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Reliable Sources

Why Certain Media Outlets Thrive on Conflict; Behind the Scenes: How Reporters Use Unnamed Sources; Trump Urges Protests If Prosecutors "Do Anything Wrong"; A Tug-Of-War Over Who Gets Heard And Where; Why Tucker Carlson Is The Darling Of Russian State TV; One-On- One With Jeopardy Champ Amy Schneider. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired January 30, 2022 - 11:00   ET



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

That's the question about these Tom Brady retirement reports this weekend. We're going to break down the anonymous sourcing in play.

Plus, we'll head to Moscow to find out why Tucker Carlson is a nightly fixture on Russian state TV.

And later, the amazing Amy Schneider, one of Jeopardy's all-time champions. She's here talking about her buzzer strategy, her troll handling and her pick for permanent host.

But, first, is there a way out? Is there a way out of the cataclysmic conflicts that seem to consume everything? Divisions over COVID, vaccines, teaching, policing, feel like they're making the United States less and less so.

And media outlets are very much a part of this entangled in conflict, us versus them, less versus right, the middle versus extremes, heroes versus villains, alt-right versus mainstream and so on and so on.

Healthy conflict can be good, but we are in a state of high conflict, defined in a recent book as a good versus evil kind of feud, when people lose their minds and ideological disputes, political feuds or gang vendettas. High conflict is a force that causes people to lie awake at night and fear for the future.

And I can see this kind of conflict right now with a looming Supreme Court confirmation battle. I guess I could call it a confirmation process, maybe I should, but I default to the word battle because that's the way it's portrayed in the press.

And, look, maybe it won't really be a battle. Some conservative activists are saying they are not planning to go scorched earth against President Biden's nominee to replace Justin Stephen Breyer, since whoever the nominee is will not change the balance of the court. But let's be honest, Fox wants a fight. Right wing radio and TV wants

a fight. They need a fight over the Supreme Court. They are already starting a fight that's rooted in white identity politics.

All of Fox's primetime shows are outraged that Biden has committed to nominating a justice who is black and female.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: What matters, Joe Biden explained, is sex and skin color.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: It is beyond extremely divisive, it may even be illegal.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: Rubber stamp justice.


STELTER: It's a state of permanent political warfare, but does it have to be?

High conflict is a term coined by Amanda Ripley. She's the author of a book by the same name called, "High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out." She's also an investigative journalist and host of the Slate podcast "How To" and she is with me now.

Amanda, thanks for coming on the program.

AMANDA RIPLEY, AUTHOR: Thanks for having me, Brian.

STELTER: You've been using your investigative reporting skills to better understand conflict, everything from messy marriages and divorces to decades-long civil wars. So tell us first about how you applied reporting to understand what high conflict is.

RIPLEY: Yeah. You know, about five years ago, I just started to feel like traditional journalism wasn't functioning in this kind of conflict and I wasn't sure how to be useful, right? It seemed like anything I might do as a journalist would either make the conflict worse or have no impact at all, right?

So I started following people who understand conflict intimately but differently than journalists and people who have been stuck in really awful conflict, really dysfunctional high conflict and shifted into healthy or good conflict to try to understand is that even possible? Good news, yes, it is. And then how did they do it and how can we learn from that and how can we be more useful in conflict as journalists?

So I covered environmental activists who made that shift, a politician in California, a gang leader in Chicago, former guerrilla member in California, and just, you know, regular frustrated, enraged voters in Michigan and New York City. And they're definitely -- it is possible to make that shift but the big take away is that any intuitive thing you might do in high conflict to get out of the conflict will make it worse.

So you have to do counterintuitive things and you have to do them with great care.

STELTER: Wait. So let's say you are the bottom of a hole, you're trying to climb out of it, every time you climb up a step it actually gets deeper? You're situation you have to do the opposite of what you're thinking?

RIPLEY: Exactly. That's exactly right. And it's not natural, right? It's hard. But it's not impossible.


And it is way, way more effective and in whatever fight you're fighting and just better for the soul as well.

