Return to Transcripts main page


Is Media Grading Trump on a Curve?; Will Media Pivot to Policy Questions?; Interview with Glenn Beck; Putting Polls in Perspective; Prepping for the Presidential Debates. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired September 4, 2016 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:13] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good morning. I'm Brian Stelter, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the story behind the story, about how news and pop culture get made.

This Labor Day weekend is the perfect chance to take a step back and really assess how the presidential campaign is being covered, and we have some excellent guests to help us do that, including Glenn Beck. On a week when Sean Hannity says that Beck is waging a holy war against him, Beck is here to break down the ongoing fracture in conservative media.

Plus, two of the top newspaper editors in the country both in swing states, will tell me about the hate mail they're getting, pretty intense feedback.

But, firs, all year long, I have been hearing one very specific description of the election coverage. No, it's not bias, but it's close, it's false equivalence, meaning, journalists who are attempting to cover both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump fairly, who end up drawing false comparisons between the two. I know many Clinton supporters feel this way.

Here's another way to frame this idea, when Trump is covered, is he graded on a curve making it easier for him? Or do these cries of unfairness ring hollow?

This morning, I have assembled an all star panel of three veteran journalists to explore these questions. Jacob Weisberg, the chairman and editor in chief of the Slate Group, and the host of quasi-daily Trump cast podcast, Soledad O'Brien, a former anchor on NBC and CNN, now the CEO of Starfish Media Group, and Mark Leibovich, the chief national correspondent for "The New York Times Magazine" and a CBS News political contributor.

Jacob, let me start with you, when you hear the phrase false equivalence, something I've been hearing from Clinton surrogates every single day, what does it mean to you? What does it signify?

JACOB WEISBERG, CHAIRMAN AND EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE SLATE GROUP: I was really concerned that we were going to have that, that this was essentially going to be a process of treating Donald Trump as if he were a normal presidential candidate. The structure of covering politics is you compare an apple and an orange and they have different attributes. But they're both fruits, and you can take your pick.

In this case, we have something more like an apple and some rancid meat, excuse the expression.

STELTER: I'm sorry. Donald Trump the rancid meat?

WEISBERG: He's the rancid meat and in all sorts of ways. I mean, it's conspiracy-thinking and racism. These are sort of things that are outside the norm of what we've accepted in American politics and I think what the press is struggling with is, how do you not normalize him, but at the same time be fair and do your job as a journalist.

STELTER: So, you've already insulted him in the first minute on the show, calling him rancid meat. Is that being fair?

WEISBERG: I'm trying, I started my podcast because I think it's so hard in most media to tell it like it. So, I think Trump is rancid meat. I mean, it's a metaphor. But I think he's someone who's injected a kind of toxicity into American politics who doesn't belong there, that hasn't been there before. It doesn't represent what Republicans have stood for in the past.

STELTER: Soledad, are other journalists not calling it like it is, covering Trump like the unique candidate that he is?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, FORMER ANCHOR: I think it's the contortion to try to make things seem equal all the time. So, if you look at Hillary Clinton's speech where she basically pointed out that what Donald Trump has done is actually quite well is normalize white supremacy, one of the long list of thing that I think many Americans would find distasteful.

STELTER: And you would say that's true, that Clinton is right when she said that.

O'BRIEN: I think she made a very good argument, almost like a lawyer, here is ways in which she has actually worked to normalize conversations that many people find hateful. Listen, I have seen on air white supremacists being interviewed because they are Trump delegates and they do a five-minute segment, the first minute or so talking about what they believe is white supremacist, right? So, you have normalized that.

Then, Donald Trump will say, "Well, Hillary Clinton, she's a bigot." And it's covered, where the journalist part comes in, they trade barbs, he says she's a bigot, and she points out that he might be appealing to racists.

STELTER: He said/she said. He said/she said.

O'BRIEN: It only becomes he said/she said when in actuality, the fact that Donald Trump has said she's a bigot, with not the long laundry list of evidence, which if you look at Hillary Clinton's speech, she actually did have a lot of really good, factual evidence that we would all agree are things that have happened and do exist, they're treated as if they are equal. Well, she might be a bigot, he might be have ties to racists, they're actually equal, when in reality they're not equal, and I think that's where journalists are failing in the contortions to try to make it seem fair.

