Return to Transcripts main page

Reliable Sources

The Media's Impact On Public Perceptions Of Biden; How Should The Media Cover The Omicron Variant?; Colorado Anchor Calls Out GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert; Two Fox News Commentators Resign, Citing Tucker Carlson; How News Deserts Contribute To Democratic Backsliding; How Small-Town Paper Broke Open The Arbery Case. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired November 28, 2021 - 11:00   ET



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

This hour, that's the question about the new COVID variant. The headlines say bracing for worst, but how should the press be approaching this moment. We're going to talk to Dr. Jonathan Reiner about that.

Plus, what's the standard for covering right wing extremist politicians. And is it low? Are they held to a lower standard? We're going to get into that.

Plus, a long wait for these verdicts in the Arbery case. How relentless local journalism helped shine a spotlight in the case early on. We're going to introduce you to a reporter who played a key role.

STELTER: We have a lot coming up this hour, but first, what is the metastory of President Biden's first year? The metastory. Meaning, the all-encompassing narrative of Biden's presidency.

What's the takeaway? What's the story about all the stories? What's the main impression you get from all the daily headlines and hate tweets? Is it America rebounding or is it America on the wrong track.

First, let's admit the American media has a tremendous amount of power in shaping the metastory of a presidency. Maybe that's why so many liberals are so frustrated right now, worried about Biden's poll numbers, irritated at the media's framing and concerned that Biden isn't doing enough to shape his own story.

If Biden's strategy is quiet, his detractors are trying to be loud making the meta story about a guy who failed to deliver and citing supply chain woes to make those tales sound real. It doesn't matter if your packages arrive on time and if gas prices start to come down, if you see stories all the time about things going wrong, if things feel uncertain, they feel chaotic -- and one reason why it feels that way is because some partisan outlets favor feelings over facts.

This Fox banner sums up the network's met story about Biden. It says quality of life is collapsing under Biden. Says who? Other banners refer to Biden's economic train wreck and crises, always plural, multiple crises on his watch.

This weekend, Biden is saying his solutions are working. Here's his tweet saying: shipping containers are moving and goods moving quickly out of ports, his Twitter account says. But no one believes he wrote this tweet and barely garnered any news. In any way, by the time that crisis recedes, Fox will be emphasizing a new emergency.

But this isn't just about the anti-Biden media. Progressive quarters of the press have been gripped with alarm about whether people are hearing about the Democrats' wins, whether they are hearing about bills passed and victories achieved or whether Joe and Jane consumer are mostly hearing about let's go Brandon, mostly just laughing at Biden.

The poll numbers have been a real focus. This focus group by the center left group Third Way found that Virginia voters could not name anything the Democrats have done except defused that we passed an infrastructure bill. That is the quote from the report. The meta story is Biden has not changed anything, has not fixed anything.

Folks on TV cover the daily dimensions of the Build Back Better bill and every other story under the sun. But the overall narrative is they are all fighting in D.C. and we are not benefiting.

Is that a right wing narrative? Maybe. It certainly helps the right wing. It's always easier to condemn than create. It's always easier to mock than make.

But there is something bigger going on here. Something bigger than Biden. The media universe has fundamentally changed or better to say it is changing every day in ways that make America a different country to govern, a more difficult country to govern.

It is increasingly a country with many alternative facts. Disproving viral tweets is different than debunking a TV ad. Combating meme makers is different than rebutting newspaper columnists.

And the memes are pretty powerful sometimes. My suburban grocery store's never had empty shelves like that, but the messaging here saying that Biden is to blame for anything bad about the economy, it is clearly sticking to some degree. Even though economists believe GDP is going to surge this quarter, even though the American recovery is historically strong after the pandemic, the meta story is that we are in choppy waters.

As Jonathan Chait wrote in this New York magazine cover story, nobody can ascertain exactly why the public has turned sour so fast. He said Biden is like a patient wasting away from some unrecognizable, sorry, undiagnosable disease.


