Return to Transcripts main page
Biden on Call With Ukrainian President Zelensky; Adding Context to Coverage of Conflicts; Senate Passes the First Major Bill of the #MeToo Era; Analyzing Joe Biden's Pre-Super Bowl Interview; Law Professor: This Is 'The Libel Trial Of The Century'; Big Tech Battling For Every Ounce Of Human Attention. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired February 13, 2022 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter live here in New York and this is RELIABLE SOURCES, where we examine the story behind the story and we figure out what's reliable.
This hour, analyzing NBC's rare TV interview of President Biden and why he doesn't give these interviews more often.
Plus, we're going inside the courtroom for Sarah Palin versus "The New York Times" now that a jury is deliberating.
And later, how social media beauty filters can have very ugly consequences. Big tech insider Tristan Harris is here with incredible insights about Silicon Valley business models and what needs to change.
But first -- President Joe Biden now reportedly on a phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart. This call was slated to start at 10:45 a.m. Eastern Time and, of course, the call comes amid U.S. warnings that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could happen as soon as this week.
Ukraine taking a very different tone, and clearly an information war is already under way. That's why the news media must provide context to conflicts. Successful movement leaders and militaries are like media moguls, in that they know the power of images and visuals and information.
But I think we all know that images are not always what they appear to be. So we have to apply a skeptical eye, not cynical, but skeptical.
For example, take these videos of Russian forces, dramatic scenes of Russian tanks rolling through fields, the kinds of shots that Vladimir Putin wants everyone to see. It's critical that newsrooms tell the audience what this is and where it came from. That's why there is a label on the corner of the scene saying these images are from the Russian ministry of defense.
If they are not put in context, if they are just wallpapered on TV all day, then they're just propaganda. That's true about Ukrainian footage or U.S. footage, too. Think about it like this, when looking at a photo try to imagine the
photographer or videographer on the other side of the frame and think what motivated the photo? Who wants this to be seen and who doesn't? Or who is trying to stay out of the picture?
The same questions apply to other forms of information, too. The United States keeps releasing bits of secret intelligence about the Kremlin's alleged plans. It seems the idea is to aim to avert a Russian attack by leaking the plans in advance.
At one point, a U.S. official predicted that the Russians would release a staged video to justify a military invasion, so predicting a false flag ahead of time. As "The New York Times" put it, the Biden administration is warning the world of an urgent threat not to make the case for a war but to try to prevent one.
So there are two layers of questions there, is the intel accurate? And why is it being shared?
Skepticism has to apply to other conflicts as well, like the convoy of trucks in Canada that has captured tremendous right wing media attention in the U.S. Phony letters, false stories, exaggerated memes have blanketed the web when it comes to a very real story about the real convoy. The lies hurt the cause of the anti-vaccine mandate protesters. But there's been lots of fact-checking to do.
That's why in Canada, too, the visuals have to be scrutinized. This is a video of protesters in Ottawa. You see people power in action, strength in numbers.
But it's important to zoom out, too, like that, for a more realistic view of those numbers. Apply a skeptical eye no matter the story, no matter the conflict, no matter the place.
For more on all of this CNN's Donie O'Sullivan is here. He's back from covering the protests in Canada.
Also with me, former Fox News anchor and People TV contributor, Gretchen Carlson.
Welcome to you both. Thank you both for being here.
GRETCHEN CARLSON, FORMER FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Thank you.
STELTER: Donie, you were just up north, you're heading back shortly. Tell us about what you learned on the ground that might vary from how this is being portrayed elsewhere in the press.
DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it was an interesting few days. I think what we're seeing is there are clearly truckers on the ground there. You can see there are trucks being packed out.
As you said about the context, even in Canada, Canada is highly vaccinated, right? Eighty percent of eligible Canadians are vaccinated, roughly around the same figure according to the truckers advocacy group of truckers who go across the U.S. border are vaccinated, too.
So there are real truckers there with some concerns, but what I came across a lot of was a lot of people searching for clout, a lot of people who are streaming live on their social media platforms and a lot of people who were just echoing and repeating these exact same type of misinformation and disinformation that you would expect to hear at an event, you know, a lot of right wing fringe events here in the U.S.
STELTER: Yeah. I like your point about all the live streamers. Everybody there is making media and consuming media at the same time and that's different from even 12 years ago or something like the Occupy Wall Street protests where there wasn't as much of a social media footprint.