So just as an example, for journalists, right, your intuition in high conflict is to do what we've always done, right, and the worse the conflict gets the more your intuition is to simplify and amplify. To simplify the conflict and the different groups so that you're generalizing all the time about 70 or 80 million people, say all Republicans, all Democrats when in fact that's madness, right?

And another thing is that the impulse is to amplify the voices of conflict entrepreneurs who are having a golden era right now.

STELTER: Hold on. Conflict entrepreneurs. That sounds like something we have to unpack. That sounds -- I think I know who you are talking about.

Who are you talking about?

RIPLEY: Yeah, so conflict entrepreneurs are people or companies who exploit and inflame conflict for their own ends. These are people who seem to delight in every twist and turn the conflict takes. Sometimes they do this for profit, but just as often they do it for a sense of importance, for a way to explain the world and to feel like they are powerful and to get attention, right?

We have now designed a bunch of our institutions from social media to many news outlets to politics to incentivize and raise up conflict entrepreneurs. So this is really important to start to realize who these people are in your own world, in your -- among your source and your social media feed and your news diet.

STELTER: So, Tucker Carlsons of the world are conflict entrepreneurs but there's certainly some on the left or in the middle as well, is that fair to say?

RIPLEY: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, it is -- it is the -- it is the default impulse of many, many journalists because we are rewarding it right now, okay? So it is not -- it is not the kind of thing that I think only bad people do.

I mean, every day I wake up and try not to be a conflict entrepreneur. I think that is rule number one for journalists right now. We are all capable of being conflict entrepreneurs, especially at a time like this.

STELTER: I think everybody is wondering, you know, the last two weeks CNN primetime, "Democracy in Peril". CNN has been shining a light on these assaults that are happening mostly at the state level against American democracy.

I think what I wonder for the purposes of this show is what should journalists be doing with this -- in this moment in time? Covering it, shining a light, but what else can journalists do when democracy is under assault?

RIPLEY: Yeah, so I was just talking to Nealin Parker who runs Common Ground USA and has experience in conflict zones. What she said is right now we are in the best window we are going to get to interrupt this vicious cycle we are in.

So one thing about political violence is it is highly predictable. We know that violence will increase before and after each election cycle and journalists it's very, very important that they prepare for that. In other countries that have dealt with endemic political violence that's what they do.

So, just to take an example I said earlier any intuitive thing you do will backfire, so simplifying and amplifying doesn't help, it makes things worse. What's the opposite of that? One thing is to complicate the narratives of your audience, go out and do the reporting, find the stories that confuse your biases and your audience's biases that are also true because they are all around us.

And there is a phenomenon in high conflict, psychologists call it splitting, where you start to break the world into two camps, right, and it is a way to protect yourself, to feel like there's certainty when there is not, when there is a lot of anxiety and fear, right? So you want to resist that urge.

Then, of course, you want to stop amplifying conflict entrepreneurs and find ways to amplify the voices of other people, positive deviants we might call them, people who are intentionally trying to do something different.

So when you talk about democracy in peril, we have to be very careful that we are not exaggerating, right? You really want to be specific, extra specific, which places? How many? Out of how many?

That is something I'm constantly yelling at my phone when I'm reading the news. Out of how many? How many school boards are imploding in conflict? How many districts are -- electoral districts are restricting voting rights?

STELTER: That's a good point.

RIPLEY: You have to report it, absolutely, but you have to put it in perspective. STELTER: When you hear about crazy cases like in Tennessee, you know,

those are real stories and yet when we look around in our own lives and the conflict is not nearly as heightened as it looks on TV, that's something we need to remember to help try to deescalate.

Amanda, thank you so much for your insights on this.

RIPLEY: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: And the book again, very important, it's called "High Conflict."

Up next, what Justice Breyer and Tom Brady have in common?

Plus, what's the real deal with President Biden and Peter Doocy?



STELTER: On this NFL championship weekend, the biggest story is about a QB who is not playing. Yes, Tom Brady retiring apparently, but maybe not quite yet.

The Brady case shows the pleasures and the perils of anonymous sourcing. ESPN broke the news Saturday afternoon and didn't hedge it one bit. They said Brady is retiring from football, period, citing multiple sources.

