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NBC Poll: Americans Are Downbeat, Divided, "Tuning Out"; Sarah Palin Takes "The New York Times" To Court; Media Face Many Obstacles In Covering Beijing Olympics; Politico Founding Editor On Media Changes Since Launch; 'Class' Warfare Against Misinformation; Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired January 23, 2022 - 11:00   ET



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

This hour, did Sean Hannity betray Donald Trump? Did Trump diss Hannity? New text messages reveal the truth about their fake friendship.

Plus, legendary Bob Costas is here. We're talking about why the upcoming Olympics will be like none he has ever covered.

And later I'm going back to school for an education about news literacy. See what these eighth graders are learning about misinformation and why they can hopefully help us all in the future.

Plus, "Politico" co-founder John Harris and more.

But, first, the press corps' priorities versus the public's priorities. Do reporters and viewers care about the same things? And when there's a mismatch, what should the media do differently?

I would wager to say that the press cares a lot more than the public about gaffes and gripes and White House cleanup efforts, which is not to say that President Biden's missteps are meaningless, they do matter. But do they matter as much as pocketbook issues?

This brand-new NBC poll shows what matters most, only 22 percent of Americans saying the country is on the right track. Many feeling the pinch of inflation. One of the pollsters described America as divided, doubting democracy and tuning out.

That last part is really interesting, tuning out. Quoted NBC, interesting in the upcoming November midterms is down, not up. People aren't paying attention to what might happen ten months from now. They're tired. They're demoralized. Some are just tuning out the news.

So, with that in mind what was the most surprising story this week? Well, I would nominate the successful launch of the government's website for ordering free COVID tests. It's surprising partly because it took so long, two years into the pandemic now they're finally doing it, and it's coming after the latest surge in many major cities, probably too late in some ways. But still it launched and actually worked.

At one point, the website had 700,000 people on it at the same time and it still worked. It actually functioned. It was easy. People were shocked that the government system worked.

Some folks say they've already received their test kits in the mail. There's a lot more on the way. I submit to you this is actually big news because the background noise is the government's tech trouble and bureaucracy and history of failed launches.

I mean, the debacle is literally a Harvard Business School case study in what not to do. And, frankly, I thought the same thing might happen this time. I think maybe you thought it would go wrong as well.

But instead, as "Slate" put it, the government's new website for ordering free COVID tests is refreshingly easy to use. And as "Vox" said, there is a lesson here more broadly about making government work, about making it simple, about not making people fill out paperwork and showing up in person. Just make it easy and it will work and people will notice.

But if it doesn't get pointed out by the press, if it doesn't get noticed, if it doesn't get -- if it doesn't become news according to newsrooms, then does the administration receive any credit? And do people feel like things are getting better?

It always feels the feds and to some degree the media are always caught up in the last war, right? The winter COVID surge is already waning in many parts of the U.S., the free tests will show up in the mail after they were most needed for some Americans.

So, what's the next big story? How can we try to get ahead instead of always being behind?

Well, Walter Shapiro raises an interesting point, writing for "The New Republic". He says it's foolish to break the midterms until we know COVID's future. He says, all the experts bloviating on cable TV have no idea whether the pandemic will be raging or waning as Americans vote. Thus, he says it's foolish to make midterm predictions.

We need to focus on the here and now, what the story is today and make sure we also notice when things actually do work. At a time when there's so much doom and gloom, let's make sure the news coverage acknowledges when things go right.

With me here in New York, Catherine Rampell, opinion columnist for "The Washington Post" and a CNN political commentator, and CNN senior media reporter, Oliver Darcy.

Welcome to you both.

We talked a lot about bad news bias and I think this is one of those examples. When the website actually works, it's not much attention, everybody kind of just moves on. If it had crashed, Oliver, can you imagine we would be in wall to wall coverage.

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Oh, yeah, I mean, there is a negativity bias when it comes to the press. We are always focused on what did not work, what's going on wrong and that's not to say we shouldn't focus on those things, but I think it's important also when something does go right, when COVID cases are down, things are on the upswing, that we also reflect that and give people an accurate portrayal of what's going on in the country.

