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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Remembering the Life and Legacy of Senator John McCain; Is the Truth Finally Catching Up to Trump? Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired August 26, 2018 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:32] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: A statesman, a soldier, a patriot, a father, a senator and a true leader. John McCain was all of these things and many more. He passed away Saturday night more than a year after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer, and this morning, he is being remembered for his leadership, his courage and his honesty.

He had a special bond with the American press corps and that's something we want to explore today on RELIABLE SOURCES.

McCain cultivated a relationship with reporters who covered his campaigns and covered his career in the senate. He knew our weaknesses, but he also knew the strengths of the American press and the importance of a free press in society.

Today, many journalists are sharing their reflections about his life and his legacy. CNN's Dana Bash said it really well earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I want to say thank you, John McCain. Thank you for teaching reporters like me who followed you around for a living how to be serious without taking ourselves too seriously, tow to respect the political process as meaningful and not mean, and how to walk really fast in the capitol hallways which was the only way to do it when I had to keep up with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: It's a beautiful tribute and there have been so many like it today. So many reporters who learned from McCain, even while challenging him and covering his campaigns aggressively.

There has been a profound sense of loss in the country in the wake of the news of McCain's death. You're hearing it from Republicans and Democrats, from lawmakers and from journalists.

And I want to show you something that Hillary Clinton said just a few minutes ago on "Meet the Press," she called in to Chuck Todd's show and the two of them talked about why at this particular moment in our history, this particularly polarizing moment in our politics, why the death of John McCain hurts so much.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE (via telephone): He understood that we've been through perilous times before, at home and abroad, but our institutions are being severely tested right now, including his beloved Senate. And he was in every day he knew how trying to sound the alarm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: You think about John McCain and his presence on television, his presence in the news media. At one point, it became kind of a joke that he was the most frequently booked guest on the Sunday news shows. You know, over at "Meet the Press" he has the record for the most appearances of any guest in the history of that program, 73 times during his tenure in the Senate.

He was a straight talker, always someone with a great quote, someone you could rely on for that kind of blunt comment and journalists loved that about him. Of course, he was someone who knew how to use the president to his advantage and try to engage them.

And now we see here just some of the tributes, they have been pouring in across the country and around the world. The flag at half-staff at the White House today, as well as on Capitol Hill. And on newspaper front pages across the country, you will see here his home state paper, "The Arizona Republic", calling him a political giant and an Arizona legend. And here is "The New York Times," "The Washington Post" and "The Los Angeles Times".

Let's discuss McCain's life, his legacy and his relationship with the press with three people who knew him well: Dan Rather, the former anchor of the "CBS Evening News", Frank Sesno, the director of George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs and a former CNN Washington bureau chief and Nicolle Carol, the editor in chief of "USA Today" and previously the top editor at "The Arizona Republic".

Dan, your reflections first on what McCain's passing means for our country.

DAN RATHER, FORMER CBS EVENING NEWS ANCHOR: Well, I do think it is a very special moment and a moment worth thinking about some. A John McCain who the word character probably sums him up best, he wasn't perfect, he was human and he was first to admit it, but a person with John McCain's character matched with his leadership skills is rare in any walk of life and is getting to be particularly rare in the upper reaches of our country's elected office structure.

[11:05:18] So I think there's that.

Then there's the other -- at a different level that McCain is that rare person whom any parent could use as an example for their children. Among other things, he finished near the bottom of his class at the naval academy. He never pretended to be the smartest guy around, but he just kept putting one foot in front of the other to make himself an accomplished naval pilot and all through life. The second thing and as a reporter who spent a good deal of time at

Washington at one point in my life, you learned to appreciate, McCain always had a first rate staff. And so, the code of the road among reporters in Washington is in judging particularly senators, you judge them by whom they select for their staffs and McCain always had -- he had a small staff, but he had a first rate staff.

Another is -- and you have mentioned it (INAUDIBLE) -- that McCain understood the press. He actually liked reporters. Now, that isn't to say he wouldn't take the hide off of you when he thought you were wrong, but he understood the importance of the press as part of our system of checks and balances. He understood how the press worked. He understood how reporters worked.

And with myself I suspect this true for a lot of reporters, McCain -- I can't remember a single story he ever leaked to me. He was not a source who would call you or if you called him and said, you know, give me a story. What he was very good at is you could say to him, this is what I'm hearing what do you think, and he would say, I know but I can't tell you, or, I know what you've got is right, or you're way off base. And that's invaluable to a reporter.

