else is doing that. No one else has set up an independent oversight board to hold us to account.

So, we accept transparency. We accept criticism. We accept where that criticism is fair that we need to act on it.

The one thing that is deeply misleading is this idea that we commission research and then deliberately brush it under the carpet, because we don like the implications of that research, because somehow we like to have bad and unpleasant content on our platform.

Of course, we don't. We want to bear down on it. We're never going to eliminate it. I'm never going to promise to you, Brian, that there won't be a teenager who is dealing with other issues in their lives --


CLEGG: -- who won't have a good experience on social media. We can minimize, but not eliminate it. And that's what we do, that's why we commission the research and we've always been very open about it. STELTER: And I'm with you on that. Look, you know, social media brings

a lot of benefits, but I think at last fear out there among a lot of folks, including people that want to believe you, that it's become a monster that you can't control. That Facebook doesn't have control over what it's created.

Is there any accuracy to that fear?

CLEGG: Well, I'll be quite open with you. I think if you have a platform, as I said earlier, which is used by so many people around the world, I think every day, there are -- this is just messages. There are sort of over 115 billion messages conveyed on our platform all the time.

Even with the most sophisticated technology, which I believe we deploy, even with the tens of thousands of people that we employ to try and maintain safety and integrity on our platform, you're right, Brian. We're never going to be absolutely on top of this 100 percent of the time, because this is an instantaneous and spontaneous form of communication, where billions of human beings can express themselves as they want, when they want to each other.

I think we do more than anyone else in the industry. I think we do more than any reasonable person can expect to.

STELTER: You might be doing more than any other company and it still might not be enough. These platforms are rewiring our brains. We are not built --

CLEGG: Sure.

STELTER: -- for this kind of connectivity around the world. And it scares the bejesus out of a lot of people. And that's why we're going to have more Senate hearings and more -- but is there any regulation that you all specifically want as the answer to this?

CLEGG: I think -- I think regulation would really help. Actually, let me give you a very example -- specific example of regulation that would help on the issue that you raised earlier, which is about research.

One of the fundamental problems that we have with research is the data that is most interesting to external research is, of course, by definition, the most sensitive data. But the most sensitive data, quite correctly, is also subject to the greatest privacy and data protection controls.


So, that balance about the risks that we can take with people's privacy in order to provide data to researchers is something which is a really difficult balance. And if there was to be in Congress law which says, under law, Facebook, you can take X, Y, Zed risk on privacy in order to provide more data to researchers, that I think would be enormously helpful, not just to ask but to TikTok, to YouTube, to all -- you know, to Twitter, to all the operators in this space where research is necessary and where clearly, it is much better if you can have external researchers having safe privacy-protected access to our data.

STELTER: Hmm. About "The Wall Street journal" findings and about all of this internal research, here's -- you know, you came out and said that there was information "The Journal", of a series, that was inaccurate.

"The Journal" says, in response: None of Facebook's defenses have cited a single factual error in our reporting. Instead of attempting to aggressively spin, the company should address the troubling issues directly and publicly release all of the internal research we based our reporting from that they claim we misrepresented.

So you said you're going to continue doing research. Will you commit to publicly releasing all the internal research that "The Journal" based its reporting on?

CLEGG: Well, as I said earlier, I doubt very much CNN or indeed any other company that does internal research for internal discussion would sort of just randomly dump a lot of internal documents, you know, in the outside world. That's clearly not something that any company can reasonably be expected to do. Not least for the reasons that I said earlier, which is external research --


STELTER: All right. But you're not going to share everything that "The Journal" has. Okay, you're not -- but this whistle-blower went to "The Journal"--


CLEGG: We have shared -- we have shared and we also have shared with external researchers plenty of data and we will continue to do so.

STELTER: This whistle-blower went to "The Journal", went to "60 Minutes," trying to call out Facebook and what they believe are real problems.

We see this headline in "The New York Times" this weekend. The whistle-blower announced in a few minutes, it's going to accuse Facebook of contributing to the January 6th riot.

Your response, your, I guess, your initial -- a preview of your response to that?

CLEGG: I think if the assertion is that January 6th can be explained because of social media, I just think that's ludicrous. The responsibility of the violence on January 6th and the insurrection on that day lies squarely with the people who inflicted the violence and those who encouraged them, including then President Trump and candidly, many other people elsewhere in the media who were encouraging the assertion that the election was stolen.

