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Is Disinformation an Unstoppable Problem?; Elon Musk Doubles Down on Complaints About Bots; Disconnects Between The Press And The Public; WSJ: WWE's McMahon Paid $12M In Hush Money To Multiple Women; Does The News Leave You Feeling Powerless. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired July 10, 2022 - 11:00   ET



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

This hour, Elon Musk, he wants to break up with Twitter, but can he? And if he walks away, who will stand up to buy the social media giant.

Plus, weeks after the Supreme Court's ruling on abortion, is it still a top story in key states? We're going to speak with top editors in Texas and Georgia about that and more.

And later, when the news seem so grim, what's the fine line between informing and overwhelming you? We're going to talk about that with Melissa Bell, Philip Bump and many more, coming up.

But first, how to decipher debates about disinformation. One of the dominant stories of our time is a dramatic drift toward a "choose your own reality" environment.

People are swimming or perhaps drowning in a sea of information, some of it straight up disinformation -- meaning something that is made up, on purpose, designed to deceive you.

Disinformation is a real thing, a real problem. But it is almost impossible to have a conversation about it.

This quote from the "AP" explains why: As trust breaks down polarization and anxiety increases, creating opportunities for people pushing their own alternative facts.

So, in the case of disinformation, the term, the real thing, that term has been misused, weaponized, watered down, distorted to the point that as "The New York Times" said this week: Disinfo has become yet another untouchable problem in Washington, D.C.

And that didn't just happen by accident. It happened in the pursuit of power. Some progressives have over used the term disinformation, way overused it. Some conservatives have rejected the term altogether, even while spreading B.S.

Let's show some specific examples of this, OK? President Biden, he has had it bad enough lately without people lying about him.

But here's "PolitiFact" checking a recent viral Facebook post claiming Biden was facing impeachment amid high gas prices. Of course, that claim was given a hard no, basically a pants on fire.

But there's those sorts of claims every day. There was a viral video shared by anti-Biden commentators falsely claiming the Medal of Honor was affixed backwards. The video was BS.

This stuff happens seemingly every day. It has become part of the background. It is like humidity, it is always there. It rises or false.

Republican politicians are targets of disinformation, too. And so are basically -- ever major story in the news. Ever since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, there's been a copious amount of disinformation about abortions.

Some experts are worried about abortion misinformation and intentional disinformation will only increase and make it harder for people to receive care.

There are national security applications to disinformation all around the world, that is why the U.S. Department of homeland security recently tried to create an advisory board and called it a disinformation governance board but that board quickly collapsed, it came under fierce criticism including from Fox and right wing media, the government did a horrible job of explaining what the board was supposed to do, and so it put it on pause, which the government speaks for it is going away and will never come back.

So if the government can't even have a real conversation about disinformation, can't even have an advisory board to talk about it, that is a tough situation to be in.

I thought Paul Barnett said it best -- Paul Barrett said it best, he is a deputy director of the Stern Center for Business & Human Rights at NYU, he told "The Times", quote: We are basically at this point, unable to have a calm discussion about the problem.

And there's a weird circular looping around effect. The problem itself is helping make us unable to talk about the problem.

Think about that, right? The disinformation problem is making it harder to actually talk about the disinformation problem.

Now that sounds like a challenge. So, let's take it on. Nina Jankowicz is the researcher who briefly led the Disinformation Governance Board before it collapsed. She is the author of books like "How to Lose the Information War" and the new book, "How to be a Woman Online".

Nina, welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES. Thanks for have me.

NINA JANKOWICZ, AUTHOR, "HOW TO LOSE THE INFORMATION WAR": Thanks for having me. STELTER: You have had time to process what went wrong this spring

when you briefly were the executive director of this board and then had it all fall apart.


Let's just start with what was the goal -- what was the Department of Homeland Security trying to do?

JANKOWICZ: Well, the Disinformation Governance Board was a body that was meant to advise the many parts of the Department of Homeland Security that were working on disinformation.

To bring best practices to bear, and to make sure that we were up with the latest research , the latest trends, in disinformation and countering it and make sure that work was being done in a way that protected freedom of speech, protected civil rights, civil liberties, and privacy.

Now, what the Republicans and frankly some on the far left as well, spun, was that this disinformation governance board was going to be a ministry of truth. There is no absolutely no foundation for that, in fact.

