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Is Rupert Murdoch A Threat To American Democracy?; The Man- Bites-Dog Problem In Journalism; Analyzing News Coverage Of Biden And The Budget Battle; What's Really Behind Facebook's Name Change?; How One Man Hopes To Bolster News In Baltimore. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired October 31, 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 try to figure out what's reliable.

This hour, a media frenzy in Virginia. New calls for journalists to step up their game. David Sirota will join me live.

Also, Mark Zuckerberg's arrogance. Does it know any bounds at all? Kara Swisher is here on that and all things about the company formerly known as Facebook.

Plus, what is right wing pundit Dan Bongino thinking? What is he really taking a stand for? We're going to get into that and much more.

But, first, was the peaceful transfer of power in January something of a miracle and will it be repeated?

Let me explain why I'm asking. The deterioration of democracy is a daily story in America. Look at this "Politico" headline from the other day about just how conspiratorial Trump world has become. The headline says, a fear grows in Trump world. Have we gone too conspiratorial?

Interesting question, because on the very same day, Tucker Carlson dropped this promo for "Patriot Purge." It's a streaming service series that go full 1/6 denialism, at least according to the trailer.

So, riot denialism, election denialism, it's all of a piece. And some writers and anchors are trying to expose that, trying to expose those who are subverting democracy. This new commentary at says Donald Trump's slow motion coup is becoming a runaway train.

I have to tell you something. There are journalists at other outlets, outside CNN, who see what's happening, who see the conspiracy storm clouds forming, who see election subversion efforts intensifying, and they don't feel like they can say so. They feel constrained.

I've had about a half dozen conversations with A-list journalists about this in the past month. They tell me in private their news outlets are struggling over how to cover this daily assault on democracy, this drip-drip-drip. Well, one way to do it is by mapping out the road ahead. So, let's

take a look at the stops along the way. So much of what might happen over the next three years is sadly predictable.

Imagine it's 2021. Right wing media keeps pummeling President Biden, weakening him, calling him a tyrant one minute and senile the next. Donald Trump is in complete control of the GOP and his entire political existence is premised on the big lie.

He launches his own version of Twitter and he streams a talk show on the web. It doesn't get as many viewers as Fox but it sets the agenda on the hard right. The agenda is revenge, taking back what he says was stolen.

The big lie as rallying cry supplies years worth of content for MAGA media and establishment media figures have to play along in order to keep their Trumps. Trumpers like Sean Hannity are enforcers, attacking dissenters for daring to stray. Some have to leave the party.

Trump continues to traverse the country, holding rallies under the banner of save America, meaning America is under such dire threat that it needs to be saved from Democrats. These rallies are live on Newsmax and OAN and they are streamed all over the place. And to, quote, save America, red states continue to place new restrictions on voting rights, with local radio hosts and commentators providing all the rhetorical cover that's needed. The savvy ones say it's about voter integrity. Cruder ones say it's about making sure real Americans are heard and illegals are not.

Even when Republicans are charged with illegal voting, even when its Republicans doing it, they claim Democrats are the real criminals. In the right's media echo chamber, the words "Democrats" and "criminals" are conflated constantly so the other side loses legitimacy bit by bit by bit.

The GOP media is on board with this. They are on board with the power grab at all costs, driven by fear of a changing country, fear propelled by the likes of Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham who bring up things like caravans at key moments during the election.

And all of this, in 2022, helps the GOP regain control of the House. Members of the January 6 sedition caucus are now in control of the body that completes the Electoral College process.


Now, some Democrats fret about what's going to happen in 2024. They worry if the insurrectionists will have the upper hand next time. But remember, in Trump world, up is down and day is night. And Trump keeps saying the insurrection was Biden's election.

His propaganda machine so thoroughly rewrites the story of January 6 that most Trump fans now say the riot was legitimate and was a virtuous attempt to right a wrong. The felonies, the brutal injuries, the suicides have been written out of the story. The rioters have been turned into the victims. And most people by the end of 2022 have a sinking feeling that more riots are ahead.

Now, imagine it's 2023. Trump officially announces he is running again. He faces some younger challengers but it is still his party, partly because he's great for right wing ratings and clicks. He has convinced his base that he is the only one who can restore them to power.

