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Steve Bannon's Podcast Is A Nexus Of Nonsense; Mike Lindell Sells Pillows And Political Delusions; What The News Media Is Missing About Inflation; Media Spotlight On The Britney Spears Case; Looking For Solutions To 'Information Disorder'; One Family's Fight To Keep Local Journalism Alive; Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired November 14, 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 these days.

Ahead this hour, a look at a new report on the disinformation crisis in America with some specific recommendations about what to do.

Plus, Brian Williams walking away from MSNBC. What does his move reveal about the cable news network?

And later, big news from a small town newspaper in Iowa. Here why it could be a model for the world.

Plus, another coupe memo has just been revealed. We'll have that coming up as well.

But first, it's Steve Bannon versus reality.

Bannon, the former Breitbart chief and Trump aide, is a nexus of political nonsense. He thinks he's waging a war on elites, when he's really waging a war on truth. As Daniel Dale put it recently, Bannon's popular podcast is a dangerous fantasy land of election lies.

But that's not why Bannon has been indicted by a grand jury. He's been indicted for ignoring a congressional subpoena, a subpoena in connection to the January 6th investigation.

Most Americans want to get to the bottom of what happened that day but the Trump base does not. Ergo, Bannon flouted the House's attempts to question him. He kept on podcasting while the indictment news broke, and now he's well on his way to right wing martyr status.

Listen to the way Fox framed the arrest warrant news on Friday night.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: A ridiculous criminal indictment against Steve Bannon because he won't participate in the Democrats' January 6th political charade. TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: The Biden Justice Department is

transforming into our eyes into an armed political instrument whose main job appears to be punishing critics of the Democratic Party.

MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: What we're really facing is an attack or an assault on all of our basic rights. I call it the insurrection crucifixion.


STELTER: The crucifixion, Bannon as Jesus. There is a religious thread to a lot of this.

Flynn's out there this weekend saying, you know, the country should only have one religion, Christianity. But that's a separate story.

It's important to note that Fox is not treating the Bannon indictment like an actual big news story. They're not booking lots of reporters and legal experts. They don't have their folks down the courthouse.

But when Bannon is covered, it's in Tucker speak. It's Bannon as victim. His free speech violated. Biden DOJ as jackbooted thugs.

And that's a narrative on Newsmax, too. See the banners here -- Dems using the government as a weapon. Two systems of justice, they say, one for Republicans, the other for Democrats.

Back on Fox, Sean Hannity is explicit about this.


HANNITY: We actually have a comprehensive list of Democrats who also need to be indicted for actual crimes.


STELTER: Go arrest the people I don't like.

This is a sorry state of political media discourse in America. It's where Steve Bannon thrives, hyperpartisanship, heroes versus villains. Hyped up what-aboutism.

Listen to the kind of stuff he spews on his talk show. He says we're going to decertify the electors.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER TRUMP AIDE: And we're going to continue that. And we're going to get to the bottom of 3 November, and we're going to decertify the electors, OK, and you're going to have a constitutional crisis.

But you know what? We're a big and tough country, and we can handle that. We'll be able to handle that. We'll get through that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: He says we're winning. He says we're winning. Is that what this is all about?

The Trump brand was predicated on winning. We'll have so much winning, he said, you'll get bored of winning.

Then he lost in the biggest way imaginable, he lost more than a year ago. And it caused a riot. Yet his media marketers like Steve Bannon can't let it go, can't move on.

They can't accept losing. They can't live with the word "loser", so they pretend to be winners. They put on a performance of winning, then risks and endangers the American democracy.

And then they'll claim that we talk too much about Trump and Bannon and all of the folks who are ignoring the subpoenas and all of the folks who are trying to cover up what happened on January 6th. But they're actually making it a big news story because they're in denial, because they can't accept the L-word, loser.

Let me bring in two Bannon experts now to see if they agree with the L word. Abigail Tracy is a national political reporter at "Vanity Fair". And Zachary Petrizzo is media reporter with "The Daily Beast" who listens to Bannon's podcast every day.

