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Tumultuous Week in the Media World; The Rises of the "Libs of TikTok" Twitter Account; 'Nerd Prom' Returns After Two-Year COVID Pause; From Headlines to the Big Screen With Navalny. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired April 24, 2022 - 11:00   ET



BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter live 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, new revelations from the book that is riveting Washington.

Plus, this man, Trevor Noah, set to roast the press and the president. The head of the White House Correspondents Association is here with a preview of that big dinner.

And Russia's war at home, a war on dissent. The director of the stunning new film "Navalny" is coming up later this hour.

But first, what a turbulent week for major media companies with CNN, Netflix, Disney and Twitter all left spinning with no stopping in sight.

Here at CNN, new ownership decided to shut down the CNN+ streaming service less than a month after it was launched by the previous management team. The U-turn was front page news, stunning news and painful news for everyone involved. Years of development possibly down the drain. Some of the shows may never be seen. Hundreds of staffers may be laid off, though the company is trying to place many of them in new jobs.

Amid these bruising headlines, folks are trying to make sense of it. Some partisans are believing the predictable points about politics but the truth is, this was a corporate move. This CNN+ service was doomed because of the timing of the merger and clashing streaming strategies. The new owner of CNN, Warner Bros Discovery, has big plans to combine multiple streaming platforms to make one big challenger for Netflix.

Speaking of which, this week, Netflix's first quarter's earnings came out. Incredible snag, subscriber numbers actually declining after the pandemic surged. Its stock taking a nose dive at the news, lots of questions about Netflix and whether it might actually be a takeover target now.

Let's talk about it all, plus Disney and more with our panel of experts here. We have "Axios" media reporter, Sara Fischer; Mara Schiavocampo, host of the podcast "Run Tell This" and former correspondent at NBC and ABC; and our senior media reporter Oliver Darcy also with us.

Sara, you broke news -- first of all, you were a guest on my first CNN+ show, so thank you. Then you broke news about the service being doomed.

So, let's be very transparent about it. What did you learn this month and what led to the closure of CNN+?

SARA FISCHER, MEDIA REPORTER, AXIOS: Yeah. Well, CNN executives had been plotting this for two years, but in 2021, we found out that CNN's parent company Warner Media would merge with Discovery. And what we come to find is that after CNN's head Jeff Zucker exited the company, resigned in shock in February, executives at Discovery were starting to question whether or not CNN+ fit in with their strategy.

Discovery, as you mentioned, wanted to create one big streaming service. They want it to be general entertainment. CNN+ is a smaller subscription service.

And so, I think, ultimately, they took a look at the books after the merger completed on April 8th. They thought this is too expensive, it might not ever get to profit on time, and it doesn't fit in with what we want to do. It's better to cut it off now than to keep it lagging for months while they decide.

STELTER: All right. Oliver, you and I work here, so we'll save you.

Mara, next to you as an outsider looking in on this, what's your perspective on this and what it means for the news business?

MARA SCHIAVOCAMPO, FORMER ABC AND NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's certainly shocking from the outside looking in because of the fanfare that preceded this launch.


SCHIAVOCAMPO: We're talking $300 million spent, huge marketing promotions, big names brought in, Chris Wallace, Audie Cornish, Eva Longoria. So it was shocking it happened so abruptly.

But at the end of the day, this is a business decision. And, you know, there are debates about whether or not journalism should be treated as a business versus a public service but it is a business, for better or for worse.

And so, to your point, as the new owner, do you come in and see something that's not working and continue to throw good money after bad? It appears they made the decision to not to continue doing that. That they did not think this was in the best long-term interest for the company.

But, again, from the outside looking in, I'm very curious to see what they're going to do with all of this talent. I mean, these are huge names with huge followings. Where are they going to go?

STELTER: I had a source say to me this week, everybody is part of history and the new management at Discovery, their history include some streaming services that did not do well there, right, Sara? They launched streaming services that were kind of like CNN+, although not the same, and they failed.

And so, Discovery does not believe in that model. And it's hard to fathom as a CNN employee worrying about my colleagues being laid off this was simply about corporate strategy. But that's what it was.

FISCHER: Yeah, that's what it was. And there's also a differing view on whether or not it was successful. People inside CNN --

STELTER: Too soon to know?

FISCHER: Well, that's the argument, right? Because this is unprecedented, because we never really had a subscription news and video app, people wanted to see what precedent this will set. We're never going to really find out.