STELTER: Yes.

RATHER: But he was also -- he was fun to be around. He had a great sense of humor.

STELTER: Yes, jovial.

RATHER: Jovial, great sense of humor. And that old line he took his work seriously but he didn't take himself seriously. And if you checked the record, the journalists McCain got along with the best, the reporters the ones he got along with the best were the ones who took their work seriously but not themselves seriously.

STELTER: He was accessible. He would tease reporters.

I wonder, Frank, about your impressions of this relationship between McCain and the press corps. I think some viewers might listen to this and think, hey, was this too cozy?

FRANK SESNO, AUTHOR, "ASK MORE: THE POWER OF QUESTIONS TO OPEN DOORS": No, it was not too cozy. John McCain could be a tough adversary. He was a tough interview.

But he played a very important role, you know, maverick became his middle name. What it really meant is he said what he felt and he said what he said largely privately as well as publicly. I interviewed him many times as one or two of our viewers may remember, I hosted the Sunday show on this network for many years and McCain was a frequent guest.

And one of the reasons he was on so much on CNN as he was on "Meet the Press" and elsewhere is because he would say what he felt and what he thought, and if that meant crossing his party or crossing his pals or saying that he had made a mistake, he would do that. Now, that's insight at some level, didn't mean that he didn't like to spin, too, he did, but that kind of insight comes from very few sitting politicians and we know now painfully more than we have known in the past that so much of what passes for civil discourse or public debate is about talking points and spin and tested slogans and it's meant to rally the base, and John McCain didn't do that.

When we did the show we would have, you know, left, right, Republican, Democrat, yes, no, on a particular issue that we were look booking and then we had a seat we fondly like to call the truth teller. And sometimes the truth teller was an independent analyst, sometimes an academic and sometimes it was John McCain just because he said what he said.

As I say, it didn't mean he didn't spin, it didn't mean he wasn't fighting for what he believed in, but where he crossed those lines to bring that to the public, to illuminate what was going on behind the scenes was a gigantic public service and part of what we should be doing every day in the media and frankly the kinds of people we should be putting on the air, whether you agree with them or disagree with him.

STELTER: And his choice to be so accessible, Nicole Carroll, he was reading one of his books he said the reason why he decided to speak so much to the press, answer everybody's question was in the wake of the Keating Five scandal, that he felt he had to answer everybody's questions in order to get out from under that scandal. And he found that ever since that it worked well for him, to keep talking, to invite everybody in and keep talk.

We see a lot of politicians trying to keep the press at arm's length today.

Is that how he was in Arizona? You spent 18 years there at the "Arizona Republic".

NICOLE CARROLL, EDITOR IN CHIEF, USA TODAY: Right.

STELTER: Always accessible to the local press corps, as well as the national reporters covering his campaigns?

[11:10:03] CARROLL: He was very accessible and it was a healthy relationship. You're right, he would tell you when he wasn't pleased with what you had written or what you had done, he would tell you.

We never saw that temper but you would get some silent treatment if you weren't on the good side at that moment but it was a very healthy relationship. Just two weeks after he was diagnosed, he came back to our newsroom to meet with our editors and was just cracking jokes, posing for portraits, he did a video with us and, you know, at the time, we asked him what he thought his legacy would be and he said something like being voted Ms. Congeniality in the Senate for all these years.

So, even facing a very catastrophic diagnosis, he was -- he was jovial and open to reporters, and I think that speaks to the healthy relationship he had with the press. STELTER: And one more point on his relationship with the press, he

was asked last year on NBC about President Trump's attacks against the media, the enemy of the people rhetoric. Let's take a listen to how McCain reacted to President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I hate the press. I hate you especially, but the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It's vital.

If you want to preserve -- I'm very serious now -- if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I'm afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That's how dictators get started.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: As Hillary Clinton said, McCain was trying to sound the alarm about some of what's going on in this country, Dan.

RATHER: No question in recent years, last year and a half, two years, he was trying to sound the alarm, but that reminds me, seeing that clip reminds me even what you said about how he handled himself in the Arizona newsroom, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that there was something genuinely noble about John McCain. I think all you need to know about him is when he was a prisoner of war with the North Vietnamese, he had been there a while. When they offered to release him because in respect of his father who was commanding American forces in the Pacific, John McCain wouldn't go unless they released all of them.