WEISBERG: That may be the default. But I have seen a lot of good examples of the press I think doing its job of calling him out and telling it like it is, you know, whether it's you on this show, saying, there's no basis to claim that the election is going to be stolen. Or "The New York Times" saying in the front page lead story, Trump presents a threat to the rule of law and the Constitution. Not on the editorial page, but as a news story, because that's fact, not opinion.

STELTER: So, that's a more optimistic take. Mark, let me get your assessment on this, are you more optimistic or pessimistic about how the press has been trying to treat Trump?

[11:05:02] MARK LEIBOVICH, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE: Well, first of all, let me -- since we are stepping, I should step back and say that, in fairness, a lot of Hillary Clinton supporters would say that Jacob is just being unfair to rancid meat.


STELTER: Oh, boy. Oh, boy.

LEIBOVICH: So, I believe that -- no, I just think we have to have both sides here.

I would say this, look, I mean, there are a few terms that we're using that I think are kind of flawed. I mean, the whole grading on a curve thing, I mean, no one agrees on the curve anymore. I mean, that's the central problem.

The notion of a curve in, say, math, like in fourth grade math, if this test is a greater than a curve, there's an objective number that you're grading it. There's absolutely nothing objective about the agreed upon, you know, whatever, I mean, agreed upon argument in our culture, that's there's one arbiter, whether it's Walter Cronkite or Tim Russert or whoever, that can decide.

So, I mean I think the notion here of sort of false equivalency, whatever you want to call it, is not so much to strain to call both candidates one to another, but to compare them basically to the truth, to actually use your platform as a journalist to say, look, what Donald Trump just said has no basis in fact, or Hillary Clinton has said this in fact, she's not given a press conference in 200 or however many days.

I mean, I do think that it is incumbent upon reporters to when a blatant falsehood is spoken to actually either parenthetically or just state it explicitly that this is just not true. But I also think that when you say, when get into on one hand and on the other hand thing, and then make a judgment where you say, this is racist, this is white supremacy, you're basically trying to overturn a judgment that's been rendered by one of our two major parties, which is that person is acceptable to be their nominee of a party.


LEIBOVICH: And, obviously, it's not a unanimous thing. But I don't know if it's a journalist's job to make that rendering.

STELTER: Soledad, is it difficult, someone who's been on air for a number of years at CNN and NBC and elsewhere to say flatly, this is not true?

O'BRIEN: I don't think it's difficult at all.

STELTER: Or in the case of Donald Trump supporters, this is white supremacy, doesn't that put you at risk as a journalist?

O'BRIEN: The gentleman I'm referring to refers to himself as a white supremacist, right? This is not me saying, wow, he sounds like a white supremacist --


O'BRIEN: He would tell you.

WEISBERG: He doesn't even say white nationalist. That's the appropriate euphemism.

STELTER: Donald Trump racist. A lot of journalists do not say. A lot of Clinton supporters would like journalist to say that.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I actually think, often, people jump very quickly to racist. To me, it is -- I'm very slow the call anybody a racist, and I think in this case, it's irrelevant. The thing that we're talking about is, are you softening the ground for people who are white supremacists, who are white nationalists, who would self-identify that way to feel comfortable with their views being brought into the national discourse, to the point where they can do a five-minute segment happily on national television? And the answer is yes, clearly, and there's lots of evidence of that.

Do I have a question, or do I have a hard time saying to somebody that's just not true? No, I probably am overeager to do that. I actually think it's one of the most interesting and compelling things about being a journalist and being able to interview people is when you find politicians who seem notoriously a challenge with the truth often, to be able to say that's literally not true and here's how it's not true. I think that's great. It's a great moment and we should do more of it.

STELTER: Maybe the question is, is it happening enough?

Mark, let me go to you on this. I saw a lot of your emails in advance of this show, one of them said she's so frustrated that the media insists on treating Trump and his surrogate with, quote, "kid gloves". Do you think that's been happening in a television coverage?

LIEBOVICH: No, I don't. I mean, I think, obviously, television coverage is -- I mean, it's not singular, I mean there are a lot of different interviewers, a of different reports, obviously.


LIEBOVICH: I mean, I do have a pet peeve, and I think it's been especially glaring in this cycle about just the ability of a lot of TV interviews to be steamrolled especially Trump's filibusters, his long answers, things that are often not true.

Same with a lot of Hillary surrogates. I mean, Hillary hasn't done that many interviews, so there's a harder comparison there.

