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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Reporters Are Learning About Trump's "Learning Curve"; Sloppy Statements from the White House Podium; Dan Rather on the Media Coverage of Trump's Military Action; The Trump Effect in a Divided Country. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired April 16, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:08] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey, good morning. Happy Easter Sunday and Happy Passover.
I'm Brian Stelter and this is RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the story behind the story, of how the media really works and how the news gets made.
Ahead this hour, Dan Rather and Jen Psaki talking about the White House press secretary's sloppiness and how the news media is covering Trump military actions.
Plus, the very latest on Bill O'Reilly and the ad boycott against his show, with observers wondering if his spring break vacation will become permanent.
And later, someone I really want to introduce you to; a banker-turned- photographer who's been crisscrossing the country, interviewing the Americans who President Trump calls the forgotten men and women. What he's learned about the media world, coming up.
But first, after a week of U-turns by the president, part of what CNN's Chris Cillizza called "the education of Donald Trump," let's pick out a quote of the week, a single quote that tells a very big story.
This is what the president told "The Wall Street Journal," after he listened to the Chinese president explain the long, complex history of China-North Korea relations. Quote, "After listening for 10 minutes, I realized that it's not so easy," this quote left CNN's Anderson Cooper almost speechless.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, "AC360": President Trump said in the Wall Street Journal today that after listening to the Chinese president explain the history of China and North Korea for about 10 minutes, he, quote, "realized it's not so easy," I mean, is that -- I --
COOPER: I really am speechless. I don't know why I'm reacting like this but --
AMANPOUR: But he said the same thing about healthcare.
COOPER: Well, I know, yes, of course, it's exactly what he said about healthcare, that nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated. But you know what? Actually a lot of people did, in fact, pretty much everybody knew it was really, really complicated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Christiane Amanpour is right. Back in February Trump said this about healthcare.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, I have to tell you, some unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: This really exposes one of the tensions between the president and his press corps because yes, these reporters and TV anchors did know how complicated healthcare was, how complicated foreign policy was and continues to be. It seems the president says he's just learning.
I think this also exposes a deeper issue of competing realities about this administration. Based on the news sources you choose, you might be seeing an alternative reality.
Joining me now to sort all of this out, some of the country's top newsroom leaders: Stephen Adler, editor in chief of "Reuters", Lydia Polgreen, editor and chief of "The Huffington Post" and Michael Oreskes, the head of news at NPR.
Michael, President Trump listened to the Chinese president and said he realizes it's not that easy. On the bright side, he's learning. He's listening and learning.
MICHAEL ORESKES, HEAD OF NEWS AT NPR: Yep. You know, it's a leader's job to sort out complexity and to help explain it to -- to in this case the country and to the world and it's our job as journalists, also to take very complicated situations and present them in ways that our listeners or our readers can understand them.
But what's a little difficult in this situation and what I think has been very hard for journalists is that as the President's learning curve takes effect, the things he says changes from day -- change from day-to-day and so, we're often caught in a situation where we don't know whether what he's saying today will have all that much valance the next day or the day after. And that's created a real tension for us, I think.
STELTER: So should we believe him last week or this week, do you mean? ORESKES: And it's even a little more complicated than believe him. It may well be that his understanding of the situation is honest at the moment that he's expressing it.
You know, most leaders, what you get is they simplify or even oversimplify a complicated situation for their political purposes. In this case, based on things the president said, you can often believe that he actually thought it was that simple, until he realized that it wasn't.
STELTER: Lydia, what do you make of the fact that this came, this quote from this week came in a "Wall Street Journal" interview, one of several the president gave this week. He called out Rupert Murdoch's "New York Post" at one point. He gave an interview to Murdoch's Fox Business Channel and to Murdoch's "Wall Street Journal", all Murdoch companies, by the way.
But he is accessible. That was one of the takeaways of this museum conference about the president and the president. The journalists are maybe surprised by how accessible this president has been.
Here he is in interviews, sharing his thought process, sharing his evolution in real time.
LYDIA POLGREEN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, HUFFINGTON POST: I mean, it's kind of wild. Do you remember in the 2004 election how devastating the flip-flopper, you know, insult was to John Kerry? I mean, I remember at the Republican Convention, "Flip-flop, flip-flop," I mean, it was just unbelievable.