As a consequence, he spent additional years in the prison camp. Now, that alone speaks so well to his character.

STELTER: Yes.

RATHER: We talked with him, statesman, warrior, war hero, public servant. In the end, John McCain was, is and shall remain a noble man. That's his basic legacy.

STELTER: One of his sons, Jack McCain, has shared a tribute in the past few minutes on social media, if we can put that on screen. He says: it is not the man that was great but instead his desire to serve a cause greater than himself that defined his life. To me, he was a giant, but to him he was an imperfect servant of the nation he loved deeply, fair winds, following seas and clear skies. Jack McCain's message to his father.

That idea of imperfection which John McCain was always open about was one of his most appealing attributes as a politician.

CARROLL: Right, he was very humanizing. He was constantly talking about that even in his final Senate speech, when he was talking about, let's be more collaborative, let's have more respect, he said he hasn't always been that way. And I think because he was so willing to talk about his mistakes and imperfections, it garnered him such respect and admiration.

STELTER: Are we mourning in some ways the death of a version of politics that many of us wish we had that is no longer in existence?

RATHER: I think that's right in the bull's-eye. I think one reason there's been such an outpouring not just from journalists on cable television but from the country as a whole, that McCain transcended party identification. Look, he was a lifelong Republican and very fierce loyal Republican in the former definition of that term. But, you know, McCain represented something that I think he was a politician who became a folk hero.

STELTER: Right.

RATHER: I don't know if that's too strong to say. As a consequence his going it leaves a void because there's this sinking feeling within ourselves, where is the next John McCain? Where is the John McCain that will walk the halls of the Capitol now?

And we better hope that we have some John McCains in the future. I think that's part of what's happening in the country now with this outpouring for John McCain. I think John McCain in a way would be a little embarrassed by what's happening.

STELTER: I'm sure, I'm sure.

RATHER: Because there was -- make no mistake, he was a proud man -- but there was a certain humility, particularly private hours, you know, after midnight in the shank of the evening over an adult beverage that John McCain would say, you know, I made a big mistake and, rather, you didn't catch me, it's a good thing but you didn't catch me in it.

[11:15:01] And what you said before, if he didn't like what you reported you knew it. His straight talk included giving you straight talk when he thought you were wrong.

STELTER: Frank, what about that? Do you have some memories of that as well?

SESNO: Oh, my gosh, yes. And I think something I would like to react to, you know, as what we've been hearing.

STELTER: Yes.

SESNO: You assume the narrative of the time around you. And so, John McCain's notion of being a maverick, of standing for integrity and all of these sorts of things is more pronounced because of what we're living through right now.

That piece of tape that you just played of McCain talking on "Meet the Press" about the value of the press is especially poignant because obviously of what we're seeing now but also because of his experience in Vietnam. This is a former member of the Armed Forces who was in prison as a prisoner of war for years in Vietnam when the media and the press -- I mean, people may forget -- was very much the enemy of much of the people then because of the position it took about Vietnam as that war was revealed to be what it was and he still is defending the press.

And what that says and the reason he does that is because he brought on public debate, he engaged in that. When he held his town hall meetings he engaged with citizens and he put up -- when somebody stood one time and, you know, signed on to the birther thing about Barack Obama, he said, hang on, we are not doing that. He stood for immigration reform even when that was a difficult -- it's always been a difficult subject but especially then.

Can I just say one other thing? The other thing that John McCain brought to the office and to the discussion was humanity and I will tell a very, very quick story.

My mother moved to Arizona in her later years. When she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer I mentioned it to the senator at one point. I was visiting her in her hospital room, hardly a hotel room, a hospital room and John McCain called the hospital, and his call landed at the nurses' station and they put him through very quickly and he spoke to her, and he wished her well, and he told her he was thinking of her and that he was her senator.

That's a powerful thing, an incredible thing for someone to do and it had an amazing effect.

STELTER: Wow.

Frank, thank you so much for being here. Dan, Nicole, thank you as well.

A quick programming note about Senator McCain. One of his final messages, one of his sort of final projects was to participate in a film for HBO. Tonight at 9:00 p.m. is the CNN debut of that film titled "John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls". That's tonight 9:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN.

We'll have more RELIABLE SOURCES in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:21:37] STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

On a weekend when we are talking about leadership and truth telling in politics, President Trump's lies are catching up to him. Paul Manafort, guilty. Michael Cohen, guilty. It's causing journalists to use the word lie in new ways.

