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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
How Moore Mastered Trump's Anti-Media Playbook; Why Did Newsrooms Make So Many Mistakes This Week? Interview with Ben Cardin. Aired 11-12p ET
Aired December 10, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:10] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter. And this is RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the story behind the story, of how the media really works and how the news gets made.
Ahead today, this network, CNN under scrutiny for a faulty report about Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks. What went wrong and why were there so many mistakes made by news outlets just this week?
And as the Russia drip, drip, drip of real information continues to come out, so do the right wing media attacks on Bob Mueller's creditability. What's the end game here?
And later, David Axelrod here to talk about the president's TV habits and the rise of political podcasts.
You know, Tuesday's election in the state of Alabama is going to receive wall to wall national attention. So we start there with the polls that show a toss up between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones.
Moore has been avoiding interviews ever since women begun to accuse him of sexual misconduct, but he's really been running against the media, only speaking with friendly outlets, avoiding journalists who would like to talk with him, also refusing to debate his opponent.
So, take a look here what Moore spokeswoman Janet Porter said in two separate interviews with CNN this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JANET PORTER, MOORE SPOKESWOMAN: I don't believe her at all and I'll tell you why. Not only was she sought after by "The Washington Post," her own mother doesn't believe elements of her story.
One of the jobs of journalists is to not just take an Academy Award performance at face value. You need to dig into the facts. There's a reason why people have a phrase fake news, because you're not investigating the false accusations, the credibility problems that are screaming.
When you have false allegations that are generated by "The Washington Post", there tends to be a pile-on. That's how a lynch mob works.
(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: A media lynch mob she says, even though the accounts from the accusers are credible.
Look, it seems like Moore's campaign is taking a page straight out of President Trump's anti-media playbook.
And the president has been promoting more on Twitter and at a Friday night rally.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And this guy is screaming, we want Roy Moore. He's right. And we want job, job, jobs. So, get out and vote for Roy Moore.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Most recently, a robocall recorded by President Trump is rolling out to Alabama voters.
So, let's talk about what the next 48 hours of campaigning in store and what could happen Tuesday night.
Kyle Whitmire is here. He's a state political columnist for "The Alabama Media Group". Also, Dale Jackson, the host of "The Dale Jackson Show" on WVNN Radio in Alabama and Elaina Plott, staff writer for "The Washingtonian". She's a native Alabamian who has been covering the election for the magazine.
Kyle, lots to talk about. Let's start with Roy Moore and his campaigning or lack thereof.
Is it true that he's mostly missing from the campaign trail in these key final days?
KYLE WHITMIRE, STATE POLITICAL COLUMNIST, ALABAMA MEDIA GROUP: Right. Even before these allegations came out, he was pretty scarce on the campaign trail. Roy Moore has always been a candidate who sort of lets his opponents do a lot of the heavy lifting for him. He has a very, very loyal base in the state.
And when his opponents attack him, when the media questions him, that only just re-enforces their support for Roy Moore. So, yes, he's been scarce. He's -- even before these allegations, he's certainly been scarce since these allegations came out, and has not been making himself available to much media except for talk shows and other forums that are sympathetic or friendly to him.
STELTER: Dale, you are a conservative radio host in Huntsville. Have you been able to get the candidate on your show?
DALE JACKSON, HOST, THE DALE JACKSON SHOW WVNN: Roy Moore has not come on my radio show in months, and I don't expect to get him on my show before this election takes place or afterwards. I've been very unfriendly to Roy Moore for years here. And the real question about this is why the people don't believe what
the media is saying and the reason is simple -- lots of retractions. Donald Trump, a pathological liar, has weaponized the term "fake news" and your guy sitting right there, Kyle Whitmire, months ago, years ago, excuse me, wrote a piece asking if Roy Moore was gay.
Why in the world would anybody listen to the stuff that's coming out of those outlets? That's the real problem here.
WHITMIRE: Look, these allegations are -- they're credible. And, yes, you know, Dale is right about the piece I wrote years ago. The question was whether this was following a narrative that we've seen over and over again with his vitriol toward the LGBTQ community.
But let's face it -- this is an apparatus, a reality distortion field that the Republican Party and the right has created and it's been in effect here in Alabama that gives people license to disbelieve things that they don't want to be true.