But I think that what undergirds that is the idea that you have a political leader who has real convictions, who has for the purposes of expediency, thrown those beliefs out.
[11:05:03] And in this case, just as Michael said, it's not clear that he has any real beliefs or any real convictions, that he's just sort of following his impulse.
I mean, he is accessible and it seems like he'll talk to anyone. He talks to the whole world via his Twitter account. You know, in a normal course of events, one would say, hey, it's great that the president is so accessible. But as his words are essentially meaningless or if it's just a kind of learning journey for him, what are we to make of that? How do we cover it?
STELTER: You're saying that accessibility isn't always entirely valuable or the only thing that that matters.
POLGREEN: No, absolutely not, because, you know, if someone's speaking in gobbledygook, you know, and their words don't have any meaning, then what are you supposed to do with that?
STELTER: Steve, "After listening for 10 minutes, I realize it's not so easy," when your "Reuters" international correspondents hear that quote from the president of the United States, do they resent him a little bit for that? I mean, they're experts. They actually know how this world works and they're hearing the president's just now learning.
STEPHEN J. ADLER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, REUTERS: We're trying to focus more on reporting out the global reaction to it than focusing on our own reaction.
STELTER: How can you set your own reactions aside, though? How can you -- how can you not have a personal reaction?
ADLER: Look, I think our job is to try to look at any government anywhere in the world, sort of through the same prism and to ask ourselves, how much skepticism do we need to attach to this, based on what we know about where it's coming from, what the context is and to try to help people understand it?
ORESKES: Steve is He's right. There's actually two kind of principles here that are in conflict, if you want to look at this from the journalistic point of view and I know how much you want to empathize with us and our conflicts.
I think -- I think generally speaking, we would like to err on the side of letting the president say things to the country that -- and frankly any political leader, that the words of a political leader are automatic.
On the other hand, there's an old journalistic adage that says, "watch what they do, not what they say," and that's become extremely important in this administration because their actions are often not at all in the configuration with various things that have been said in office, but things that have been said don't fit together.
POLGREEN: I mean, I think a great example of this is all of this focus on the fight between Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon, it's an interesting story and it's a great, juicy political story, right? But at the end of the day, even if Bannon goes, Jeff Sessions is attorney general, and Steve Miller is, you know, gotten cozy with Jared Kushner and they're prosecuting exactly the program that they promised to the voters.
So even if Bannon leaves, it's a very different thing to have that kind of conflict with an internal staffer in White House. But Jeff Session is, in fact, the attorney general. So, I worry that we're losing focus on the actions of the attorney general, who can actually do stuff, unilaterally do stuff, in the middle of this, you know, heated -- I would say overheated coverage of the, you know, "Game of Thrones" going on between Bannon and Kushner.
STELTER: You're also saying pay more attention to the agency than the departments and not just on the White House itself.
POLGREEN: Absolutely, absolutely.
ORESKES: Which is not -- which is not a new problem. I mean, we have tended over the years, we, journalism, has tended to put an enormous amount of attention on the president of the United States and that's become a bigger and bigger investment by journalism, and we've tended to not pay enough attention to very important places like the Pentagon and the Justice Department.
The attorney general's decision the other day to change the Justice Department's position on oversight of law enforcement in local communities, very important decision, lots of ramifications. You know, and there are people who are happy with it and people who are very, very angry about it. But it's extremely important and it will have big implications to lots of people in this --
STELTER: So, Kellyanne Conway is onto something when she says the president is not focused enough on substance, on policy, Steve.
ADLER: Well, I think we have to look outside in. We don't want to look Beltway -- a lot of this stuff is kind of entertaining now and I think it's danger -- the entertainment value of it is actually dangerous, because we're living in a world of 24-hour interests, we're living in a world of Twitter, we're living in a world of clickbait and you don't really want your coverage of the President of the United States to be driven by those forces, because it's so important right now.
And I mean, you know, what do people care about? People care about education, they care about security, they care about jobs, they care about healthcare, they care about things that are very fundamental.
POLGREEN: And I think as Stephen said, you know, there are a lot of people who are tuning in intermittently. They may have the radio on in the background, they may tune into CNN for 15 minutes while they're making breakfast for their kids. They're not paying attention to every tweet, every blow-by-blow and then maybe they listen to right wing talk radio on their way to work.