STELTER: Well, a lot of this relates to the economy. Do the doom and gloom perceptions right now, people perceiving a rough environment, do they match reality?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's interesting. If you look at the consumer confidence, consumer spending surveys, Republicans in particular are as negative on the economy today as they were during the deepest darkest depths of the financial crisis.


And obviously, things are much better today than they were then. I mean, we have 3.9 percent unemployment. That's way lower than had been predicted a year ago. So, on a lot of key metrics, the economy is doing quite well.

Of course, there's that big but, but inflation.


RAMPELL: And that's what gets all of the outsized attention. And I'm not suggesting that people don't care about that, the fact that it's pinching people's pocketbooks, that their cost of living is going up, their living standards might be declining, that inflation is outpacing wages. That's obviously very, very important.


RAMPELL: But not to the extent that it crowds out all of the other positive news that we have gotten on the economy, in many cases exceeding expectations.

STELTER: Well, I was having this debate with Oliver off camera, though, I was saying when I go to the grocery store and there are empty shelves as there were last weekend, I notice it immediately, it's a big deal to me and my family, it's noticeable.

But then, it's also important to point out, this weekend, things back to normal, right? So, we get these stories, we go from crisis to crisis, at least perceived crisis, where the Biden administration has to respond to every crisis and then there's very little follow-up, Oliver, to say, oh, yeah, do you know what, pork and chicken are back on the shelves.

DARCY: There are other crisis, too, that aren't receiving much coverage like in the mainstream press. The chip shortage is a huge issue affecting a lot of people, people can't buy electronics, can't buy cars, it's a big issue.

And you are not seeing a ton of coverage on cable news or elsewhere on issues like that. Instead, it's focused on, you know, Ukraine or gaffes from the White House or things that might not really affect the every day lives or at least people might not assume that they do.

STELTER: Yeah, still important, but I just think, you know, here is what's also important, Catherine, you wrote about the expanded child tax credit which has helped millions of family but has now, what, expired.

RAMPELL: The monthly payments stopped in December, which they were always scheduled to do, this was supposed to be a temporary program that was put in place by the American Rescue Plan, that's the big fiscal stimulus passed last march.

There had been an expectation of course that it would be so popular Democrats would be -- would expand -- excuse me, extend it and that that would be done through build back better which has obviously stalled. But, you know, to a lot of press coverage it sounds like, oh, this is just kind of the daily --

STELTER: Yeah, build back better slogan, what does it mean.

RAMPELL: Daily bickering among Democrats and it's sort of cast as this personality battle when, in fact, it has a huge impact on people's lives. That particular tax credit took nearly 4 million kids out of poverty in December.

Biden bragged about it in his recent press conference. Of course, those nearly 4 million people probably are falling back into poverty this month precisely because this bill hasn't passed.

And those kinds of stakes, I think, need to underpin a lot of the media coverage about this.


RAMPELL: That it's not just about this infighting among Democrats, it actually affects people's real lives, their ability to feed and clothe their kids.

STELTER: Right. There are real challenges, but then if we go to the Fox-uverse, let's take a look at the imagined drama that Fox News presents every day. Let's do the scroll. These are just some examples of the banners on Fox News in the past few days.

You get the sense that America has gone to head, declining quality of life. America has an apocalyptic hellscape. That was one of the actual banners.

This is a banner that's anti-Biden. It's also anti-Democrats who run urban areas and it goes on and on every hour. I just wanted to give a sampling. The Biden administration is a clown car driving off a clip. That's the great example of the incendiary rhetoric that you would have never seen from another channel during the Trump years or now the Biden years, et cetera.

Oliver, you wrote about this week, it felt like Fox went up another notch when it came to how they described crime and, yes, there is a crime problem. But the way it's described on Fox, you would be afraid to leave your house.

DARCY: Two points, Brian, one, as fox is describing these cities as apocalyptic hellscapes, their executives this week decided, they announced that they're going to be holding two major events, one in New York City and one in Los Angeles over the next few months.


DARCY: That's one. The executives obviously don't believe what they're selling to their audience.

And, two, like you said, there's a crumb of truth to what they're saying.

STELTER: There always is.

DARCY: Violent crime is on the rise.

STELTER: By some metrics, in some ways. There are also very scary specific stories that get a lot of attention.

