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CNN Fires Chris Cuomo Amid Multiple Scandals; White House Laments Negative Press Coverage; Anti-Vax Founder Of Christian Television Network Dies; Ghislaine Maxwell Trial Rise To New Conspiracies; Lara Logan: From Trusted Reporter To Truth-Bender. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired December 05, 2021 - 11:00   ET



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

This hour, some big stories ahead. Is the White House press corps being too tough on Biden? We're hearing a lot of flak lately from White House aides. They're criticizing the media. So, we're going to get into that with the prominent liberal media critic, coming up.

Plus, the renowned reporter who turned into a stream right wing pundit, what happened to Lara Logan? We're going to talk to one of her producers about that.

And later, COVID claims the life of a world famous Christian broadcaster who was pushing anti-vaccine propaganda. What can we learn from his life and his death?

That and much more in the hour ahead here on RELIABLE SOURCES.

But, first, you know the biggest media story this weekend is the firing of Chris Cuomo from this network, CNN.

Now, I've been working the phones ever since this was announced yesterday evening. Frankly, I have been on the phone until the last five minutes here getting information about what happened, and where CNN goes from here.

So I would like to start, now that you know the news about Cuomo's firing with a timeline of how it came to this point. Why was Chris Cuomo fired now after CNN management supported him all year long? That's the key question I've been pursuing as a media reporter for the past, you know, 18 hours or so.

So here are the answers I have so far. Let's take a look at the day- by-day timeline this week to catch you up.

On Monday, the New York attorney general's document -- attorney general's office released that document dump, it landed with a thud. There was a lot to read. Some of it damning. Some of it about Chris. Now, Cuomo's view was he never engaged in opposition research on

behalf of his brother Andrew. Cuomo said never smeared anyone, he never went after his brother's accusers. Plus, the attorney general's office never accused him of that.

But the documents, especially the text messages between Cuomo and his governor's aides showed a level of coziness with the governor staff that was alarming to many. The CNN leadership on Monday bought some time to scrutinize the documents by saying it would conduct a thorough review. So, that was on Monday.

On Tuesday, Cuomo's producers were back at work to produce another episode of "CUOMO PRIME TIME". But there was growing criticism of the anchorman both outside and inside CNN.

By the evening, management had seen enough in the documents to take action. Cuomo was suspended, quote, "indefinitely," pending further evaluation. This language made clear that Cuomo is not just being benched for a week, you know, as some sort of performative punishment. This was a real reprimand.

But the language also left the door open for Cuomo to possibly return after the holidays, depending on that, quote/unquote, further evaluation. It seemed clear to me that management was balancing the concerns of staffers with the feelings of viewers. On one side, important complaints about Cuomo crossing clear journalistic lines and damaging CNN's brand. On the other side, concerns about Cuomo as a person and respect for the fact that he put his family first.

And you know what? Some people felt all of the above. My phone was lighting up on Tuesday with calls from CNN staffers, some of whom said Cuomo should have been fired right away, but also with emails from viewers saying CNN was being unfair to the anchorman.

So, there was this balancing act going on. Now, unbeknownst to viewers or staffers, CNN management also engaged a premier law firm, Cravath, to assess the document dump.

By Wednesday, with Cuomo's suspension all over the news, Cravath was quietly at work, looking through the texts, looking through Cuomo's public statements, looking to see if it all lined up.

At the same time, CNN boss Jeff Zucker held a meeting with the staff of Cuomo's primetime show and the sentiments there were clearly in Cuomo's favor. This part is not being reported anywhere I've seen. Those staffers for the 9:00 p.m. show talked about the anchorman's talent and the pride they felt in the show.

So, there was a real, wide array of feelings in this house. You got CNN staffers saying, get rid of him, he shouldn't work here, he's hurt us. And you have some of his own producers saying, you know, let's bring him. He should be back.

Now, here's the other thing that was unknown to the staff, to the press, and the public. Late Wednesday, a lawyer contacted CNN with a sexual misconduct complaint about Cuomo. On Thursday, CNN management reckoned with that charge, which is from

an anonymous woman who worked with Cuomo years ago at ABC. "The New York Times" and other outlets had investigated Chris in the past, looking for signs of the same allegations that caused his brother's political downfall.

So when a CNN spokesperson announced that additional information came to light, it was referring to that misconduct allegation. Right now, I know almost nothing about the allegation. Nothing has really been reported about it publicly other than the fact that this staffer worked with Cuomo at ABC.


But we'll catch up to that in a moment. We're on the timeline here. We're up to Friday, OK? According to two sources familiar with the matter, the law firm, Cravath, turned in the results of its review on Friday and the review said that CNN had grounds to terminate Cuomo.