And look, I think this -- I think it gives people false comfort to assume that there must be a technological or a technical explanation --

STELTER: Ahh, interesting.

CLEGG: -- for the issues of political polarization in the United States.

STELTER: You think it's too easy -- it's too easy to say it's Facebook's fault?

CLEGG: Well -- well, I think it would be too easy, surely, to suggest that with a tweak to an algorithm, somehow all the disfiguring polarization in U.S. politics would suddenly evaporate. I think it absolves people of asking themselves the harder questions about the historical, cultural, social and economical reasons that have led to the politics that we have in the U.S. today.

And, look, academic researchers say the same thing. If you look at research published I think just a few weeks ago by some Stanford researchers, they looked a 12 countries, including the U.S. across Europe and North America and Australia and New Zealand to trace the rise of polarization over the last 40 years. And they found that in many -- I think half of the countries, out of six of the 12, polarizations actually declined, even as social media use has gone up.

The U.S. is quite unique amongst those 12 countries in seeing a much higher increase in polarization over the last four decades. And I think simply saying it's got to be because of some social media apps that people use, I do think, is woefully simplistic.

STELTER: But it's a factor. It's a factor. I mean --

CLEGG: Sure.

STELTER: -- that's where I come back to the original question. Are you willing to acknowledge that you've contributed to these woes in some form?

CLEGG: Of course, the way that people exchange information is -- now takes place online. So, of course, we as one of the largest social media platforms have an responsibility to understand where we contribute to negative and extreme content, hate speech, misinformation, and so on.

And, you know, I've explained to you already, some of the -- I think really successful things we've done to bear down on hate speech. We work with fact checkers on a scale that no one else does in the industry, to identify misinformation and deprecate it. We make sure that click bait and other content that is just there to rile people up and engage them and get them hooked on using social media is actually shown much, much lower down our newsfeed. So we do all of these things.

So, you're right that we need to take our responsibility. We take our responsibilities very seriously. But I think a sweeping assertion that the violence that happened on January 6th can be explained primarily, secondarily or any other way by social media is a woeful simplification of the much wider divisions in society which have been brewing for a very long time.


STELTER: Nick, I'm glad you're here and I'm glad you're answering the questions. And I wonder if you're going to be interviews more often. Will Zuckerberg, will Sandberg?

Because there's been press out there lately suggesting they're just going to stop apologizing, stop taking on the new questions, just -- you know, keep on keeping on. Is that new plan or will you all continue to give interviews?

CLEGG: Well, look, my responsibility in the company is to deal with these very difficult policies. You know, I oversee that amongst other things, the company's policies and everything about how elections are conduct on our platform, how hate speech rules work. So, it's quite right that I'm here to answer for those but I'm part of a team and I'm part of a team, of course, that answers to Mark Zuckerberg. But --


CLEGG: -- I hope you'll find that I'm an adequate surrogate on some of these issues.

STELTER: I think you're wonderful. I think we've got see other executives, as well.

Kara Swisher wants an hour with you, Nick. She thinks you're avoiding the tough questions.

CLEGG: Well, I don't think I've been avoiding the tough questions here. I don't avoid the tough questions. But I also need to get on with the day job which is to make sure that we amplify the good and minimize the bad on social media, in exactly the way that I describe.

And, you know, I think criticism -- with success comes responsibility. With success comes criticism. We should be humble and open enough to accept the criticism where that's legitimate, but I hope people will also accept that we are entitled to be forthright in pushing back at sweeping assertions which are simply not borne out by the research. It is simply not borne out by our research or anybody else's, that Instagram is bad for -- is toxic for all teens.

That's absolutely not what the -- what the research shows. And I think it's very -- I think it's worrisome, and therefore misleading, and should be challenged for parents and families across the country to hear sweeping headlines like that. And I think we're entitled to say, hang on a minute, that's really not the case.

STELTER: Nick, thank you very much for coming on the program.

CLEGG: Thank you.

STELTER: All right, we went a little long, as you can imagine, but we have a lot more coming up this hour, including Fox News celebrating a major milestone. But someone's missing from the happy birthday montages. And I'm going to tell you who.

Up next, the White House's latest gripe with coverage of COVID. The complaint is with coverage of vaccine mandates. Do they have a point?