DARCY: I kind of think of it as an Instagram filter, you start with a real image and take the filter and pump it up 1,000 percent and what you're left with is distorted. It no longer reflects reality.

It started as an accurate portrayal of something, but the end result is totally different. It's no longer an accurate portrayal of reality, and I think that's what Fox's coverage with crime really is. Yes, there is an issue in some places, but what they're presenting to viewers is not accurate.

STELTER: Instagram filter, that's going to stay with me. That's the perfect way to describe it.


And then, Catherine, when we talk about polls showing most Americans think the country is on the wrong track, when we talk about polls showing most Americans are filled with doom and gloom, we need to link it back to the media coverage.

RAMPELL: Obviously, they're getting that messaging from the media that they consume. I mean, that's a set of headlines that you just scrolled through, I could feel my blood pressure rising.


RAMPELL: I know, that's the goal, right? The goal of this kind of coverage is to freak people out, to cause them to live in fear. Ironically, a lot of the fearmongering is about the things that are not actually mortal threats and then there is ignoring the things that are mortal threats.

You know, COVID isn't real, and climate change isn't real. I would argue that to me anyway those things are a little scarier or have been scarier at various points in the past couple years.


RAMPELL: And instead, it's about the immigrant hoards and senile president and critical race theory brain washing your kids, things that are, you know, if not just exaggerated, invented out of whole cloth.

STELTER: Catherine and Oliver, thank you both.

Coming up this hour, is this the dawn of a new era for journalism's old guard, why one unlikely source is optimistic about that.

And up next, Sarah Palin about to get her day in court against "The New York Times." Jeffrey Toobin is here to explain why this case could affect everyone.



STELTER: "New York Times" v. Sullivan is a landmark 1964 Supreme Court case protecting press freedom. The court set a legal standard that makes it very hard for public figures to sue for defamation and win. If you're a politician or a celebrity and you feel wronged by a news outlet, you have to prove they said something false and you have to prove that they had, quote, actual malice -- meaning that they did it on purpose or that they recklessly disregarded the truth.

That's a high bar. Some conservatives think the bar is set too high and they've been trying to chip away at it, trying to get it lowered.

So, that's the context for this new case. Sarah Palin versus "The New York Times." It's a doozy of a media battle.

And it all started kind of back in 2010. That's when Palin's political operation made a map showing blue congressional districts under crosshairs. When Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was nearly killed in 2011, critics brought up that Palin graphic, some tried to blame her, but there was never any known link between the map and the massacre.

Now, "The Times" newsroom got that right, reported it accurately. But "The Times" editorial page, totally separate from the newsroom, got it wrong in 2017, seemingly connecting dots that did not connect. "The Times" ran a correction but Palin sued, alleging defamation.

Normally, these kinds of cases get thrown out, partly because of "The Times" v. Sullivan standard being so high. But in this case, maybe Palin's lawyers can prove actual malice. Jury selection begins Monday.

And CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is here to preview the case. Jeffrey, thanks for coming on.

So, it seems like it's heading to court. Is there any chance of a settlement before this thing actually goes to trial?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: There's always a chance but it seems very remote in this circumstance.


TOOBIN: Both sides seem determined to push this through the -- through the actual process.

STELTER: And do you believe the agenda for Palin's lawyers is bigger than just proving defamation and getting a financial settlement? Is it about trying to make it easier for other politicians to sue the press and win?

TOOBIN: Absolutely. I think it's both. I mean, I really do think they want to make some money here and this was a clear mistake by "The New York Times".

But, you know, the Sullivan standard has been a target for conservatives for quite some time, and there's a lot of momentum behind it now. In a separate opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch said it was time to revisit the standard.

So, you know, the idea is out there and with six Supreme Court conservatives, you don't know that the rules are going to remain the way they are. They may actually change.

STELTER: But, first, in this case, Palin has to win. What I've seen in the court documents so far, the depositions with "New York Times" editors, we see a lot of sloppiness, we see some screw-ups by the editor at the time, James Bennett, who's going in there and inserting language that's wrong.

But then the next day we see a really freaked out editors and writers who are apo -- who are sorry, who regret it, who want to fix it.

Now, they never apologized to Palin, but you can tell internally there was a real sense of embarrassment. They wanted to correct the record.