So I think that this is a fundamental -- this is a much larger fundamental problem with the way in which people consume media in the sense that they're not paying attention to every twist and turn. And so, it's incumbent on us to go even further in focusing on substance rather than fluff, like battles within the White House.
STELTER: I'm a little bit of a pessimistic figure at this table. I perceive that there's two filter bubbles or echo chambers that people are in, one and then the other, depending on whether you are a loyal supporter of President Trump or whether you are more skeptical.
[11:10:12] ORESKES: The coal jobs are either going to come back or they're not. So facts are actually going to decide for people, they're either going to see more retail jobs, more coal jobs. They're going to get healthcare insurance or they're not, and I think that's why we have to be a little more patient. Lots and lots of flurries of things are happening, but in many cases it's going to be a year or two before it settles down and people say, my life got better or my life didn't get better.
And I don't think they can be fooled about that honestly.
ORESKES: So, I think there are filter bubbles. In fact, there aren't just two, there are lots of them. And there are lots, and they overlap, they intersect. It's clearly one of the jobs of journalism and we take this very seriously. We think in public radio it's a core mission to try to puncture through filter bubbles, to try to help people see and hear things that they're not otherwise seeing and hearing.
But the other challenge here isn't just the filter bubble the way you conceive it. It's that people look for the information they need to live their lives and to do their work as citizens on cycles that are very different from the cycles that we operate on as news organizations.
And so, part of what we have to develop and I think all three of the organizations that you go here represented are trying to do this, to create information that's available to you when you're ready for it, when you've got the hunger for it, when you need it, instead of on the schedule that we give it to you.
STELTER: Such a great plan.
ORESKES: And that's not the only part of the solution, but the alone which makes a huge difference.
STELTER: Are we making producing news for the people that actually want to consume it, or are we making it more for ourselves?
I think my point is that that shine a quote, that comments about how it's a lot more complicated than I thought about China and North Korea, it wasn't covered by "Breitbart" or "RedState" or "The Daily Caller" or these sites that are either explicitly pro-Trump or just very conservative.
Lydia, I wonder if that's the alternative reality that I'm describing here.
POLGREEN: I think that's right. I think it is the alternative reality. Yeah, I mean I think people do live in these filter bubbles, but I think that the people who live in like hard, impermeable filter bubbles is actually a pretty small number of people. I don't believe that it's a 50/50 split in the country. The 50 percent of the people are open-minded and the other 50 percent are just absolutely impermeably opposed, because people lead rich and complex lives.
ADLER: And people go to work. And at work, people talk about these issues and if you didn't see it on "Breitbart", maybe you heard about it at work. You may have a cousin who has a different point of view and you see them over the holidays and you get into a discussion about it. I just don't think people are as cloistered as you might be suggesting.
STELTER: Michael, Lydia, thank you very much for being here.
POLGREEN: Thank you.
STELTER: We're just getting started here on Reliable Sources.
Coming up next, the former White House Communications insider weighing in on Sean Spicer's very tough week.
And later, Bill O'Reilly -- will he still have a job when he comes back from vacation? That question now dividing the Murdoch family.
We'll be right back.
[11:16:45] STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.
Sean Spicer is getting a much needed break this weekend. I was going to start the subject by saying this was the press secretary's worst week yet. But honestly, we've heard that sentence so many times by now, it's starting to feel redundant.
To his credit, Spicer did something we've not really seen from the Trump administration. He apologized for that Assad-Hitler comparison.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I made a mistake. There's no other way to say it. I got into a topic that I shouldn't have, and I screwed up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: A big screw up and a forthright apology. Is this part of a changing press strategy at the White House? And how much does that matter to the public?
Joining me now, someone who's been there -- Jen Psaki, who was President Obama's White House communications director up until January. She's now a CNN contributor.
Jen, great to see you.
JEN PSAKI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Great to be here.
STELTER: First of all, since you have been in this environment, this press versus the White House environment, was there a pile on this week? Did Spicer get unfairly treated? Was there too much criticism?
PSAKI: Well, I think part of what we saw is that he and the White House press team, and the White House in general, currently, has not built up -- they haven't built up a lot of goodwill with the media. And so, when there's a moment where you screw up -- every press secretary screws up, everybody who's ever had Sean's job --
STELTER: You're saying that Josh Earnest screwed up?