The Disinformation Governance Board was never meant to police speech, it was not going to police speech and frankly, Brian, I have written and researched about government efforts to do just that, I am against them just like many Americans are, and if that were part of the job description, I wouldn't have taken the job.

STELTER: So, the sympathetic view, to you, is that the Disinformation Board was the victim of disinformation. Is that how you feel?

JANKOWICZ: Oh, it absolutely was the victim of disinformation. So, all of these narratives, that the disinformation governance board was going to be this ministry of truth and all of the harassment and disinformation that was directed against me, was based on that falsehood, based on that falsehood that was knowingly peddled by many people in the conservative media ecosystem and on Capitol Hill. And, frankly --

STELTER: OK. Why -- if that's true, if that is true, what the heck was the Homeland Security Department doing? Why didn't they defend you? Why you didn't defend yourself? Why didn't the government explain what the heck it was doing?

JANKOWICZ: Yeah, I have a lot of misgivings about the way things went down and I think the first thing to point out, Brian, is that there was a disproportionate focus on me, given my level of power within the department.

I was not allowed to speak on my own behalf, and frankly, all the communications decisions that were being made about how to talk about the board were made above my pay grade, and above my level of decision-making.

I was the executive director but there were a lot of people that were involved that didn't take advice frankly that I had given them.


JANKOWICZ: And I had hoped that I would see things go down differently and that was one of the reasons that I --

STELTER: Look, I would start with the name. Even just the name, right, Nina, it sounds Orwellian. And any PR professional would say don't call it that, you know? They were just dumb mistakes made.

JANKOWICZ: Right, and that belies the fact that it was meant to be an internal governing mechanism, governing how the Department of Homeland Security did its work on disinformation, not governing the Internet.


JANKOWICZ: And that was one of the reasons that I ended up making the choice to resign, right? I felt like the government had just rolled over, to the critics, who had completely spun this narrative out of control based on absolutely nothing and reality and the fact that they weren't able to defend me, the person that they had chosen, the experts that they had chosen to lead this board and safeguard this work. It just didn't feel like it was worth it, especially given the fact that my family was receiving threats.

STELTER: And those critics -- and you are about to have a child and I want to ask you about that in a moment. You -- these critics, there were many of them, they were incredibly loud. You are just a giant liberal, could never be appropriately hired for this job because he posted disinformation on Twitter yourself.

JANKOWICZ: Well, so there is a lot of things to unpack in that. First, let's start with the idea that anybody would be someone that anybody on the political spectrum would want to be policing speech. Again, at the kernel of that criticism is the idea that this board would be policing speech which wasn't going to do.

If that were the case, there would be no person nonpartisan enough particularly in the counter disinformation sphere, who would appeal to everyone in not role.

But, I did not post this information. The folks that are honing in on tweets that I sent in 2016 --


JANKOWICZ: -- when I had fewer than 1,000 Twitter followers, that you know, I was just sharing information about a presidential election as it was happening, as millions of other Americans were doing, using their right to freedom of speech, that wasn't disinformation, right? It was just sharing news.

Other people honed in on tweets that were -- they completely stripped of context. The one that conservatives love to really amplify was a tweet that they claimed that made me seem like I was calling the Hunter Biden laptop disinformation when in fact I was just live- tweeting a debate, you know, saying the exact words that then candidate Biden and President Trump were saying during a debate, totally stripped of context.

STELTER: So, you still think you were the right hire?

JANKOWICZ: People didn't want to look further into the context.

STELTER: So, you still think you were the right hire for that job?

JANKOWICZ: Absolutely, Brian. Listen --


JANKOWICZ: Yes, I've done a ton of research of the past --

STELTER: So, then, what --

JANKOWICZ: Go ahead.

STELTER: I was just going to -- so you believe you were the right hire, the government screwed up with this thing. But now the question is now what? Is "The New York Times" right that this was an un- resolvable problem, that there is nothing Washington can do because Republicans can't even agree on what disinformation is?


JANKOWICZ: I don't think it is an untouchable problem. We've seen other countries with highly polarized media environments. For example, the United Kingdom do really good work on this topic, but what we need is for our politicians to recognize that this is a democratic problem, small D democratic problem. It knows no political party. It's ultimate victim is democracy, right?

And we need those who are frankly benefiting from the political use of disinformation to recognize that they are putting our national security at risk and our democracy at risk. Someday, disinformation is going to come for them as well and nobody wants that.