Others scrambled to confirm it and some did, the NFL network found multiple sources saying Brady planned to retire and "The Boston Globe" found a league source who said it was true, but no one confirmed it on the record. Brady's dad said it wasn't true and the Buccaneers said they hadn't heard anything final from him and his agent said, quote, Tom will be the only person to express his plans with complete accuracy.

So what are we supposed to believe? These ESPN sources -- reporters are incredibly well-sourced.


They knew what they were doing. I believe Brady wants to share the news on his own terms so his team is stalling trying to deflate the story until he's ready to say it out loud.

Let's talk more about anonymous sourcing with national correspondent for "The Washington Post," Philip Bump, senior White House correspondent for "The Daily Caller", Shelby Talcott, and CNN senior media reporter, Oliver Darcy.

Oliver, you and I deal with anonymous sourcing all the time, not at this level necessarily but we have both had anonymously sourced stories in the past few days.

Just break though -- break down how we do that. So, you were writing about Brian Williams turning down CBS News, not wanting to join CBS. It was an entirely anonymously sourced story. In a story like that or a story like Tom Brady where nobody is going to confirm it on the record what do you do?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: I think it's interesting. First, I think what's important for viewers to understand is when a major outlet like ESPN is reporting big news like this, the sources are good. They're very credible sources. They would not risk their reputations just running with a rumor. So that's number one.

But number two is it's very common for reporters then to take the reporting to the spokes people for the subjects. In this case they would have probably taken it to Tom Brady's spokespeople, they would have taken it to the Buccaneers and if they did not get -- they may have had off the record conversations not received comments, but it's not uncommon for a spokesperson to basically say we are not going to dispute the reporting.


DARCY: I think that's almost -- it's not in the story but it's almost another element of verification knowing that the official authorities in the case are not going to come out and say your reporting is wrong.

STELTER: Yeah. You're looking for a head nod. Sometimes I will say to a source, look, are you going to embarrass me, contradict me, make me look bad tomorrow? It's that back and with sources that I think happened in the Tom Brady story.

I will give the viewers one example. It's much smaller than Brady but it's kind of interesting. I did a story a couple of weeks ago saying Gayle King has planning to renew her deal at CBS, but I didn't think she had signed the deal so I didn't want to say she had renewed yet. And then sure enough, Friday, she announced she signed that morning.

So, she had decided to renew, she hadn't signed it yet so there's wiggle room. It seems like with Brady, huge story, Philip Bump, there's wiggle room, yeah, he is retiring but until it comes out of his mouth, his camp is not going to confirm it.

Does that feel like the situation to you?

PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yeah, I mean, we should remember that Tom Brady is probably among all American athletes very, very savvy about managing his own brand and identity. We've seen multiple instances of that, the guy has been in the game forever. He's been a champion forever.

Like he understands how to do this, right? I think it's very much the case one should assume that when and if he announces his retirement, there's going to be a very, very calculated which in which he chooses to do so which may not comport with the news urgencies of ESPN and other outlets.

But, again, the reason we're treating it seriously is we trust ESPN. We know that ESPN has these sources. We know that they are reliable. This isn't just @patriots902 on Twitter saying, oh, I hear Tom Brady

going to retire. These are real credible sources who are saying that they're talking to these anonymous people, and that's why we're treating it with any legitimacy.

STELTER: Right. The sources are anonymous to us but known to the reporters. Same deal with Justice Breyer the other day when NBC's Pete Williams broke the news about Breyer and Wolf Blitzer matched it within minutes. You know, that was coming from trusted reporters so you had reason to trust the information.

BUMP: Right.

STELTER: Let's turn to the political arena. President Biden, does he know how to handle partisan media? This week, his dead-panned insult directed at Fox's Peter Doocy generated days and days of content for Fox's shows.

I thought Biden was out of line. The White House does call on Doocy a lot, much to the chagrin of liberals. Conversely as "Politico" reported this week, the White House rarely engages left wing media, shooting down requests for interviews with digital media outlets and podcasts and streaming networks. Interesting on the part of the White House.