PSAKI: There were times where Josh says things that he wished he hadn't said.
STELTER: Right, right.
PSAKI: Now, it was never at this level, to be fair.
But there isn't a lot of goodwill. And therefore, you know, there isn't a lot of bandwidth for reporters to kind of give you a break or people to give you a break.
STELTER: Beyond this Hitler comparison, he sometimes mispronounces Assad's name. There's a lot of sloppiness in his briefings on a daily basis, which just gets to the big question, is he going to lose his job? Should he lose his job?
PSAKI: Well, there haven't been any real indications that that is happening. And I don't have the greatest level of insight into the Trump team staffing, you know, in comparison with many others. This is a job, I think, that his success is based on what his boss thinks, what Donald Trump thinks.
Donald Trump is also a little loose with the facts. He's also a little loose with pronunciation sometimes. He wants him to go out there clearly and be brash, and be somebody who is making strong, aggressive points.
To some degree, Sean is doing that. So, whether or not he continues to stay is probably the decision of one person. And he seems to be doing what Donald Trump wants him to do.
STELTER: When I asked if he should lose his job, I figured you as a Democrat would immediately say, yes. But no, you're giving him some leeway.
PSAKI: Look, I think there's way too much time spent in Washington, you know, demonizing the staff. And I think there are things that Sean could have done better. There are things that -- there are ways he hasn't been served by his team, probably. There are ways that he hasn't been served by the president that he is working for, and the job that he has to deliver on his behalf.
But, you know, I think that it's a really tough job. Everybody screws up. He apologized. You know, whether he -- if he didn't know the history, that's perhaps his own thing that should be concerning, maybe he needs to spend more time in history books.
[11:20:04] But -- you know, I think -- I think he may be in his job for a while is my suspicion.
STELTER: Pretty soon, all over TV, we're going to hear about Trump's first 100 days, how he's been doing, and there's already been stories about how the communication team is prepping, trying to spin his first hundred days.
How would you say, as someone who's a member of the opposition, what kind of story has Trump been telling, and how effectively has he been telling it?
PSAKI: Well, you can't put lipstick on a pig. This is a pig. They are going to have to sell something that does not have a lot of substance to it. He may be one of the first presidents in recent history who hasn't passed a major piece of legislation. Typically, that would be the central point to what you're selling at a hundred days.
STELTER: Yes, but isn't it more about emotions? Isn't it more about a feeling that, here's a guy that's on my side working for me?
PSAKI: Maybe. But the majority of the public isn't feeling that right now. So I think the challenge they're going to have is that there is already some pull back from people who thought that he was going to immediately bring back their jobs. From people who thought that he was going to protect their healthcare, make their lives better. And some of that you can't sell, because there's nothing to sell for.
STELTER: Really? I think he's telling a pretty simple story. I'm keeping you safe, I'm fighting the bad guys overseas, and I'm working on getting your jobs back by talking to all these CEOs all the time. It's a pretty simple story.
PSAKI: I think they're -- perhaps, but I think when people are feeling individually, that they're not feeling that their lives are getting better. You're not going to see that same evaluation of the national storyline.
I do think that unfortunately, what the lesson he may take away from the military action is that that could make you more popular. And his polls will likely see a jump in advance of his hundred days because they have historically as a result of military action. That may help in their storytelling that he's strong. That's hopefully not the lesson he learned from it, but that's a risk, too. But I actually think their job is pretty challenging in the communications office.
STELTER: Syria, then Afghanistan this week, you're saying that these strikes could benefit him, and he may look at the coverage, the positive coverage, and say I should do more of that?
PSAKI: He may. You know, if you look at President Bush's popularity went up after 9/11 and after the war in Afghanistan was started. There is a certain nationalism and kind of national pride that comes when military action is taken. And we haven't seen -- it hasn't been too long since the Syria strike, but it is likely he will get a bump in the polls.
And as somebody who loves to be popular and loves to be loved, he may take away from that, well, military action may be the way to get my numbers up. I hope that's not the case, but we could certainly see that happen.
STELTER: Finally, the one thing you'd like to see the communications team, they are your successors, now sitting in your old office -- what do you wish they'd be doing differently?