I mean, I guess we should say, Donald Trump gets immense credit for making himself as available as he has. At the same time, I think there's been way too much patience for listening to Kellyanne Conway or Brian Fallon, or you know, Donna Brazile, or whoever. I mean, I don't want pick on them, but I guess I just did.

You know, filibustering one show or another, which has been going on for years, obviously. But I think that's also is a form of false equivalency because, you know, TV's public affairs shows can say, look, we have this -- this side has been represented, it doesn't matter if what they have said is complete nonsense or just bad television. It's just what we do and we've covered those bases.

I do think, though, I think that there's been a movement especially on -- in certain interviewers to actually become aggressive, which I think is absolutely appropriate in this case.

STELTER: So, one more minute here before we go to a break. Jacob, I think some critics would say we're too tough on Trump surrogates and not tough enough on Clinton surrogates.

[11:10:00] Do you see a false equivalency there?

WEISBERG: Well, I think, well, part of the problem is the sort of equal time for surrogates. I mean, there will be a real calling to account after this election about the role of cable news in particular.

STELTER: How so?

WEISBERG: Well, I think early on, I think there's a real case to be made that Trump was overcovered. Now, he's a presidential nominee, he could be president, you know, you sort of cover him as much as you want. But when he was low in the polls, he's been so good for the TV news business financially, and I don't think reporters consciously exaggerated his importance because of that, but I think it has an impact. And I think if you look in the early days, he got too much attention based on where he was and predictably from cable news.

STELTER: Soledad, do you agree?

O'BRIEN: Well, I think if there's any lesson to be learned, it's wow, so over the top hateful speech brings a really interested angry audience. This is genius, we should do this more often. What shall we do when this election is over? We're going to have to think about ways to really rile people up and make them angry and divide them because that's something that I think cable news, frankly, and everybody can really cover.

But now, it is he said/she said all the time. We have lost context, we actually often don't even cover the details of something. We just cover the back and forth of it. It's funny to watch if it weren't our country and our own government actually operating.

STELTER: You're talking about hateful speech, makes me wonder if it's just as compelling on TV to watch, people fight back against hateful speech. If you believe what Trump is hateful, is it just compelling to watch people argue against it?

O'BRIEN: I don't know. I mean, I don't that you see people argue against it all the time. I think it's very compelling to see video of people beating up protesters, absolutely. I think that has been -- I think the quality and legal of discourse has dropped so far, it saddens me to see, and I don't think we're going to have this reckoning that happens after the election. I think it has made a lot of money, it has done well ratings-wise and it's going to continue.

STELTER: Mark, I hear you jumping in.

LIEBOVICH: Well, no, I think the sort of financial impact of Donald Trump's presence in this race has been -- not been overstated but it misses the point. I actually think Trump's hyper exposure through much of this race has been very -- in a weird way very good journalistically, because he is very exposed.

I think anyone who feels that they don't know what Donald Trump is about at this point, you know, obviously, they can talk -- you know, we haven't seen the tax returns, we haven't seen complete or even unfunny medical records at this point. But I mean, I feel like most people know what this guy is about and either they going to vote for it or not.

And I think in many ways, it's been a very sad election, it's been a very dispiriting election. But I also think that, look, information is a double-edged sword and I do feel like, you know, it's not going to be -- basically people have seen this guy at work being who he is for a long period.

O'BRIEN: To week ago, the headlines were, it's the softening of the stance of the immigration. Today, no more of the softening of the stance, we're back to the hardening of the stance on immigration, right? We're covering the drama around the thing and not actually the policy and the specifics around the thing.

And if you were to go through and, you know, highlight various parts of the speech and really do a close reading of the actual content, you could have a policy conversation. Most of the conversations that are happening today are not policy conversations.


O'BRIEN: They are "Trump said this", he says this, his spokesperson now says he's not backing down, what really happened in Mexico, the frost, the fluff around it.

STELTER: Let's take a break and talk about that, because this is actually the perfect segue for us.

Soledad, Jacob, Mark, stick around.

After a short break, I want to ask all of you, where is the substance? Where is the policy? Instead of talking policy, we're hearing about the candidates' health and their wellness. Do reporters really need to play doctor too? That's coming up.


[11:17:44] STELTER: Hey, welcome back.

Talking about the lack of policy, substance in this presidential race, I've got to show you this examination by the "Associated Press". This is from a story earlier in the week. It says that "to date, Trump's campaign has posted just 17 policy proposals on its website, totaling just over 9,000 words. There are 38 on Clinton's issues pages, totaling 112,735 words."