When critics deride the Trump cult, his super fans embrace that word, start printing, cult t-shirts. Some guzzle red Kool-Aid at rallies to troll the libs. New fan groups organized in private Facebook groups. They call themselves the Trumpets. They pledged to share only real news about the candidate, to get around the CNNs of the world. Of course, their real news is largely misinformation.

Meanwhile, key local election boards are reshaped in Trump's favor and the MAGA media machine gins even more hatred against secretaries of state and other local officials who don't pledge allegiance to Trump. Intimidation is one of the key weapons. Cars, buses, boats, all welded in menacing ways.

But when reporters cover these episodes, pro-Trump Twitter stars say, liberals threaten us too so we're just getting even. There's always an excuse provided for un-democratic behavior.

What-about-ism is the name of the game. Conservative publishing houses turn out shelves full of books with justifications for every illiberal instincts, and religious broadcasters blast out daily prophesies about Trump being God's vessel against demonic Democrats. The average "New York Times" readers never see this but it's out there every single day.

Remember, it's 2023 now, OK? GOP primary season. Columnists who point out that Trump is a wannabe autocrat are insulted by Fox stars, triggering hate campaigns against them.

Reporters who try to counter Trump's lies are jeered and smeared more than ever before. His verbal attacks against the media are so pervasive now that physical violence erupts more often -- beatings at rallies, bombs at newsrooms. The bombs don't explode but that's beside the point. Fear is the point. Silence through force.

Let's continue down the road a little further. Imagine it's 2024 now. Trump is the GOP nominee. He's feeding off Biden's missteps in a foreign crisis. His big lie from 2020 has become absolute accepted truth in his party.

There's a clear difference between the people who pay for news, who subscribe to news sources and want to know what's true, versus people who pay for views, incendiary views, what they want to be true. And that's what MAGA media is all about, incendiary views.

There's a market for this. It's a giant grift. Even more save America websites start launching to sell affirmation and merch to the faithful. They start to publish explicit enemies lists and in the comments sections of the websites people dream up what they'll do if Trump is denied power, which weapons they'll use, who they'll hurt. At far right conferences, people ask, when do we get to use the guns?

And how many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?

Americans are at each other's throats, spun up by the sick stuff they see on social media. Every day, some random hyper-local story about a migrant from Haiti or a refugee from Afghanistan is blown out of proportion into some doomsday international story about the death of white America's way of life.

This is all you hear about on right wing radio and on rumble. They are killing us. That's the general election narrative and this stuff trickles down, destroying civil discourse even at the local level. Neighbors turn on neighbors. Easygoing local elections turn into existential battles.

It feels like there's Republican diners and Democrat diners, Republican bars and Democrat bars. Common ground erodes largely because there's no common media ground anymore.

It's as if America has been swallowed up by QAnon conspiracy theories. Freedom of expression feels trampled, muffled.

And remember, as all this happening, as democracy deteriorates in 2024, Trump's enablers claim they are the ones protecting democracy. They think or at least they pretend that they are upholding the declaration of independence. They cloak their autocratic actions in the language of the Founding Fathers. They claim to be the most patriotic Americans of them all.

And this narrative is advanced 24 hours a day by the ABC, the apps, the broadcasters, and the commentators who justify stomping all over the Constitution as an attempt to save it.


Now, imagine it's election day 2024. Trump is the leader of a new lost-cause movement. Every single voice on Fox has his back.

But outlets like OAN still call Fox liberal commie pinko whatever it takes to steal viewers away from the top channel, and Fox responds by running even further to the right, quadrupling down on red meat opinion over news.

There will be no repeat of the Arizona race call. Telling the truth is too risky. The GOPers who used to be responsible party officials are you cowering to Trump. Key election boards are, to borrow a rigged -- to borrow a word, rigged.

The country is on pins and needles. Landlords boarded up downtown windows. Maybe looting starts, shooting starts.

I'm not saying all of this will happen, but I'm saying it could. We know it could happen because it's all happened before. Almost everything I have described has already happened in one form or another. Books like "Peril" have all the evidence and the next big book about

Trump and election subversion is "Betrayal". It's by ABC's Jonathan Karl. It comes out in November. It has even more evidence of Trump betraying democracy.

