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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
No News Conference During 9-Day Trip; Rising Hostility Against Journalists; U.S. Media Facing Criticism Over Leaks; Competing Narratives on Fox News; How Trump's Trip Abroad Was Covered by Foreign Press. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired May 28, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:07] FRANK SESNO, CNN GUEST HOST: I'm Frank Sesno, in for Brian Stelter. And welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It's time for RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the stories behind the story, how the media really work, how the news gets made.
And there's lots happening in media this weekend -- a relaxing Memorial Day weekend for many of you.
But President Trump just back from his first international trip is having a busy morning, doing what he appears to enjoy most, bashing the media. Maybe it's pent-up frustration after remaining relatively quiet week on social media and avoiding reporters on the nine-day trip. This morning's Twitter tirade ranges from leaks in the press to the Montana congressional election.
Here's a sampling: It is my opinion, the president writes, that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies made up by the fake news media.
And this: Whenever you see the words sources say in the fake news media and they don't mention names, it is very possible that those sources don't exist but are made up by fake news writers. Fake news is the enemy.
And this: Does anyone notice how the Montana congressional race was such a big deal to Dems and fake news until the Republican won. V. was poorly covered.
Well, that's what the president wrote this morning.
Let's not forget that the president's lack of a single news conference with reporters on his nine-day trip was nothing short of unprecedented. The press corps traveling with the president was pretty much boxed out. It wasn't just the president. There were virtually no on-camera briefings or access to the major players, one exception.
But does the week's lack of accessibility overall reflect a bunker mentality that's setting in, amid the Russian investigations back in D.C.? And how will the media cover a president if they can't get to him?
I have the perfect panel to ask. Joining me now, Michael Oreskes is the head of news at NPR, former "New York Times" Washington bureau chief. He's got plenty of experience with this sort of thing. And, April Ryan, White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief for the American Urban Radio Networks and a political analyst for CNN.
So, Michael, let me start we asking you this. In previous presidential trips, the U.S. press was all over the president and the president was all over the press and their top aides because they wanted to get this out. I mean, were you struck by how different this tone was?
MICHAEL ORESKES, HEAD OF NEWS, NPR: Yes. We actually hunted around to see if we could find a previous trip by any president of either party and we really couldn't. This is quite unusual. You've got to ask if it's serving his interests. It certainly doesn't seem to be serving the public interest in terms of understanding the president's points of view and positions.
The whole administration from tweets to lack of public access to things like press conferences seems to be all about trying to keep control of a message that's rapidly slipping out of their hands.
SESNO: April, we're about data these days. So, we did data digging to see how this measures up. And CNN White House producer Allison Malloy tallied the president's interaction with the press corps on the trip, and here's what she found.
APRIL RYAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: Yes.
SESNO: There were 25 public appearances. Many of them sort of pool environments. Pool reporters asked five questions. The president answered two questions. No news conferences.
How did it break down? The president addressed a question about classified intelligence with a Russian in a 12-second sound byte, reflected on his meeting with the pope for 17 seconds for a grand total of 29 seconds of responding to questions over a 9-day trip. What do you make of it?
RYAN: Well, you know, this is a president who just does not necessarily care for the press. And you can see that, Frank, in the tweets this morning.
This president is really trying to figure out how to deal with the press, and I think that's some of what we saw in the last nine days. It is unheard of to go overseas for nine days with the president of the United States and have the press corps there, the first line of questioning an American president and not take formal questions or even, you know, really engage in these Q&As during pool sprays.
And, you know, we understand -- and I know the president doesn't like this, but sources very close to what's happening inside the Republican Party, working with the RNC, are saying things like, you know, when we start seeing the day-to-day operations back here again, maybe tomorrow -- not tomorrow but Tuesday or so after the holiday, they're really trying to figure out how to grapple with the press. They're trying to figure out what Sean Spicer's role will be. They're trying to figure out what to do with the briefings.
They're also dealing with lawyers on issues on how they deliver statements or if they will indeed deliver statements because they're concerned about issues if it's not accurate.
So, Frank, they're really trying to come to terms with how the president feels about the press. How they want to move forward. But the question is, what will the public do?
[11:05:01] Because if the public cries out, things can change.
SESNO: All right. Well, let me bring in --
ORESKES: You know, the --
SESNO: Michael, hang out one second because I like to bring in Tara Palmeri here, White House correspondent for "Politico", also a CNN political analyst. She's been on the ground covering the president's first international trip. She's currently in Taormina, Italy.