O'SULLIVAN: Precisely. What we're seeing this weekend, some of what we're tracking in the U.S., a lot of talk about possible conveys happening in the U.S., particularly because the Department of Homeland Security sent out a message to law enforcement warning that it was possible, that of course being based on online chatter.
I would say a word of caution for media, I think all of us as we report on these, you know, memos from DHS.
O'SULLIVAN: We clearly obviously have to take a DHS memo seriously. But it's important we give context to -- you know, there's chatter about but there is no solid plans of any real mass trucker movement that we're seeing in the U.S. so far.
STELTER: So, right now, it's more of a dream, more of a Tucker Carlson treatment dream than reality.
Gretchen, that's why I was hoping to talk to you about this. We have a great conversation about the #MeToo movement, an important bill just passed. But because you used to be at Fox News, you were there for years, in fact, during Occupy Wall Street example.
STELTER: How do you perceive right wing media promoting the Canadian convoys?
CARLSON: Well, I find it ironic because they used to mock the Wall Street protests that were happening.
STELTER: Right, true.
CARLSON: But at the same time, look, this is what happens when you try to gin up the base, right? You feed the beast with stories -- I think they've spent roughly seven to eight hours on this trucker story just the other day.
But I think there's a big difference between potentially the Tea Party protests that also Fox News talked a lot about --
CARLSON: -- 13 years ago and this. Because those were peaceful protests that didn't interrupt commerce, emergency services, any kind of thing like that.
I mean, I think to advocate now for shutting down business, shutting down roadways is a completely different beast than just peacefully protesting.
STELTER: Right, that's interesting.
I also -- I put up the banner "America's right wing media suddenly cares about Canada". It's not like Fox News has bureaus in Canada usually. It's not like Newsmax usually spends hours now talking about Canada. This is very specific coverage for a very specific reason.
But I think, Donie, we need to put it in the broader context about vaccination. You mentioned vaccination rates in Canada, higher than they are in the United States, for example. This anti-vaccination energy, even though it's coming from a minority of citizens in the other country, it's here to stay.
Is that a fair assessment from what you hear on the ground?
O'SULLIVAN: Oh, absolutely. I mean --
STELTER: We need to take it seriously even though it's a minority.
O'SULLIVAN: Sure. I mean, look, it's become a catch all for everything else. It's -- you know, so many people asked that I spoke to in Canada, they said, well, it's not so much about the vaccine. It's not even so much about mandates. It's about freedom.
O'SULLIVAN: It's about freedom, freedom, freedom -- their perception of freedom, which is to say, I don't want to get vaccinated.
CARLSON: But I think we need to pay very close attention to this because as omicron goes away and as judges continue to say that we can't have mask mandates and vaccine mandates, I think we need to be careful about how much we malign these particular groups because this is exactly the same base that Trump was able to energize when he tried to become president, and this is really about freedoms for people. Whether you are on the left or the right, I think that this could be a growing concern moving forward.
STELTER: Totally agree with you.
I was just Googling that old quote from Jon Stewart. He talks about your rights and where my nose begins. So, like your freedom sometimes infringes on others freedom.
And I think, Donie, what you have seen in Canada is others are fearful of these protesters who are arguing for freedom, right? Because some of the fringe rhetoric.
Can we play "The Daily Show" clip for a second. This was you, appeared on "The Daily Show" and then Trevor Noah had a reaction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'SULLIVAN: Because you are not vaccinated, have you -- is there businesses, is there stuff you can't do in Canada now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, I'm like -- well, basically if you want to compare Canada to anything, it's like Hitler's Germany and we're like the Jews, eh.
TREVOR NOAH, COMEDIAN: You see, this is why we shouldn't be banning books.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: I can't say it better than Trevor Noah.
O'SULLIVAN: Yeah, look, and there is -- that's a really big part of what we're seeing there. And the -- that just doesn't come from anywhere, right? Because that terrible historical inaccurate comparison we've heard members of Congress here repeat it, but it's actually, I think, a lot of it is based in there's been so much demonization of public health officials in this country and elsewhere.
O'SULLIVAN: And that a lot of these people believe that public health officials are there to harm and hurt them not to help them.
STELTER: Right. It's -- the bigger picture here is online radicalization of lots of different kinds turns into offline action. And whether they end up being convoys in the U.S. or not we're already seeing the impacts of that in Canada. That's your beat, Donie, is that the online radicalization but then you see what happens in real -- in real life.
