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President Trump's Address to the Muslim World; Putting a Wild Week Into Historical Context; Dizzying Week of Revelations in Trump- Comey Saga; Future of Fox News as Roger Ailes Dies at 77. Aired 11a- 12p ET
Aired May 21, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Iranian regime's longest suffering victims are its own people.
[11:00:03] Iran has a rich history and culture, but the people of Iran have endured hardship and despair under their leader's reckless pursuit of conflict and terror. Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate it, deny it, funding for terrorism, cannot do it, and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they so richly deserve. The decisions we make will affect countless lives.
King Salman, I thank you for the creation of this great moment in history and for your massive investments in America and its industries and its jobs. I also thank you for investing in the future of this part of the world. The fertile region, and it is so fertile, has all of the ingredients for extraordinary success -- a rich history and culture, a young and vibrant people, a thriving spirit of enterprise.
But you can only unlock this future if the citizens of the Middle East are freed from extremism, terror and violence. We in this room are the leaders of our peoples. They look to us for answers and for action. And when we look back at their faces behind every pair of eyes is a soul that yearns for justice and yearns for peace.
Today, billions of faces are now looking at us, waiting for us to act on the great question of our time. Will we be indifferent in the presence of evil? Will we protect our citizens from its violent ideology? Will we let its venom spread through our societies? Will we let it destroy the most holy sites on earth? If we do not confront this deadly terror, we know what the future will bring. More suffering, more death, and more despair.
But if we act, if we leave this magnificent room unified and determined to do what it takes to destroy the terror that threatens the world, then there is no limit to the great future our citizens will have. The birthplace of civilization is waiting to begin a new renaissance.
Just imagine what tomorrow could bring, glorious wonders of science, art, medicine and commerce to inspire mankind. Great cities built on the ruins of shattered towns. New jobs and industries that will lift up millions and millions of people. Parents who no longer worry for their children, their families and who no longer mourn for their loved ones, and the faithful who finally worship without fear.
These are the blessings of prosperity and peace. These are the desires that burn with a righteous flame in every single human heart. And these are the just demands of our beloved people.
I ask you to join me, to join together, to work together, and to fight together, because united, we will not fail. We cannot fail. Nobody, absolutely nobody can beat us.
Thank you. God bless you. God bless your countries, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much. Thank you.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: You've been listening there to President Trump delivering a much-anticipated speech next to the Saudi king, in front of the leaders of some 55 countries in the region.
[11:05:02] Quite a remarkable speech, very much to script. He was following the teleprompter throughout. I would say something of an ambitious speech.
It started with the phrase "we will outstretch our hands", perhaps echoing President Obama's speech in Cairo in 2009 where he spoke of America unclenching its fists, but President Trump's speech taking much of a turn after that. Quite a tough one, a tough message for the leaders in the audience, perhaps for the Muslim people as well, saying, repeatedly, it is your responsibility to stamp out extremism.
He had this line which might be the signature line of the speech saying drive them out. Drive them out of places of worship. Drive them out of the holy land. Drive them out of this earth -- speaking of the extremists and ending perhaps on a more positive note, speaking of the possibility of a new renaissance in the region once extremism is confronted.
I'm joined again by Elliott Abrams, Vali Nasr, Robin Wright in Tehran. We have "The New York Times" correspondent, Thomas Erdbrink, and in Riyadh, we have CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.
I want to go to the panel first. Robin Wright, your reactions.
ROBIN WRIGHT, DISTINGUISHED FELLOW, WILSON CENTER: Well, I thought one of the things that was most striking was that he takes a military approach to dealing with extremism, whether it's arming the Saudis, talking about the security arrangements that the Arab countries have to take in dealing with extremism to, as you pointed out, drive them out, drive them out. And he doesn't really deal with the kind of broader issues.
And the irony is he talks so much about the jobs created by these arm sales to the Saudis, because jobs are so important in the United States, and he doesn't reflect on the fact that it is in many ways a jobs issue inside many of these countries too that have led people to either dissent from their governments or join extremist movements. And he doesn't kind of make that connection.
The other thing that was really striking was at the very end of the speech when he talked about Iran, he's equating Iran and ISIS and al Qaeda in a way that is apples and oranges and maybe even pears. He talks about that Iran's people are its longest suffering victims, when ironically just two days ago, 73 percent of the Iranian people got out and voted for a new president.
And he talked almost about regime change, that until Iran was willing -- until Iran has a government that is willing to deal with the outside world, as if it involves a change of government, which is a radical shift from the positions of the last several U.S. presidents. So the tone was very strident.
He also said that he wasn't going to lecture to the assembled leaders, but in fact that's exactly what he did.
SCIUTTO: A very tough message. He challenged them really.
Vali Nasr, it's not that simple, is it, because extremists, even what we identify as terrorists, are backed in some of these conflicts by some of the very leaders in that room. If you look at Syria, for instance, there are groups the U.S. identifies as terrorists on the grounds that have received Saudi backing in that conflict. How do you see this message received by the leaders in the room?
VALI NASR, DEAN, JHU'S SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, I think there are two groups of leaders in the room. There are those who welcome the notion of drive them out, because they would see that as a free hand to put all of their opposition in prison, accusing of being Islamic extremists. For instance, you could look at Egypt who has defined the Muslim Brotherhood being a terrorist organization, so they would basically see that the United States is not interested in human rights and would not object to putting larger numbers of opposition in prison under the banner that they're all Islamic extremists.