I mean, here is a fact check by the "Washington Post" showing Trump's claim about Cohen and the payout to Stormy Daniels describing it as a flat out lie. Now, that's notable because it's the first time ever that "The Post's" fact checkers have used the term. By now, we all know Trump lies in tweets, he spreads false information

at rallies, and he spins and misleads when he sits down for friendly interviews on "Fox and Friends." At this point, he has said so many untrue statements, you may not remember this campaign promise made by then-candidate Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In this journey, I will never lie to you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Is it time for news rooms to think of new ways to convey Trump's lack of credibility?

Look, I know newsrooms have been grappling with how to fact check Trump in real-time, this has been a topic for a couple years now. Sometimes we use the chyrons, the banners in the bottom of your screen to correct misinformation that Trump is spreading. Sometimes we try to make a truth sandwich where we tell the facts then we show his falsehood then we tell you the facts again.

But, look, the volume and frequency of all of the misinformation has made it hard to keep up and hard to fact check every falsehood. Like it says there, there are so many lies, so little time.

Let's go back to Tuesday night. The rally in Charlotteston, Charlestown (ph), West Virginia. Trump, he told us this --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We've got the cleanest country in the planet right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: I'm making fun of myself because I said Charlestown, it's Charleston. If I'm going to talk about lies and facts, I got to get it right.

What's notable about Trump there saying, we got the cleanest environment in the world is that according to the environmental performance index, which ranks countries based on environmental policies and health, the United States doesn't even rank in the top ten. There's the graphic. We are ranked number 27 on the list.

I just wanted to pull out that example because it's the kind of crazy falsehood that doesn't even get called out anymore, right? People move right past it. It's not a story on the news the next day, because he says so many things that are bogus.

Remember after that photo-op with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, President Trump said that, hey, there's no more nuclear threat. No longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.

Talk about an example of a big lie, I mean, now he's coming out this weekend saying he's not making sufficient progress and as a result that's why Secretary of State Pompeo is heading back for another meeting.

These are just examples of the daily kind of stream of misinformation the newsrooms have to grapple with. And obviously, the biggest example of the week was the Cohen guilty plea. Of course, he implicated the president in two counts of campaign finance violations, who knows how all that's going to go down, but Trump sat down on Fox News for a friendly interview and said this --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They put the two counts of campaign violations in there, but a lot of lawyers on television and also lawyers that I have seen that they are not even crimes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[11:25:09] STELTER: To say crimes aren't even crimes, it sounds like truth isn't truth. Of course, he tells us to trust him about everything, right? He tells us all these lies, he spreads all these falsehoods, and then he tells us there is no collusion. Tell us he is innocent.

But he has done nothing to earn your trust, and everything to squander it. Now, you might say the media hasn't earned your trust either. OK. Look up the stats for yourself, right? Totally. Judge for yourself.

The president is constantly lying and spreading conspiracy theories every day. It's getting worse. I find myself wondering what more should the press be doing to try to convey this extraordinary and uncomfortable situation. Should there be a bug in the corner of the screen that says, warning, the president is probably misleading you again? What are the answers here?

Let's talk about it with Carl Bernstein, legendary journalist, CNN political analyst. Also with me is Margaret Sullivan, media columnist of "The Washington Post", and David Zurawik, media critic for "The Baltimore Sun".

Carl, I'm kind of at my wit's end. Help me out here. What are the strategies that are effective when we're bombarded by this daily stream of misinformation?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think that you should be at your wit's end.

(LAUGHTER)

BERNSTEIN: I think that the press has done a fine job of pointing out that we have a president of the United States who habitually lies and that it is known and demonstrable to all reasonable people who keep up with the news in this country and have an open mind.

I think really, we can't be in the business of every minute that the president lies proclaiming liar, liar, pants on fire, but we do a good job of pointing out when significant lies take place, and I think we need to point out the really important ones especially.

But meanwhile let's keep as members of the press, as real reporters, our eye on the big story and try to uncover what's really happening in this presidency. What is really going on day to day in the meetings that the president has with those around him and what is he saying in those meetings. What is his state of mind? How is he responding to the special prosecutor both emotionally and in terms of the facts?

The lies take place as part of the larger story and we need to be putting those two elements together so there is always context to pointing out his lies. Also we now live in a culture that is somewhat a fact-free environment. Social media has accelerated that cultural reality and it's very hard to have a fact-based debate.