FISCHER: We know that in the 2 1/2 weeks of launch, it got 150,000 subscribers, paid subscribers. Now some people in the news business have been saying, hey, that's pretty good.


FISCHER: But the challenge is the money they spent to get those paid subscribers. You're talking $300 million investment to date. The plan was to spend a billion dollars over the next four years with the hope of getting to profitability after four years. The question, Brian, becomes if people are paying $5.99 or $2.99 for a lifetime membership, is it going to be worth the spend?


FISCHER: And that was the challenge. I think Discovery took a look at this and they said we don't think it will be worth the spend. Even though that's a good number of subscribers for now, it might not be a good business.

STELTER: Right. So, they say they will focus on the core business, this channel, as well as CNN digital.

Oliver, what's next for CNN?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: For CNN as a channel, I mean, Chris Licht is coming in. He's the new president of CNN, and there's a lot of things on his plate, right? He has a new 9:00 p.m. host he has to appoint. He has to figure out what to do with the talent that was brought in for CNN+, and also there are hundreds of employees who potentially could be laid off.

So, he's going to try to find -- in the town hall, he was talking about trying to absorb some of those people into the organization. STELTER: Right.

DARCY: So, he's got work to do if he's willing to -- you know, he's got hundreds of people. So, he's got work to do if he's going to find them other places inside CNN.

STELTER: Now, is this story, Sara, related to the Netflix story? Because is it coincidence that CNN shut down the same week as Netflix's earnings report? But is there a similarity in the story about the streaming business?

FISCHER: Yes, definitely. During the pandemic, there was a huge boom in subscription streaming, people were willing to put that money out. But what we found is that, that market might actually not be as big as we once thought it was. We might have hit a point of saturation.

Over and over, analysts have found that consumers are willing to spend around $40 a month on subscription services but that has increased.


STELTER: That's your headline, this is a sea change for streaming.

FISCHER: It is, it is, because even though the supply has increased, demand has not, budgets have not increased. We're now at a point of inflation. Consumers are starting to be more wary.

As a result, we're seeing an introduction and a rise of ads supported streaming services. That's the exact opposite of what CNN+ was. CNN+ didn't have ads.

STELTER: No ads, right.

FISCHER: It was just subscriptions. Netflix after many years of saying we don't want to put ads on our service they finally came out and said if we want to expand the number of subscribers, we have to include ads support here.

By the way, that's what everyone has done. Disney Plus is now doing it. You know, obviously, Discovery, HBO Max, you name it. They're all putting ads on the service. That's the big change here.

It's no longer going to be ad-free subscription everything because people just don't have enough money to pay for that.

STELTER: So, you mentioned Disney -- Disney also in the news this week. A lot of turbulence there. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis helping strip away Disney's special status in Florida.

Oliver, what's the -- what's the headline? What's the takeaway from this -- you know, making Disney into a political lightning rod?

DARCY: Well, it makes sense for Ron DeSantis, right? He loves being in these culture wars because --

STELTER: Yeah, Disney hates it, by the way -- (CROSSTALK)

DARCY: Disney is the opposite. Disney does not want to be in any conflict. They want to be the brand that's for everyone. For conservatives, for liberals, for everyone. And so, this is a huge problem for Disney because they intentionally try to avoid conflict, Ron DeSantis loves conflict.

So, I hate to say it, but right now I think he's actually winning.

STELTER: He's benefiting.

DARCY: Because he's being elevated every night. They're talking about this on Fox. He was on Fox on Friday with I believe Tucker Carlson.

So he's elevated as the GOP leader basically.

STELTER: Yeah, leader in waiting.

DARCY: Even more -- perhaps over Trump, he's getting a lot of attention.

So it's in his interest to keep this war going, and certainly in Disney's interest not to and that's why the company is staying silent, and hoping this maybe just goes away.

STELTER: They really are staying silent. More on Disney in a moment.

Here's the next company on our list, Twitter, Mara. Elon Musk, what he's going to do with Twitter? He has tweeted this morning, Elon Musk, and he posted, what did he post?

Moving on, dot, dot, dot. A very cryptic tweet. And later in the morning, he said he was referencing his feud with Bill Gates. But he did prove, Mara, he has the funding to buy twitter and take it over if he pushes hard for do it.

SCHIAVOCAMPO: Yeah. You know, it's hard to know when to take him so seriously because he's so eccentric. And so, when this idea came up, we knew it would cost him billions of dollars. Of course, he has a lot of money but this would be an extremely expensive proposition. So, it's hard to know if he's serious about it.