[11:05:20] STELTER: So, I wonder, Elaina, as we think about the broader context here, if this is a preview of what the midterms are going to be like? If Republican candidates are going to run against the press, especially if it works for Roy Moore on Tuesday?
ELAINA PLOTT, STAFF WRITER, WASHINGTONIAN: Well, I can tell you that, I know you cited a poll that is a tossup between Moore and Jones. But I believe, as I have from the beginning of this election, that Roy Moore will win on Tuesday.
And I think what that's going to show to every single Republican candidate going forward, especially a Chris McDaniel in Mississippi against Roger Wicker, that the media is a credible opponent, that elections for Republicans do not have to be about ideology any longer. Squaring up against an opponent based on policy proposals. You can weaponize fake news as this president has done so well and rally the base around that and feel comfortable going into a Tuesday election.
STELTER: Doesn't that mean something is broken in our society?
PLOTT: Well, I would say so. But I also think it points to -- you know, I kind of think we forget it wasn't until President Trump that the term "fake news" coursed through society so easily. I mean, you can walk down the street and hear anyone use the term "fake news", whether jokingly, ironically or not, but I do think that's a signal that this is a pretty imbedded part of our culture at this point and reporters are going to have to consistently come up with ways to make sure that they're being respected and listened to in spite of that.
STELTER: Dale, you know, I would say that sometimes you're on the radio tearing down the press, discouraging people from trusting real reporting. I think you might say that we deserve it, right?
JACKSON: Well, the simple fact is this -- there has been an agenda against Roy Moore in the state of Alabama going back a decade. Why in the world would people believe the things that are said if it's always negative over and over and over and over again? That weaponizes the term fake news.
You guys have to look inside your own house to make that conversation, because the bottom line is this -- people don't trust you guys and the reason they don't trust you is because you are constantly telling them they are wrong, they are stupid, they are racists, and then we're saying, hey, listen to us you wrong, stupid and racist people. It's not going to work, they don't trust you guys.
STELTER: When you say they don't trust you guys, I think what you mean, Dale, is there's a percentage of the country primarily conservatives who for years and decades have just trusted the press, who do not trust mainstream reporting. It is not a majority of the country.
JACKSON: I would say it's a pretty big number. Donald Trump was able to become president of the United States using this same attack. You pointed out a minute ago, Roy Moore is doing the exact same thing.
This election is about Roy Moore and Roy Moore only. None of us sitting on this panel know what Doug Jones believes on absolutely anything because it has become a battle between Roy Moore and you guys and he's going to win.
STELTER: I do think it's a problem that Doug Jones has not received more coverage. You just saw a tweet, Kyle, from a viewer who said the media hasn't really covered the election. They've only covered Moore. Quote, you barely know Jones was also running.
Has that been a problem, Kyle, for you on the ground there?
WHITMIRE: I don't believe that's fair. I mean, look, yes, we don't cover houses that aren't on fire, right? Doug Jones is a pretty vanilla Democrat. That's sort of what he's put himself out there as a generic Democrat, for the purpose of not trying to get nailed down on certain issues.
You know, he has had problems with his stance on abortion, but other than that, you look up and down on his list of issues. It's what you would expect from a Democrat.
Meanwhile, you have Roy Moore who is not a typical Republican in a lot of respects, you know, to the point that this morning, Richard Shelby came out on your network criticizing him again and something that, you know, he couldn't have criticized him more directly if he were writing an attack ad for the Jones' campaign.
So, look, yes, we -- there has clearly been more coverage of Roy Moore, just because he is such a spectacle and such an abnormality.
STELTER: Elaina, Kyle, Dale, thank you all for being here. I appreciate it.
JACKSON: Thank you.
PLOTT: Thank you, Brian.
STELTER: And the interview with Shelby you can see next hour here on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION".
Up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES, self inflicted wounds by several newsrooms this week. Now, President Trump calling on media companies to fire individual journalists. Carl Bernstein responds right after this.
[11:14:17] STELTER: A week ago, it was Brian Ross and ABC. Ross was suspended for a breaking news report about Michael Flynn that had not been fully vetted by the network ahead of time. And since then several more mistakes by other media outlets have caused a lot of introspection in newsrooms.
On Friday, CNN gave lots of airtime to an exclusive report that said then-candidate Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. had received an e- mail in September 2016, an email providing a decryption key and web address, allowing them to access hacked DNC documents before they were publicly available.