Karl writes in his final chapter that America came so close to the edge last winter, closer than most Americans appreciate.

I just want to read to you one line from what Karl says. He says, quote: I didn't realize it at the time but as I reported on this book, I became convinced that the peaceful transfer of power that happened as scheduled on January 20th was something of a miracle.

We know what Trump will do, so what will the rest of us do?

That's the story for the American media for the next three years.

Now, let me bring in three guests to talk more about this and to drill down on the Murdoch of it all.

Julie Roginsky is a former Fox News contributor and Democratic strategist; Astead Herndon is the national political reporter of "The New York Times" and a CNN political analyst; and Bill Carter, also with me, CNN media analyst.

Let's bring everybody in for a conversation here -- hopefully a little more optimistic than I was at the beginning.

Let's game out -- let's talk through what happened this week. I think the drip, drip, drip element is really important here, and we've to go through the details of what's happening day by day.

Julie, you used to work at Fox News and I'm sure you saw Tucker Carlson's promo for this January 6th rewrite, this patriot purge thing he's claiming. He says it's a new war on terror going after conservatives.

Clearly, Rupert Murdoch and Lachlan Murdoch are approving of this content. I wonder if you recognize the Fox News of today based on what you know from the Fox News where you worked?

I don't hear Julie. I don't think you all do either. So, we'll try to get that fixed for a second.

Bill Carter, let me go to you, sir.


STELTER: I know you have strong feelings on the Murdoch media empire, whether it's Tucker Carlson's documentary, whether it's "The Wall Street Journal" publishing that lie-filled letter from Trump this week. Are the Murdochs trying to become threats to democracy? Is Rupert Murdoch a threat to American democracy?

CARTER: Well, I think they're willing to be, or they're trying to be. They're certainly willing to be. And I feel like they have basically conceded that they can't control the audience's preferences so they're going to go with it.

I mean, you know, the thing that Carlson is doing right now is so outrageous and over the top that you would think any responsible people or organization (ph) step back and say, well, we can't do that. We can't allow that.

But he's got them in a box. They can't control him. If they said to him, you can't do this, and we're going to take you off the air, he would just go somewhere else and take his viewers with him.

And they're not willing to do that because they're in the business of cashing in on people's paranoia and all of the hostility that they gin up.

So, it's part of their overall strategy. They're not going to back away from it.

STELTER: While we try to get Julie back, I want to ask you, Astead, because you interview voters, you were interviewing voters in Virginia earlier this month.


STELTER: Do you hear on the ground the effects, the influence of Murdoch media, of Tucker's narratives? Do you hear it firsthand?

HERNDON: You absolutely hear the same themes but I think it's a lot bigger than just Fox or Rupert Murdoch. We're talking about an entire ecosystem as you mentioned in the open.

And so, for a lot of people, they are fully engrossed in a social media, in a kind of Internet ecosystem that leads up and includes Fox News.


It's actually much larger than that, a kind of self-fulfilling, self- selecting bubble, a cocoon that a lot of folks are in.

And I can tell you from Virginia, from Georgia, from even the run-up to the election, that cocoon has never been tighter. They are convinced at the -- on the false reality of -- that January 6th was a peaceful protest. They are convinced about the false reality of the November election being stolen, and that is the driving factor.

They're creating that I think litmus test for the Republican politicians who are running now. They say if you don't agree with him on those two issues, they're not going to have any starting point with them. That's how they're purging some of the Republicans who do not agree with him on that front, it's because the bait has really motivated itself around this and is demanding the politicians and the Fox media to follow through.

STELTER: So, Astead, you're a political reporter, but you're also a very sharp media critic. I love your insights on Twitter.

So, I want to know, what do you want newsrooms to be doing differently or what needs to be emphasized more in the coverage of these matters?

HERNDON: Yeah, think about it in a couple of ways. One, I think it's a mistake for us to think of January 6th as an isolated event. That was -- that was certainly a high-profile one, certainly a shocking one coming to the seat of democracy.

But even as we continue, you have mini January 6s. You have rallies pushing the so-called big lie over and over. In these local and state elections, that narrative is continuing.

I would also say we should not think of democracy as something that's been stable for a long time and was just upended with Donald Trump.