And then there are other leaders in the room as well as I think a segment of the Muslim population who's fed up with extremism, who's listening to this speech, and they will see that the president is giving a lot of heat to Saudi Arabia and also the wealthy class in the Gulf that has been funding not only terrorists, is, al Qaeda and other outfits, but also, as Elliott said earlier, have been funding the spread of extremism in Southeast Asia, in Africa, in Europe, in the United States, by giving funding to radical imams and much more hard- line interpretations of Islam.
So, I think the leader of Indonesia, for instance, or leaders from Africa who were sitting in the room may say, well, that's great. The United States is finally reading the Riot Act to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries and Gulf leaders who have been supporting extremism. He's putting them on the hot spot of saying, OK, we're building this alliance around extremism. [11:10:01] I'm going to do what you want with Iran and I included them
in my speech. Now, you need to clean your house. You need to do what is the right thing. You need to drive these people out and you need to really fight extremism.
So I think everybody can leave this speech thinking they got what they wanted. The Saudis got an anti-Iran message. Countries like Egypt got a free hand to hound their opposition. And many others thought that they saw for the first time an American president in Saudi Arabia take a tough stand on those who support extremism.
SCIUTTO: I did think it was a remarkable moment when you had President Trump speak of how America suffered repeated barbaric attacks from the atrocities of 9/11 sitting next to the Saudi king. Of course we have -- Congress recently passed legislation allowing American families of victims of 9/11 to sue the Saudi government for the possibility that there was some knowledge, perhaps support from some quarters of the government there.
Elliott Abrams, you have advised American presidents, Republican presidents. Did you see President Trump's message here as consistent, as a new direction for the U.S. approach to the Middle East?
ELLIOTT ABRAMS, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Generally consistently. These are our allies, Saudi Arabia, the other gulf countries, the Emirates. So I don't think there is anything new here, except for one thing. He is treating the terrorists as if they kind of came from outer space. We have to get our armies together and defeat them.
But they didn't come from outer space. They came from inside these Muslim societies. And the president really isn't addressing that question or asking these heads of government to address that question. He's just saying defeat them, and without really an explanation of what it is that gives rise to them. What are the conditions, what are the problems in these societies that produce so many terrorists?
So, whereas predecessors frequently talked about reform within those societies, freedom within those societies, the president said I'm not here to lecture, although he did use the word "reform." But I think we're going to have to press a lot harder to get them to look at their own societies and figure out what changes are necessary to stop producing terrorists. The president really didn't do that.
SCIUTTO: And their own support at times for terrorist groups.
Jeff Zeleny, you have been traveling with the president on this trip. Of course, he departed the U.S. on Friday in the midst of really the biggest domestic crisis of his presidency or really a worsening of the existing crisis in his presidency. From inside the Trump team, do you sense a feeling this has been a successful start to the trip, re- energized as they make this arms deal, give this speech, et cetera?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think there's no question about that, Jim, that the administration was looking for a reboot. They were looking for a chance to change the subject, quite frankly, and they did that indeed with this speech today.
But I think you're so struck by the difference here between President Trump and candidate Trump, almost as though they were two entirely different people. He, of course, rode the anger and rage domestically, the Islamophobia-ism in some respect in the Republican primary to become the general election candidate. And today, that rhetoric was gone entirely. I think we were struck by that first and foremost.
But quite frankly, not as many differences in this speech today than there actually was in the speech that Barack Obama gave eight years ago in Cairo. I was at that speech as well, and, of course, the message of terrorism and terrorists so different. At that time, President Obama hardly raised that, used that word, but otherwise the messages were more similar.
And I was also struck by the difference in audiences, of course. President Trump making this speech to leaders, making this speech to people, and it was lecturing, of course. He said it wasn't, but there's no way around not lecturing.
But President Obama gave his speech to students at Cairo University, of course, before the Arab spring and the uprising there. But I think in terms of learning the Trump doctrine, which is not going to come at one moment, it's going to be sort of stitched together. This speech went a long way in delivering that, that he did drop the rhetoric from his campaign and he is going to be more in the lines of a conventional American politician and president here.
So, tough medicine perhaps, particularly on Iran. That is something that Saudi Arabia, the leaders here, definitely want to hear.
[11:15:04] But we'll see what he does in action. Will the U.S. withdraw from that Iran nuclear arrangement?
So, I think there was something in here for everyone in this speech. So, by that degree, I think this White House views it as a success. But boy, this is the beginning and the easy part, if you will. Certainly not anything that will change in the moment. But a strong leader, he certainly looked like a strong U.S. leader here, so much stronger than when he got on that airplane in Washington. Of course all that is waiting for him. But on the foreign stage at least, Jim, I can tell you he is viewed as a person of strength, and that matters.
SCIUTTO: Yes, something for everyone, although some of those some things are contradictory going forward.
SCIUTTO: We have the advantage of having Thomas Erdbrink in Tehran. He's "The New York Times" correspondent there, been there a number of years. I've had a privilege of meeting him on the streets of Tehran.
Part of the audience and part of the message, frankly, from both King Salman and President Trump is very tough shot across the bow, you might say, of Iran once again. What was your reaction, and how do you think Iranian leaders will take it?