But it's up to us in the press particularly by doing our reporting, our deeper reporting, to make that fact-based debate possible in terms of presenting what the facts are in context and with that, yes, pointing out the president's lies and also one thing we might be doing, I think would be very helpful, maybe do a history on the air, an hour of it, of presidential truth telling and lying and show the progression, say, from FDR to Donald Trump, and then I think readers, viewers, would have an idea of how extraordinary this president's lying is. How different.

STELTER: How abnormal, yes.

BERNSTEIN: -- it is from all other presidents.

STELTER: That's a really interesting point.

BERNSTEIN: So, we need to start looking at some historical context that might reach more than those viewers who are already committed to one version of the truth in their own mind or another who are not necessarily looking for the best obtainable version of the truth, but come to Fox n News, come to CNN, come to MSNBC based on where they think they're going to get facts as they like them. We need to do something contrary and give them facts as they exist.

And I think a historical examination of presidential lying, truth telling, would be so revealing because then we would see how Donald Trump even up against the criminality of Richard Nixon and the lying of Richard Nixon is in a league totally by himself.

STELTER: Right. Other politicians bend the truth, he breaks the truth and we should show that.

Margaret, about breaking the truth, you made a point in your recent column that the president's campaign against the media has been leading up to this point. That as his legal peril becomes more intense his discrediting of the press as fake news may end up helping him.

MARGARET SULLIVAN, MEDIA COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, you know, as you know, Brian, perhaps better than almost anyone, he has made a foil out of the press. It's been his main enemy and he's in fact used the word enemy of the people. And I think that a lot of that amounts to an effort to undermine to undermine the truth, to undermine factuality and in some sense to undermine democracy and the role of the press. So now we come to a point where you know, there are some really big news developments and he's in trouble certainly arguably.

And so now if you can -- if he can turn to the defense that well, you can't really believe much of this, shoot the messenger, that maybe it's not as bad as it looks.

STELTER: Yes, you wrote recently about trying to figure out your journalistic principles in the Trump era, kind of rethinking how you approach your job and that's because of all this misinformation right?

DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, THE BALTIMORE SUN: Absolutely, Brian. That's -- I wrote a piece last week and it's -- it was you know, some the editor said a lot of soul-searching or accusing that's not a good thing but it was -- it was based on you know 30 years of writing about me, 20 years of teaching media ethics in college and I was -- I thought I had Trump -- I thought I was going to be fine with Trump. You know, I said we -- you know, I know what my values are, we're going to stay down the middle. We're going to do -- try to do all the things Carl said. And in one sense, I totally agree. That's the main job of the press as Carl laid it out.

But I think alongside that as a sort of corollary, we also have to do a cultural analysis and we have to try to understand and explain how Trump's constant lying has corroded -- has made toxic the information system in this country. It's not him alone of course. We have all these massive changes in media platforms and all of these other things going on. But at that primary summit of information in this democracy, the White House, we can't trust anything. In fact, the only thing we can trust is it'll probably be untrue what they tell us and it's a whole system of it, it's not just him.

But then you go -- you know, now we know we have the National Enquirer and you have Fox News and yes Sinclair and you have this whole change of a chain of right-wing messaging machine and we are now at a point where look, if the function of democracy cannot function, we all know that without a source of reliable information and we're getting a lot of it thank God from the Washington Post and the New York Times and papers like mine that are doing their best to do that. But when you have the White House pumping out disinformation this way, we are in a toxic information environment. People are confused people are jangled. People are agitated in fact because of it.

You know, what Carl was saying, we started out. I know Parson Weems was a hagiography when you wrote the Washington biography but it was I cannot tell a lie about a cherry tree. That's where we were with this president. Now we got a president who says I cannot tell the truth about anything just check me out, fact check. So in my piece I said, look, I write commentary so you know I have moral attitude but I'm done with it. I'm done being Talmudic about is it a lie, what's his intent. Who could know intent with this man? He lies every minute. He

changes his story second to second. We should just say he's lying, folks. Start from that premise. He's a liar, OK. If you can prove he's not telling lie, great. We should fact check them backwards maybe, see if anything he's telling us is true. I think we've wrestled with it long enough for 18 months that we can call them a liar without being self-conscious and nervous about it even by some of the highest standards of legacy journalism.