STELTER: Good point.

HERNDON: This is a democracy that has often excluded a lot of people, that has often used the false narrative of fake elections to exclude people of color, to exclude rising constituencies that a lot of people didn't think had a real say in this democracy.

So I think instead of thinking this as an outlier moment for the country, we are really seeing the chickens come home to roost of a democracy that's always been very fragile. I think it's kind of easier for me to see as someone who's black and who has known to be true their whole lives. But I think it's important for media to understand that also.

This isn't a 200-year stable democracy that is now just coming under threat. This is something that's been not applied to many people for a long time, and we are seeing those narratives bubble up and be embraced by higher and higher profile figures, in a more explicit way certainly, in a more challenging way, certainly, but not in a way that is unique to the American story.

STELTER: Absolutely. Let's just -- we are just getting started here. I think we have Julie back.

So, let's give it a try. Julie, can you hear me?


STELTER: I was building you up. You are our former Fox insider. I want to hear your impression of Tucker Carlson's patriot purge doc, "The Journal" editorial -- letter to the editor. What are your impressions?

ROGINSKY: Well, my impression is that Rupert Murdoch is trying to cover his bases and have it both ways. Obviously, he is concerned, because I think he probably is concerned that Donald Trump may get reelected again. It's good for business.

On the other hand, I think the part of Rupert Murdoch that is somewhat responsible understands it's not good for anything else.

But business comes first. And as a result, he's allowing people like Tucker Carlson and "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page, which is ultimately is his baby, to do what they need to do to be in good graces with Donald Trump.

And it's not really fooling anybody else to believe that he's doing this to give free speech rights to Trump supporters or anybody else. Ultimately, he's doing this because he believes there's a very good possibility that Donald Trump may be back in the Oval Office in two more years and that he, Rupert Murdoch, needs to do what he can for his business model.


ROGINSKY: It's totally irresponsible. And it's something that I really think is bad for the country. He knows it too, which is the worst part of this whole story.

STELTER: Bill, do you agree with Julie? Do you think Rupert knows it?

ROGINSKY: I do. I have interviewed him and, you know, he is -- he presents himself as a dignified guy, business and media titan, but he's always been a disruptive figure and that's been the basis of his wealth and power.

It's interesting, Brian, he just turned 90. I mean, he's 90 years old. At that point, most people think of their lives, you know, as something they want to look back on and legacy that he might leave.

And his legacy seems to be that he was a robber baron, you know? He basically came in, like the guys in the 19th century. And in pursuit of wealth and power, he was willing to just spoil things like they did the environment. And what they're doing is now democracy.

I do think he feels like he thinks it's probably going too far because he's not. I mean, I don't think he's a wide-eyed radical person like his audience, but that's who pays his bills. So he's willing to go with the moral bankruptcy of something like Carlson because his bank account depends on it. So he's willing to go with it.

But I think it's a terribly risky thing for the country. And the media has to stay on top of this story, that's the essence of your message. We have to stay all over this thing.

STELTER: Julie, Astead, Bill, thank you all.

ROGINSKY: And, Brian, if I just --

STELTER: Julie, go ahead. Yeah, go ahead, Julie.

ROGINSKY: Just to add one more thing, Tucker Carlson was handpicked by Rupert Murdoch.


He was not handpicked by Roger Ailes or Suzanne Scott. That is a Rupert Murdoch pick that was put in that 8:00 chair and everybody at Fox knows that and the American people should know too who's responsible for Tucker Carlson.

STELTER: It's a great point. Rupert owns it. Thank you, everybody.

Up next, David Leonhardt is here. We're going to chew on journalism's man-bites-dog problem.

Plus, is it too late to save local journalism? It can't be, right? The answer to the problem may be found here in Baltimore. And we're going to tell you all about it, coming up.


STELTER: We live in the age of greats. There was the great shutdown of March 2020, or the great lockdown when the coronavirus pandemic upended life in America and around the globe.

Then, the great reopening. We heard about businesses returning, people resuming some semblance of normal life.

We've also heard about the great awakening, how the pandemic has opened people's eyes, maybe changed people's political preferences.


And now we keep hearing about the great resignation and people either leaving jobs, reevaluating work/life balance, finding better jobs or staying on the sidelines of the labor force.