We want people to be able to agree on facts and make well- informed choices at the ballot box. Ultimately, that's what is at stake here. Until we come to that reconciliation in Washington, then, yes, it's going to be extremely difficult to do this work as my own experience has shown.

STELTER: When you say make informed choices at the ballot box, do you just mean vote for Democrats?

JANKOWICZ: No, absolutely not! I'm happy for people --

STELTER: That is often the criticism. That's the right's criticism. Disinformation is used as a weapon just to promote liberal agendas.

JANKOWICZ: That's not true, right? We have seen and I have pointed out on Twitter over the past week, disinformation that has been used by the Democrats as well. We need to get back to a point where we are all you know, putting the

truth forward and that people want to know what the truth is.

In my case, people didn't want to know what the truth was about me. They were told I was the enemy and they were happy to do no further research in that regard, and continue to badger me and my family, rather than uncover my research, my writing, which has much more nuanced views and advocates for things like information literacy, certainly not policing speech which again I do not agree with.

STELTER: Right. So, you have a newborn at home, what has this been like for you, as you know, going through parenthood and seeing yourself destroyed basically from the right-wing media?

JANKOWICZ: Well, it was a pretty scary couple of weeks. I was in my last trimester of pregnancy, it should have been a very exciting time and instead, my husband and I were making sure that our home was secure, it was not the end to a pregnancy that I had hoped, luckily, our little guy is doing just fine.

But people were not only disparaging and defaming me online, they were attacking my family and some people including Marjorie Taylor Greene said that she felt sorry for my unborn child, that is a ridiculous place for our national discourse to be in, and, you know, again, I have advocated for all sorts of solutions to disinformation but I think one of the things that we really need to get back to is a common humanity.

I'm a person on the other side of my Twitter avatar. I have a family, I have a life. And I went into public service with a real desire to help the country.

And so, I think we all need to think about that. Next time, we are having these anonymized arguments on social media, there are people on the other side of the screen, and the more that we can get back to that humanity in our politics and political discourse, I think the better our democracy will be.

STELTER: Humanity, that's the word.

Nina, thank you for coming on the program. Good to see you.

JANKOWICZ: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: Let's continue this conversation with our panel. Claire Atkinson, chief media correspondent for "Insider", Philip Bump, national correspondent with "The Washington Post", and Lauren Hirsch, a business reporter with "The New York Times".

The big overarching question here, Claire, I don't know if any of us can answer it, are there any actual solutions to the disinformation dilemma that she lays out that we can't even talk about the problem in the same way?

CLAIRE ATKINSON, CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT, INSIDER: Well, honestly, I feel like when I listen to British media, I feel like I'm getting reality. I don't feel that in the states.

STELTER: You think it's an American problem? Interesting.

ATKINSON: I think it's more exacerbated here. I think there's a shared reality of what the facts are in Britain. I listened to the BBC world service before I go to bed at night. And I listen to it during, you know, political cycles, presidential cycles came in and I feel like I'm getting what's really happening.

STELTER: So, maybe we are more broken in the States here, than elsewhere?

ATKINSON: I think so.

STELTER: Philip, how does that register with you?

PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: I mean, I can't speak to the BBC world service. BBC, as you know, has ties to the government there.

But, you know, I mean, I think one of the disadvantages the U.S. government here, it is uniquely disadvantaged by the fact that the First Amendment prescribes what it can and cannot do, right? And that is both useful and important, it is important to have the government not be able to draw those lines.

I think a key subtext that you just had, is who decides what that disinformation is. That is the nutshell here. And if the government is saying this thing coming across from overseas is disinformation, that's the government making a judgment call, it may be accurate but it is the government weighing in on speech. Not necessarily within our borders.

But because of that disadvantage it allows bad faith actors to use that as an argument, as exactly what the case is for this information board.


They're able to say, this is an affront to the First Amendment, even if it wasn't, because people understand that as something that the government ought not to be doing.

STELTER: And all of this stems from distrust. All this flows downhill from the distrust problem. A lack of trust in all institutions including the media, we can talk about disinformation without talking about trust, a lack of trust.

BUMP: Yeah, I mean, categorically. I think the statement about Marjorie Taylor Greene, who's ran multiple campaigns on someone who is trying to sow distrust in government, sow distrust in institutions, picking up on what Donald Trump did, I think that is important sometimes.