STELTER: The vaccine mandates taking hold, some of the media coverage is missing the mark. On right-wing media, on Fox, et cetera, opinion hosts are siding with the 27 percent of American adults who at this point are refusing to get at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. It's a clear minority of the U.S. population, but for some reason, these hosts, these stars think that, you know, they have to side with that small minority.

Right-wing media's hostility towards vaccine mandates might be more accurately described as right-wing media's hostilities towards disease prevention. That's the better banner. They're against disease prevention. MAGA media behavior is extending the length of the pandemic.

But some outlets in the mainstream media are also failing to capture what's happening with vaccine mandates. The headlines that hype the minority that say they've been fired because they refuse a vaccine without pointing out tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of people have gone right along with the mandates. The mandates are what they needed. That little nudge to get vaccinated, to get protected, to protect their families and communities.

With me is now is Juliette Kayyem, CNN national security analyst and Harvard Kennedy School professor, and Susan Glasser, staff writer for "The New Yorker".

Juliette, the White House has had some bones to pick about the media coverage this week. I've been hearing it. In fact, Ron Klain, the chief of staff, retweeted you talking about this subject, coming on RELIABLE today.

So what's the argument and what do you think the White House is trying to convey? What's the complaint about the news coverage?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think the White House is right in this case. And I've been critical of the White House. Mandates should have come sooner. We should do airline mandates, air flying mandates.

So, let's just be clear. There's a thing called a denominator. So, when you have a headline that says that 60 people or 600 people are holdouts -- and remember, those numbers actually don't hold by the deadline date -- 600 out of 60,000 is a very different story than 600 out of 1,200.

What I found -- there's about 17 major mandates of major companies, that this was really mandate weak, because it was the end of September. That's a win, and the win begets more win, since this week, we've had Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, AT&T, put mandates in.

So I think it was just -- you know, I understand that the holdouts are interesting, the sense that these companies will have challenges, but those companies had already done contingency planning for those challenges.


KAYYEM: So this was a good week. About how we get these mandates to work overtime, simply to get more people vaccinated rather than fewer. That's our standard. More people vaccinated rather than fewer.

STELTER: Why do you think the Tucker Carlsons of the world are standing with that slim minority that are rejecting the mandates. Even as a business model, as a ratings play, I actually don't get it. Why don't they want to be to the giant majority of America that have done the right thing.

KAYYEM: Well, because that majority of people, the 23 percent overall or the 0.6 percent that are not getting vaccinated with the mandates are their base. And so, there's no point in going against their base, right? It's the people who sort of view freedom as, you know, sort of a self-absorbed, self-centered right, that there's no community interests, no us in United States. This is the group.

And so, the more that they can animate them, they do two things. One is they keep that support.


But they also feed a narrative that a lot of us got sucked into that resistance that doesn't already exist -- that doesn't exist actually does. These are not significant numbers, right, .6% of a company. And so then they give a narrative that oh my God, this country is divided about vaccine mandates.

It's not divided. I'm looking at these numbers. This is what I do for a living, I help these companies get to the finish line. Do not blink, these companies are not blinking.

And they're getting just -- I mean, that's just not only a success corporate story, this is so good for all of us. I mean, it really is to get the private sector engaged in a real community effort to help all of us.

STELTER: Yes. Susan, how does this relate to the latest evolving Donald Trump? He wrote for The New Yorker this week, the Trump show is still on, the Trump show is still running, even in much of the country is not watching it. So, how does this relate to that?

SUSAN GLASSER, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think it relates to a number of ways, Brian. First of all, the MAGA media, as you term it, you know, this is the same base that they're playing to. The Trump base and the anti-vaccine, anti-vaccine mandate base, are the same base. And interestingly, that's one of the reasons why you've seen Donald Trump do essentially nothing to promote the vaccine that many advisors believe was actually the one bright spot in terms of his administration's initial response to the pandemic. He was supporting the effort to quickly develop the vaccine, but you don't see Donald Trump making public service announcements, urging people to get the shot.

When he did mention it in his rally there were boost, you know, this is not something that his base wants, and he and Tucker Carlson and all the rest are extremely sensitive to it.

So number one, what we're having is essentially right now, not just a plague of the unvaccinated, but actually of the -- of red America, of the Trump base. So that's, I think that most important thing to understand.

The other thing is, our politics is so broken right now. You really do have a situation where parts of the Trump base and at times Trump himself are essentially rooting for American failure in the pandemic because that's identified with rooting for Joe Biden's failure.