So many greats, causing great disruptions to our politics. And frankly, great American divides as well.

For more on that big story, let me bring in David Leonhardt, senior writer and economics columnist for "The New York Times." He writes the morning newsletter, which is a must-read for "The New York Times."

David, good to see you.


STELTER: I keep thinking about the language, like everything has a slogan these days, you know? We have a great shutdown, we have a great resignation going on. And maybe that's all true or maybe journalists just love slogans.

It seems to me, that yeah, journalists love slogans, we love distilling things into a sentence or a phrase. But we're also living through these tectonic shifts in our lives that are hard to cover in 30-second sound bytes and frankly I think that's why newsletters are doing well right now. People need the longer reads to understand what's happening in our pandemic world.

What are you seeing these days?

LEONHARDT: Yeah, you know, that reminds me, I'm a big sports fan, when you go back and look at sporting events and you say, well, it's been going on since 104 years ago but it's only happened 102 times because it didn't happen after Pearl Harbor. Last year was one of those years, our kids and grandkids will look back and say, oh, all this stuff in the world didn't happen during COVID-19. I think we're entering this really tricky and honestly difficult time for people to make decisions. Things have gotten so much better.

The vaccines overwhelmingly protect people from serious versions of COVID. They turn into a manageable flu or cold for the vast majority of people. Not for absolutely everyone. If you are over 75 and you have preexisting health conditions, you still might be vulnerable even if you're vaccinated.

But for the vast majority of people, even older people, the vaccines really turned this into something completely manageable. And yet, we're not simply going to rapidly move toward a pre-COVID world. I mean, cases have bumped up a little bit over the last four days. And my guess is this week you may start to hear a little bit more about that.

We're going to have ebbs and flows in this. I think it's going to be very difficult for people to try to make decisions. The thing I would urge is, let's remember that doing too little to respond to COVID has huge costs, but doing too much also has costs. And we have to get that balance right.

STELTER: Why is forecasting the future of COVID so tricky? You've cautioned about this in your newsletter. Why is it so tricky?

LEONHARDT: Because we don't understand it. Because we -- I think -- I think we understand it even less than we understand that we understand it, right? It's like known unknowns.


LEONHARDT: We think, oh, COVID surges because we spend more time indoors or COVID surges because we take our masks off. But actually, if you look at the data, sometimes COVID falls even when people are taking more risks and sometimes it declines when the opposite is happening.

And so, yes, things like social distancing matter. But they don't matter as much as we think they matter. The vaccines are the things that overwhelmingly matter. And so, that's how you've had this rapid decline in cases in September even as kids were going back to school. There's no story that actually explains that.

And so we just don't understand the way viruses work, and we need to be deeply humble about that.

STELTER: Deeply humble, I like that.

What about the man bites dog problem part of all of this? You know, we focus on the outliers, the minority, maybe the fringe. We don't focus on when dog bites man, when the normal thing happens, when most people go ahead and get vaccinated and get boosters. Are you seeing that problem existing in COVID coverage? LEONHARDT: I do. And I think I would say -- I would say if you're not

a member of the media, I think it's important to keep in mind that we in the media have a real bad news bias.

And some of that is healthy. We're confronted constantly with spokespeople from corporations and politicians and athletes who are trying to tell us how everything is wonderful and perfect and so you really want us to have a certain skepticism. But we often go too far.

And so what that means is that good news, when cases are declining or the vaccines are working, tends to not receive very much attention and bad news receives enormous attention. And so when you're listening to COVID news, just remember that it's coming through this filter that we in the media often have this bad news bias.

And so dog bites man, man bites dog, the vaccine mandates have actually been amazingly successful. They've led a lot more people no get vaccinated who have not previously gotten vaccinated. Not that many people have decided to quit or get fired because of it.

But, of course, we tend to hear more about the outliers. They're real. They need some attention, but just remember they are outliers.

STELTER: Well, speaking of outliers, Dan Bongino, a popular radio host, says he might quit his radio show.


He doesn't agree with cumulus having a vaccine mandate. Even though he's vaccinated, he wants to stand up for the staffers who don't want to get the vaccination.