So, is that enough?

TOOBIN: Right, and this is -- well, you know, that's -- that's what this trial is really about.

You know, under conventional standards, it does seem likely that "The New York Times" is going to win this case because, you know, as you pointed out in your introduction, this is going to be a case about reckless disregard for the truth.

You know, did "The Times" behave recklessly? They made a mistake. But what they did as soon as they realized this mistake is they corrected it. And what the whole "The Times" idea, the whole Sullivan case is about the idea that we want robust debate about public interest -- public issues in this country. We want -- you know, people not to be worried about going out of business if they make a single mistake.

That -- so we want to make room for exaggeration, for even mistakes. That's what "The Times" standard is about, but, you know, we don't know if "The Times" standard will survive. Under "The Times" standard by "The New York Times," I mean "The New York Times" versus Sullivan standard --


TOOBIN: -- that case, Palin should lose this case. But the law may change and she may wind up winning.


STELTER: And you think about "Times" versus Palin, it's really two Americas. You have this mainstream institution versus kind of this anti-media figure. This is -- this is why it's going to be a doozy of a case. I'm sure it will be heavily covered by Fox News.

But there could be a backfire effect, right? I mean, outlets like Fox do rely on "Times" v. Sullivan.

TOOBIN: Well, and they are relying on "Times" v. Sullivan in very big money cases right now. Dominion voting systems, Smartmatic, the election machine companies that were repeatedly lied about on Fox News in the period after the election, repeatedly lied about, over and over again, and they have sued Fox for billions of dollars.

Fox's lawyers understandably, have said, hey, "New York Times" versus Sullivan protects us. We're supposed to cover robust debate. So, we'll see whether -- I mean, I'm sure their lawyers will keep citing "New York Times" against Sullivan until it's overturned, but just depends who's ox is gored as always.

STELTER: And here is another story for you: NPR facing a firestorm over what critics are calling another case about bad journalism. But NPR is not backing down.

This hinges on one sentence in an article by veteran legal reporter Nina Totenberg. She reported that Chief Justice John Roberts, quote, in some form asked the other justices to mask up at work, asked them to wear masks.

Now, Justice Sotomayor has legitimate health concerns. This is understandable. It makes sense.

Everyone did mask up, except Justice Neil Gorsuch who sits next to her. So, this seems to explain why Sotomayor has been staying at remote and not sitting there with all of the justices.

Now, Gorsuch and Sotomayor put out a statement jointly denying any tensions. But that's not what was reported. Then Roberts released a statement refuting Totenberg claim, saying, I did not request Gorsuch or any other justice to wear a mask.

So, NPR's public editor chimed in, saying Totenberg's story merited a clarification, but not a correction. Totenberg, though, stands by the reporting, so does NPR. Totenberg told "The Daily Beast" she doesn't care about what the public editor says.

So, basically, Jeffrey, what is this about? This is about one word, the word ask and whether Roberts asked everyone to wear masks or whether he, I don't know, I guess he could be suggested they wear masks. What do you think is really going on here?

TOOBIN: Well, I think it's also about how opaque the Supreme Court is as an institution. Congress has rules about whether you wear the mask, whether -- when to wear masks. The executive branch has rules.

The Supreme Court doesn't tell us what its rules are. You know, there is a mask mandate in the District of Columbia. I don't understand why Neil Gorsuch wasn't wearing a mask. Especially as matter of courtesy, he could have worn one considering the medical condition of the woman who sits next to him.

But, you know, Nina Totenberg who in my experience is a terrifically good and reliable reporter, reported that -- John Roberts, like any civilized boss made clear in some way that people should wear masks.

It would be better, frankly, if the Supreme Court simply said this is our policy and like every other government institution, had some measure of transparency, but they don't and that's why this crisis or not crisis -- it's not a crisis, but this is why this controversy arose.

STELTER: Right. Right. Definitely.

Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much.

TOOBIN: All right, Brian.

STELTER: When we come back, something very special. The one and only Bob Costas is here to talk all things Olympics and NBC's Olympic-sized hurdle heading into Beijing.



STELTER: We are two weeks away from the Winter Olympics in Beijing and COVID-19 is just one of the reasons why these games will be uniquely challenging to cover.