Zucker made the decision and notified Cuomo of his firing early Saturday afternoon. And then Zucker said in a memo to CNN staffers, quote: It goes without saying that these decisions are not easy and there are a lot of complex factors involved.

Chris Cuomo said in a statement that he didn't want his CNN career to end this way and he thanked his staff for the great work that they had done over the years.

As for the misconduct claim, "The New York Times" broke that news late last night, late Saturday, with attorney Debra Katz saying her client, quote, came forward because she was disgusted by Cuomo's on-air statements about his brother earlier this year.

So far, just double check my emails as we're talking here, so far, Katz has not responded to my request for comment today. But a spokesperson for Cuomo has responded and said these apparently anonymous allegations are not true. "Times" reporter Jodi Kantor pointed out both Cuomo brothers have lost their positions in the wake of "Me Too" accusations.

So, what happened here?

This is about a confluence of factors, about a series of headaches that seemed like they were never going to end. I said on the air last night when the news broke, this seems like a case of a death by a thousand cuts, and my reporting since backs that assessment up. This is not about any single headache but many headaches that continued to pile up.

So it seems CNN management had decided to terminate Cuomo based on the law firm's review, based on the document dump, based on his behavior with his brother. And then the sexual misconduct allegation also came along and it was yet another factor.

A CNN spokesman saying overnight, when the new allegation came to us this week, quote, we took it -- we took them seriously and saw no reason to delay taking immediate action.

So there's still some unknowns here, some unknowns about what that sexual misconduct allegation is. It's possible that reporters will reveal more in the coming days. As I mentioned, I have not heard back from that lawyer yet.

But Cuomo's defense, the outside PR person he's hired to defend him, says these apparently anonymous allegations are not true.

So there is a lot more to unpack here. It's been a bruising week for CNN and with a significant change in primetime. There could be more fallout to come.

So, I want to bring in three non-CNN voices into the conversation to be as transparent as we can with you at home.

With me now is Sara Fischer, media reporter for "Axios", David Zurawik, professor for media studies at Goucher College, and Mara Schiavocampo, journalist and host of "Run Tell This" podcast, formerly with NBC.

So, thanks everybody for assembling this morning.

Sara, you have been reporting on this just as I have. What are the biggest unknown questions that you have this morning?

SARA FISCHER, MEDIA REPORTER, AXIOS: Yeah, Brian, like you, I want to know what's actually in that complaint and I do think we're going to get more reporting about that as it comes along.

I also want to know why CNN delayed taking action. They said in their statement they had taken action finally, you know, once the allegations had come through but they had cause already. So, if you already had cause, why didn't they immediately fire him then?

I also want to know about this pending investigation. They say they're going to continue to investigate this matter further.


FISCHER: Well, what does that mean? Are they going to commit to making the revelations for that investigation open to the public? Are we going to learn more about CNN, about their culture, about this exact situation, you know?

And then finally, what precedent does this set for the news media? So many people in news have personal connections to people in power. Does this change the way we think about how reporters and correspondents and anchors deal with those personal situations? I assume it will but we will only see it as time goes on.

STELTER: It's great point. So, there's such a, you know, a complicated case here where you have this apparently ABC -- a former ABC staffer, someone who worked with Cuomo at ABC, making this allegation, and then you have all of these producers who currently work for Cuomo singing his praises, and they are -- at least the people I talked to -- quite disappointed that Cuomo has been terminated. So, a lot of tension in this.

Let's go to David Zurawik next.

Ultimately, this is about trust in media as Sara was referring to, trust in media. Has CNN lost trust as a result of this, Zurawik?

DAVID ZURAWIK, PROFESSOR OF MEDIA STUDIES, GOUCHER COLLEGE: Well, you know, I don't know. That's hard to say if CNN lost trust.

I think this really, Brian, goes to the heart -- and Sara's right. These relationships are out there. People know about them. And it is one of the things that makes people -- not wary, they don't trust the press because they think it's elites dealing with elites taking care of elites.

We say we're watchdogs but we watch some people harder than we watch other people. There are friends. There are relationships. There are people trying to court favor with powerful people for information.


Here's the problem. We really lost sense of media ethics. In our profession, especially in the last few years, you have to ask yourself first -- and this is the mistake that Chris Cuomo made and in some sense I think CNN made the same mistake in not forcing to ask this, who do you work for? Who do you serve?

Obviously, you serve and work for your employer or you don't get a check. But beyond that, where -- who are you talking to? You should be serving the public. That oftentimes puts you at odds with people in power. You have to sacrifice that.

If somebody cuts you off for information because they don't like the information you're giving the public, too bad. Too many people in this business -- and I think this is a little worse than it is -- well, I don't know, I shouldn't say that, it's not bet are in print than it is in TV, it's across the board for everybody now because we're all one big digital world. People don't ask that question.