THOMAS ERDBRINK, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think that President Trump here in front of millions if not billions of viewers just sided with the Sunnis in the Islamic world. Look at all the leaders present there. There wasn't a single Shiite leader.
At the same time, he singled out Iran, the center of the Shiite Islamic world that comprises around 10 percent of the Muslims worldwide. He said that Iran is the kingpin, if you will, of all these issues that he mentioned. He very easily threw everything in one pile, if you will, ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas. We all know these are all very different movements.
And if you would ask the people here, I think they'll be frankly -- they'll be shocked. Last night, I was on the streets of Tehran where thousands, tens of thousands were celebrating the outcome of the elections on Friday. They all massively voted here for a moderate president, someone who at least is proposing changes.
This is a sign that Iranian society, the Iranian people that President Trump also mentioned in his speech have changed beyond belief, but it's also a sign that Iran's leaders are adjusting to this.
Now, there's no doubt that Iran plays a role in the Middle East and that it has troops on the ground in Syria and in Iraq. But at the same time, there is also no doubt that financers from the Gulf region and financers from Saudi Arabia and people from Saudi Arabia in the Gulf regions are and have been fighting massively in the same conflicts on the side of ISIS and other extremist Sunni groups.
President Trump didn't address any of this. He singled out Iran, and with that he singled out the entire Shiite Muslim world.
SCIUTTO: It's a smart point.
I want to play an excerpt from the speech, a clip from the speech which, again, you might say was the line, a takeaway from it about a choice between futures and a call on Muslim countries to drive out extremists. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: It's a choice between two futures, and it is a choice America cannot make for you. A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and drive out the extremists. Drive them out. Drive them out of your places of worship, drive them out of your communities, drive them out of your holy land, and drive them out of this earth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Drive them out, perhaps an intentional tag line of this speech for president Trump and the White House.
Robin Wright, can these countries drive out the extremists to a large degree, and will they? WRIGHT: Well, militarily there's been a lot of progress made over the
last eight months, for example, in Iraq and some in Syria against ISIS. But the reality is that these extremist movements have affiliates all over North Africa and South Asia. They have lone wolf cells in Europe and we believe maybe in the United States, that there is the danger of a broader phenomena that is the product of alienation, marginalization, and whether it's in the west or at home, that there aren't the broad solutions.
And that's why President Trump's speech was dealing with the kind of veneer of extremism and not where it comes from. It has a long history now in the region. We're in the third generation and this is a problem that you can't just use a bullet to solve.
[11:20:05] And that's why I think the idea of creating whether it's a military coalition or one that deals with cyber security, if you don't have the kinds of basic solutions that deal with the most volatile region in the world, then you're not going to solve the problem of extremism. At one point, President Trump also said that this was -- never had there been so much potential in the region. I would argue never has there been such chaos in the region, not in the century since these modern states were created after World War I. And that's the fundamental challenge.
I think the lack of sophistication and approach to this, it was kind of one military thread as the solution to the bigger problem. He did use the term Islamic terrorism. I think that's not going to play well probably in the Muslim world and the Arab world because he put those two together and a lot of Muslims -- a majority of Muslims will say we're not terrorists, we oppose terrorists. As he pointed out, we've been the primary victims.
But I think this speech was devoid of any realistic solutions long term for the fundamental problems that have produced extremism to begin with. And, ironically in the one country that gave birth to Wahhabi Islam, the most fundamentalist form, whose practitioners gave us the ideology behind al Qaeda that has spawned everything else since then.
SCIUTTO: Elliott Abrams, the president clearly putting the onus to Muslim majority countries to fight extremism. This, of course, is happening as the administration pursues a travel ban that courts have determined are targeting Muslim-majority countries. That's been one of the main of obstacles to getting it through in effect.
How does that message conflict? Because you speak to many people in the region and they feel targeted by this travel ban. And you have the president calling on them, giving a call to action.
How do you rectify those two?
ABRAMS: Well, I think it's going to work reasonably well, frankly. I think the president here is saying, we all need to act more to protect ourselves against terrorism. It is a phenomenon that's destroying the region. And I'm going to protect my country from it. But the idea that you can call him, you know, bigoted against Islam I
think takes a big hit today. His first foreign trip, he goes to Riyadh. You have all of these visuals of him meeting with Muslim leaders not only from that region but from around the world.
So, I think he comes out looking better not only as presidential, but as reaching out to Muslim leaders from around the world. I think he has helped himself a lot in pushing back against the idea that the origin of his position is some kind of prejudice.
SCIUTTO: Thanks very much to Elliott Abrams, Vali Nasr, Robin Wright, Jeff Zeleny, Thomas Erdbrink from Tehran.
That is "GPS" for today. Fareed Zakaria will be back with you next week.
RELIABLE SOURCES with my colleague and good friend Brian Stelter starts right now.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN GUEST HOST: All right. Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman in for Brian Stelter. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. It is time for RELIABLE SOURCES. This is our weekly look at the story behind the story, of how the media really works, how the news gets made.
This hour, maybe you're suffering from political whiplash or news fatigue after a relentless string of political bombshells kicked off an old-fashioned newspaper war. We will explore why it's not only good for journalism, but also good for democracy. And how is conservative media responding?
I'm going to ask one of the nation's top conservative editors if the Trump White House is in crisis or under attack.