Is that right, Zach? You listen every day to the "War Room" podcast?

ZACHARY PETRIZZO, MEDIA REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: Absolutely, every single day. That and Mike Lindell's show.

STELTER: So, what's going to happen next for Bannon? He's going to turn himself in tomorrow.


He's going to be in court.

But based on you listening to the show every day, tell us what's going to happen next in your prediction.

PETRIZZO: Yeah, absolutely. Tough-talking Bannon I think really sees himself like you said, as a martyr of right wing media and sees this as an opportunity to grow his, you know, base. He calls his followers on his daily podcast the War Room posse. Posse, of course, being a hat tip to those who take the law into their own hands.

So, I think, you know, the rhetoric is going to continue to increase and perhaps he's going to continue to grow his base, which ultimately means more pillows sold through My Pillow and, you know, a prosperous endeavor for him financially.

STELTER: Right. So, that's the right wing story line. But there's this competing story lines, Abigail, between -- about what's happening with Bannon and what's going to happen next. You think this is an example of one America just completely divided in their information sources and thus in their realities? ABIGAIL TRACY, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, VANITY FAIR: Yeah. You

know, I do. I think -- sorry, Zach, that you have to listen to that podcast every day. I don't -- I don't envy you in that regard.

But, yeah, absolutely, I think there are two competing narratives here and that's a real problem. You know, there is a divergence here in terms of, you know, what people are saying about January 6th, and I think to Zach's point, what really happened with this indictment, while it's a huge moment for congressional authority and even, you know, the test of executive privilege and executive privilege claims coming up, I do believe that this is the first step in actually a new battle.

You know, Steve Bannon has long had a profile, has long had a platform. And I think much like Donald Trump, he relishes controversy and criticism. And this is really going to give him a newfound relevance that I think he's going to, you know, be chomping at the bit at. So, I --

STELTER: And he's -- and he's not the only media type on the subpoena list. He's the first to be held in contempt. But there's Kayleigh McEnany, the Fox host. There's Jason Miller, the Newsmax commentator.

There's all of these folks that have media platforms that are being called to tell what they know about the attack on January 6th. And what they do, and whether they follow Bannon, is really an interesting story line here.

There's also some breaking news this morning from ABC's Jonathan Karl. His book "Betrayal" comes out on Tuesday. It is loaded with scoops.

One of the scoops is about yet another coup menu. So, Karl reporting that Jenna Ellis drafted a memo that Mark Meadows sent to the VP's chief of staff, presenting another argument why Mike Pence should overturn the election results and basically handed it off to Trump and allowed the coup to go forward.

So, Zach, month after month, new books come out, new memos revealed, new proof of the coup plot comes out.

Does any of it break through anymore?

PETRIZZO: Great question, yeah. It does and it doesn't. I think right wing media, for the majority part of it, is really confused right now on messaging, right? After the Youngkin win, of course, they're claiming that somehow, you know, it's a false flag. There's a lot of messaging issues.

And I think that ultimately goes back to January 6th and the way in which they're now packaging that as something that wasn't an insurrection. Of course, I was there. There was no Antifa members climbing out of trees and changing their hats with MAGA hats and all these types of -- there was none of that, like what right media wants to push now.

There was, you know, pro-Trump activists that decided to break the law.

STELTER: What's the very big story here, Abigail, if you had zoomed out 30,000 feet? I would suggest it's the right's loss of trust in all institutions. So when Tucker Carlson attacks the DOJ or the military or when, you know, these people in government were trying to overthrow the election results -- loss of trust in all institutions, that's what I would suggest as the big picture story.

What do you see as really the big picture story here about the Republicans?

TRACY: Yeah, I absolutely agree with you. I think we're looking at the language that was used around the indictment of Steve Bannon, they're trying to frame it as he didn't break the law. And the reality is around the event of January 6th, Steve Bannon was a private citizen and he was issued a congressional subpoena and he didn't show up. And at the end of the day, he broke the law and that is the law.