Cuomo, come on, he's a lawyer. He should know this. He should have asked himself that, and he wasn't.

This -- people say, look, he wasn't. He was taking care of his brother. He wasn't giving me information. I need -- if you were a resident of New York, he wasn't giving you information that would help you cast a vote more wisely in the next election or know whether to support the governor.

No, he was serving his brother. Now, that complicates it because of the brother.


STELTER: See, that's what I think, this is a once-in-a-lifetime ethical dilemma. It doesn't necessarily let him off the hook but there's never going to be another moment like this where there's a brother as anchorman and governor in the middle of COVID, and, you know, one of them gets COVID. Like this was a once-in-a-lifetime situation, that doesn't mean that everyone necessarily did the right things at the right time, but it was unique.

Mara, let me just go to you on this dynamic of --


STELTER: -- who did what when.

Sara was saying CNN waited to ask. The counterpoint is as soon as that law firm review came back, Cuomo was fired within 24 hours. How do you see it, Mara?

MARA SCHIAVOCAMPO, HOST, "RUN TELL THIS" PODCAST: Yeah. So, you know, Brian, you called this a dilemma and I think that's a perfect word for this, because I think a lot of people can understand Chris Cuomo's impulse to help his brother.

So when the initial reports came out, and it wasn't clear the extent to which he was involved, I think it was wise to wait and see and get additional information. But the documents released earlier -- or last week, rather, showed was that Chris Cuomo did cross a really bright red line of journalistic ethics. This is not a gray area.

It would be inappropriate for any employee of any news organization to provide media relations strategy advice to a sitting governor in the midst of a legal and a political crisis. This was a clear conflict of interests.

So, once those documents were released, I don't really think CNN had any choice at that point. The decision they made, I'm sure, was not an easy one but it was the right one journalistically. When you asked about the public's trust in the media, I actually think a circumstance like this enforces the public's trust in the media because they did make the right call on such a clear-cut case here.

And when it comes to the issue of sources, of coziness with sources, this whole situation highlights the tension that journalists have in managing these relationships, because good relationships yield good information. But when they get too cozy and too close, that's when we can stray into this unethical territory and that's what we saw here.

STELTER: Let's broaden out to what this means for CNN and cable news writ large. The 9:00 p.m. hour is now up for grabs. Michael Smerconish is going to be filling in this week. He was already booked to fill before Cuomo was fired.

The 9:00 p.m. staff, nothing happens to them, they stay in place. They got a new show to produce.

But the 9:00 p.m. hour at CNN now suddenly open. The 9:00 p.m. hour at MSNBC about to open. Rachel Maddow stepping up from her weekly -- from her daily show. She'll be on maybe once a week starting next winter/spring.

Eleven p.m. MSNBC is open, Brian Williams. Fox News, 7:00 p.m. hour has been open for a year, they were in rotating hosts.

Sara, what does this mean that there are so many open slots in cable news. Is the era of the star cable news anchor over?

FISCHER: It's not over. I mean, Rachel Maddow has negotiated a better contract than ever before. So, we still have stars --


STELTER: But to work less on the air. She won't be on every day anymore.

FISCHER: No, but she'll be doing special projects, et cetera.

I do think the era, though, of having a big primetime show is fading. I mean, CNN is a great example of this. Now, it's all about being cross platform, having a strong digital presence, podcast. CNN is launching a streaming network next year.

So, having a big primetime show is no longer the only outlet where you could be a star and where you can succeed. And I think stars recognize that.

I also think that they're starting to realize, like, cable TV, it's awkward to say it while I'm on cable TV, it's in terminal decline.

And so they're starting to recognize too, you know, I might be smarter and wiser in my career -- I think this is what Maddow is thinking -- to start to do documentaries that maybe can go on streaming services, do more podcasts. That's going to be the stronger way eventually to reach all of your audiences than just relying on that prime time spot.

STELTER: Now, the counter point to terminal decline is when something bad or really great happens in the world, people still know where to go. However, they might want to stream it rather than watch on your cable.


Zurawik, how do you view this landscape suddenly changing with Cuomo's departure?

ZURAWIK: It's a huge thing and that's a big part of this story, Brian, I think is that Chris Cuomo as a performer, as a talent in the 9:00 p.m. time slot, did a terrific job. I mean, he did a terrific job. He had almost a million viewers a night. He was competitive in the toughest primetime time slot there is.

That complicated, I'm sure, for CNN when they were dealing with him because he was so successful as a performer in that time slot.

Listen, I'm missing -- I have separation anxiety about Brian -- it's MSNBC, but I have separation anxiety about Brian Williams leaving at 11:00 because it means so much. We're losing big stars in this medium and I don't know what the impact is. I think Sara is right in the way the larger shifts in the way we get information from cable TV. But a lot of folks still spend a lot of time if you count how many

hours a day they spend with a cable channel.