But first, you've been watching President Trump just gave his first major international speech moments ago in Saudi Arabia. He focused on Islamic extremism. But the focus here at home has been on all the news leaking out of the White House the last week. And it was a dizzying week.
Joining me now to help put this in perspective: legendary reporter, former host of "Face the Nation" and a political contributor to CBS News, Bob Schieffer.
Thanks so much for being with us.
In a commentary this week titled "The What If President" based on an interview you did with John McCain and what he said, he said, this -- he said, excuse me, that we have seen this movie before, Bob. John McCain said we have seen this movie before.
So, to you, what does this moment in time feel like?
BOB SCHIEFFER, POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR, CBS NEWS: Well, we have seen this movie before. And the parallels between this and Watergate are striking. You know, you saw the Richard Nixon tried to crush the investigation. He fired the special prosecutor. You saw much the same thing from President Trump over the last week.
[11:25:00] But again, today you saw a very different President Trump. He actually sounded presidential. You may agree or disagree with what he said, but he sounded like a president.
He laid out his vision. He called for help from those in the Muslim world. It was a much different kind of presentation.
I mean, the president doesn't pay much attention to advice from others, but I would think if he'd just pay attention to himself today, this went over very well, mainly because he stayed on script. No tweets today, but a dignified speech.
BERMAN: No tweets of any real interest in the last few days, in fact, Bob.
By asking the question or calling this the what-if presidency, are you suggesting that this crisis that he was in or is in even before this trip to Saudi Arabia is of his own making, and by noting today that he gave a speech which was a coherent foreign policy, are you noting that he could unmake this crisis also?
SCHIEFFER: Well, I think there are very few people would disagree with me when I say he helped himself today because he didn't sound like the guy at the end of the bar popping off. He sounded like someone who had actually thought about what he was going to say before he said it.
BERMAN: You know, Bob, though, that there will be people who look at that last comment you made and said your normalizing the president. You're saying because he met this admittedly very low bar for not sounding foolish, in fact, he was in fact presidential.
What would you say to criticism like that?
SCHIEFFER: Well, I'm not trying to normalize him in any way. I'm trying to do what reporters do, and that report and try to emphasize what I think was important here.
I have many questions about this policy. For one thing, is he going to set off an arms race in the Middle East? Is Russia going to now begin selling arms to Iran? There are many things you can say about this.
But, again, he kept a hold on the tweets, he stuck to the script, and he sounded much different not only than he sounded all of last week, but throughout the campaign. This was a different presentation today.
BERMAN: And you are reflecting and analyzing it, which is a reporter's job. A reporter's job is to report and to analyze, but it is a challenging job in this environment, Bob.
Andrew Sullivan, the columnist wrote this week, he said in a serious crisis, more than half the country won't believe a word the president says and yet around 35 percent of the country still views every single catastrophe Trump perpetuates on America and the world as a roaring triumph or huge middle finger to the elites and, therefore, fine.
If that is in fact the case, that a third of the people are going to blame him for everything, a third of the people will never blame him for anything, what kind of challenge does that pose to a reporter?
SCHIEFFER: Well, it's a challenge to all of us because many people don't believe anything that they hear anymore. You know, this is a very, very deep divide in the country, John, and it didn't begin with Donald Trump.
SCHIEFFER: It began a long time ago. And we've had people attack our institutions. And we've had the Russians meddling around trying to encourage that.
I have said before Donald Trump was not responsible for the mood and the conditions in the country when he ran for president. He simply exploited that. And that's fair.
BERMAN: I wonder if I can get your perspective on what we might see about two weeks from now. We've learned that James Comey, the fired FBI director, will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Have we ever seen anything like this? What will you be watching for on what could be an electrifying moment, an electrifying moment on TV and electrifying moment for the country?
SCHIEFFER: I think this could be a turning point in the Trump presidency. I think we are at the point where he can either go the way of Richard Nixon or he can go the way of Ronald Reagan, who put it out on the table during Iran Contra, who cooperated and was able to move past it?
Here's the thing, every Republican that I talk about tells me that this will not go away on its own, this whole Russian investigation. He has got to do more than just say there's nothing to it. This could be, the appointment of the special counsel could be the best thing that ever happened to Donald Trump, because if he cooperates, if he has not done anything wrong, the special counsel will come to that conclusion. And if he hasn't, if there is something there, the special counsel is going to find that.
You know, one of the things, we keep hearing about General Flynn talking to the Russian ambassador. What we don't know yet, what has not become public yet, is, what did he say?
Now, Jim Comey knew. And Robert Mueller, as the special counsel, is going to know. So, a lot is going to depend, I think, on what Comey says and how Mueller handles this investigation.
And I don't know a single person in Washington who thinks that Mr. Mueller is not a straight shooter...
BERMAN: Correct. SCHIEFFER: ... who tells it like it is, who is not at all political.
I must say, I have great confidence in him conducting a very thorough and fair investigation.
BERMAN: Yes, I think you hear that from both sides of the aisle in Washington, D.C.
You said this could go the way of Reagan. You also said this could go the way of Nixon. Obviously, Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency. Articles of impeachment were voted on in the House Judiciary Committee. When you say he could go the way of Nixon, that's a pretty dire path.