In the past week, NBC and ESPN both said they're not sending, you know, the typical groups of reporters and commentators to China. They are not going, largely due to pandemic safety concerns. "The Today Show", for example, not going to Beijing. There's also this glaring issue of how the media will be able to

report from a country where censorship is the norm. How free will reporters be? How many restrictions will be in place? These are largely unknown -- largely unknowns.

Some journalists heading to Beijing are taking precautions like bringing burner phones and laptops. "The Washington Post" described that earlier this week.

And, of course, big media outlets have a lot on the line, especially NBC Universal given its 12 -- you know, its incredibly expensive contracts to broadcast the games, $12 billion through 2032.

NBC has a lot on the line and there are already a lot of questions about how it's going to treat the host country. How it's going to talk about China, whether it's going to address human rights abuses and other matters.

With me now, legendary broadcaster Bob Costas, veteran of NBC. As you know, he has hosted 12 Olympics. You've won dozens of Emmy Awards over the years. Now you're with us here at HBO, hosting "Back on the Record" on HBO.

Bob, I know you are asked about the NBC and you still have a lot of friends there.


STELTER: What are you hearing from those friends about the unique challenges covering the Beijing Games?

COSTAS: We should preface this by saying that no one could have anticipated COVID, no matter what the venue is. But the IOC deserves all of the disdain and disgust that comes their way for going back to China yet again. They were in Beijing in 2008. They go to Sochi in 2014. They're shameless about this stuff.


And so, this takes place not only amid COVID, as did the Tokyo Games of a year ago, but as you mentioned, the restrictions on press freedom, and the sense that everyone there is being monitored in some way, we had that feeling in 2008 in Beijing, I think of anything. It's been ramped up now.

And any -- it isn't just NBC. Any network that broadcasts big sports events is simultaneously in a position it's quasi journalistic, at best. You're reporting a news event and what surrounds it in the case of the Olympics, it isn't just what's confined to one game in a stadium. You're reporting on an event, but you're also promoting the event.

Newspapers and CNN and whatever other outlets don't pay a rights fee to cover the White House or whatever they're covering. NBC pays a huge rights fee along with the production costs. They want people to watch it. It's a centerpiece of the entire network strategy. At a time when everything is fractionalized, very few things draw huge audiences.

The NFL does, the Super Bowl, the Olympics do, they're part of a strategy. As you mentioned, generally speaking, Nightly News would be there, the Today's Show would be there. It's almost 24/7 Olympic stuff, you promote your other upcoming programs. All of that is diminished. It's not gone, but it's diminished under the circumstances.

STELTER: And these circumstances, so many of them are out of NBC's control as your saying.

COSTAS: Of course.

STELTER: Is there anything they can control that they said this week, we will acknowledge the geopolitical context of these games, is that -- is that a gentle way of saying, we're going to -- we're going to mention what's going on with human rights abuses, but I'm just going to move on quickly, as we -- as came to be?

COSTAS: My guess would be -- and I have no inside information here. And I want to stipulate my great respect for the job that my colleagues have done, and undoubtedly will do one of these very difficult circumstances but I would anticipate that what they'll do is the very thing that you suggested.

They will acknowledge the issues at the beginning, and then address them only if something specific that cannot be ignored happens during the course of the games, which very well could happen. They're also up against it because of this.

The late great Jim McKay said to me when I began hosting the Olympics, and he had established the standard at ABC, remember, yes, it's a sports event but it's a cultural panorama, it's a travel blog. NBC has no ability under these circumstances to take people around China, to have people sharing the emotion of sharing crowds and family, all of that is reduced.


COSTAS: And even though people are used to sports events, in some cases being broadcast remotely because COVID imposed that, and they'll be able to do a decent enough job from Stamford, Connecticut, with 90 percent of their coverage coming from there.

But still, the announcers and the producers will not have the feel of the event. They won't have the personal contact with the people involved. And they won't be able to say, as Jim was able to say, as I was able to say, through all those Olympics. I traveled around Australia.


COSTAS: I went to the Great Wall of China --


COSTAS: -- Give people some sense of what it feels to be at an event that's so large in its scope. That is just greatly reduced.