And then, there's this amazing story out of Hollywood, Ice Cube quitting a movie apparently because he declined the COVID vaccine. THR says he's given up $9 million -- he's giving up a $9 million payday because he doesn't want to get vaccinated.

So, these outliers, these stories, they're interesting because they're shocking, like they're -- like, who would give up $9 million, you know, not to get vaccinated? But then these stories exist and they do merit some attention.

LEONHARDT: They do. I -- the thing I would say is when people quit or get fired because they won't take the vaccine, I would think of that -- there is some really good news there. I mean, it is your legal right to not take the vaccine. We live in a country that prioritizes individual freedom.

But if you refuse to take the vaccine, you're putting a lot of people's parents and grandparents, including some who are vaccinated, people who are immunocompromised, you are putting those people at risk of serious illness or even death.

And so, if the punishment that you need to take for potentially harming others is you can't have the job you have, I don't have a problem with that. You're choosing to put others at risk, people who can't protect themselves, and that means -- I don't have a lot of sympathy for what you have to forfeit.

STELTER: That's a very different frame the one -- than the one Dan Bongino is putting on what he's doing, so I hope his viewers -- his listeners hear it. David, thank you so much.

LEONHARDT: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: My next guest has a blazing critique of the DC budget battle coverage. David Sirota joins us live next.



STELTER: It's a big week, a big week for President Biden, a really big week, the biggest week, got it. It feels like we hear a version of that every single week. Maybe we should try to analyze it or scrutinize that framing a little bit.

Here to do that, and much more, David Sirota, he's the founder of the -- of the Daily Poster. He's also out with a really interesting new podcast called Meltdown. That we'll talk about in a minute. David, good to see you.


STELTER: You were writing speeches for Bernie Sanders in 2020, so we know what side of the aisle you're on or what side of the Democratic fight you're on.

I would love to hear your number one critique of how Biden and his social safety net bill and how his battle to get it through Congress. How it's being covered in the press? Your number one critique.

SIROTA: My number one critique is that there hasn't been a lot of following of the money. That if you pay attention to the conversation in the media, there hasn't been a lot of contexts about which industries are buying which politicians.

You see the parties fighting with each other, you see the pieces of the Democratic coalition fighting with each other, but removed from much of the story is the fact that the oil industry, the fossil fuel industry is pumping a lot of money into this. The pharmaceutical industry is pumping a lot of money into this.

Many of the members of Congress who are -- who are trying to kill Democrats' promised prescription drug plan, they have taken a huge amount of money from the pharmaceutical industry.

So, writing the money behind the bill out of the story of the bill is a huge problem and it doesn't give viewers and readers the context that they need. STELTER: This relates to your new series, Meltdown, which you announced, give me have done, I think it's important because it gives historical context to the last 12 years.

You go back to the financial crisis and you say a lot of what's happened since Trump's election. What's happened? It all is because of the financial meltdown, 2008, 2009. So, how do we -- how can we infuse more historical context into today's news coverage?

SIROTA: Well, look, I think, when you take the reconciliation bill and then -- that's in Congress right now, there's this baked-in idea that the Democrats have to basically pare back their promised agenda in order to try to win the midterm elections.

But of course, if you go back to the 2009, 2010 era, which we do in our podcast, Meltdown, you take a look at the Democrats doing the same thing.

At that point, it was on behalf of their Wall Street donors, they pared back help for regular people, they did a huge bailout for big bankers, bankers who had created the problem unto itself, and there was a huge backlash.

The Democrats ended up getting shellacked, those are the words of Barack Obama. They got shellacked in the elections in part because there was a lot of disillusionment from voters who were -- who said they -- look, we were promised help, we didn't get help.

So, if you fast forward to today, a lot of the media coverage is -- presumes that Democrats need to pare back their agenda in order to appease so-called moderate voters, but in fact, the historical context says the exact opposite.

STELTER: So, we have to infuse what we know from history into the daily coverage. What we need is a little bit less of the kind of the hysterical minute by minute and a little bit more the broader -- the broader story here. Where can we find Meltdown, by the way?

SIROTA: It's on Audible right now.

STELTER: There we go. Thanks for being on the program. Good to see you.

SIROTA: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

STELTER: Up next, the one and only Kara Swisher here and we are going to get Meta.