For journalists right now, Bob, what's the challenge in terms of reporting that path? When is the right time? Or is it too early to use the I-word, impeachment? Democrats will bring it up. Maxine Waters, someone like that, has been bringing it up for weeks and weeks and weeks.
When is that question, when should you probe it seriously?
SCHIEFFER: Well, I think our role is simply to keep asking questions and report what we find.
I mean, you have had "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" doing a terrific job. I mean, they're competing against one another in one of the great newspaper competitions of all time, and they're both the better for it.
Our job is to not make conclusions about any of this. I mean, at this point, we're a long, long way from talking about impeachment. We just need to keep reporting what's happening here.
BERMAN: What about anonymous sources? This is something that anyone who complains about the contents of a news story will always point to if they don't like what's in the news story. They will say, well, it was said by an anonymous source.
Why should viewers trust anonymous sources?
SCHIEFFER: But what if -- when they quote 16 or 17 anonymous sources?
I did an interview the other day with Ashley Parker of "The Washington Post." And I said, I notice you're now quoting as many as 20 sources. She says to me: You know, whenever you do an anonymous source story -- and this is absolutely true -- the official who's the butt of that -- what that anonymous source always says, well, you just caught somebody who had bad ingestion -- digestion or was mad about something or other. That doesn't reflect what's going on here.
Well, when you start saying, we talked to 17 anonymous sources -- and that's why these newspapers are doing this now. They want to make sure that they know people understand they're not just quoting one disgruntled person.
BERMAN: Yes. SCHIEFFER: They're quoting a number of people.
BERMAN: And, by and large, anyone reporting on this story and these stories will tell you right now there's no shortage of sources, which is something in and of itself.
Bob Schieffer, it's been an honor speaking with you. Thanks so much for coming in today. We appreciate it.
SCHIEFFER: Well, thanks so much. Appreciate it.
BERMAN: All right.
Is the White House besieged by crisis or is President Trump besieged by the media attempting a sort of coup? It really all depends on where you turn the dial to get your news.
This is according to a new study from Harvard Shorenstein Center on media politics. It analyzed news coverage of the president's first 100 days and found that the coverage -- quote -- "set a new standard for unfavorable coverage of a president," with FOX News being the only outlet where a majority of the coverage was positive.
And speaking of FOX, when it comes to the spate of stories and controversy surrounding the president this week, the programming direction there seemed to be to deny, deflect and downplay. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, HOST, "HANNITY": The destroy Trump media, these rigid, left-wing, Hillary-supporting ideologues pushing their tin foil hat conspiracy theories night after night, breathlessly hyping everything up, one fake news scandal after fake news scandal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a video with no video, with no audio, with no sex, with no money, with no dead bodies. It's a boring scandal.
JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS: People are just repeating what they're hearing. It's like propaganda.
ERIC BOLLING, FOX NEWS: "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times," you should be ashamed of your reporting.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you so sick of the Russia narrative? Would you rather see...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I vote on this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's all we talk about every morning.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it would be one thing if there was some there, there. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: All right, joining me now, Bill Kristol, editor at large of "The Weekly Standard," and Salena Zito, a columnist for "The New York Post" and "Washington Examiner" and a CNN contributor.
I kind of want to get both your takes on what we just heard there.
Bill Kristol, first to you.
Is too much being made of all these controversies? Is the media focusing too much on the story after story after story in the absence of something else?
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": No. How often does a president fire an FBI director? How often does it emerge that the president may have -- well, did have a one-on-one meeting with that FBI director and may well have urged him to drop an investigation that was going on about him and his campaign and its relation to Russia?
How often does the president meet with the Russian foreign minister the next day and boast about firing the FBI director and apparently saying, that's relieve the pressure?
These are all factual things that have happened. The media is obsessed with media coverage. It's not about media coverage. It's about an actual investigation.
Now, if you think the entire apparatus of the FBI is corrupt and is driven by, I suppose, the media, if you think all these reports are false, well, then we will find out, I suppose, right, when we see the transcript of the meeting with the Russians, when we see what Director Comey's memos were, what he said to other people at the time. When Trump White House staffers are interrogated by the FBI or by Senate and House committees, we will see what they say.
But it's a real thing, you know? We shouldn't lose the forest for the trees. There will be good headlines, bad headlines, this leak, that leak. That's not the issue.
How many times is a president under FBI investigation like this? How many times has he fired the FBI director? How many times has he boasted about it to representatives of the country which is part of the heart of the investigation, et cetera, et cetera?
So it's a real story. It has real consequences. And it's going to go on in reality. And the media coverage honestly doesn't matter that much, I think.
BERMAN: I should note we don't know for a fact that the president himself, per se, is under investigation. That is part of the story. But, clearly, people associated with the president are being investigated in some way. Salena Zito, you obviously live outside Pittsburgh. You live in part
of the country which was supportive, or at least more supportive of Donald Trump than perhaps the media centers of the world, and you spent a lot of time talking to supporters of the president. The sense there is what about the Russia story?
SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There's two conflicting things going on here, I think, for consumers of news, in that people -- there's such an overlap of opinion and reporting, that people don't -- it's very difficult to sort of sort it out and understand what's the news, what's being reported and what is someone's opinion.
A lot of that has to do with inference when you report. Even the slightest one is the equivalent to an eye roll when someone is reading it. You know, Bob Schieffer made a really, really good point. This distrust with the national media has been a long time in coming.