STELTER: Have you ever seen a game like this, where democracy versus autocracy, where competing political visions are so at the forefront? I mean, this -- to some degree, it's always a subtext --


STELTER: -- When these games travel around the world. But it feels like it's much more vivid this time.

COSTAS: Yes, it was there as a subtext in 2008 and I tried as best I could to address it. It was there in Sochi in 2014 and I did address it, we did pretty directly. But now, I think there's just a greater understanding of everything that China represents how given obviously, there are other great abuses of human rights around the globe. But given China's size, influence, and resources, you can make a very good case human watch -- the human watch site has said -- the Human Rights Watch --

STELTER: Human Rights Watch, yes.

COSTAS: -- That's what I'm searching for. Human Rights Watch has said that it's very high on the list of the worst human rights abuses. And when you consider its size and influence, it may rank first on that list.


COSTAS: And people are more aware of it now than they -- than they were.

STELTER: And that's very true.

COSTAS: It's almost impossible to paper it over.

STELTER: And we don't know what athletes will say or do. And that's the X Factor for NBC.

COSTAS: Yes. The IOC makes it a policy that they don't approve of political statements during an Olympics, that genie is going to be out of the bottle to a certain extent, it has to be.

STELTER: Right. Bob, thanks so much for being here and previewing this for us.

COSTAS: Good to see you, Brian.

STELTER: Thank you, you too.

Coming up, inside Politico's newsroom with Founding Editor, John Harris, he has a warning for newsrooms.


[11:35:00] STELTER: Today, Politico is celebrating 15 years as a news brand, and founding editor John Harris says. The team at the time wanted to pull away from the voice-of-God tone of the news and try to be more personal and individual. Well, since that shift, we have seen incredible changes in the way the news agenda is set, in the way digital news has changed the way we all consume information. But Harris has some new thoughts about what needs to change now. He's out with a fascinating piece for Politico magazine. He also writes the Altitude Column for Politico. John, great to see you.


STELTER: I think you've made a really interesting and important argument about the role of media institutions. You say media outlets need to take back more agenda-setting power. It kind of sounds old- fashioned to me, so make the case.

HARRIS: Well, when we started Politico and a small group of co- founders and myself, now 15 years ago, we were really placing a bet, Brian on the opposite that this was the age of the individual that an entrepreneurial spirit needed to come to journalism, and that the journalists having the most impact and most fun. We weren't doing it because there were Smith of the New York Times, Jones of The Washington Post, you know Stelter of CNN. They were doing it on the strength of their own brand, their own creativity. That was the trend 15 years ago. My view is we need to push back on that trend a little bit.


HARRIS: The reality is that revived institutions and many of the important media institutions now are in much stronger shape than they were 15 years ago. Institutions are the only ones who can train public attention on important subjects and keep it there. Some writers on Substack or on Twitter cannot do that. It's only institutions and by the way, financially successful institutions that can stand up to pressure from the government, from corporations, from even their own advertisers.

And so I'm hoping that over the next 15 years, not that we go back to the old days, I reject old fashioned, but that we can keep some of that entrepreneurial spirit and revive some of the agenda-setting power of institutions. I think democracy and the whole strength of our political culture depend on it.

STELTER: Are you just a founder who built something successful and now you're pulling the ladder up from above?

HARRIS: You know, it's a fair question. I've heard that from friends, including friends who, you know are taking the example of Politico and starting their own public (INAUDIBLE).

STELTER: Well, that's the thing. There's all these new startups. Now there's all these -- there -- I could name a dozen right now that have launched in the past year or two that are trying to become the next Politico. HARRIS: Yes. Brian, my view is life is like a sine wave up and down. And the media business at the time we launched 15 years ago, was in one of those troughs that were in a sine wave. We did have a good idea and it worked. Now the media business is at the top of that sine wave and things are really flush.

My guess is that some of those will work. My guess is that a rather small number of them will work, that there's going to be a shakeout as it happens in certain parts of media. As you know, this is limited. It doesn't go into solving the problems of local journalism around the country.

But in certain places, Washington, New York, maybe some extent, the entertainment industry, the media is all of a sudden flash. It's prospering again, in a way that it wasn't 15 years ago. My guess is every time that comes in, eventually rolls out. As Warren Buffett said, it's only when the tide rolls out, you find out who's wearing swim trunks, and who isn't.