PSAKI: Well, you know, it's hard for me to answer that question as a Democrat.
STELTER: But as an American. PSAKI: Well, as an American, look, I think that we deserve more answers and information on what their plan is in Syria. We deserve more information on how exactly they're going to make sure that people don't have their healthcare taken away. I don't -- they're a little light on the substantive answers to really big policy issues that are going to impact people's lives. And I think we all should want to hear more and want to see more.
STELTER: Jen, great to see you.
PSAKI: Great to be here.
STELTER: Up next here, fresh reporting on Bill O'Reilly and the split inside the Murdoch family over what the future of "The O'Reilly Factor" is. That's coming up right after the break.
[11:27:54] STELTER: What will Rupert Murdoch decide? That is the big media question of the next seven days.
Rupert Murdoch's biggest star on FOX News, Bill O'Reilly, is on vacation for seven more days. That's why there's a ticking clock.
But O'Reilly might not be relaxing, here is why. FOX News is owned by 21st Century Fox. And the company is controlled by these guys, the Murdochs, by Rupert and his sons James and Lachlan. And the Murdochs are not sure whether to continue standing by O'Reilly.
Now, let's flashback to April 1st. That's when "The New York Times" reported on the previously secret settlements that O'Reilly struck with women who accused him of sexual harassment and verbal abuse.
O'Reilly said the claims had no merit, but he had settled in order to avoid embarrassing news headlines that would hurt his children. After "The Times" story hit, sponsors started to move their ads from "The O'Reilly Factor". And the woman who has not settled, who has not agreed to say silent in exchange for a payout called up and asked FOX to formally investigate O'Reilly.
Her name is Wendy Walsh. This is what her lawyer Lisa Bloom said right here last week on RELIABLE SOURCES.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LISA BLOOM, LAWYER: We received a return phone call from a couple of attorneys who represent FOX News. And they said that they are, indeed, going to do an investigation based on Wendy's complaint.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: In response to that comment, 21st Century Fox issued a statement saying the company "investigates all complaints and we have asked the law firm Paul Weiss to continue assisting in these serious matters." Now, this is one of those canned corporate statement that actually contained big news. Paul Weiss is the same law firm that looked into allegations against FOX News boss, Roger Ailes, last summer. The Murdoch then concluded that Ailes had to go.
So, could the same thing be happening this time?
O'Reilly is a profit engine for FOX News but he's also a liability now, hurting FOX's sales and overall brand.
That's why this came as a surprise, back on Tuesday night, O'Reilly said he was going on vacation. He said it was preplanned. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": Last fall, I booked a trip that should be terrific. Not going to tell you where it is. But we have a contest on BillOReilly.com. Guess where Bill is going?
I will have a full report when I return.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: "When I return," he said, which will be on April 24, according to FOX.
It's curious timing, right?
Here is what Gabe Sherman told Chris Hayes on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS HAYES, HOST, "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES": Do you believe the vacation was pre-planned?
GABE SHERMAN, "NEW YORK MAGAZINE": Yes, all my reporting inside FOX News indicates that Bill O'Reilly did plan this trip before.
Now, what I find striking is that management let him go. When you are in the middle of a major public relations crisis, if they were backing him, they would say, listen, stay on the air, we got your back, don't make it look like this is a suspension.
HAYES: That's interesting. So, letting him go on the pre-planned vacation is a little bit of an indicator?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Maybe, or maybe O'Reilly just is not the kind of guy who would cancel a vacation to save face.
My sense is that FOX was happy and maybe even a little bit relieved that this vacation was scheduled when it was. This is now a cooling-off period, as one source said to me, because
this is where it gets really interesting. Sherman and reporters of "The New York Times" and other outlets say there is a dramatic divide within FOX, a divide right within the Murdoch family over O'Reilly's future.
This is from CNN's own Dylan Byers' reporting. He says: "One source close to the matter said their understanding is that Rupert, who is the executive chairman, would like to keep O'Reilly on, while his son James, the CEO, is opposed to that idea."
What will the family decide to do?
Here is what Lisa Bloom said on "CNN TONIGHT" the other day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LISA BLOOM, ATTORNEY: As whether they are going to fire Bill O'Reilly, any other company in America would do that with six complaints, including other women who allegedly had recordings of him calling them while he was engaged in a sex act.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: She said any other company would fire him.