STELTER: Oh, yes.

ZURAWIK: And losing these stars in primetime makes a difference, yes, I think it does, and in the culture.


STLETER: I think when Bill O'Reilly was ousted at Fox, the conventional wisdom was everyone is replaceable, even Bill O'Reilly. Tucker Carlson comes along and he got even higher ratings than O'Reilly did.

So, this may be another one of those cases but, Mara, I want you to have the last word. We're having this insider talk about cable news war. What's the outsider story here that people should take away?

SCHIAVOCAMPO: Well, I think that in terms of Chris Cuomo's future, that it's absolutely correct that a lot of stars are realizing that they don't need traditional outlets to continue to have a voice. We've seen that happen with Bill O'Reilly, who you just mentioned. We've seen that happen with Megyn Kelly.

And so, they're realizing that there's other platforms out there where they can continue to have voice and build their own audience. And I think that that's a very viable possibility for Chris Cuomo.

The idea that you can take a star one place and put them somewhere else and they will still be a star is not as simple as that. Audiences are different. Cultures are different in newsrooms. So, it's not necessarily a guarantee that he can simply go somewhere else and pick up where he left off.

In terms of how the audience is served, I really think that this is an important conversation to have, to peel back the layers a little bit and ask these questions about access to power, access to sources, relationships with sources, disclosures that journalists need to make, recusing themselves, perhaps taking a leave of absence if he felt that his family was the priority for him.


SCHIAVOCAMPO: And these are the important conversations to have and I'm glad that we are having them in such a transparent way because these are the conversations that reinforce public trust in the media where we expose some of the fault lines.

STELTER: I'm glad you said that. I think -- looking back at the leave of absence, which we raised on this program months ago, that may have been the cleaner path forward. You know, more importantly, you can't pick your family, right? You can choose your family, but you can choose how you handle your day job, professional life versus your personal life. And I hope this really sad case is a lesson for others.

Mara, thank you. Sara and David, please stick around.

Up next here on the program, Chris Christie, he went hard selling that book called "Republican Rescue". But why is it such a flop? What went wrong? Media watcher Eric Boehlert is here with his thoughts.

And later in the hour conspiracy theories swirling around a new trial. What is going on with conspiracy thinking when it comes to the Maxwell trial?



STELTER: The White House on offense this weekend, sharply criticizing some major news outlets. It's the president doing it, it's the chief of staff, it's press aides, all seemingly speaking out about what they see as too much negativity in the news coverage.

Here's Biden's chief of staff Ron Klain suggesting that all should read this "Washington Post" story. It is by Dana Milbank. I'll show it to you in a second.

And here's another aide Biden. Here's Rapid Response Director Mike Gwin calling out reporters for not asking more about the jobs' reports on Friday, instead asking about Biden's cold. Of course, both are important, one more important than the other.

I mentioned Dana Milbank. Here's his column for "The Post" this weekend, getting lots of buzz from liberals on Twitter, he says journalists are contributing to the murder of democracy and he has he has data gathered by an artificial intelligence machine to show the press has turned more negative against Biden than the press was against Trump at this time in Trump's first year.

What do you think about that? Is that possible? Does it ring true to you?

I think it rings true to my next guest. Let's bring him in. Eric Boehlert, he runs the "Press Run" blog and he's here with me.

Eric, thanks for coming on the program.

ERIC BOEHLERT, MEDIC CRITIC: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: You never hold back with your media critique coming from the left against the media.

Do you think the Biden team is right to be out there griping, airing grievances about the press right now?

BOEHLERT: Oh, sure, and I think it's long overdue. And I think it's important. You know, these are not insulting tweets. They're not denigrating tweets. They're not suggesting, you know, this is that -- you know, the press is the enemy of the people or anything. They're saying hey, press, you're missing this story. And specifically a lot of them are talking about the economic coverage

and inflation coverage and the jobs report coverage. They are saying you are missing a big story and missing it several months. And I think it's absolutely right for them to ask the press for a little self- reflection and a little accountability.

And the Dana Milbank's column is very important and I think it is convincing that Biden is getting worse coverage than Trump. Look, you know, if Trump were a traditional Republican president, if he had been a Jeb Bush president, that would be okay. Look, Trump got bad coverage. Biden gets bad coverage. Everybody gets bad coverage.

Trump was a fascist. He was a pathological liar. He's trying to destroy free and fair elections in this country, and the idea that this conventional center left Democrat is getting worse coverage, if I were in the press, I would stop and think, what are we doing here? And is this -- is this all accurate?