Hmm. Maybe a year from now this current discourse will seem like yet another temporary media created crisis. But it's worth asking, how is the Biden era registering as a meta story? Clearly Biden, it's purposeful, he's not as vocal or public or in your face or Twittery as Donald Trump. That's obviously the White House's strategy.

But does that register as missing in action, that he doesn't appear to be fighting? That Biden is letting everyone else tell his story? And if so, will he like the ending of the story?

I think this is a fascinating subject. And so, do my first three guests, who all come at it from different angles. So, I want to bring them in and I think through their comments, we'll get a full perspective of what's going on with Biden, public perceptions and the media's role.

Magdi Semrau is columnist with Also with us is Susan Glasser, staff writer for "The New Yorker". And Chris Arnade, a writer and a photographer who has a Substack where he travels the country -- walking through the country, talking to average Americans. He's also the author of the book "Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America".

So, I brought you all in because you come from very different points of view -- insider, outsider points of view.

And, Magdi, let me start with you and what you wrote this week for, the alternate. You basically argued that Biden's policies are more popular than he is. And that's a mismatch we don't really normally see. You say for the first time in the modern era, the link between president and agenda is broken.

So, why is it broken?

MAGDI SEMRAU, COLUMNIST, THE EDITORIAL BOARD: Well, I don't think that we have direct evidence of why it's broken. But there are a number of hypotheses out there. I think that there -- it's probably multiply determined, there are probably multiple things going on. People are depressed about the pandemic. Inflation is a real problem.

I also think as I argue in my piece that the media is not doing a particularly great job of relaying the information about what's in Biden's agenda to the American public. And I think -- I think that's part of this decoupling between Biden's approval and approval for his agenda.

STELTER: So that people don't know what's actually going on.

Chris Arnade, do you agree with that assessment?

What I love about your work is that you're a former banker who started walking the back roads of the country, trying to talk to folks who feel left behind. And the way that the, you know, the way that you write about how Americans perceive the news and perceive Biden is light years different from the average political panel.

So, what do you perceive how voters are hearing and learning about what's going on with Biden and his agenda? CHRIS ARNADE, WRITER AND PHOTOGRAPHER: Yeah. I mean, I think the way

we talk about politics and the way most people talk about politics -- I mean, it's entirely different. We're like, you know, we're like -- it's like the NFL and most people treat politics like they'll tune in to the Super Bowl once every few years and that's about it.

That's how they view politics as something, you know, they're not a player in it, they're just a watcher. They support teams. They support a side. But they don't feel like -- it's a distance thing that really that doesn't -- doesn't -- they don't have a say in that much.

And so, how politics affects them is very experiential. It's not about, you know, connecting what's going on to policy and connecting policy to what's going on. It's just not something people do. That's what we do, but that's not how people perceive things.

And quite honestly, you know, as I've written, what people see right now and I've been, as you said, walking across America. I go into cities and I walk 20 miles across America and just spend time hanging out talking to people.


ARNADE: Indianapolis, Orlando, Buffalo and people -- excuse my language -- people are angry. COVID's still here and it's a friction that's mucked up life and inflation's here. And that's another friction that's mucked up life.

And so, you know, Biden was elected to bring things back to normal and things aren't normal. It's as simple as that. And so, they connect that to the president.

STELTER: Right, and that's what I mean about feelings over facts. It's completely understandable that people go with those feelings even if the facts show us a rebounding economy. If people don't feel and see it themselves, they don't -- they don't -- they don't give anybody credit for it.

So, is your impression, Chris -- you wrote a column saying the Democrats are screwed in 2022, that's been the topic de jour of political panels in the last few weeks. Why did you come to that conclusion based on your walks?

ARNADE: Again, it's -- people talk to me about, you know, it's the lack of normalcy. I think the COVID -- COVID is everything. And I think we kind of -- you know, COVID has become very politicized because the people I talk to and mostly people in the back row, people without a college degree, a lot of people who sporadically vote. They sporadically vote, you know?