But now that he's presented a plan for actually this financially, you do have to give it a little bit more weight. I think what's most interesting are some of the proposed changes he said he would make to the platform if he took over. Some good, and not -- some not so good.

I mean, the one thing he said he wants to do is get rid of a lot of these reforms of moderating speech. I think the last thing Twitter needs is less policing. Because we know there are limits to free speech.

You know, there's the famous example of yelling fire in a crowded theater. So I don't know that less regulations in terms of what people can say is a good idea on Twitter. But the one thing I do think is really appealing is being more

transparent about the algorithm, how the algorithm works and maybe eliminating it all together, where you go back to a chronological feed.


Because that really would address some of the issues with the echo chamber, with people reinforcing their own beliefs without any exposure to different believes or views or information.

STELTER: That's a great setup for our next block. So, thank you, panel.

Stick around. More with the panel in a little bit.

Is it possible to reverse the damage done by social media? That's what we're talking about coming up with social psychologist Jonathan Haidt.

Plus, a reporting controversy that consumed Twitter this week. It involved Tucker Carlson, Libs of TikTok and a "Washington Post" expose. The reporter, Taylor Lorenz, is next.


STELTER: Arrested for threatening the dictionary. I know it sounds like a bad joke but it's very real.

This week, a man in California charged with allegedly threatening Merriam-Webster over gender definitions.

Now, this charge is an extreme example of what's happening across the USA, a brewing backlash to LGBTQ equality, fueled by right wing media outlets, attacks on gay and transgender Americans are being filtered through the phrase "parents' rights".


And let's be clear, parents are right to care about what their children are learning. Of course, they are. But let's also be honest that there's an undercurrent of homophobia to some of the commentary.

As CNN's Sara Murray put it, quote, GOP culture warriors are having a moment at the expense of transgender kids.

The right wing Twitter account "Libs of TikTok" has been the center of this political storm. The account reposts videos of LGBTQ TikTok users and progressive educators, highlighting what they say about gender identity, labeling some of them as predators and groomers.

This Twitter account has been a bottomless wealth of material for the likes of Fox, advancing the narrative that liberals are hurting kids.

So, "Washington Post" columnist Taylor Lorenz wanted to write about the account and identify the influencer running it. Her new story naming Chaya Raichik as the Twitterer has been blasted by the right, with critics slamming Lorenz's reporting practices, questioning her ethics.

So, let's dig into it. I put the question straight to Lorenz and here's what she said.


TAYLOR LORENZ, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yeah. Well, Libs of TikTok has been on my radar for a minute. I remember when Joe Rogan started promoting it last August.

So, I started following the account and looking into it, and I noticed it was gaining more and more traction, like more and more high profile people were retweeting it, engaging with it. And then earlier this year when all of the groomer discourse really took hold, I started really -- you know, I was like, I got to find out who's behind this account and what the deal is with the account, because it just -- it was the thing where like the account would post a video, and within 24 hours, sometimes it would be on Fox News, or it would written up in the whole right wing media. And it was just like a feeding ground.

STELTER: Were you always determined to identify the person? Was that like the most important part of the story for you?

LORENZ: Well, it wasn't -- I would say it's equally important describing the power that this account has. I think it's rare to see an account gain so much prominence so quickly and be shaping these narratives in such an effective way, especially against trans people. So, I was -- I mean, my story was kind of long, but I really wanted to make the case like why this account mattered.

And I think it's incredibly important, you know, as someone that covers the influencer industry to know who is exerting influence in this way. I mean, for all we knew, this could have been a foreign actor, right, or someone -- we just didn't know.

And so, I thought, hey, look, this account has massive power, massive influence. This woman is basically on an entire right wing media tour. She gives interviews to "The New York Post", Tucker, all of that, and registered as a media company, registered a trademark.

So, yeah, I wanted to -- I thought it was quite important and in the public's interest to find out who was running it.

STELTER: So, there are several arguments against your article. One is that this person's identity was simply not newsworthy. That it doesn't matter who this anonymous conservative woman is, and that you naming her is targeting her, trying to hurt her. What do you say to those folks?

LORENZ: Well, first of all, this woman is targeting LGBTQ folks. I mean, she brags about getting multiple teachers fired. You know, the entire goal of the account is direct hate to trans and LGBTQ people.