I want to ask you this. I traveled with presidents, too. And it's not about making the press feel good here, Tara. It's about -- as I said earlier, getting the word out back to the United States, to try to set the frame for the story here. But also communicating to the world and projecting through that presence a certain leadership.
How was this being dealt with on the ground there? And when you were pressing White House officials for more access, what were they saying to you?
TARA PALMERI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: It was actually very difficult to get access to even the White House officials, let alone the president. We were asking questions and they were putting us off until another briefing, another briefing. And truth is, is that we were -- we were trying to get more information, but we had few opportunities. I at one point grabbed Gary Cohen, the chief economic adviser, on the side of a pool event and I just asked him some questions and sent it over to my colleagues and they seemed really thankful.
I think the thing is that Trump really kept his press aides in the dark. I saw in the meeting with E.U. Council president, Donald Tusk, and E.U. Commission president, jean-Claude Juncker, they had their spokespeople with them. President Trump did not have a single person from the press office in the meeting with him. So, after the meeting, the first people to get the word out on what happened were the European Commission and the European Council.
We waited more than four hours to get any details, not even background, on what went down in the meeting. Hours later, the German press broke a story saying that Trump had said that the Germans were very bad. And it was misconstrued in a way, because obviously there was, you know, translation issues. And really, I just felt that the Americans, they didn't really -- they weren't able to use the event to really push their message at home because the foreign officials, they were able to get the message to us first.
SESNO: OK. I want to come back to, Michael, to you. But I want to come back this way. CNN's Sara Murray asked the president's top economic adviser, Gary Cohen, who was just mentioned, if he thought it was, quote, bizarre for the president not to take questions on the trip. Now, there were no cameras in the room because Sean Spicer had told everybody to turn the cameras off.
There was audio. Here's his response.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GARY COHN, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL DIRECTOR: He's got a robust schedule. Publicly, he's put in 16-hour, 18-hour days. Privately, he's put in 20-hour days preparing for those days. He's worked nonstop since he has got here.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SESNO: Michael Oreskes, your response?
ORESKES: This is not about the president's schedule. This president has made a profound and fundamental break with most of his predecessor, probably all of his predecessors.
You know, Frank, you and I have been at this for a long time. And presidents of both parties agreed on two things. One is that a free and independent press is a royal pain. And the other is that it's an absolute necessity for a free and independent country.
The best statement ever made about this was actually made by a Republican president on an international trip. And that was by Ronald Reagan when he spoke at Moscow State University about the power of American democracy. And he described the importance to freedom in America of the cacophony of independent news organizations -- independently owned and independently run, and how that made this a freer country and how it protected the rights of individual Americans.
This president has obviously decided on a different course. He's trying to stay as far as he can from journalism and from independent news organizations. And he's trying to channel his message through the tools that he has, such as Twitter.
SESNO: April, I want to come to you --
ORESKES: We're going to live with it.
SESNO: We're going to have -- we have to live with it, right? But the question is, where is this going?
And, April, I know you interact with Sean Spicer at the White House on a daily basis. We're now hearing the White House talk, as you mentioned, about possibly curtailing, cancelling, limiting briefings, rotating people through briefings. What is brewing here? And why?
RYAN: Yes. Well, Frank, as you know, this is not and yes, we are -- freedom of the press, the First Amendment. We are baked into the Constitution.
But people have to understand, when you talk about freedom of the press, it's not just about us, it's more about you. It's not about us. It's about the American public.
And we are the first line of questioning of an American president. And with the stakes being so high right now, with investigations, issues of terror around the world, budgets and ACA, the wall, so many different things going on, people want to know what's going on from the highest office in the land. And when you cut off the briefings, when you just tweet, people are not being informed.
And what happens is, and I hate to say this, but if you start doing this, what makes us different than Russia?
[11:10:01] Or other countries that censor the press and it's state- run?
So, there is a real issue here. It's not about the press. And yes, the president doesn't like us. He calls us fake news all day long. That's fine.
But the issue is, is that we're independent and we're independent of the White House. And when you don't give the information, who suffers? The American people because they don't know what's going on from the man they elected. So, that's what's at stake.
SESNO: Tara Palmeri, let me come back to you. Having been on these trips and knowing that when all White Houses try to spin information or put people out on background or whatever --
SESNO: -- there is almost always the protest, formal or informal, in the room or behind the scenes from the journalists covering the story. Were there protests on this trip to White House officials, to Sean Spicer, he's still the press secretary, to others, to change access to the traveling party? And what was the formal and informal response?