STELTER: All right. Lauren, you are up after the break. We have brandy reporting about Elon Musk and Twitter. What is going on with that deal? What Musk is saying about Twitter this weekend?

Plus, the scoop about #metoo moment for World Wrestling Entertainment. What's going to be revealed next?


STELTER: Hey, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.

Elon Musk was in Idaho this week, spending time with fellow tech and media moguls at Allen & Company's Annual Sun Valley Conference.


And I'm going to tell you what Musk said in private to his fellow moguls. Musk on Friday night he tried to back out of his deal to buy Twitter. He has been laying the groundwork for doing so, for many weeks.

He has been complaining about the proliferation of bots and spam accounts, on the platform that he said he wanted to buy.

Remember, he agreed, in writing, to go with that Twitter take over but now as of Friday night, he is trying to back out.

Well, he was at Sun Valley, this hush-hush conference on Friday and Saturday, and he spoke on stage at a session that was treated as off the record, but I am told by a source who was in the room, he did talk more about the bots problem, apparently according to the source, Musk doubled down on his claims about bots all across Twitter.

He said nobody believed -- and I'm just paraphrasing -- but he said nobody believes Twitter's claim, that bots are under 5 percent of the total usage on Twitter.

So, he apparently went on about the deal, there are some headlines that you will see out there saying he avoided the subject but I am told he did talk about Twitter. He tripled down on his decision to try to back out of the deal and he is claiming it is about bots.

Let's analyze that and more.

Claire Atkinson, Philip Bump, and Lauren Hirsch all back at the table with me.

Laura, you've been covering this deal now for months, just remind us how this started, because Musk originally said he was going to fix the bots problem, the same problem he now says is stopping him from doing the deal.

LAUREN HIRSCH, BUSINESS REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: So, there was an interesting series of events, where at the same time the tech market dropped off the cliff and that includes the value of Tesla which is his main source of wealth.

All of a sudden, he got really concerned about the bots, and implied maybe that would be a reason why he might want to back out of the deal.

Now, he would kind of throw daggers out there, and then walk away and we never quite knew what his intention was. The official launch to where we got to on Friday was his lawyer sent Twitter a letter and said we think you are withholding information that we need to close the deal.

And that started a 30-day window, for Twitter to and Musk lawyers' minds to rectify the problem.

And what happened on Friday was his lawyers alleged that they did not share sufficient information, and in our mind, that gives Musk the ability to walk out of the deal now.

STELTER: But Twitter says no way, show us the money, we're going to go through this, we'll see you in court.


STELTER: So, Philip, is the bots thing just an excuse?

BUMP: You give me the super hard question. I mean, it's really hard to say. I mean, Elon Musk is an eccentric character. I think it's safe to say. You know, I'm sort of fascinated by the repercussions of this announcement, that it very quickly became entangled in American politics, right?

He became seen as the savior, this was a leftist elitist organization and here comes this libertarian conservative to come in and take it over, and everyone got excited about that.

STELTER: Republicans were thrilled about Musk taking over Twitter.

BUMP: You know, is Donald Trump going to come back? Tucker Carlson deletes a tweet so he can go back on. Like, that -- so that I think is fascinating and that remains unresolved.

STELTER: He was a hero to Republicans but now what? Last night on stage in Alaska, Trump said, Musk, he's just another BS artist.

BUMP: That's right. Yeah, you know, he is going to lash out because he has more money than he does, which is sort of his go-to. But I think that is unresolved.

I don't know why Elon Musk did it, but it had very substantial repercussions politically --


BUMP: -- that now remain unresolved.

STELTER: And, Claire, what is going to happen to Twitter? I mean, if he can get out of the deal, if it takes months or years, he may have to pay a $1 billion breakup fee, but this unresolved question is what happens to this communication's platform that you might love it or hate it but he is one of the most important tools in the world. ATKINSON: Right. I mean, hanging out there right now is what happens

to the employees, what happens to the advertising revenue, how do they keep moving ahead.

We have been talking about this since April, and here we are in July, and those employees still don't know who the boss is going to be, who's going to own it, and I think if you are considering advertising on the platform, you want to know, is this brand suitable? Am I -- what are their rules? What are they doing about policing misinfo? How is it going to be run in the future?

Until they know the answers to those questions, why put my ad dollars there? So I think that's a big problem for Twitter.

STELTER: Right. And there is, to be fair, a problem with bots. We don't know how big it is. He claims it is bigger than Twitter says. I suspect that he has a different experience on twitter than the average user.