And, I think, you know, this framing around the fact that it's a witch-hunt or, you know, going after enemies of Donald Trump is really disingenuous and dishonest, but also really, you know, troubling in terms of institutions that we have in this country. I think there has been an absolute erosion in trust on both sides. But an absolute erosion of trust in our institutions, and this is a really good example around how, you know, narratives and the way in which the media can skew and portray real events.

He broke the law at the end of the day, and I think that's a really important point to make.

STELTER: Let's repair institutions, not burn them down.

All right. Abby, thank you. Zach, stay with me. I want to ask you about My Pillow guy Mike Lindell's role in the Bannon drama.

And later, Bannon charged, while Britney is feared. Eric Deggans is here to analyze the role of the media in the Spears saga.



STELTER: What does Mike Lindell sell besides pillows? He sells false hope and Donald Trump is helping him. False hope is a combustible thing.

So, I want to show you what Lindell is doing in his far right corner of the web and how it affects everybody else. Lindell is a born Christian and fellow tycoon. He built a comfortable business and he jumped into bed with Trump's political movement.

He was rewarded with White House access and air time. Trump even endorsed the pillows. So, Lindell was an insider and he loved it.

Now, both men are on the outside, but not for long, Lindell claims. With the energy of an officer or preacher, he spouts the law, the country has a real president and the results will be overturned some way, somehow. He says this on Lindell's TV, his home for true believers.

Watch the entrance to his show and notice the reference for hope, that he provides hope.



ANNOUNCER: This is the Lindell Report, bringing you news combined with hope by offering practical and achievable action points to assist you in defending and preserving faith and freedoms.

And now, here is your host, Mike Lindell.

MIKE LINDELL, MY PILLOW GUY: Hello, everybody.


STELLTER: It's like "The Daily Show," right? But this show is where Lindell rails against last year's election and attacks the voting company that's suing him and claims China rigged everything against Trump.

He keeps kicking the can down the old road, first suggesting Trump will be back in office in May, and then August, and now November. He claims he's heading to the Supreme Court with a case they will just have to hear.


LINDELL: So, that's getting -- that's getting filed a week from Tuesday. It's this thick. It's different. It's not what was filed before.


STELTER: As you can see there, he's dishing this stuff out at conferences, on livestreams, on webcasts. And he even says he's meeting with attorneys general in various states.

Lindell has an entire universe of this stuff. He has 24-hour feed on his website, and he has his own version of YouTube, and it's all part of this broader far right brand. When other members of the media scrutinize it, he screams.


LINDELL: The evidence is out! It's going to be too late to close the gate, so all you Daily Beasts, you Business Insiders, you Politicos, you Yahoo, you Jim Acostas, you CNNs, you Rachel Maddows and MSNBC, all of you, it's over!


STELTER: And he reserves his harshest words for Fox News, which he says is too afraid to tell the truth about the election.


LINDELL: Fox is the worst of the worst media outlet in probably the history of the planet.

Why don't you help save our country? Why don't you talk about the 2020 election and get rid of these machines? Your country is gone. Your worst than all of the left media put together. Shame on Fox.


STELTER: And yet he still buys lots of airtime on Fox for his pillows. He tried to boycott Fox for a while and then came crawling back.

So, this is Lindell land. It's an alt-right rabbit hole way, way deeper than Fox News, where election subversion and My Pillows slippers are sold hand in hand.

Ads for Lindell's business are everywhere. Diamond and Silk have a show his network and they drink out of their Trump won coffee mugs while hosting a show. Watch.


DIAMOND & SILK: Use primo code Trump one to get up to 66 percent off your entire purchase.

Because you all know he won.


STELTER: Even the ads, even the grift reinforces the lie Trump is the rightful president. This is the false hope Lindell presents. It's a dangerous thing. You can hear it when his fans call in to his show. They call in and sometimes say their devotion to Lindell and the big lie has alienated them from friends and family.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Lindell, I'm so -- I'm so happy, so much energy, you give me hope every day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mike, you are actually angels in disguise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I always get badgered online whenever I bring your name up, people on the liberal side think I'm an idiot, I'm dumb for following you.