PALMERI: Absolutely. The White House correspondents association made their case known. If you follow the pool reports, we often made it clear that we would not be getting much access. And we tried to make it clear, as well, to Sean Spicer.
I think a lot of people were really upset when they saw that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave a briefing to Saudi Arabian journalists and American journalists were not invited to that. I think you saw there wasn't enough access to high-ranking officials. By the end of the day, towards the end of the trip, after they were able to make their case known about day seven, we started getting access every single day to higher ranking officials.
But, of course, they were going to be bombarded with questions at home. And they said, you know, we can't comment on this. We have to talk about the trip, we have to talk about the trip. But the issues at home, they reflected what was happening on the trip.
And it was really something that, you know, Trump had this robust schedule. But he could have made time to talk to the press. This is very unprecedented for a president not to talk to the press on his trip. And they would have been more effective at really telling the American people what exactly Trump was doing because all they can see are images and all they can read are stories. And they don't hear the president's voice.
SESNO: This was less about trying to set the storyline for where they were and as opposed to avoiding the storyline where they had come from and the investigations that were going on.
PALMERI: Exactly. It was exactly about that.
SESNO: All right. Well, April and Tara, thanks so much.
PALMERI: Right, it was a way to get to ignore it.
SESNO: Or to try -- for the time being.
Anyway, Michael, stick around for later in the program.
But coming up, reporters are used to reading police reports. But filing them? That's another story. Journalists literally under assault -- when we come back.
[11:16:23] SESNO: And welcome back. I'm Frank Sesno, filling in for Brian Stelter.
The mistreatment of journalists got physical this week when a reporter was body-slammed by this man, Greg Gianforte who a day later was elected by voters in Montana to the United States House of Representatives, despite the attack and the misdemeanor assault charge that went with it.
The reporter Ben Jacobs may have never seen the body slam coming, but in a climate of rising hostility toward journalists in the Trump era, some feared it was just a matter of time. In fact, it's not exactly an isolated event. Earlier this month in Alaska, a reporter says he was slapped by a state senator. In D.C., a reporter says he was pinned against the wall by security guards as he tried to question the FCC commissioner. And in West Virginia, a journalist was arrested after questioning U.S. Health Secretary Tom Price.
Look, journalists can be insistent, persistent and sometimes downright obnoxious, but is the bar for open physical hostility lower now? And if so, what's that mean? Well, joining me now, Erik Wemple, a media reporter of "The Washington
Post", and Indira Lakshmanan, a Newmark chair in journalism ethics at Poynter Institute, a columnist for "The Boston Globe."
To both of you, Indira, start -- what's going on here?
INDIRA LAKSHMANAN, NEWMARK CHAIR IN JOURNALISM ETHICS, POYNTER: Well, I think it's really appalling. I mean, we write about and talk about attacks on press freedom all over the world. I've been a foreign correspondent, spent more than 12 years overseas in countries where there are literal attacks on the press, in China, you know, all over the place, in Venezuela. And to have to be talking and writing about this in the United States, where we actually have a First Amendment that in our Constitution puts in protections against -- you know, attacking the press, is really disturbing to me.
And I feel as if President Trump's attacks on the media have paved the way for this. He has normalized --
SESNO: Paved the way?
LAKSHMANAN: Paved the way, because he has normalized hatred of and denigration of the press, by calling us the enemy of the people.
SESNO: Which he did again in this tweet this morning.
LAKSHMANAN: He did again in the tweet storm this morning. And by saying we're some of the most dishonest people, he has normalized hatred towards journalists and that is wrong.
SESNO: Erik, it's really a concerning thing.
ERIK WEMPLE, MEDIA REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: What do you do with the enemy? You attack. You know, if someone's the enemy, you attack them. I mean, think that that is --
SESNO: Are we seeing more of this? I think people have been frustrated with press and have thrown people out of their offices and done other things in the past. It's not brand-new that we're seeing some of this.
WEMPLE: It seems anecdotally as though we are. What is -- what is, perhaps, even more -- this is chilling and appalling. But what is maybe more chilling and appalling is the level of support, that some of this seems to be getting.
If you notice anecdotally, a lot of reporters in Montana have gotten statements and sentiments from people out there saying, you know, good job, Greg Gianforte, I support that. There were people who were murmuring when he made the apology to Ben Jacobs, the night that he was elected. Some people are saying, suck it, media, and people are saying, good job. And they weren't excited necessarily that he was apologizing for this. Some people said, you know, apology is not necessary. So, I think that sentiment is what underlies that. I think that what
we've seen here is that President Trump didn't necessarily reach the far extreme of the political sort of benefit that he could reap from hammering the media, you know? So, I don't know that we've necessarily seen the end.