He is overwhelmed by BS replies and spam and all of that. The average user, maybe not so much. He has an unusual experience on Twitter and that might be affecting this.

By the way, speaking of Musk, your website "Insider" broke an interesting story this week. We'll put the headline on the screen. Musk had twins last year with one of his top executives. Why so much baby drama with Elon Musk?

ATKINSON: Well, he stated -- and he stated at Sun Valley this weekend that he believes that the world has a problem with population growth, and that he is doing his part.

STELTER: A problem -- meaning we need more people?

ATKINSON: We need a lot more babies.

STELTER: We need lot more babies.

ATKINSON: Yeah, and Elon is doing his part by having lots of babies.

STELTER: Yes, he is.

ATKINSON: I think the heart of the discussion is that we -- the nation seems to love talking about the world's richest man.


STELTER: That's --

ATKINSON: And he loves everybody talking about him. He loves to say and do things that keep him in the spotlight for whatever reason, whether it is you know, talking about populating mars or putting chips, computer chips in people's brains, which is something that they are exploring at Neuralink, one of the companies where he met the lady who had the babies. And so, you know, I think almost the Twitter bid, part of the Twitter bid was about staying in the conversation and the same way that Donald Trump loves to stay in the conversation.

STELTER: They are attention hackers.

ATKINSON: Much more of the panel in just a moment. We're also going to turn to two top editors in states way outside New York and D.C., to find out what their readers care about most right now.

Plus, does watching the news, reading the news, make you feel powerless? "Vox" publisher Melissa Bell is going to join me with ideas for what newsrooms can do to change that.



STELTER: Let's face it. There's a glare -- a glaring, gaping disconnect in this country between what the media covers most and what the public cares about most. You can see it in this new polling from Monmouth University. The biggest concern facing families by a mile is inflation.

And other related concerns about the economy, gas prices, inflation, the economy. This is really important data, gives us a sense of what is on people's minds as they think about this midterm year. But is there -- is there a difference and why is there a difference between press coverage and the public's priorities?

Let's get perspective now from outside the Beltway -- beyond the Beltway, Atlanta Journal-Constitution Editor-in-Chief Kevin Riley is with us, and Dallas Morning News Executive Editor Katrice Hardy is also here. Thank you both for coming on.

I find myself thinking about the January 6 hearings which coming up again on Tuesday, undoubtedly important. We learn more about the attack at every hearing, and yet, if we ask the average American, they are not as focused on the hearings, for example, as the economy.

Katrice, what do you hear in Dallas and around in your community, and how do you try to make sure your front page is reflecting the public's priorities?

KATRICE HARDY, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Well, now we're in Texas, so national headlines don't come from Texas all the time.


HARDY: I think for us, it's really striking that balance, as you mentioned, inflation that is huge here, as well as what's happening with reproductive rights and gun sales, you know, mass murders, we had one very recently here. So we try to make sure that when we're making these decisions on what

we put online and what we put on our front page that is reflective of all of these significant issues playing out here.

STELTER: So, you mentioned reproductive rights. We are several weeks since the Supreme Court ruling on abortion. If you look at Mama's poll, you're going to only get 5 percent of people saying that's the top concern they have, of course, people can juggle, they can have multiple concerns at once, and many do. But do you sense that abortion is a top issue for your readers?

HARDY: Well, if you look at the number of people here who have gone out and protested, you know, who are concerned about these rights, we saw a lot of younger people out protesting this issue.

And so if you think about connecting with voters down the road, these are the people who we need to get to come out and vote. So I do think it's an issue.

But again, I think at the end of the day, when you're adding up your budget and you're looking at how you're going to spend your money, you know, what's going to drive you out to the polls, and what are you most concerned about at the moment?

STELTER: Yes. Kevin, do buy into what I'm saying about this disconnect that, you know, the press might focus more on January 6, for example, than on pocketbook issues that Americans care about most?

KEVIN RILEY, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: Well, Brian, I think you are right in an important way. If you talk to people and you pay attention to polling, economic issues are always at the top of their list.

I mean, when they're standing at that gas pump filling up their car and seeing how much it costs, that's on their mind. It's something they live with every day.

I still think, in the case of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in Georgia, we have to bring some of those bigger issues like the January 6 hearing, like, the abortion decision, and other things home to our readers and our digital users because let's face it, the January 6 hearings, a lot of the characters are from Georgia.