But they, you know, they view COVID policy and all the volatility around it as having been harshly impacting them more than it impacts us. You know, the people sitting around Skyping and talking on Zoom and working from home and having their second -- you know, going to their vacation home to work.

I think they view that COVID has always been -- the policy around COVID has always been directed towards and I would argue that's why Trump lost. It's not, you know, all the things that the media focused on about Trump. It's the fact that he was president while COVID was raging and policy felt sporadic and off, and impacting them.

So, you know, enough of his base turned away from him, basically over COVID. I think that's what's happening with Biden as well. Biden explicitly said, I'm going to come back and I'm going to return us to normal. And it's just simply not normal.

STELTER: Yes. Yeah.

ARNADE: I mean, you go -- you go -- you go into places and it's -- again, it's just not normal. And that's --

STELTER: I like the way you put it. You said COVID is everything. That's so spot on. It is the through line to every story even though we might not want it to be. It still is.

Let's continue to fill in the picture here.

Susan Glasser, you write the letter from Biden's Washington column for "The New Yorker". So, you are our insider for the purposes of this conversation.

What do you want to fill into this story in the media's role and the perception of the president and the presidency?

SUSAN GLASSER, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Well, look, I think -- first of all, I really -- I do think it is strong and important point to say that COVID is everything, you know?

And we saw this phenomenon to a certain extent during the 2020 election as well now. It recedes sometimes from the sort of national conversation as if it wasn't an ongoing crisis and, you know, but 2020 was a COVID election and whether or not the candidates were talking about it in the same way that right now, the Biden presidency is defined by being a COVID presidency. Even in the absence of that discourse day to day.

We talk about the recovery or the supply chain, let's talk about nearly 800,000 Americans dead and a new variant coming out and a failure. This is a failure of America to live and to follow through on the promise of science. They gave us these vaccines nearly a year ago now. We only have about 60 percent of our population vaccinated. That's far lower than in other advanced countries. We have failure to vaccinate others.

That's a real crisis. It's not a fake crisis. There are many fake crises that the media talks about, and then you combine that, Brian, to your point about -- you combine that with this very partisan atmosphere in which left and right frankly want the media to be cheerleading for a team. I think it's our role to point out what's a real crisis and what's

not. But I don't think that advocating for, oh, well, gee, look, Biden is doing a really good job by passing these bills that may or may not have a short term effect on the actual crisis. That's part of the problem.

STELTER: Magdi, you were, you know, in your writing you acknowledged you voted for Biden. You know, so, you're one of the cheerleaders I suppose that Susan refers to. What do you want to see differently from the media's coverage?

SEMRAU: Well, you know, I am a cheerleader for Biden, I will -- well, I'm for Democrats generally and their agenda. I'll fully admit to that.

But I really want to point out that the problem that I have is not that the media isn't selling Biden's agenda. It's that they're not telling the American public about it. And we can see that from polling.

So, for example, recent polling has shown that, you know, 84 percent of Americans support expanding Medicare to dental, vision and hearing. Eighty-eight -- 88 percent of Americans support lowering prescription drug costs.

How many Americans have heard about those proposals? Forty.

STELTER: But isn't that -- but where's the president, right? Where's the president?

"The New York Times" this week pointed out he's not giving many interviews very often. He's not holding as many events as Trump or Obama did. He's just not out there selling the way the past presidents did.

SEMRAU: Yeah, I'm not arguing that the Democrats couldn't do a better job. I think that it's quite clear that Biden should be out in front of cameras more often. He should do more town halls and he should be attaching his face to his agenda. And I think congressional Democrats can also do a better job of selling the agenda, on news stations and such.

But that said, right, even if we fully admit the Democrats are, you know, could improve. It's still the media's job to tell the public what's in the bill. That's still not happening.