So, let's bring in Shelby Talcott, "Daily Caller". "Daily Caller", conservative website, you cover the White House for "The Daily Caller".

What did you make of Doocy and the Biden and that spat? Well, it wasn't a spat because it was just Biden insulting him.

SHELBY TALCOTT, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, DAILY CALLER: Yeah, Brian, thanks for having me on. I think that the big thing is how Peter Doocy reacted. He reacted like a professional. He did really well, he did exactly what he was supposed to do.

And he was asking, you know, a question about inflation, and that's perhaps a question that President Biden didn't want to answer in that moment and we saw that snappy response. We've seen it before, his sort of off-handed remarks from the president about typically when reporters ask good tough questions.

And, you know, the relationship between a president and the press is a contentious sort of working relationship and it's to be expected almost when you are a journalist covering any White House that sometimes there's going to be questions the president doesn't want answered and, you know, it comes with the job.

STELER: Somebody we've covered has probably called out of us an SOB off mic.


The difference is it's a president, he said it on camera, and became a big story. Philip Bump, doesn't the White House be talking to progressive media more? I thought the "Politico" point was interesting. Outlets at the Young Turks and Positive America don't get access. Trump basically had a Fox News White House. Biden doesn't want that.

But shouldn't he pay more attention to progressive media?

BUMP: Well, I think that the president Biden recognizes that his core strength, his core political asset is not his relationship with the left, right? And he knows if he sits down with them in the same way that he's probably not going a lot of events with Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez. He recognizes it's not going to do good with his base folks who push him from the left. There are a lot of ways that his vulnerable there, and I think he doesn't really want to engage them.

On the contrary, when he engages in Peter Doocy it provides him an opportunity to short-circuit the right wing narrative. Peter Doocy asks him something on the minds of Fox News viewers and right then the White House can respond to it which is a smart tactic because it means Fox News isn't brewing for days and days why won't Biden answer it. They answer it.

But the same thing, on the left when he doesn't necessarily want to be engaged on those same things and doesn't see it as something which will strengthen his relationship with his base, I think he should answer those questions, absolutely, but I understand why politically they may not see that as much of an asset.

STELTER: Interesting.

All right. Everyone, stand by for me. Up next, significant news out of Trump's rally last night.

Plus, musicians versus misinformation, school boards versus story tellers. What's going on? We're dissecting the power struggles in old and new media.



STELTER: So Sean Spicer called me the other day he didn't like something I said on this program, I think it was the first time he called me since the day he cursed at me over inauguration crowd size gate in 2017. Spicer is the host on Newsmax now and he objected to the way I characterized their ratings.

So here is the reality, Newsmax is usually low rated, a lot lower than Fox, but when Donald Trump is on, Newsmax is high rated. On a normal Saturday night, Newsmax might have 50,000 viewers, but when Trump held a rally more than 1.5 million found the channel, beating Fox, because Fox ignored the rally.

Trump was back on stage in Texas and probably brought a big audience for Newsmax again. So, what I am bringing it up? Because there's a base that is seeking out Trump's speeches, a base taking him seriously.

Here is what they heard last night, as summarized by Maggie Haberman. Quote: In one rally speech, he dangled pardons for people charged with invading the Capitol and disrupting Electoral College certification, while encouraging mass protests if prosecutors investigating him do something he doesn't like. So it's January 5th all over again.

Back with us Philip Bump, Shelby Talcott and Oliver Darcy.

Philip, you raised a question on Twitter this morning, is the new GOP policy position that rioters should be let out of jail?

BUMP: Right. Yeah, I mean, obviously Donald Trump is a leader if not the leader in the Republican Party. I have not seen polling or anything to suggest that Republicans broadly feel as though these people who conducted these acts of violence in particular who are the ones primarily who are the ones being incarcerated or detained that they should be set free. I mean, when you are complaining about the conditions in confinement for people, the natural response is, well, let's improve these conditions. Not, let's set them free and release them from jail.

Donald Trump is saying essentially let's pardon them. Let's set them free. I don't know that that's a position that most Republicans have held to this point. What will be fascinating to see, and this is important thing, is will they adopt this position moving forward? Does this change the baseline position of the Republican Party to be, yes, let's have these people walk free because Donald Trump has raised this as an issue and shifted the Overton window.