STELTER: Joe Biden, yes. You pointed out in your column, they have -- they have decided Biden's a failure, now, he must find a way to get to that conclusion, and then reinforce it for the next three years until the election.

Trump wants to get back on Twitter. He's pressing the court again to get back on Twitter. Does that just tell us he's absolutely clearly running and thinks he needs Twitter in order to run Susan?

GLASSER: Well, remember, I think he just needs Twitter. I mean, you know, psychologically, hard to say, but he's spent four years in a constant dialogue, an instantaneous feedback loop with the public, with his supporters on Twitter, and then he was abruptly unplugged from it.

Donald Trump statements right now, he barrages those of us who are on his mailing list constantly with these sort of bizarre e-mail statements, but they're definitely resonating much less and breaking through much less than his Twitter feed used to --

STELTER: Than I used to, yes.

GLASSER: -- and I imagine Donald Trump's tension is an intoxicant for him.

STELTER: Juliet, in one sentence, should Donald Trump be allowed back on Twitter?

KAYYEM: Can I have a word? No. I mean it -- at this stage, as I've said this is more than a -- more than a word.

Look, just quickly, the radicalization that Trump sort of unleashed whether it's being pro-pandemic or a pro-insurrection is something that if your Twitter and you're just looking at yourself as a corporation, right, as a public citizen, in many ways, I see no incentive for them to get him back on Twitter because the radicalization flows from that platform.

We've seen, look, I mean, I know he's not in our frame, he's in other people's frames, but the fact that he's not able to hit -- to get with so many people so often, is a benefit. It's a benefit for this country.

And there's no -- I just have to say, I heard Nick before. There's no shame for a social media company to be pro-democracy. And we should just like that's not a problem, we should support that. So, Twitter should keep them off.

STELTER: I'll be very surprised if he prevails in court. But hey, now I've said that out loud, it's on the record, so it'll be used against me if he ends up back on Twitter. But I will be surprised if a judge rules in his favor. Juliet and Susan, thank you both.

Up next, SNL is back on the air and taking swipes at President Biden. We'll give you a crash course on how to decode all the current coverage of Congress, and all the chaos.

Plus, a look at the lightning-quick collapse of Ozy media. The reporter who started the domino effect, Ben Smith. He joins me in a moment.



STELTER: We know the media loves a good horse race. But has that dynamic weighed in on the coverage on a DC right now? With all the Infrastructure bill ups and downs this week, it's been hard for anyone to keep up even the reporters who are supposed to cover it.

We are getting detailed coverage of every nuance, every utterance, but are we missing the broader story, the broader implications of this, you know, incredible amount of spending that's being proposed?

With me now, Charlotte Alter, National Correspondent for Time Magazine, and Jonathan Cohn, Senior National Correspondent for HuffPost and Author of the 10-year war, a book all about Obamacare.

And Jonathan, I wanted to talk to you now because, you know, that -- the battle, you know, for Obamacare, the 10-year war as you call it, feels to me like we're seeing a similar focus on DC right now, similar drama coming out of Capitol Hill. What's your number one critique of the news media's coverage of the last few weeks?

JONATHAN COHN, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, HUFFPOST: Yes. Well, I mean, the politics are very similar. I think my biggest critique is an overreaction to what happened this week.

You know, there was a lot of drama on Capitol Hill, there were votes that were going to happen that were not going to happen, and you know, and then now all of a sudden we had headlines, agenda hanging by a thread, President Biden's presidency in doubt.

You know, to me, this looks like a pretty normal process of negotiation and trying to put together a very ambitious piece of legislation.

I mean, I -- remember the ACA, that -- there were many near-death moments when it looked like it was going to fall apart. This does not feel like one of those moments to me.


STELTER: Charlotte, what about you? Your number one critique of the coverage thus far?

CHARLOTTE ALTER, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: Well, listen, I agree with Jonathan that this is actually pretty normal. And all of these hand-wringing headlines, kind of undersell the fact that this is just how the sausage gets made. This is how legislation is decided.

And frankly, you know, there are all these -- there's this narrative that it's Democrats dividing over this. I actually think this is just Democrats deciding how they're going to actually get this done.

You know -- and frankly, I also think that everybody seems to be missing the bigger picture of what $3.5 trillion over 10 years actually could mean to American families.