Part of it has to do with the fact that so many local newspapers are closing. So, you don't have that local connection, right? And so you are more forced to watch national news. People in national newsrooms don't exactly, you know, show the share the same values, share the same lifestyle.
So there's this feeling from someone out in the interior of the country is that they're being talked down to when the news is being delivered. That's no one's fault. It's just that people are completely different.
This didn't start with Trump, this distrust. I don't think it ends with distrust. And I think that it's something that we all have to work on, both sides, both reporters and journalists and the consumers of news.
KRISTOL: John, that's true, but I just want to get back to reality.
The media -- it's fine to talk about the media and eye-rolling and stuff. But Trump fired his national security adviser in his first month in office. Trump fired his -- the FBI director he inherited who had a 10-year term in his first 120 days in office. A special counsel was appointed by a Trump-appointed deputy attorney general just last week because he felt the charges were serious enough that they at least rose to the standard where you would want to have a special counsel investigating them.
These are things that have happened. They have only happened in the Trump presidency. So the idea that there's too much eye-rolling by elite media or that there's some kind of media coup going on, I think, unless you think that Rod Rosenstein and the other...
ZITO: Well, no.
KRISTOL: No, you didn't say that, Salena, but I'm saying that's what that the people on FOX...
KRISTOL: That's what all the clips that were shown on FOX are about.
And it's just -- unless you want to say that the huge elements in the Justice Department, the FBI, CIA and others are just, you know, I guess people do think this, right, that these elites want to do in Donald Trump -- but that's a heck of a view to take about people who have worked in law enforcement and intelligence in this nation.
BERMAN: Salena, it gets to this study from the Shorenstein Center, which does find that the overwhelming coverage of the Trump presidency so far, the tenor, has been negative.
But it's a chicken and egg thing. Is it because that most of the things, most of the large events that have taken place in the 120-odd days of the Trump presidency have been controversial, you know, whether it was health care going down, whether it was firing Michael Flynn, whether it is now a special counsel?
BERMAN: There are a lot of things that don't normally happen in a presidency that could induce the kind of coverage it's getting.
So, at what point is it what's happening in Washington and what point is how it's being covered?
Right. I think we all understood that this -- nothing was going to be normal with this guy, because he's unlike anything that we have ever done or -- and anyone that we have ever placed into office.
But, you know, I think what people outside of Washington maybe are looking for, you know, all these things that have been reported legitimately should be broadcast, should be reported, should be in the newspapers.
BERMAN: These are real stories.
ZITO: These are real stories. But I think what they probably are feeling is, you know, hey, there's a lot of other things that have happened that don't get as much play that are important to their lives.
You know, I'm talking about like meetings with the carmakers, meetings with businesspeople. You know, they want to see a little more about that and they think it doesn't get equal coverage.
The problem is, that is not as critical and different and groundbreaking than the other -- the problems with the FBI. So I think we go too much to our silos, right?
ZITO: We go too much to our safe places to follow the news. I talked to this young woman in Detroit and she said to me, this is how I consume the news now. I go to trusted places like AP or "The New York Times" and "Washington Post," but if it feels a little weird to me or if it feels like there's not enough balance, I will then sort through and look at a variety of places.
And I think that's a healthy way to consume the news.
BERMAN: But I will tell you, when you're talking about these two Americas, to quote John Edwards -- and, Bill Kristol, I will give you a chance to respond to this -- this weekend -- I live in the Northeast, obviously, which tends to have a certain view, perhaps a different view, Salena, of some of the people you're talking to.
And I was picking my boys up from soccer practice Friday night after one story after a story after a story were breaking. And everyone is on the sidelines looking at their phones comparing the news alerts that are happening right there and asking questions, like, is this over, right?
There are people out there, there are many, many consumers of the news who are looking at this and simply can't get enough of it.
Bill Kristol, I didn't want to interrupt you, you were nodding your head.
KRISTOL: Look, there are people who follow the news very closely. And you know what? There are people who follow the news very closely in Ohio and Michigan as well as D.C. and New York.
I gave a talk out on -- talks, speeches in Ohio and Michigan. They're very interested in what's happening there. And there are people who are very busy and follow things less intensely.
But the obligation of the media is not simply to -- obviously, they should report everything and try to take account of what influences -- quote -- "people's daily lives."
But the rule of law influences people's daily lives, and having a president who's not -- who can keep a national security adviser or fires -- doesn't fire an FBI director influences their lives.
So I think you just report the news. I think there's much too much obsession. And the notion saying that it's two countries is ridiculous. Really? Trump won some states by one or two points. He lost some states by three points. Is this really two different countries?
KRISTOL: There are plenty of people out in Michigan and Ohio who care a lot about the rule of law and care a lot about Russia influencing our election.
BERMAN: Yes, but equally so, Salena, there are people who look at the these stories and assume that this presidency could be over in a month, and there are people who look at these stories who literally say they're made up.
BERMAN: That to me...
ZITO: That's not good.
BERMAN: That's a very widely divergent view.
ZITO: Yes, right. And that's not good.
I think we all have post-traumatic campaign disorder. I think there's just been so much news, right? You know, you can't dismiss everything. You can't be -- I guess the word is so obsessed that you can't think about anything else.