And I think that is the particularly problematic issue here, is the way in which this actually changes how the mainstream responds to this day.

STELTER: It turned on Fox this morning, Shelby, on "Fox and Friends," I heard about Trump's rallies, but I heard nothing about the pardons, I heard nothing about Trump saying, hey, if the prosecutors do me wrong, if they're bad, then I want you all to protest, you better protest in New York or D.C. or Georgia, calling for mass protests if he's prosecuted.

That's huge news here on CNN. It's not huge news on Fox. What do you make of that divide? And is it just a matter that Trump fans don't care about what he's saying at the rally about pardons or about protests?

TALCOTT: I think a lot of what we heard President Trump say we've heard before, right? We've heard the --


STELTER: Not the pardons, not the protests. Right.


STELTER: That's why it's so shocking. He's like go pro test, the last time he said that we had a mass act of, you know, violence at our Capitol.

TALCOTT: But protests are -- you know, peaceful protests are a huge pillar of American society.


TALCOTT: So it's newsworthy, but also peaceful protesting is allowed. You might not like what the protests are protesting, you might not agree with it and that's okay, but if calling for peaceful protests of course is a huge part of America.

I think the divide comes from, you know, liberal-leaning outlets tend to sort of take what Trump says and, you know, make it into this huge deal and I think a lot of Trump supporters are more -- more neutral than liberal-leaning outlets believe, you know? Why do people support Trump? That differs. I think that's something that the media is missing a little bit.

STELTER: So when I hear on "Fox and Friends," it's all about border, right? You're making the point, yeah, for Fox viewers, they do care more about the border than they about Trump dangling pardons for rioters. Even though that to me is a huge headline, you're saying, to the Fox audience --


BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. For Fox viewers, they do care more about the border than they do about Trump dangling pardons for rioters. Even though that, to me is a huge headline, you're saying to the fox audience, it is about other issues?


STELTER: That's an important point, yes.

TALCOTT: Yes. And I think that it's -- you know, it's not a bad thing. You know, the border issue is important for millions of Americans and so it's just a matter of who your audience is and what they're interested in and it's you know a difference of opinion.

STELTER: Shelby and Philip, thank you both. Oliver, stick around, you then again join this block, come back in the next block. We have Amy Schneider coming up, the Jeopardy champion. We're going to hear about her experience with that amazing streak. Plus, Spotify, Joe Rogan, and Neil Young, it's just one of several stories, a tug of war over the content. We're going to get into that right after the break.


STELTER: It's a terrible game of tug of war. Some on the left want big right-wing distorters blocked from sites like YouTube and Twitter, at the same time, some on the right when objectionable books and lessons are banned from schools. [11:35:00]

STELTER: I'm not trying to draw both sides equivalence between these two because there are way more than two sides here and each case is unique. But think about the headlines this week about Maus, about that Tennessee district banning this holocaust themed series of books. Maus, of course, that happen a couple of weeks ago wasn't until reporters in Tennessee noticed that it became national news. Look at this divide, look at this tug of war between MSNBC and Fox.

The MSNBC banner saying book banning fever heats up in red states. The Fox banner asks if lefties are the new book burners. We see this story on the digital -- in the digital space as well. All the news this week about Spotify, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, now other artists saying they're taking their music off of Spotify because Joe Rogan is on Spotify, and Joe Rogan has a history of bringing on guests who promote anti-vaccine narratives and COVID disinformation.

We're seeing these battles all around. Just on any given week, we heard the news about someone being banned from Twitter. Nowadays, people are even getting banned from TikTok. These are mostly right- wing figures getting banned from platforms for violating various social media policies, all of this is just a massive tug of war over what content is heard and seen and where and why. Let's bring back Oliver Darcy and let's bring in Kat Rosenfield. She's a culture writer and author, who is with me now.

Kat, you wrote on Twitter about Spotify, you went viral for a comment about it yesterday. Tell us your point of view first about the Spotify mess because it's really dominated the week.