You know, Democrats failing, Democrats could be doing well. It doesn't change the fact that (AUDIO GAP) voters are hearing about the costs. Sixty percent of voters have heard about the cost, right? But only 40 percent have heard about the provisions.


That's an issue.

STELTER: Chris, final word to you. ARNADE: I guess I would say, I just -- you know, it's -- sorry to say

this on this show, but I think there's a huge mistrust of the media, man. A huge absolute trust of the media --

STELTER: Of course. Of course.

ARNADE: -- to the point where there is a cynicism towards institutions in America that I think is in the back row, what I call the back row, that I don't think is fully understood or comprehended in the front row how deep that cynicism is.

And it's not just the white working class, not the white or -- but the black -- blacks and African-Americans and Latinos. There's a huge cynicism towards institutions and COVID has made that cynicism worse.

STELTER: I appreciate the blunt feedback from everybody. Thank you all for coming on.

And, Susan, please stick around for more little later in the hour.

"The Onion" is summing up the weekend's mood with this joke that rings pretty true. A headline saying: Nation nearly strings together three good days in a row. Nearly. So, how should we be processing the new COVID variant news? Dr. Jonathan Reiner is up next with answers.

And later, meet the anchorman who's blowing the whistle on a journalism double standard.



STELTER: Okay. Imagine you are in a newsroom sitting in on a meeting about today's home page or tonight's evening news or tomorrow's front page. Do say the new COVID variant is the top story? Should it lead the homepage? Should it lead the newscast? Is that the right news judgment call?

Well, this is what makes news judgments so complicated and interesting. Right now from where I sit we don't know if Omicron should be the lead story or not. It is new. It is significant, but no one knows how significant. "This Atlantic" says we know almost nothing about it. We don't know if it's more dangerous than delta. We don't know if it evades vaccines.

Those key details won't be available for weeks. So was omicron the right lead story after thanksgiving? I guess we should ask again after Christmas.

This is why journalism is a rough first draft of history that is continually be rewritten and improved. The best headlines right now say what we know and also what we don't know since the important part is what we don't know. You should be wary of anyone that claims otherwise.

You know the whole choose your own news phenomenon? People picking the version and picking the source they want to hear. Well, I'm seeing that happen on social media right now. Call it choose your own Twitter thread.

Some folks are reading and sharing ominous assessments of Omicron, while others are opting for a much softer touch. This epidemiologist at John Hopkins caught my eye, David Dowdy is his name. He says scientists are supposed to present early data with caution and, quote, we have failed at that. Don't oversell it, he says. Wait for more info.

Okay. But now put yourself back in that newsroom meeting. What should the home page headline say? Wait for more info is not going to cut it as a headline.

Joining me now is CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner who has been cautioning against all this speculation. Doctor, should this be the lead story right now?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think it should not be the lead story right now because it's a story that is based entirely on speculation.

STELTER: But the Dow dropped almost 1,000 points on Friday.

REINER: Right, because the speculation was all bad.

So, this is what we know. We know that this variant contains literally dozens of mutations. And when evolutionary biologists look at these mutations they worry that the variant could have increased transmissibility or increased virulence or immunization, meaning can evade the antibodies either produced by vaccines or prior infection.

But the truth is, we have no idea whether -- when this is all combined in reality, in nature whether this will really happen. And there's no data to suggest that any of those outcomes are even likely to happen. And we will have data from really hard working scientists over the next few weeks that will help inform how we can, you know, put this new variant into context.

But what happens is markets tank, governments react. We've seen borders close, air travel cease. And this is all in response to a potential adverse consequence that we have no data yet exists.

STELTER: So, we have to wait. Waiting in the meantime all the reactions to this news, the shutting of some travel, et cetera, that has made this a lead story. So, the reactions are the big story now and we don't know if the reactions are the right ones yet and you're saying they probably are not.

REINER: Right. But there are big stories that this actually discloses. That this uncovers.