SESNO: And, Indira, I want to go back to you, I want to remind us, as if we need reminding, of some of the tone that Donald Trump set during the campaign -- some of these comments that were addressed to protesters. You mentioned some of what he said about the press.
But here are the kinds of things he was saying about protesters in the crowd. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like to punch them in the face, I'll tell you.
[11:20:01] Part of the problem and part of the reason it takes so long is nobody wants to hurt each other anymore.
Knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously.
And the audience hit back. And that's what we need, a little more of.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
SESNO: Now, Indira, I've covered presidents. I mean, I've never heard this kind of overt, you know, commentary from the president. Never mind what he says about the media. So, that some of the media needed physical protections and security when they were covering political rallies.
Is he going to stop this?
LAKSHMANAN: It doesn't look -- there's no sign he's going to stop this. He seems to know that his base of support are people who respond positively to this kind of rhetoric.
Now, to what Erik was saying, decline and trust in the press is something that actually has been happening for decades now. If we look at the Gallup polls, if we look at Pew polls, we see the trust in press last year hit an all-time low in the last 25 years.
However, when you have a president who's up there with the biggest bully pulpit in the whole country or the world, and who's using that to tell the FBI, hey, I think you should go after the press, you should lock up journalists, or using this kind of violent language against people in the audience or against the press, I think you've got a real problem, that normalization of violence is wrong.
SESNO: All right. Well, let me push back.
LAKSHMANAN: I mean, we're supposed to have civic conversation here, not -- SESNO: Nobody would defend violence against the media or anybody
else. But let me push back for the sake of the argument here.
WEMPLE: They might not defend it but they certainly do sort of downplay and pooh-pooh it. You just watch FOX News.
SESNO: OK, but let's take another position here, which is given the low esteem and trust that the media earn in survey after survey these days, it's been happening for years, how about the media doing their jobs differently? How about recognizing there is something to this loss of trust and maybe we shouldn't be so obnoxious?
WEMPLE: Well, you know, as far as --
LAKSHMANAN: I'm pushing back on the obnoxious question. I think part of it is partisanship. We've got a hyperpartisan media situation where --
WEMPLE: But let's just take a look at what happened in Montana. This was a reporter asking a question about health care. Dave Weigel pointing out, Greg Gianforte never ever really addressed the issue of health care and the AHCA, the Republican health care proposal.
This is what Ben Jacobs was trying to get him to address. The CBO had just released its score of the health --
SESNO: He was just doing his job, you're saying.
WEMPLE: He was doing his job. So --
SESNO: And it doesn't matter if he's obnoxious and persistent and the candidate doesn't want to talk about it?
WEMPLE: I think your premise is misplaced here, because this was a reporter doing his job. And then Gianforte apparently roughs him up and then says, I'm sick and tired of this. I'm sick and tired of, you know, and the last guy did the same thing, which is asked a question.
LAKSHMANAN: Yes. I mean, in my point here is that if you are not prepared as someone who is a candidate for public office, to take questions from journalists, then you are doing the wrong thing. You don't belong in Capitol Hill.
SESNO: Let me say that despite the devil's advocate, I just played, having just written a book called "Ask More" -- yes, that's what reporters do. That's what we should all do, right?
Well, you know, I got to get back to --
LAKSHMANAN: The journalist was not being obnoxious. In this case, he was just saying, look, we just have a second. You know, just quickly, what's your position?
SESNO: He was being persistent. But that's what journalists do. And that's what public servants, when they get into the public realm should understand they're in for, no?
WEMPLE: Yes. I think so. I think that's -- look, that has been a very much a touchstone of our sort of environment, a touchstone of our democracy so far. It seems to be eroding, though.
SESNO: We're going to watch it very closely. Erik, Indira, thank you very much.
SESNO: Both, we ask them to stick, because we're going to have some more.
Up next, how leaks to the U.S. news media in the aftermath of the Manchester, England bombing lead to on international intelligence imbroglio.
[11:27:40] SESNO: And welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Frank Sesno, sitting in for Brian Stelter.
This week, the media on the ropes after being boxed out abroad during the president's trip and literally being body-slammed by a political candidate.
But criticism of the media has also come from the United Kingdom, when details of their investigation of the Manchester terror attack were leaked to the U.S. press. Those leaks included the terror suspect's name before the British authorities released it, information about the bomber's family allegedly warning police prior to the incident. And these photos showing possible materials from the crime scene, published in "The New York Times."