But, historically, during Rupert Murdoch's decades of media moguldom, FOX has prided itself on not being like any other company. But maybe that's changing. Maybe Rupert's sons want it to change.
Stories like this are pretty tricky to cover, because most of the people who really know what's going on are not talking. And O'Reilly is literally out of the country. "The New York Times" says he's in Italy.
The one thing we know for sure is that April 24 is going to be a crucial day. That's the day O'Reilly is scheduled to be back on "The Factor." Between now and then, the Murdochs have a big decision to make.
We will have complete coverage in our nightly newsletter. You can log on right now, RELIABLESOURCES.com. That's our daily wrap-up of all the day's media news on this O'Reilly scandal and other stories.
Coming up next here on the show, Dan Rather, the one, the only, talking about Trump's military action in Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere and how the press is responding.
We will be right back.
STELTER: Hey. Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter. In Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere, the Trump administration is both taking military action and also making the most of the media coverage of those actions, of those airstrikes and bombings, all of it calling to mind the phrase the theater of war.
And we've heard commentary about the bombings, these military strikes making Trump presidential.
But my next guest is concerned about that, Dan Rather, legendary newsman, former anchor of "The CBS Evening News," currently the host of "The Big Interview with Dan Rather" on Access TV. He is the founder of the production company News and Guts.
And he joins me here in New York.
Dan, you wrote about the coverage of the Syria strikes now more than a week ago. You said that you thought some of the commentary around this was disturbing.
DAN RATHER, HOST, "THE BIG INTERVIEW WITH DAN RATHER": Well, because so much of it centered on saying now President Trump has established himself as -- quote -- "presidential."
Dropping bombs, having missile strikes doesn't make one presidential.
And there's an old story here -- and I, among others, have much to answer for this in the press -- that just because a president exerts himself as commander in chief, there's a natural inclination, and an unhealthy one, to immediately say, boy, that makes him presidential, that makes him strong.
Look, it's easy to drop bombs and easy to put missiles off. What comes after that, even what comes in the wake of that is much more difficult.
So, yes, I was critical of those and raised a question of those who said, well, this makes Trump presidential. I gently and, I hope respectfully, disagree with that, that what makes one presidential is, can you keep the peace?
Now, if it turns out that these actions keep the peace, we can say, well, that was a good move. But it's way too early to say that.
You know, we're in danger as a country here. There are a lot of flash points around the world, North Korea -- let's don't go down the whole list -- Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, South China sea. These are real powder kegs with a fairly short fuse burning.
So, before we make any decisions on being -- quote -- "presidential," we need these how this is going to play out.
STELTER: Do journalists have a tendency, a natural tendency to rally around the flag in moments of crisis or at moments of military action?
And is that detrimental?
RATHER: I think journalists, including this one, do have that tendency. And we should fight it more often. Rallying around the flag doesn't mean rallying around any military strike. Rallying around the flag is, what's best for the country?
And what's best for the country is for journalists -- and, again, I don't except myself from this criticism -- is to be skeptical, not cynical, but skeptical, and ask the questions: What does this mean, where can this lead, what was the real purpose of this, what was the real motivation of this?
That's the role that journalists should be playing in a society such as ours.
STELTER: Wars or military actions, they burnish journalists' individual brands, don't they?
I was thinking about something that FOX's Chris Stirewalt said on air a couple of weeks ago. He said -- and I thought this was really honest. He said: "Reporters like stuff to cover. Wars are interesting and eventful."
Now, it's easy to say that from thousands of miles away in Washington or New York. But there is some truth to that, isn't there?
RATHER: Oh, there's a great deal of truth to that.
But what all of us need to do as journalists is to kind of pull back a little bit and say, well, listen, what is really rallying behind the flag? You know, being in support of the president, that's one thing. To ask the right questions and keep on right asking the right questions.
I remind you that in the roll-up to the Iraq War, very few journalists -- and I'm sorry to say I wasn't one of them -- asked enough of the right questions about what -- what are we getting into here?
There was an immediate -- quote -- "rally around the flag." We couldn't -- I think we need to remind ourselves of that today.
I want to make very clear that these actions by President Trump may or may not have been necessary. They may or may not -- or may not have had any other motivation.