And the big story, you know, it appears that this variant has come out of Africa somewhere, although the exact location is unclear. You know, we're calling this sort of a South African variant, we are giving it a Greek letter now but we don't really know the place of origin of this variant.

But it is probable that this has come out of somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. But the big story is only 4 percent of the population of that part of the continent is fully vaccinated. 4 percent. And the developed world has failed the rest of the world in terms of providing vaccine.

And again, the big story is that we are not safe until everyone is safe, both around the world and locally in the United States. The United States is only vaccinated 60 percent of its population fully, despite having free vaccine and in ready availabilities for months.


So, in the United States, we are not going to be safe until everyone in this country is safe. And there are ten states in this country that have fully vaccinated less than 50 percent of their population. So those are absolutely big stories that the media is not covering now. And that this story really uncovers.

STELTER: Personally, I'm looking at some of the coverage of this right wing media thinking if this variant is a real problem, it will just deepen the divides and make it harder to talk to each other and cause more hate and division because already on Fox, they're making jokes about there is going to be a new variant, every two years for the elections to help the Democrats. It's that kind of craziness that just gets worse and worse every time we hear about a new variant.

Meantime, at Newsmax, Dr. Reiner, there is an anchor, a host apparently leaving that network. "Daily Beast" says Steve Cortes is on the way out. He said he would not comply with the company's vaccine mandate.

So while in the real world, scientists are trying to figure out what's going on with the future of COVID, in this kind of fantasy right wing battleground, you still have people so -- well, I don't know -- how do you describe what's going on with these -- with these right wing figures who are, say, do not comply. Do not comply with the vaccine mandates.

What is this battle about?

REINER: Well, it's the battle of science versus anti-science.

STELTER: Anti-science, okay.

REINER: And I think if this -- anti-science. And I think, again, if this alarm and concern about this emerging variant shows us anything is that we haven't vaccinated nearly enough people around the world and not nearly enough people in this country. And the only way for us to get back to normalcy in this country is to get everyone vaccinated. And if it requires mandates to do that so be it.

The other thing is when you look at the travel ban, the travel ban shows really a big disconnect. We are going to ban travel from a country where we think the variant might be on the rise, ban non- American nationals from traveling but allow Americans to travel from those regions. And what it underscores for me is the big gap in protection in this country which is we have allowed people to travel freely both into this country and around this country being unvaccinated, if you are an American citizen.

It's time that we realize that we are not going to fully protect this country until we vaccinate everyone in this country and the big gap is we allow people to fly in this country unvaccinated.

STELTER: Interesting. Dr. Reiner, thank you for being here this morning.

REINER: My pleasure, thank you.

STELTER: Up next, what is next for those two former Fox contributors Steve Hayes and Jonah Goldberg now that they resigned from Fox. I have some new reporting to share after this break.




STELTER: There are double standards in the way the media covers some far-right members of Congress. And one Colorado news anchor recently called this out.


KYLE CLARK, ANCHOR AND MANAGING DIRECTOR, "NEXT WITH KYLE CLARK," KUSA-TV: We hold Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert to a different standard than every other elected official in Colorado. We hold Congresswoman Boebert to a far lower standard.


STELTER: That was Kyle Clark. He's the anchor and managing editor of "Next With Kyle Clark" on KUSA in Denver and he's here with me now.

So, Kyle, it's very rare to see an anchor calling out a local Congresswoman in this way, saying she's held to a lower standard. Why is she held to a lower standard? I mean, couldn't you change that?

KYLE CLARK, ANCHOR AND MANAGING EDITOR, "NEXT WITH KYLE CLARK," KUSA- TV: Well, I think we are attempting to change that, Brian.


CLARK: I appreciate the opportunity to talk about this. I think there is a clear double standard that almost creates an incentive for elected officials, if they are going to say things that are cruel or false or bigoted, to do it a lot to flood the zone with that disinformation and bigotry, so it just kind of becomes noise.

When it becomes their brand, we're less likely to hold them accountable for individual instances.