O'SULLIVAN: Absolutely. And, look, you know, it's kind of struck me that there is the famous "let's go Brandon" phrase right now in the U.S. that's popular among many Trump supporters. We saw that being tweaked in Canada to -- in French and to target Trudeau.
STELTER: Oh, interesting.
O'SULLIVAN: So, you know, there is no delineation, there is no division anymore between the online and the offline.
And it's a loop that fields into each other, just as, you know, these viral moments. That's why everybody is streaming there, these viral moments that can then feed online, that can then be played on cable television. That feeds back on to the ground.
CARLSON: But I think it's a growing --
CARLSON: -- emblematic movement of how voices are being heard much more the last five years whether it's truckers and freedom or whether it's BLM or whether it's my movement, #MeToo, right? The idea that Americans and across the world feel now like their voices matter more than ever before and they're going to be heard.
CARLSON: And I think so culturally, we are going to look back on all of these movements as having started five years ago really and gaining traction, and I think this time they're here to stay.
STELTER: Donie, thanks. Gretchen, please stick around for that conversation.
Also coming up here in just a few minutes, my new reporting on the latest about CNN and the looming deal with Discovery. That's coming up.
More RELIABLE SOURCES in just a moment.
STELTER: This week, a major win for survivors of sexual harassment, a win that you could say was more than a decade in the making, because nearly six years ago, former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson accused the then-CEO of Fox News, Roger Ailes, of sexual harassment. But a nondisclosure clause in her contract prevented her from taking the company to court.
That's why Carlson sued Ailes personally and helped start a domino effect that led to the international #MeToo movement. But his harassment, it was going on more than a decade ago.
So consider that timeline as we flash forward to this week and this headline about Congress passing a landmark #MeToo bill. "Vanity Fair" calling it a major victory in one of the biggest workplace reforms in history. It might have all started at Fox News headquarters where a man abused his power and a woman said, enough.
Carlson played a key role in the effort to press Congress to change arbitration law. Her nonprofit group Lift Our Voices pushed to eliminate NDAs, nondisclosure agreements, for toxic work issues.
And now, the change is finally happening. This was a press conference on Capitol Hill this week, as Congress passed legislation banning the practice of using clauses in employment contracts that forced victims of sexual assault and harassment to pursue their claims in a confidential forum. It can now be brought into light and President Biden is expected to sign the bill in the coming days.
Gretchen Carlson here with me now for a conversation about it.
You were in Washington when this bill passed the Senate on Thursday. What was the most memorable part of that day for you?
CARLSON: Tears of joy for the millions of workers that this bill will help moving forward, that they will no longer be silenced if they are harassed or assaulted in the workplace. And that's monumental.
I think the second most important piece is that it was bipartisan. In these hyper political times that we live in, the idea that I could help to play a role in bringing the two parties together to actually pass this, because it is an apolitical issue, was huge, historic. As you just said in your introduction, this is the biggest labor law change in 100 years.
It hasn't really sunk in totally for me, but it was very emotional for me. I did shed some tears while I was watching that happen on the Senate floor.
STELTER: Should I believe pessimistic that it took six years from Ailes' downfall to get legislation passed, or should I be optimistic that it happened?
CARLSON: You should be optimistic.
CARLSON: I've been walking the halls of Congress for the last five years --
CARLSON: -- specifically trying to get Republicans on the bill, this tends to be more of a Democratic issue. And, you know, my first question to them was raise your hand if you think that it's a great idea to continue silencing women in the workplace who are harassed or assaulted? And nobody wants to raise their hands to that.
Look, in the House, we got 113 Republican votes on this. Five years ago, when we introduced this legislation, we had hardly any Republicans on it. So, there's been this tonal shift in Congress at the same time that we've seen a shift culturally.
This movement is not going away, I keep raising my voice as millions of other women do, and we finally got to this point.
This is historic, it's huge, and it means if this happens to you at work, you will not be put into the silent chamber of arbitration. You have a choice of being able to go to an open court.
STELTER: That will be signed by Biden shortly. Then what do you want next?
CARLSON: Well, there's so much more work to do at my nonprofit Lift Our Voices because this is just a slice of the pie. This is just taking away arbitration for harassment and assault.
But what about gender discrimination? What about race discrimination? What about LGBTQ discrimination?
And then there's also the whole discussion about nondisclosure agreements as you brought up in the introduction. These have silenced millions of people for toxic workplace issues.