STELTER: Lindell's truth problem is a problem for all of us. While some parts of the GOP and GOP media have tried to hush the big lie, Lindell is louder than ever, and Trump is right there with him. As I bury the lead, this week, Lindell says he's airing a 40-minute interview with the former president. Of course, naturally, Lindell does a lot of the talking.


LINDELL: You go back to November 4th, and we all lived this twilight zone, I always say, there was an old saying if a tree falls in the forest and no one heard it, did it really fall, the media tells us there is no forest.


STELTER: This stuff is the real twilight zone and it's being endorsed by the former president. So, Lindell has power, even though he's often this far right loony-tunes land, he has power and he's using it via his livestreams every day.

Zachary Petrizzo is back with me, "Daily Beast" media reporter.

Zach, you watched all of these Lindell TV shows. You have written about them at your prior job at "Salon". Now, you're doing this at "The Daily Beast." How do you keep your head straight when you're covering right wing radicalization as a reporter?

PETRIZZO: Great question. Yeah. For me, I always try to keep perspective on it. We have a delusional pillow salesman who thinks big pillows are after him, and we have a former president, twice impeached president, who is coup-friendly.


So, you know, those two things don't exactly match up super well and this interview coming up on Tuesday with him and the former president is quite interesting and I think right wing media kind of has a problem on their hands. As some, like "The Washington Examiner" kind of keep an arm's length away from Mike Lindell and you have the Gateway Pundit, you know, this conspiratorial far right site, you know, really push Lindell's theories.

STELTER: So, you're saying he does have amplification even outside his own website, outside of all of those web shows he has people hosting, and he does get some pickup, even though outlets like Fox are wary of him?

PETRIZZO: Absolutely, yeah. Of course, the gateway pundit will pretty much publish anything that Lindell spews because at the end of the day, there's a financial incentive. The Gateway Pundit and all of these other sites have a MyPillow promo code and getting a lot of money, part of this revenue sharing, every time they sell a pillow, they get $30 of it. So it's pretty financially -- there's an incentive there.

STELTER: So, hold on, is it just a grift, is that all it is?

PETRIZZO: To some extent, I think it is a grift. But I think Lindell definitely believes in what he's pushing without question. I think he's really bought into it. I would get calls from Mike Lindell at 2:00 in the morning before his failed August cyber symposium. So I really do believe he's all in here. It's just a matter of now

exactly what happens with this Dominion suit and all of these other pieces.

STELTER: Right. And he's aligned to Steve Bannon. He simulcasts Bannon's podcast. So, it's this universe that's further right of Fox that think the rest of us need to be aware of, lest weigh all wake up surprised 2024 when there's an incredible energy behind the big lie campaign.

Zach, thank you very much for coming on the program.

PETRIZZO: Thank you.

STELTER: Up next, the story that affects everybody as inflation fears rise. Is the news coverage falling short? Catherine Rampell joins for a media critique.

And later, what the lessons we can all learn from a local newspaper's story of survival.



STELTER: This morning's front page of New York's "Newsday" newspaper has an upward dollar sign, the inflation surge that is top of mind right now.

Cable and network airwaves are rightly filled with warnings about the surge and rising prices for cars, gas, et cetera. On cable news, it's become a fight about who or what is to blame. You see Fox has special logos already made pointing the finger at Biden.

So, where can you get the real story? What headlines should you believe or what should you be skeptical about?

Joining me now is "Washington Post" opinion columnist Catherine Rampell, an economic expert who I always call on for these sorts of stories.

So, Catherine, when we're looking at all of this coverage of inflation, what should we take seriously and what should we take skeptically, that's my question?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: My general view about all of this is the media, Republicans and now the White House, are laboring under the collective delusion that the president can do something about prices, that the president controls prices. That is incorrect.