STELTER: Did you find other reporters agreeing with you once you said this on the air earlier this month?

CLARK: Got a lot of private agreement. I think -- listen, this is something, Brian that I think a lot of journalists wrestle with because we don't want to mistakenly amplify disinformation, we don't want to unnecessarily amplify bigotry.

But yet when we have an elected official who is pushing falsehoods, the big election lie among them, or who's pushing anti-Muslim bigotry suggesting that a Muslim colleague is an actual suicide bomber in the Capitol, we can't ignore those things.

Because when we ignore the disinformation, we normalize it and we erode the foundation of American democracy. When we ignore the bigotry, we normalize the bigotry and we abandon our neighbors, who are the targets of the bigotry.

STELTER: Right. So here she is the other day, this video was flagged by a Twitter account called Patriot Takes, a left-wing group, the researchers' right-wing extremism.

So this Twitter account found this video, amplified this video, Boebert making anti-Muslim comments about Representative Ilhan Omar.

So that's the latest reason why Boebert's in the news, but she's constantly in this because of what you said, a flood-the-zone strategy.

So it's a variation of what we've dealt with for years of Donald Trump that we're also seeing on a more of a local or regional level.


STELTER: And you say you have pride -- journalists privately agreeing with you, but why is it that some feel restrained in calling this problem out?

CLARK: I think national journalists have been at the vanguard of this because you saw it happen at the national level. And now I think it's time for local journalists to start to lead on this as well, in terms of how we cover elected officials in our community who spread disinformation and who spread bigotry.

Yes, there's going to be blowback, there's going to be criticism, but at the end of the day, if you're being accurate, and you're being fair, that is our job.

And listen, it's not -- it's no secret that a lot of journalists wrestled behind the scenes with the best way to handle these things.


CLARK: I think it's OK to say what we're doing right now isn't working, it isn't well serving our community, and we should try a new approach.

STELTER: Kyle, thanks so much for coming on.

CLARK: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: Well, it was the last straw for Fox News commentators, Stephen Hayes and Jonah Goldberg. The two men resigned this week giving up money they were making from Fox in protest of Tucker Carlson and others of the network.

They said that Carlson's Patriot Purge Document series, the one full of crazy conspiracy theories about '16, they say that was the last straw, but this has been coming for a while.

Carlson called the resignations, great news, and told the New York Times, our viewers will be grateful.

This morning, a source tells me multiple networks are interested in hiring Hayes and Goldberg, offers apparently already coming in, the source says. So they will let -- they'd be back on TV soon somewhere, but not Fox.

Back with me now is Susan Glasser of The New Yorker. Susan, what does this say? Hayes and Goldberg, saying they can't take it anymore, they're leaving. And by the way, they were barely ever on Fox anyway, because the shows wouldn't book them.

What does it say about the GOP media that we're seeing this breakup where you know, anti-Trump conservatives can't even find a home anywhere at Fox even on the new shows -- news shows.

GLASSER: Well, here's the problem, Brian, I mean, I think you have written you know, very well on this subject so you know it better than I do, but there is, of course, the what I call the Casablanca problem, right?

Like, you know, they're shocked, shocked that lies and disinformation are going on here is the straw that broke the camel's back that invites, unfortunately, criticism while all the other crazy, untrue, and dangerous things that Tucker Carlson said during the pandemic, for example, that wasn't the straw that broke the camel's back. So that is one problem for any commentators on Fox, who now discover that problem.

However, I think there is also the worry from the other direction, which is that the purging of the media ecosphere, on the right, creates even more potential for extremism.

And we saw that, of course, during the Trump presidency, as wave after wave of advisors came and laugh. Trump over time got to an even more extreme group of people who were facilitating his wishes.