Now, later that afternoon, the story unraveled. CNN's Manu Raju went on Brooke Baldwin's show to issue this correction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[11:15:00] MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: We have just obtained a copy of this e-mail. And instead, we now learn that this e-mail was on September 14th. So, that is 10 days later than what we originally reported earlier today. And this appears to change the understanding of the story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: It changed the understanding quite a bit.
With ABC's suspension of Ross still in the headline, I asked CNN if there would be disciplinary action against Raju or his co-writer, Jeremy Herb. A spokeswoman said no, because the reporters followed CNN's standards process, which means the sources they were using were vetted and OK'd ahead of time.
Now, the sources have been reliable in the past. But they were not this time. The spokeswoman said CNN had no reason to believe this was malicious, meaning the sources weren't trying to trick the reporters, the sources were just mistaken. But that mistake obviously caused a black eye for CNN.
On Friday night, President Trump seized on the recent corrections at a rally in Florida.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And, by the way, did you see all the corrections the media has been making? They have been apologizing left and right. They took this guy from ABC and they should have fired him.
And then CNN apologized just a little while ago. They apologized. Oh, thank you, CNN. Thank you so much. You should have been apologizing for the last two years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Technically, CNN did not apologize but did correct the reporting.
CBS also issued a correction for the same story.
And this was not the only error of the week. Did you hear about Robert Mueller's team subpoenaing Trump's bank records from Deutsche Bank?
"Bloomberg" and "Reuters" had to issue corrections, saying the documents that were subpoenaed pertained to people or entities affiliated with Trump, not the president individually.
Now that is still a big development. But it's not what the news outlets originally said.
"The Wall Street Journal" got it right in the text of their story, but misconstrued it in the headline so they had to run a correction as well.
These errors have piled up this week. There's a new one this weekend involving "The Washington Post" we'll get into.
So, let's talk about it with Carl Bernstein who, of course, shared the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of Watergate. He is now a CNN political analyst. And David Frum, a senior editor at "The Atlantic".
Carl, how damaging are this string of errors?
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they're damaging in the sense this is taking place in a cold civil war in this country in which neither side seems to have much interest in the best obtainable version of the truth. Too many people in our citizenry and in our institutions are looking for information that re-enforces what they already believe, that buttresses their already held political prejudices, cultural beliefs, et cetera, et cetera.
At the same time, look, reporters, journalists make mistakes. Our record as journalists in covering this Trump story and the Russian story is pretty good, especially compared to the record of Donald Trump and his serial lying. There's no other reportorial, historical --
STELTER: But --
BERNSTEIN: -- word that describes it. STELTER: But hold on, Carl, you're saying our record is pretty good.
But why would -- why would a Trump supporter believe that given this repetitive string of errors?
BERNSTEIN: Because -- well, I don't think a Trump supporter would believe it. And I think there is a suspension of belief and reasonable looking at how the media does its job on both sides. People are looking for information that re-enforces what they already believe instead of the best obtainable version of the truth.
We have to get back to the notion that -- which is absolutely correct, that most of the media really tries, the mainstream media, the big news institutions, from "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times", to "The Wall Street Journal", to CNN, really go out of their way to be accurate, factual, contextual.
And we do, and we've done a pretty good job of it, I would say by and large an excellent job of it in terms of the facts of this hugely complicated story. But, you know, we made a huge mistake in Watergate, Bob Woodward and I, and into day, in which we said that the principal assistant to the president of the United States had been implicated in grand jury testimony. In fact, he had not been implicated in grand jury testimony.
Today, I wonder if we would have been fired for that mistake, instead of continuing on the story. We are in a hot house/cold civil war atmosphere and the press and attacking the press is the basic element that too many demagogues in our culture have used to whip up this cold civil war and especially to appeal to the base of the president of the United States.
[11:20:15] STELTER: David, what's your advice for journalists in the situation and for readers?
DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: I have more advice for readers. The mistake -- you asked the question Brian, why should given these mistakes, why should people trust the media? I would say, the mistakes are precisely the reason the people should trust the media.
Look, astronomers make mistakes all the time because science is a process of discovery of truth. Astrologers never make mistakes, or at least they never own up to them, because what they are offering is a closed system of ideology and propaganda.
Faced with wrongdoing circled by lies, the process of piercing the lies to uncover the truth about the wrongdoing is inherently not only difficult but adversarial, because the people are trying to find the truth are offered against bad faith actors engaged in concealment. So, they get partial pieces of the truth.