STELTER: Yes, right.

RILEY: And I think ultimately voters in Georgia will care a lot about the role some of these folks have played, and they will come back to this. But it's different in day-to-day life.

When their people are just trying to get to work, get their kids to school, or get to the grocery store, of course, economic issues are at the top of the list. And we have to pay a lot of attention to that.

STELTER: I think we also think often about programming and writing for news junkies versus maybe more casual consumers, Katrice. I know you're relatively new to Texas, what has surprised you as a new Texas resident about that?

HARDY: You know, I think at the end of the day, what we've learned is that our audience can -- we pretty much can see what our audience is interested in and how they want us to continue -- having on one a consumer information.

So one of the things we try to do quite often, and they tell us this is, let's break down these issues in ways that we can relate to. So helping them understand, you know, five reasons, for example, why they should care about reproductive rights or they should care about gun sales.

How do you bring a Uvalde, home to the Dallas community? And that's how we try to approach all of our coverage.

STELTER: Are you sensing news fatigue? This is something that researchers keep finding that folks are just so exhausted by news stories. Is that true in Texas?

HARDY: Absolutely, that's true. I mean, we see that across a number of issues. But again, you know, what can you do to really show them -- and this week, you know, the interesting story that made national headlines was, you know, the lady -- the mother who was pulled over an HOV lane and being able to bring that story home.

STELTER: Let's put that headline up. Let's -- explain that story to the viewers. It's amazing.


HARDY: Absolutely. So we had a mother who was in a hurry to go get one of her children from school, I think preschool, and she was pulled over kind of just a random check of HOV lane drivers.

And she said, well, I actually do have two people in the car, my baby. And so the officer kind of looked at her and said, well, what are you talking about?

And you know, her explanation was with everything going on with Roe v. Wade, my baby is considered a living human being and so he, of course, pulled her over, she still had a ticket, but they explained to her she probably could fight it.

And you know her take on that is the governor has come out and said this is a massive victory for life. And so my baby is living. And so that'll be something that'll play out in court on July 20.

STELTER: Yes. And a lot of sites are now rewrite -- rewriting your story, but you all had at first I think. You all deserve credit for that one.

HARDY: Absolutely, yes. Our Watchdog Columnist did.

STELTER: Absolutely, yes. I know both of you think a lot about trust in media or lack of trust in media. Kevin, what is the most important thing your newsroom can be doing to try to regain the public's trust? RILEY: I think the best thing we can do is let people know and get a peek behind the curtain about how we do things. Our political reporters do a podcast. And then in that podcast called Politically Georgia, in which people can get all the services, they explain, why are we doing this story? How are we doing the story?

Another thing we do is -- particularly when we do political profiles as we've done with Herschel Walker, as you know, who's come across many complicated, difficult issues in his campaign, we always run a box along with that on our website in print that tells people here's why we're doing this story.

We have a responsibility to that a candidate for the Senate. And I think if we keep working on things like that and tell people here's why we're doing what we're doing, we gain trust.

Plus, we remind people, Brian, that we live here. We're not national media parachuting in, but we go to church with you, we -- our kids, go to school with your kids, we come to the ballgame with you.

We now are vested in this community. And I think the more we emphasize that more people believe us, and our own research tells us that, that we are more trusted than national media outlets.

STELTER: Kevin and Katrice, thank you very much for the conversation. Good to see you both.

HARDY: Thank you.

RILEY: Good to be with you.

STELTER: Up next. WWE CEO Vince McMahon reportedly paying millions and millions in hush money payments, why is the story not getting more coverage? We're going to get into it next.



STELTER: Now to the "ART OF THE FOLLOWUP," the need for follow-up stories. Three weeks ago, Vince McMahon stepped down as WWE CEO following allegations of sexual misconduct.

It turns out now there's a lot more to the story. The Wall Street Journal breaking the news this week that McMahon paid in hush money $12 million to women who had made allegations against him. $12 million in payouts. That's a big scoop from the Wall Street Journal.

Now, there's probably more to come. There's an investigation that McMahon has pledged to cooperate with. But it's a really important example of why there needs to be digging by journalists to get to the fuller story.

Let me bring back Claire Atkinson, Lauren Hirsch, and Philip Bump for more on all this. Claire, the WWE is a big media company. People sometimes don't appreciate how important it is in the media

firm, and that creates a content creation machine. What do you think are the implications of this revelation about McMahon?