I think we can all agree that January six might have played out differently if Trump was surrounded by a different group of people than he was by the end. And I think this dynamic now applies on Fox as well. So it's not like purging of those remaining dissenting or slightly disagreeing voices on Fox, it's probably another dangerous development for the country, even though it's hard to accept the argument at face value that this was somehow beyond the pale given what we've already heard from Tucker Carlson.

STELTER: Hmm, right. I see what you're saying. There's also interesting, I really particularly pernicious form of media bashing, taking place from Carlson this week that I want to highlight.

As you know, there's been a long bad history of Donald Trump and other GOP performers claiming that the media covers up certain crimes for political reasons.

Remember, early on in Trump's presidency he said that the media was covering up terror attacks. He said that in front of the military. He said the media covered up terror attacks and imply that it was for some conspiratorial reason.

Well, this week, Tucker Carlson on his show was talking about the tragedy in Wisconsin, this Christmas parade massacre, this man driving through the Christmas parade, and now you know, charged with murder for allegedly killing six people.

So you've got the situation where Carlson's on the air claiming the networks are totally ignoring the motives. Here's what Carlson said on Fox.


TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT: The media don't seem interested in finding out, not even a little bit, so they decided to ignore the story completely. And they are.


STELTER: Now, here's the truth from Mediaite highlighting what I wrote in the Reliable Newsletter. All the nightly newscasts led with the Christmas massacre, led with the parade massacre, that same night so Carlson's on the air, saying that the networks are ignoring it, and of course the networks are leading with the story.

Now, Carlson's viewers are probably never going to know that.

GLASSER: Look, Brian, I --

STELTER: They're probably never going to know that because they don't turn the channel. But why is this kind of pattern of lying about the media claiming we don't cover crimes that we're covering all the time?


GLASSER: You know, Brian, I'm glad you pointed this out. The unfortunate truth, right, is that there were always been conspiracy theorists and liars and charlatans who are telling people what they think they want to hear. The accountability lies with Tucker Carlson but it also relies on people who make money off of him and put him on the air.

And I think you correctly pointed out that you know, it's the lack of accountability on the part of the management of Fox News that suggests you know, that this is not only not a news channel but that they've been willing to do things that have really polluted the public space here.

And I -- I'm just -- it is actually breathtaking when you sit back and you realize the things somebody is saying on the air night after night, lies, untruths, propaganda, and falsehoods.

STELTER: It does become so normal when it's so abnormal. And I'm glad we have a chance to mention it. Susan, thanks, great to see you.

GLASSER: Thank you.

STELTER: Still ahead, the story behind the Ahmaud Arbery story. How one relentless journalist help propel the story into the national spotlight?



STELTER: President Biden's Democracy Summit is coming up next month, and one of the phrases you're likely to hear is democratic backsliding. Democracies don't just devolve into autocracies with the flick of a light switch, it's not on or off, it's more like a dimmer. And in the United States, it is getting darker.

This week, a Stockholm-based Think Tank said the U.S. now ranks as a backsliding democracy, just like India, Brazil, and Hungary.

The U.S. has fallen victim to authoritarian tendencies, the report says, and was knocked down on the Democratic scale, partly by Donald Trump in 2019.

The report is by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Annika Silva-Leander was the lead writer of the report, and she's with me now.

Annika, your work is all pre-2021. This is not about January 6. What you're saying is that the U.S. is falling down the democratic scale in the last couple of years, is that right?

ANNIKA SILVA-LEANDER, HEAD OF NORTH AMERICA OUTREACH AND ANALYSIS, INTERNATIONAL IDEA: Right. And indeed, the data that underpins the report goes until the end of 2020, so it doesn't cover the riots on the Capitol in January.

And so if we were to look at the quality of democracy in the U.S. now, has it backslid further since 2020? And I would say yes and no.

Yes, in the sense that the events on the Capitol showed how extreme levels of political polarization in the U.S. led people to use violence in order to disrupt the core of the democratic process, which is the elect -- the certification of election results.