You know, she said that she doesn't believe gay people who come out should be allowed to teach children. She attacked the Trevor Project, calling it a groomer organization. So, it's -- you know, I don't know what she's talking about in that sense at all.

BLITZER: But when you say it was just to attack LGBTQ, there are a lot of conservative parents or just a lot of parents in the United States that are worried about what their kids are learning. So, you say it's all -- all about an attack?


LORENZ: Well, I mean, I think there's a -- you can have concern about what your children are learning in school and not follow an LGBTQ hate account that's the whole goal is to get trans and LGBTQ people sort of excluded from public life and drive these very harmful narratives around trans people. I mean, that's -- those are two very, very, very, very different things, right?

She also talked about globalizing her base to run for local school boards and is collecting email lists, which 100 percent will be used for political purposes.


LORENZ: So, this is a political force. This is an influential media force. The idea this woman is not newsworthy is quite nonsense, you know what I mean? I cover influencers for a living and I'm telling you this woman is more influential than a lot of people that I cover.

So it's very important. The right will make those arguments because they don't want scrutiny.

STELTER: Do you think it's -- that's a very blunt statement for a "Washington Post" reporter to make. They just don't want scrutiny. They just don't want people to scrutinize.

LORENZ: No, they don't. I think powerful people do not want scrutiny. They want to be able to discredit the media so that they can operate with impunity.

And, you know, case in point, this woman deleted thousands of tweets the day my article came out because she realized that she was going to be under increased scrutiny and that she could get -- that people are really going to start looking at her account.


I think that's a good thing. I think we should scrutinize anyone that has power in this country, anyone that's influencing politics and legislation and public sentiment and the media, those figures are important to look at.

STELTER: Hey, I appreciate that you're willing to talk about this and you're willing to take on the scrutiny as someone covering this.

So, here's the next one. The conservative supporters of this account said you were doxxing the person, you're doxxing them.

So, can you tell us exactly how you define doxxing and the difference between doxxing and real reporting?

LORENZ: Yes, of course. Well, the word doxxing has been so devalued and it is just a buzzword now in the right wing media. Doxxing means revealing highly, highly personal, nonpublic information with the goal of harassment or sort of destroying someone's life.

We absolutely did not reveal any personal information about this woman at all, remotely. And, you know, I know that sometimes reporting practices can seem foreign to people that aren't familiar with journalism, but this was very by the book and very benign.

And the thing is the right-wing media will lie, right? They kind of just spin up these narratives. The goal is to sow doubt and to discredit journalism.

And that is -- you know, that is their agenda. And I think we need to be prepared for that and recognize those things for what it is.

I mean, you know, Brian, so much of what I do is try and educate people about the mechanics of these online outrage cycles and harassment and sort of educate news organizations on how to cover it and how to understand bad-faith attacks. And so, I think it's really important as -- you know, us, members of the media who cover media, to recognize that these attacks when they're levied.

STELTER: Well, yeah, here's the thing, Taylor, let's take away Libs of TikTok as an example. Any time you have cherry-picking going on, highlighting, you know, one tribe against another tribe, it just feels like the worst of the Internet's toxicity. And, frankly, I read your story and I wonder how do we get out of this cycle of just worsening, worsening toxicity?

LORENZ: Yeah. Well, I think we need to look for reputable news organizations that are not driven outrage. I think when you think about the future of media, a lot of it is moving towards these accounts and accounts that are driven for social media. You know, attention whether it's YouTube account or Instagram or TikTok or Twitter, and I think we need to, you know, take a step back and make sure we know who we're getting our news from, make sure that things are framed correctly and not just buy into things that, you know, feed into our -- the point of views that we already have, if that makes sense.

STELTER: Right. It totally does.

I can't wait to see what you're working on next. It seems like every story you write gets a lot of attention.

LORENZ: Well, I try and do stories that other people aren't doing. So, thanks.


BLITZER: Hear more from Lorenz on our "Reliable Sources" podcast.

Coming up, the president of the White House Correspondents' Association. Plus, why are Katy Perry, Jeff Bezos and Barack Obama all sharing this article. The title is "Why the Past Ten Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid", and the author will join me next.



STELTER: Social media is a weight capable of bending the backbone of democracy and changing its shape for the worst. Former President Barack Obama spoke about this subject at Stanford earlier in the week. He called out tech companies for enabling disinformation and threatening democracy.

My next guest said these companies' platforms, sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, are also doing something else, they're making us stupid.

The author is Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist of New York University Stern School of Business and he's here to make us smarter.