STELTER: Well, I'm definitely hearing from White House aides, they're saying the same thing they're saying on Twitter, which is the press is piling on --


STELTER: -- not paying enough attention to positive economics at a point but paying way too much attention to more negative economic data points.

But can we -- can we agree, Eric, that, you know, if it bleeds, it leads? If negativity bias is nothing new when it comes to politics coverage or all news coverage?

BOEHLERT: Well, I think it's a little different talking about economics. I have been focusing on that and I think the White House is focusing on that too. Look, inflation exists. Nobody likes spending $90 to fill up their SUV. That's a story.

But, my gosh, let's put it in context. Inflation does not equal the economy, right? And the press the last two months has presented inflation as all of the U.S. economy. And it's just not true.

You know, the jobs report on Friday, a lot of coverage said this is a bad jobs report, this is a bad jobs report. Unemployment is down to 4.2 percent. Before Biden passed the COVID relief bill in February, CBO said it will take four years for this country to get down to 4.2 unemployment.

We're four years ahead of schedule. This is an historic recovery. This is an economy that is red hot in many ways.

Look, it's coming out of a global pandemic, so it's complicated. There's nuances. We're getting good news and bad news at the same time.

That's very unusual for an economy. Usually it's all good or all bad.

But the press really -- here's the point. Take your thumb off the scale. Tell the story, tell the economic story as it is.

Don't be so committed to a story line that Joe Biden is the new Jimmy Carter. It's just not true.

STELTER: Speaking of story lines, there's one out there about Chris Christie and it's thanks to you. You wrote about his new book "Republican Rescue" received a lot of TV attention, lots and lots of interviews across television and yet it was a flop. It barely sold any copies. It didn't make it on "The New York Times" best-seller list or any other major best-seller lists.


STELTER: So, what went wrong, Eric? Is it that nobody wants to buy what Chris Christie is selling, this moderate Republican brand?

BOEHLERT: Well, yeah, my point is, he's a media creation. I mean, he left office as New Jersey's least popular governor in the history of polling in this country. He ran for president in 2016, survived one primary. He had 20,000 votes in his entire campaign.

There's not a Democrat in this country that can get in a green room on any news organization with that kind of resume.

Why is Chris Christie given a national platform? Five years later, why is he considered a important person in our political conversation? He has no constituency.

And to your point, what he's selling nobody cares about because he says, well, we have to move past Trump, we have to move past the big lie, but then press during his media tour, he said, well, I might vote for Trump in 2024.

What is this? This is just nonsense. He's trying to peddle his own relevancy. He had the greatest booking tour ever. He was on every show in this country, and nobody really cared.

So I think it's a signal to the press, you know, maybe Chris Christie doesn't matter and maybe we should stop giving Republicans the national platform just because they have an R next to their name.

STELTER: All right. Eric, thank you for coming on the program. Thanks for never holding back.

BOEHLERT: Thanks. My pleasure.

STELTER: Coming up next -- Lara Logan went from war correspondent to, you know, propagandist. What happened? I think we have an answer, coming up.



STELTER: Being anti-Vax was his crusade but COVID, evidently claimed his life. Marcus Lamb died after being hospitalized for COVID-19 recently.

Lamb led a popular Christian Broadcast Network and used his empire on more other things, he used it to spread inaccurate information about Coronavirus vaccines, he advocated for alternate treatments instead. One of his shows featured prominent anti-vaxxers like Robert Kennedy Jr.

And though Lamb's death has made national headlines this week, some Christian leaders don't want to talk about it as the Washington Post pointed out in this story.

Joining me now is someone who will talk about it. Bob Smietana is a National Writer for the Religion News Service and a former President of the Religion News Association.

Bob, tell us about Marcus Lamb for those who didn't watch his programs on Daystar. What was he telling viewers about COVID-19?

BOB SMIETANA, NATIONAL WRITER, RELIGION NEWS SERVICE: Sure, so Marcus Lamb was the head of one of the largest Christian broadcasters.

He was telling people that the COVID vaccines were -- theirs -- that they were dangerous, that the alternative medicines were better, that really there was kind of a conspiracy by the government and the Big Pharma and the news media to give him disinformation. So he felt he was giving the truth about the COVID vaccines.

STELTER: And how does this relate to the larger landscape of Christian Broadcasting, as there have been a lot of anti -- as they've been a lot of vaccines denialism on other networks or programs or on other broadcasts as well?

SMIETANA: There have been some. There are some prominent folks to do that. So Lamb did that, there's a prominent broadcaster named Eric Metaxas who has been very anti-vaccine.

You get someone like Dave Ramsey, who's the finance -- Christian financial guru who wasn't to talk about vaccines but was very skeptical of COVID and anti-mask.