In the process, there are going to be overshoots and undershoots. That "Bloomberg"/"Reuter" story you mentioned about Deutsche Bank.
STELTER: Right. FRUM: Donald Trump has -- Donald Trump holds most of his debt through Trump-related entities, not personally. So, we don't know exactly what Deutsche Bank was subpoenaed to release, but it is not exactly wrong to say that when you get a Trump-related entity, you're getting something but Trump. Nonetheless, error of emphasis, but is the process of bringing truth to life.
Meanwhile, from the president and his supporters, you hear a system of lies. So, they're not well placed to complain, because the mistakes occur in the process of exposing the lies that the liars then complain about the mistakes that are investigating them.
STELTER: You're saying the journalists are held to a high standard appropriately but that the president and his allies are having a --
FRUM: No. I'm saying something a little bit different. I'm saying, look, journalism is a process. The way you discover the truth as a consumer of news is not by reading any one story and thinking, aha, here's the truth. You have to be engaged in it, you have to be an active consumer, because this is -- unlike law enforcement, which investigates and produces conclusions at the end, journalists show their work as they go. They approximate the truth. They reached it.
And in this case, they are reaching it not just because the truth is difficult but because they're confronting bad faith actors engaged actively in concealment in order to deprive the public of important knowledge of wrongdoing, financial and national security.
STELTER: Mike Allen wrote about this --
BERNSTEIN: Let me add one thing and that is that --
STELTER: Let me put it on screen real quick, Carl. I thought this stood out to me from Mike Allen.
BERNSTEIN: Go ahead.
STELTER: The media's best and worst of times. He said, Trump's argument is not broadly true. Most reporters do work hard to be fair and accurate, and national outlets have risen to this historic era without unprecedented resources and consequential journalism.
And yet, Carl, this takes us back to the point from a couple of minutes ago about whether the public actually believes that.
BERNSTEIN: Mike Allen is right about the general excellence of the media's coverage particularly of Donald Trump, his presidency and this story. I think it's very important if open-minded people and that's what we seem to be lacking on both sides but especially Trump supporters here and let's say that that is the fact especially among Trump supporters about open-mindedness, the media generally speaking, the mainstream media, makes far fewer errors than most institutions in our culture because we indeed are in the business of trying not to make errors. And we have all kinds of procedures in place to keep us from making those errors.
Compare us to Wall Street. Compare us to banking. Compare us to the Congress of the United States. Compare us to almost any institution and we make fewer errors.
At the same time, we can't be complacent. We need to be introspective. And part of being introspective right now, in this cold civil war, is to look at where we are in this country in terms of the press being a crucial element of the cold civil war and see if there are some ways that we, through more transparency as well as perhaps change in tone in some instances, can make ourselves less the issue, the conduct of the press the issue, instead of the conduct of the president and those around him.
FRUM: With the greatest respect to Carl and his incredible accomplishments, I really think framing this is a matter of two sides is fundamentally misleading. The press -- the worst mistakes that -- I mean, again, when we talk about the press, we exclude Fox and we talk about press organizations that have an interest in finding truth. Excluding Fox, the worst mistakes that press organizations have made in the coverage of Trump has precisely occurred in their effort -- their overzealous effort to be fair to the president, because the problem they cover is accurate coverage of this president and his campaign is very different from neutral coverage of this president's campaign.
[11:25:16] I mean, how do you report the fact that the president lies all the time and then he recruits people to work for him that lie all the time? The worse mistakes in my opinion --
BERNSTEIN: I'm not talking about neutrality, David. I'm not talking about neutrality. You're absolutely right.
FRUM: The worst mistakes press organizations have made and CNN made, Raju and his co-author, the mistake they made, it was important they promptly corrected it. The worst mistake CNN has made had been result of determination to bring in-house Trump associates in order to promote Trump falsehoods. Not from Trump HQ or not from the White House but with CNN's own brand on them. And that has occurred --
STELTER: Well, I have to disagree on that one. I think we need to hear from Trump supporters. But I --
FRUM: You need to hear them, but you need to hear from them as Trump supporters. You don't need to put your own brand on them, and that has been -- that has been the worst mistake but that comes from the desire to be unduly fair.
STELTER: David Frum, Carl Bernstein, thank you very much.