Jon, you have been working on basically this essay -- this book for years. You've been compiling research from various directions.

Tell us why all of the work you were doing, thinking about how American life has changed, why did it lead back to social media?

JONATHAN HAIDT, SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGIST & PROFESSOR OF ETHICAL LEADERSHIP, NYU STERN: So, it seemed to me as a college professor -- I had been a professor since 1995. I love being a professors, I love universities, and it seemed as though around 2014, 2015, something changed in the basic fabric of our world, things got weird, students were behaving strangely.

We thought it was just on campus but it turned out 2015 to 2016, this sort of madness spread to our policies on the left and on the right. And there was a sense that just something had changed. Many people were saying it was social media.

What I tried to do in this essay is say exactly what it is. It's not that we're getting stupid as individuals, we're not. It's that social media allows people to intimidate others, to make them afraid of public consequence, for any word they say and that makes groups and institutions stupid because people stop dissenting, questioning, challenging.

STELTER: You refer to social media as just throwing darts. Can you explain what you mean by that?

HAIDT: Yes. So there's a lot of our problem is based actually on issues in the news media as your previous guest was saying. There are changes to the news media since 1990s with cable TV, particularly Fox News and others, made the spread of information and false and exaggerated stories more common, as was common in most of the history of journalists going back to the Founding Fathers.

But there's the ordinary texture of daily life changed when any word you say even in a classroom, even in a staff meeting, any word you say can be taken out of context put online. And so the metaphor that I'm using here is it says though -- it's as though social media is passing out little dart guns to everybody. And most people don't want to shoot anybody but there are some people who love it. And that changes the behavior of everyone else.

STELTER: Right. And they end up winning, yes. I was looking at reactions to your article, everyone from Katy Perry to Barack Obama tweeting it, sharing it. Here's a Fox Sports executive, Michael Mulvihill, who said, this era of social media, we're going to look back, he says, it's like the automotive era before seatbelts and airbags. The damage we've accepted will appear gruesome in hindsight.

Do you agree? Is that where we are as a world?

HAIDT: Oh, yes -- that is such an understatement. It's not just to be felt to put on guardrails. No, because that -- look, a metaphor for what's happened to us is this. Imagine that in the 1990s, someone offered us. If Apple used to pay for long-distance charges on our telephone, someone said, hey, you can have free video calling anywhere in the world unlimited. Great.

We've said, that's amazing, and we all start doing it. But then it turns out -- a few years later, turns out, everything we're doing is actually carried out in the middle of the Roman Colosseum and the stands are full of people cheering for blood.

Now, this is going to change the way we talk to each other. And that's what I say has happened. We don't have authentic conversations. We're performing at each other for the followers, the comments, the likes. This is a huge distortion of human relationships of human nature and this is what's made everything so ugly, so fast. Remember, many people -- remember, the early days of the internet was kind of nice, you know.

STELTER: It were.

HAIDT: It was amazing. This feeling of discovery and now it's horrible.

STELTER: The counter-argument is that there were fewer people online back then. You know, Facebook's parent, Meta, responded to your article, congrats --


STELTER: They said, in part, more and more research discredits the idea that social media algorithms create an echo chamber that causes polarization and political upheavals. Your response?

HAIDT: Yes. Oh, sure. So, first, you know, their main response was, well, Haidt says that it's all us, but it's not all us. Mainstream media is worse, cable TV is worse. That's their main response is that it's not just us, it's others.

Their second response is the standard thing you do when you have a -- if you have a consumer product and you say, well, you know, our car, our air conditioner is 50 percent better than their car -- their air -- like you go feature by feature. It is true that there is some research debunking the idea that it's all about echo chambers.

Sure, they're right about that. But I've collected it. If listeners go to, you click on my page for better social media. I have links to a Google Document that I created with Chris Bale, a researcher, and specialist in this area --


HAIDT: There are hundreds of studies on seven different questions. And the research is complicated, but the general tenor, the general finding of the research is that it's harmful to many aspects of democracy. And they just pick two or three studies and say, well, here's a study that puts us.

STELTER: Right. So your articles in May's issue of The Atlantic, you admit at the end, this is a bleak story you're telling.

HAIDT: Oh, yes.

STELTER: When I mention you were going to be on the program, a viewer named Ken e-mailed and said, please have the professor give us some hope. So, do you have any for us?