STELTER: All right. If Facebook was trying to distract from the Facebook files and all the papers and all the whistleblowing, maybe it worked.

The name change did get a lot of people talking this week, so let's talk about it but also the bigger story with Kara Swisher.

Of course, she's the host of the Sway podcast for the New York Times and she knows everyone in big tech. They either love or hate or fear her or all the above, Kara, great to see you.


STELTER: Does the Metaverse actually matter? Does what Mark Zuckerberg is presenting actually matter? Is it real?

SWISHER: Well, it's not real. That's the whole point. It's a -- it's a mix of analog and physical. Yes, it matters. It's the idea of where computing is going next and people have very different ideas of what's happening.

But there will be some level of AR and VR in future computing just the way mobile sort of led the way to what we have now with apps and everything.

There's an idea that there's a Metaverse, where you -- where you interact with people around the globe. It's not so different than holograms or things like that.

But it's these worlds that you can participate in, his is a little creepy, honestly, but it's fine, it's just where you -- it's been in movies, it's -- goes back to Snow Crash with Neil Stevenson.

But it's way before that there's been all these ideas of how to create this from the 60s and even before that in early Sci-Fi or movies like The Matrix, you know, you could -- you could imagine it whatever you want.

STELTER: So, we'll see if it really does --


STELTER: -- if this version comes to fruition. But what's the big story about Facebook right now? It's not Meta. What's the real story?


SWISHER: I think the story of these issues is about how it manages the social network, which is its biggest business, the flagship, Facebook, and it's still Facebook, no matter how you slice it.

All the other divisions, whether it's Oculus or the others are sort of a sidelight to what's going on there. And I mash Instagram up with Facebook because that's the one that's "most closely aligned to it."

But whether it's WhatsApp or Oculus, or whatever, most of the focus should be on the -- on the main platform, which is Facebook.

STELTER: Right. And then, what it is doing the question about, do you feel like there is enough focus there as Mark Zuckerberg get covered like the head of state that he is? SWISHER: Oh, yes. I mean, yes, I don't know if you watched last week but it got a ton of attention. And of course, finally, Congress is paying attention in a substantive way.

Before they've done these hearings and, you know, people have made fun of his physical thing, which is ridiculous, we should look at the business.

And we should look at you know, how it's doing and what it's doing to our society, and whether it's being managed in the proper way.

And then discuss the issues of how to solve it because there's all these thorny First Amendment issues mixed in with it, and everything else.

But at the very heart of it is that this is an industry, all of tech, that has not been regulated ever by anybody.

STELTER: Right. So, now there is so much scrutiny over big tech, so they have a lot of Sway, they're getting scrutiny. Who is getting a lot -- who have a lot of Sway that doesn't get the scrutiny?

Who are you trying to book on your podcast? Like who are the people that have Sway but don't get enough media scrutiny?

SWISHER: Well, we look at all of them. I've had Tim Cook on talking about different things, including the App Store, that's the big issue there.

I think, probably not enough scrutiny is on YouTube, which markets a lot of the scrutiny because it's so big. Because it's the biggest, right? And that's why people are paying attention to it the most impactful.

But I do think YouTube and stuff that's going on there probably should be looked at in a -- in a stronger wake in conjunction with Facebook because it's a very -- they're very similar sets of issues. I think, obviously, we have to look at Amazon and the marketplace issues.

Overall, you have to look at the data issues and what's going on. And the privacy issues, we don't have a privacy bill in this country. That's national. We have them in certain states.

There's all kinds of things. Transparency, you know, there's just a story yesterday in the post about how much Facebook knew about anti- Vax stuff, that kind of stuff.

STELTER: A lot of it is quite scary. Are you dressing up for Halloween, Kara? Maybe you're going to be Mark Zuckerberg?

SWISHER: No, thank you. I don't -- I dress up as a -- as a podcaster. That's what I do and I stay with this. This is a scary thing for me.

STELTER: Kara, we have to be on the other side of your mic. That's true.


STELTER: Kara, thank you so much for coming on.

SWISHER: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: Next, we go back to my home state of Maryland. We're looking now at the great city of Baltimore where there will soon be a new banner for local news. We're going to tell you about it in a moment.