President Trump ordered a full investigation. British authorities were furious, fearing their investigation had been compromised. And law enforcement officials there stopped sharing intelligence with the United States for a time.
The incident raised lots of questions about leaks, news judgment and access to information only adding to the woes of an already beleaguered U.S. press.
Joining me now to discuss this, bringing back Indira Lakshmanan and Michael Oreskes.
Michael, to you first. You were at "The New York Times", you dealt with leaks and then the decisions about what to put in and what not. What's the threshold here? And what do you make of this?
ORESKES: Well, first of all, it's our job to publish. And we certainly would always err on the side of getting more information out, not less. However, there are certainly many delicate situations in which you use care in what you publish. Crime scene photos is one of those examples. You want to be sure that --
SESNO: So, how did this happen? How did crime scene photos get published that were not supposed to be out there?
ORESKES: I can't say that they should or shouldn't have been published because I don't know whether anything in those crime scene photos did, in fact, compromise the effort to catch the rest of that cell, which presumably is what the British government was engaged in.
But every major news organization, including "The New York Times", including "The A.P.", where I worked for many years, has very strict rules about how we judge these things and how we make these decisions. When I was at "The A.P.", for example, we held a story for more than a year, that had serious allegations against -- about incompetence and misjudgments at the CIA because we were afraid that the story might compromise the lives of certain people involved in the story.
So, news organizations are normally very meticulous about that. I assume "The New York Times" was meticulous.
SESNO: Indira, after the 9/11 attacks, CNN said that it would be sensitive to releasing any information that could compromise lives or ongoing operations. That's how it was articulated at the time.
Is that the basic threshold, that, is to say, compromising lives are ongoing operations, that the press agrees, as Michael just said, to protect, to hold back on? And if so, do any of these complaints about these leaks seem to violate those parameters?
LAKSHMANAN: Look, I think the standard is exactly that. You don't want to put lives at risk.
And you don't want to actually stop authorities from getting to whoever the perpetrator is. And I have been both a police reporter and a national security reporter. And these are decisions you have to make all the time in conjunction with your editors.
But I do think that at-large, you know, respectable news organizations that have a history of dealing responsibly with these things, like the AP, like "The New York Times," like "The Boston Globe" and others, I think that this is dealt with in a responsible way.
SESNO: Were these leaks irresponsible?
LAKSHMANAN: I -- again, I haven't been on the inside with "The New York Times" talking to them about how the decisions were made, so I am not ready to criticize them and say this was wrong.
I would like to see proof from the British government that, somehow, this impeded their investigation or that some life was actually at risk. I have written about this. And, in fact, Dana Priest, who has won two Pulitzer Prizes, told me that she has come under so much pressure from authorities to not leak things.
But she says, give me one case where actually something that we have written has put a life at risk or has stopped intelligence communication with other countries. And nobody can ever provide that concrete example.
SESNO: Michael Oreskes, it's an interesting thing to think, too, about cultures of information here.
You know, here in the United States, we have this thing called the Freedom of Information Act. In the United Kingdom, they have the Official Secrets Act.
SESNO: So, we approach the release of information very differently.
How large a role do you think that's playing here?
ORESKES: It's an element of it, I'm almost certain. The situation in the United Kingdom is much more secretive than a lot of these kinds of cases.
But I have to say also there's a lot of kind of hysterical commentary going on right now. I hope you will forgive me, but I was watching another network this morning, and I happened to catch Homeland Security Secretary Kelly on. And he was talking about how these leaks bordered on treason.
Now, that's just way beyond the pale. It's just silly almost, although it's very chilling. Treason is a very serious and very specific offense. And it's a capital crime.
I think we have here are professionals, professional journalists, professional people in law enforcement, and professional people in intelligence, each with their own need and their own service, all of whom believe they are serving the public interest.
And the inability to talk with each other and discuss what the right solutions are is helping to create these situations and making it harder to bridge these cultural gaps.
SESNO: I want to point something out that the public should understand.
And that is just to the point that you're making, Michael, that, in most cases, there is an ongoing and active dialogue between executives in news organizations and top officials in government, where these issues, these very issues get talked out. Often, they're not agreed to, but where government officials can bring their concerns to media companies and say, look, here's what would happen if you release this, and sort of make that case.
But I want to turn now to a related issue. And this is something else that makes coverage of this story very difficult. And that is the quantity of coverage on the Manchester bombing and the acts of terrorism in U.S. media.