One effect that they had, whether it was intended or not, was to change the conversation. The conversation was all about, what did Donald Trump know and when did he know it about Russian influence on the election?
The second the missiles were launched on Syria, the narrative changed to his advantage. Now, I don't think that was his intention, but it was one of the effects of it.
STELTER: We saw that again this week in Afghanistan, with this use of that MOAB, a bomb.
I wonder if the intent of something like that is psychological, that the audience, both at home and abroad, knows of the use of a weapon of that caliber.
RATHER: My own opinion, clearly labeled, is, this super bomb was used in Afghanistan, that, overwhelmingly, the motive was, it was the right effective weapon used in the effective way.
But you can make an argument that it also, one, sends a signal to, say, the North Koreans, the Russians, the Chinese and others that this president is not reluctant to use super weapons.
Another is the psychological impact on the public at large: Well, this president is strong. He's really willing to use our military muscle.
So, intended or not, and I think intended not in case of the super bomb -- as I say, I think it was, overwhelmingly, this is the right weapon to use at the right place.
STELTER: In order to penetrate those ISIS tunnels?
But the subsidiary effects of it, the psychological effects, as we've mentioned, do come into play.
STELTER: And, of course, we're taking, in many cases, the administration's word on these matters, what the Pentagon says was the target, was the impact, was a success or failure.
Now, we saw in Yemen early on in the Trump administration's...
STELTER: ... time that the initial report, the initial claim from the administration may not line up with regards to civilian casualties, for example.
RATHER: This is so important. It's important for journalists such as myself and you. It's important for the public to understand.
In any big event, frequently, much of what you first hear turns out to be wrong or somewhat wrong. That's number one.
Number two, this is where we have to ask the questions and keep asking the questions, is what it appears to be -- what appears to be frequently is not the reality. What's going on behind the scenes in the Trump administration, we do not yet know about these military strikes, the use of military weaponry. He's reversing course on so many things.
You know, he's -- in terms of policy, including foreign policy, President Trump has been jumping around like a frog in a hot skillet. You know, he's reversed himself on any number of things. You know, he said -- questioned NATO. Now he's all in favor of NATO. He said -- quote -- "The U.S. military is a disaster" during the campaign. Now he's all for the military.
He questioned the Federal Reserve. Now he says, well, he may be reappointing the head of the Federal Reserve.
There's a long list of these things. Chinese currency, he first said you -- the Chinese are currency manipulators. Now he says, well, they aren't currency manipulators.
So, there's a lot going on behind the scenes. And this business of jumping around from place to place, now, being unpredictable is sometimes helpful for a leader. But if you're this unpredictable, you run the risk of people perceiving that you're running a dysfunctional presidency. And that's what Donald Trump is battling at the moment.
STELTER: Dan, great to see you.
Thank you very much for being here.
RATHER: Always very good to see you, Brian. Take care.
STELTER: Up next someone I've been hoping to interview for several months. He's a writer-photographer who was studying addiction, but is now studying the Trump effect.
Meet him right after the break.
STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
Chris Arnade's beat is the forgotten man and woman. He says he's just a guy with a car and a camera. But he's telling stories via Twitter and columns in "The Guardian"
Interesting turn of events, because he's a Wall Street trader who quit his job and then started taking these pictures, traveling across the country, writing about poverty and addiction, meeting people that he says are part of a very divided country.
It's a divide that frames what he says is a front row vs. back row America, two kinds of people speaking two languages.
I sat down with him and asked him to explain.
CHRIS ARNADE, WRITER AND PHOTOGRAPHER: The front row defines itself through its career.
You can think of it that way. That's their meaning to them, whereas the back row -- and I don't mean that all in a dismissive way -- it's just an analogy -- the back row is somebody who generally has -- if they have an education beyond high school, it's been cobbled together through community colleges, through smaller state schools.
And they generally work with their muscles, and not their mind. And I think those two Americas, the front row and the back row, really look at things very, very differently. And they almost have a different language.
And Trump has exposed that gap. I mean, he's exposed our racial divide, which we have known we have had. But he's also exposed what I call our educational divide.
STELTER: Is some of what you're doing exposing a form of media elitism?
ARNADE: I think there's an elitism in the media that's not intentional, necessarily.