You know, I don't think this is a problem we can handle right now in this moment, and I think it's going to take years to fix. And it goes across to this sort of broader institutional distrust we have with a lot of things. It's not just big news. It's big Hollywood, it's big government, it's big companies.
We have a really big trust gap in this country. And it does lead to two Americas. It does lead to this broad separation that I don't think is very good for any of us.
It's not new. It's just more intense and more -- you're able to see it more because of all these ways we are able to connect and view everything and report everything and talk to each other. It just -- it makes it seem like it's brand-new. It's not.
It's been happening, I would say, since the '80s.
BERMAN: All right, Salena Zito, Bill Kristol, interesting discussion. I really appreciate you both being with us today.
KRISTOL: Thanks, John.
BERMAN: All right, this has been a news hurricane. And in some ways, the journalism has never been better.
One of the top editors at one of the papers pushing this story forward, "The Washington Post," joins me next.
BERMAN: All right, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm John Berman, in for Brian today.
It has a dizzying week of revelations in the Trump-Comey saga.
"The New York Times" and "Washington Post" even created GIFs of headline after headline detailing new and potentially damaging information against the president. And this is a sparking a quasi- headline war, with the White House refuting information as scoop after scoop comes out
How can any of us possibly catch our breath with the rapid-fire developments of this story?
Joining me now is someone who's equipped to tackle that question, someone in the middle of this dizzying frenzy, Scott Wilson, the national editor for "The Washington Post."
Scott, thanks so much for being with us.
SCOTT WILSON, NATIONAL EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Thanks for having me.
BERMAN: What's this last week been like? I mean, people have looked at this last week as one of the busiest news cycles they have seen in their lifetime.
And you have literally had alternating massive breaking headline stories with "The New York Times." What has that been like?
WILSON: It's been an adventure and a challenge and inspiring on many levels.
Inside our own newsroom, we have just a remarkable group of reporters working, as you would imagine, around the clock. And our rivals at "The New York Times" are doing some extraordinary journalism as well.
As you know, John, a lot of these major stories broke very late in the day as well...
WILSON: ... which adds to the challenge. It extends everyone's days and just adds to, I think, the fatigue that everyone felt a bit at the end of the week.
And yet both "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" broke major stories late Friday afternoon as well.
BERMAN: You care to tell us if we have anything on the horizon, say, 5:00 today, or 5:00 tomorrow we should be looking for?
WILSON: I know we're pursuing a number of things. I'm sure my colleagues at "The New York Times" are as well.
But we will see how they ripen throughout the course of the day and over tomorrow.
BERMAN: In other words, don't leave your phones far away at 5:00 today.
WILSON: That's right.
BERMAN: When you are in this type of competition, how careful do you have to be right now? We were hearing -- Bob Schieffer was talking about the fact that some sources -- some stories, you are getting 17, 20 sources, albeit unnamed.
How careful to do you have to be not to succumb to the pressure of beating "The New York Times" here?
WILSON: I think it's paramount to be absolutely correct.
It's never been more important, in my view, given the challenges that the media's credibility has right now with broad elements of the public.
I think it's what distinguishes news organizations right now. I think most news organizations can be first and wrong or last and right. And I think what sets news organizations apart right now is to be fast and first and accurate and fair. And to do that at the speed which we're working right now is the challenge we're facing.
But we cannot be wrong. It undermines not only that piece of journalism. It undermines -- it casts doubt on a lot of what we have said in the past. So, we are extremely important in protecting what we have already right done and the work we intend to do in the future by being correct each time.
BERMAN: In the realm of conspiracy theories, I have had people, respected journalists in and around Washington tell me, one of the fears right now, particularly when you're dealing with unnamed sources and leaks from the White House, is that maybe what the White House should do is leak a fake story that they can prove was false later on.
Is that a concern?
WILSON: It's a concern, but I think it does point to a misconception about what anonymous sources really are.
I mean, I think many believe that someone calls us, doesn't want their name used, tells us something, and we publish it. A tip from someone who wants to remain anonymous is the very beginning of the process, as you know well, John. We have to determine whether or not that tip is true.
So, if the White House wants to leak a story that isn't correct, we would work extremely hard to corroborate it not only within the White House, but outside the White House, to really make sure that we were talking to all the right people, that people had visibility on the issue itself.
And -- but we're always mindful that we're being told things that are incorrect or that would -- were to embarrass us.
BERMAN: You have been reading about, we all have, the death of newspapers for decades. Does this last week validate in your mind the importance of what you do?
WILSON: Very much so.
And I have seen it written that newspapers right now are doing the oversight job that a lot of the committees on the Hill seem reluctant to.
I have enormous respect for what "The New York Times" is doing. I hope my colleagues at "The Washington Post" who I have the privilege of working with every day and enormous respect, and they're determined to do this, I think, very much for the right reasons.
This is an important story about the way our government is covered, the way our government is governed, and what's happening to the process and how people outside the Beltway are understanding it. And I believe, right now, it's extraordinarily important to be reading "The Post" and "The Times."
BERMAN: Well, Scott Wilson, I don't want to waste your time. Get back to editing these breaking stories that may come out later today and tomorrow. We appreciate you being with us.
WILSON: Thanks very much, John.
BERMAN: All right.
Roger Ailes, the man who transformed FOX News Channel into a conservative television empire, is gone. And there is just no disputing his impact on cable news and politics.