STELTER: This is the discussion, this is the issue, this is what we're all wrestling with. Let's take a quick break. Everyone is back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:35:00] STELTER: Whatever happened to the dog days of August, the slow summer news cycle? Not this year. We all witnessed that flash flood of news on Tuesday. The biggest headline of them all being Michael Cohen pleading guilty and there's been a lot of fallout since. We've learned that President Trump has pretty much lost one of his oldest and most important media alliances, his deal with the National Enquirer.

He was a friend for many years with David Pecker, the man who controls the Enquirer and a number of other tabloid magazines. But now Pecker was granted immunity. He provided key information in the Cohen case. And if you notice now The Enquirer, it's not promoting Trump anymore. You look at the covers now, there's no more pro-Trump headlines, at least not to the degree there were six months ago or a year ago.

So let's get into the Enquirer News and what it means for the President. Margaret Sullivan and David Zurawik are back with me. Margaret, your column is about this later today. Give us a preview of why you think this Enquirer story is so important.

SULLIVAN: So this has been one of the most fascinating political/media relationships of recent years was that between the National Enquirer and Donald Trump. And we started to learn a little bit more about it just before the election when the Wall Street Journal wrote its story about the catch and kill of Karen McDougal, the former Playboy model story that she wanted to tell about her alleged affair with Trump that The Enquirer bought the rights to not with the intention of publishing that story but with the intention of burying that story.

And so now we know much more about the Enquirer's practices of catching and killing stories even up to the point of their having a safe where they kept the documentation of not just things about Trump but also things about others, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others. So --

STELTER: Right. So now Cohen has admitted to it and the other side of the Enquirer stories not just burying bad news about Trump but promoting bad news about his rivals.

SULLIVAN: Exactly.

STELTER: Attacking Hillary Clinton's health for example.

SULLIVAN: Right, that she was on the brink of death. That he --

STELTER: Yes, all that -- yes, like we'll never know how insidious that was during the election.

SULLIVAN: You know, as we all know, the National Enquirer weather you read it or not you saw it because it was in the supermarket, you were checking out and there it was and there was one cover that I saw that from November of 2016 you know, that you don't certainly seeped into people's minds that said something like Hillary column, you know corrupt racist criminal with exclamation marks.

STELTER: They're building right now. Yes, it was gross and there was a lot of it. Zurawik, what are you wondering now? I'm wondering what other secrets the Enquirer still knows about our president.

ZURAWIK: Absolutely. And with someone like -- you know Trump surround -- I don't know what circle of hell he goes to get these people he surrounds himself with like Pecker. But if this -- if this guy is going to need to save himself to say things about Trump, Trump is in bad trouble on this. You know, the point Margaret just made, Brian, is really a great one is -- and I miss this during the election. Those right up to the November 2016 election. Those covers from the National Enquirer that you saw at the supermarket whether you read them or not, that would -- that was a powerful, powerful part of trumps messaging machine.

And how -- you know, we have reports now that Trump approve those, that Pecker gave them approval of those covers especially the really nasty ones about Hillary Clinton. And now ironically they're talking about First Amendment rights. You know, the First Amendment is so that publications can give citizens information to make choices about their lives. These guys paid money, did reporting to keep the information from citizens so they wouldn't make a good unnecessarily and totally informed choice at the polls in November, really dangerous.

STELTER: Yes, I mean, let me -- let me just say, we should be concerned when media companies are served by subpoenas. But in this case, they were acting more like a political organization.

ZURAWIK: Yes, and Brian you don't see anybody -- you know, you guys had Floyd Abrams on CNN. You know, nobody's rushing to the defense of the National Enquirer on first amendment because --

STELTER: And that is very revealing.

ZURAWIK: Because they're not behaving like right remember the press.

STELTER: Yes. David Zurawik, Margaret Sullavan, thank you both for being here. Quick break and then Carl Bernstein on John McCain's legacy and McCain in his own words.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [11:45:00] STELTER: A profound loss this weekend with the political world. The country and the world mourning the death of John McCain. Now, I wanted to bring back Carl Bernstein for more now because, Carl, you wrote a piece for Vanity Fair about 20 years ago, it was about McCain's first run at the presidency. The title really spoke to me. The title was "Nothing Left To Fear." That McCain was heading out trying to win the nomination, nothing left to fear. What stood out to you most when you were traveling with him for weeks and weeks for this profile?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, that what had shaped him was that experience in a Vietnamese prison being tortured and that everything after that experience gave him a kind of liberation and a kind of freedom to be himself and to act in terms of what he really believed was best for the country, not necessarily best for John McCain.