You know, even if the number is smaller than that, if we're still looking at the potential for a massive investment in the social safety net, that would be the largest investment in childcare, and in climate change, in paid family leave in a generation, and I sort of worried that everyone's kind of missing the big picture about what the potential outcome could be here.

STELTER: Jonathan, is that true? Is the media missing the legislative forest for the individual trees?

COHN: I'm 100 percent with Charlotte on this. It is amazing how little attention over the past few months we've given to these potentially really transformative pieces of legislation.

As Charlotte mentioned, a couple, you know, childcare, paid leaving, every other country in the world has a paid leave law, we don't, we could get one there.

This could be transformative to hundreds of thousands and billions of people who are elderly or disabled and can't get home care, and they end up in nursing homes.

And that's not even to mention, the profound change in policy on climate change, which is really, you know, an existential crisis for the planet. So, there is a lot in this bill, and we probably should be talking a lot more about it.

STELTER: So, let's talk about why it is the way it is. Jonathan, what are the structural reasons in the media why there's so much more focus on, you know, what Joe Manchin just said a second ago versus what he may end up ripping out of the bills?

COHN: Yes, yes. So, I mean, look, I think we all know in general process stories and you know, the media, especially the Washington media do tend to focus more on process stories, that's always been the case.

This particular bill, it's a little hard because it is so many things. It's hard to really focus on one, and it's competing in the media environment where we're constantly talking about the pandemic, Afghanistan, abortion, there are just so many stories.

I also think strangely, both parties for very different reasons have not been focusing on the substance. I think Democrats, in part because of how they were scarred during the Obamacare fight and so many others, they just want to move along as fast as they can, and they don't want -- if they don't get bogged down in guides, you know, knocking down Fox News arguments on policy, that they probably think that's all to the good.

And Republicans, they're really trying to play to their base, and frankly, you know, they're -- what gets their base riled up is immigration, critical race theory, mask mandates. They're not going to get riled up about policies, which actually most of them probably support.

STELTER: Interesting. OK, Charlotte, what about you? I mean, is it -- is it that structurally, the media now versus say 30 years ago, is so Twittery, is so -- we -- there's actually so much content, there's the saturation of news coverage, and so every little itty bitty detail seems important? Is so is -- I'm almost saying, is there too much news coverage, which is a weird thing to ask?

ALTER: Yes. I mean, I do think it's possible that on a -- that on a story like this one, there may be too much news coverage. Listen, I'm as guilty of it as the next person, but I -- but I also think, you know, so you essentially get every beat of this covered at every moment.

The votes delayed, the votes in jeopardy, they're still deciding, you know, that's a -- that might be sort of too much information for most people. I think most people are kind of like, hey, call me when you figure it out, and let me know what's in the bill.

But I think that, frankly, is also a part of the problem here is that because they're still figuring it out, it's very hard to cover the impact of a bill that isn't hammered out yet.

Where there's still a tremendous amount that's in flux about how much money they're going to spend over the course of 10 years. You know, how much what's going to stay in, what's going to fall out.

It's sort of like tasting a cake that isn't baked yet. You know, we have a general sense of the ingredients, we have a general sense of what it's going to taste like, but it's -- but it's very hard to present that to the general public because there are just so many unknowns. [11:45:00]

STELTER: I really prefer the cake-making analogy to this sausage- making analogy. So, as we talk about this, let's just make all kids make cakes from now on. That's a great idea. At least doesn't sound so gross. All right, Charlotte, Jonathan, thank you both for being here.

Now to a digital Hall of Mirrors that's been exposed. A startup media company called Ozy media is shutting down after a New York Times expose, alleging massive deception by the company's founders.

Now, Ozy media appeared to be a success, it tried to present itself as a success. It claimed to have tens of millions of engaged users. It held large outdoor festivals with live music, and big-name guests, and comedy performances.

Earlier this year, veteran BBC journalist Katie Kay was even lured away to join the company. And it was headed by a well-connected media personality, Carlos Watson, who was once a Political Analyst here on CNN.

But it seems like Ozy was just a big mirage as revealed in Ben Smith's reporting for the New York Times. He laid this bear in a column on Sunday night, and then the dominoes fell all week long. Here's one example from his reporting.

In 2019, Ozy boasted of having 50 million monthly visitors, so imagine each dot is a million. Yet, the tracking data we have available to us shows it only ever had a tiny fraction of that 50 million. So, the data was not able to back up these boastful claims.