So, we are still leading the charge at Lift Our Voices to do research as well on this. Nobody has cared about this until five years ago.
CARLSON: And we are the only leading organization now in the country doing this work.
STELTER: Have you looked to see whether Fox has covered this law at all?
CARLSON: It was interesting because there was so much press Thursday after the Senate voted this in.
CARLSON: So I was not able to discern whether or not they were there. But I would be surprised if they did because they never come -- they never covered what happened to me at Fox, but, you know, they should. They should cover this, because this could happen to their viewers, too.
And that was my entire point. This is an apolitical issue. Before somebody decides to harass you or assault you, they don't ask you what political party you're in, right?
CARLSON: And it's why this was so monumental to bring our country together to pass this.
STELTER: I agree they should cover it, and I'm glad you're here to talk about it. Thank you, Gretchen, for being here.
CARLSON: Thanks for having me, Brian.
Now a follow-up on last week's stories about CNN and the removal of long time leader Jeff Zucker. This week, we learned more about the timeline for what's going to happen next. Discovery is poised to take over CNN and the rest of Warner Media in seven or eight weeks.
As I reported earlier, the company plans to name a new president of CNN right away. Well, this week, Discovery and CNN's current owner AT&T cleared the final government hurdle that was in the way of the deal.
The next step is a March 11 shareholder vote. And then the deal can take effect in a matter of weeks. So early to mid-April is looking likely.
Discovery's CEO David Zaslav is turning his attention to CNN and what the network needs, what kind of leader the network needs. Speculation about possible leaders is ramping up.
But here is the most important fact about the ten days since that shake up, CNN has not missed a news beat. Despite all the turmoil, not a single beat.
For more on this and all the rest of the media news out there, sign up for the nightly RELIABLE SOURCES newsletter. It's free. It's at reliablesources.com.
Up next here, the GOP insurgency, Jeremy Peters is here to talk about his new book on that.
Plus, Tristan Harris sharing his fears about big tech business models. He calls it civil war for profit.
STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.
A lot of news this week about Donald Trump, a lot of examples of right wing media's presidential double standard.
With me now "New York Times" correspondent Jeremy Peters. He's the author of the new book, "Insurgency". It's titled, "How Republicans lost their party and got everything they ever wanted."
Jeremy, great to see you.
JEREMY PETERS, CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thanks, Brian.
STELTER: A long time ago they were cubical mates at "The New York Times." That's way back in the day.
Now, we both have been examining Fox and Trump. But you've gone back in time here about the Republican Party and what's changed. Why did you call this book "Insurgency"?
PETERS: So, as apt as the title may seem given what happened on January 6, this is actually the title that I had in mind since 2017.
PETERS: Yeah, no, really because the history of the modern Republican Party is one of insurgency and revolt and destabilization. And you can start with Pat Buchanan in '92 which is what I do chronologically. I work my way forward to Sarah Palin, the tea party and ultimately to Donald Trump, because the Republican Party has this history of inviting inside these insurgent elements into the tent and not really fully appreciating how destabilizing they can be and how sharing power with them will never work.
And that's what you saw culminate and erupt with Donald Trump?
STELTER: Right. And it continues to this day. You talked to Trump for this book. He's bashing Fox News in the interview with you.
STELTER: And yet, Fox is still this incredibly important engine for him.
How do you explain that relationship now? We know what it was during his days in the White House where he had a Fox News presidency, but what's it like now?
PETERS: Well, Donald Trump wants 100 percent acquiescence and flattery, and unless they give that to him, he is -- or anyone gives that to him he's going to constantly attack and criticize you. That's why he flipped over to OAN, Newsmax, because they weren't willing to go there. Fox has been, of course, less willing to go there these days.
STELTER: Yeah, a little bit.
PETERS: Because as Trump said to me in the interview, Roger Ailes built a behemoth but how quickly that can be destroyed. And he almost -- I mean, Trump has not destroyed Fox News, let's be clear.
PETERS: But it was pretty incredible to see him just delighting in that, delighting in the fact that he was able to really deal a body blow to their ratings for a while after the election when they did something right, they told the truth, they told their audience the truth, but their audience didn't want to hear it.
STELTER: Didn't want to hear it.
PETERS: And Trump understands that they don't want to hear it, either. In fact, he said that to me. He said, at one point, which is, you know -- one of these moments of -- he has these moments of lucidity when you realize like he is a lot smarter -- people don't give him enough credit, right?