And yet that is the premise of so much news coverage right now, whether it's Fox News or other right-wing coverage talking about #bidenflation or saying, you know, why is Biden not doing more about gas prices? Or more neutral -- ostensibly more neutral or objective news organizations asking officials at the White House, why aren't you doing something about inflation? The problem right now is that inflation is painful. It is creating a

lot of uncertainty. It's causing problems for households and for businesses. But there's not a tonight president can do about it. He can kind of fiddle around the edges a little bit and the administration has done some of that, you know, repealing some tariffs here and there, or trying to get courts to work overtime. There are more things he could do. He could allow in more immigrants or at the very least process of work visas of immigrants more quickly.

But there's no magic lever he can pull and you would never get that sense from any of -- or for most of the news coverage, I should say.

TAPPER: And what about the lefty defenses of Biden and Democrats? What about the actual liberal media that's trying to downplay inflation? That's also a problem.

RAMPELL: Yes. I think earlier in this year the reaction on the left was more along the lines of, any concerns about inflation are bad faith, and you shouldn't worry about it. And, look, earlier this year it did look like the bout of inflation we were going through would be more of a blip or at least would fade more quickly than it has, and it hasn't, partly because the pandemic has been more prolonged in many ways, the delta variant complicated things that has made the supply chain problems persist much longer.

But there was a sort of denialism that inflation wasn't an issue. We shouldn't talk about it. We should pretend it doesn't exist.

And now, the left has evolved a little more in its talking points. No longer do you see left wing pundits saying inflation doesn't matter or isn't happening. They're saying, OK, maybe inflation matters but Biden will fix it. This is why the Biden agenda, the Build Back Better reconciliation bill, whatever you want to call it, should be passed.

And that's also sort of nonsense in the sense that the Build Back Better legislation, the sort of safety net climate bill, probably will not have a huge effect on inflation either way, particularly not --


And that's also sort of nonsense in the sense that the Build Back Better legislation that, you know, the sort of safety net climate bill probably will not have a huge effect on inflation either way, particularly not in the near term.

Nor for that matter, will it, you know, increase inflationary pressures a whole lot in -- particularly in the near term as the right has been claiming.

It's largely irrelevant, we can talk about that bill on its own merits and not try to sort of coopted into this broader political fight over inflation.

But that's what the White House has been trying to do and they have been added, of course, by a number of left-wing pundits. And to some extent, more objective journalists who are somewhat credulous -- credulously repeating these claims from the White House that Build Back Better will reduce inflationary pressures or reduce inflation for that matter in the near term.

STELTER: So seek out reporters not repeaters, seek out stories not spin on this issue. It's complicated enough without being spun. Catherine, thanks so much.

RAMPELL: Absolutely. Thanks.

STELTER: While on the subject of journalism, and an uplifting message from Pope Francis this weekend, he was speaking -- honoring two veteran Vatican correspondents and he had an inspiring message for the press.

He said, "your mission is to explain the world, to make it less dark, to make those who live there fear at less and look at others with greater awareness."

It is not an easy mission, he said, it is difficult to think, meditate, deepen, stop to collect ideas, and to study the contexts.

He said the risk is that letting oneself be crushed by the news instead of being able to make sense of it is a challenge.

He said "I encourage you to preserve and cultivate that sense of mission" inspiring words from Pope Francis this weekend about the power of journalism.

After the break, hear global outrage from press freedom groups after a shameful verdict against an American journalist.



STELTER: Britney Spears is now a free woman, her attorney saying whatever she wants to do next is up to her.

Of course, all of this coming after years of Free Britney protests by her fans and then a series of documentaries from the New York Times, Netflix, CNN, BBC.

These documentaries really put a spotlight on the conservatorship and raised important questions about what was going on with Spears' life. And now the court has acted.

Let's talk about whether there's a correlation between the two things there with Eric Deggans, television critic for NPR. He's with me now. Eric, great to see you.

ERIC DEGGANS, TV CRITIC, NPR: Yes, great to be here.