So, what was going on? Was the company just faking it till it made it? Was there actual fraud here? Was there a criminal case? Well, those are all big questions now that the company is shutting down. Employees were told on Friday that it's over, that some of them will be laid off in the days ahead.

So, we invited Carlos Watson to come on the program to address this, he didn't respond. Ozy really hasn't responded to anything all week long.

But the story is you continue to pile up, and it all began with Ben Smith's column this time last week. So, let's bring Ben in. He's the Media Columnist for The New York Times. Ben, why did you decide to look into Ozy in the first place?

BEN SMITH, MEDIA COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: You know, I think a lot of us who work in online media did sort of feel this disjunct between Ozy's claims and the real numbers.

But I think, you know, there are also a lot of hazy claims that are made about digital media. I think, you know, CNN puts its best foot forward, The New York Times puts its best foot forward, you can probably find fault with all of that.

The story that I learned in which an executive had impersonated a Goldman Sachs, a YouTube executive on a phone call with Goldman Sachs, to me, sort of suggested there was more to it.

STELTER: So, that was the beginning. I thought that headband was for the Wall Street Journal guy, Jeff Horwitz, who has been wearing this headband in every interview, so, I thought you're going to give him a cobble (PH) --

SMITH: I think that's the new thing you're supposed to do. But I think I had to pull it off.

STELTER: Yes, I think it is. I think it -- but I thought that you were pulling it off, fine. So, I guess I'm, you know, I know Carlos Watson, everyone seems to know Carlos Watson.

Do you believe this was actual fraud, or was this just a guy exaggerating, boasting, trying to seem like a star, inflating the numbers that were lifted digital media startups do?

SMITH: I mean, I can't look into somebody's heart, and I have no idea. Honestly, I think you know, Carlos and his partner, Samir Rao, certainly, at times lied to their employees, lied to advertisers, and his certainly orders -- and order of magnitude beyond the kind of puffery that, you know, is totally common in media, in, I would say, business and has been forever. But they haven't really too much, much more extreme degree.

STELTER: Were they attempting just, you know, credibility by association, by booking the Dr. Anthony faucis of the world? I think you were on his show once. By booking well known people, was it just an attempt to sidle up next to success and pretend to be successful?

SMITH: You know, I think they were -- you know, that the audience that really ate Ozy, were -- it was two. It was billionaire investors, and it was advertising executives.

And if you've -- I'm sure you've been in conversations, too, with folks who are sort of at the very, very top of the American, you know, pyramid and who breathed that very thin air up there, and they're always kind of like, why couldn't news just have less conflict and messiness, and just be about having bipartisan conversations across the aisle with diverse millennials in which no one is ever made uncomfortable, particularly not billionaires, that advertising executives?

And I do think that Ozy delivered, you know, very, very fully on that promise, and of course, that's not often anyone really particularly wants to consume in the real world, and so, I think they had a real problem building a kind of non-billionaire audience.

STELTER: Right. So, then they have to start paying for promotion, paying for people to watch their videos, they create this facade, and then it all tumbles down within five days of your column. Did you expect the company to shut down five days after your column?

SMITH: You know, things -- yes, I was shocked by how fast it happened. And I think part of it is things just happened faster now, but I think part of it was that advertisers and their investors felt misled. And it's pretty hard to come back from that.


STELTER: No, no recovery at all. What does this tell us about digital media writ large, and will there be more Ozy's?

SMITH: You know, I think that's the thing people like to say and I don't really think it says that much of a digital media writ large. This wasn't a little exaggeration of something that, you know, everybody else was doing.

This was a company that really didn't have an audience, and was bursting of a massive audience, and valuing so itself hundreds of millions of dollars.

I think these things pop up in all sorts of industries. I think it does expose, you know, how little attention sophisticated in this so- called sophisticated investors often pay when they're really going with their kind of gut feel about a founder with their instincts, and with who else has already joined the club.

And Laurene Powell Jobs was the -- is an old friend of Carlos isn't was the first person in the door, and I think a lot of other investors thought, you know what cool she's in I'm in, and didn't look much deeper.

STELTER: Can you preview your next column for us? Do you have one coming out on this tonight?

SMITH: I do have one coming out on this tonight but I need to write it. So, I cannot preview it.

STELTER: You need to go write it. That's a great answer. Ben, thank you for coming to the program.

SMITH: Thank you.