ATKINSON: Yes, you'd have to wonder whether all of that WWE partners, whether it's Disney, whether it's Peacock, whether it's Fox and Netflix also had a biopic of Vince in the works, which I read is now canceled, like, what are they thinking?

Are they thinking that this is just going to go away that, you know, the Wall Street Journal is already on its second story about Vince McMahon coercing a colleague into sex and then having to pay another couple of million dollars to the lady and then she exited?

I think, you know, the question is does anybody care? This is a brand that operates in the wrestling ring.

STELTER: Oh, gosh, lets' send a thought.

ATKINSON: And it's all about bad behavior, right? This is --

STELTER: This is to me, a story. In 2017, this would have been breaking news outliners.

ATKINSON: Absolutely.


ATKINSON: Absolutely.


ATKINSON: So the silence is pretty deafening. You also got to wonder, like, what exactly is this investigation that the board is doing? The board is made up of Vince McMahon's daughter, Stephanie McMahon, her husband, and also Erika Nardini, who's the CEO of Barstool Sports.

So you kind of wonder like where this is really going, Stephanie was yucking it up at the UFC, last week have -- we have to have --

STELTER: Oh, OK. So you've got -- I appreciate the cynical -- you're being a realist. Not a cynical, you're being a realist. Let me --

ATKINSON: I'm asking the question.

STELTER: But let me be a realist about another one or a cynic about another story. Lauren, gas prices coming way down in the last couple of weeks. Of course, there was so much attention when gas prices are on the rise. We really focus on the bad news when it's happening. Is the media going to focus on the good news of gas prices going lower?

HIRSCH: It's funny, one of the tweets I believe it was last week, and that got the most attention was the back and forth between --

STELTER: Bezos, yes. HIRSCH: Yes. And somehow everyone is quiet this weekend. So I know I think that people tend to focus on the bad news. And certainly, the Biden folks are tweeting about it, so they're -- you know, they're trying to push that back at that it's down. Some people would say the price got too high. They've obviously been blaming the energy company.


HIRSCH: So we'll be interesting as they get traction in that message.

STELTER: Right. Philip?

PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, I mean, look, people want to understand why bad things are happening, right? People sort of, take why good things are happening for granted, right?

STELTER: For granted, right.

BUMP: People want to understand like, why am I paying so much at the pump?

STELTER: Yes, that's a good point.

BUMP: They don't really care as much why they're not paid as much. Biden wants them to hear. Biden wants to -- here is why prices are going down because he got so much blame for them going up.


BUMP: But he's just, you know, it'd been to your last segment, you know, what people care about is also driving something.

STELTER: So big news out of the UK this week, of course, Boris Johnson, under incredible pressure, and now stepping down. What's the media angle here, Claire?

ATKINSON: Well, I think the question people are asking now is who's going to be the next prime minister of Britain, and who will get to influence how the conservative party votes on that topic?


ATKINSON: And in years gone by, Rupert Murdoch, the press barons, like Lord Rothermere, who runs the Daily Mail would have a huge influence in that, whether it was Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher.

You know, the view was they could put their thumb on the scale and really influence how the British population voted. I don't think that's true anymore. The newspapers -- you can still find 12 newspapers on a stand in the UK, but not as many people are reading them.

Websites are more influential. The biggest one is the BBC, followed by the Daily Mail, which gets something like 25 million readers.

STELTER: Yes. ATKINSON: And so, you know, to what extent do the press barons really have an influence on how politics plays out in the UK? I think that's the question.

STELTER: Interesting. We need influence. And, Philip, the stunning assassination of Japan's Shinzo Abe a country where gun violence basically doesn't exist, was it difficult this week for the American media to convey just how different that gun landscape is between Japan and the U.S.?

BUMP: I mean, I think it's difficult simply because it's almost literally night and day. I actually have the numbers here.

The number of guns owned in the United States per million people is about 1.2 million. So Americans own about 1.2 million guns for every million people. In Japan, the number is 2400, right?


BUMP: I mean, it's just staggering, the number of gun homicides in the United States is about 58 per million. In Japan, it is 0.007 per million, right? Like they just -- it's absolutely starkly different. That may have actually helped play a role in Abe's death where his security simply wasn't prepared for someone with a gun.

STELTER: Maybe kind of that.