I think what you have and it shows in the broader Christian, especially evangelical landscape, is that you know, the COVID vaccine -- the COVID pandemic has been very difficult for churches. It's shut them down, it's cut people off for one another and it's become seen as an attack on religion.


STELTER: Even though it's not. It's been so politicized. And unfortunately, there's this kind of toxic merger of right-wing politics and some of these churches that seems to have advanced or certain made the situation worse, right?

Where, you know, they're preaching the gospel of Donald Trump and vaccine denialism.

SMIETANA: Yes. You saw that actually, this recently at a big church now in San Antonio, where there was one of these, kind of God and country anti-COVID rallies where they were shouting in a church, you know, let's go, Brandon which is you know, a political slogan.

There's been this -- I think folks see this kind of distrust of institutions and anger about the way the country is going, and how it's disrupted religion.

And in Pentecostal spheres like Lamb, they have a really strong view of spiritual warfare so, that they believe their spiritual forces out there at play and so they see this as an attack.

So when he got sick, they saw this as an attack on him for spreading the truth about COVID.

And that's why -- one reason why his folks won't stop with their kind of promotion of this vaccine skepticism and alternative treatments for COVID because they see that it's continuing the good fight.

STELTER: So Lamb's funeral is tomorrow. What does this mean more broadly about Christian media?

I sometimes fear that, let's call it secular media, does not pay enough attention to Christian Broadcasting.

And to the world that you cover every day, there's been this battle raging about Trump and now about COVID in Christian media. What do we need to keep an eye on, Bob?

SMIETANA: Well, we definitely want to keep an eye on the kind of COVID restrictions and the kind of push back against that we should be watching you know, as reporters.

I watch Christian media not because I honestly want to, but because it's important to see what their concerns.

They're tapping into concerns of folks about the way COVID has disrupted the country.

They tapped into the whole CRT, you know, critical race theory debates long before it became popular in the regular media.

I think --


SMIETANA: -- This kind of disruption of, you know, can people trust one another, I think there's a whole, what I would call like, a deep -- excuse me, a distrust economy, where there is a way to attract people both in the political and religious world by feeding on distrust and saying they're lying to you, we'll tell you the truth. And sometimes, folks, I think the folks like Lamb were true believers. They believe that they were standing up for the good fight, and look how just churches have been disrupted and the country's disrupted over this.

So one thing they have this has done is made it very difficult to talk about like vaccines. You know, clergy won't talk about it.

So even his peers who are sad he has passed away may not hold his vaccine views, are not going to criticize him for this.

They just won't talk about vaccines or COVID or mask because it's seen as divisive.

STELTER: Right. And that makes a bad situation worse. Bob, thank you very much for coming on and explaining it to us.

SMIETANA: Glad to be here.

STELTER: You'll never guess the new obsession of the conspiracy crowd. We're going to tell you about it. With the help of an investigative reporter who covered Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell from the very beginning, Julie K. Brown is up next.



STELTER: The lies from the loony sphere began even before the trial. The new cause celeb for conspiracy theorists is the case of accused sex trafficker -- everyone's getting this wrong, right? Ghislaine Maxwell, the socialite and former girlfriend of Jeffrey Epstein egged on by professional conspiracy mongers like Tucker Carlson, far-right internet stars keep claiming that the Maxwell trial isn't being covered by the media.

They post these lies from the warmth of their web caves while actual members of the media stand out in the cold to wait to get inside the courthouse.

This narrative has gained so much traction that the AP even ran a fact check saying, no, the media has not been banned from a trial. Yes, of course, we're covering it.

But the fact is, cameras are not allowed inside federal court, all we see are your sketches from inside.

So there's no live coverage like there was for let's say the Kyle Rittenhouse trial.

Joining me now is Julie K. Brown, the Miami Herald Investigative Reporter whose stories helped bring Jeffrey Epstein to justice. She wrote a book about the case, Perversion of Justice: The Jeffrey Epstein story.

Now she's in New York covering the Maxwell trial. So, Julie, what's it like to cover the trial every day? Why is it so difficult?

What are the -- what are the factors that are making it actually hard for the media to cover the trial, and maybe helping cause these crazy theories?

JULIE K. BROWN, AUTHOR, "PERVERSION OF JUSTICE: THE JEFFREY EPSTEIN STORY": That's right. And the reason why it's very difficult to get -- to get in and out of a federal courtroom to be -- to begin with, because of the security obviously.

But also because they have rules where you can't have cameras in there, you also can't have cell phones in there.

So we have to literally go in, go out and get dropped our phones, go in, come out, get our phones, go through security over and over again. So logistically, it's a nightmare to cover this case in federal court.

STELTER: There's this meme always with every story in the news these days. It's like, why is the media not reporting on this? And obviously, they only know about the story because of the media.