So that's clearly concerning the fact that a fourth of the electoral still thinks that the elections are rigged, more than half of Republicans, and that of those that think the elections were rigged, 40 percent still think that the use of violence for political ends is justified is very worrisome.

So there are clear signs that U.S. democracy is continuing to backslide, but there are also some positive signs of recovery in 2021.

STELTER: No, you can't have a free press without a democratic system. So what should they -- a small d democratic media be doing to support democracy?

SILVA-LEANDER: Well, media has a key role to play in vibrant and healthy democracy so continue to provide impartial and balanced reporting, and present facts and truths, and that's a guess particularly challenging in an area of disinformation.

So I guess journalists also have to rethink their profession to some extent, how to tackle truth and use in an area of disinformation where the public really doesn't know what is true and what is a lie.

Be driven by quality imperatives, the new -- the quality of the news rather than business imperatives, I think it's also critical.

STELTER: And people can read the report in detail at, it's important to understand the global context for what's going on. Annika, thank you very much.


STELTER: More RELIABLE SOURCES in just a moment.



STELTER: Every national and global news story begins locally, sometimes with a single reporter who's determined to follow up and get to the truth. That's what happened in the case of Ahmaud Arbery.

Of course now, national news, we know the verdicts, we know that the guilty verdicts, but early on, one reporter was pursuing the case for his local paper. His name is Larry Hobbs.

He continued to follow up and dig and dig because, you know, there were possible conflicts of interest with the local DA's office, there was a lot of information that was not being released about the deadly series of events so Hobbs helped to dig out the truth.

He's a reporter and writer for The Brunswick News in Brunswick, Georgia, he's joining me now. Larry, thanks for coming on the program. Why did you decide to keep pursuing this? After the initial story you wrote about a shooting, why did you keep following up?

LARRY HOBBS, REPORTER AND WRITER, THE BRUNSWICK NEWS (voice0ver): Well, that's just -- I mean, you got to follow those instincts that you know, in back your head, just raised a lot of red flags. Very little information came out pretty much.

That afternoon, I got -- I couldn't -- I couldn't really get anything but there was a shooting. I actually got it from a Facebook notification, somebody said some -- they heard it on the scanner.

So I called on a sub -- that Sunday afternoon and got a little brief in the paper. I couldn't get anything from the police. That day, I called Cornell and got his name, Ahmaud Arbery.

And why was he -- he was -- this was a burglary apparently. But he's in the middle of the street, why the young man shot in the middle of the street?

Burglaries don't typically, my experience, take place in the middle of the afternoon, especially on a Sunday when everybody's home.

The main thing is why this man -- this young man shot dead in the middle of the street? That just raised a lot of red flags. I mean is if it that's something --

STELTER: Yes, absolutely.


STELTER: So you had to keep following up. And then the video eventually comes out, the video we were just showing, which was shared you know by one of the defendants in attempt to try to show that you know, it wasn't murder.

But this video comes out and then it becomes a national story and you continue to follow it through the verdict. So what was verdict day like for you?

HOBBS: Verdict day was -- it was you know I've been following this thing since it started.


HOBBS: And I was talking to Mayor Cornell Harvey almost every day outside the courthouse during this trial, which went on for you know, a total about six weeks and there was always some activity going on outside.

And then we've been talking to the day -- right after the verdict came out, I walked there. He's that the first person I'd talk to who's out there on the grass watching everybody all the best -- you know, the situation that's going on out there. And I just went and shook his hand and we talked you know what, there you want, I said to him but what he said back to me was, Larry, we showed that a person can get justice in a small southern town today. We showed justice is not colorblind. We showed the world how to get justice with peace. And --

STELTER: Larry, thank you for coming on.

HOBBS: I just wanted to give because I wanted to quote him on that, yes.

STELTER: Absolutely. Larry, thanks for coming on. Thanks for calling in. We were out of there, your Skype's up. So thank you for calling in to tell us that experience.

And thanks for joining us here on RELIABLE SOURCES. We'll see you back here this time next week.