HAIDT: Yes, I do. I was so bleak and depressed and pessimistic when I was writing this because the trends are really, really bad. But here's what gives me hope. After I published the article, everybody loves it. No one's attacking me, no one's angry at me because the middle 80 percent of the country is totally exhausted. That's what's called the exhausted majority and one of the studies that I cite is totally exhausted, people are rising up.

Our democracy has to be run by the middle 80 percent not by the far right, the far left, trolls, and Russian intelligence agents. We've got to take our voice back and that means treating others better, and it means spending a lot less time online. Don't produce the content that the companies need in order to make you the product to bring other people on to watch ads.

STELTER: That's right. We are the producers if -- unless we stop. Jonathan Haidt, thank you so much. The article is on --

HAIDT: That's one strike. Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: In the May issues of The Atlantic is online at the Up next, two reporters pitching Kevin McCarthy in a lie, but will there be a political price at all? The panel is back maybe with the answers.



STELTER: Oh, a secret tape. It's irresistible for the media. But can I ask if it really matters anymore? I mean, look, the top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, was clearly caught in a lie. He's on tape contrary to himself. Now, it's a DC scandal. It's getting lots of play in some corners of the media. But is it getting attention from right- wing outlets? This audio was shared by two New York Times reporters and CNN analysts, Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin. They obtained it for their upcoming book, This Will Not Pass. That book is now, the number one new release on Amazon.

There's clearly a lot of interest from at least some book buyers but doesn't matter anymore when a GOP leader is called in a lie on tape. Back with us is Sara Fischer from Axios, Oliver Darcy of CNN, and Mara Schiavocampo, the host of the podcast, Run Tell This. By the way, I have been reading this is a delicious book, it comes out in a week and a half. There's a lot in here and the writers say at the very beginning, we have the tapes, it's important for history. Oliver, I think that's true.

DARCY: Sure.

STELTER: It's important for history to have the tapes. But is there any reason to believe that lying matters to GOP voters in this case?

DARCY: It's very good reporting, we should make that clear but like you said, whether it matters to GOP voters is another issue. And I think GOP voters are frankly not even seeing the story because the main source of information for them is Fox, and Fox is really barely covering it and so, you know, for them to -- for GOP voters to in doing something or holding McCarthy accountable, it takes them to know about the story and they're not really hearing anything about it.

STELTER: OK. So they have this audio evidence. It is significant. By the way, they say they have more tapes. So if this drip, drip, drip is beneficial for book sales, is it controversial, Mara, to have authors sitting on tapes for months and not reporting them the minute they get them? Because that's -- they come up to get -- every time there's a book about Trump or now Biden, this becomes a controversy.


SCHIAVOCAMPO: Well, I think there are legitimate questions about that when something is ongoing. So for example, if you have Trump saying something about the pandemic that contradicts his public policy towards the pandemic, that's perhaps something that the public needs to know but in a case like this, it just leads to a best-seller, as you pointed out. But there's a very big difference between a best seller and something that's going to have a political impact. And there are no consequences for political lying, but there are consequences for telling the truth. So that's the odd space that we're in right now.

STELTER: Let's see how that space to her end.

SCHIAVOCAMPO: And this is not happening in a vacuum. This started the moment that Trump uttered the words fake news. One of his biggest accomplishments for himself was successfully undermining the media because then it doesn't matter if you have this amazing political reporting, anything that comes out that you don't like is simply fake news. And in that way, you're able to create whatever narrative you want.

STELTER: Right. It all goes back to that Ron Brownstein, right? Here's what he tweeted a couple of days ago. The extent to which the rise of Fox is placing much of the GOP base under a dome impervious to inconvenient truths is an enormous political force that shapes the incentive structure for all Republican elected officials.

OK, here's one of the juiciest things in this book that I have not seen anybody point out yet. Well, not juicy, but it's interesting. It talks about Biden watching cable news and not liking what he sees. "Like most presidents, Biden was keenly aware of public criticism and unlike his former running mate, Barack Obama, he did not pretend to ignore the scolding of opinion columnists and television pundits. I shouldn't watch it, Biden would tell aids. But you know how it is. And a devotee -- he was said to be a devoted lawyer -- a viewer of MSNBC's This Morning Joe and CNN's Don Lemon Tonight, Biden was stung by the barbs of various talking heads with a sensitivity his aides found unfortunate."

I don't know, Sarah, I liked hearing that the president's watching and tuning in. Barack Obama always pretended not to watch or actually did not watch cable news.