Now, to that, Trump might say, Clinton is all talk, no action. Clinton might say Trump has no real plans and on and on it goes.

So, rather than duking it out, let's get some straight talk from veteran journalists back with me now talk about this, "Slate's" Jacob Weisberg, Starfish Media Group CEO Soledad O'Brien, and "New York Times" correspondent and CBS contributor, Mark Leibovich.

So, Soledad, what's a reporter to do if Donald Trump doesn't have policy statements on his website, doesn't have positions?

O'BRIEN: Well, some of the questions that he is on, he's being interviewed all the time. Spend some of that time asking policy questions as opposed to some questions that tee up the back and forth of he said/she said. I think that would be more helpful to the public.

Dig into the policies that maybe the American people who are voting would like to hear about, say, education, for example. That might be a good one, and ask questions about it.

STELTER: So, let's take that.

So, Mark, you've been able to interview Donald Trump, what's his reaction when you bring up policy as opposed to personality or conflict?

LEIBOVICH: I only talk about personality and conflict --


LEIBOVICH: No, no, I'm kidding. I mean, look, he doesn't give you much. I mean, he doesn't -- my sense is hasn't thought much about it. But I do think there's a way to interview him here which is especially on TV. I'm not a TV reporter, but to actually ask the same question over and over again, and take a fairly incredulous tone.

I mean, I think one of the model interviews in this -- and this wasn't a policy issue per se, but you know, Jake Tapper talked to him about Judge Curiel and sort of pressing him, why couldn't the fact that his ancestors came from Mexico, why would that disqualify him? So, he kept repeating and I think the problems with interviews this day and age, is that hosts come in with like a preconceived -- they have their ten things they have to cover, check off and it sort of makes you vulnerable to a filibuster.

But I think if you stick to one thing and also, people are afraid to be accused of asking gotcha questions. I mean, when that becomes such a verboten?

[11:20:00] I mean, I think one of the more revealing moments -- some of the more revealing moments about Trump in this election had been when someone threw out like when Hugh Hewitt, what about, you know, the nuclear triad? Or when someone asked him about Brexit a few weeks before Brexit happening. It was clear that he probably hadn't heard of either.

Those to me are revealing, and, obviously, there's going to be a lot of people on Twitter who are just trying to say gotcha. But I think that's fair game and actually very effective.

STELTER: Jacob, you mentioned conspiracy theories in the last segment. Let's talk about one of those. All the claims about Hillary Clinton's health, let's look how it's been covered in the past month.


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NYC MAYOR: Go online and put down, Hillary Clinton, illness, take a look at the videos for yourself.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: The weird pausing she has, the coughing fits she has.

TRUMP: She doesn't have the strength, the stamina or the ability.

She doesn't have the strength or the stamina to make America great again.


STELTER: He's been repeating that s-word, stamina, over and over again. Is it working? Is the press making it worse?

WEISBERG: It's a tough situation. He's also using his surrogates like Giuliani and like Sean Hannity, to sort of put this out here and went out there and when it found too negative for even him to put it out.

But, look, Hillary has put out a conventional doctor's report. Trump put out, has a doctor who seems like a Dr. Spaceman from "30 Rock" who wrote him a mass note, and, you know, Trump put that. It's not a medical report, right? And so, to be standing there and insinuating that there's something wrong with Hillary Clinton, with no evidence for it, no real reasons to believe, while providing no basis for an opinion about his own health is I think a classic illustration of the double standard. What does the press do about it?

I think you've got to point out, as Mark said, press him on policy, but point out that he doesn't have policies that he has a different idea of what policy is in a presidential campaign, than just about anybody who's run in our lives.

STELTER: You're talking about that Trump's doctor's note. I think NBC did great work getting an interview with him. So, that's on the one side, Clinton. Another side, there's been so much speculation here on cable news about Trump's health, about his mental health. Let's look at a few examples of that.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's I think clinically insane.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not alone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Basically, we have a psychopath running for president. I mean, he meets the clinical definition, OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's time to hear from someone in the mental health community, to look at this person who's been on television for months, and to give us a sense of what we have going on here.


STELTER: Soledad, you're responsible to be speculating that way?

O'BRIEN: I think it's crazy, if you will, that reporters would tee up people and people would really talk about bringing an expert in.