But there's something different here. This is a deeper conspiracy theory that's implying the media is trying to cover up sex trafficking. Have you seen this online the way I have and how do you react to it?

BROWN: Well, I think it's really misguided because that the issue here is really not the not media covering it as it always has been with this case. It has always been the government concealing information of the judiciary allowing the sealing of documents in this case.

And that is what has allowed these conspiracy theories to fester because when you can't get access to the courts when you can't get access to the documents that the prosecutors have, then that the media doesn't have any way to cover that.


BROWN: And I think that this particular case, the Jeffrey Epstein case, is a prime example of that because he got away with what he got away with for so long, in part because a lot of the things he was doing it in the investigative process that happened in the -- by the government was hidden.

STELTER: Hmm, right. So there's even these nutty theories that say, the new variant, the COVID variant, it's been created or distract from the trial, like, there's only so much I think we can do to debunk truly unhinged theories.

But with regards to folks who might see this online and say, well, is the media paying attention? The answer is, yes, you're there every day. And look, you're going to be there every day for the duration, right?

BROWN: Yes. And there's, I mean, there's so many media there that they have for some days -- STELTER: Yes, I see you down there.

BRWON: -- Three overflow courtrooms full of the public and media. So that is one issue.


BROWN: The issue is the access to the actual courtroom where this is happening --


BROWN: -- And the fact that there's a limited number of people that can really get in.

STELTER: Right, right. Julie, thanks so much for your work, we'll keep following along the whole time. Thanks.

BROWN: Thank you.

STELTER: Ahead, the latest Donald Trump's statement on The Big Lie is actually true. I'm going to read it to you.



STELTER: Former Republican senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole has died. He was 98. Dole, an American institution and an inspiration served America for the better part of a century.

His family said in a statement the dole died early this morning in his sleep. Dole's American journey took him from the plains of Kansas to World War Two Europe and then all the way to Capitol Hill.

There, he became one of the most powerful politicians of the 20th century. Wolf Blitzer has more.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voiceover): Bob Dole was the kind of politician you'll have a hard time finding in Washington these days.

Much of the country only saw the cartoon image, Hatchet Man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Dole is richly earned his reputation as a hatchet man tonight.

BLITZER: Sharpton partisan.

BOB DOLE, FORMER UNITED STATES SENATOR: And would you buy used election promise from my opponent?

BLITZER: Pundits who didn't know better labeled him mean-spirited, but the man wasn't defined by grouchiness or gridlock. In the Senate, where he spent the bulk of his political life, Dole became a master at forging compromise, working with Democrats to cobble together bills that left the country better off.

A Food Stamp Bill with George McGovern, the Americans with Disabilities Act with Tom Harkin, Social Security reform with Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

DOLE: Some might find this surprising given the view that Congress has been my life. But that is not so. With all due respect to Congress, America has been my life.

BLITZER: He also was a driving force behind Washington's magnificent World War Two Memorial.

DOLE: I've sort of become the unofficial greeter. I try to greet every group. I can't explain the emotion and what it means to one of these 85, 90, 95-year-old veterans who get a chance to touch and feel of World War Two Memorial as part of the best thing that has happened to them in years, and they're going to remember the rest of their life.

BLITZER: Dole was one of those young Americans who went off to the war. On a hillside in Italy, an explosion severely damaged his shoulder and spinal cord.

Dole spent 39 months in hospitals hovering near death more than once.

DOLE: First, I didn't think it was fair. Then I looked around in the next bed never taking somebody away who'd passed away or somebody had lost both legs or done something else. I didn't feel sorry for myself.

BLITZER: His right hand remained virtually useless for the rest of his life. His mind, however, was fine.

Voters in his home state of Kansas central to Washington for five terms, where he thrived becoming a Republican leader in the Senate.

He was President Gerald Ford's running mate in 1976 and ran for president in 1980 and 1988, finally winning the Republican nomination in 1996.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: William Jefferson Clinton has a job for four more years.

BLITZER: It didn't work out.

DOLE: It's a lot more fun winning, it hurts to lose an election but stay involved and keep fighting the good fight.

BLITZER: A 45-year political career was over. Dole moved on with the grace.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Great Senator Bob Dole.

BLITZER: After the bitter 2016 primaries, Dole was the only former Republican presidential nominee to attend the convention that nominated Donald Trump.

He pointedly saluted the casket of fellow Republican but frequent rival George Bush. And to the end, Dole kept the trademark humor so familiar to those who knew him and so surprising to those who did not.

DOLE: They always tried to have a little fun. My view is it's not any fun, it's not worth doing.

You look at your life and you on reflection, I think success and failure are not opposite it's just part of your life.