STELTER: It's no pressure like a deadline. Sign up for our nightly Reliable Sources Newsletter. We will link to whatever Ben comes up with tonight. You can sign up for free at

Up next here on the program, a view of the White House eliminated pink for the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

After the break, Meg Kinnard shares the amazing story of her fight against that disease, which has not stopped her from reporting for the Associated Press. Hear from her next.



STELTER: Fighting for her life while not missing a reporter beat. It's the story of perseverance as we'd be at National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Diagnosed with stage three cancer, AP Politics Reporter Meg Kinnard has not let it slow her down. Despite surgery and months of intensive chemotherapy and radiation, she's still a must-read for developments in South Carolina politics, she's filing stories four or five times a week.

This story starts with Meg deciding to get a second opinion on a lump she first discovered during a self-exam nearly four years ago. A decision that he says saved her life.

And Meg Kinnard is with me now. So, Politics Reporter for the AP by day, and now Breast Cancer Awareness Activist or Advocate by night, and all the rest of the time, how are you feeling? How are you doing, Meg?

MEG KINNARD, POLITICS REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Hey, Brian, it's really good to be with you. I'm feeling really well. I'm about halfway through my radiation treatments, which I'm getting at MD Anderson Cancer Center here in Houston, and so far, so good.

A little bit of fatigue, a little bit of pain from the treatments occasionally, but all in all, I really don't have any complaints. I'm feeling well.

STELTER: What do you want people to know, who are watching, what do you want to get awareness about?

KINNARD: There are two prongs to the message that I really would like people to hear. One is, take care of yourself, get the screenings that we're all supposed to get, and sometimes put off for a variety of reasons.

But aside from that, if there's something that you notice that you feel is going on, that seems a little questionable, and even if you get that screening, and you're not satisfied with the answer, or the result from it, push for something further.

We are our own best advocates, and there's really nothing more important than our own health, so make sure that you keep pushing if you get an answer that really doesn't satisfy you.

STELTER: Yes. Has this experience, this pain changed the way you view reporting? You're still pumping out stories every day, has it changed the way you viewed journalism at all?

KINNARD: Maybe somewhat. But for me, honestly, my work, I love it, I really enjoy it, and it has also been a way to keep myself centered, to keep my mind engaged, and to keep pushing through.

Cancer treatment is no joke. It is not easy. There are many difficult pieces to it. But I'm really fortunate that I have an employer like the Associated Press that's given me some flexibility to keep doing my job from infusion centers, to radiation treatment waiting rooms, and everywhere in between.

And for me, I have found a lot of solace in that because it really does keep me focused on something aside from the personal journey on which I am right now.

STELTER: Right, absolutely. Meg, I hope your message helps others -- I think it already has and I hope it continues to help others as well. Thank you for being here.

KINNARD: Of course, thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

STELTER: You'll probably hear a lot about Fox News this week. The network is turning 25 and running lots of commercials celebrating his birthday. But you won't hear any honest assessment of Fox -- on Fox, of how the network has changed America. So, let's size it up for a minute before we go.

Fox wasn't always the political beast it is today. As the first co- host of the morning show that became fox and friends told me from a book Hoax.

It was not very political at all. I was not very political, and neither was the show back then. It was pop culture sprinkled with the day's news. But the network evolved or devolved into the beating heart of the GOP, a heart with clogged arteries and weak muscles.

It's the network that brought us inspirational stories about the military and Middle America but also smothering patriotism after 9/11. And a portrayal of the U.S.A. that seems stuck in a time warp.

Fox is the network that brought us Megyn Kelly, and Jesse Watters, and Greg Gutfeld, and Tomi Lahren, and Shep Smith narrating Llama chase. I mean, that was fun. I'll never forget Llamas.

But for all the fun, there's also so much darkness in Fox's history. You won't see Roger Ailes in the retrospectives, but his abuse of women, his leg cam, his paranoia, his rage, it's what translated into the network that exists today. Full of rage, anger, it's the whitelash on TV, although often delivered with a smile. Ailes also brought us, Donald Trump.

Executives might say they're merely holding a mirror up to America's divisions, but the political science research is clear, Fox is not just a mirror, it's an accelerant.

There's a new book coming out about this on Tuesday, it's called The Brainwashing Of My Dad, and it's about exactly what you think. For the families who feel like they've been torn apart by Fox, this week is not a happy anniversary. All right.