FISCHER: It's interesting just because Donald Trump we knew devoured it.

STELTER: Devoured it.

FISCHER: When the Biden administration came in, they want to set this juxtaposition, right. We're not going to be bothered by the fray. We're not going to be bothered by Twitter. But in reality, they are just like everyone else. They're humans. They love to see what people are saying about them. Well, how good of a job or bad of a job they're doing.


FISCHER: So, of course, he watched it.

STELTER: Of course, he watches. So this book is by two New York Times reporters, there was big news out of the New York Times this week, a changing of the guard there. Dean Baquet, the editor for the last eight years is stepping aside, Joe Kahn, the number two, stepping into the top job effective in June. Sara, this was expected. So is there a takeaway or lesson here?

FISCHER: Well, one, it's a very measured choice. And I think that tells you about what kind of editor of major publications are looking for now again -- the nowadays. John Harris at Politico wrote a great story about this, where if you take a look at Sally Buzbee at the Washington Post, if you take a look even at Chris Licht, coming in to manage CNN, these are kind of steady measured kind of predictable people at a time when everything else around them is unpredictable.

STELTER: Right. Stability at a time of dramatic change.

FISCHER: Yes, exactly.

STELTER: And let's give it up for Dean Baquet. I mean, eight years as the top editor of the New York Times, the first black editor to run the organization, and a time of, as you said, tremendous change, including the Trump years, Baquet had a very successful tenure.

SCHIAVOCAMPO: Yes, it's important to acknowledge that because as you noted, he was the first black editor, that's incredibly significant, took over during a time that was incredibly consequential. Historically, we had the Trump years, we had the pandemic. And then took the paper to these amazing heights, 10 million subscribers, trying to modify the ad structure the way that revenue was brought in. And so that's an amazing accomplishment that needs to be acknowledged. And it is worth acknowledging that now his number two is stepping up so we can only presume that you know, that legacy will continue and we are waiting to hear what Baquet is going to -- going to be just --

STELTER: Right, he's going to be staying in some capacity.

SCHIAVOCAMPO: We don't know in what capacity.

STELTER: We don't know what it is, right. To the panel, thank you very much. For more on all this, sign up for our newsletter, Oliver and I bring it to you almost every night at Get on the list. It's free.

And it's back to the White House Correspondents' Dinner. It's back. It's returning this week. The president of the organization is ahead. We had a lot of questions for him so stay with us.



STELTER: The White House Correspondents' Dinner returns next Saturday after a two-year COVID hiatus, and it's newsworthy because President Biden is set to speak at the event, resuming the tradition after Donald Trump famously boycotted the so-called Nerd Prom. Trevor Noah is the headliner, media outlets throw parties all weekend long. It almost feels like a return to normal but of course, there will still be COVID questions.

Here to answer those and more, Steven Portnoy, president of the White House Correspondents' Association. He's a CBS News Radio White House Correspondent. So how do you hold a big party when there's still this virus all around the world?

STEVEN PORTNOY, PRESIDENT, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENTS' ASSOCIATION: Brian, months ago, our board had in mind that we would approach this carefully. We decided months ago that we would have a blanket level of testing for all 2620 guests at our dinner. Even before what happened at the Gridiron earlier this month, we decided that every person who came to our dinner would have to have two things, a ticket in one hand and proof that they have taken a same-day negative COVID test any other.


PORTNOY: And that's a strategy that so far has been endorsed by the nation's leading health officials. So --

STELTER: That's true.

PORTNOY: We're optimistic that we'll do what we can next week to avoid spread.

STELTER: So it's going to be funny, it's going to be serious. It's a big old schmooze fest. Sometimes between politicians and reporters, there's often criticism of how cozy this event seems. So what's your defense of the dinner? Why is it matter?


PORTNOY: Well, look, we've been having this dinner since 1921, presidents have been attending since 1924, with only one exception, to demonstrate mutual respect for the First Amendment and that's what I'm focused on. You know, in addition to the comedy, and we will have Trevor Noah, I'm sure the president will have some fun things to say, but I'm going to be focused and my remarks will be deadly serious talking about threats that journalists face here at home and all around the world. We'll be paying respects to the journalists who've been killed covering the war in Ukraine just in the last two months. And I'll talk about the essential role that journalists play in American life helping this country govern itself.

STELTER: President Biden is certainly more respectful to the press than his predecessor, but not always as accessible. And as the head of the group that advocates for the press, he had to tell us where you and the group stand with regards to Biden giving interviews, providing answers to the press, and holding press conferences.