And he said to me, people don't want to hear negativity toward me. And he's absolutely right. And that's why this right wing bubble of disinformation has been so successful and so helpful to his political brand.
STELTER: When liberals say, ignore Trump, he's out of office, he's the former guy, stop talking about him so much, how do you approach that or react to that as a reporter on this beat? PETERS: We're supposed to ignore the guy who is very likely to be the
next Republican nominee and possibly our next president? Like, I mean, I'm not making any predictions about who wins in 2024, but I will say, having interviewed Trump several times for this book, I could hear him getting angrier and angrier over the course of our interviews and more and more detached from reality.
He seems to believe genuinely that this was stolen from him. That there was this crime perpetrated against him and he wants vengeance. That is driving him and I think that's what we have to take into account when we consider whether or not he's really going to be in our lives and a part of our news coverage for the next two, three years.
STELTER: Right. Right.
One of your colleagues was also in the news this week about a book she's going to come out with in eight months, Maggie Haberman reporting that Trump was maybe flushing documents down the toilet. And this is all part of this broader, I don't know, document-gate, what -- what is this? This story about Trump mishandling documents.
Some people are coming after Haberman saying, why did she hold to this reporting for so long? And her response --
PETERS: Well, they don't know when she --
STELTER: They don't know, and her response was been, I haven't been holding on to this for years. I learned it recently.
STELTER: And she made sure it came out very quickly.
But did you have similar experiences where you had to decide whether to hold information for the book or share it right away?
PETERS: Oh, yeah, I mean, it's something that you always kind of wrestle with, but ultimately, like at the end of the day, I tried to keep everything for the book because, you know, you dribble this stuff out and I think people eventually lose interest.
I -- what I do think is unfair is people who don't know how the news gathering process works, criticizing a fact that they can't possibly know all the details of behind the scenes and how it came together. There's no way for them to know when she learned that information.
STELTER: Right, or when she was able to confirm it in a way that she could actually report it.
PETERS: Yes, because I mean, look, as we're going to talk about, people get sued for defamation, right? Like these put in -- Trump is a very litigious guy, right? Like he sued journalists and news organizations before for defamation, so like this is -- it's not something to be taken lightly.
STELTER: Right. That's right. One more story to talk about, and it relates to this right-wing media ecosystem where I mentioned double standard earlier. You know, obviously, the Foxes of the world ignore the documents scandals, they ignore those sorts of bad stories for Trump but they do care a lot about President Biden.
So, this week, the first interview of the year, President Biden on with Lester Holt of NBC, a lot of the clips have already come out where Biden is asked about inflation and gets a little prickly about it. He's asked about COVID and he doesn't seem to have a strong answer about getting back to normal. When these interviews air, you know, and they are dissected by right-wing media, what do you think Democrats you know -- do you perceive that the White House understands what they're up against in terms of the insurgency and the GOP and the GOP media?
PETERS: So I think that for too long, and I quote when a President Biden -- when President Biden's most senior advisors in the book, referring to this phenomenon back in 2008, they don't appreciate how powerful Fox is and what -- in the right-wing media --
STELTER: Yes. Anita Dunn said --
STELTER: The Fox alternative universe started to take shape in a really meaningful way and people who didn't watch Fox didn't realize what it was. That was Dunn's quote.
PETERS: Exactly. And I believe that that is still really true. And it's more out of sight now because everyone knows what Fox does. Everyone knows we're kind of conditioned to monitor them. But what about all of these other websites and other networks and social media networks, frankly, that are totally off the radar of most mainstream journalists and Democrats? And --
STELTER: That's what I wonder about now.
PETERS: So this is -- did something interesting this week, I was just curious to see how the news of Pence saying that Trump was wrong, he couldn't overturn the election and the RNC centering Kinzinger and Cheney, and saying that legitimate political discourse happened on January 6. How has that been covered on the right? For the most part, Brian, it wasn't.
And that's what's so interesting, like what Democrats, I think, often fail to see, and what I get into in this book is how this alternate reality started to take shape. It's not just an alternate reality. It's a place where the news that you and I pay attention to doesn't intrude so they don't hear that negativity toward Trump that I was talking about before because the audience doesn't want to hear it. And Trump-like Rush Limbaugh, who I described in the book, were broadcasters first and foremost --
PETERS: -- They understood they had to give their audiences what they wanted and to avoid what the audience didn't want. And that's why they were both so successful.