But, obviously, his legacy was badly tarnished when he was forced out amid growing sexual harassment allegations last year.
FOX has had a slew of events in the recent vents that may have critics questioning what is next for the network. What does the future look like for FOX News?
And for that, let's turn to Nicole Hemmer, the author of "Messengers of the Right Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics," and David Zurawik, a media critic for "The Baltimore Sun."
David, last month, you were here and you were talking about in terms of losing revenue. You said -- quote -- "It's going to be -- it's going to take a big, big wildfire for the advertising boycott to affect them," meaning FOX."
So, after losing Megyn Kelly, Bill O'Reilly -- Bob Beckel was fired this week. Are you starting to smell fire at FOX yet?
DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": Well, I think, in that regard, John, the worst problem for them is the ratings.
This is -- we have had how many years of FOX is number one, FOX dominates? And now we have got a situation where FOX is third in prime time in the key demographic of 25 to 54. And they have had this massive turnover of their prime-time lineup. [11:55:011]
And the company is facing all these lawsuits, all of these other problems. I think this ratings business is a real problem. And here's the danger. The only thing FOX has going for it right now is -- they think, is to be the place, if you voted for Trump and you want to see positive coverage, you come to them.
They're hitching their wagon to this mercurial, erratic president. If he goes down in flames, what's left at FOX right now? I really think this is a dangerous time.
For years, I would call them up with stories and say, you did this and it's really bad journalistically. What is your response? And they would go, the ratings are great, we're number one, everybody loves us.
They can't say that anymore. Now they can't explain their journalism away by saying they have great ratings. They don't have them anymore. That's the real thing that has to be frightening the Murdoch brothers right now.
BERMAN: Nicole, you were nodding your head. I want you to comment on that.
NICOLE HEMMER, AUTHOR, "MESSENGERS OF THE RIGHT CONSERVATIVE MEDIA AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF AMERICAN POLITICS": Yes. I do think that is the case.
So, one of the big problems for FOX has been, there have been all of these breaking news that have just been talking about, and their prime-time lineup doesn't actually cover them. And that's something they're going to need to address, because people are turning to cable news to follow these big breaking stories.
And if FOX has tied itself too closely to Trump, to where they can't actually cover the breaking news, I think that is responsible for at least part of the downtick in the ratings.
BERMAN: Are people not tuning in because they're not covering it?
Or, look, I'm a Red Sox fan. When the Red Sox are losing, I won't watch a game. I won't turn on the TV if I know the Red Sox are losing or in last place.
So, Nicole, is it just that perhaps Donald Trump supporters know that the news coverage in general these days will be about the crises, so they don't want to watch?
HEMMER: Well, it could be that.
But, remember, the people who watch FOX aren't just Trump supporters. I'm somebody who watches FOX News for breaking news, partly because of my work, but partly because I find it really fascinating. And I have had to change channels because I can't get breaking news coverage after "Special Report" at 6:00 p.m. So, I do think that the FOX audience is more diverse than most people
give it credit for, but that also means that those diverse viewers are looking somewhere else.
BERMAN: Go ahead, David.
ZURAWIK: No, go ahead, go ahead.
BERMAN: Well, my producers were telling me, the last segment, when we were talking about how there are two different audiences surveying the breaking news right now and the scandals, the crisis, in fact, that this White House is under, that there are people who can't get enough of it and think that every next story is the story that will bring down a presidency, and then there are people who don't believe a single one of these stories, my producers told me you were nearly jumping through the screen during that discussion.
I don't know if you wanted to comment on that.
ZURAWIK: I'm always jumping through the screen.
The discussions were so great this morning. Each of the segments, John, had something about distrust, people distrusting the mainstream media. And part of that is the legacy of Roger Ailes. That's what he founded this network on, a sort of -- they weren't making television.
They were making holy warfare on what he saw as the liberal bias of mainstream media. So, since 1996, people have been hearing liberal bias, liberal bias, liberal bias. And that has taken hold in a way.
The larger question that what we have both written about is how Ailes has affected the political landscape of America. I think that's absolutely part of it, John, and that's really a troubling legacy right now.
Look, even if you are a die-hard Trump supporter, using your Red Sox analogy, you have to be in a coma not to be watching news today, because it's -- as you just saw in your last segment, it's head- spinning.
BERMAN: It is.
ZURAWIK: So, people want to see news.
I get it about, hey, if I'm a Trump supporter, I don't want to see bad news, bad news, bad news. But that's his behavior. That's not the news media making that happen.
BERMAN: Nicole, we have less than a minute left right now.
Something happened at FOX News this week that didn't necessarily get a lot of attention, which was Bob Beckel of "The Five" was fired for allegedly making an insensitive remark to an African-American employee.
Do you think -- and Bob, we should note, worked at CNN for a while also. This is the second time he's been dismissed from FOX News.
About 30 seconds left.
Do you think that reflects a change in the culture at FOX?
HEMMER: Well, it's unclear at this point.
I mean, they are facing several racial discrimination lawsuits. So that could be part of it. And then Bob Beckel was sort one of the liberals who was hired by FOX News, so he may have been someone easier to show the door.
You will notice this did not have had the impact that this scandal would have had if it would had been a conservative host. So, I think that that matters here too.
BERMAN: All right, Nicole, David, thank you so much for being with us on this very, very busy Sunday.
That is all for the televised edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.