He -- I think we can say with great clarity that he always put the interests of the country first. And when there were occasions that he came to realize that maybe he had fallen short on that, such as picking Sarah Palin as his running mate, a decision he came to deeply regret and for which I, among others, criticized that he went back and said this was a grave mistake for the country not just for John McCain.

But you know, that campaign in 2000, his campaign bus was called the straight talk express. And McCain was about straight talk and about candor and accessibility in terms of the press and he wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post last January in which he said to the current president of the United States Mr. Trump, stop attacking the press. Ronald Reagan is the model for his accessibility and relationship with the press. We know of course that that model is not being followed but John McCain is a reminder on many levels of how a public servant conducts himself in terms of the national interest above self- interest.

[11:50:00] STELTER: Do you see any other McCains, any other lions of the Senate who are able to speak truth to power, the way McCain was?

BERNSTEIN: I don't think -- I think, look, we have a political system particularly in the Congress of the United States that is dysfunctional. And that dysfunction is one of the reasons that Donald Trump has been able to run roughshod over Democratic process and over the constitution and is able to invoke a kind of lawless approach to the presidency. No, our congress is not functioning. There are no titans in the Senate able to across the aisle, whether you're talking about a Ted Kennedy or a John McCain, there were a good number of people in past years I don't think we should be overly nostalgic. They've always been exceptions certainly in the latter part of the 20th Scentury and 21st.

he is a unique individual in the history of that body and our country. partly because of what his service to the country was both in the military, in the modern era and how that carried over tohis public service in the Senate. STELTER: Very, very well said. Carl, thank you so much for being here today. Talk to you soon. After a quick break here on RELIABLE SOURCES, John McCain in his own words reading from his final book.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:55:00] STELTER: Let's end this hour with Senator McCain in his own words. I mentioned earlier that when he was diagnosed with brain cancer last year, he participated in a film and worked on a book. So in some ways, he was leaving those two products as a final message, a final part of his legacy. The film is titled, For Whom The Bell Tolls. It's an HBO documentary that will have its CNN premiere tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time.

For whom the bell tolls, of course, is the famous Hemingway novel. McCain always said the novel's protagonist Robert Jordan was his hero. And he quoted Jordan at the end of his final book The Restless Wave. Here a part of the quote here from the end of the book. He's says, the world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it. And I do too McCain wrote, I hate to leave it but I don't have a complaint. No one. It's been quite a ride.

More from the book in just a moment. Both the book and the film, you know, they were -- they were two parting gifts of sorts from McCain and his longtime co-author and collaborator Mark Salter. I remember speaking with the Head the HBO about the film. Once we learned about the diagnosis, it was so important to the filmmakers and executives at HBO to talk with McCain and talk with his friends and associates about his life and about what his life meant and to have a record -- to have a recording.

We've seen that across the media landscape as well with remarkable tributes in the past 15 hours or so. Dana Bash's incredible documentary that will be reairing, speaking with lawmakers from both parties about McCain's impact. You might have noticed ABC scrambled, able to air a documentary Saturday night as well, one hour documentary all about McCain. You just don't see this very often in American politics. It speaks to how unique this moment in time is and what a loss this is.

The publisher of McCain's book Jonathan Karp came out with a statement overnight. He actually edited and published all seven of McCain and Salter's books. The most recent one as I mentioned was the Restless Wave, just came out recently. And the book actually has already been in the works when Senator McCain received that cancer diagnosis. Karp said, "we would have understood if he wanted to abandon the project to focus on other things but Senator McCain said something important he wanted to say and he saw the restless wave as an opportunity to communicate, a lasting message to all citizens in a time of division and discord, to uphold our most cherished ideals, to fight for your beliefs, to transcend partisanship to achieve them. And above all, serve a cause greater than your own self-interest. Now, that's Jonathan Karp, the editor of -- and the publisher of McCain's books.

So to end the hour here, as our coverage continues of McCain's passing, we wanted to play McCain in his own words, reading the final paragraph of his final book.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: What an ingrate I would be to curse the fate that concludes the blessing life I've led. I prefer to give thanks for those blessings, and my love to the people who blessed me with theirs. The bell tolls for me. I knew it would. So I tried as best I could to stay a part of the main. I hope those who mourn my passing and even those who don't will celebrate as I celebrate a happy life lived in imperfect service to a country made of ideals whose continued success is the hope of the world. And I wish all of you great adventures, good company and lives as lucky as mine.