BUMP: But it's hard to convey because it's just -- it's literally almost the exact opposite situation.

STELTER: So I'm glad you made charts to show this on We have to show people those numbers. To the panel, thank you, everybody. We've got more coming up, including an interview with Vox publisher, Melissa Bell. She's challenging the journalism world to help people feel empowered, and not so powerless.



STELTER: Journalism's role is to inform the public not to alarm, to inform. But when there are so many grim news stories, so many disturbing news cycles, does it drive audiences away? And what can be done about that?

I mean, think about some of the headlines this summer, everything from inflation to continuing COVID cases, innumerable mass shootings, and the continuing war in Ukraine there, there are so many stories out there that might leave audiences feeling powerless.

My next guest has some thoughts about that, and maybe some solutions. Her name is Melissa Bell. She's the publisher of Vox and she's here with me now. And I'm still in your word.

You've been using the word powerless. I saw you speaking about this at a conference last month. Tell me what you mean when you say viewers might feel powerless by all this news?

MELISSA BELL, PUBLISHER AND CO-FOUNDER, VOX: Sure. Well, I actually pulled the word from a Reuter's digital news report that was published this year.

It's I think, one of the most informed research pieces that come out every single year, they interview over -- almost 100,000 people across the world in 46 countries. And what they found, unsurprisingly, is that there's a lack of trust in the media.


BELL: That's given. We've known that for over three decades that trust in institutions is falling.

STELTER: It's getting worse and worse. But here's the report with the report now says people are trying to avoid the news.

BELL: That's what I find much more frightening. What happens for a business person in the news business when your audience doesn't actually want to pay attention to your product?

More so, what happens when you don't have an informed citizenry that wants to participate in democracy by understanding and learning about the news every single day?

I think that this is a real call to journalists everywhere, to news organizations everywhere that we need to be thinking about our product differently because we're turning people away in big numbers. Over 42 percent of the U.S. population said that they actively avoid the news. That's a major issue.

STELTER: So you're saying change the product, in what ways?

BELL: There's so many ways. I can't count all -- count all of them. But I'll just start with a few. I think that we are building a service for our audiences. We're not actually helping them navigate the world around them.

What we're doing is we're telling them horrible frightening news every single day and not providing any solutions. One area that I think is a good example is when our early COVID coverage. I think people -- we saw a rise of trust in the media at that point in time because we were trying to help people navigate a very real life and death situation.

STELTER: Right, good point.

BELL: We took -- we took our job seriously to provide a service to our audience. And I don't think that we do that with other stories.

STELTER: Yes. There's a herd mentality in journalism. And you say, also, we like to cover the new part of the news, but not the rest.

BELL: Yes. We often jump on to a story, I think that you see this when a major news -- breaking news event happens. You'll have thousands of journalists go to cover a story and then

descend on a town like Flint, Michigan, and cover the water crisis for a few weeks, a month at most, and then disappear.

And they don't think about should we start a water beat? Should we be covering the other dozens of towns in America that are suffering from outdated infrastructure?

They are -- we're not talking about policies that can impact and change that problem. It's much more about the -- about the thrill at the moment of breaking news versus the actual concerted effort to change coverage.

STELTER: So, what are you doing at Vox to change that?

BELL: We're doing a number of things. We started Vox really to help people understand the news. That was the first thing that we started thinking about eight years ago.

How do we help people understand what's happening, the context, the historical context? But now we're thinking more and more not just about the -- about how to help people understand but to how -- what to do with the next step? When they have the information, what can they do with that information?

STELTER: What can they do? That is really the key, isn't it, right? What can you do with the information?

BELL: Right.

STELTER: Can you affect any change at all?

BELL: Well, I think --


BELL: Yes. I think that you can. I mean, I think that one of the things that we talk about a lot is that too much political coverage is taken like sports coverage. It's a game to people. The politicians are characters in the game, there's winners, there's losers.


BELL: But actually, politicians are paid employees of the American public. What are we doing to give them a job review? How are they doing? What's the performance of their -- of their job?

STELTER: That's the point.

BELL: When you have something like gun control, who is -- who is succeeding and who is failing to make any progress with something that more -- over or 90 percent of the population agrees needs to change?

STELTER: Melissa, thank you for bringing this up. It's a great conversation starter, I think for newsrooms.

BELL: Great.

STELTER: Thank you.

BELL: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: More RELIABLE SOURCES here in just a moment.