I think Dr. Drew is a really good example, right, where you have somebody who -- if you bring a guest in and you tee them up to talk about someone's health, physical health or mental health, they're going to do it. And so, there used to be a rule a while back where you would never have someone comment on somebody's health if they haven't examined the patient. Or they would say very clearly, listen, I have never examined this patient, but let me talk to you about heart disease or let me talk to you about such and such.

We sort of completely moved away from that and you have people are opining on, here's what this could be. I know Dr. Drew was talking about Hillary Clinton's internist who is in Mount Kisco, as if Mount Kisco is some New York, some back water where there aren't really that many doctors and maybe they're not that good. I mean, it's really -- I think that's what journalism is doing, right? On camera, journalists tend to do that more.

So, don't be surprised that someone opines about a patient they had never looked at when you bring them on and ask some questions about that. I think that's horribly, horribly wrong.

WEISBERG: But there's the medical and there's colloquial. It's true that real psychiatrists won't diagnose someone they haven't examined and that is still a strong ethical proviso in the profession.

O'BRIEN: Let's do it on TV.

WEISBERG: When you say, when I say, he just said something crazy -- I'm not making a mental health diagnosis, and actually when I say Donald Trump is an extreme narcissist, that's a term in popular culture, I'm not diagnosing him. You can't really treat people with narcissism anyway, which is something psychologist will evaluate --

O'BRIEN: But a lot of those clips were literally, though, talking about the medical definition of insanity or someone who is mentally not well. They're not sort of colloquially saying, hey, it was crazy for a moment about something. So, I think it is a mistake.

And where journalism makes that mistake is, right, a good, ethical psychiatrist should not be diagnosing someone they have never looked at. And yet, you can see it on TV all the time.

STELTER: I would say, more reporting, less speculating.

Mark, let me give you the last word. I have been worried that actually mental illness is being stigmatized by some of the coverage of this issue?

LEIBOVICH: Yes, I mean, again, I basically agree with what Soledad just said. I mean, I think that you've got to be very, very careful before you're rendering a diagnosis. But I also -- I do think there's a distinction between a medical diagnosis where someone is talking about, you know, a possible head injury or stamina, things that you actually need to be examined to sort of looked at and tested.

[11:25:08] I mean, you know, obviously mental health is a different area, but -- I mean, the fact is these are people that have behaved a great deal in public. There's a big body of information about their conduct about -- not so much, you know, their deeply probed psychology. But you can certainly see a lot of traits that are, as Jacob said, available in pop culture and could be quite instructive, if not descriptive. So, I do make a distinction between the two, but obviously, I think there's a lot of caution we should take before going into those areas.

STELTER: Soledad, Jacob, Mark -- thank you all for being here this morning.

Up next here, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, they are in a vitriolic war of words over Donald Trump. Hear what Beck has to say in an exclusive interview just a moment away.


STELTER: "You own her, you own Hillary Clinton."


That's what Sean Hannity told some of his conservative media counterparts this week.

In an angry radio monologue, Hannity called out Glenn Beck, "National Review," other Trump skeptics, saying he's going to blame them if Clinton is elected.

One thing is clear. There is a giant schism in conservative media right now. We have stars like Rush Limbaugh, who you see here, and Sean Hannity on one side, and then Beck and Bill Kristol and others on the other side.

Is this the new normal? What's going to happen after the election?

Let's ask Glenn Beck. He joins me now from Dallas.

Hey, Glenn. Thanks for being here.


STELTER: Is there a fracturing going on in conservative media circles right now?

BECK: Oh, there's been a fracturing that has been going on for the last probably eight to 12 months.

I don't think that the left could have planned a better candidate to blow up the right than Donald Trump.

STELTER: Is that what we saw this week between you and Sean Hannity?

I wanted to play a little bit of the sound, Sean Hannity seeming to criticize you on his radio show, and then get your reaction.


SEAN HANNITY, HOST, "THE SEAN HANNITY RADIO SHOW": Glenn Beck is like on a -- it's a holy war for him at this point. He is off the rails, attacking me every day, blaming me for Trump.

Well, no, I was fair to everybody, Glenn, whether you want to admit it or not. I know I was fair. My conscience is clear. And I, frankly -- I will proudly pull the lever for Donald Trump with a clear conscience.


STELTER: No doubt Sean Hannity is a Trump cheerleader.

What do you blame him for? What is the reality here?