BERNSTEIN: The best obtainable version --
STELTER: Carl, if I could --
BERNSTEIN: Let me add one thing before we go. The best obtainable version of the truth is not necessarily about neutrality. It is about sorting through information and presenting what the facts and context are and that is what the major news organizations have done on this story and have done very well.
STELTER: Carl, come back with me after the break. David, thank you for being here.
FRUM: Thank you.
STELTER: And one more note about this. David Weigel of "The Washington Post," the latest target of President Trump. He tweeted out a picture of the Pensacola rally showing empty seats before the rally began and deleted when he realized it was misleading on Saturday night.
We can show here, President Trump took aim at Weigel, criticized Weigel, even after an apology was made on Twitter. I think it's notable there, at the end of the tweet, the president said, Weigel should be fired.
Now, "The Washington Post" is not going to fire Weigel. They are standing by him. I checked in with "The Washington Post" PR this morning, they acknowledged that Weigel made a mistake and quickly deleted it and apologized.
But ask yourself, do you think it's appropriate for the president of the United States to call on individual journalists to be fired?
After the break here, we're talking about Robert Mueller, his special counsel and how right wing hosts are trying to discredit Mueller. Why? And is it working?
We'll be right back.
STELTER: And welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.
Can you feel the pressure?
As Robert Mueller's Russia investigation zeros in on Trump's inner circle, pro-Trump hosts on TV and radio, like Sean Hannity, are trying harder than ever to discredit Mueller, the probe, and the FBI.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Mueller is corrupt. The senior FBI is corrupt. The system is corrupt.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I think there is and has been ever since Trump was elected a silent coup to get him out of office.
GREGG JARRETT, FOX NEWS: Illegitimate and corrupt, a deep state.
SEAN HANNITY, HOST, "HANNITY": Robert Mueller's partisan, extremely biased, hyper-partisan attack team.
MARK LEVIN, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: These hatchet men that he has hired, Obama, Clinton supporters, have brought not a single case related to collusion.
HANNITY: Utter disgrace.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The deep state.
JARRETT: And the FBI has become America's secret police.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Do you see what can happen with the repetition, when viewers and listeners are hearing it hour after hour?
The campaign is continuing this weekend.
Here's Jeanine Pirro's show from last night.
And I want you to keep in mind as you watch this Pirro counts herself as a friend and an informal adviser to the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS: There is a cleansing needed in our FBI and Department of Justice.
It needs to be cleansed of individuals who should not just be fired, but who need to be taken out in handcuffs. The stench coming out of the Justice Department and the FBI is like that of a Third World country. Well, it's time to take them out in cuffs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: We know the president watches and listens to these shows.
So, what's the impact of this anti-Mueller campaign?
Back with me now, CNN political analyst Carl Bernstein.
Carl, you say this is abetting a cover-up?
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, it abets a cover-up, because there is a cover-up going on in the White House and among Trump's aides and former aides relating to the investigations.
We do not know specifically what the cover-up is about, whether it constitutes an obstruction of justice or a criminal conspiracy at this point, though there's some evidence that suggests it might be the case. But, yes, because the commentators that you are hearing and showing
there are not open in any way to the best obtainable version of the truth, to facts, to context, who seem to be oblivious to the serial lying of the president of the United States and members of his family and those on his staff and those in the Trump Organization, yes, they are abetting a cover-up.
But, more important, where we need to go again is the idea of making the conduct of the press the issue, the conduct of the prosecutors the issue, making the conduct of everyone the issue except the president of the United States and those around him, including those who have pleaded guilty already.
STELTER: I have seen differing opinions about the real purpose of this anti-Mueller rhetoric.
You know, you see some people saying this is about goading Trump to fire Mueller, others, like Byron York, writing, this is actually impeachment politics, that there's an assumption Mueller will find something very damaging, that impeachment proceedings will begin, and attacking Mueller is a way to give political -- to give Republicans a defense in an impeachment proceeding.
How do you see it? Is it an attempt here to goad Trump into firing Mueller?
BERNSTEIN: I think that's a little overcomplicated.
I think that there is an attempt to defend Donald Trump by his base and by many, many Republicans on Capitol Hill and also ordinary Republican voters to defend him at any cost, including the cost of the truth, because, unlike Watergate -- let's go back to Watergate and look at who the heroes of Watergate were.
They were Republicans who said, you know, we have a criminal president of the United States, the fact that he is a Republican does not excuse him of criminality, and he needs to leave office.