STELTER: Right, entertainment, not news, contrary on news. Jeremy, standby, you mentioned Palin, defamation. We're going to get into that. Also coming up, we'll turn to the Palin trial. Also coming up here, a must-see segment about the toxic strategies that big tech uses to compete for space in your head.
STELTER: It is the libel trial of the century. That's what one legal scholar told CNN as we await a verdict in Sarah Palin versus the New York Times. This trial is underway in lower Manhattan. It's now in the jury's hands. Palin's lawyers claim the Times libeled her because of a long-standing political vendetta against conservatives.
This is all about an editorial from 2017. She argues that the Times acted recklessly by trying to connect her to a 2011 mass shooting in Arizona. The Time says it screwed up, it was sloppy, it made mistakes, it ran corrections but it wasn't guilty and it isn't guilty of actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth. That's the legal standard that Palin has to prove or the jurors have to believe.
So, jurors were handed the case on Friday, they're going to be back Monday morning to figure out where they stand on this. And it could have long-standing legal consequences for the news business. Reporters like CNN, Sonia Moghe have been inside the courtroom watching every minute of it. So as Jeremy Peters, also back with us. Jeremy, you've been covering the trial for the New York Times. Has that been awkward at all?
PETERS: Right. I mean, what you have to do is just listen to the testimony and try to figure out if the jury is really going to get inside the heads of the witnesses, right. And that's ultimately what the -- what the plaintiff, Sarah Palin, is asking the jury to do to judge their state of mind, and they will have to decide. And this is why -- you know, it's the outcome we just don't know because the jury very well could decide against the New York Times because they think that it was -- the paper acted recklessly. Now, I don't obviously know what is going to happen.
PETERS: None of us do. But it's -- the legal ramifications for this, as you just alluded to are significant because there is a concerted effort by mostly conservative lawyers out there, not all conservatives, but mostly to try to rein in the legal protections that New York Times v. Sullivan gives the press to make these honest mistakes.
STELTER: Right. Going back to the 60s --
STELTER: Giving a press widely way to cover public figures, even getting it wrong --
PETERS: Even getting it wrong.
STELTER: Without being able to sue and win.
PETERS: Right because you are a lot -- like the First Amendment allows you to make mistakes, right? Because the idea is that you -- the news organizations who make mistakes honestly shouldn't be litigated out of existence. And that is something I think that a lot of conservatives would like to change. They want news organizations to have to pay for these kinds of mistakes.
STELTER: Right. So that's the backdrop for this case. Now, let's go inside the courtroom. Sonia, a lot of legal experts have said this is going to be really hard for Palin to prove. She's probably going to lose. Did that how it feel -- did it feel that way in the courtroom?
SONIA MOGHE, CNN REPORTER: I mean, no, look, there's evidence on both sides. These jurors have seen you know how this article -- how this editorial was linked with articles that you disputed that language that James Bennett had added into this piecing that there had been a clear link between the Sarah Palin political action committee map and the shooter in the Gabby Giffords' shooting.
MOGHE: So, and you know, when Sarah Palin got on the stand, she talked about how disturbing this was to her to be accused of inciting this murder of six people, including a nine-year-old girl, and she had a nine-year-old girl at the time of the shooting. But on the other hand, you have the Times, you know, arguing that this was an honest mistake, they worked to correct it right away. They put out that correction everywhere that they could. So it's just -- it's going to be really interesting to see which way the jury goes on this.
STELTER: As you looked around, did you see journalists getting uncomfortable in their seats thinking, like this can happen to me too, I could screw up like this, too?
MOGHE: Absolutely. You know, journalists I was covering with, all of us, we're just sort of anxious watching this because what you're -- what you're watching is you know take your profession, take the worst nightmare scenario that you have in your profession. In our profession it is making a mistake, right? You have all of these journalists describing the worst possible scenario, making a mistake. And not only a mistake, but a mistake that accuses someone of inciting the murder of six people.
STELTER: Right. Jeremy, when this comes down because Palin wins, either way, she winds up she loses because she can appeal and try to get Supreme Court and she winds up she wins.
PETERS: Right. Well, this is somebody who's been out of the public eye for a long time, right?
STELTER: Right. PETERS: She's really receded in her public profile. So she's back at the -- in the news in a way that I think is wholly fitting with her persona as a -- as a politician early on. I mean, this is somebody who lambasted the media for asking gotcha questions. She waged public battles with figures like Katie Couric and the New York Times, CNN, all, like she, in a way that pre-dated Trump.