BECK: I'm not on some holy war against Sean Hannity, and I don't blame him.

I blame Donald Trump for being the worst candidate for either party the country has ever seen. If Donald Trump loses, it's going to be Donald Trump's fault. If Donald Trump wins, it will be Donald Trump's fault.

STELTER: I had a question here from a Twitter follower.

It says, "What was the defining moment for you in your no-Trump position?"

BECK: I don't think there's been a defining moment.

I mean, I laughed when he -- I didn't take him seriously when he said he was going to run for president. I was on the air when he announced it, and we played it, and we laughed at it, because we didn't think it was serious. We thought it was a publicity -- publicity stunt.


STELTER: Was that a mistake? Was it a mistake to blow off Donald Trump early on? It might have given him more fuel for his rise.

BECK: Oh, yes.

I think everybody looked at him -- I mean, Brian, you know this. Your job is to look at the media. Look what the media did. Instead of taking him seriously from the very beginning and actually holding him responsible for some of the things that he said, a lot of people just looked at him as a circus show, and this will drive up numbers, and he's going to burn himself out.

That was a huge mistake, huge mistake. By last August, we were taking him very seriously, still thought that he would blow himself up, but I don't think so.

I think it's not Donald Trump. It's us. What is it about us that -- this is -- this is what I write about in my book "Liars"? It's, what is it that makes us buy into these lies that we all know are lies? Why are we buying them? What is it?

And, you know, one of the things that you can see right here is, well, he's better than she is, or she's better than he is. OK, well, they're both bad. They both stink on ice. What?

STELTER: Talking about what happens after Election Day, I know you believe Trump will look to launch a television network if he loses.

You have been there. You have done that. You have got TheBlaze. You're at the headquarters now.

What have you learned about launching a network like that?

BECK: That it is a lot harder than you think, there's a reason why everybody hasn't done it, and that playing to your little crowd can make you a lot of money, but not -- not have you able to really influence things, except in your little crowd.

You need to partner with people. You need to work with people. If thank just want to juice your own people up, then the over the top, OTT, is the greatest thing, and Donald Trump will be fantastic at it, because you can just keep juicing those people up and saying crazier and crazier things, and they will just keep paying you money, and you will make $20 million a year. If you actually want to...

STELTER: So, over the top, over the top, that means -- just to tell our viewers, that means a Netflix-style streaming service, which you did.

BECK: Yes.

STELTER: But then you tried to get onto cable services, tried to get onto cable, just like CNN's on cable.

Did you do that to reach a broader audience?

BECK: Yes, and to be able to be on every platform possible.


I mean, if smoke signals were a possibility of the future, I would be on smoke signals.


BECK: And I don't think that -- I don't think that Donald Trump will be competitive in any real sense of the world -- word. Where he will be competitive is in the world of the alt-right.

And that makes it, to me, extraordinarily frightening, because it becomes, not a broadcast, but a very narrow cast, and you keep feeding people those people the same kinds of things.

STELTER: He would say that he would feeding them the truth, what the media doesn't tell them.

BECK: You know, that is the problem.

I mean, for a long time, our slogan was, the truth lives here. And we wrestled with that at the time. And we still do. You know, we have talked a lot about, maybe we should say the facts live here or...


BECK: You know, how do you -- it's this idea that no one, no one is giving you the truth except me that I think is problematic...


BECK: ... because I watch CNN.

Quite honestly -- boy, I never thought I would say this. CNN, I thought, had the best coverage of the debates and the campaign all the way through.

STELTER: Why? Why is that?

BECK: You guys have had -- because I think, at least when it came to the Republicans, you didn't have a horse in the race.

And so I know a lot of conservatives that said, you guys were the only ones we could watch because you didn't have a horse in the race, so you just presented the facts the way they were.

And people have to understand that it's good for people to see the other view and not bash the other point of view. Listen to it, and then know their side, know your side, know somebody else's side. Listen to each other, I think, is becoming more and more important.

STELTER: I could not have said it better.

Glenn, thank you for being here this morning.

BECK: Thank you.

STELTER: And we have posted even more from our Beck interview online at

Up next here, we're going to the front lines to battleground swing states to find out how two local newspapers are being courted by the candidates.



STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

Almost every day now, there is a juicy new poll about the presidential race. I don't think I ever called a poll juicy before, but it's true. Reporters love these daily developments.

But as we're covering these battles, we have to put the polls in proper perspective.