PORTNOY: Well, look, I lead an organization that was founded in 1914 to advocate for the working men and women who covered the President of the United States. At the time, the president was Woodrow Wilson, who sort of had a high-minded view of reporters, he didn't particularly care to engage with them, but in 1915, he stopped holding press conferences altogether.

And the mission of the association continues to be to advocate for reporters to be able to have those interactions with the president on behalf of the public, readers, viewers, listeners, and that's the focus. I believe that every time we have an opportunity to ask the president, the most powerful man in our government questions, it benefits the public and so it's in the public interest that we advocate for more of those opportunities.

STELTER: Yes, the public's interest, indeed. Steven Portnoy, thank you so much.

PORTNOY: You got it. STELTER: Coming up, it was one of the breakout hits at the Sundance Film Festival. Now, it's about to premiere here on CNN. We're going to speak with the director of his critical film Navalny. He's next.



STELTER: It's a story about opposition, poison, and prison, and also about brave journalists standing up to Vladimir Putin. Navalny, the award-winning documentary set to premiere on CNN at 9 p.m. Eastern gets behind the headlines about Putin critic Alexei Navalny and gets into the work that's been done for years. The documentary follows a team of journalists who helped identify the Russian spies behind Navalny's -- the attempted assassination of Navalny.

After recovering, Navalny was arrested in Russia, where he has been in prison for more than a year. The Kremlin and Russian security services, of course, deny that they played any role in Navalny's poisoning. His story is one the world needs to know, and joining us now is the director of the film all about him, Daniel Roher. Daniel, thanks for coming on the program.

DANIEL ROHER, DIRECTOR, "NAVALNY": Thanks so much for having me, Brian. It's great to be here.

STELTER: This film -- tell me if I'm wrong, I perceived this film was being worked on in relative secrecy and then it became a breakout success at the Sundance Film Festival. Tell us why you were focused on Navalny.

ROHER: That's absolutely right, Brian, we made this film in total secrecy. It was as if for a year of our lives. My colleagues and I all had this double identity where we couldn't share with our friends or family what we were doing. But of course, the reason why we were so committed to making this film was because, we view Alexei Navalny as one of the most complicated and compelling, and fascinating figures of the 21st century.

Here's a man whose bravery is extraordinary. And the story of the poisoning, come on, it's the -- it's the stuff of fiction, it's as if the guys who wrote The Bourne series or James Bond left the manuscript behind. So as a documentary filmmaker, obviously, I understood that this was a really unique man and a really unique story.

STELTER: When you've been telling this story, do you have fears about your team? Obviously, have concerns about Navalny because he's still in prison?

ROHER: Well, that's a great question, Brian. It's something that's obviously close to my thoughts. I have concerns about some of the investigative journalists we work with who uncovered this story. The work that they continue to do is vital and necessary, and it's exposing the corruption and murder that has festered through the Putin regime, so I think about the safety of those colleagues. But for my team, and I, no, I don't feel fear at all. I'm very comfortable coming on your show and saying that Vladimir Putin is a war criminal who's murdering children every single day and locking up oppositionists.

STELTER: This week, in some news about another dissident in Russia, Vladimir Kara-Murza is a writer and Washington Post Contributor. He was arrested earlier this month. Now, he's been charged in Russia for "false information." He could be behind bars for years as well. Is there a link between this story that needs attention and the Navalny story?

ROHER: Absolutely. I mean, on the greater scale, what we have here is just another example of someone who offers a dissenting voice against Putin's regime being thrown in prison for nothing. Vladimir Kara-Murza has been an outspoken critic of Putin's corruption and his oligarchy for many years. And in fact, Brian, the same kill team, the same men who tried to poison Navalny tried to poison Kara-Murza on multiple occasions.

The great investigative journalists at Bellingcat have released an investigative report that details how the same killers tried to -- tried to poison Kara-Murza twice. He survived both times and I only hope for the future of Russia that Kara-Murza like Navalny, are able to survive their prison sentence and help establish a democratic tradition in their home country.

STELTER: Indeed. These stories must be told. Daniel, thank you for what you've done, bringing this film to the world.

ROHER: Brian, thank you so much for having me.

STELTER: Thanks. And don't forget, Navalny premieres tonight here on television at 9 p.m. Eastern Time right here on CNN. We'll see you right back here this time next week for more RELIABLE SOURCES.