STELTER: What do you think was the role of these documentaries in the Spears saga? DEGGANS: What's been interesting to see in the documentary space is these films that are forcing us to take another look at pop culture- related events that may have been distorted by sexism or racism or celebrity or wealth back when they originally happened.

And so, the New York Times presents and particularly did a documentary about Britney Spears that presented the idea that we -- that, we in the media, had treated Britney Spears unfairly and that that had led people to kind of shrug off this conservancy that she was under that her fans were -- was saying wasn't fair.

And they took a harder look at it and unearth through a lot of troubling facts and circumstances around the situation that I think pushed the legal system to take a closer look and a fair look at her situation.

STELTER: Yes, media pressure contributes to the public pressure and then you see where we ended up on Friday. So, there's a, what's next for Britney Spears, there's also out there in the media there's a question what's next for Brian Williams? That's my segue to his departure from MSNBC.

DEGGANS: Britney Spears.

STELTER: He's leaving NBC after 28 years. He says he doesn't want to be up at 11 p.m. during the MSNBC show anymore. He has some other ideas for his future. He's not retiring though so he could end up in another network next year.

So, what does it mean for MSNBC to have Brian Williams leaving, to have Rachel Maddow next year moving from a daily show to a more of a weekly format, she's stepping down from her daily show. Does MSNBC have a talent problem?

DEGGANS: Well, one of the things that struck me is that MSNBC used to have a pipeline for developing younger stars to come up and take their place as the face of MSNBC or as important positions in their programming.

Rachel Maddow subbed for Keith Olbermann a lot when he was hosting Countdown and was their biggest star.


DEGGANS: And then eventually, she got a show. And then when he left, she took over as the biggest star at MSNBC.

Lawrence O'Donnell guest hosted on Countdown and also her show and then, you know, he moved up to get his own show.

They haven't really been developing talent like that in recent years and I think it's left them in the position where they don't have any anchor who is sort of a clear successor to Brian Williams, at least.

People have been talking a little bit about who might succeed Rachel Maddow but they don't really have a great farm team or a sense of who is next in line to step up for these big jobs. And I think that might be their biggest challenge right now.

STELTER: Hmm. I think for Williams, it's going to be Brian Williams unplugged. I don't know what or where but I think that's what it's going to be.

Eric, I know that on a somber note, you all are mourning the passing of a colleague at NPR this weekend, an unexpected loss. Tell us about her.

DEGGANS: Yes, I just wanted to offer a brief tribute to NPR Books Editor Petra Mayer, who passed away unexpectedly yesterday.

She was a great champion of some sort of geek culture, as well as books and literature coverage at NPR and we're all shocked and saddened at her sudden passing a great bright light at our department that has gone out too soon and too unexpected.

STELTER: A major loss for NPR, in the book's world as well.

DEGGANS: Exactly.

STELTER: Eric, thank you for coming on the program.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

STELTER: When we come back, a first look at a new report about disinformation and information disorder. I'll be joined by Rashad Robinson, a Co-Chair of the Commission on Information Disorder, that's next



STELTER: Now, to a "Reliable Sources Exclusive," a sneak peek at a new report by the Aspen Institute and this group, the Commission on Information Disorder.

The Commission, including Katie Couric and Chris Krebs, and, yes, that's Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex.

They had been working since January on a study of the information land Scape and now coming out with recommendations, solutions -- practical solutions to try to tamp down the disinformation pollution that's choking our digital air.


STELTER: I'm joined now by one of the Co-Chairs of the Commission, that's Rashad Robinson, President of The Color of Change. Rashad, great to see you.


STELTER: I think we should define the term "Information Disorder" first. Claire Wardell came up with this term a couple of years ago, it can mean a lot of different things, it might even see more well into some people. So what's "Information Disorder?"

ROBINSON: You know, "Information Disorder" is all the ways in which incentive structures and information sort of travels and creates, you know, information that can cause challenges to our health, to our democracy.