KAT ROSENFIELD, CULTURE WRITER: Yes. You know, what I think is interesting about the backlash against Spotify because of this Joe Rogan is that people are fundamentally angry about not being able to stop his audience from wanting news that is bad for them, you know, wanting something that's bad for them.

So you know, we're all haunted by the specter of this guy who's listening to Joe Rogan and internalizing this bad information and making bad choices as a result. But Rogan is like a weed that sprang up outside of the mainstream media ecosystem, and he thrived there, and he has this huge audience.

And that's what's really scary that Spotify could kick him off tomorrow, and it wouldn't make a dent. It wouldn't make a dent in his audience, people would still listen to him, and crucially, they still wouldn't trust more mainstream media sources. And I think that's what's really, really frightening to people.

STELTER: Oliver, do you agree?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Well, I think the key thing to keep in mind here is that you know, people who are listening to Joe Rogan's podcast don't necessarily believe it to be bad information. So there was an analogy drawn between Doritos and Joe Rogan's podcast, people know that Doritos are not necessarily good for them, that you're not going to find a nutritional expert who says, you know, you should eat a lot of Doritos.

But there are a lot of people who listen to Joe Rogan's podcast who believe that he's actually the truth-teller. They believe in the opposite that Joe Rogan is good for an informational diet. And I think that's what's so important is that the people who are listening to him don't believe it to be bad information. So it's difficult, I guess, for them to make that choice -- that good choice of consuming information when they think that the podcast hosting people with anti- vaccine rhetoric is really the truth-telling podcast.

STELTER: OK, you made the Doritos as a reference. I rather liked it. What do you say to Oliver?

ROSENFIELD: Um, I mean, I think that it just ultimately comes down to the question of, how do you want to solve this? You know, and that's sort of where the analogy comes in. You know, there are people who, you know, they like something that we -- you know, who consider ourselves more enlightened, don't think is good for them.

You know, we think that they're internalizing this misinformation that they're using it to make bad decisions. But if you took away Joe Rogan by de-platforming him just as if you, you know, took away Doritos, would they seek out better information? Would they seek out, you know, like a podcast like New York Times or The Daily or you know when they start reading the Wall Street Journal? I don't know. I think that that's sort of the fundamental question here.

STELTER: So it does seem like increasingly, this is this completely alternative media ecosystem that has to be understood. And it is the Rogan media because there's some and you're saying those listeners are not going to go over to some more -- one of the -- you know they're not going to read the Associated Press if Rogan disappears. So you're -- I feel like what, Kat you're saying is just taking a more realistic approach to this whack a mole of the bands.

ROSENFIELD: Yes. You know, I just think that providing as much information as possible is -- you know in the hopes that it will eventually get to the people who need it, providing as much good information as possible is probably a better bet than trying to, you know shut down somebody who's already got a massively popular platform you know, from reaching the people who are going to seek him out no matter what.

STELTER: In the case of somebody like Maus, you've got this Tennessee School District, you know, quietly doing something then two weeks later becomes national news and now the books are topping the Amazon charts. So that content now gets into more people and maybe that's the answer.


STELTER: All right, Oliver, Kat, thank you both. For more on this, we're going to keep covering it in our nightly RELIABLE SOURCES Newsletter, signup for free

Still ahead, right into Moscow for a report on how Russian-state media is covering the tensions with Ukraine and why they keep quoting Tucker Carlson.



STELTER: Amid widespread fears of a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine, Tucker Carlson has become a nightly presence on Russian-state TV. We wanted to know why, so we asked CNN's Nic Robertson to take a look.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voiceover): On Russian-state TV, Western media are getting ridiculed. Like it or not, they think independent journalists propagandist for the U.S. government, creating a provocation for war.

VLADIMIR SOLOVYOV, TV HOST, CH1: You have no idea what's happening in our mind. You have no idea about that history. You have no idea what crushes about. You have no idea what Ukraine is about, about our mutual history, why we have a problem.

ROBERTSON: Vladimir Solovyov, hosts his own show proudly pushes the Kremlin's views and Fox anchor, Tucker Carlson's.