Now, Indira, in your column, you wrote the -- entitled "The Endless Loop of Terror Victims: Lazy Journalism That Lets ISIS Run the Newsroom." You said some pretty pointed stuff. What do you mean here?
LAKSHMANAN: Well, I mean, to the last point you were making about leaks, I will say that a lot of newspapers and news organizations show very careful restraint.
Like "The Washington Post," for example, put a photograph in their story last week saying, we are withholding the name of the city in which this ISIS plot took place.
And I do feel like there's a danger of the pot calling the kettle black, President Trump wanting to go after journalists for leaks, when he in fact is not at all careful with classified information, as we know from that meeting in the Oval Office with the Russians.
My point on this larger piece was that I have been a journalist who has covered terrorism for years and years, since the 9/11 attacks. I was in Pakistan the day after on September 12, and in Afghanistan on the day when the Taliban fell in Kandahar.
I think the problem with terrorism coverage is that we get into this lazy pattern where we take the cell phone footage of the victims running and screaming, and it gets played over and over in this endless loop on cable television.
I understand cable television has 24 hours a day to fill, and so they have to use footage. But there is a way in which -- how are we advancing what the public needs to know? What are we doing that is actually adding to the conversation, other than giving ISIS and other terrorist organizations what they want, which is a platform and notoriety and fame?
And it is a way that -- it has been proven this helps them recruit.
SESNO: But it -- but it is news, right?
LAKSHMANAN: It is absolutely news. And we should cover news.
And -- and cable news does cover news by the moment.
LAKSHMANAN: And we should cover news. What I'm saying is, we can cover it more responsibly. There are better ways to do that.
SESNO: Michael, what are better ways? How do you do it at NPR?
ORESKES: Well, and NPR obviously has many of the same challenges that you have there at CNN and that FOX and MSNBC have, which is we're on all the time.
So, one of the really important things is to slow yourself down, take a breath, and try to make sure that what you have to say is something new or something that adds to the context or understanding, to the light, not the heat.
SESNO: I like that, slowing yourself down and taking a breath. That could be advice that is...
SESNO: That we all should follow.
ORESKES: We can all use.
SESNO: And very much in the news business.
So, thank you both very much.
And, Michael, by the way, happy holiday birthday to you. I understand you're celebrating a little bit.
ORESKES: Oh, thank you.
SESNO: So, take five.
Thanks very much to both of you.
Well, a rare retraction at FOX News, but not from Sean Hannity.
The effect of competing narratives on the network's credibility issues -- when we come back.
SESNO: And welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Frank Sesno, filling in for Brian Stelter today.
FOX News is facing big issues right now, including one with network superstar Sean Hannity, who is currently on vacation until Tuesday.
The vacation comes after a number of advertisers pulled support from his show after he continued to focus on the unproven story of slain former DNC staffer Seth Rich. FOX News insists Hannity will have a job when he returns. But we have heard that one before.
Well, joining me to consider it all, Erik Wemple, media reporter for "The Washington Post," rejoins us, Jane Hall, communication professor at American University and a former FOX News contributor.
Erik, first to you.
You wrote that FOX is -- I'm using your words here -- developing an unhealthy relationship with vacation.
Here's what you said.
SESNO: "Sean Hannity is under pressure from advertisers, media critics and the force of common sense after he promoted a conspiracy about the July 2016 killing of Seth Rich, a staffer at the Democratic National Committee."
So, how does it affect Hannity now?
ERIK WEMPLE, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, you know, Bill O'Reilly was supposed to have gone on vacation back in April, and he was in the middle of a -- not a similar, but he was in the middle of a more severe advertiser problem. And he never came back.
And so, when Jesse Watters said something stupid on FOX News air after that, and he went on vacation, people said, oh, maybe he won't come back.
Now, Hannity, after having aired the Seth Rich conspiracy theory over and over and over again, is -- and he's under pressure from advertisers now, too. He said he's going on vacation.
Now, FOX News put out a statement saying that he is actually on vacation. He will be back Tuesday.
SESNO: It is Memorial Day weekend.
WEMPLE: It is Memorial Day weekend.
So, enjoy your vacation, Sean Hannity.
The point I was making is that FOX News can never have a controversy and a vacation. A vacation is there to make us feel better, to restore us. And they just don't have that relationship.
SESNO: Jane Hall, you were a columnist -- or you were a contributor at FOX.
JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATION: Yes.
SESNO: And you never took a vacation, as I understand it. Go ahead.
HALL: No, never, never.
SESNO: What is going on there? Is there any indication that Sean Hannity is in trouble for this?