We don't seem to have that same attitude among mainstream Republicans, as well as Republicans of the Congress of the United States, today about the fairness of an open inquiry into Donald Trump and what might have occurred in his campaign related to the undermining of an American election, apparently, by the Russians, according to our intelligence agencies.
So, we are in a situation today in which, again, everyone's conduct, except those under investigation, is suspect.
It doesn't -- it doesn't make sense. It's not logical. But we also are not living in a logical time. I mentioned this cold civil war a few moments ago in the earlier segment. And I think we need to look at so much of our culture in terms of the cold civil war.
And the willing participation of combatants, incidentally, on all sides of the cold civil war and willingness to be oblivious to facts is undermining our very culture and system.
And these attacks are the most prominent evident -- evidence of how we are undermining truth and, indeed, abetting a cover-up by not being willing to look at what is staring us in the face.
And that is, first of all, the lies of the president of the United States. Why is he lying, these same commentators at FOX ought to be -- and elsewhere -- ought to be asking.
It doesn't mean that, necessarily, he ought to be impeached, that there's impeachable evidence. That's what the Mueller investigation is about, to find out, is there a real conspiracy, what is the conspiracy, if it exists, et cetera, et cetera.
But it is a legitimate inquiry, being conducted legitimately. And the fact that Mueller has isolated a couple of people in his investigation who seem to have expressed some political beliefs that are anti-Trump is more evidence of Mueller's attempt to conduct a fair and impartial and factual investigation, rather than the contrary.
STELTER: Carl, thanks so much for being here.
And up next, a dispute between Russia and the U.S. that you probably have not heard about. Senator Ben Carson (sic) says Russia is trying to further curb the free press. And he's up next.
STELTER: Hey. Welcome back.
A tit-for-tat between the U.S. and Russia is stirring concern in media circles.
This week, Russia followed through on threats to take action against U.S.-funded outlets that are operating in the country, the country, Russia, labeling nine media organizations as foreign agents.
Now, it's a move seemingly in retaliation for the U.S. requiring the American version of the Russian news network R.T. to register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent.
With me now is Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, you criticized this latest move, saying it's just an excuse to further curb the free press in Russia.
Why should viewers care?
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Well, Brian, we should understand that Mr. Putin uses the fake news and his press outlets as a tool.
It's not an independent press. It is part of the strategy of Mr. Putin to interfere in other countries. They use it for propaganda. They use it for fake news.
It's part of their tool chest -- tool in their tool chest to bring about a different type of government in other countries. So, it's something that should concern Americans, absolutely.
STELTER: And you think there's a big difference between what Voice of America, which is a U.S.-funded outlet, does vs. what Russia Today does? Isn't that the heart of this dispute?
CARDIN: No, absolutely, there's a difference here.
We don't go over the edge and create news or use fake news or lies in order to bring about a change in government. What we try to do through Voice of America and from other news outlets is to get the information to the Russian audience, so they understand the truth, what's going on.
They can make their own judgment as to how they would like their country to proceed, but we want to make sure that they get independent news information, rather than controlled information coming out from the Russian government.
STELTER: So, how is this going to end?
There's been concern that maybe next Russia might try to kick out U.S.-based news outlets like CNN, not funded by the U.S. government, but based in the U.S. There's been concern about that.
There's also been questions about whether Russia Today is going to be taken off cable here in the United States. How do you see this ending?
CARDIN: Well, make no mistake about it.
Russia, under Mr. Putin, will continue to try to control the information, not just in their own country, but in countries where they believe they can influence. The former republics of the Soviet Union are countries that were under the domination of the Soviet Union.
They are very much going to use whatever tools they can to influence public opinion, including who the citizens of that country vote for, for their leaders. We saw that in our election, but we also saw it in European elections.
So, we have got to be realistic about this. It's -- we're not playing on a level playing field. Obviously, we're going to have to protect our own country from that type of fake information and fake news that comes through Russia.
STELTER: Let me ask you also net neutrality while I have you here.
The Republican FCC chair, Ajit Pai, is moving forward with a vote this week to repeal the Obama era net neutrality rules. Tell me why you and so many other Democrats have asked him not to do
this, have asked him to delay the vote.
CARDIN: Well, access to the Internet is a public utility.
And we have to make sure that it's not regulated in a discriminatory manner which denies small businesses or individuals to the same type of Internet service that others receive.