STELTER: A giant of the Senate, and an American icon, may his memory be a blessing.

Before we wrap this hour, I turn to a very different story, a story about the state of the modern-day GOP.

First, to question, where is Lara Logan? She has been absent from Fox's airwaves ever since her sick comparison of Dr. Anthony Fauci to a Nazi death doctor.

By all appearances, Logan's been secretly sidelined but Fox has yet to comment or denounce her offensive remarks.

This week's awfulness raises another question, one that people ask me all the time. What happened to her? What happened to Lara Logan?

10 years ago, she was an acclaimed CBS News correspondent, a respected journalist, but now in the words of pointers, she's a trolling opinionist, a far-right extremist. So what happened to Lara Logan?

What's it say about right-wing media and the GOP for her to go from her war correspondent days, her award-winning work, winning all the big prestigious journalism prizes, and now on the air spewing propaganda?

Let me ask two experts who have thought a lot about this, David Zurawik and Sara Fischer are with me.

David, we have booked a former producer of Lara Logan, he wasn't able to connect with us. But he wrote in an op-ed for The Globe and Mail. He's stunned. He doesn't know what happened to her. Do you have a theory?

ZURAWIK: Listen, I couldn't believe my ears when I first heard her comparing Anthony Fauci to Josef Mengele.

And I've -- my theory is this. This is someone who was a big, big star and an outstanding journalist, and the greatest, most important TV journalism production in the history of the medium, 60 Minutes.

She's no longer relevant, she's moved to the margins and she's adopted this playbook that Donald Trump used, and now Lauren Boebert, and people on the far right use of being super transgressive to get attention to themselves.

It's kind of like drug addiction because you have to get worse and worse and uglier and uglier and nastier and nastier, and they keep doing that.

She's part of that now. And it's -- and it's not sad. It's disgraceful. But more disgraceful or just as disgraceful is Fox not commenting on it, not denouncing these words and it is disrespect to everyone who would -- who perished in the hell of the Holocaust and their survivors today, this is deplorable.

But this is the state, our political and to some extent journalistic because Fox calls itself a journalistic institution, has declined.

STELTER: Sara, I've got 30 seconds. Do you view this as a situation where Fox has suspended her but they don't want to admit it, to the being quiet, but she's been off the air for a week?

FISCHER: I have no idea what's happening over there.

STELTER: And nobody does.

FISCHER: As David mentioned, they've been very quiet. I mentioned that she's probably being evaluated right now.


FISCHER: I mean, what she said was pretty egregious. But I think the larger point here is just the fact that to David's point, people feel like they have to be so extreme to get some attention.

There's no reason to bring up any sort of language at the Holocaust as it compares to this COVID-19 pandemic. There's no reason to equivalent Fauci like that.

To even bring it up makes no sense to me. I just hope that Fox can comment on it because I'm curious myself where she is and what's happened.

STELTER: I did ask this morning, no comment from Fox. So one more story here, Donald Trump still writes headlines, but that's not true.

Donald Trump still writes statements for Twitter, even though he's not allowed on the platform. Here's his latest from Saturday, in Twitter- length, he says.

Anybody that doesn't think there wasn't massive election fraud in the 2020 election is either very stupid or very corrupt.

Did you catch the double negative? He says anyone who doesn't think there wasn't fraud is stupid.

So unwind the double negative, and he's saying anyone who does think there was a fraud is either very stupid or very corrupt. What an incredible cell phone. And of course, it went viral on Twitter because of the foolishness. CNN's Daniel Dale said this is accidentally Trump's first-ever accurate statement on the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

Now, Sara Fischer, Twitter has a new CEO, is it possible that Trump will be reinstated on Twitter and he can post these big lie truths on Twitter in the future?

FISCHER: No, no. I don't think that Trump's coming back to Twitter. I think the new CEO is about streamlining products, increasing revenue. I don't think he's thinking about bringing Trump back.

But you know, I once did an analysis a few weeks ago, I just took a look at all of the amount of times that Donald Trump has sent out these e-mails compared to the amount of tweets used to send --

STELTER: Oh, yes.

FISCHER: -- It's not even comparable. So even though this particular statement is getting some traction on Twitter, don't think that Donald Trump's coming back or anything like that. His platform is still much smaller than it used to be.

STELTER: Good point. Zurawik, I've got 10 seconds. What does it reveal that Trump accidentally told the truth about the lack of fraud?

ZURAWIK: Fact checkers' heads are going to explode. That's I think what happened to Dale.

STELTER: Totally, it's an --

ZURAWIK: But they --

STELTER: -- Incredible cell phone that he admitted, you got to be stupid or corrupt to believe the election was rigged

All right, Sara, David, thank you both for being here. We're out of time here on TV we'll see you online tonight,