HALL: Well, he hasn't suffered the advertiser boycotts, although Media Matters has been listing all of his advertisers in an attempt to try to drive people away.
I think he -- you know, because he is the last man standing, practically, in their original prime-time lineup, from -- it would seem to me that they do not want to lose him.
SESNO: Any -- any suggestion that this is tied to his vociferous support of Donald Trump?
HALL: Well, he has been the safe haven for Donald Trump.
SESNO: Is that a liability for him?
HALL: No, I don't think so.
I mean, I think they have got a split between the news -- even more -- it was always there between the newscasts and the prime-time hosts.
What I think is regrettable is that, while Trump is doubling down on many things about fake news, Sean Hannity says: I'm not even a journalist.
And he makes this despicable connection and repeats this thing that the FOXNews.com retracted. He continues to talk about it. So, maybe they're going to have a thing where he doesn't talk about it anymore on the air, but he's going to talk about it all over Twitter.
SESNO: Erik, here's what FOX said in their retraction: "The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require of all of our -- for all our reporting. Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed."
Those are the standards of the news side. Now, it should be noted that they left it up for a week...
WEMPLE: ... before doing that. So, those -- those exacting editorial standards could use some help, I think.
However, Hannity has none, OK? He has none. He has said -- told Huffington Post's Michael Calderone, he said that when he finally did drop the Seth Rich story the other night, he said, "I'm going to leave it for a while," he said that that was entirely his decision, which indicates to me that he has no editorial supervision, none whatsoever.
And so my point is that I'm not that high on boycotts. I'm not a huge boycott fan. But that's what happened. These people are editing Sean Hannity, because nobody else is.
HALL: I would doubt -- I would doubt that he wasn't spoken to.
You know, we also have this interesting younger, older Murdochs. What do they want? I think that he was spoken to. I would imagine the family threatened legal action.
He went on the air. The thing that really seemed so unctuous and offensive was...
SESNO: Yes. Yes.
HALL: ... "I really sympathize with the family about Seth," as if he knew Seth Rich, and "I'm going to leave this for now, and I'm going to keep pursuing the truth."
SESNO: For now. For now. Yes.
HALL: So, he still is pursuing this conspiracy theory.
SESNO: Meanwhile, they've been seeing some decline in the ratings.
SESNO: So, there are lots of issues going on at FOX.
Erik, Jane, thank you both very much.
WEMPLE: Thank you.
SESNO: Well, coming up: the view from abroad, how the Trump trip was covered by the overseas press -- when we come back.
SESNO: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Frank Sesno, filling in for Brian Stelter.
We're very familiar by now with the U.S. press and how it reacted to President Trump during his first trip abroad as commander in chief, but what about the international press? How did this story play globally?
If the headlines are any indication, it's been something of a mixed bag. This "Times of Israel" headline noted Trump's push for shared worries over Iran. But from the German paper "Der Spiegel," "Trump's White House a Vortex of Scandal, Chaos, and Absurdity."
The U.K.'s "Independent" noted that "G7 Leaders Blame U.S. for Failure to Reach Climate Change Agreement in Unusually Frank Statement."
But "The Arab News" circulated a special English edition calling the first lady elegantly respectful, while Israel's "Haaretz" noted the awkward moments of the trip with Melania's slap-down.
Well, joining me now to discuss the international reaction is Kim Ghattas, a reporter at the BBC covering international affairs.
You have been surveying the landscape a little bit, both the European reaction and in the Arab world, very different things. What strikes you? KIM GHATTAS, BBC REPORTER: The contrast between how he was covered,
how the trip was covered in the Arab world and how it was covered by European media.
SESNO: Such as?
GHATTAS: In the Arab world, the coverage you got there, as you said, was much more positive, much more praiseful of both Trump and the first lady. They were very happy to see the back of President Obama, so very keen to welcome President Trump to Saudi Arabia.
SESNO: They played down the scandals in the United States?
GHATTAS: Absolutely, play down the scandals. You saw the kind of reception that he got.
So, in a way, when the president said, "I had a very successful trip," he's thinking of those headlines.
But if you read "Der Spiegel," the headline is quite different. It says, it's time to get rid of Donald Trump.
SESNO: Time to get rid of Donald Trump?
GHATTAS: Time to get rid of Donald Trump.
SESNO: That's a headline?
GHATTAS: That's the headline of an op-ed in the "Der Spiegel" German magazine.
"Donald Trump has transformed the United States into a laughingstock, and he is a danger to the world. He must be removed from the White House before things get even worse."