I mean, I don't think anybody in the front row are bad people in aggregate. I just think, you know, they have been detached. And they don't realize they're detached. And I think it happens when you get into the media.
You have -- by definition, to make -- break in, in the media, you have to become front row. You have to go through journalism school. You have to go through all this process.
And after five or six years, you're front row. You may not intend to be that, and you may not think you are, but you are. And that elitism is kind of a creeping elitism, but I don't think it's badly intended. It just is.
STELTER: When you're visiting these communities, are you talking to them about media consumption patterns? You mentioned...
ARNADE: Not much.
STELTER: ... CNN and FOX being on. You like to post from McDonald's, where the TV is on, on mute. Do you get the sense that people are tuned in or tuned out?
ARNADE: I think they're more tuned in than we realize, but not necessarily to issues that we talk about.
I think local issues are just extraordinarily important. People still read local newspapers. People still consume that to the degree that's there. In any of these towns, there are empty lots where they used to be factories.
I mean, this is a real thing. And that loss, I don't think many people -- I don't think the national media up until recently has really covered it to the way that it really impacts communities.
So, I think that local issues -- you know, and then I would say on another level is, especially at the higher-end media, "The New York Times," what happens is, they feel, rightly or wrongly, that that newspaper is against them or that the media is against them.
So, when Trump says...
STELTER: Well, they have been told that by politicians.
ARNADE: They have been told that.
But I think it works because it rings true to them for many people. You know, there's a lot of diversity in the communities, but, in aggregate, they're not writing about their communities in the way that they experience their communities.
If I go into a back row community, as I call them, one of the biggest things, one of the biggest questions I will ask is, do you think your children's life will be better than yours? And is your life better than your parents?
And then, almost in unison, the answer is, no, I don't think my children's life is going to be better than mine.
Now, in the front row communities, they're all like, yes, things are great. Things are going to be better for my kids.
That difference, you know, is something they have experienced. Their life is worse than it was 20 years ago, in their mind. And so if they're going to blame somebody, they're going to blame the outside politicians or the outside world. And the media is convenient to blame in that sense as well.
STELTER: Your trips, your visits to these communities, a lot of this, as you're saying, predated Election Day. You just happened to be in these places that ended up being pivotal to the election of President Trump.
ARNADE: Right. I had no intention of writing about politics. I mean, I was writing about addiction. That was the project. It was addiction and poverty in America.
And it just so happened that -- well, it just so happened -- it happened that, wherever I went, there was despair. You know, addiction is a byproduct of despair. In the white communities I went, I saw Trump resonating. I often say, where I saw hope leaving, I saw drugs and Trump entering in the white communities.
In the black communities, Trump wasn't entering, but drugs were entering. They have been there a long time. So, I had interest -- I had no intention of ever writing about Trump.
STELTER: But now do you feel that you're sort of a Trump translator?
(LAUGHTER) ARNADE: I suppose.
I say we speak very different languages. I say the front row and back row speaks you have different languages. It only took me -- it took me three years of spending time in the back row communities to understand that, wow, we really speak different languages, to understand that language.
STELTER: And why aren't more journalists doing this work?
ARNADE: I don't think people have the resources to do it.
I think, you know, just sending someone around the country in a car and saying, go to these 30 communities, spend a week-and-a-half in each one, I don't think any of those -- I don't think any media level -- any senior media person would approve that.
STELTER: Last question for you. Given all of this work, do you feel more hopeful about the country or less?
ARNADE: Less. Sorry.
ARNADE: I wish I could say hopeful, but the division...
STELTER: You think the divide is more extreme than folks might realize in their own communities?
ARNADE: Trump is exploiting that divide. He's exploited that divide in very negative ways. And the reaction to Trump hasn't -- has only made that divide larger.
I think we, the front row, the back row, all of this is division that is only growing. And, unfortunately, I don't see good things ahead.
STELTER: You can follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is Chris_Arnade.
Now, for more of my conversation with him, subscribe to our RELIABLE SOURCES podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn. And we have a new podcast every Thursday.
And this week's podcast was taped at the Newseum. It's a conversation with ABC's Cecilia Vega, Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown, and Techonomy CEO David Kirkpatrick. We talked about Trump, media relations and the effects of technology.
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