When false information becomes, sort of more prevalent, then the information that is accurate and fact-checked and we end up in a society where we end up having all sorts of things incentivize that put us in harm's way.

STELTER: Your study refers to bad information and good information. How do you define bad information? Who decides?

ROBINSON: Well, I think -- you know, I think this is very complicated in a country where free -- freedom of speech is so incredibly important.

But if you think about sort of the misinformation and disinformation that has traveled around health and COVID and all the ways in which that can sort of, be incentivized by corporate actors, can be amplified in a -- by sort of people with, you know, nefarious sort of intentions.

When you think about all the ways in which big lies have been spread about our democracy that have been, you know, move people to have all sorts of ideas about how our society is working, you know, think about what happened on January 6 and all the lies that led to that and the ways in which incentive structures within media, with the social media platforms, have driven that at scale.

And information and disinformation have always existed. I think what we're dealing with now is because of technology and the prevalence of technology, it is moving at a pace like we've never seen before.

And so much of what we have to do now is really call on leadership across, you know, government and private sectors to engage in dealing with this problem because every single sort of aspect of life will continue to be impacted and harmed.

STELTER: And that's one of the most important points so I'm making this report. This report officially comes out tomorrow, we're just previewing it. You all say it's that leadership problem. It's ultimately about leadership.

So let's go through a few of the recommendations you are presenting. First, High Reach Content Disclosure, we'll put on screen what that means.

It means, hey, force Facebook and Twitter and other companies to exit -- to reveal when some posts, some made-up BS gets spread to millions of people. High Reach Content Disclosure, tell us more about that.

ROBINSON: Well, this really, you know, falls into this concept of transparency. And the lack of transparency that we have on with these companies that are -- you know in essence self-regulated companies, which means that they're unregulated companies.

And as a result, when information travels, you know, we hear the word algorithm or we hear that it was organic or we hear that it just sort of happened and there's not a lot of sort of Intel behind what are the incentive structures.

What is the hard wiring? What has been manufactured inside of these platforms that allow some content to travel very quickly and other content to not? What allows lies to oftentimes -- so often spread quicker than the truth?


ROBINSON: And sort of really understanding that and having some transparency around that will allow us to have better accountability.

STELTER: Right. So we know more of what these platforms are doing. Here's another one, Accountability.

You say, promote new norms that create personal and professional consequences within communities and networks for individuals who willfully violate the public trust and use their privilege to harm the public. So who's going to come up with those new norms?

ROBINSON: Well, I think that this is why we're calling on, you know, leadership across so many different sectors, right?

There are absolutely recommendations in this report that call on the government, that deal with the business model, the product design, the incentive structures behind the platform. And then there are things that we need everyone in society to pay attention to and deal with.

And so this recommendation really focuses on, for instance, what can corporate advertisers do in terms of withholding their resources?

My organization, others were part of one of the largest boycotts in American history and in really driving the stop hate for-profit campaign on Facebook back in 2020.

There's also you know, things like medical associations, right? If there's a -- someone who's a member of a medical association spreading all sorts of misinformation and disinformation, well, how are we allowing this person to continue to have that accreditation?

And so, institutions that provide accreditation, institutions that hold up values and ethics have to sort of, engage with, you know, holding accountable their members who are sort of part of spreading information, creating you know challenges for us being able to have a healthy discourse.


STELTER: And you say spreading. That's a keyword. You all refer to the report as super-spreaders of disinformation.

ROBINSON: Yes. STELTER: This is not about somebody accidentally share something bogus on TikTok, this is about intentionality, right? People who are trying to trick and deceive?

ROBINSON: Well, you know what we know and what we know from a lot of research that has come out is that there's oftentimes a small number of people behind some of the big lies that spread especially at the very beginning and sort of really kind of understanding who the super- spreaders are, and then having sort of a deeper level of accountability.

If the platforms say that they actually want to deal with these problems, then they have all sorts of tools at their disposal and they need to build new tools at their disposal.