STELTER: I'm with you on the power of institutions. And I -- when I think about it, I think about election week 2020, and how all the major networks and the AAP all called the race, they're all told the truth that President Biden was the President-elect. Even Fox told the truth in that important moment.

You think about the future of media and politics, if we don't have institutions that do that work to do the data analysis that knows what happened in the election, you know, then we'd be in a much worse place as a country. So by all means, we need institutions to be defended, so that there's some -- there's some third party they can call it like it isn't telling the truth.

HARRIS: Well, you say that might be an old fashioned notion, but hopefully, it's also a new-fashioned notion --


HARRIS: -- That we need to revive something called a public square in the -- in our -- in our culture, which is that we can agree on some -- on hard facts, on some common truths about what is. And that half is vigorous an argument as we possibly can over what should be. But at least we're having that argument over a body of common evidence and sort of generally recognized truth.

STELTER: Right. Yes, there's all this talk, including here on CNN, including a primetime show last week, this week, democracy in peril. And I often think that phrase, can feel hypothetical or theoretical, and it can be hard to get our arms around, how can we get tangible? Can I show you, John, how to make a tangible?

This is a brand new headline out of Turkey today. It is out of Turkey, it is a Turkish journalist who was detained, who was arrested after allegedly insulting President Erdogan in a TV interview. And this person didn't even name Erdogan, they just brought up old Turkish proverbs to criticize the Turkish President. And that landed the person behind bars. This -- when we talk about democracy in peril, this is what's at risk in the United States. This is what we got, you know, we've got to take our rights for granted because this is what's happening in other countries, arrested for insulting the President.

HARRIS: Well, I couldn't agree more. And we have to recognize that this tradition that we took for granted in our country, just as though something that always would be, it actually needs to be defended, needs to be vindicated, it needs to be nourished, you can't take it for granted. It may be more fragile than we think.

I'd say, the other point that brings to mind about that Turkey example is, you know, for all the challenges we face here in the United States, and nobody likes to be screamed at Twitter, and nobody likes to have a door slammed in her or his face.

But our problems in the United States as journalists. They pale so much to places around the world where journalists are being arrested, some cases executed, they're being intimidated, their families are being threatened for the simple act, the profound moral act of trying to tell the truth to an audience.

And I think that should make us humble. And I think it should, as you say, also recommit us to the work of journalism, which can be done by -- in really brilliant ways by individuals, but I think does fundamentally depend on strong, courageous institutions to sustain itself for the long haul.


STELTER: Absolutely. John, thank you so much. Happy 50th birthday to Politico.

HARRIS: I sure appreciate it. Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: We're covering all the rest of the week's media news Microsoft bulking up on video gaming, Netflix has stopped stock tanking, all of that in our nightly RELIABLE SOURCES Newsletter. Sign up for free right now,

Coming up here, Sean Hannity, a traitor to Donald Trump, I'm going to show you the texts. Plus, we're going to school with middle schoolers not -- they are too young to vote, but it's time for them to learn about missing disinformation. We're going to take you into the classroom for that lesson right after this.


STELTER: On TV, you hear a lot about schools and teachers and class curricula. So how about we go to school now and see what students are learning? News Literacy Week is coming up this week. It's an annual effort to help everyone know how to distinguish between facts and fiction.

[11:50:00] STELTER: So that takes us to a middle school classroom in Queens, New York where these lessons are being applied. Students are learning how to spot fake images, and in some cases, they are bringing the lessons home for their families. Here's what I learned at P.S. 207.


BARBARA KING, MEDIA LITERACY TEACHER: Good morning, everyone. Good morning --

STELTER (voiceover): Barbara King wants to arm this eighth-grade class.

KING: All right, so today's topic is misinformation.

STELTER: With the tools, they will need in a world of information saturation.

KING: We're going to learn to identify the various types of misinformation.

STELTER: And there is a lot to learn.

KING: They're called satire, false context, imposter content, manipulated content, and fabricated content.

STELTER: Just imagine trying to make sense of all of this as a teenager.

KING: Now we go to imposter content. What does imposter mean?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's like someone trying to be someone else.