STELTER: So this all comes back to anti-media feelings?
PETERS: It comes back to using the media very effectively as a -- as a foil, right? And this is what I get into in my book because Palin was such a proto Trump figure in a way that people I think -- looking at her now makes so much sense seeing her waging this legal battle against the New York Times because she always knew how to -- how to pick the right enemies, right? Her enemies were her people's enemies --
STELTER: Did you think?
PETERS: And that's what bonded them to her. And that's what bonded people to Donald Trump. It's like -- the scene I described --
STELTER: Well, I would say -- yes --
PETERS: -- With Roger Ailes in 1995 interviewing Trump on his talk show on CNBC and he says, Donald, how are you so popular with all these blue-collar guys, they love you. And Trump says I think it's because the rich people don't like me. And he understood that it was about the enemies, almost as much, if not more than it was about who his allies were.
STELTER: Well, we'll see tomorrow if there's a verdict in the trial. Sonia, Jeremy, thank you both.
PETERS: Thank you.
STELTER: After the break here, the social dilemma star, Tristan Harris, with some remarkable insights about the technology. We're all addicted to these.
STELTER: Now, to the race for your attention. Tristan Harris is a social media insider and co-founder and president of the Center for Humane Technology. He starred in this film on Netflix called the Social Dilemma. I've been wanting to talk to him for a while about the attention wars within the big tech world. I asked him what's the most valuable kind of social media user? He said it's not someone who's happily living their life. Please watch what he said.
TRISTAN HARRIS, CO-FOUNDER & PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR HUMANE TECHNOLOGY: No, it's much more valuable when they're addicted, outraged, polarize, misinformed, narcissistic and caring about attention from other people and vulnerable to misinformation because all of those adjectives, addicted, polarized, distracted, narcissistic, and misinformed, are success cases of the business model. What is the business model? How much have you paid now for your Facebook account in the last year?
HARRIS: Nothing. Well, how are they worth over a trillion dollars? People think it's the data. It's not the data. They have to show you advertising. How do they show you advertising, they have to get your attention. And that's where you know, in our work, people know this from the social dilemma that these companies are in a race for the kind of finite supply of human attention.
And we're running out and so they have to get into more and more aggressive, like emotional aspects of our mind, to pull out that attention. Just like we're running out of oil, we have to start fracking for oil. When we run out of attention, the companies have to go deeper into narcissism. An example of that is you know, these companies for children are in an arms race for who can beautify the image that comes back to you in the mirror. These beauty filters, right?
So Snapchat shows you, mirror-mirror on the wall, who's the prettiest of them all? They have an incentive to plump your cheeks, plump your lips, plump your eyes so you have a nicer self-image. And they have an arms race. So let's say Instagram realizes this is bad for kids' mental health, they can't -- they won't stop that unless the other companies stopped as well.
And just recently, we found that TikTok actually beautifies photos without even asking users about it. They beautify by just two or 3 percent, invisibly. And that's the kind of arms race that we're in.
STELTER: I thought it was just, you know, getting rid of my pimples, but you're saying that technology has real exploitative purposes.
HARRIS: Yes. I mean, people need to understand that these technology companies are not neutral. They're not just a mirror that's showing you what's in your society.
HARRIS: It's a funhouse mirror. Remember walking up to a funhouse mirror in a carnival --
HARRIS: -- Where instead of showing you that you're fat or you're skinny, it wants to show you whatever would keep you in front of that mirror. And so if it shows you the most outrageous things that the other tribe did that why we should go kill them? I mean right now, I'm really worried.
My deepest concern is that this is like a civil war for-profit business model because right now you get paid, and more likes, more followers, and more attention and more reach. The more you say negative things about your fellow countrymen and women and the more you pile on to partisanship in a way that really I think drives up conflict.
And that's why this is of interest to every single person, every single American, every single person in the democracy because a division for-profit business model does not make that democracy competitive.
And especially if you zoom out and look at this global competition of systems, is the China Digital authoritarian system going to win on the world stage, or is democracy going to win on the world stage? Well, right now, a division for profit, you know, a brain implant that you put into the brain of your U.S. democracy, once you do that, your democracy is not going to be able to compete. And that's exactly what we're seeing.
STELTER: So that's what's happened the last 15 years, a brain implant? Are you trying to get us to think about what it would have been like in the Obama to Trump to Biden years without Facebook and Twitter and these other platforms and without that brain implant? How different would this country look?