SOLOVYOV: He's a nice guy, he's funny, has his own point of view. He hates Biden, he likes Trump, so what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we start today with breaking news.

ROBERTSON: No irony that in Russia, unlike America, criticizing the President is off-limits and never more so than now. In the past year, independent media here have been almost completely crushed.

EKATERINA KOTRIKADZE, HOST, TV RAIN: It's the feeling of tension and it's all the time. You can never be -- you can -- you can never be sure that tomorrow, you will be -- you will be all right. You can never be sure that tomorrow your TV station will still be alive.

Ekaterina Kotrikadze is an anchor at TV Rain, one of Russia's last independent stations. It is designated a foreign agent, Kafka risk Kremlin law that can snuff it out. She is all too familiar with state TV's manipulations, how they use Western media and play Carlson against his broadcast colleagues.

KOTRIKADZE: They have just like that there is a person who says, are we going to fight Russia because of this corrupted Eastern European country that we even cannot find on the map? So as soon as he says something that is not in this you know the direction that they need, he's not going to be a friend anymore.

ROBERTSON: In Russia's propaganda war, truth doesn't matter. What counts is stopping a war they are convinced America is fomenting.

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: So at this point, NATO exists primarily to torment Vladimir Putin who would -- ROBERTSON: At home facing accusations of being a pro-Putin stooge,

Carlson has defended some of his pro-Russia comments and said he is not a Russian agent. So will he lose his war-stopping value in Russia?

SOLOVYOV: Come on, this poor guy from Fox News. Well, I like the idea of him being a Russian spy, Colonel of Russian grocers.

ROBERTSON (on camera): It's not the way any respectable journalist would want to be portrayed. But once inside the Kremlin spin cycle here, there's no knowing how the machine will spit you out. Nic Robertson, CNN, Moscow.


STELTER: Thank you to Nic and his team for that report. Let me bring in The Daily Beast columnist and Russia media analyst Julia Davis. Julia, welcome. You brought up the Kremlin TV is worrying that Carlson's pro-Putin bias has gone too far. What do you mean?

JULIA DAVIS, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: He has become a little bit too obvious. It seems like the Kremlin has its biggest troll now piping pro-Kremlin propaganda to millions of his viewers and they went so far as to describe Tucker as one of their co-hosts essentially because he's receiving such coverage in Russia.

And also, he's inviting experts or so-called Russian experts who don't even hide their affiliation with Russia's foreign ministry. So Tucker's propaganda is very convenient for Russia, but it's been so blatant, they've been worried that he might lose his relevance and be silenced or marginalized because his pro-Russian slant has become too obvious to ignore.

STELTER: Let me push back a little bit. Many Americans are terrified to see the U.S. drawn into a new foreign conflict. Tucker Carlson is channeling their views. Why is that automatically pro Putin propaganda?

DAVIS: Because it seems to go the other way. Tucker is actually encouraging his viewers to vote out any Republicans that want to support Ukraine in defending it from Russia's aggression and he is also spreading Russia's position that's baselessly claiming that it's the United States that wants to invade Ukraine and that it's NATO that is threatening Russia and not the other way around.


DAVIS: So it seems like Tucker is trying to change our foreign policy and he's obviously trying to change it in Russia's favor. Also, Russian experts have discussed the strategy of trying to scare Americans with the possibility of a nuclear war between the United States and Russia as a consequence of the U.S. stepping up to defend Ukraine, when in reality, they know that they're not crazy enough to ever think about using nuclear weapons about -- against the United States. But Tucker Carlson has also been pushing that on his show claiming that if the United States helps arm Ukraine to defend itself, we're risking nuclear war with Russia. So there are just too many parallels to ignore.

STELTER: I think it was really interesting, Tucker said in The New York Times you know, that he kind of -- kind of admitted he made mistakes with Iraq and doesn't want to make them again, but my hearing it, Julia, thank you for coming on the program. Thanks for coming on.

DAVIS: Thank you so much for having me.

STELTER: Up next, a turn from Russian propaganda TV to the best of TV, Amy Schneider. Hear who she would pick for a permanent host of Jeopardy.