KING: Someone trying to be someone else, right, you get that word with an imposter. So, an imposter content uses either a well-known name, a brand, or a logo to fool people into believing that it's authentic.

STELTER: As the web becomes even more of a wild west every day, the students here at P.S. 207 in Queens, New York, know that they need these lessons.

VICTORIA CAMP, MEDIA LITERACY STUDENT: A lot of students have social media, and if they're looking at stuff that is like, wrong and just telling everyone that it's right, and -- they're just giving everyone false information.

STELTER: King began teaching media literacy seven years ago. Why the initial impulse to teach about this?

KING: I feel it's a skill that my students really need. There's too much misinformation around us in the world and I want to give them some tools to make sense of what they're saying.

STELTER: She uses curriculum from the News Literacy Project, a nonpartisan education, nonprofit. Founder, Alan Miller says these lessons are now used by more than 37,000 educators. KING: What do I mean by I want you to critically think about what you're seeing on the internet?

STELTER: The goal is to equip future generations of savvy news consumers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So in the picture, it looks like a car is like on a highway, and there's like a shark in the water.

KING: And what was -- OK, so what are we looking at? We're looking at what type of social media, but if you look round, who captures that?


KING: Twitter.

STELTER: It's an infamous fake, one that gets reshared every time there's a hurricane. And these students are sharing tips, so they don't get fooled.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On Google, there's this little picture of a camera, and you can add the image in there and it will reverse search it.

STELTER: So ultimately, news literacy is about something bigger, it's about basic critical thinking skills.

KING: Correct.

STELTER: How do you try to connect those dots?

KING: Well, that to me, this is a real-world problem. It's -- so it's very easy to bring that in when I -- when they start realizing I can utilize these skills in anything that I do.

STELTER: After the class, students told me the lessons hit close to home. Do any of you feel like you try to correct friends or family now based on what you've learned?


STELTER: Really?


VINCE SCIDA, MEDIA LITERACY STUDENT: I mean, like, when COVID first started, like my family, like the thought that, wow, this is a hoax, but then I'm like, this is real, like people are really dying, getting sick from it. I really just wanted to believe that it was fake you know because I didn't want that to really happen to me, but it was real and it just changed everyone's lives, honestly.

STELTER: You mean that gets to the motivations of you want to believe something but you got to face reality head-on.

SCIDA: Oh, they are like fake articles. Like you -- maybe you want to believe it, but like it's not true and you have to like, research if it's really true or not.

KING: More traffic into this fake site.

STELTER: They also said their peers would benefit from this class. Do you all feel like every student needs to be learning News Literacy?



STELTER (on camera): Check out the News Literacy Project at, they do great work. And on a related note, this week's podcast is about Generation Z and its media habits. Hear my conversation with author John Della Volpe, wherever you hear your podcasts. After the break, what was Sean Hannity doing behind Donald Trump's back? We have answers.



STELTER: The House's 1/6 Committee is using text messages to tell stories, damning stories. And one of those stories is about Sean Hannity and Donald Trump. Look at the text messages we've read so far, that have been published by the Committee. Take the one from December 30, 2020, where Sean Hannity is saying -- December 31 that is, where he's saying, you know, look at what's going on. I don't think 1/6 is going to happen the way Trump thinks.

And then January 5, Hannity's there saying, I'm very worried about the next 48 hours. But Hannity never told the viewers about his concerns. He kept it all to himself. So he was doing one thing off the air, trying to guard against Trump's worst impulses, but on the air, he was giving Trump all the time he wanted and promoting Trump no matter what.

Look at the brand new texts that came out this week between Hannity and Kayleigh McEnany, a five-point plan for trying to corral Trump and stop the country from falling out, you know. Look at this, you know, the impeachment is real, the 25th Amendment is real. He has to stop talking about the stolen election. It's as if Hannity had no real respect for Trump, and it's as if Trump had no real respect for Hannity.

After all, Trump's talked about a stolen election that wasn't stolen, non-stop for the past year. So much for this bromance, right? They're not really friends at all. They seem to be stabbing each other in the back.

We should notice how this relationship really works. We should explore this fake friendship and recognize it for what it really is. We're out of time here on TV. We'll see you back for more RELIABLE SOURCES this time next week.