HARRIS: Well, very different. In fact, actually, you know, Brian, if we look at just the mental health impacts, you know, Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower made famous the notion that Instagram really makes body image issues worse and anorexia issues worse for kids.
And if you look at depressive symptoms, and -- what they call symptoms for self-cutting, for harm for teen suicides, when is that number start to go up or the number is going down? It's going kind of flatlining and going down until 2009, 2010. And then like an elbow, I think it goes way, way, way up. So what happened in 2009, 2010 because you asked me the question, what would this have been like, if we roll back the clock?
The thing that changes is when technology goes mobile because if you think about it as Frances has said so eloquently when you're a kid and you get bullied at school, or you have social, you know, pressure issues, you can at least go home and you get like a little respite from whatever is that social pressure.
But when suddenly Instagram goes mobile, when you're basically surrounded in the metaverse, that was the moment that we got the metaverse because once Instagram becomes your virtual avatar, your virtual reality of how your school and how your classmates see you and bully you and all that, and you live in that environment, that's when we first got the metaverse. And that showed us that it's not compatible with teenagers' mental health. It literally, you know, that's when all the symptoms went way up on the chart up to the right.
STELTER: So what are the exact solutions that you all propose through the Center for Humane Technology? What are the changes you advocate for? HARRIS: Well, Brian, I think what we're trying to really show people, is, what is sufficient to address this problem? OK, so if you say social media is breaking down shared truth, which you can't operate a democracy without, it's breaking down the mental health of kids, which you can't have a society working well when parents are tasked with dealing with, you know, all these mental health issues of children everywhere, we're trying to say that if you look at the legislative agenda in Washington, DC, right now, there are three major levers that are being proposed. There's privacy, there's a content liability, something called Section 230 reform, and there's anti-trust, these companies are too big.
But if I take out my mallet and I deal with the privacy problem, did that suddenly make Instagram and Facebook work well with democracy? No, it doesn't do that. It's not enough to do that. It might be a piece, but it doesn't actually get us to the point, not that social media is 10 percent less toxic. We want social media to be in service of a well-functioning democracy. If I do the content liability, where I say they're liable for bad content, well, content that makes people hate each other more isn't illegal.
Your -- if you know our colleague, Renee DiResta has a term, she says instead of propaganda, we need to think of what's of -- what's of concern has amplify-paganda? Meaning I can choose which voices in your society that you hear from and the ones that are most profitable to me, Instagram, are the ones that cause the most outrage because that drives the most attention.
And so the amplify-paganda on the things that divide our society, that's also, again it's not illegal from a constant liability perspective, but it also -- it breaks our democracy. So that is not enough. Then you take the antitrust lever. These companies are too big. Well, sure. I would love there to be competition in the space of platforms that are eating to serve our information needs in our -- in our democracy.
But the problem is that usually to be successful like -- look at TikTok. TikTok was successful at competing with Facebook, but it did so by being even worse at the attention economy game. It had to do more beautification, filters more infinite autoplay, more -- you get paid the -- you know, the more reach you get, right? This produces incentives that are not just bad for democracy, but also make us both to foreign actors.
HARRIS: Because, Brian, one thing we don't talk about nearly enough is that these are incompatible with national security. How many of the generals at the Pentagon do you think are aware -- you know, they know the most about the hypersonic missiles, and the latest in drone warfare and things like this, but how much do they know about TikTok? Their own grandchildren, their own kids are using TikTok. And what country runs and operates TikTok? China.
And there's actually reporting that China takes whenever a Western voice is something positive about China, they can add a little inflation to that. They can say hey, you get a little bit more likes, a little bit more followers, a little bit more reach, and other TikTok followers look at them and say, oh, they're -- what are they doing to be successful that the ones that are successful in TikTok? They say, oh, you're saying positive things about China.
So then they want to copy the things that successful TikTok influencers are doing. And China has control over those dials. And if you think about it, how crazy would it have been during the Cold War if we let the Soviet Union run children's television programming in the 1960s and be able to update that television program in real-time to serve the interests of an adversary? And I think that these are major national security issues, mostly because the people who are charged with security, the CIA, DHS, you know, DOD, how many people are working on information warfare in protecting our digital borders?
STELTER: Check out the full interview with Tristan on our RELIABLE SOURCES podcast, so many insights from him. And we'll see you back here this time next week.