For instance, right, all the ways in which someone can share information across multiple platforms.


ROBINSON: That could be pulled back from someone if they are sort of deemed a super spider. They could be removed from the platform.

All of these things should be on the table in order to sort of not allow these platforms to sort of throw up their hands and say, well, there's nothing we can do when if that they know that there are a set number of people that are behind a lot of the biggest challenges that we see.

STELTER: Rashad, thank you very much for the preview.

ROBINSON: Thank you.

STELTER: I'll have more about the disorder report in the Reliable Sources newsletter this week, sign up for free,

Up next, another one of the Commission's recommendations is about local news and we're going to take you to an inspiring family, run newsroom in Iowa in just a moment.



STELTER: Now, let's head to Storm Lake, Iowa where family members, the Cullen family. They are the backbone of the biweekly newspaper The Storm Lake Times.

The Times is a Pulitzer Prize-winning paper and now, the subject of a documentary that's having its national TV debut Monday on PBS through the Independent Lens series.

This film "Storm Lake" is about the challenges of running a local newspaper and what would be lost if the paper were lost.

Joining me now is Art Cullen. He's the Editor who helps keep the paper alive, he's joining us from Storm Lake. And also with me Beth Levison, she's the Co-Director and Producer of the documentary. Great to see you both.

Art, we've talked before, usually it's around Iowa caucus season that we see you all over TV now we're seeing you thanks to this film.

What do you want people to take away about the current economic foundation for local newspapers?

ART CULLEN, EDITOR, THE STORM LAKE TIME: That local newspapers are dying fast. Just since the pandemic began, Iowa's lost six-county seat newspapers including the Centerville Daily Iowegian and we're trying to regroup and raise funds privately to replace all the advertising revenue we've lost so we can continue to provide that important glue that holds the foundation of democracy together.

STELTER: Right, we need to get more folks subscribing online in order to support these papers.

Beth, you told me you worked on this film, thinking about local news and as you worked on it, you saw the connection to democracy. What is that connection?

BETH LEVISON, CO-DIRECTOR AND PRODUCER, "STORM LAKE": Yes, when I -- when we started making this film, I don't think I really understood the relationship between local news and a functioning democracy.

But how can a democracy work if you don't know what's going on in your town? If you don't know who's running for office? If you don't know what the issues are? And that's what local news delivers.

STELTER: What surprised you most as you finished this?

LEVISON: I think what surprised us most is just the response from audiences and also, the timing.

Local news is facing a crisis right now. It really is endangered. I think people take it for granted and most people really have no idea about the crisis that it's facing and so we're just hoping to shine a spotlight on local news and encourage people to value the local news in their neighborhood, to subscribe, to place ads and to engage with it because once it's gone, we're not going to get it back.

STELTER: Yes. Art, you say -- you wrote and you say in the film, a town in Iowa is as strong as its newspapers and its banks. So, right now our towns strong enough?

CULLEN: Well, no, they aren't. Rural America has been gutted over the last 40-50 years by consolidation, world trade, a lot of other issues and so the weaker that rural communities are the weaker that their newspapers and banks are.

And for people who are interested in helping rural Iowa newspapers, they can go to, a nonprofit that supports independent family-owned newspapers.

STELTER: It's up to all of us, that's indeed. Art and Beth, thank you both. The film's on PBS, Monday night.

CULLEN: Thanks, Brian.

LEVISON: Thanks for having us, Brian.

STELTER: Thanks.

Cruel and unjust, that's what press freedom advocates around the world are saying. Talking about an 11-year-old sent a -- 11-year sentence handed down by a Myanmar military court against American journalist, Danny Fenster.

Human Rights Watch calling it hostage diplomacy and an outrageous attempt to intimidate the rest of the media in Myanmar. Dozens of journalists like Fenster are behind bars in the country.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says the country "must stop jailing journalists from merely doing their jobs reporting the news."

Earlier this year, I spoke with Fenster's parents. Listen to what his father told me about what's going on in Myanmar.