STELTER: This could be a banner headline for Baltimore, the plans for a new local news site called the Baltimore Banner.

There'll be a nonprofit subscription-based outlet sometimes competing with the Baltimore Sun newspaper.

Stewart Bainum tried to buy the Sun and was rebuffed, so he's building something new. He's hired Kimi Yoshino of the Los Angeles Times to be the editor, and he wants to hire 50 reporters and launch next year.

I asked him where his interest in local news came from, and he said it stems from witnessing the declines firsthand.


STEWART BAINUM, JR., CHAIRMAN, THE VENETOULIS INSTITUTE FOR LOCAL JOURNALISM: Yes, it really started back in -- when I was in the Maryland General Assembly for eight years in Annapolis between 1979 and 1987, there was six Maryland daily robust newspapers covering Annapolis and all the shenanigans going on there.

And all kinds of famous -- reporters who became famous, I mean, Gwen Ifill was with the Morning Sun at the time, and I could list a half dozen or so others that went on and became nationally important journalists.

Now, instead of six papers, there's two, basically two there, the Sun and the Post. And that's it. And they have fewer reporters, and that's just Annapolis.

Then, you look at the different county and city governments around the state, and not to mention the zoning appeals board, the liquor boards, and so forth. And so it's important we understand what's going on in our communities and we hold our leaders accountable.

STELTER: When I was growing up snooping around Annapolis covering Statehouse meetings, there were very few reporters even then, so we've seen this, you know, decline over the decades. What do you blame?

BAINUM: Well, the business model for local news has changed dramatically. I mean, the internet has disintermediated that business. It used to be a B2B business, a business-to-business operation. In other words, advertisers provided most of the -- most of the revenue as subscriptions less so. And now, the advertisers are going national with Facebook and Google and so forth and -- so that cash flow is not there for the local news.

So, it's a -- it's a business model that's collapsed and the question is, is there another business model that self-sustaining that can replace the old business model?

Because the Sun used to have 420 reporters, full-time journalists, and now there's like 70 at the Sun, and the business model has changed, so it's a shadow of what it used to be.

And that's not just the Sun, that's the way it is and papers around the country. So, our aspiration here is to -- is we have two goals, Brian, one is local one is national, both are ambitious.


BAINUM: The local one is to -- is to build a first-rate local news operation in Baltimore that tells the stories of the people in Baltimore and holds our leaders to account, strengthens the community.

And the National one is to do that in such a way that it's a sustainable business that can finance itself. And in that way, that business model can be proven and replicated in communities in all 50 states.

STELTER: It's ambitious, but we need it.

BAINUM: Say -- it's a -- it's a huge need because without it, you know, it's difficult for people on this side of town to know what the stories are on the other side of town and in dramatically different neighborhoods at times.

And so when you -- when you don't -- aren't sharing those stories, you know, empathy and understanding go down and polarization rises --

STELTER: I'm so glad you brought that up.

BAINUM: -- and it creates real problems and --

STELTER: That's right.


STELTER: The hollowing out of local news does go a pretty long way to explaining what's broken in our politics.

BAINUM: Yes, I think so -- I think so because how do you know who you're voting for? How do you know who's on the ballot? How do you know what their values are?

What skeletons may not be in their closet and what skeletons might be in their closet if you don't have some nosy reporters around profiling these people? (END VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: And that's really the heart of the matter. Check out the rest of my conversation with Stewart Bainum on the RELIABLE SOURCES podcast, we go into great detail about what the Baltimore Banner hopes to be, and how it can be replicated elsewhere. Check it out,

Now, on this happy Halloween, I thought it'd be a nice treat to share some of -- how your favorite CNN anchors are dressing up.

I am not dressing up but Jake Tapper did, here he is as Ted Lasso in the office the other day, and here's some members of Jake Tapper his team. I love the missing Maryland Zebra outfit.

Next, Kate Bolduan as Elvis, outstanding, see, this is why don't dress up. I can't top these. And best of all, Don Lemon and his fiancee, Tim Malone, just share this from last night. It's incredible. Truly, we'll be enjoyed right there.

We're out of time here on TV. We hope you have a great Happy Halloween. We'll see you back here this time next week.