Who'd have thought that you would get the European media practically calling for regime change in the United States?
SESNO: Were there particular issues that took place on this trip that prompted that kind of response, or are they just picking up on the general atmospheric?
GHATTAS: Well, they're picking up a lot on what the U.S. media picked up, the awkwardness of the interaction between Donald Trump and Angela Merkel, but also President of France Emmanuel Macron, the little shove-aside that he performed with one of the fellow NATO leaders at the NATO summit.
SESNO: To get to his place in the photo-op line, get in that front line.
GHATTAS: To get into that front line, and the fact that the U.S. -- that the European media, they still don't quite know what to make of Donald Trump. They're still trying to adjust.
And this op-ed in the twin "Der Spiegel" magazine reminded me of their many covers since Donald Trump was elected. And their first cover the day after the election in November was "The End of the World," with the head of Donald Trump racing towards the globe as an asteroid.
SESNO: So, very alarmist coverage from Europe all along.
GHATTAS: Quite alarmist.
SESNO: Was there anybody in the European -- in the press who said, you know, it's about time an American president came over here and handed it to us and told us to pay our fair share in NATO and gave us a hard time?
GHATTAS: There was some of that, of course...
GHATTAS: ... because European leaders also do realize that they do need to pay their fair share when it comes to NATO.
They didn't quite appreciate the fact that he was lecturing European leaders standing right there next to them, when he had made very clear in Saudi Arabia that he wasn't coming to lecture anyone there. And the French newspaper "Le Monde" really picked up on that, that, why is he lecturing us, his allies, and not lecturing, you know, others? It should be equal, equal criticism.
SESNO: Overall, then, would you say the press saw this trip as a comma in a long sentence, or as a sort of exclamation point on this kind of "Der Spiegel"-like thing?
GHATTAS: I think the press and Europe in general is a little bit worried about how this relationship is going to unfold.
GHATTAS: But keep in mind that America is still the superpower. They are going to have to figure out how to work with the United States. We have heard Angela Merkel today said that the Europeans should realize that this is no longer a time when we're all in it together, that Europe needs to work harder to, in essence, make its own fate.
But there are leaders who would also look for opportunities to assert themselves like Emmanuel Macron of France, who sees perhaps an opportunity to be the bridge between Mr. Trump and Angela Merkel.
SESNO: We will be watching and reading and listening.
Thanks, Kim Ghattas.
GHATTAS: ... ahead.
SESNO: Really appreciate it.
Well, up next, a very happy addition to the RELIABLE SOURCES family. We will tell you that story in just a minute.
SESNO: So, here's what presidential trips are all about: red carpets, banquets and toasts, one-on-one meetings, talks with allies on big issues, and, yes, lots of reporters and cameras, so the story gets told around the world.
But this most unconventional president, with no experience in politics or diplomacy before the election, traveled just as investigations heated up.
And on this trip, President Trump may have shoved his way to the front of the picture, but he went to the back of the line in shaping the story, no news conferences. The White House kept the president away from open mikes, spontaneous Q&A, and troublesome tweets, few press briefings.
Sean Spicer was sidelined. But a White House lockdown is likely to prove counterproductive. The media coverage the president derides, yet demands, will happen with or without him.
And the issues that need a steady hand and a credible presidential bully pulpit, health care, tax reform, the economy, terrorism, trade, nuclear threats, climate change, and on and on, will suffer.
What should the media do? Ask questions, demand access, and engage the public. Explain to readers and viewers and listeners alike that, God forbid, this is not about circulation and clicks and ratings, but about information the public needs and deserves.
Explain that access matters, that journalism is about demanding answers and holding the powerful to account, that you go on these trips and show up every day to report events that you can verify and explain, and you are held to account if you get it wrong.
If Donald Trump's hunker-in-the-bunker strategy is a break to bring discipline and credibility to the White House communications team, maybe it will help him.
But if it's a prelude to a war room strategy or to further restrict access and information and attack the messenger, it will only add to the appearance of a White House under siege, on the defensive, paralyzed by scandal, and hostile to accountability, muddying the waters of the swamp Donald Trump promised to drain.
But we end on an inspiring note, and no better way to celebrate the holiday weekend than a sunny ray, as in Sunny Ray Stelter, the newest member of the RELIABLE SOURCES family.
Sunny Ray, mom, Jamie, and, of course, very proud dad, Brian, are all doing great. A truly reliable source of happiness has arrived.
Good luck to you all. Enjoy life's most amazing adventure. That is it for RELIABLE SOURCES.