So, it is a matter of public interest. And we do believe the FCC is moving down the wrong path in trying to deny equal access to the Internet.
STELTER: Shouldn't there be a congressional remedy here, meaning a new law passed in Congress in order to create 21st century regulations for how companies that provide Internet access should be regulated? Because, right now, these net neutrality rules, they are based on very outdated legislation.
CARDIN: Brian, you're absolutely right.
Congress has a responsibility, not just in access to the Internet and net neutrality, but, in so many other areas, Congress needs to act. So, I have called upon the Republican leadership in Congress to allow us to debate these issues and to act on these issues.
But we don't see any real willingness on behalf of the Republican leadership to schedule any congressional debate on these subjects.
STELTER: Senator, thanks for being here today. Appreciate it.
CARDIN: Thank you.
STELTER: And coming up next, David Axelrod on why it matters how much TV President Trump watches. You're going to want to hear this.
We will be right back.
STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
On the front page of today's "New York Times," a detailed account about how President Trump spent his time, beginning with a morning of marathon TV watching, this, according to "The Times."
"People closed to him estimate that Mr. Trump spends at least four hours a day and sometimes as much as twice that in front of a television, sometimes with the volume muted, marinating in the no- holds-barred wars of cable news and eager to fire back."
And I would like to ask CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod about this, Axelrod, of course, formerly President Obama's chief strategist, now the host of "The Axe Files" podcast, which is celebrating its 200th episode.
I remember, David, back in the Obama years people like yours truly were critical of the president for not watching enough cable news. Now President Trump criticized for watching too much of it.
Is there just not a happy in-the-middle sweet spot to this?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Brian, I have a very practical concern, which is that having had the office next to the president for two years, I saw what came to that desk hour after hour, these very complex, grave issues that required judgment on the part of the president of the United States.
And I saw the president go back to his residence every night with a thick folder full of documents and information, so that he'd be prepared for those discussions the next day.
And I'm wondering, how's the work getting done? Who is making these decisions? If the president is consumed by watching cable television, who is doing the work of sifting through those complex issues and arriving at an answer? Or is that work getting done?
So, I have that practical concern. Now, you're right. President Obama, you know, he insisted, for example, when we were on the road, he had his television tuned to ESPN. He had a no-cable news policy, because he thought it was a lot of noise that he didn't need to hear or want to hear.
And perhaps he could have done more listening to it. I don't know if that would have enhanced his performance as president or not.
But what's disturbing here is not only that the president is so occupied with it, but that he seems influenced by it, he's so reactive to it. And he gets a lot of his information, it seems, from the sort of amen corner on FOX News, the sort of very, you know, conspiracy- prone, pro-Trump -- Jeanine Pirro, for example, who you showed just a little bit earlier saying that they should lead people out of the Justice Department in handcuffs.
STELTER: Right. Right.
AXELROD: That's disturbing, too, because it seems to stoke him up.
STELTER: Right, and tell him that everyone is out to get him.
STELTER: On a different topic, David, the 200th episode of your podcast, I have noticed this year there's been such a rise in political podcasts.
You have been doing this for a while now. What have you learned about the podcast world and why people are so interested in it?
AXELROD: Well, I'm really heartened by -- it just -- my podcast started at the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago, which I founded after 2012.
And I was having discussions in front of audiences with people across the political spectrum. And there seemed to be a real interest in these conversations, and particularly in the stories of these people.
And it occurred to me, well, maybe other people would want to hear those as well. And it turns out there's a real market for it.
We're told that people want bite-sized information in these fast-paced times, but, really, I think people are hungering for deeper discussions. And they want to know who people are, where they came from, what motivates them.
And I hope that, by having these conversations with people, we can help de-acidify our politics in some way. I find, when I have a discussion with Karl Rove, for example, about his mother's suicide -- and my father committed suicide, so we had this in common -- I saw a different dimension of him.
AXELROD: When I talked to Mitt Romney about the impact the implosion of his father's political career had on his own approach to politics, those are things I don't think people are used to hearing.
So, I think we're providing something...
STELTER: We need more of it.
AXELROD: Yes, I think so.
You can check out "The Axe Files" and RELIABLE's podcast at podcast.CNN.com.
David, thanks for being here.
AXELROD: Brian, thanks for having me.
STELTER: We're out of time here on TV.
We will see you back here this time next week.