STELTER: Amy Schneider is a Jeopardy hero. With a 40-day winning streak, she is the most successful woman in the history of the show. So now that the streak is over, she joins me to discuss her place in Jeopardy history.



STELTER: So looking at this incredible streak, I wonder if the first episode was the hardest and it was -- it was relatively smooth sailing from there.

SCHNEIDER: I wouldn't call it smooth sailing from there but I would agree that yes, the first one was definitely the hardest, you know. I had to rethink my buzzer strategy in the middle of it. Um, and beyond that, you know, Andrew, he -- the returning champion in that episode was definitely one of the strongest players I played against in my entire runs. So, yes, I would say that was definitely the hardest one.

STELTER: When did you start to sense that there was something special happening?

SCHNEIDER: Ah, I would say, you know, the first day I was taping, I won three episodes and, you know, it was like, you know, great, this was, you know, really good. That was about like, you know, I will -- I wasn't expecting to do too much better than that. Um, and then I went back the next week, and we taped 10 episodes that week and at some point, during that, I started to realize that, like, this is already becoming something kind of impressive.

STELTER: Right. There are all these theories on the Jeopardy web being among super fans saying, you know, maybe there are more streaks now because once you learn a buzzer strategy, you have a huge advantage over the other contestants who are new for the first time. Do you buy into that?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I mean, I buy into it. I just don't see why that would have changed recently. You know, I mean, I definitely did feel as I went on, I was like there -- why haven't there been more streaks? Because I definitely did feel that, you know, it was almost unfair to people coming in and like the last game of the day, and I've been, you know, essentially practicing the buzzer all day and are coming in all.

STELTER: All right. As the streak was getting longer and longer, did you feel like you were bringing some positive energy back to Jeopardy, a program that lost Alex Trebek and then went through all those guest hosts and all the turmoil about the executive producer, all the scandal? And you know, did you feel like you were bringing positive attention back to the show?

SCHNEIDER: It's funny because as a viewer, myself, I don't generally enjoy it. When somebody is on a long streak, just like I want to see some new faces. But it was just clear from everybody, you know, all the crew and everything that they thought it was a good thing for Jeopardy so I was like, well, they're the experts I'll take their word for it.

And then when it came out, you know, yes, I think it's just been -- you know, I love this show and I've hated to see it, you know, all the kind of negative headlines about it for the last year or so. And so to see everybody talking about it for the reasons that ought to be talked about was really nice.

STELTER: Yes. And it proves once again, what Trebek always said that it's about the contestants, it's about the winners. So when you were there, did you come away with a sense of what the show should become, or do you have a pick for who the host should be?

SCHNEIDER: You know, I think Ken Jennings should be the host. I really -- I can't say enough about him. And, you know, as I said, I didn't necessarily think that before going into this, um, you know, because like, yes, he was a great champion but this is a different skill set, but you could see the work that he put into it, and I just thought he did a really great job. So as far as I'm concerned, that's my endorsement.

STELTER: That's the endorsement, yes. I was going to ask you about what it's been like to be targeted for being transgender, for having trolls against you on social media, but then I saw in other interviews, you said, almost all the attentions been positive, that you were surprised by how much positive reaction you received. And then that's an important lesson for the media. You know, we focus on the negativity, we notice the hateful trolls, but actually, we should notice the majority and not the hateful minority, right?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, I would agree with that. I mean, you know, I don't want to like, overstate it. That was definitely out there and it definitely, you know, especially like that, you know, the first week or so, like when it was first happening, it was -- it was hard not to, you know, take it -- take it seriously or take it personally.

But there was so much positivity out there and so many people expressing their support and so many people, you know, that you wouldn't necessarily think of, you know, the kind of Jeopardy demographic, I like to say that, you know, I'm huge with moms like, you know, anytime somebody takes picture with me like at least half the time they're like I'm going to send this to my mom. Um, so yes, I think that was really -- it was -- it was eye-opening for me and I just think it's a great sign about the progress that we've made as a society.


BRIAN STELTER, CNN RELIABLE SOURCES HOST: What an inspiration. Thanks for joining us this hour. STATE OF THE UNION starts now.