Let's take a look at CNN's latest Electoral College outlook. As you know, the magic number is 270. Right now, CNN's map has Clinton with 273 electoral votes. Those are from states that are either solidly blue on this map or leaning blue. That gives her a huge advantage over Trump, who right now has 191 votes. These are from states that are solidly red or leaning red.

Now, the map is just a snapshot. It's a snapshot of the moment, not a prediction. A lot could happen between now and November. And whatever it does happen, it's likely to take place in one of the five states you see shaded back here on the map, shaded yellow on the map, true battleground states, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Iowa and Nevada.

So, this morning, we want to find out how the race is being covered by the local papers in the trenches.

Joining me are editors in two of the crucial swing states, Mindy Marques Gonzalez, executive editor for "The Miami Herald" in Florida, and Peter Bhatia, the editor and V.P. of audience development for "The Cincinnati Enquirer" in Ohio.

Thanks to both of you for being here.

I know those candidates have been all over your two states.

Mindy, do you get a lot of access to Clinton and to Trump and to their running mates when they're visiting Florida?

MINDY MARQUES GONZALEZ, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE MIAMI HERALD": We get access to both candidates, but we do not get access to both candidates?

We have gotten access to Trump. He has a previous relationship with the newspaper, given his part-time status as a Florida resident, and also because he owns that golf resort right around the corner. So, we have gotten a one-on-one with him, but not with Hillary Clinton.

STELTER: And, then, Peter, what about you? What about in Ohio? Are the candidates accessible, or are you having some of the same problems national media outlets are having?

PETER BHATIA, EDITOR, "THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRER": Exactly the same that the national media outlets are -- happening.

We did get an interview, a brief one, with Trump recently when he was here for a campaign rally. And it was right when the whole kerfuffle about Saddam being a good leader because he killed terrorists.

And we asked him about that. And his campaign got mad at us for asking him about it, because it was the topic of the moment. We have reached out to both campaigns and invited them to meet with our editorial boards, but so far no luck.

They were both in Cincinnati last week. Both spoke back to back, or one day after the other, and we still haven't had a chance to sit down with them. We hope we do.

STELTER: Peter, what's the difference between this year and, say, 2008 and 2012?

What is different about the race and about how the race is being covered by local outlets?

BHATIA: The volume of people calling and yelling at us, literally, about our coverage is greater than it's ever been.

I have never seen quite anything like this, and I have lived in really red places and really blue places. But I have never seen the anger around an election like this one, which just complicates the matter.

STELTER: Mindy, I want to know if you're finding the same thing. But, Peter, first, that feedback you're getting, is it from both sides, or the same amount, or is it that Trump supporters are calling more or Clinton supporters are calling more?

BHATIA: In this case, I have had experiences in the past when it's been 50/50.

If you're an editor, you have been called everything from a fascist to a communist.


BHATIA: But, in this case, it's much more the Trump people in this particular instance.

STELTER: And, Mindy, how about for you at "The Miami Herald"? Are you finding the same kind of audience feedback?


MARQUES GONZALEZ: We definitely find that the community is polarized.

And I think that's a direct result of the way that this campaign has been waged. I think it's a little less because of the demographics of our community, which tends to be a little bit heavier Democratic and independent. But among, you know, like Republicans and some conservatives, we certainly have heard displeasure.

STELTER: Before I go, any feedback of what the national media is missing about your state in particular?

Mindy, starting with you, we looked at the current polls from Florida. It looks like Clinton has a real serious lead. But the state is still considered a battleground state. What does the national press miss when covering Florida?

MARQUES GONZALEZ: It's about nuance.

And I think, if you look at Florida as this monolith, then you're missing the real story. The state really behaves as three different sectors of the country. You have got the Panhandle-North Florida area really behaving like the South. You have Southeast Florida behaving like New York, and then you have the Southwest Florida, which is like the Midwest.

And in Orlando, the I-4 Corridor really swings both ways. And so I think it would be a mistake to really cast Florida for anyone right now. We think it's within the margin of error right now between both candidates.

STELTER: Peter, looking at Ohio, one of the most recent polls shows Clinton at 43, Trump with 39 percent support.

What does the national press not understand about Ohio?

BHATIA: Well, I think that, like in Florida, the stereotypes get played out.

Cleveland is very Democrat, of course, Southern Ohio, Eastern Ohio, more rural, tends to be a little more tilting towards the Republicans.

What is Interesting so much about Ohio is, there are all these different economies in the state, all these different counties. Just here in Cincinnati, Cincinnati is a blue city. The leadership of Cincinnati is Democrat.

But all around us, including across the river in Kentucky, but all around us are heavily red areas. After all, John Boehner comes from north of Cincinnati. And I don't think, even with everything that happened in Congress, anybody's going to accuse Speaker Boehner of being a liberal.

So, it's a very, very complicated place. And because of the changing voting patterns this year, I think it's even harder to predict than it has been in the past.

So it's very hard to report on it. There's amazing and interesting things here -- I sound like Donald Trump -- going on all the time in Ohio, but it's really going to go down to the wire here, I think, and that's the story.

STELTER: Do your staffs get any time off between now and Election Day?







BHATIA: No, they're on the bricks.

STELTER: Two more months to go.

Mindy and Peter, thank you so much.

When we come back here on RELIABLE SOURCES: five news anchors now preparing for the biggest assignments of their lives. Find out who will referee the presidential debates and why they were chosen after the break.



STELTER: Hey. Welcome back.

Picture yourself on the presidential debate stage, Donald Trump to your right, Hillary Clinton to your left. What would you ask them?

Lester Holt is starting to figure that out this weekend. On Friday, we found out he will be the moderator of the first of three presidential debates.

And what a year Holt has had. You know, 18 months ago, he was the weekend anchor of "NBC Nightly News" filling in for Brian Williams. But now that Williams had to leave the anchor chair, move over to MSNBC after that scandal, Holt is now the main anchor. And this will be a huge opportunity for him. The first debate is 22 days from today, September 26, at Hofstra University.

Now, the second presidential debate has a town hall format. It will be led by CNN's Anderson Cooper and ABC's Martha Raddatz on October 9. There will be questions from an audience in Saint Louis and also questions from social media.

The third and final debate will be moderated by FOX News anchor Chris Wallace. That will be on October 19 in Nevada.

There's also one vice presidential on October 4 moderated by CBS News anchor Elaine Quijano.

Now, the Commission on Presidential Debates is being very tight-lipped about how it came up with the names. But there were many well- qualified journalists to choose from. And I think all five of these names make perfect sense.

If you think about it, the list has one anchor from each of the five biggest networks and cable channels. And it is the most diverse list of moderators in debate history.

I know that was very important to the commission members. It's also sure to be the most scrutinized list ever.

Let's face it. Trump is going to be an especially tough candidate to moderate. Trump and Clinton together is even tougher. The moderators may need to fact-check the candidates in real time. But if they do that, they might be criticized for doing it.

I think it's fair to say this is the biggest assignment of these five anchors' careers, definitely in front of the biggest audience they have ever reached at a single time.

You and I know the whole country is going to be watching on September 26 and for all of the debates after. And it's up to the moderators on their own to come up with the questions. Some people don't know this, but the commission says it has no input on the questions, nor do the campaigns.

So Holt and Cooper and Raddatz and Quijano and Wallace are going to have a very busy few weeks.

Quick break here, but first a programming note. When is the last time you saw four hours of documentary programming on cable news all about the candidates? You're going to see that tomorrow night 8:00 p.m. CNN is taking an in-depth look at the life and times of Trump and Clinton.



DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For the presidency of the United States.

NARRATOR: "The Essential Hillary Clinton."

CLINTON: We are stronger together at charting a course toward the future.


NARRATOR: "The Essential Donald Trump."

TRUMP: I love you. And we will make America great again.

NARRATOR: All on one blockbuster night.

Clinton has been called the most famous person no one knows.

CHELSEA CLINTON, DAUGHTER OF HILLARY CLINTON: I never understand that. It's so clear to me who my mother is. She never forgets who she's fighting for. And she's fighting first and foremost for children and for families.

NARRATOR: Trump has a passion for business and the spotlight.

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: No is going to outwork him. No one has got more energy than him.

IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHTER OF DONALD TRUMP: He always said to us, find what it is that you're passionate about and pursue it with your full heart.

NARRATOR: Their stories, from the people who know them best, "CNN SPECIAL REPORT," Hillary Clinton at 8:00, Donald Trump at 10:00, CNN, Labor Day.



STELTER: That's all for this televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

Let me know what you thought of today's show. Send me a tweet or a Facebook message. My username is Brian Stelter.